I'LL BE RIGHT HERE

Chapter Forty Four

"You and I are a team. Nothing is more important than our friendship."
(From: 'Monsters Inc.')

-x0x-

Now…

Gus had never been jealous of Shawn's extraordinary skill set. More than anyone else – even Henry and Juliet – he knew exactly what made his best friend tick, and why he was the way he was. Shawn's intuitive leaps could be wild sometimes and his knack of recalling the most insignificant details was borderline scary, but Gus' faith in his friend's ability remained unshakeable and he had zero regrets about the turn his life had taken. He was the Watson to Shawn's Sherlock Holmes, the level-headed partner to the erratic genius. Shawn needed him, no question. And it was nice to be needed.

Besides, as he liked to remind people from time to time, he did have a complementary skill set of his very own. He could handle a car chase, as long as it didn't involve a three point turn. Then there was the Super Smeller, and his vast store of pharmaceutical knowledge. His retention of trivia was also top notch – which was vital when running with Shawn, who chose to discard basic scientific and historical facts in order to make more room in his brain for 'useful' information, like the lyrics to every '80s song imaginable or the precise contents of Carlton Lassiter's desk.

But the most important skill that Gus possessed – and the closest he would ever get to some kind of supernatural ability – was the way that he could read Shawn Spencer's mind. Not in any telepathic sense, of course, so there was no danger of losing his way in the labyrinth and remaining there, trapped, while his body lived on as an empty shell (number eight on his long list of Terrible Fates To Avoid At All Costs). He was no Professor X – just a regular guy who had been lucky enough to grow up side by side with the best friend anyone could wish for. In every way that really mattered, Shawn and Gus were brothers. Their humour was a perfect match. Their frame of reference was almost identical. It was corny, but sometimes they even finished each other's sentences. Gus understood Shawn's priorities and the generous, impulsive nature of his bravery. On the flip side, he also saw the anger and frustration that no one else was privy to. The random things that Shawn did always made a kind of sense to Gus.

And so he understood exactly what was going on right now.

How Shawn was able to function in his current state, Gus could only imagine, feeling a sympathetic shiver as he watched his friend struggle to stay upright when what he desperately needed to do was Lie Down and Stay Put. Gus listened to Shawn's rambling speech with growing concern – until his puzzle-loving brain caught on to the clue that Shawn was labouring to drop for him with all the delicacy and finesse of a jack-hammer pounding into concrete, or the thundering feet of the dancers from Clogapalooza. (He winced at the memory. Never again.)

At first, Shawn's plan seemed brilliant in its simplicity. Take down the villain; save the day. Yet the more Gus thought about it (which was generally advisable when the words 'Shawn' and 'plan' were combined), the more he saw its terrible flaw. Meek had a gun and so did his big, bad friend. The probability of one or more of those weapons going off was so high that any statistician worth their salt would be tempted to round it up to a certainty.

Unfortunately, Gus had no safe way to pass on this important revelation, and time was running out. Shawn and Meek were almost in position – but what of the trembling Table? Did he really intend to chicken out a second time, after his embarrassing failure on the Bamford rig? Or should he close his eyes, think brave thoughts and cling to the movie-hope that friendship would always win out over logic and caution?

All it took, in the end, to persuade him was a split-second look from Shawn, ever trusting, on that final turn.

He lunged forwards, placing his palms on the deck, and tried to think sturdy thoughts.

Instead, he was overwhelmed by the alarming realisation that, the last time they had done this successfully, both of them had been in the seventh grade, where everyone involved was significantly smaller. And lighter. And less likely to kill him with their bare hands.

Instinctively, he tried to shuffle out of the way but it was already too late. With a jubilant cry, Shawn toppled backwards, taking Meek down with him. The Table – Gus – had done his job and both were knocked off their trajectory. He clung to that comforting thought as he found himself face down at the bottom of a squirming pile.

At least, Edgar Meek was squirming. Shawn was disturbingly limp; not just boneless but dead to the world. And was that a shot Gus had heard as they fell?

"Help!" he squeaked, as the fear rose up through his gullet and rendered him almost speechless. Breathing was also difficult, since his lungs were as squashed as the rest of him.

A pair of firm hands hooked him under the armpits and began to pull him free. "No," he managed to force out. "Help Shawn."

"We are," said Chief Vick's blessed voice. "What on earth were you thinking, Mr. Guster?"

"Not… my plan," he gasped.

"Tell me something I don't know. You two are lucky you didn't get yourselves shot, pulling a childish stunt like that. Thank goodness our 'friend' Mr. Meek dropped his gun."

"You mean Shawn isn't…?"

Vick dragged him out from under the pile with surprising ease. Gus tried to scramble to his feet but the chief held up a warning finger. "Get your breath back," she advised as he rolled over and blinked at the bright blue sky.

"But Shawn…"

"Has all the help he needs," she murmured. "Trust me."

"I can't. I mean… of course, I do. You're a trustworthy person; I know you are. But I'd like to see for myself, if you don't mind?" he begged, horrified at the slip he had made, and desperately trying to make it right.

Vick loomed over him and her smile filled him with relief, even more so than her words, which were light and mischievous in spite of their ominous content. "Are you disobeying my order?"

"I… am?" he said, phrasing it as more of a hopeful question.

"Good for you." Slipping a hand beneath him, she helped to lever him into a sitting position. Once he was upright, he felt much better. This feeling was enhanced by the comical sight that greeted him.

Carlton Lassiter had materialised from nowhere, like a genie from a bottle – or a Starfleet captain from a transporter beam. His bony knees were firmly planted on the deck as he fastened his cuffs securely around the wrists of Edgar Meek. Both wrists, this time. Gus had never seen him look so happy. His prisoner, meanwhile, was the very epitome of fury; beetroot red and baring his teeth like a cornered animal. Nearby, the coastguard pilot had picked up Meek's gun and was emptying the clip, sliding the unused bullets into his palm with indulgent care.

"Taken down by a couple of circus clowns," Lassiter chortled. "How does that feel?"

"They did what you couldn't," Meek snarled. "How does that feel?"

The detective shook his head. Clearly, no insult could faze him when life was this good. "Team effort," he corrected Meek. "Who do you think shot your wing-man in the shoulder - with pinpoint accuracy, I might add? That's a personal best. Factoring in the wind speed, elevation, distance and the fact that he's a no-good, scum-sucking son of a…"

"Carlton!" the chief broke in. "I think he gets the point. As do we…"

"Yes – thank you, Detective," Gus offered up fervently. One mystery explained. And if Lassie had returned, then surely…?

Shifting his gaze, he saw her at once, precisely where he knew she would be. Juliet was kneeling beside Henry and both of them were hovering over Shawn like a mismatched pair of angels; one fierce, one full of compassion. Gus offered up a timely prayer that Lassiter would not turn around because, if he did, the brand-new couple could wave a wistful goodbye to their naïve attempt at secrecy. Juliet's face was an open book.

Gus crawled on over, positioning himself carefully between the Head Detective and his partner. Just call me Cupid, he thought, as he aimed a shy grin in Juliet's direction before lowering his gaze and focussing all of his attention on Shawn at last.

"Hey buddy," said his best friend in a weary voice. "What happened? I think I blacked out for a minute. Either that, or the Matrix just rebooted itself."

Gus smacked him on the arm. It may have been an over-reaction but he couldn't help himself.

"Ow," Shawn grumbled quietly. "Too hard…"

"Too hard? Too hard? You knucklehead, Shawn. I thought you were dead. If you ever put me through that again, I swear, I'll kill you myself."

"Seems a bit redundant… Besides, my dear old dad just made me the exact same promise. How many times can a person be killed, do you think?"

"In your case?" said Juliet. "Nine, I suspect." Her tone was light, but her fingers crept out and found Shawn's undamaged hand. Neither one acknowledged the action openly. There was no need. The touch itself was everything.

"That's fair," said Shawn, pretending to look suitably chastened. Gus could see the toll his cheerful act was taking, in the pallor of his skin and a subtle tightness around his eyes and mouth. "I should probably start a tally, then. How many have I used up already? Gus? I know you'll know."

"Too many," his father complained. "You look like hell, by the way. What's wrong with your stomach? You keep wincing when you move."

Leave it to Henry Spencer to state the obvious when everyone else was skirting around it. Shawn tried to keep up the pretence, in spite of the fact that his energy was clearly waning. "Let's just say I know how a football feels after the big game, and leave it at that."

"No," Gus countered. "Let's not. Give it up, Shawn. You need help."

"Truer words," Henry muttered – but there was a tiny gleam of pride in his eyes as he continued, and Gus knew that Shawn had caught it too. "Nice takedown, by the way."

"Thanks. It's been years in the planning – right, Gus?" Shawn glanced from one face to the next and saw that the jig was up. "Okay, fine. My stomach is bruised. And my finger is… well, I'd rather not think about that. But hey! I'm not dead. So my glass is half-full, right? It's all about attitude."

"Yes," said Gus, "and you've got plenty of that."

"Thanks for noticing, buddy. You see?" Shawn lied to them all, convincing no one. "I feel better already…"