Author's Note: Thanks so much to everyone who left reviews on the other two BMW stories I posted recently-I'm new to this fandom and it's been great encouragement to receive such nice feedback.

This story was written as a companion piece of sorts to my earlier one-shot "Idiot Savant." I don't think you have to have read that one to enjoy this one, but I did write them to work in tandem with each other.

I've also decided I really enjoy these two pieces and have used them as the backstory for a new, much longer work I'll be posting chapters of shortly. Hopefully folks will be into my weird little take on these guys.

Thanks again for the reviews and please enjoy!

Cory is the picture of average. He is the middle kid, middle class, middle percentile in height, weight, and intellect. He has a high-C/low-B average and no one ever worries about where he's going to end up. His parent-teacher conferences are short and sweet and everybody leaves satisfied and without drama. Shawn's parent-teacher meetings-when they can locate a parent-always go on past the allotted time and Cory looks at him sympathetically as they hear raised voices behind the classroom door.

Afterwards, Cory never fails to invite Shawn to come with for ice cream. The Matthews are always going out for ice cream, like some family from TV. Shawn usually goes with them and enjoys pretending that he's like Cory for a an hour or two. But sometimes he turns them down. Sometimes he can't take how jealous he is of Cory's averageness.

Cory is a happy kid and his happiness is infectious. Shawn never laughs as much as he does when playing with Cory. Cory's always jumping around, a ball of excitement, doing voices and making faces. He brings out a silliness in Shawn that Shawn would never dare let anyone else see.

And Cory is affectionate in a way like no one else Shawn's ever met in all his seven years. He's always hugging him and telling Shawn he loves him and sometimes he even smacks a big kiss on his cheek. Shawn is surprised to find it perfectly natural to answer back in kind.

Cory teaches Shawn what is is to be happy and loved. Try as he might, Shawn can't unlearn it.

Cory is the most even-tempered kid one could ever meet, but if anyone tries to hurt his friends, he'll be the first person out there swinging a bat.

In 5th grade, when Shawn starts having to pay for his lunches with the unmistakable orange ticket-vouchers from the state, it only takes two kids teasing him before Shawn ditches lunch for a week. When Cory finally locates him, hiding out in an obscure boys' bathroom, he demands that Shawn give him his lunch tickets.

There's something frightening in his voice that makes Shawn not want to argue with him. He also doesn't argue when Cory forces his own lunch money on him and insists they return to the cafeteria. There Shawn buys his lunch with Cory's money and Cory buys his own lunch with one of the vouchers. When that stupid kid Todd starts to say something about it, Cory tells him, with deathly seriousness, "Go fuck yourself." Todd and his crony never bother them again.

It's the first time Shawn has ever heard Cory swear and the two of them laugh about it after they sit down with their lunch trays. And though Shawn is hungry he finds it hard to eat anything because it feels like his heart has swelled up into his throat. Nobody's ever been his champion before. And nobody who comes after will ever quite fill that role with as much ferocity.

Cory doesn't tell stories. Everyone around Shawn is always telling stories to cover things up or to manipulate people or just to sound better than they are. But Cory doesn't even get why anyone would do that. The few occasions that Cory has tried to lie it was always to protect someone's feelings. Or to protect Shawn. And those lies always fall apart immediately with Cory left looking as sheepish and honest as ever. Shawn would take Cory's inability to make things up over Chet's fantastic bullshit stories any day.

Sometimes Cory wants to act like he's someone else and Shawn indulges him because he knows that Cory will always eventually end up right back at who he is. Lately he's been on a superhero sidekick theme, declaring himself, among other titles, "Psychic Boy," then "Slingshot Boy," and then the less specific but still hopeful "Stupendous Boy."

Eric overhears this last one as he walks into the kitchen and snorts, "Hey, look! It's Average Boy and Trailer Boy!"

Shawn watches Cory's enthusiasm visibly deflate. "I'm always gonna be Average Boy," Cory grumbles after Eric leaves.

"It's better than being Trailer Boy."

Cory detects the hurt in Shawn's voice and finds his purpose again. "You're more than that," he says.

Shawn shrugs it off. "So are you."

Cory is the kind of guy you can count on. Shawn blows up a mailbox and his only thought is to run to Cory. That's the safest place he can think of. And Cory, of course, throws himself whole-heartedly into being the best accomplice ever. He gives him food and shelter and dry clothes and enthusiastic support, doing more in ten minutes than Shawn's parents have managed in thirteen years.

But alone in Cory's bedroom all day, Shawn starts to get a bit guilty. He feels like a monster wearing Cory's clothes, and somehow this seems appropriate. Shawn's only a few months older, but he always feels like he's corrupting Cory's innocence. A teenager stuffing himself into a little boy's clothes is just about right. He's a walking goddamn metaphor.

Shawn wants to break things when he finds out Cory called his parents, kick over the school desks that surround them and maybe throw Feeny's books through the window. But he steps down on that anger because Cory has no idea what he's sending him back to. And Feeny is right-he does expect Cory to do too much for him. If Shawn keeps dragging so much trouble to Cory's doorstep, Cory's gonna stop being friends with him. That thought is a lot more frightening than anything Chet could do to him.

He gives in and goes home to what awaits him and gets through it by counting the days until he can see Cory again.

Cory thinks he's boring. But Shawn finds Cory's "dullness" endearing, especially all his old man likes: 60 Minutes, budget buffets, sweater vests, handkerchiefs, peanut brittle...Shawn doesn't think there was ever a quirkier kid who so embraced his own self. As much as Shawn teases him, he respects that a great deal. He wishes he could be so honest all the time.

Sometimes Shawn pictures them being old men together and this fantasy makes him happy. He never shares it with Cory, though, because he suspects Cory knows that someday he will outgrow Shawn and leave him behind. Someday long before they are old.

Cory wants more than anything for people to like him. Shawn thinks that there's never been a more likable guy than Cory Matthews, but he dutifully supports him in every new scheme to fit in. He gets him dates, champions him for Class President, and even teaches him how to make out with a girl.

Shawn doesn't even think twice about showing Cory how it is done-they're so comfortable and physical with each other already that this seems like a logical extension. He has enough sense to guess that Cory's family might not see it as so logical, though, and does take Cory into the pitch black garage to do it. And it goes fine. Shawn is a pro at this and he easily detaches from the emotional aspects of kissing. But then something changes and he becomes very aware that it is Cory he is kissing, Cory's tongue inside his mouth, Cory's body up against his in this cool, dark space.

The second Shawn realizes he is getting hard, he aborts the activity. He does his best to keep his cool and makes his excuses for leaving. But all the way home he is in a cold sweat. When he gets to his trailer, he locks himself in the bathroom and, staring himself down in the mirror, begins to slap his own face and does so until he doesn't feel anything any more.

Cory hates that he is average looking. He says it isn't fair that Shawn lucked into being better than average looking but Shawn points out that this is literally the only thing in his life that's broken his way. Cory can't begrudge him that.

But secretly Shawn thinks the rest of the world is crazy if they consider Cory Matthews average looking. Cory looks like Cory and there isn't a more beautiful sight than Cory with his friendly smile and his potato-head face and his funny, ridiculous curls. Seeing Cory makes Shawn feel like everything is all right with the world. Half the time that's the only reason Shawn bothers showing up to school.

After Topanga gets her glam makeover it sends Cory into a tailspin of self-doubt. He starts talking nonsense about being like the Elephant Man and needing to take drastic measures to catch up with his two best friends' attractiveness and social standing. Topanga doesn't take it seriously, doesn't see how much her boyfriend is really hurting-she's too hung up on her own newly enhanced looks. It makes Shawn seethe. She shouldn't get to have him if she doesn't appreciate him enough to notice when she's making him feel like crap.

Hiding out in a stall in the girls' bathroom, Shawn takes deep breaths to slow his temper while he figures out what to do. He kinda wants to yell, he kinda wants to be mean, he kinda wants to hurt her as much as he sees her hurting Cory. But in the end he stays reasonable. In a low, serious voice, he explains to her exactly what's been going on, exactly how her ego's gone off the tracks, and exactly how shitty she's being to Cory. It's possibly the most he's ever said to her in one conversation. To his relief, it's effective and she soon figures out how to fix everything. Shawn's glad to have righted the two most important ships in his sea, but he's still secretly a bit mad at her. Resentful, even.

Sometimes Shawn thinks that adoring Cory is the only thing he and Topanga have in common.

Cory has a better body than anyone would ever guess. Shawn first takes note of this in the locker room Junior year and his immediate feeling is that of inadequacy (why oh why has Shawn seemed to have stopped growing and why oh why has he been left with the chest of a sparrow?). Shawn's second feeling is unmistakable lust. Cory's chest is broad and muscular, his arms powerful. Shawn's third feeling is guilt. He should not be feeling lust for his best friend. He should not be stealing glances at him every chance he can get. He should not be thinking about him while he jerks off every night.

Shawn throws himself anew into conquering as many girls as he can get his hands on. They become a blur of soft bodies, rounded hips, tits, and ass, and lips. It sometimes makes him feel exhausted and a little sick, like gorging on too much candy. But they are something to hold on to and to keep him busy and he sucks out as much life as he can with every kiss even as his body seems to grow weaker.

Cory teases him for his impressive promiscuity, saying things that only Cory or an eighty-year-old woman could. "Careful, Shawnie, those pretty lips are gonna fall off," "How are you supposed to meet a nice girl when you don't even come up for breath?" and, worst of all, "You're giving them the milk for free."

Shawn has his revenge by describing in intimate detail all the things he's doing that Cory isn't. He watches Cory's chest rise and the moment turns uncomfortable and still Shawn pushes forward until Cory puts his hands up in defeat. "Stop, stop!" So Shawn relents with a smile but he catches Cory's expression afterwards, one of intrigue and hunger. Shawn tells himself it was directed at those girls and not Cory's slutty best friend with the birdie chest, but something inside him knows this isn't the truth.

Cory is enamored of the myth of him and Topanga. It's the one thing in his life that sets him apart, the one thing he has that no one else does. The one thing he believes makes him better than average.

He talks for hours to Shawn every time they have a sleepover about how his relationship with Topanga is the great narrative structure of his life, the story around which everything else makes sense. He says she gives his life meaning and purpose. There's a longing in his voice that Shawn understands.

"You gotta help me, Shawn," he whispers one night, the thousandth night of his Legend of Cory and Topanga monologue, "You gotta promise to help me keep her. I don't ever wanna screw it up."

It's the only important thing Cory has ever asked Shawn for help with. Shawn is silent for a long time and in the dark Cory thinks that Shawn has fallen asleep and not heard his request. Then Shawn leans over Cory, plants a kiss like a benediction on his forehead and says in a low voice that sounds even more grave than Cory expected, "I promise. I will help you."

Cory wedges his way up against his friend and rests against his chest like a child. Cory falls asleep there, safe and happy. Shawn is still wide awake long after.

Cory wants everything and everybody to be in perfect order always. When he decides that Shawn needs to have his own Topanga, he doesn't stop in his quest to make it happen. He evangelizes to Shawn on the idea of being normal, which for Shawn is not a hard sell. Cory's definition of "normal," though, is him and Topanga. It's a myth and Shawn knows it. But Shawn has nothing in his life right now, not even his best friend most of the time these days. A myth sounds pretty good.

First he falls in love with the idea of a girl who's perfect for him. Then he finds Angela to fill that role. He begs her, begs her with no shame to be his Topanga. To let him be Cory for a while. Being Cory must be almost as good as having Cory. And in any case, it is what will make Cory happy.

And Cory is so happy about how it all turns out that Shawn is happy too. It's nice to not have Cory worrying about him. And it's nice to play normal and have people believe it.

Cory believes in "the way things should be" with unshakable certainty. Until maybe he doesn't. At college for the first time he allows himself to question the myth, just start scratching away a bit at one little corner of it. It doesn't help that he's sharing a tiny room with Shawn and is constantly overcome with pent-up sexual frustration. There are just too many little moments of closeness. Cory starts to go a little crazy, take a few chances he would never normally take, thinking some things he would never normally let himself think, as if possessed by some compulsion beyond him.

Shawn doesn't know why Cory kisses him and keeps kissing him that first afternoon, but he doesn't ask because it feels too good and he's afraid it'll make it disappear if they have to talk about it. Then Cory freaks out, of course, and Shawn tells him to let it go. He tells himself to do the same.

But when it happens again, when Cory goes after him in the empty shower room, leaving Shawn a panting mess of pleasure, it's harder to write off. This wasn't just experimentation. Cory wants him, he can tell, wants to be with him. Shawn's never been more excited in his life. Nor more apprehensive. He waits for days to see what Cory will say, what Cory's next move will be. It kills him that Cory has all the power but that's the way it is. Shawn's always just been a supporting player in the story of Cory Matthews' life.

Then Cory disappoints him, though this doesn't surprise him. Shawn starts thinking it might be time to exit Stage Left.

And Cory, rattled by the shock of his own behavior, the shock of his own feelings, throws himself anew into rebuilding his myth. The foundation of that myth, though, has been shaken and remains forever after compromised.

Cory doesn't understand how Shawn could love somebody who hurt him so much. Shawn wants to tell him that if he stopped loving the people who hurt him, there wouldn't be anyone left to love. Instead he just tells him that it's complicated and no matter what he did or didn't do, Chet was still his dad. Now Chet's dead and Shawn doesn't know what to do with all these feelings he's drowning in.

Cory doesn't understand why Shawn needs to say goodbye to Cory and get the hell away from him for a while. He doesn't understand that Shawn is tired of pretending. He doesn't understand that Shawn is sick of hurting others before they get a chance to hurt him first. He doesn't understand that Shawn is deeply in love with yet another person who doesn't want him. He doesn't understand that Shawn is fairly certain that if he spends another minute living with someone he wants and can't have and pretending that that's okay, he's going to put Chet's pistol in his mouth.

Cory doesn't understand a goddamn thing sometimes.

Cory's always had a strong moral compass and he can sense when things aren't right. As he pushes harder for the wedding and for some sort of physical confirmation of their epic love from Topanga-any kind of physical confirmation, anything to reassure Cory that this is what his body wants as much as his mind-he becomes a neurotic wreck. He knows that something isn't right but he can't decide if it's time to jump off the cliff into the unknown or to keep pushing the "sure thing," trying to force it to fit.

His anxiety builds for two semesters until he's having nightmares every night. And in every one of the nightmares he's killing Shawn, sacrificing him in terrible ways to make room for the myth of Cory and Topanga. It's too real and horrible and troublingly symbolic. Cory can't eat or sleep properly for days. He lies to Topanga and she buys it, but Shawn sees right through him.

"Do you think I'm rushing into marriage?" Cory asks, the first time he's dared put any of this into words for anyone. It's an awkward, indirect start but it's a start and his heart pounds as he waits for Shawn's confirmation.

But the new Zen Shawn who's returned from the road refuses to make any judgement for him. He will support him, but he will not guide him to choose one direction or another. Cory realizes how much Shawn's impulsive decision making has always driven the action of Cory's own life and he feels lost no longer being able to count on that. Cory doesn't want to have to make the decisions.

Cory spends the rest of that day holed up with Shawn in the tiny, private world that is their dorm room. Shawn seems to know that Cory needs to be treated gently, and he allows Cory to be clingy and just talks softly about all the things that happened on his road trip and all the things he learned. And how he thinks he may finally have made peace with himself and his lot in life.

Cory wants that kind of peace but he doesn't know how to get it. Or, really, he does know how to get it-deep, deep inside himself he knows what he needs to do-but he doesn't believe he'll ever have the balls to do it. He buries his face into Shawn's chest, inhaling the soft scent of laundry detergent and deodorant and love, feeling the heat of solid body beneath him and Shawn's steadily beating heart, and Cory wishes time could just stop right now.

Cory doesn't do well when plans go awry. When Topanga's parents divorce, her own doubts overtake her and she calls the wedding off. Cory is so subdued about the news, it frightens everyone. They know he should be ready to blow at any minute. But he doesn't, which is even more troubling than the expected explosion. Shawn offers to let Cory spend the summer with him in his dad's old trailer and this seems like a good idea to everybody. Shawn knows how to deal with Cory better than anyone else.

The summer is quiet. Shawn gets in touch with his old boss and does some freelance photography assistant work. Cory mopes around the trailer and watches daytime TV while eating junk food and trying not to think about anything. But when Shawn gets home every night, Cory's spirits are lifted. Shawn tells him stories about the ridiculous people he met on shoots that day, making faces and doing different voices for each character. Cory recounts the intricacies of the different TV courtroom battles and fills Shawn in on the plot developments of WKRP in Cincinnati. They laugh a lot that summer, so delighted to be in each other's company without any outside pressure again. Cory hasn't been so relaxed in a long time.

And one night, as they're cuddled together in front of 60 Minutes, Cory takes Shawn's hand in his and squeezes it. Shawn smiles a little, eyes still on the television. Shawn gives a little startle when Cory licks his ear. He turns to look at him and Cory kisses him. It feels familiar and good and Shawn lets it happen, enjoying Cory's advances completely passively at first, then taking part as well, kissing back forcefully. He has missed this so much.

Shawn pushes Cory down against the arm of the couch and begins clumsily undressing him. Cory is smiling and trying to help in removing his t-shirt and pajama pants in this awkward prone position and he has never looked more beautiful.

"Jesus Christ," Shawn mutters and has to stop looking at Cory's face or else he's going to come right then. He instead switches his attention to Cory's chest-it's only gotten better since high school-and marks his territory with his mouth, leaving a series of bright pink splotches in a treasure map down to Cory's ribs.

Cory's gotten a little pot belly during his summer of sloth and Shawn finds this inexplicably adorable. He licks its soft fullness and makes Cory squirm and then plants a series of kisses over it as he moves his mouth downward to Cory's hips. He shivers as Shawn darts his tongue over Cory's pelvis and into his inner thighs, teasing his way around his cock and building up so much tension that Cory pounds the couch cushion with his fist in frustrated excitement. Shawn continues teasing and then just when Cory can't take it anymore, Shawn slips his mouth over Cory's cock.

"Oh, fuck you," Cory whispers, which causes Shawn to smile before he wraps his lips tightly and begins to tongue him. Cory moans as Shawn traces spirals with his tongue and then, when he starts to suck him off in perfectly rhythmic up and down movement, Cory's moans change to whimpers and little half-sounds of pleasure. Each noise turns Shawn on more and even though Cory comes quickly, Shawn keeps on going until Cory has to push him off.

Shawn roles over on his back, head even with Cory's hips as he listens to Cory panting, trying to catch his breath and compose himself. Shawn is staring up at the ugly drop ceiling but he can't see a thing. "You gotta do me," he whispers, "I'm gonna fucking explode."

Cory replies by tousling Shawn's hair with one clumsy hand and for an awful second Shawn thinks that's all he's gonna get. He opens his mouth to start protesting but then Cory's getting up and setting himself down on his knees beside the couch. With one swift move, he pulls Shawn into a sitting position facing him. They both pause just then, recognizing this moment for what it is without saying a word.

Keeping his eyes trained on Cory's, Shawn pulls off his own shirt. Cory continues to hold his gaze for a few seconds, then traces his finger down Shawn's neck and chest and stomach. He's still pretty much built like a motherfucking sparrow.

"You're too damn cute," Cory says, and unbuckles Shawn's belt, removes it methodically, then wrenches Shawn's jeans down over his hips and down to his ankles. Cory meets his eyes once more as if for reassurance and then dives in.

It is halting and inexpert, but somehow it's Shawn's favorite blow job he has ever received. He supposes that it helps to be in love with the person.

This is the first of many, many evenings like this. The summer flies by in a blur of skin and sex and laughter. Each night they collapse into bed sweaty and satisfied and each morning they act as if nothing was unusual. They never talk about it, never talk about anything but the silliest, most inconsequential stuff.

But the summer has to end and Shawn makes the mistake of saying, in bed one morning, "You know, it could be like this all the time. If you want to, you can have this forever."

Cory doesn't respond with more than a half-smile and Shawn knows, with a sick feeling in his gut, that Cory's mind is now firmly directed toward what he has been avoiding thinking about all summer. Shawn's an idiot to have said anything. He spends the rest of his day distracted at work, dreading.

While he's away, Cory tries to imagine a life very different from what he'd spent all these years planning. This is easy now because reality is so far away, but he can't fathom how this-how they-would work once everybody else exists again. Cory looks around at the dingy trailer and it just makes him sad. He doesn't know if Shawn's life is one he wants to share. And everything would get so complicated. Cory has never wanted complicated. He wants a white picket fence and two and a half kids and a wife and a job. He wants the logical extension of the life he's always known, not some terrifying unknown. No matter what his body and his heart might be telling him.

By the time Shawn gets home that night, Cory has fully reconstructed his myth. He informs Shawn that it's time they both recommitted themselves to winning back the girls they love. "It's what we're supposed to do," he says, "We've got to put it all back together."

He doesn't look at Shawn directly while he's saying this. When he does finally risk a glance at him, Shawn has composed a placid, emotionless expression.

"I think you're right," Shawn says and he closes his eyes, exhausted. "It's time to grow up."

Cory is very good at focusing all his energies on one singular mission and blocking out everything else-logic, common sense, good advice-in order to complete it. It's how he beat Super Mario Brothers 2. It's how he brought his grades up enough to score an interview with Stanford. And, midway through his Sophomore year of college, it's how Cory achieves his greatest coup and marries Topanga Lawrence. For a couple days after, he is riding high, convinced that he finally pulled it off. He has accomplished what he was supposed to. But then all the doubts and imperfections begin to creep back, reminding him that this is the beginning of this life, not its pinnacle. There are still decades to go.

Marriage does not magically fix everything the way that Cory expects it to. If anything, it's made things harder and Cory feels trapped and panicked as he and Topanga sit in their terrible married student apartment. They are fighting and unhappy and the walls around them make the Hunters' dingy trailer look homey and welcoming. It is starting to become a certainty in Cory's stomach that he has fucked up. Massively. And he doesn't see how he can even fix it. His focus has always been on obtaining the prize, not what he was supposed to do with it once he got it.

When Shawn comes over full of positivity and bright ideas on how to fix the place up, Cory loses it. He lashes out against Shawn's happy domestic bliss with Angela, so successfully achieved. He tells him he didn't earn it, implies he doesn't deserve it.

Cory is overcome with jealousy and resentment. Nothing is working out the way it is supposed to and the fact that Shawn gets to be totally happy, living the life that Cory was supposed to have, that Cory sacrificed so much to get, is just more than he can take. Shawn is not allowed to have anything better than Cory-those are the rules of their life. Shawn is supposed to be the sad fuck-up. If Cory is fully honest with himself, it's part of what has always kept him confident in his own approach, that no matter how average he is, he will always be smarter and better than Shawn. Cory is the one who makes good choices. Cory is the one who is supposed to end up happy because he follows the rules. But now this decision that was supposed to right everything and be Cory's masterstroke, his greatest sacrifice in the name of normality and expectations, has instead turned the world on its head. Shawn is happy and Cory is not and Cory cannot stand having the rules changed like this.

As Shawn goes home, Cory knows that he has sabotaged his friend's happiness. He is not surprised to hear later on that Shawn has told Angela he hasn't earned their good fortune and asked her to move out, reconstructing the walls between them. It gives Cory a mean bit of satisfaction. If he can't be happy pretending, Shawn shouldn't be either.

Cory's never felt so alone in his life.

Cory finds that being married is a whole other ballgame than just acting like you are. For the first few months, they argue so much, coming to heads about everything and, every time, Cory runs to Shawn to help him figure it out. And each time, Shawn pushes him off a little harder. "You need to be figuring this out with your wife," he says, "not me."

Still Cory comes back, dragging his complaints and confusions and throwing them on the table in front of his friend just about every time he sees him. And Shawn is patient and tries his best to help. He has seen a lot more terrible marriages than Cory has and tries to tell him, at least, what not to do. Cory leans on him harder until one afternoon Shawn snaps, "Do you not realize how fucking hard this is for me?"

"What is?" Cory asks stupidly, still caught up in his own problems.

Shawn shakes his head in amazement. "Fuck you."

He begins to stride out of the Student Union and Cory comes after him. "Hey," Cory says, stopping him by the arm, "What's the matter with you? You're supposed to be my friend."

Shawn's eyes go wide and he shakes Cory's grip off. "Do you have amnesia or are you just that goddamn self-centered?"

Something changes in Cory's expression then, something desperate and sad is revealed. "I'm sorry, Shawnie," he whispers, "I wasn't even thinking. I just...I don't know how to do this without you. You're the most important person in my life."

The disgust on Shawn's face is unmistakable. "Jesus, Cor, don't make it look like I respect your marriage more than you do."

He leaves Cory standing there red with shame and walks out. As soon as he's out of eyeshot of the Student Union, Shawn starts kicking the side of a building, his boots leaving dusty marks on the orange brick. He kicks and kicks and kicks again until he realizes how much his foot hurts and still kicks twice more for good measure. He lunges as if to punch the wall but stops himself. Cory isn't worth a fractured hand. Not this Cory, anyway.

And he starts to walk away, but then he can't. Cory is Cory and he doesn't change and Shawn loves him maybe despite of or because of this. He doesn't know. He just knows that he's gotta go back.

"Okay," Shawn says, throwing himself down next to Cory on the Student Union sofa as if nothing has just happened, as if his foot isn't throbbing and as if he isn't panting from having run all the way back, "Let's figure out what you can do to fix things with the wife."

Cory would have made an excellent cruise director. Typing up individual schedules of activities for everyone and handing them out, telling them exactly what to do to have fun, what to do to be happy-he would be great at this sort of thing. If only people would listen.

He makes his way to Angela's dorm room to put a stop to this insanity. He has a list of 58 reasons why she shouldn't go to Europe all planned out in his head but they evaporate when he runs into her in the hallway outside her room.

"Shawn send you?" she asks, crossing her ams. For being so petite, she is terribly intimidating.

"No," Cory mumbles, "He doesn't even know I'm here." Then he composes himself enough to say, "This is crazy, Angela."

"No," she shakes her head. "This is crazy."

"What is?"

"This...whatever it is with the two of you. Cory, I can't be in the middle of that anymore. Maybe Topanga can do it but I just can't."

Cory tells himself he should be acting like he doesn't know what she's talking about but he does and it's obvious she knows this. Angela knows, he thinks. And he is terrified. If Angela knows, who else does? But he can't stop to process it now. He's here to look out for Shawn. So he changes tactic.

"What about Shawn?" He asks and is pleased that she looks genuinely pained. "This is going to kill him."

"I love Shawn, but I don't want to share him. I mean, I love him so much, but he's never gonna love me as much as I need him to. That's not fair to me and it's not fair to either of us. Maybe my dad coming, all of this, is a blessing, you know? For both of us."

"A blessing," Cory repeats and then anger wells up inside of him. "Why does everybody always have to jerk the poor guy around?"

And Angela looks at him so coldly. "I don't know. Why do you do it?"

When Cory returns to the Student Union, he and Angela act like nothing has happened between them. As Shawn watches Angela go and tells her goodbye, Cory puts his hand on Shawn's shoulder. Cory wants to tell him how sorry he is that everybody in his life has hurt him, even his best friend who's probably hurt him more than anybody. But all he manages to say is, "Don't go doing anything crazy, okay?" It's easier to let Shawn think that he's the one who's acting crazy in all of this.

Cory loves being in the middle of Topanga and Shawn. Middle makes sense to him and feels right. But Cory does not love being asked to choose.

When Topanga makes the decision for him that they are moving to New York, he is relieved. Spending some time apart from Shawn might be the healthiest thing he could do right now, put his mind squarely on Topanga and working to establish this life he's chosen to make. So what if Shawn looks terrified to be left without him, to be left without anyone, the last guy standing when all the chairs have been claimed and the music stops? So what if it breaks Cory's heart to see him putting on his brave fake smile like it doesn't matter?

But then Topanga announces that Shawn is coming with them, so proud of herself for making this decision that will keep her husband from having to leave behind his dear best friend. Cory lets it happen. Shawn does to. They celebrate it. Neither of them wants to be apart even if both of them suspect it's what they need. They head off to New York, knowing it's not a good idea.

"I'm glad you're here," Cory tells him a dozen times on the trip to New York. And each time, Shawn smiles and says, "Me too."

Cory's never wanted to hurt anybody. But he will hurt Shawn if it means that it'll stop him from leaving.

Cory is stronger than Shawn and he takes advantage of this and forces him away from the duffle bag he's trying to pack, throws him up against the wall and pins him there. Shawn glares at him, defiant. "Let go," he growls.

Shawn tries to buck him off and Cory presses harder, his hands digging into Shawn's wrists, his hip pressing Shawn against the plaster.

Shawn's face grows red as he struggles to push him off but Cory just slams him against the wall again with new force and holds him tighter.

They're both breathing through gritted teeth, staring each other down. Shawn doesn't stop trying to fight him, Cory continues to intensify his hold, trying to break him. Make him give up and stay.

But Shawn refuses to surrender. His wrists are shaking now beneath Cory's grip. "You're hurting me," he finally hisses, "Stop hurting me!"

And Cory lets go, suddenly aware of what he has been doing and horrified.

Shawn remains against the wall for a few seconds, shaking, then pushes past Cory and returns to his bag. He continues packing, his bare arms strawberry red where Cory held him. Later they will turn purple then yellow with bruise.

"I'm sorry," Cory says helplessly, "I'm sorry I'm always hurting you."

"Sorry doesn't mean anything, Cory," Shawn says in a voice that sounds like it's been roughed up with sandpaper. He doesn't take his eyes off the task of packing up all his worldly belongings, "But you do realize you're hurting her too, right? How do you think she's going to feel when she finds out her whole marriage was based on a lie?"

Cory throws himself down on the sofa, puts his head in his hands. "It's not a lie," he says, "I just want to be normal. I just want your average, run of the mill happy life like everybody else."

Shawn shakes his head as he pulls tight the closure on the duffle bag. "Well, good luck to you, Average Boy," he mutters.

But as he makes his way to the door and turns for one last look, Shawn softens. "I mean it," he says, "I hope everything works out for you and you figure out how to be happy. I just want you to be happy."

That's the last thing Shawn Hunter says to him before he walks out of that Brooklyn apartment and never comes back.

Later, Cory will look back at that night often and shudder at the memory of the only time he ever physically hurt someone like that. And then he'll feel guilty because he knows that even though that was the only time there were actual bruises and even though he never wanted to hurt anybody, he hurt both people he loved so much.

Many years after, another night at the bar, Tom gets drunk enough to ask Shawn about that guy he used to love. The one who got away. The one Shawn gets broody and quiet over every time he's had too much to drink. The one Tom and everybody else in Shawn's endless list of suitors have never been able to compare to.

"What was he like?"

Shawn smiles wryly, remembering a boy with curly hair and a friendly smile and ferocious loyalty. A boy who loved 60 Minutes and Clown Burgers. A boy who couldn't tell a lie but ended up living one, who just wanted to make everybody happy, and who taught Shawn what it was to be loved.

Shawn drains his whiskey, turns to Tom and shrugs. "He was average guy. Nothing special."