Post-series. No pairings.


Shane gets a house in a small town in southern Texas, where it's warm, people are pleasant, respectful of veterans, mind their own business and very, very far away from her sisters. She gets a big house too. She tells herself it's because after five years living in a tin can, she needs all the open space she can get. It's not only that. Part of her already knows.

Cooper and Nathan visit her twice. The third time, Cooper stays "just for few weeks". He never leaves. The guest room where he was staying becomes his room and he decorates it like a 16 year-old teenage boy. There are band posters everywhere and all his military dedication to order seems to vanish. The place is a mess. Shane doesn't mind.

Nathan arrives a few months later. Shane opens the door one day and he's there, with two bags. She lets him in, not saying a thing. They never needed words between each other.

Nathan gets the other spare room. He buys a couch and a desk and one day he shows up with a barbecue set up for the backyard. They build a porch and an outside kitchen and renovate, little by little, the small abandoned swimming pool. The three of them spend all summer outside. They can't get enough sunlight.

Left to their own devices, Shane and Cooper would have no problem staying that way for the rest of their lives. In this small town, they got enough money from their service to live by and they sure feel like they've worked enough for a lifetime. But Nathan could never stay still for long. He dusts off his old engineering degree and finds himself a job in one of the factories outside of town. Fighter pilot and would-be-colonist, he is way overqualified for the job of supervising factory machinery, Shane tells him. What else is he going to do, watch TV in the sun for the rest of his life, is his answer.

Nathan starts talking to Cooper about college. Then he talks some more. Then it's all he ever talks about. He has good points. Cooper is smart, he is dedicated, he knows half there is to know about engineering already. Cooper is also an in vitro and no tank has ever gotten a college degree before.

"So what? Where does it say that McQueen should get all the firsts?"

Shane smiles. Nathan should be a politician, not an engineer. He knows just what to say.

Cooper agrees to go to college, even if he says it's just to shut Nathan up about it. Shane goes with him. She says it's because she needs a degree more useful than the Art one she's got, but the truth is she wants to back him up. No tank has ever gotten a college degree and Cooper has never been out in the world like that. College kids are not marines and there are no ranks or disciplinary measures to stop their stupid mouths from running. Cooper knows how to defend himself physically. Emotionally… well, his emotional age matches the one that shows on his bedroom walls.

Nathan knows what she's doing, but he doesn't say anything. Maybe he's worried too.

They drive one hour each way to school and it's good. It's not as bad as Shane feared. There are looks and stupid questions, but that was to be expected. Cooper stands out for being an in vitro and they both stand out for being older and veterans. He gets as much questions about the war as he does about being who he is.

There is trouble once and only once, in their first week. The patio is full, lunch time, and they are climbing up the stairs when some moron jock says "tanks are such lazy cowards they have to have a babysitter in college just to make sure they don't give up in the middle of the class."

Cooper doesn't react, just keeps on walking and he only notices Shane isn't by his side any more when he hears her voice five feet behind him and the patio falls silent. She has the kid up against the wall, arm against his throat, speaking very calmly in a low voice. "I'm going to say this only once, so pay attention. You make a crack like that against him again, I'll make sure you spend the rest of your life eating through a straw. You understand?". The kid nods, slowly. Cooper has heard that tone before. That's McQueen she's channeling.

She drops the jock to the floor and turns around to face the rest of the patio. Then she's not channeling McQueen anymore. This is full on pissed off Captain Shane Vansen of the Marine Corps Aviator Cavalry, sir. Cooper hasn't seen her in a while.

She points at him. "This man is a soldier. He is a veteran. He is a hero. He has risked his life for five years to keep your lily white civilian asses safe and sound. He is individually responsible for the Chigs not reaching Earth in the very first month of the war. And he's saved my life more than once. Any of you that want to call him a coward better be brave enough to face me."

Nobody ever is and Cooper is left in peace to become the first in vitro to graduate college. Top 5 of his class, too. He actually makes friends outside of the 58th for the first time in his life.

Shane drops out before the first year is finished. Cooper is glad. He's not stupid, he knows why she was there. And even if he's grateful, because it sure helped, when she leaves, it feels like he can actually do this on his own.

Her useless Art degree gets her a job teaching, of all things. She thinks the guys are going to mock her about it, but they shrug it off like it's nothing. She doesn't understand and pushes until Nathan tells her. "Shane, you were leading and teaching and taking care of us for five years. Pardon me if I'm not shocked at this turn of events. This is what you are good at."

And it is. These are not bratty little sisters trying to defy her at every minute. These are not marines whose survivals are her responsibility. These are kids, her kids, and she teaches them beautiful things and watches them learn. It's fascinating.

Sometimes Nathan picks her up at school, sometimes it's Cooper and one day one of her kids asks her why she has two husbands. She laughs. Years in this town and it takes a seven year-old to finally have the guts to ask her what they all think. She explains that neither of them are her husband, that they are just friends who live in the same house. The boy asks her if she doesn't want a husband and she thinks about the last poor misguided man who tried to take her on a date only to be received at her house by two six-foot-tall former marines who decided that moment would be the best one to have a friendly dispute of knife throwing at a target on her front porch. Cooper actually had his shirt off. Yeah, she'd love a husband. She'd have more luck playing soccer with her hammerhead than getting a date in this town ever again.

Or so she says. Because… truth is…she is actually happy. The three of them have a system and it works. They are friends, they enjoy each other's company, care about each other and have fun. Their house is a drama free zone. Would she trade that to live with some guy? Her track record with romantic relationships isn't that good. She is actually happy this way.

Nathan and Cooper do go out on dates and Shane has to be honest that she doesn't treat the girls that show up at her breakfast table any better. But she is mature enough to at least admit she is jealous. Not romantically, but things are good between them and she doesn't want any of them leaving. Nathan smiles when she says so. "Nothing to worry about, skipper", and kisses the top of her head. She hates the stupid nickname.

It's an unspoken agreement when they start building the small cottage. Nathan brings the wood one day and when Shane wakes up on Saturday he and Cooper are starting to lay down the first pillars. She joins and it takes them three weeks to make a sturdy little home. Shane decorates it in the classic style she saw in the colonel's quarters once and hopes he'll like it enough to stay.

The day after his retirement party, they wait for him in his hotel parking lot on Nathan's car. He looks at them suspiciously. "Where we going?"

Cooper takes his bags from McQueen's shoulder.

"We're going home."