The latest battle was over, and they were surrounded by very small people. Shawn was used to this because he usually stuck pretty close to Steve, and Captain America was like a magnet for little kids. As soon as the danger passed, they all started coming out of the woodwork and flocking to him.
He gave a cheeky wave to the gawkers with their cellphone cameras, mostly because he knew it irked Lassiter, and was about to walk away when he realized there was someone attached to his leg.
Fear and confusion were radiating off the little girl in waves as he knelt down and pried her off of him. “Did you lose your mom?”
“My daddy,” she whimpered, clinging to her stuffed doggie. He scooped her up and hugged her for a few minutes before handing her off to the nearest available cop.
And if his heart melted a little when she shyly kissed his cheek... well, hell, he was still only human.
They'd given him the files on the super-soldier serum to look through. Gus was pretty sure it was only busywork, because if the country's finest scientific minds had been trying to unravel the secret for over fifty years, he was damn sure not going to crack it.
(“Keep an open mind,” Fury had told him. “You'd be surprised what you can see with a fresh eye.” Gus had spent most of that briefing trying not to look at the man's face.)
Shawn bounded into the room and sprawled inelegantly on the bed, poking Gus in the side. “Team-building time! We're going out for drinks. You're invited.”
Gus refrained from pointing out the obvious as he turned the page of the file. “I have homework, Shawn. And technically so do you.” The frequency of generally weird and perilous incidents requiring the Avengers' attention had been on the rise lately, and Shawn was supposed to be stepping up his training.
“I already got my butt kicked this morning. Your work can wait a night too.” He reached up and tugged on Gus's sleeve. “C'mon, pleaaase?”
The idea of downtime was a tempting one, but Gus had grown fairly immune to Shawn's cajoling over a lifetime spent together. “I really can't. But you go have fun.”
He regretted saying this later, after getting a text from Shawn's newest SHIELD minder. Not sure what's weirder, she'd written. That I'm watching a psychic and a Norse god sing Katy Perry songs or that I'm kind of enjoying it.
He replied back: Teenage Dream?
He winced. He'd been wondering lately if Shawn might be feeling a little homesick. Take pictures.
Shawn had arrived home an hour later, carted in by Steve in a fireman's carry. “Special delivery,” he remarked dryly before depositing Shawn on the couch like a sack of grain and departing. Gus sighed.
Hi, honey. Shawn's mental 'voice' was a little fuzzy around the edges. Gus abandoned his files to sit down on the sofa beside him.
You know I don't like it when you drink so much. Shawn had a worrying tendency to let his carefully constructed mental walls come down when he got even remotely buzzed, which in turn tended to kick his empathic tendencies into overdrive. The practical upshot of this was that Gus usually ended up holding him while he cried and leaked snot all over his shoulder.
I only had a few, he insisted, but this was accompanied by a lot of mumbling and a face-plant into Gus's lap. Gus just pushed him off.
Okay, let's get you to bed.
Did I ever tell you you're really pretty?
Once or twice.
Shawn learned the next morning that training with a hangover really sucked.
He tried to focus as Agent O'Hara aimed a sweeping roundhouse kick at his lower legs, landing him flat on his back on the padded gym floor. He frowned up at her. “No fair, Jules. I'm a sick man.”
“You're only sick because Tony Stark wouldn't know the meaning of the word 'restraint' if it bit him on the ass.” She rolled her eyes. “I'm trying to teach you these skills because you need them. So unless you'd rather train with Captain Rogers again...”
“Oh hell no.” The last time they'd sparred together, his bruises had had bruises. Steve, to be fair, had been extremely apologetic about it.
“One more round.” She reached down to offer him a hand up.
Sparring had been followed by an equipment upgrade to the most important part of his gear, a pair of high-tech gauntlets that converted psychic energy into kinetic force. Halfway through Tony's long-winded boastful explanation of the physics and technological breakthroughs involved, Shawn's eyes had started to glaze over.
“It means you can hit people really hard,” Gus summed up.
Being who he was, Shawn knew a few things about his teammates..Not that he pried – Henry had taught him better than that once the reality of his abilities became undeniable – but for the most part they hadn't been around him long enough to learn how not to broadcast certain things. He knew that Bruce still didn't like living in one of the most heavily populated cities in the world, though he was making considerable strides in trusting his own self-control. He knew that Steve missed his own time more than he liked to let on, and that Tony Stark was as fiercely devoted to Pepper Potts as she was to him. It wasn't like any of these things were secrets, but for some reason other people just didn't seem to see them. Thor was hard to read, for some reason, but Shawn was pretty sure that the Asgardian's inner thoughts were deceptively warm and fuzzy.
Agents Barton and Romanov were closed books to him, and despite his personal vow to only use his abilities for awesome, he found himself bothered by it. He knew that they both had good reason to distrust people who could get inside their heads. He'd read the mission files (Lassie really should be more careful with his passwords) and Natasha had told him as much herself. Her unspoken message – hurt him and I will break you in half – had come through perfectly clearly even without preternatural assistance.
Knowing all this didn't mean he had to like it, which was why target practice coincided nicely with Get To Know Clint time.
Clint, as expected, `was stationed in the archery section of the range, his bow trained on a carefully arranged target. He nodded a greeting as Shawn checked his own weapon.
“You're really good at that,” Shawn observed as another arrow found its mark. “You think you could teach me how to arch?”
The only response was a rather expressive eye roll. He'd made that joke about a dozen times and Clint hadn't laughed once.
“That was some briefing yesterday, huh?”
Clint grumbled an affirmative. At least they were approaching verbal communication.
“You might say it was an 'arrowing' experience.”
The tiny, almost imperceptible upward quirk of Clint's mouth would probably not have been noticed by most people. For Shawn, it was good progress.
“On your six, Shawn!”
“THERE'S A GIANT LIZARD THING BEHIND YOU!”
“See, was that so hard?”
Gus had mixed feelings about being allowed on missions. His official role was tactical support, but secretly he suspected that Shawn pitched a fit about being away from him for so long. Whatever the reason, it seemed like most of their time together lately had been spent shouting at each other over comm links. He had to admit it had its exciting moments, but he knew he wasn't really cut out for battlefield ops. Even when he wasn't technically on the battlefield.
“Gus, you there?”
“Where else would I be?”
“I was thinking – oof – assuming we all make it out of this in one piece, you wanna get hitched?”
Seriously, Shawn? SERIOUSLY? “You're asking me this now?”
“Seemed as good a time as any,” There was a muffled crash on Shawn's end of the line. Probably the Hulk doing his thing. “So, you wanna?”
Only you, Shawn Spencer. “Yes, I do. But you owe me a real proposal.”
“This is all very sweet, boys, but can we please keep our minds on the matter at hand?” Natasha's voice was as calm and steady as it always was.
“Shawn, please tell me this isn't an open comm line.”
“Mazel tov,” Tony added. “Now get your ass over here.”
The real proposal came two weeks later, after they'd taken some time off to visit Henry and tell him about the whole engagement thing (which had been a little awkward, considering they'd never actually told him about the boyfriend thing, but typically, he'd been entirely unsurprised.) Their first night in town, Shawn had taken him for a walk along the boardwalk and presented him with a ring that surprisingly didn't look like it had come from a Cracker Jack box. Gus was oddly proud of him.
Henry was proud of him too, although Gus was probably the only person who realized it. He hadn't seen the two of them so relaxed around each other since he and Shawn were kids – a skinny pre-teen trying like hell to control abilities that no one around him seemed to understand and the awkward nerdy book-smart boy who stuck by his side no matter what. Logically Gus knew that a few heart-to-heart talks weren't enough to erase decades of hurt, but at least they were both trying. The superhero thing would likely always be a sticking point – Henry had no fondness for people who operated outside the law, government sanctioned or not – but Shawn was helping people, and that meant more than he knew.
He found Shawn on the beach, his shoes off and his jeans rolled up, letting the waves wash over his toes. No matter how much he traveled the world, a part of him would always belong here.
You're gonna freeze if you keep doing that.
They stood together in companionable silence, watching the sun set.
“So... thanks for that.”
Shawn's ears were still ringing after being dug out from the rubble of a high-rise. He wasn't sure how he felt about having a career where half a building falling on you was an occasional occupational hazard. He'd managed to avoid serious injury thanks to his armor and a life-saving pocket of air, but if Bruce and Steve hadn't been nearby, things could have ended very badly.
Steve just shrugged, which was sort of impressive considering he was half holding Shawn up at the time. “I was asthmatic. You never forget how it feels to not be able to breathe.”
“... Okay.” It always made him a little nervous when Steve talked about his past like that. “Does Gus know I'm okay?”
“He's waiting for you back at base.” Bruce came up behind them, pulling on a T-shirt. Someone must have found the Emergency Pants Stash. “He was pretty freaked out, but Lassiter calmed him down.”
“Huh. Remind me to be nice to him someday.”
Things were quiet during the ride back to the Helicarrier. He watched Steve out of the corner of his eye, noting the tension in the other man's stance.
“Dude, what is your deal?”
“What?” For all his admittedly awesome combat skills, Steve was surprisingly bad at knowing he was being watched, at least by people he considered allies.
“You've been acting all weird since the thing with the space dragons. Is this because Gus and I...” He made a vague gesture with his hand.
Steve shook his head. “It didn't bother me before he agreed to make an honest man out of you. Why would it bother me now?”
“I dunno. You just seem... distant.”
He didn't answer for quite a while. “It's nothing against the two of you,” he said finally. “You just remind me of someone I used to know.”
Gus found him later, as the medics patched him up with a lot of stern looks and admonishments to look out for signs of concussion. Like it was his fault superheroing was a full-contact sport. His gloves were sitting in his lap, ready for the inevitable repairs they'd need later. He stared at them as the nurses finished their fussing. They were strong, reinforced with armor plating where they needed to be, yet the base material was as soft and flexible as fine leather. (“Nanopolymers,” Tony had said, along with a lot of other technobabble that Shawn had quickly tuned out.) All in all, they were a perfect fit.
He felt rather than heard Gus sit down beside him. “Hey.”
“Hey.” He leaned against Gus's shoulder. “You know I'm okay, right?”
“Yeah.” He didn't sound entirely convinced.
“Besides...” Shawn reached over and tapped him on the head. “You'd know if something happened to me.”
He shuddered. “Don't remind me.”
There wasn't much Shawn could say to that. “You're not regretting any of this, are you?”
Gus scoffed, turning to look him in the eye. “C'mon, son. You know I'd follow you anywhere.”
He was trying to make light of things, but the utter sincerity behind the words was a relief to Shawn. He held up his hand for a fistbump, which Gus obligingly provided. “You wanna follow me to the cafeteria and help me scare up some FroYo?”