I'LL BE RIGHT HERE

Chapter Eighteen

"We struck down evil with the mighty sword of teamwork and the hammer of not bickering."
(From: 'Mystery Men'.)

-x0x-

Then…

Whether by virtue of his charm or the sheer forcefulness of his personality, Shawn Spencer always managed to gravitate towards the centre of any room – even when he had been relegated to the sidelines. Gus saw it as a pathological need for attention that had been developing since childhood. Simply put, the man loved to showboat and he did it well.

This was very different.

'Spencer' was the name on everyone's lips today, yet the absence of his friend was shocking and Gus felt it keenly. There was a Shawn-shaped hole in the bullpen. No one else could fill a gap like that and Gus wasn't about to try. Instead, he made a beeline for Shawn's father.

"Mr. Spencer. I know what you're thinking," he said uncomfortably, halting a few steps away from the desk. He still felt like a naughty child in Henry's presence sometimes. The urge to confess was every bit as powerful as it had always been.

Henry shuffled a random stack of papers and lined them up squarely. Gus could see that he was fighting for control. Never had a man looked so ill at ease in a formal suit, as though he might burst through the seams at any moment; the Hulk hemmed in by Banner's civility and raging to be free. "I doubt it," he said grimly, "but go on."

"You think I failed him. I should have stayed with him." Telling the truth was supposed to be therapeutic but Gus only felt more wretched than ever.

"Wrong. If you were with Shawn, we'd be looking for you too. And I was thinking about Detective O'Hara."

Startled, Gus followed the line of Henry's gaze while trying to process this new information. "You were? I mean, why?"

Henry beckoned him closer, inviting his confidence. "You know," he said. "Right?" His blue eyes were shifty.

"Know what?" Gus said carefully. This was a very strange conversation to be having under the present circumstances.

The scent of Old Spice threatened to overwhelm the Super Sniffer as Henry leaned right in. "Juliet – and my son," he whispered.

Gus took him by the arm and steered him into a quiet corner, where they could talk more freely. "Shawn told you?" That was surprising, given their usual level of communication. He often thought the Spencer family must have been standing in the wrong line when God was handing out the sharing gene.

"Not in so many words. Why would he? I'm only his father… But I'm not an idiot, Gus. I can see what's right in front of my face. Unlike our Head Detective over there." They both stared at Lassiter, who was standing next to a whiteboard, tacking up photographs and scrawling notes beside them. One of those pictures was Shawn, looking goofy and grinning from ear to ear. Gus tried to swallow but there was a nasty lump in his throat - rather like the time the two friends placed a bet on who could stuff the most donuts into his mouth. The answer was five, and the winner was Shawn, of course. The prize was a month's supply of pineapple smoothies. Gus lost more than his dignity that day.

"Are you calling Lassie an idiot?" he murmured, pushing the memory away. It was so hard to concentrate.

Henry glared at him. "Of course not. I'm saying he doesn't know that Shawn is dating his partner. Hardly surprising. That's a conversation any sane person would try and avoid, for as long as they could." He gripped Gus by both shoulders and turned him around. "Now look over here. Tell me what you see."

I'm not your son, Gus thought, but he did as he was told.

Juliet was sitting at her desk with Molly, taking an official statement. The comparison between the two women was obvious to anyone who knew what they were looking for. "Molly's fear is out in the open," Gus murmured. "She has no reason to hide it." It was a natural, unrestrained part of her body language, as she twisted her fingers together and peered at the upside-down report, making sure that Juliet wrote down every little thing that she was saying. Shawn's secret girlfriend had no such freedom to express her feelings. On the surface, she was calm and professional. Her hand didn't shake and her voice was steady. The sympathy on her face was all for Molly – until she caught the two men staring at her. Right then and there, for just one second, everything she longed to share was visible in her eyes.

Unused to dealing with such raw emotion in a surreptitious way, Gus gave her a double thumbs-up – and instantly regretted it. "Juliet is under an enormous strain," he said to Henry. "That can't be good. Why doesn't she tell Lassiter?"

Henry shrugged. "I'm no expert on all this touchy-feely stuff, but now doesn't really seem like the right time to crack open that can of worms."

"Fishing metaphor?" Gus murmured. "Nice. And you're right, I suppose." He watched with admiration as Juliet finished the interview and guided Molly to a quiet space where she could gather herself and wait for news.

"Go talk to her," Henry prompted, tilting his head in Juliet's direction. "She could use a friend who knows her situation."

"What about you?"

"Me?" The pale blue eyes stared at him, genuinely startled.

"Aren't you scared for Shawn? I mean, of course you are, so don't you need me to…?"

"What I need," said Henry adamantly, "is for everyone to be focussed on what they are doing, with no distractions, so that we can find my son. Or are you planning to baby-sit me for the duration?" He was breathing quickly and his cheeks were flushed, but Gus knew better than to push the subject any further. No one wanted the Hulk to break free. He edged backwards a few steps, then fled for his life. An emotional conversation with Juliet was actually starting to seem preferable to any conversation at all with Shawn's father right now.

Walking up to her before he could bottle out, Gus tapped her on the shoulder and invited her into an empty room. Then he shut the door, sealing them into the Vault of Secrets.

"Why are we in the Chief's office?" Juliet demanded.

Oops. "We are? I mean… I need to talk to you." Gus tried to stop the tears from welling up. Being a sympathetic crier was such a curse.

"Are you okay?" Reaching out, she laid a gentle hand on his arm. "I'm sorry I dragged you away from your very important work thing."

"Are you kidding? I couldn't bear it another minute. All that fawning, and creeping, and dull conversation… anyway, that's not what this is about."

"I know." She nodded. "You're worried about Shawn."

He stared at her, open-mouthed. "Juliet. How can you be so calm?"

For a second, the hand on his arm grew tighter. "Calm?" she said, and her eyes were fever-bright. "You think I'm calm." It was a statement of bewilderment. "Gus, I'm doing my job. It's what I have to do. It's the only way to get him back safely. I should never…"

"Let me guess." Gus laid his hand over hers. "You should never have left him? Join the club. Shawn will always be Shawn, you know. He'll follow his instinct every time, whether someone is with him or not." The reassurance was for Juliet, but the words were helping Gus as well. "He's the only person I know who can race headlong over a cliff and land on a mountain of pillows. Okay, weird example." He frowned. "But you get my point. Shawn Spencer leads a charmed life. Trust me; I know. He'll get through this somehow."

"He'll get through this," Juliet corrected Gus, with absolute conviction, "because we are going to find him."

"I like your motivation," said a dry voice behind them. "I don't think you'll find him in my office, though." Turning, Gus caught the gleam in Chief Vick's eyes that told him she was only trying to lighten the mood. "Any news?" she asked hopefully, circling round to her desk.

Juliet straightened up, releasing Gus' arm and tugging on her jacket. "I'm waiting to hear back from my contact in Washington. I need to find out more about Meek."

"You think he really is a federal agent, then?" the Chief enquired.

"Who's Meek?" said Gus, feeling very much out of the loop. Juliet explained, as briefly as she could, about Shawn's hidden message and the pertinent facts of his disappearance. "Wait," he exclaimed, when she had finished. "Shawn and Dennis volunteered to go along with this guy?"

"Does that surprise you, Mr. Guster?" Chief Vick said curiously.

Did it? Did it really? "No," he admitted. "Not if Shawn thought that Cal was in danger. He'd want to do all he could to protect him. And Dennis – well, he's pretty impulsive too." Not to mention heavily invested in the whole idea of aliens and men in black. Gus shook his head. "I'm still going to kill him, though. When he's back, safe and sound."

"You'll have to get in line," Juliet muttered, but there was no real anger in her voice.

Chief Vick folded her arms. "And how are you holding up, O'Hara?"

"Excuse me?" The detective tried to look innocent and failed.

"Oh, come on now. I wasn't born yesterday. And this office of mine has far too many windows. I've seen the two of you sneaking around. You and Spencer, I mean. It's about time, frankly. I pegged you as a couple years ago. Congratulations, by the way."

"Um – thank you?"

"Based on the fact that he doesn't look shell-shocked, I assume Detective Lassiter remains unaware of the change in your relationship status?"

Juliet flushed, and nodded.

"Then I'll be circumspect." The Chief's eyes narrowed. "You are planning to tell him eventually?"

"He's my partner."

"That doesn't answer my question."

"Yes," said Juliet, smiling softly. "We're going to tell him. When…"

"When the time is right. Just so."

A knock at the door took them all by surprise. Buzz McNab was standing there with an apologetic look on his face. How much of the conversation he had overheard was far from clear, but that didn't matter right now.

"Pardon me," he said. "Detective O'Hara. You have a phone call… It's Agent Driggs. He says he has the information you requested. That's good, right?" Buzz looked eager, as Juliet barged past him in her haste to reach her desk. "Good for Shawn, I mean? You can find him now?"

"That's the plan," Chief Vick said grimly, trading glances with Gus, who felt an overwhelming surge of relief that he was not alone in all of this. Shawn may be an arrogant nuisance sometimes, but he certainly knew how to win people over – and that endearing skill of his could very well save his life today.

Hold on, buddy, Gus thought, with his fingers crossed for luck. We're going to get there, okay? I just need you to hold on tight, and not do anything reckless or stupid, or Shawn-like…

Riiight…

Oh dear.