Title: Parting Shot
Disclaimer: So completely not mine.
Author's Notes: Okay, I am really sorry about the long gap. I had a family emergency that ironically involved long periods of time spent in hospitals. As such, my mood was a little darker, and this chapter is a little sluggish – but I think Gus needed a little screen time. We could all use a friend like Gus.
For everyone who reviewed: I'm sorry that I haven't gotten back to you personally. Thank you for all the comments!
As always: Any review, good, bad, indifferent, or those intended for other fics, are welcome. ;)
Gus stepped off the elevator promptly at five forty-five, juggling his sample case, a stack of files, and a paper bag. He hadn't managed to get much actual work done at work today. A thin, and mostly incorrect, version of last nights adventures had hit the papers this morning, so Gus had been besieged by curious coworkers as soon as he got through the door. He'd played the hero, vaguely amused at his celebrity and popularity. There had been a time when he'd slunk into work, well rested and ready to take on the thrills of proper salesmanship – but invisible. He'd been unseen, unremarkable and unnoticed – and he'd thought he'd liked it that way. But things were different now. Now he was constantly tired, often distracted, and generally happy… and rarely invisible, even when he wanted to be.
He'd remembered how to laugh, how to play.
And there was no way he could regret that; even when Shawn was at his worst and he was tired and annoyed and worried and scared, he couldn't regret that. Especially when Sandra Burdock (who he'd been trying to catch the eye of for weeks now) had wandered up to him in the hall and cooed about how brave he was, saving his friend, catching the bad guy. And he'd responded in a modest way that Shawn was worth it – and maybe he'd exaggerated his part in it a bit, maybe he'd hadn't actually rushed to the truck and disarmed the bad guy and untied Shawn – but he knew Shawn would back him up to Sandra, and that was another reason he couldn't regret having Shawn in his life.
Who could regret having a friend like that? Even with the messes he made?
And he was relieved that he still had him after that night.
So Gus was in a good mood as he made his way to Shawn's room; and more than ready to just chill with his best friend for awhile. He was half surprised that the hall was so quiet and calm, though. No music from Shawn's room, no impromptu parties, no nurses giggling or storming off in an offended huff – and better yet, no sign that anyone had called security on him.
Something wasn't right here.
Gus slipped into the room, frowning a bit. The room was silent, except for the low mutter of the television. He half expected Shawn to be asleep, but there was a …tenseness to the air, like the build up of pressure right before a storm. Gus felt his stomach twist just a little. He rounded the curtain that shielded the bed, not knowing what to expect.
Shawn was awake, and sitting up in the inclined bed. He was alone, his eyes fixed on the television, his good hand restlessly working the remote. His expression was set in that strange, almost blank look that he got when he was really, really unhappy. He didn't glance away from the TV as Gus approached – he didn't acknowledge that Gus had entered at all, but Gus knew that Shawn had probably identified him from his footsteps before he even made it into the room. Shawn equally ignored the files and bag that Gus was carrying, having most likely already figured out what was in both. Shawn always knew things like that. He usually took the time to ask anyway – being 'normal' was something that he'd practiced desperately for years and he was so good at it now that even Gus often forgot that it was mostly a front.
When Shawn forgot to look, when he didn't ask, when he let his carefully constructed 'normal' slip, it was either because he was so tired that he couldn't pull up the energy, or because he was so stressed and upset that he just couldn't do it.
One look at his face and Gus knew which it was this time.
Gus came into the room, smiling as he crossed in front of the TV, and perched in the recliner that Henry had staked out last night. He pulled the rolling table over and dumped his files. He opened the sack, and pulled out the pineapple and mango smoothie and set it on Shawn's nightstand. Shawn bobbed his head in acknowledgement, but otherwise stayed focused on the screen. His finger pushed the channel button rapidly, steadily and repeatedly, like he was pulling a trigger – flip, flip, flip, flip.
Gus watched the shows flicker by, recognizing only one or two as the channels rolled. He knew that Shawn was probably picking up on almost all of them, recognizing the show or commercial almost instantly and moving on restlessly.
Flip, flip, flip, flip, flip.
Gus swallowed, his eyes moving between Shawn and the television, trying to gage his mood. It was weird, seeing Shawn sitting so still, not fidgeting or fiddling or running off at the mouth. Gus knew that the best way to judge what Shawn was thinking was to get him talking. Shawn had a hard time not talking – and whatever he was feeling would come out sooner rather than later.
"So," Gus started, "where's your dad?"
Shawn didn't even blink, still staring at the TV. "He went home." Flip, flip, flip.
"He needed a bed, and a shower. Not necessarily in that order. Man was ripe." Flip, flip, flip, flip, flip.
"How are you feeling?" Gus tried again.
Toneless. Succinct. Monosyllabic answers were never a good sign from Shawn. Flip, flip, flip.
Gus sighed. "So, if you're feeling so fine, you want to tell me what's going on?"
"Nothing." Flip, flip, flip.
"Okay." Gus looked away, unable to watch Shawn as his jaw worked and he glared at the television. There was a plant sitting on the window ledge. It hadn't been there last night. Gus got up to investigate it, obviously turning his back and giving Shawn a minute.
Broad, sharp leaves supported a long, spindly trunk. At the top, a second nest of leaves clustered. The whole thing was about three feet tall. Gus was taken aback. "Is this a pineapple plant?"
"Wow." Gus reached out, running a finger over the heavy leaves. "Where'd that come from?"
Gus huffed. "I meant –"
"I know what you meant. The guys at the station sent it." Flip, flip, flip.
"That's awesome," Gus wasn't kidding. The plant was not only perfect for feeding Shawn's pineapple obsession, but it was just quirky enough, just oddball enough, that Shawn might actually take an interest in it for awhile. Once he blew off this funk, anyway.
Shawn just kept channel surfing. Flip, flip, flip, flip. He had to have rounded the whole dial by now. Probably twice.
The plant would look good in the office, anyway. Gus made a mental note to look up care of pineapple plants on the net when he got home.
"Speaking of the guys at the station," Gus said, sitting back down, "have you heard from Lassiter or Juliet?"
Shawn sighed, his shoulders looking a little less stiff. "Dad did. Jules said Lassie would be by sometime tonight to get my official statement. From what I heard, it's just routine now, anyway. My kidnaper is already talking deals with the DA."
Gus felt lighter for the news. "Good. Save us the hassle of a trial." Shawn on a witness stand was an experience that all of them tried to avoid at all costs. Shawn's normally flexible morality became rock solid under oath, and yet he had to maintain the psychic story. The nervousness of walking that line made him even more hyper and random than usual.
"That's what Dad said."
The words were said dryly, and held a mocking tone…but Gus knew Shawn wasn't mocking him. There was a faint and incredibly bitter self-loathing laced through the words that Gus had only heard from Shawn on a few occasions. Something in Gus' chest twisted at the sound.
Flip, flip, flip.
His friend was hurting, physically and mentally, and Gus couldn't get in. Shawn had locked himself down tightly. It was familiar, and it was as frustrating now as it ever had been when they'd been kids.
"Have you talked to Abigail?" Gus asked, hoping that maybe she could get though to him right now.
Shawn stiffened. His finger hit the channel button faster, flipflipflipflip. "She was by earlier this morning," he said tonelessly.
Gus hesitated, all but hearing the ice cracking under him. "And how was she?"
Shawn smiled, a somehow brittle expression that reminded Gus of something….
"Scared," Shawn said, not looking away from the television, which was flickering through images so fast that they blurred.
Gus blinked. "Scared?" he asked. "Of what?"
"Of me. For me. Something to do with me, anyway." Flipflipflipflipflip.
"I'm messing up her world. She's a teacher. I'm…" he made a vague gesture with the remote, as if encompassing something. "I'm…all serial killers and bank robbers and things with guns. I'm unsafe, apparently. As well as unsane."
"Insane," Gus corrected absently, numbly, not even really aware of it.
"Right," Shawn nodded, still focused on the TV, "and not smart, either. Insmart."
"That too." Flipflipflipflipflipflipflip. The movement of his fingers had taken on a new sharpness. He wasn't just pushing the button now – he was jabbing it, punching it.
Shawn unintelligent? That was preposterous. Shawn's brain might not work like an ordinary brain, but that didn't make him less intelligent. If anything Shawn was above average… well above. Gus had spent enough years when they were kids nursing a secret jealousy of that wickedly sharp mind to know that for a fact.
Gus felt his own temper heating. "Did she actually say this?" he demanded.
"She didn't need to," Shawn replied, his brief energy seeming to fade. He leaned into the pillows. And she wouldn't have. She could have been polite as can be, supportive as anything… but Shawn would still have seen it – and Gus knew better than to doubt Shawn's perceptions. He would have picked up on it like she was screaming it to the rooftops – and Shawn would have hidden his awareness from her, to save her feelings.
There were times when Gus could see how truly awful having Shawn's weird gifts could be, and he was thankful again that it wasn't him.
Damn, but that sucked. Gus would never have expected it out of Abby…especially when Shawn was hurting.
Not that it was really her fault. She couldn't help how she felt, and no matter how hard she tried to hide those feelings, Shawn would have picked up on them. He couldn't help it, either.
Gus ached for his friend. "What did she say?" he asked, mostly to keep the conversation going. If Shawn stopped talking now he would just shut back down, and he would probably never talk about it again.
Shawn started to shrug, winced, and dropped the remote to clutch his shoulder. "Damn it," the words were almost whispered.
Gus popped up, biting his lip. "You need me to get the nurse?"
Shawn met his eyes for the first time, rolling them a little. "I'm fine, just moved funny. Besides, I get my next dose of Codeine in an hour or so. Sit down."
Gus sat, still watching him carefully. But he hadn't blanched and he wasn't gasping, so he was probably alright.
"So, what did Abby say?" Gus asked.
Shawn sighed, picking up the remote and fiddling with it one handed, but not flicking through channels anymore.
"She said she was worried for me," Shawn eventually said. "She said that she'd always thought I was just…exaggerating when I told her some of the stuff we've done. She said that getting that call from Jules had been one of the scariest things that she'd ever felt, and that she knew how the wives of soldiers and cops and firemen felt now – and she didn't know if she could handle that over the long term. She wants to take a break for a bit. Get some space and see if she can be brave enough to live like that." He glance up, his face filled with a bitter humor. "What a job, huh? All the responsibilities and drama of a cop's life, with none of the steady pay, benefits, respect, or authority." He laid his head back on the pillows, staring at the ceiling.
"Well… that was a pretty pathetic thing to say."
Shawn looked back up at Gus, shocked…and a little bemused. "What? What she said, or what I did?"
"Both. But you can be excused, you're on painkillers." Gus smiled sympathetically. The unspoken 'she can't' hung between them. "You going to be okay?"
Shawn snorted. "Me? I'm fine. King of the world; hero of the hour. I'm a big boy, I can handle it." And there was that smile again, brittle and harsh.
And suddenly Gus remembered what it reminded him of – back in junior-high, there had been an awards ceremony. The kids who were on honor roll got the last period of the day off, and their family could come and watch them receive a certificate of accomplishment. Both of Gus' parents had come, and after the ceremony they were walking out to the parking lot when Shawn had sidled up to them, looking a little desperate.
"Hey, Mr. Guster," he'd said, trying to smile. "I was wondering if you could give me a lift home? The busses won't go out for another hour, and I can't get back into the building…. It doesn't have to be my home," Shawn had hurried to clarify, seeing the look on Mr. Guster's face. "I can walk home from your place if that would be easier."
It was Gus' mom who stepped up, though. "Where are your parents, Shawn?"
Gus remembered the trapped, hurt look, so quickly there and gone – and then Shawn was grinning rakishly at his mom. "You know how it is, Mrs. Guster. A kid can't have his parents around, ruining his rep. What would people think?"
"People would think that they cared," Mrs. Guster said, frowning at him. "We came for Burton," she reminded him, and not kindly. Gus had winced at her judgmental tone.
Shawn had blanched, then grinned, that same brittle, harsh expression that Gus had just seen. "I was just kidding, Mrs. Guster. Honestly. Dad had to work, and Mom was supposed to be here, but sometimes her seminars run a little long. And I don't mean to be a bother, I just need a ride home. I promise not to hang around and bug you guys."
"I'm sorry, Shawn," Gus' father had said, sounding not sorry at all. "We're not heading home. We're taking Burton out for ice-cream to celebrate his A-B honor roll – which will be all As next semester, correct, son?"
"Yeah, Dad. Of course."
"It will if he wants that new computer so badly," his mother interjected.
Gus remembered blushing and shrugging at Shawn, who had arched his eyebrows.
"So we really can't give you a ride home, Shawn," his father had finished. "This is for family only."
"Yeah," Shawn had said, his tone as false and brittle as his smile. "Yeah. I get that. Sure. You guys go enjoy your ice-cream. Sorry to bother you. Maybe Jimmy Saunder's folks can give me a lift; and if not, it's only and hour till the buses run. No problem. I'll see you tomorrow, Gus."
"You really okay?" Gus had asked, confused and more than a little scared by his expression.
"I'm fine, Gus. I'm a big boy, I can handle it. Go get your ice-cream."
Gus' mother had taken him by the hand, pulling him toward the car; Gus could still remember the tug of it, all these years later. "I'm sure you can, Shawn. And congratulations on your four point oh."
"Yeah," Shawn had said, already looking back across the hot blacktop. "Thanks."
It had been the next week that Shawn had been yelled at by Mr. French for not having his homework. Later, Gus had caught Shawn tearing his essay up and throwing it away. Gus had been appalled.
"That was your English assignment! Why didn't you turn that in, Shawn?"
Shawn had shrugged, staring at the paper. "Because it doesn't matter. Nothing here matters." Then he'd looked up, his face coming alive. "But Magic," and Shawn had pulled out a deck of brightly colored cards, "Magic matters. Let's go!"
Magic had mattered for the next month.
Shawn had never made the honor roll again. And Gus had never forgotten that … dead smile.
The one that said nothing mattered. That he didn't matter. The same one that Shawn wore now.
"Do you think it's over?" Gus asked quietly. "You and Abby?"
Shawn was once again fixated on the TV, flipping channels. "She doesn't. At least not yet. She'll keep her distance till I'm better then she'll call, wanting to forget this afternoon even happened."
"When she calls, will you answer?"
"What will you say?"
Shawn hesitated, fingers slowing. Then he sighed. "Ask me about an hour after she calls, because right now, I have no clue."
Gus sighed as Shawn went back to restlessly channel surfing. He frowned again as Shawn suddenly gasped, dropping the remote and clutching his shoulder. He watched as Shawn panted through the pain, then slowly relaxed as it passed. There was sweat along his upper lip. He went back to switching channels without acknowledging the spasm or Gus' worry.
"Yes, Burton?" Shawn refused to meet his eyes. Using his full name was a distraction – Shawn was trying to make him mad…and in doing so, make him forget about what he'd just seen.
Not this time, though. If Shawn was hurt, Gus wasn't going to just let it pass. "Do you need me to get a doctor?" he asked.
"What for?" Shawn sounded honestly confused.
"Because you're hurting?"
"I've been shot, Gus. It tends to hurt." He frowned a little. "The movies really don't make that part very clear…"
Gus narrowed his eyes. "I know you hurt, but it shouldn't be like that. You should be down to a dull ache now, if they switched you to Codeine. That was acute."
"Why, thank you," Shawn exclaimed, fluttering his eyelashes. "You're pretty cute yourself, Guster."
"Shawn," Gus warned in his best 'don't mess with me' tone – a tone he'd perfected on Shawn years ago. "You want to tell me what's going on? Or do I have to call Henry?" He got out his cell and waggled it threateningly.
"You wouldn't." Shawn looked scandalized. "Dude, I just got him to leave!"
"Oh, wouldn't I," Gus said slyly. "Talk, or I dial." He held his thumb over Henry's speed dial.
"Okay! Okay! Just… don't call my dad. Jeeze." Shawn huffed a bit, glaring. "It's like being in Sunday school all over again."
"It's nothing, okay? Just a little possible nerve damage…"
"Nerve damage!" Gus stood up again.
"Sit down," Shaw said, looking like he wanted to smile. "It's no big deal, Gus."
"It's nerve damage, Shawn! That's a big deal!"
"No, it really isn't. Look," he said starting to look worried about Gus' reaction. "It's okay, they don't even know if it's permanent yet."
"Permanent?" Gus demanded, feeling his heart rate spike. "It might be permanent?" He collapsed back into the chair. "Breathe, Guster. Breathe."
Shawn watched him, eyes wide. "Wow, you took that well."
"Shut up." Gus snapped. "I've had a shock."
"I can see that," Shawn grinned.
Gus glowered. "You're not talking this seriously, Shawn. You could spend the rest of your life in pain!"
"I'm the one who feels it, so believe me, I'm taking it as seriously as it needs to be took."
Gus scowled. "It's a little hard to buy that when you're sitting there smirking, Shawn."
"Dude, it's a little hard not to. The way you keep pontificating and popping up and down – you're like a floor show, a one man play, and a wack-a-mole all in one."
"Okay. Okay." Gus watched as Shawn carefully and obviously arranged his features into a cartoonish expression of despair. "Is that better?"
Shawn laughed. "No, look, it's really okay. It won't affect my range of motion and it will probably fade over time. It really is okay, Gus."
Gus huffed out a breath, letting himself be reassured – though he didn't like the 'probably', not one little bit. "Did they say what caused it?"
"Something about a bone chip and migration, or something. Abby had just left, so I wasn't paying real strict attention." He plucked at his blanket, his earlier funk settling back around him like a smog cloud, toxic and thick.
"She was wrong you know," Gus said, after a long, awkward moment.
Shawn glanced up. Tried to smile. Failed. Went back to picking at the blanket. "You don't have to hang around tonight, you know. I know I'm pretty much a downer right now, and I'll be asleep as soon as I get my fix. So you are officially free from friendship duties this evening," he concluded with a grin. "Fly, little bird, fly."
"I'm going to forgive you for that because you've a really bad week." Gus crossed his arms. "Now open the on-demand, find a movie, and quit being stupid."
The movie was Hot Fuzz, the company was great, and the night became much better.
And Gus still didn't get any work done.
But he still didn't regret it.