Shawn can walk on his hands. He claims to have taught himself to do it while home alone when the electricity went out and he couldn't watch TV.
He tries to teach Cory how to do it several times but they always end up in a pile on the carpet, laughing too hard to move. So it remains Shawn's trick alone. He does it when they babysit Morgan to get her to stop crying; she laughs and claps every time. He never does it at school, though, even when Cory prompts him. He doesn't like to draw attention to himself there. All through high school, Cory forgets that Shawn can do it until, one night, the first time they ever get drunk together, Shawn does it to cheer Cory up, to help take his mind off Topanga. Cory is reminded of his friend's marvelousness all over again.
Shawn calls himself an idiot on a near-daily basis. He's an idiot when he grabs the wrong book for class, an idiot when he gets himself detention for a smart remark, an idiot when he drops his fork at the Matthews' dinner table.
Cory knows that Shawn calls himself this because it's what everyone else calls him when he's done something stupid: Chet Hunter, Alan Matthews, Stewart Minkus, Jonathan Turner, even Mr. Feeny on a couple of occasions. Feeny also calls Shawn "perceptive" and "bright," but that's not the dominant refrain.
One afternoon in English class Turner calls on Shawn as punishment for not paying attention. Turner puts him on the spot and asks him to interpret the poem they're supposed to be reading, line by line. Shawn gives an interpretation that even Topanga finds impressive and Turner tells Shawn he must be an "idiot savant."
Shawn takes to this backhanded compliment and uses it from then on to dismiss anything he's good at with a smile. Spontaneously putting together pick-up lines in French during the first week of French I, "I'm an idiot savant." Teaching himself to juggle with oranges while waiting for Cory to come downstairs, "I'm an idiot savant." Leading his team to dominance in the stock market game in Economics class, "I'm an idiot savant."
Sometimes Shawn is just an an idiot-idiot but Cory knows that a lot of the time, Shawn's pretending to be stupid. It's safer to be the class clown than to be caught trying and failing. And it's safer to call yourself an idiot savant than to have anyone ever expect anything from you.
Shawn has a well-deserved reputation as the best kisser at John Adams. Somehow he seemed to just know what he was doing from the moment the first girl put her lips to his.
Cory demands he teach him his secrets and Shawn tries to with words and pictures and gestures, but none of it works. So he drags Cory into the Matthews' garage and just shows him how to do it, a demonstration that doesn't require words or pictures or gestures. Cory finds it hard to pick up the technique at first because Shawn is really such a damn good kisser that he can't even begin to parse how it is he's doing it. But Shawn slows down and takes each move apart step by step to explain it and demonstrate and Cory actually does get better. They practice in the pitch black garage until Shawn lets him go and says, "That'll do, Babe. You got it."
Later on Cory will mentally compare who of his favorites are the better kisser, his Topanga or his Shawn. They both have lips that would make a lipstick model cry but Shawn's got the better technique and, secretly, he wins out. Cory wishes for years he could ask Shawn for a refresher course.
Shawn knows girls better than anyone-what they want, what they like, what they talk about. He has honorary membership in the girls' network and knows conversational womanese. He even knows how to be a girl, just pulls that talent out of his pocket one day as if he's been expecting there to be a time when such a thing might be handy.
But then when he actually cares about a girl, like Angela, he's an idiot ten times over. "Why can't I just date another girl I don't give a shit about," he moans over and over again to Cory, "then none of this would be so hard." But Angela does things that make him giggle like a moron and want to spend every minute just drinking her up and he later tells Cory that she was the first person who made him realize that sometimes the hard things are worth it.
And when Shawn tells him that, part of Cory wishes that he had been the person Shawn wanted to try hard for, that had made it all worth it. But Cory had always come easy to Shawn. He'd pretty much been born with a doctorate in Coryology.
Shawn has a smile that takes over his whole face. His default Halloween costume for several years running is always the Joker. He hates his smile, though, and always replaces it with something less big when he's paying attention, a smirk or a half-smile or closed-mouth smile. He confessed once to Cory that he's hated his smile since he was nine years old and a dirty old man at the trailer park told him he had a perfect mouth for sucking cock. Cory agrees that's a terrible memory but he still always enjoys when he catches Shawn off guard and gets to see that big, joyous smile. If they'd done Senior Superlatives at John Adams, Shawn would have won Best Smile hands down. Shawn Hunter smiles better than anyone.
Shawn has a knack for reading people. He's always been two steps ahead of naive, trusting Cory in this regard, sensing when someone's mood has shifted or instinctively knowing when someone is not on the up and up.
He also has a terrible habit of pushing buttons. He understands exactly what to say to throw someone over the edge and can seldom resist doing it. It gets him detentions and kicked out of Feeny's classroom, suspended his senior year, and once almost punched in the face by Alan Matthews. After he pushes the buttons of some dick in his Comp Lit class at Pennbrook who's been hitting on Topanga and ends up with a bloody lip because of it he whines, "the only thing smart about me is my mouth."
Cory can tell that Shawn knows something is up, that Cory's struggling with something that he's not ready to talk about. Shawn keeps doing that thing where he tilts his head down and peers at him, as if he's an anthropologist observing from the brush. Several times now Shawn has seemed on the verge of asking Cory, saying something that will very likely push his buttons. But he stops each time. They both know that once some buttons are pushed, they cannot be pushed back.
Shawn ends up being better at college than Cory is. Shawn appreciates the emphasis on critical thinking and personal responsibility and blossoms without the constant supervision and busywork of his earlier educational experiences. Cory, on the other hand, is lost without the structure and the continuous oversight. College is so much harder than it looks. So it's particularly infuriating when Shawn gets his first A paper of his college career, written and researched without any help from anyone, and laughs it off with "Guess I'm an idiot savant at Critical Theory."
Cory actually punches him. In the shoulder, but still. It startles both of them.
"What the hell, Cor?"
"Why can't you just admit you're good at things? You worked hard at that. You're smart. I'm tired of hearing that you're an idiot."
"Okay," Shawn smirks, rubbing his shoulder, "I did work hard. I worked for, like, two weeks on that paper. I guess maybe I deserved that A."
"Good," Cory nods, "That's a good start. Now smile with your paper while I take a picture to send to your dad."
"Do it," Cory demands, digging the digital camera that Topanga gave him for his birthday out of his nightstand drawer. He crosses back over to Shawn's bed and puts his eye in the viewfinder.
"This is stupid," Shawn says, "And I don't even know where my dad is right now."
Shawn presses his lips together in a straight line.
Shawn rolls his eyes and smirks.
"A real smile."
Shawn gives him a fake smile and cocks his head while holding the paper with its red "A" up beside his face.
That makes Shawn laugh and he breaks into his real smile, the big one that obliterates half his face and Cory snaps the picture.
Cory shakes his head while previewing the picture. "I can't help it, Shawnie, I love that smile."
"It's a cocksucker smile," Shawn grumbles.
"No," Cory says, clasping his hands together and sounding particularly like an old Jewish man which is a weird thing he falls into sometimes, "It's a beautiful smile."
"Well, thank you very much," Shawn says while folding his paper in half to tuck away in a notebook. Cory grabs it from him before he finishes the act, though, and sticks it to their tiny dorm room fridge with a Campus Dining magnet.
Shawn laughs. "I've never had a paper on a fridge before."
"The first of many, I'm sure. You're really very good at this."
Shawn raises his eyebrows. "I'm good at a lot of things."
"Yes, I remember," Cory says, sitting down on Shawn's bed. Without even elaborating, Cory looks to Shawn and knows he understands that's Cory's talking about that afternoon in the garage so many years ago.
"Wanna see if I've kept up?"
Shawn is as good as Cory remembers.
Shawn is good at pretending. Cory is not.
For days after they made out in the dorm room, Shawn carries on as if nothing happened. He goes to class, chats with Topanga and Angela, writes another paper. Cory, on the other hand, can't concentrate on anything else. He skips classes, avoids Topanga like the plague, tells everyone he's contagious and stays in bed. Finally, Shawn comes to him. He sits on the edge of Cory's bed, puts a hand on his shoulder. "What's going on?"
"That's the problem," Cory sighs, "I don't know what's going on."
"With us, you mean?" Shawn looks to Cory for confirmation, then continues, "Nothing's going on with us if you don't want it to be."
Shawn puts on a fake smile. "It's forgotten."
"It's just...Topanga...I can't..."
Shawn is very still for a moment and Cory can't read him, then that fake smile returns. "Listen-it was fun but we both know it was just a one-time thing. It's forgotten." Shawn waves his hands in the air like he's conjuring magic spells. "Everything is exactly the same as it was."
Cory feels both relieved and guilty. And oddly disappointed. But he happily seizes the reins of normality again and finds that pretending might actually be almost as easy as Shawn makes it look.
Shawn is excellent at sabotaging relationships. He really learned the art form with his two-week rule in high school and by playing musical chairs with his living arrangements. In college he seems set on perfecting it. Cory watches as Shawn fucks things up with Angela, once, twice, three times and attempts to do the same with Jack. And when his dad dies, he goes off the deep end.
"I'm so screwed up," he keeps repeating and Cory gets the feeling that this is about more than Shawn's dad and more than Angela.
"I need to get away so I can stop hurting people and figure out what the hell my problem is," Shawn explains, nearly in tears, as he asks Cory to let him go.
Cory steps aside and lets Shawn go. And he wonders if this is Shawn's way of killing off their relationship too.
Shawn has always known how to make an entrance. After weeks away when Cory is falling apart with worry-about Shawn, about their friendship, about what the hell he thinks he's doing with Topanga, and now about Joshua, Shawn returns.
Shawn hugs him and makes everything right again. They're okay. Cory's okay. Joshua's okay. Shawn did all of this just by showing up and being there right when Cory needed him the most. Shawn being in his life makes everything make sense.
Cory finds it hard to be apart from him at all for the rest of that term. He knows Topanga notices, but allows her to think it's irrational suspicion.
Shawn has better hair than anyone in creation. Cory has been jealous of it his entire life, especially when he started growing it long and every girl in a thirty foot radius went ballistic for it. Show off.
When he comes back to the dorm one evening with his hair cut shorter than it's ever been, Cory is shocked speechless. Shawn blushes. "This was a terrible decision, huh? I'm such an idiot."
Cory can't stop staring. Somehow the bastard has ended up even more good-looking. He'd always suspected that if Shawn were to cut his hair it would be like that Bible story about Samson, all his powers chopped off with his glorious locks. But, no. Shawn's powers of attraction apparently go deeper than the hair Cory has fixated on for all these years. Suddenly his eyes and his lips and those cheekbones-when did Shawn get cheekbones like that?-are the center of attention. And they do not disappoint.
Shawn is self-conscious and spends the rest of the night with his head in his books, his ears tinted red, one hand occasionally reaching up to push back phantom hair then returning uneasily to his lap. Cory stays on his side of the room, ostensively matching his roommate in this marathon study session but his thoughts are a million miles from Business Ethics and he keeps stealing peeks. In this tense state, they end up in a studying standoff late into the night and when they go to brush their teeth before bed the bathroom is deserted and the whole rest of the floor appears to be asleep.
As Shawn brushes his teeth, trying not to look at his reflection-a technique Cory knows all too well-Cory keeps staring. Finally, Shawn turns from the sink and sets down his toothbrush. "What?" he demands.
Cory kisses him.
Shawn doesn't kiss back and when Cory stops he's met with a sardonic smile. "Am I that ugly now? You're trying to make me feel better?"
"Oh, shut up," Cory says and kisses him again. This time Shawn kisses back and it gets heavy quickly. Cory pushes him against the tiled wall and tears into him with a hunger he's never felt before. He devours Shawn with his mouth and clumsily starts pulling at the hem of Shawn's shirt until he gets it up to his chest, revealing his treasure trail and his little patch of chest hair and Cory wants to eat those too. Shawn assists him in getting the shirt fully off, yanking it over his head and throwing it down on the damp floor. Then he does the same to Cory's shirt while Cory breathes hard, inhaling this scent that is so familiar to him, the smell of home and love and childhood and marvelous Shawn.
"When did you get so much bigger than me," Shawn murmurs as he runs his hands over Cory's broad shoulders and muscular chest. "So not fair."
Cory grins and uses his larger form to press Shawn harder into the wall and they are chest to chest, stomach to stomach and Cory grabs Shawn's cock through his pajama pants and Shawn gasps in pleasure. Cory catches that gasp with his mouth and kisses him deep as he fondles him, Shawn's narrow chest jerking beneath him. Cory kisses and squeezes him and takes what he wants until Shawn comes and his whole body melts against him.
Shawn lays his head on Cory's shoulder, panting. When he regains some composure, he turns up his eyes at Cory and takes hold of Cory's cock.
"Oh, god," Cory squeaks, "Oh, Jesus."
Shawn is good at this too. He makes short work of Cory, licking his neck all the while and dissolving his friend into a puddle. Cory's chest rises rapidly but they're so tight together that each breath he takes is met by the wonderful pressure of Shawn's body against his. When he comes it feels like they're one body with two hearts pounding. For a long time after Cory comes, they stand there, forehead to forehead, the only things keeping each other upright.
Shawn plays pool like a born hustler which, really, he is. He says it's the only useful thing his father ever taught him.
They're nominally playing against each other tonight, in the nearly empty student union, but Cory hasn't had a chance to take a shot yet. Usually Shawn plays easy with him and even gives Cory decent advice on his shots, but tonight Shawn seems to have forgotten Cory is there. He's hitting one trick shot after another, playing his own game with himself.
"Are you angry with me?" Cory asks.
Shawn's shoulders tense as he angles for a shot, his back to his friend. "Why would I be angry?"
"Because I told you this can't happen."
"And it can't. That's fine. I always knew that."
"I'm gonna get married to her."
"Yes, you are."
"I'm sorry, Shawn."
Shawn turns and gives him one of those fake, half-smiles, then sinks his final shot.
Shawn is more loyal to Cory than any friend has ever been in the history of time. When Topanga calls off the wedding at the end of freshman year, Shawn is right there for him, asking no questions and expecting nothing but for Cory to let him be his rock.
He's had a strange calmness since returning from his road trip, as if he really did come to understand something about himself and maybe the world. Shawn at ease with himself is an odd thing, but Cory finds it comforting. He spends the whole summer leaning on Shawn, soaking in his calm, just being friends again and forgetting about the rest of the world.
They don't leave each other's sides for three months and things, of course, happen. But they never talk about what it means, as if they're both afraid that talking about it might destroy it. But it becomes harder and harder not to talk about it, particularly as it becomes clear that they're both avoiding every other part of their lives. It doesn't help that the summer is rapidly coming to an end and the return to school and real life and Topanga is inevitably approaching.
A week before they return to Pennbrook, Cory announces that he intends to work things out with Topanga and implores Shawn to do the same with Angela.
Shawn is not so good at hiding his disappointment. He is, however, well practiced at accepting it.
Shawn has done well at every job he's ever held. This always drives Cory a little crazy because if anyone should be a good worker it's Cory, but Cory tries too hard and cares too much. Shawn understands how to work with people and how to think on his feet. He's never been quite as tied to waiting to be told what to do. He's often commended for his initiative.
When he is given his new mission to return things to status quo, to find Angela and reestablish their relationship so Cory can stop thinking about Shawn and focus on Topanga, he goes for it with gusto. He packs away his own doubts and insecurities and sets his sights on the prize. He won't be his own worst eskimo this time. He'll be normal if it kills him. He'll do it because Cory needs him to.
And he succeeds. Shawn has initiative and determination. And loyalty. And he does love Angela, in his own way. She is beautiful and funny and good to him and he wants to make her happy too. She is the best consolation prize a guy could hope for.
When Cory whispers to him one night, as they're ending a double date, "See? Isn't this good?" they both know Cory's trying to reassure himself as much as Shawn.
Shawn smiles and pulls Angela closer. His job is to keep Cory happy and he'll be damned if he isn't good at that.
Shawn is the best friend and, naturally, the Best Man. Alan pushes for Eric, but Cory insists Shawn is best. But Shawn isn't as strong and cool as he pretends; he's barely keeping it together as the final days before the wedding approach. And this makes Cory panic because if Shawn can no longer pretend that everything is as it looks, how can Cory be expected to? Cory doesn't want to feel or think about any of this, so he pushes Shawn away for the first time in his life and that makes Shawn fall to pieces and sends the message that things are irrevocably changing and Shawn will never have Cory again the way he always has.
But as angry and scared as he is, Shawn cannot abandon his best friend on this day of all days. He forces himself to be there, smiling, pretending. But he can't keep the pretext up-panic overrides him-and they end up fighting, screaming, crying. The entire wedding grinds to a halt as Shawn makes sure, once more, that Cory understands what he's doing and what that will mean, coding his language the best he can in this state. And when it becomes clear that Cory is really going to go through with this, Shawn gives in and supports him, as he always has. He is a good man, after all, and he loves Cory more than anyone.
In his toast at the reception, Shawn resigns his post as best friend, hands the title over to Topanga with not a little edge of bitterness. Cory can tell that Shawn's heart is broken, but he is grateful for his friend who finally took a bullet for him like he'd always sworn he would. It's the only hope Cory has of making this work, of forcing the life that is expected of him into reality. He's on a pedestal that Shawn's never been on. Cory has a family with expectations of him; Shawn doesn't have that either.
Shawn takes his and Cory's secret, buries it deep inside himself, and steps aside. He may no longer be the best friend, but he is the best man.
Shawn is good at continuing to dance even when the rug has been pulled out from under his feet. He keeps on performing with a smile, keeping up the facade that it doesn't bother him a bit when every time he gets comfortable with life, someone he trusts changes all the rules.
He's just come to terms with the idea that Angela is it for him and that they will be keeping each other company through life and he is happy with that. It's a better future than he'd dared hope for most of his life. But now suddenly she's leaving and while Shawn's instinct is to let her, Cory won't hear of it. Cory is panicking at the potential demise of Shawn's happy ending. Cory talks him into fighting for what Shawn knows isn't in any rights his to have.
He goes to Angela's room and he argues with her father, a man who has been kind to him. Shawn is upset as always to have his world thrown off kilter just when he'd started to feel safe. Out of fear he struggles to find a weapon, something he can use to beat off the threat to his fragile stability.
He knows what Cory would do and he threatens the possibility. He doesn't want to be married at twenty, doesn't know that he wants to be married at all. But he knows Angela craves stability, that there's a good chance that she would jump at the opportunity to try and succeed where her parents failed, to fix that broken part of her. Maybe this is what it has all led to and they can fix their broken parts together.
But when he's face to face with Angela, Angela who was so good to him, Angela who deserves better than what he can give her, Shawn can't pull the trigger on that weapon. He lets her go.
Cory, to Shawn's surprise, doesn't tear him apart when Shawn tells him how it shook out. Cory seems to respect his choice. Shawn may be a heck of a performer, but at least he knows that inside he's honest.
Shawn is well practiced at finding his footing in new locations. He's had a lifetime to develop this skill, in five schools before the age of twelve and residing at nineteen different addresses before the age of twenty-one. When he gets to New York, it's not two days before he's got a job, developed his "New York" look, and made friends in the bar on the corner.
Cory, who has always thrived on sameness and predictability, is adrift. It only takes a week of Topanga gone all the time at her internship and Cory moping in his pajamas til three p.m. before Shawn paddles in and hauls him up into a lifeboat. He gets Cory a job working beside him, talks him into his first grown-man haircut, and introduces him to everybody at the bar.
Cory is grateful and perhaps too happy to avoid the horrible emptiness at the heart of his life with Topanga. He clings to Shawn in New York and, quickly, the familiar tension begins to arise between them when they're together. One night as they're closing up after work, Shawn leans into him in the storage closet and runs his hand down the side of Cory's body. Cory shudders and is glad when Shawn kisses him. Cory kisses back hard, pulls Shawn's body into his and then finds himself sobbing, hands knotted up in Shawn's t-shirt.
Shawn holds him and let's him get it all out, soothing his hand through Cory's newly shorn hair. "I never should have come here with you," Shawn says, and Cory lets him take the blame. He wants it to be Shawn's fault. He doesn't want the responsibility of admitting he did the wrong thing over and over again. He sucks in breath jaggedly through his teeth then tries to taste Shawn once more but Shawn gently pushes him off.
"I'm an idiot," Shawn says, "I'm sorry."
He wipes away Cory's tears with the side of his hand and offers him one of those terrible fake smiles. Then he goes back out to find the manager and quits his job.
Shawn is a master at disappearing. The only person who always knows where to find him is Cory. He knows that when Shawn disappears he can usually be found somewhere from his past, a place that used to mean something to him: his old apartment building, the lot where his family's trailer used to be parked, Feeny's classroom, the treehouse in Cory's back yard. But as he gets older, he runs farther and farther, to places that Cory doesn't know and all he can do is wait for Shawn to come back. And hope that this isn't the one time that he doesn't.
This time Shawn runs away to Europe and then Asia where his knack for picking up languages comes in handy. When Shawn doesn't return for a year and then three years and then five years, Cory finds himself often thinking of that smart-mouthed boy who could walk on his hands and had the most beautiful smile ever seen. Cory knows with certainty that it's he himself who has always been the idiot.