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Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
1987

10 minutes later

Shawn had to make everything stupid.

They sat on opposite sides of the porch stairs, Gus leaning mournfully against the railing, pretending Shawn didn't exist, while Shawn sat on his other side, separated by a few feet and Gus's fervent wish for his non-existence.  The shaggy-haired ten year old was slowly slouching his way down the stairs with his chin propped in his hand, pretending he had been captured by the evil Copper from Planet McBeady Eyes, and was succeeding in his game of pretend where Gus was failing. While Gus's sad eyes studied a lawn he wasn't seeing, Shawn's were darting from object to object, bored and growing quickly worse.

The only thing that marked them as allies were the matching bars of soap, periwinkle blue and held firmly by a single small hand, halfway inside their mouths.

Shawn had to make everything stupid.

"Thish ish dishgushting."

Gus's mournful look disappeared with a narrowing of eyes, though his mouth remained firmly clamped around his own bar of soap. Shawn did not exist Shawn did not exist Shawn did not ex--

"Heh-lloooh," Shawn-I-Am-Your-Non-Existent-Best-Friend tried again. "Guush, I tah-king to ooh."

The small cloud of hate to his right simmered.

"I saaaiid," came clear and obviously free of any word-blocking objects. "This is disgus--"

"Shawn!" barked a voice from somewhere in the house. The presence that had been preparing to breathe down his best friend's neck jumped and scootched back on the porch stairs. "You had better get that soap back in your mouth, you have seven minutes left! Don't make it thirty!"

For the first time, Gus smiled.

An awwwwww came soft and muffled through blue cleanser.

It had started out as Shawn's idea, of course. It had ended Shawn's idea as well, which made Gus think he should stop listening to Shawn ideas in general, no matter how good they sounded at first. It had turned into a spitting match that both boys lost when Henry had caught sight of them spitting on each other in the kitchen window. When they couldn't (or, as the case usually was, wouldn't) explain themselves--even Gus had clammed up, staring at the ground with enough fervent hate to blast a hole to China--Henry had pulled out the soap with a snapped out lecture on germs, dirty mouths, and the edict that if they were going to be stupid enough to spit on one another, they were going to do it with clean mouths.

Gus, who knew already what germ theory was, remembered suddenly that he was covered with spit. Shawn's spit. Shawn's stupid spit.

He itched to wipe off his arms on his good pants.  And they'd only been at this three minutes. Almost the whole ten minutes of their punishment still left.

"Cuh-on, dun gi'ee da shi'ent tree-ent. I in'ented a shi'ent tree-ent."

This was, possibly, maybe, slightly intriguing. But it wasn't good enough bait.

With a soft slooping sound, a bar of soap slid free from its confinement. "Come on, Gus," Shawn whispered loudly, thinking perhaps that Gus, with his back turned towards his best friend, had gone slightly deaf. "Don't give me the silent treatment. I invented--"

"SHAWN."

With a swift slurping noise, followed by the surprised gag of someone who had tasted more bitter soap than he had wanted to, the soap was shoved back in.

"Ih IN, IH IN, DAD," Shawn shouted back through the screen door.

After waiting to see if Shawn's dad was going to descend on them in wrath, and hearing nothing, Gus found he couldn't not answer that blatant lie. He swiveled on his butt and glared.

"Yoo. Did. NAH."

Shawn was smiling at him, of course, teeth clenched and grinning over the bar of soap. He had gotten it smeared already on his mouth, a blue and white mini lather. Gus had to swallow the urge to check his own teeth to make sure they were clean, ha ha, and pretended he couldn't feel the utterly bitter taste of mockingly cheery blue soap creeping into the back of his throat.

His best-friend-no-longer stuck out a hand to shake, and Gus's nostrils flared.

"I 'ATE Yoo."

Shawn's expression turned serious, and he pulled out the soap with his left hand. He smiled, and Gus couldn't ignore the hopefullness in it, nor the weird, almost-fear look to the grin. "Come on.  Pleeease."

Gus's glare was disappearing without his permission. He switched his grip on the soap, and was extending his right hand when Shawn suddenly pulled his own hand back and spit into it.

Gus's hand jerked out of the way. "SHAA--"

"You're already covered with spit," the ten year old cut him off, eyes shining with a grin from under his bangs, hand held out once more.

Shawn had to make everything stupid.

But he was right.

He held the soap carefully in his left hand, and meticulously spit soap and ten year old saliva into his hand. With a smack their hands met, squishing unpleasantly on the mixture, squelching between their palms. Shawn shook vigorously, and just as suddenly let go.

"I win," he said, turning to the screen door and Henry, Gus noticed with a guilty jerk, watching with his arms crossed from behind it. He wasn't looking at Gus, however, but at Shawn, his eyebrows half raised between reprimand and question.

Shawn turned to Gus and grinned.

"I win for-ever," he said, and laughed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

2008 
Possibly Right-On-Time, but Still too Early in the Morning

Shawn looked up from within the cocoon of pillows around his head, studying the bedroom ceiling that he'd memorized long ago, and absently contemplating a vague desire to spit the bad taste out of his mouth.  It had been a little over two weeks since Danielle Montoya (and the only amusing thing, it turned out, about her was the fact that you couldn't meet her and not think about Inigo Montoya and revenging a six-fingered man) had attempted to kill him pirate-style, leaving him buried up to his neck in sand until the tide came in.  He escaped drowning, death by inhalation of sand grains, and a good beating to the ribs, only to earn himself a chest cold.  He considered the effort that would go into ridding himself of the fuzziness on his tongue and in the back of his throat, felt the dull ache of pressure building behind his eyes, and concluded the answer to that question was an emphatic: "way too much."

As always, there was an easier answer to his problem.

He found his cell phone hiding under the MANBEAST pillow (printed in white block letters on a hideously red thing that kept making the rounds between his apartment and Gus's), pulled it open with his mouth, and pressed down on speed dial 1.

"Burton Gu--"

"--uuusssssssssss," Shawn moaned, throat scratchy. He winced and decided against clearing it. "I need to rinse out my mouth but the sink is too far away. Bring it to me."

"Shawn--"

"Don't tell me you can't," he interrupted. "I'm sure you were pre-pre mechanical engineering at some point."

"Shawn, this is really not a good--"

He cleared his throat, which did very little to make it feel any less like raw meat, but did quite a bit to stop the sentence he didn't want to hear. "If you only understood how horrible--"

"I don't have time for this."

Dial tone hit him and Shawn finished his sentence with a rather mournful: "--I feel."

Speed dial 1 again and it got through half a ring before Gus's voice, seriously irritated, snapped out: "NO" and was replaced by dial tone.

Shawn flopped a pillow over his head, and at half a ring beat Gus's "No" out with a swiftly placed "YES."

Dial tone.

He managed to grin and frown at once. The song and dance was amusing, save for the fact that the sink was no closer to him that it had been five minutes ago.

Gus, however, had spent the last two decades learning first hand the type of focus Shawn could put into not leaving him alone, and on the fourth try the phone rang straight into voice mail. By then Shawn had worked out a pathetic, five minute long tale about being alone on his death bed. It ended suddenly with a sound from the back of his throat that was supposed to indicate death, but mostly sounded like he was gargling sea water.

Shawn flipped MANBEAST back off his head, the pillow disappearing with a soft tumble off the side of the bed. He pursed his lips and regarded the ceiling.

Phone calls.  Desertation of duty while Shawn was walking into danger (okay, neither of them knew it at the time).  Actually choosing work over psych.

The jackal had been getting away with something for far too long.

The next move had Shawn stepping on the MANBEAST, pulling his sleep shirt over his head with the hand that wasn't holding down on speed dial 2.

~~~~~~~~~

"I mean it, Shawn. You had better be serious about this psychic vibe."

Shawn studied the fine hairs above Juliet's lip, a nearly invisible white line of soft looking down. They moved when she spoke, and he liked to see them pucker with the pull of her mouth. He waited for her to catch him watching her, but she was a careful driver and kept her eyes on the road.

"Yes," he said, eyes not moving from their resting place. "I'm feeling a definite pull."

She shook her head as though getting the hair out of her face, an adorable but unneccessary maneuver, as her hair had been twisted into a servicable knot. With a curt flick she swept the loose hairs off of her neck, where they settled a moment later. "Because if this is some sort of ruse to mooch off of my good gas mileage and you make me late--"

He put a hand up in a stop motion that she must've caught out of the corner of her eye (which begged the question: why had she refused to take his bait while he was staring at her a moment ago?) and shifted in her excessively girly car. "No, no roos, kanga or otherwise. I'm on serious psychic business.

"Anyways," she ignored his bad pun, "aren't you supposed to be allowed to ride your bike again?"

Shawn nodded bitterly.  The blow to the head was only supposed to keep him off the bike for a week, according to the doctor, but it had disappeared from the street in front of his apartment, only to later be discovered locked up in his dad's garage.  Shawn had protested heartily, only to find that his thought-provoking protestations to being treated like a child caused the motorcycle to disappear from Dad's house altogether.  Henry, presumably, had hidden it in one of his friend's garage.

Or possibly sunk it into the ocean.  He had actually walked out onto his dad's dock to check if there was any extra chrome in the sea.

"Dad's nuts," he informed her sulkily.

She snorted softly, an amused sound.  "And this serious psychic business couldn't wait for you to get it back?"

 Shawn raised an eyebrow at her.  "Why else would I be up so early?"

A swift flicker of eyes snagged him. "That's true enough. Half the day is usually gone before you decide to do an honest day's work."

"Ah yes," he said, smiling knowingly. "But that makes it half a day shorter than everyone else's."  He tapped his nose.  "You see my clever plan.

This time she didn't turn her eyes from the road, her tone pleasantly cheery. "And yet almost half as much worth."

His hand dropped, almost seeming to muffle the wet cough deep in his chest.  He frowned, rubbed his sternum, and finished up with an "Ouch" that could have indicated either the physical or emotional pain.

He caught her smile and grinned.

"Actually," he paused and shifted his knees again, trying to fit them under her dash, "I couldn't sleep. This awful," here he made pouty lips at her, "sickness has kept me tossing and turning through all the watches of the night." He thought about that for a moment. "Some of the other timepieces as well."

Juliet tried not to smile, that much he could tell from her face, but he spotted the glint of teeth she allowed herself when she turned her head to take the corner. Obviously she did not understand his pain, which was great.

He puppy-dogged her when she turned her head to check the road before turning. "Seriously, the middle of the night was like blue man group on tour, bongos on my skull, the usual, and of course the snot flows like Moses hitting a rock with his staff, which is actually one of the more bizarre--"

"Shawn," she interrupted, expression disturbed. "I don't need the blow-by-blow--"

"The kleenexes lost," he informed her.

"--okay, ew." She made a face that crinkled her nose, tongue tip poking out from between her teeth. "But come on, Shawn." She smiled placatingly at him. "You've been milking the cold for the past two weeks. It gets a little old."

"Moo," he said, sadly and pathetically. "It's been a very unsure time in my life. Comfort me?" he tried, shifting to nuzzle into her arm.

"And we're here!" she chimed, jerking the car into a parking spot with a sharp move that had her shoulder out of head-nestling range. He slumped low in the passenger's seat and regarded the SBPD. "You know, Gus's work is just a little bit farther on, and you're a whole two minutes early--"

"I meant it," she scowled cutely (two expressions that he had come to realize were an actual possible pairing), eyebrows furrowed over blue. "Get to work."

The green door of the bug popped shut (even her car was cute, and didn't know how to slam properly) and he watched her walk business-like halfway up the stairs before turning to regard him. With a sigh he let the seat belt slide off his chest, and slouched out of the car to follow her.

The police department was busier than he had expected, which made a certain kind of sense--Shawn had a tendency to assume the party had trouble going on without him, and it figured that life revolved perfectly well around the rest of the world while he was sick in bed. It irritated him, both feeling miserable and missing the fun because he was too miserable to stir it up.

He sniffled the mucus back into his nose, and set out to look for his favorite head detective.

"Mr. Spencer."

Chief Vick, of course, was a perfectly acceptable substitution for the moment.

"Chief," he turned, lips smiling to reveal his teeth. She was standing in the door of her office in a business suit that looked powerful in a competently feminine way. Her stance managed to convey to him her expectation that he step into her office, her straight-backed shoulders as sure he would obey without so much as moving an eyebrow. "What an unexpected pleasure!"

Her imperturbable disbelief she managed with the eyebrow raise. "You're in the police station, Mr. Spencer."

He moved towards her. "Isn't it amazing how the fates manage to align perfectly in order to bring us together?"

"Ah," she said with a smile. "Your paycheck is right here."

He followed her into the office and she stepped around the back of the desk, leg movements smooth and sure as she moved the chair out of her way. She didn't sit down, but pulled a check from within a pile of papers that had been signed by several volleyball tournament managers.

"You'll have to excuse the mess," she said. He had no doubt that he would, and she wouldn't care if he didn't. "And my apologies for the lateness of your payment. Because of the tournament--"

"Say no more," he interrupted her. He pulled on his polo, pulling it taut against his long sleeved undershirt, grimacing at the feel of the yellowing bruise blotched across his ribs.  He smiled, rubbing the cloth against skin, and trying to clear the tickle from his chest by briefly clearing his throat. "The officials--"

Her frown cut him off. "As I was saying..."

He sniffled and swept a hand towards her.  "Please, do continue."

"Your permission was needed, thank you Mr. Spencer," she said dryly.  "As I was saying, because of the shuffle between the city council and the police department, as well as the tournament officials, as to who had jurisdiction over which action, the process was slower than normal."

Shawn grinned.  "You mean they couldn't decide who got to foot the bill."

The furrow between her eyes looked frustrated.  "Finances are a difficult business."  Her eyes skipped over his shoulder, he could tell without meaning to, glancing out her large office window into the police station, and he craned his neck to see what could have drawn her gaze.  The police station was bustling under normal parameters, but Lassiter had that brisk walk that said he was going ball-busting as soon as he could round up his posse.  The timing between her statement and the shift in focus of her eyes was too obvious.

Windows to the soul.  He read them.

Shawn turned back to her, rubbing his hands and clearing his throat a little harder to fish out the tickle from his chest.  "Ooh, we don't have financial fraud on our hands, do we?"

Karen frowned.  "This is hardly your type of case."

A point above Shawn's eyes pounded once suddenly, and he felt his eye water, but life had suddenly gotten more interesting again, and he had the feeling he'd already been cheated out ofsome fun.  "I knew I was being psychically--"

"Let me rephrase that," the Chief said, placing her palms in the midst of the papers littering her desk, leaning into them with just the right angle to mean it but not come across as aggressive.  Internally, Shawn applauded her subtle mastery of body language, feeling the irritation in his lungs digging its way deeper into the delicate chambers of his lung sacs.  Thank Gus for that bit of science.  "This is not your case."

The cough exploded from him, braying out like a bullmastiff trying to hack up a piece of grass.  It wasn't the type of cough to peter out on its own, and he stopped abruptly at the end of a particularly violent bark.  "No pity for the sick man?" he attempted, fighting off the cough still tempting him in the back of his throat.

Karen looked unimpressed, hands still on the desk, though she was visibly resting less weight on her arms.  "Mr. Spencer, your ability to extend your cold for as long as you see fit, while redoubtable, is getting a little old."

"That was so obviously a real cough!" he protested.

She raised an eyebrow at him.  "Undeniably," she agreed.  "What I find suspicious is your impeccable sense of timing."

"But!"  He looked pitiful.  "But I got it saving the day!  Being tortured by evil relatives of Inigo Montoya!"

"Mr. Spencer--"

"You kill my father!" he continued in the same pitiful voice of grieved affront.  "Prepare to die!"

"Out," she finished, pointing to the door with a body stance that said I mean it.

He paused in the doorway, lips pouting, shoulders slumped.  He coughed once, and wasn't sure if it was contrived.  "My name is--"

"Out."

The door shut emphatically behind him, with a finality that told him not to disturb her again, and his gaze wandered aimlessly for a second.  The click of the knob shot through his skull, and he suddenly remembered his headache.  He winced, then caught sight of Juliet talking to Buzz with a squint-eyed gaze.  He was walking over to them, dodging a police manhandling a man in cuffs down the hall, before his aching brain-tissue-turned-mush informed him of the decision.

They split off from each other before he reached them, Juliet moving farther away and Buzz walking on an inadvertent intercept course to Shawn.

"Nabby," Shawn greeted him with a grin.  "You going on rounds?"

"Geeze, Shawn," Buzz said, looking concerned.  "Are you okay?  You don't look very good."

"You know, you're the first one to ask me," Shawn told him frankly.  "Can you believe that?  I feel awful."

"You look it," Buzz agreed.  He backtracked suddenly, his expression shifting to his oops face.  "I mean, you don't look awful, you just look, well, maybe, a little under the weather."

Shawn swallowed, trying to clear the ache of the skin lining the inside of his throat, and failing utterly.  "Also euphematically known as 'awful.'  Euphematically?  Euphamistically?  Euphamistic-like?"

Buzz didn't follow up on the grammar lesson, and Shawn was brought back to what had brought him to the station in the first place.  Gus and his current disappearing act, capacity for avoidance (Shawn blamed this recently developed ability as failure on his part--it was no fun stalking someone when they could hear you blowing your nose from behind the bush in which you were hiding), and mysterious business-related phone calling needed to be put to a stop.

"Euphemistically," he decided.  "If you're going on your rounds, can you drop me at Gus's work?"

Buzz looked briefly like he wanted to rub the back of his neck, but instead sheepishly put his hands in his pockets.  "Sorry, Shawn.  I'm not on rounds for another couple of hours.  I might be able to get permission to take you home though.  I don't think the Chief will let me..."

He continued, but Shawn tuned him out, following Juliet with his eyes, who had reemerged from the hall in which she had disappeared holding several sheets of paper in one hand, a steaming coffee mug in both hands.  Both looked nice.

"On second thought," he interrupted the young man, cutting off a very well-thought out monologue on why Shawn should be in bed and that even the Chief must be nice enough to let someone take him home if he was still sick, "I'm going to see what's going on."

He left Buzz wondering what had just happened, following the cut of Juliet's professional jacket into the haphazard maze of desks.  She absently set the mug on the corner of Lassiter's desk, hooking a chair with her heel and pulling it next to the detective's desk.

She handed the documents to Lassiter at an angle that Shawn was just able to make out the figures and flow charts that indicated he was about to get involved in a financial case.

"I'm seeing--" he proclaimed, causing both to jerk and look suddenly up at him from their chairs, Lassiter's eyebrows drawing down as he studied the hand that Shawn had thrust towards the ceiling as though to make sure there was no gun at the end of it, "--brothers!  Parker brothers!  And an uncle with pennies in his bags!"  He paused.  "Let me take a moment to retract that last statement.  That was unnecessarily crude."

"Rich Uncle Pennybags?" Juliet hazarded.

Shawn took a moment to try and quietly cough down the tickle trying to rise in his chest again.  "Ding, ding, ding, pass Go and collecte your 200."

"Yes, finances, we get it, now go away," Lassiter scowled, turning in his swivel chair.  The physical act of separating himself from the stupidity of the psychic vision did nothing but cause Shawn to lean over his shoulder to get a closer look at the document, sniffling mucus as loudly as possible into his nose, and breath raspy as he tried to clear it again.

The head detective recoiled.  "Don't think I believe you're actually sick.  I've heard that drivel for the past two weeks and I'm tired of hearing it."

Shawn pulled his long sleeve over his wrist, sniveling as he wiped his nose.  It left behind a long, white streak of mucus on the cheerily red undershirt, and Shawn casually set his forearm on Lassiter's shoulder as though resting his suddenly heavy arm there, several inches away from Lassiter's cheek and just in line with his vision.

"Get that away from me!" Lassiter snapped, jerking away.  The paper crumpled in his grip, and Shawn lost sight of it.  He moved onto his next target while he waited for opportunity to present itself again, picking up the coffee mug still innocuously waiting ont he edge of Lassy's desk.  He brought it to his lips and blew on the hot liquid.

"Hey!" Jules protested. "That was mine!"

Lassiter startled, and shot her a hard glance.  "I thought it was for me."

Shawn saved the argument from going further by coughing pointedly into the liquid over which his lips hovered.

"It's yours," they agreed in irritated unison.

"Fantastic," he assured them.  "And Uncle Pennybags will just be helping you with this too."

He plucked the papers from Lassiter's grasp, which had the misfortune of having loosened just long enough for Shawn to literally sieze his opportunity.  He brought them to his face, ignoring the dull ache in his skull for a smile.

"This has nothing to do with you, Spencer," Lassy sneered.

"Ooh," Shawn answered, turning to Juliet for confirmation.  "I get the feeling that means it does have somethign to do with me.  I swear I returned those handcuffs I borrowed earlier in the week."

Lassiter looked like he was about to take him seriously, and really it was 50/50 as to whether he should, when Shawn suddenly paused, studying the name embedded within the lines of numbers and charts.

"Wait," he said, eyebrows furrowing for the first time. "This is from Central Coast."

He didn't miss Juliet and Lassiter exchange a look, and the expressions suggested that they had both been waiting for this to happen.

He waved it at them, though they already knew.  "This is Gus's company."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The jackal slid into the hall off the conference room like he owned the place, or was at least renting it at an exorbitant price. He fought off the urge to check around the corner, failed utterly, and caught the secretary at the desk, hidden up to her chest by the curved counter raised around the desk, trying not to raise her feather blonde eyebrows at him as he glanced around his shoulder. He found a nonexistent piece of lint to brush off.

"Burton Guster," he smiled at her, walking forward. "I'm here for the interview."

"Guster," she said, looking up at him without moving her chin, "I know who you are." She was a pale-eyed, impossible-to-age-year-old with lashes that disappeared without makeup, so that on a good day she looked perpetually surprised. On a bad day she remembered her mascara, and from a distance all you could see were two vaguely ominous looking black circles.

Today was a bad day, and her eyes bored into him from directly below her eyebrows, a creepy and somewhat evil experience. "You say good morning to me eveyrtime you pass Mr. Kochev's office. Take a seat."

His teeth gleamed at her. "Thank you for pointing that out, Irene."

They called her Ice Cold Vanilla around the water cooler.

He turned before she could answer and surveyed the hall for the spot that screamed "worthy of promotion." This proved to be something of a bust, as the four chairs set along the wall were of the kind found in any unused business hall off any generic doctor's office.  This managed to back up how much their pharmaceutical agency consistently tried to be taken seriously, and Gus blamed Shawn's influence for that last bit of commentary on the hall's decor.

He studied the two open chairs, both set opposite of each other and against their respective walls, and finally chose the one next to Kathy Breckinhall, as she was the only person in the hall smiling.  Steve Zenk, on the other side, was tapping away on his laptop as though his future career depended on it, which may or may not have been true. Gus had the vague idea that Zenk was a blandly uninteresting looking person, mostly because he'd never really taken the time to look at him.  He satisfied himself by internally calling the man a show off, and felt better about the mostly empty briefcase next to his knees.

"Zenk," he said with a sharp nod, taking a seat.

"Guster," the other man nodded, not looking up from his laptop.

Kathy turned her brightly cheerful grin on him, which seemed wrong at nine in the morning, and took another sip of the contents of her thermos.

"Coffee?" Gus asked.

Her laugh neighed loud, once, and Gus remembered why he didn't sit next to her at lunch.  Brown-haired, just a little higher on the rating scale than mousey, she started most of her sentences with "Oh" and ended them with an exclamation. "Oh no, Silly, don't you know that much caffeine is a recipe for an early heart attack?" She laughed like she'd told a joke, and, feeling the need to make the conversation less awkward, Gus joined in. "This is tea and honey. Oh, and don't tell me that myth about tea having more caffeine than coffee!"

Gus laughed again, because it seemed appropriate.

"I know, right?" She displayed her gums to him.

He nodded, flashing her his own pearly whites, a sound that could have been construed as agreement emerging from between his teeth.

"Oh, but don't get me started. Are you ready for this interview?" She went on before he could respond. "I am. This is a great opportunity. Oh, but you know that! And of course you're not nervous, Fearless Guster! Eh?" She nudged him conspiratorially with her elbow, which was bonier than he had been expecting. She laughed, either because she'd been trying to hurt him and was delighted she'd succeeded, or because she thought he was joking when he continued smiling while he rubbed his arm. "But you'd better look out for me, I'm really ready for this one, and I know I've been clocking in overtime--" (here Gus winced and tried not to think about the last time he had tried to clock in overtime, which had been interrupted by the extremely unamusing visual of getting to see his best friend enjoying a pirate's necktie) "--for the last three weeks, so of course I'm dedicated--"

The secretary's phone rang, and looked over at her, trying not to tune out Kathy, though she hardly needed him to listen.  She went on "--and I've got a fantastic work ethic, Oh! and don't get me started about my great attitude--" and it was Ice Cold Vanilla, with a sneer over the counter around her desk that saved him.

"Boss wants you," she said.

Gus had no idea what that could mean, but he didn't hesitate.  He jumped to his feet, which stopped both Kathy's exposition and Zenk's typing.

"This could," he said to no one in particular, taking a moment to pause, "be important."

Out of the corner of his eye, Katy waved a magnanimous hand and went back to her thermos. In front of him Zenk resumed hitting keys like a game of whack-a-mole, and he managed to smile at the secretary, taking the phone and leaning against the counter, trying not to think of her watching him with a flat mouth and black-rimmed eyes.

"Burton Guster," he said with his business suit smile.

There was a loud and juicy sniff.  "Dude.  You're the drug dealer. Where's my nyquill?"

"Shawn," Gus snapped quietly into the phone. He glanced furtively to his left, then to his right, half expecting Shawn to come tramping out of the conference room. "I thought--"

The sound of Shawn clearing his throat cut him off. "You thought wrong, dude. No, don't look for me around there," this set off another round of furtive glancing, "Someone refused to give me a ride, even with me pathetic and low in my current state. But I'll get you next time, Inspector Gadget."

"I'm hanging up," Gus said flatly.

"I wouldn't!" Shawn sounded cheerful, and like he had won something.  "I already told the sexy voice on the phone that I was your big bad boss, calling to see if--"

"I'm hanging up," Gus repeated, then paused.  "Wait.  You think that Ice--" he abruptly remembered he was standing right next to her, and he decided to save the "sexy voice" comment for later.  "Why are you calling me?  This had better be an emergency."

"Oh," Shawn's voice assured him.  "It's an emergency.  There's some really interesting papers I'm looking at right now that--"

Gus started to whisper furiously into the phone, covering both the fierce expression pulling his mouth taut and the phone speaker.  "You will not ruin this for me, Shawn.  I don't care what paper you've found--"

Shawn sounded suddenly casual.  "Oh yeah, about that whole ruining this for you thing: don't think a stuffed nose has kept me off the scent of the jackal. You make trails like a sick elephant with diarrhea. Don't laugh, it's not a pretty picture."

Gus, as far from laughing as he could be, turned defensive. "I do not make trails--"

"Yes, well," the mocking tone made it through the over-the-top and almost-certainly-emphasized-for-pity's-sake congestion loud and clear. "Just because you've been so worried about making nice with the bosses--"

"I'm always worried about making nice with the bosses," Gus snapped.

"--doesn't mean you can negelct your poor, sick friend," he continued. "I need you. To wipe my fevered brow, start up that decongestion, machine, thing--"

"Humidifier."

"--and the humidifier, and your free supply of powerful medication. Now, my symptoms are sore throat, congestion, fatigue--"

Gus smiled at Kathy, his back against the receptionist's desk, who was watching him appraisingly, and turned away. "I am not--" he realized he was staring directly at Ice Cold Vanilla, smiled and nodded at her flat stare, and turned again to gaze at a spot above Zenk's head. "I am not your personal drug store," he said pleasantly. "If you need cold medication so badly, you can go to the drugstore yourself."

There was a pause. "Did I mention the cough?" he finally asked. "Because here, listen to this:" he coughed breathily and Gus's expression started to flatline, "Okay, seriously, that was a bad example, if you'll give me a second I can work up something that sounds like a St. Bernard--"

"I am a pharmaceutical sales representative--"

"And a damn good one," Shawn said in an announcer-like voice.

"--not a doctor," he finished, still trying to work a smile with gritted teeth.   He could practically feel breathing down his neck, and he wasn't sure if it was Shawn or the secretary's eyes he could feel sneering at the back of his head from over the desk partition.

"What?" Shawn sounded enormously surprised, and ruined it with another weak-sauce cough. "Those aren't the same thing?"

"You know perfectly well--!" he began hotly, then realized he was, again, looking into the vacant holes that were Ice Cold Vanilla's well-rimmed eyes.  He took a breath, and tried to smile sincerely, like he wasn't a serial killer.  "You have had this cold for at least two weeks.  That is the incubation period of the virus.  You are getting over your cold, not milking it for another five days while I answer to your every whim."

"It wasn't a whim when I said we had to catch the killer that gave me this cold in the first place.  You didn't answer that either."

Gus was silent, and it was hard even for him to determine how and where the guilt, anger, and the entire unfairness of the situation weaved one into the other.

Shawn almost said something, but it was cut off by his fake cough.

With a rush, that twisted feeling swept away, and he fell closer into the area of anger, continuing in a mildly irritated tone that spoke volumes about what Shawn called his "Sea of Rage."  "Next time you wander off with a hot girl on your own, remember the discomfort you're in now.  All you had to do was let me actually get some work done, and then I would have backed you up.  They weren't going anywhere until the tournament was over."

"Dude, really?" Shawn sounded disappointed, and too completely happy to ignore the rest of Gus's argument, which had logic on its side. "That's it? That's all the comfort you can give me? 'Next time don't wander off with a hot girl on your own'?  Are you even remembering this properly?  Did you get the concussion and I just missed it somehow?  Okay, seriously, next time a hot girl suggests with the business end of a night stick with a corrupt security guard attached, I'll remember the pay off isn't worth it and pleasantly remind her that it all eventually leads back to influenza.  The hot, batting-for-the-other-team, lackey-toting, head-bashing girl will see the error of her ways."

"It's not influenza, Shawn," Gus snapped back, ignoring the punched-gut feeling Shawn had just delivered, whether he meant to or not, "it's the common cold. You're being a baby."

"A sick baby!" he cried.

Gus swallowed his irritated sigh. "Check your cabinet, ther might be some dimetapp left in there. If not, grow up, and go to the grocery store."

"Uptight McGrouchyPants," Shawn said. "Reewr, hiss. Can I depend on you for anything anymore? No brow wiping, no drug providing, no backup in dangerous situations--"

That feeling, the one he didn't like to recognize, suddenly flared in Gus's stomach, a heavy, clenching wieght that was easier, somehow, to interpret as anger.

"Don't you dare play the guilt card with me! All you had to do was wait. For me or anyone else! I have other responsibilities, you know that. At least one of us has to be the adult sometimes! Babysitting you isn't the only job in my life. Do not pin your stupid decisions on me, Shawn."

There was a heavy sort of pause that Gus didn't like, and then, mockingly and somewhat triumphantly: "Ah-ha. I knew it had something to do with work. Wait, wait, I'm spitballing here, but maybe you have to impress someone and--"

"Okay that's enough," Gus snapped.  "If you're so sick, leave me alone."

"You know what?" Shawn sounded as though he'd just come along the greatest realization in his life.  "You totally missed the window of me telling you why I was calling."  Gus could hear the grin.  "I just got a ride to your work."

"Shawn--!" Gus started, but there was only dial tone.

He banged the phone into the cradle, knocking over a tub of paperclips that rattled but remained closed. This was not happening.  This could not be happening now.  He breathed sharply for a moment, then suddenly looked up to check the corridor just in case, and stopped.

All three coworkers stared.

Gus realized he was standing.

"I guess," he said, straightening his tie, smiling like he was in a shaving commercial, "that it wasn't so important after all."

Zenk's finger tapped once, dropping sharply and with a loud "tack" in the silence.

Behind Gus the conference room door snicked open.

"Burton Guster."

Gus just went on a smilin'. "Present," he said without turning.

"Great. We're ready for you."

Gus swiveled and swept past the young man checking off something on the clipboard he held. He turned absently to follow Gus in, and was pushed back as Gus swept out again, swiftly picked up the briefcase resting against the legs of the chair, and brushed back in again.

Gus could hear, as the door closed behid him, the sound of Kathy leaning forward to talk conspiratorially to Zenk sitting across from her.

"I'm telling you, coffee will do that to you. Oh, you would not believe the stories--"

The door closed and Gus squinted into the bright light.

The conference room wasn't dark as he had been expecting, but filled with an intimidatingly bright light that flooded in from the glass windows that made up the East walls of the room. The slatted curtains had been pushed back, and the fake wood of the table that stretched the length of the room gleamed as only a polished business table could.

The sound of huge and what could be arguably described as jolly laughter had him blinking the sun out of his eyes and striding to the far end of the room, past a line of empty swivel chiars, to where Frankjim Ogletree was talking up the man at the head of the table. He was standing, leaning against the table on his hands, looming comfortably into the man's personal space, and laughing like Errol Flynn.

Gus's eyes narrowed. He could've sworn he had first slot for the interview times.  Frankjim Ogletree, while the owner of, quite possibly, the worst name Central Coast had ever seen, also had a soft spot for doing in people he thought might be successful.  He'd had it in for Gus since the young man had smiled at him and wished him a nervous good morning on his first day of work.  Frankjim had known he'd been condescending that first day, and the discorvery that Gus worked on the side as a psychic detective's assistant hadn't endeared him much to the other.

Ogletree couldn't stop his jerk back as Gus thrust a hand in front of his face, extending it to the man in the chair. "Burton Guster."

The suit was a man in his late 40s, hair dark grey and desperately combed over the bald spot on his head. Gus, as the professional he was, managed not to stare. He had the air of a man who liked being in charge, and the paunch of someone who ate well and exercised less. He was possibly Hispanic, undoubtedly rich, and studied Gus's hands as though looking for dirt under his fingernails before shaking it with a limp fisted grip.

The desperation of knowing that Shawn could come bursting through that door any minute drove Gus to ignore every moment of awkward silence and thick-handed squeeze to get this done as quickly as possible, and to do it with a smile as fake as the man's.

The man spoke. "Robert Sanchez."

His eyes said: "Impress me."

"Goodbye," Gus said with a teeth-gleaming grin at Ogletree. The regional manager straightened slowly, letting the young man who had showed Gus in start to lead him out. He paused and turned back to Gus.

"Have a good work day," he said, eyes tight, smile grim.

"You too," Gus replied. They exchanged competetive sneers and Ogletree let the brunette quietly usher him out.

"Sit down," Mr. Sanchez said, and Gus remembered that he was still shaking his hand. He looked at it for a second, laughed like he was still holding his hand as a joke, and then dropped it. Mr. Sanchez's hand didn't fall limply to the table as he had expected it to, but drifted back to the papers sitting in front of the boss's chair.

"Let me see," the boss announced, and shuffled the papers like a hand of black jack. Gus put a hand on the back of the chair behind him, and sat.

With a soft sigh, the chair sunk a slow five inches. He grabbed the handle on the side, fought quietly with it while Mr. Sanchez was distracted, and went down another inch.

Mr. Sanchez looked again at Gus, having successfully cut the deck, and Gus stopped fidgeting with the chair to smile up at him.  He was now currently several inches shorter than the boss, and shrinking.

"Tell me." This, Gus supposed, was meant to be conversational, and Gus reacted appropriately by putting on his serious business face. "What, in your opinion," by the curling of his lip, this did not apparently account for much, "makes you an asset to this company?"

Gus smiled as though comfortable, leaned back with his hands folded at his sotmach, and the lumbar support on his swivel chair failed. He sank back another half inch and strained his neck to keep meeting Mr. Sanchez's eyes, as though he had meant to fall comfortably flat in the swivel chair turned Laz-E-Boy.

"Well," he said, neck muscles strained. "I have worked faithfully at this company for nearly ten years, and in that time I have never failed to complete my route to the utmost best of my ability." He was into his recitation now and he leaned back again, then had to pull back into the 3/4 position, remembering a little too late his precarious position. "And may I say, as someone who has made pharmaceutical sales his career, that Central Coast has earned their fine reputation through--"

The ring of a cellular phone cut him off. For a second Gus panicked, thinking Shawn was calling him again, before Mr. Sanchez with nothing more than a single finger raise, shifted uncomfortably and pulled the phone from his belt. "I told you I wasn't to be disturbed," he frowned past Gus's shoulder at the young man taking meeting notes. Gus started, to realize that the man--and he hardly deserved the term, he couldn't be more than 23 with the gel-spiked hair of someone trying to look both corporate and hip--was still in the room, writing notes with a hand that almost appeared lazy as he scrawled and looped his pen across the clipboard. He gave his boss a placatingly apologetic look, which was summarily dismissed. Mr. Sanchez ignored him and answered his cell phone with the look of someone who was doing the most irriting job in the world. He smiled, however, a moment before answering, voice pleasant. "Rober Sanchez."

Several seconds passed as Mr. Sanchez listened. He opend his mouth to speak. "I--"

Whoever was on the line cut him off. He tried again in another few seconds. "That won't be nece--"

Gus watched as Mr. Sanchez continued to smile, the expression going more and more brittle. "I--"

Gus felt that he should turn away, but couldn't.

Mr. Sanchez was positivley furious now, but his face, smile grimly set in place, didn't drop. "Well, I--" he stopped short, then continued in the next second. "Thank you. That sounds fine."

For Mr. Sanchez's sake, but really more for his own, Gus pretended he couldn't hear the dial tone.

The phone clicked off but the pharmaceutical boss continued to smile, phone trying to clack onto his belt. It missed, fell to the floor, and Gus chose the better part of valor and decided Mr. Sanchez didn't need to know.

"Well," the businessman set his hands firmly on the table and pushed himself back to his feet. He didn't look at Gus. "If you'll excuse me for just a moment. I'll be right back."

Gus tried not to stare, but he couldn't look away. Mr. Sanchez walked forward easily, which turned briskly to a stride. His brittle smile remained, his face determined to appear as though everything was normal.

By the time he hit the door, he was running.

Gus stared at the door, watching it swing back on heavy hinges and click shut again.  His glance jumped to something he could comprehend and his eyes met those of the young man's.  For a moment, they shared the deep camaraderie of two people who had no idea what the hell just happened.

The young man, bangs stiff and gelled upwards, broke their gaze first.  "Well," he tried.  He paused, opened his mouth to continue, and apparently found something to say for he continued in the next second.  "I'm sure he'll be back in a minute."  They regarded each other awkwardly.

"Just a minute," the brunette reassured himself, or possibly Gus.  It was impossible to say, and pointless to contemplate.

Gus looked at the papers still on the conference table.  The swivel chair had stopped moving, and was innocuously empty.

Gus had to wonder exactly what this meant for his interview.  Would he get a re-try?  Or was that it--an unlucky one-shot completely wasted.  All those phone calls, the attempts to look like he was ambitious enough to actually show up for work when he was supposed to.  He hadn't even gotten into the good stuff, about how Central Coast was a metaphor for humanity and how the community was a metaphor for religion.  It made sense in context.

He was thinking about Central Coast and its role in the geopolitical climate of the world, and how he could possibly fit that into his next interview, absently watching young clipboard-guy study his papers and rock back on his heels, when the door banged open with enough force to smack against the wall.  The sound of Kathy screeching like a canary in a blender and Ice Cold Vanilla's tones frostily demanding attention was nearly as violent as the way the door exploded away from the wall, rattling the window and sending the closed slats of the curtains clacking against each other.

"Freeze!" Lassiter shouted.  "SBPD!  You're under arrest!"

Juliet was sweeping the room grimly from his elbow, squinting into the strong light, and several police officers were already bursting through the other door like water, but it wasn't until Shawn sloped in after them, coughing into one hand and waving with the other, that Gus realized he was in hell.


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