Set between the end of season 2 and the beginning of season 3. Shawn and Mr. Turner try to get the hang of living together as Mr. Turner is faced with the whole new responsibility of raising a teenager.
For Shawn's first night, John makes his special chicken a l'orange. Since he's out of oranges he uses Tang, but Shawn doesn't seem to mind. In fact, he devours half the dish and a little of everything else, and John wonders just how long it's been since the boy's had a decent meal.
"Great dinner, Mr. Turner, seriously." He slugs back the rest of his soda, belches, and swipes his mouth with his napkin. "I mean, Tang? That's just genius." It's at this point that John realizes Shawn's probably eaten weirder things than chicken baked in Tang, and feels stupid for feeling guilty. "Ever try Spam with sour cream and pineapples?" John nearly chokes on his mouthful of salad.
"Let me guess. Mama Hunter's specialty?"
"Nope. Discovered it on my own." The kid smirks. "Mom was bowling, Dad was playing cards. I just put together the first three things I found in the house!" He says it so casually, like he does this sort of thing all the time.
"So you're on your own a lot, huh?"
"It's either that or takeout, if I don't eat at Cory's." Shawn pops open another can of soda and chugs back half of it in one gulp. John feels a sting of irritation at Chet and Virna Hunter; are they really so screwed up that they don't have time to put food on the table for their own son?
"Well, you won't be doing any of that around here, got it? I'm not much of a cook, but I'll try to have something edible on the table most nights," he promises. Maybe he can borrow a cookbook from Mrs. Matthews or someone.
"But that doesn't mean we can't order a pizza or cheese fries, right?" Shawn asks, and John tries not to laugh. Typical teenagers.
"Sure, why not?"
They sit and talk while the chicken a la Tang digests. Now that they're not in class, Shawn's jokes are actually pretty funny; he's laughing and smiling and John's glad to see him happy for the first time in over a month. When it gets to be time for bed, Shawn is perfectly happy with the couch, and John sits with him until he's fallen asleep.
He has a good feeling about this arrangement.
Some days later, Shawn's standing outside the bathroom shivering in a towel.
"Sorry," he says, "forgot to brush my teeth while I was in there." John sighs, he'd just gotten the water the way he liked it and it doesn't stay that way for too long.
"Just try to be quick about it, would you?" Shawn practically shoves him into the wall in his rush to get in; John hears him brush, rinse and spit in less than five seconds and soon enough he's in the kitchen, going for the last Pop-Tart in the box. Damn, I knew I should've bought more. No biggie, though.
John has a buttload of bills to pay that day, so he tries to make Shawn useful by putting him to work on the kitchen. Shawn's pretty impressed by the sink and everything else.
"Indoor plumbing! You've got it made!"
"It's not that great," John mutters as he pores over the heat bill. "Sometimes in the winter the pipes freeze."
"Least you've got 'em to freeze. If the septic tank freezes, no one's bathing or anything like that for a while!" He's polishing the sink handle half-heartedly, and John can't help pitying the boy. It's a wonder he's able to come to school smelling half-decent most of the time.
"Just make sure to get all the tomato sauce spots off those plates, Hunter. And this time, make sure they're dry before you put them back?"
"Sure thing, man. Oh, and next time you go shopping, get more of those corn chips, would you? And some dip? And if there's a sale on Ben&Jerry's, get me a couple pints of cookie dough?" Before he knows it, Shawn's rattling off an entire list.
John looks down at this month's grocery bill. It's already steep, and prices at the supermarket just went up. Can he afford to feed a teenager with a bottomless stomach for however long he'll be staying here?
That night, Shawn's up till midnight listening to Counting Crows and talking to his girl of the week on the phone. He oversleeps the next morning, and to top it off takes forever combing his hair just to go meet Matthews at the arcade. It's noon by the time John gets to the shower, and he resolves to work out a schedule.
It's still a good idea, though, he reminds himself. Better to have the kid being a pest under a decent roof than wandering the streets.
The following Saturday, Shawn gets back at an ungodly hour after saying he'll be at Chubbie's with Matthews and Topanga. He waltzes into the apartment, tosses his jacket onto the couch and gives John a half-wave.
"We lost track of time," he says with a shrug. "Sorry about that. Hey, didja get more Pop Tarts? We're running out again?" John could have smacked the kid, he gets in close to midnight and all he can think about is breakfast? He grabs Shawn's arm, giving him the sternest dad-face he can muster.
"What the hell were you thinking?!" he hisses. "Breaking curfew's bad enough, but you can't even have the decency to call?"
"Come on, Mr. Turner, it's not like I was out breakin' windows or anything! I was eating cheese fries with Cory and Topanga, we got to talkin' about movies and stuff and before we knew it it was ten-thirty!"
"Doesn't matter." He narrows his eyes. "You're late, you call."
"But you knew where I was! Come on, you're making a big deal outta nothing." And something inside John snaps. He can deal with the kid hiking up the grocery bill, taking forever to do his hair or putting the dishes away wet. But showing such disregard for his own well-being is another thing entirely. John forces Shawn to sit down on the couch and keeps glaring at him, hands on his hips.
"So if you got hit by a truck and died, that'd be nothing? If you broke your leg or got mugged or beaten up that'd be nothing?" he snaps; Shawn's eyes widen in fear but it's too late, he can't stem the flow of anger. "Wrong!"
"Yeah, I know, my friends would be crushed if I died or somethin'," Shawn mutters.
"Yeah, and I'd be liable! Me! I'm in charge here, I'm responsible for you, and the last thing I need's finding out the kid I'm supposed to be lookin' out for is dead! If a guy takes you in outta the goodness of his own heart, you should at least be grateful enough not to be a jerk and make him worry all night!" Only after the words leave his mouth does he see the hurt look on the boy's face.
"Well-" But it's too late, the damage is done.
"A place to stay, huh." Shawn grabs his things and starts stuffing his pack. "Yeah, a place to stay till you're sick of me. Just like I thought!"
"No, you made your point loud and clear! It figures!" He punches the couch, hard. "Just like the Matthews', just like Mom, just like Dad!" He stands up and moves towards the door, and John reaches out to grab him before he can get a hand on the knob. Shawn struggles and before John realizes what he's doing he's hugging the kid; he doesn't know how he got there but when he feels wetness on his shirt he knows Shawn needs it. He lets him cry, awkwardly patting his back until he calms down.
"I'm not your dad," he says when the kid's finally quieted down. "I'm not gonna kick you out into the street just cause you screwed up."
"But you're liable," Shawn mutters against his chest. "If I just stayed in the motel you wouldn't have some stupid kid to worry about."
"That's not what I meant, Hunter, and we both know that." John pulls him closer, he can still feel tears seeping into his shirt. "It's not just me bein' liable. If you got hurt or died, it'd be hard on me cause I care about you." Shawn doesn't say anything, so at least he's finally over that I never asked you to care business. "Come on, Hunter, you know I wouldn't just take some kid in off the streets cause I felt like I had to. I mean, it's not like I live in a mansion or something, what kid would wanna live in this flophouse?"
"It's indoors," Shawn mutters. "It's got a real shower and everything." John tries not to laugh.
"You know what I mean." He sighs. "I'm not the parent type. Like, I can teach kids for six hours a day but raisin' one's a whole other ballgame. This is a bachelor pad, I'm not set up for a kid of my own."
"I get it, okay?" Shawn starts to pull away and John keeps his hold firm.
"No, you don't. The point is, I could've just as easily thrown you to foster care. I'm under no obligation to let you stay here, but I did anyway." He strokes Shawn's hair. At least the tears have stopped now. "Got it?"
Neither one says anything for a while, and when Shawn finally looks up his face is still red but he's smiling a little.
"I think I get it now," he says. "Sorry I freaked you out."
"And I'm sorry I made you think I wanted you out," John says.
"It's just so weird," Shawn mutters. "Mom and Dad let me do whatever I want, the Matthews' tried so hard to make me feel at home so they were pretty lax with the rules, too. I'm not used to this stuff."
"Just like I aint used to raising a teenager?" John smiles. "This is a new thing for us both. A beginning's a delicate time, you know? But it'll be okay. We'll get used to it together." He ruffles Shawn's hair. "We're gonna be okay."
Shawn gives him a real smile.
"I'll take your word for it."
"I've still gotta ground you, though." The smile becomes a pout. "Hey, you broke the rules. No dates, no TV, no video games, no going out for three days."
"Hey, I could make it a week."
"Three days is fine!" Shawn quickly backpedals, and John smiles.
"Go get ready for bed. Tomorrow morning you're gonna help me clean the place top to bottom, and then we're going to the market. This time you've gotta pay for your own snacks, got it?" Even though Shawn protests and grumbles, John swears he can see the kid smiling.
We're gonna be okay.