It should have been the room that made his knees play both sides of the Hogan, Orndorff cage match. Lassie hadn't wanted him in there at all – possessive of his toys with the tag team death threat finally put to bed. Jules hadn't been keen on it either but wouldn't begrudge him this even to take sides with her partner in law. Vick had only asked him if he thought he'd be okay. His father... his father hadn't said anything at all.
There was no thrill at breaching the inner sanctum – den where a childhood horror had festered – coddled dreams of the darkest imaginings. Hindsight memory of the times he'd been alone, passed this house, been watched from the window just a few feet away. Some of those times had even been recorded to film – caressed so often the emulsion had worn thin.
She had yearned for him.
As overwhelmed with glee she'd been to bask in the innocence of his childhood bedroom, he felt the opposite frantic compulsion to flee from hers. Not so much from the flat white walls or black curtains – both cliché and explanation. It was the object on the simple, three limbed end table that had frozen him.
His parents hadn't believed in corporal punishment. The only spanking he'd ever received had been at the hands of his gym coach for a prank involving school paste and athletic cups. In spite of Henry getting nose to nose in rare defense of his son to a school official, the man had still held onto his job due to a mixed bag of political support and marriage to the principle's daughter. But just because his bare behind had been spared a thrashing from his parents didn't mean Shawn hadn't felt the brutal sting of injustice.
Twenty two years later, the delicate porcelain was still just as intact as the last time he'd seen it – a single chip missing from the flowered rim of the prancing carousel horse tea cup. A gift from his great aunt to his mother, the set had become so much more precious after old Polly had died. Shawn had been warned, repeatedly, to keep away from the fragile treasure. Lacking in moving parts and anything resembling manliness, the warning had seemed like so much hot air that parents spewed to their thoughtless and mentally deficient offspring. So, of course, it was only a matter of hours before Shawn would be staring down at the first toppled pretty, nerf football still rolling across the floor, Gus still holding his hands out for the ill conceived touchdown pass.
He'd blamed his parents for their own foolishness – leaving their eleven year old son alone with anything of value. They should have known better! It had clearly been a set-up for his downfall.
“I gotta go home. Bye, Shawn!” Gus, well versed in passing the buck, had ditched his doomed buddy while the echo of shattering glass had still been hanging between them.
Staring at the ruined cup had occupied, in his mind, nearly a year. Realistically it had been seconds but the slowing of time and the sureness that his parents would arrive home any moment had dragged the event to eons.
Back in his bedroom, he'd spent half an hour piecing various sized shards together with a bottle of school glue at his side. Drips of Elmers had covered his hand, had left sticky patches on his bedspread, had left tacky fingerprints on the intricately painted surface. Panic had made the repairs less than passable to an expert but he'd positioned the somewhat lumpier vessel at an angle that hid the worst of the damage.
A week had been enough time to forget the incident – relief at a successful caper replaced with the distractions of school and play. He hadn't thought twice about it until the following week night when his father had called him downstairs to explain himself.
Before he'd even made it to the living room he'd known what it would be about.
“Yes sir?” Tiny voice to match his tiny body – hunched and braced for the disappointment to follow.
Grounded for one week. No TV. No Gus.
It hadn't been the last time either.
In the following months, the pattern surely regulated by irresistible forces such as the phases of the moon or the life cycle of cicadas, Shawn had managed to destroy all but one of the delicate teacups.
The last one... It had sat on the table, cradled in its matching saucer – a warning and example of his failure. The table he'd given wide berth, eyeballing the lonely cup while edging by with steps slowed nearly in reverence. But fate, all along, had been closing the noose. It was the whim of time that had given him the confidence to believe otherwise.
“What did you do with it?”
He remembered his confusion when he'd dared to look up after his father had called him to the room, only to see him holding a single shard of painted porcelain in his fingers. He'd looked around the table himself – convinced, first, that his father had been testing him to force a confession. He'd insisted the cup had been right there the whole time while adamantly denying he'd had anything to do with the broken fragment. No body no crime had been overheard enough by his father, his go to used many times before to save his hide. Unfortunately, Henry Spencer had had the forensic evidence and a history of criminal mischief as finger pointers, all aimed towards his belligerent offspring. Broken could have been forgiven after a stint in solitary. Stolen with the refusal to own up had meant every weekend for the remainder of that year spent in community service under the supervision of his parental keeper.
He'd never forgiven his dad for the injustice. Never forgiven himself for the hurt caused his mother at the loss of that last treasured keepsake in spite of his innocence that one time.
He'd blamed any and all from aliens to sticky fingered invisible monkeys.
He'd never imagined, though...
One more piece of the safety he'd thought he'd had in his parent's home – gone. How many times had she been in their home? How many times had she watched? Without her father's fanaticism for secrecy, would she have... tried something? What if...
Shawn pulled his hand back from the teacup – one finger catching the handle. Reflexes nonexistent, he stared as the filigreed porcelain rocked on its base, almost righting, before plummeted off the table to shatter at his feet.
Running steps down the hall and Shawn put distance between himself and the remains as his father stopped in the doorway.
“I'm sorry!” Panted out, the desperate need to hide his sin shook through him – a need beating side by side with his shame.
Arms held out from his body at the fear of the unknown, Henry relaxed and let them drop, body sinking back a little, when he looked down at the source of the current distress.
A wild eye, trapped forever behind harness and braided flowers, stared up from a circlet of cracked paint. Pretty and quaint to his mother's gaze, the galloping horses had always seemed like captives to him – forced into subjugation and driven by an unseen whip. He'd picked up the term “projection” from his mother and had known the source of his opinion even though he'd never been able to change it. But he wasn't eleven any longer, no matter how small he felt right then.
“Yeah – fine. Just...” His lips quirked as he stared back at the angry stallion all trussed up in lace and frills. He couldn't walk past those damn cups without them hurling themselves to their deaths. It had taken the intervention of a smitten psycho to rescue the last one and now, within a minute of its discovery, he'd finally closed the circle on that little life cycle. The first bray of a laugh made his dad jump but, God, how could he not bust a stitch over this one?
Dad appeared to be struggling with the joke but Shawn was howling too hard to explain it. A paddy wagon ride was in his future, he was sure. But then, maybe he'd get a chance to play badminton after all. As long as Yang kept her hands to herself it could be a blast!
His belly had begun to ache by the time the helpless laughter subsided to hiccuping chuckles. Wiping his eyes as he avoided the look his father had been giving him that whole time, Shawn knelt to clean up the fragments. Grabbing the largest piece, he started filling it with the smaller slivers – careful to pinch them between two fingers to avoid cutting himself. Every few seconds his mirth became too much to hold in and another sharp laugh would break free – aching and shrill.
Seconds after he began, a shadow worked over his patch of the rug and his father knelt across from him. Wordlessly, the old man helped him pick up the scattered bits – cupping them in his hand like he was cradling an infant.
When the last piece was gathered, Shawn snuffled back a final shuddered gasp – the spasms in his chest fading out to a warm ache. He couldn't look up, though. Face blazing with heat, he kept his eyes on the treasure in his hands.
And then he jerked, startled at the feel of weight dropping on his shoulder.
“You did a good job, Shawn.”
Awkward moments were his father's specialty and immediately he felt the need to squirm from beneath the very rare praise. Besides, praise wasn't often delivered without a qualifier and he just wasn't in a state to deal with any buts.
And the last bit of that thought nearly cracked him up all over again – another thing he knew he couldn't handle just yet.
Then he felt his father shift and a greater fear rose- God, he's about to hug me- and he pushed back, letting the hand slip from his arm as he grabbed the slender table to pull himself to his feet.
“So what do you say we consider this one time served, huh?” Sniff and nose rub as humor shifted towards something less amusing – bleak stare towards the bed on the opposite end of the room, unadorned spread and military neat on the mattress, so far removed from the opulence throughout the rest of the house. The drawer of the end table next to the bed was still open. The photographs – three inches thick – had been removed by forensics over an hour ago. More had been found in the closet.
“Shawn, I'm...” The swallow was loud enough to bring his attention back to his father. Henry, no fan of sharing either, now was the one studying the ruined bits still in his cupped hands. His head shook just once before he broke the fascinated stare with the shattered vessel. When he looked towards his son, the transparency of his thought frightened Shawn almost as much as the room they were in.
To yearn so long for those words – his mind conjuring the delivery from a broken and sobbing figure while he himself stood, chest puffed in vindication at the flood of remorse. They had a system that, unhealthy as it was, worked for them. Mind still bucking at all the revelations of the past few days, this was a world shift he wasn't prepared to handle. Might never be prepared to handle. Feeling like he was stopping a bullet with his bare hands he reached forward abruptly and patted his father on the arm.
“We should get out of here. I promised Gus we'd swing by Kingston, he has a gift certificate he needs to spend by the end of the month, you up for some jerk chicken? Who wouldn't be, huh? Man, I'm starved, I haven't eaten since breakfast and that was like, three hours ago...”
“Shawn.” The ramble ended when the hand he'd left on his father's arm was suddenly grabbed. He realized the trap too late, mind latched on the thought of cutting himself free with the knife nestled in his jeans pocket it all went to hell when his dad stared back at him, eyes unwavering in seriousness.
“How about I buy this time.”
Dry swallow to grasp the words that hadn't managed to bludgeon him and Shawn felt his grin, a real one this time, spread over his face.
“No take backs.”
Henry smiled then too, tipping Shawn's hand into his own to catch the shards it contained. “No take backs.” As they passed the dresser on the way out, Henry deposited the broken teacup on its surface.
“In fact, how about I buy dessert too.”
Shawn smirked as they walked out.
“If I'd known I'd be rewarded I'd have broken that cup twenty years ago...”