- Ring Pop
The first time Shawn proposes to Gus, they’re in the Lerners’ tree-house (the Lerners’ own kids are all grown but they don’t mind Shawn and Gus playing in there since neither of them have a tree-house of their own), and he has a red ring pop all ready (not blue because for the past two months, Gus has refused to eat anything blue for reasons unbeknownst to everyone even Shawn, and the first time Shawn tried to do this he forgot and had to scrap the whole thing halfway through). He knows that to get married you need to love somebody and get them a ring, and he loves Gus more than anybody except maybe his parents and he has the ring (red not blue, double checked), so he’s ready.
He gives Gus the ring pop, and while Gus is sucking on it, Shawn asks, “Hey Gus, you wanna get married?”
Gus tilts his head and frowns around the candy. “I don’t think we’re allowed,” he says after a moment of thoughtful consideration.
“Well why not?” Shawn asks, curious with a tint of argument (he was ready to list all the reasons they should get married to convince Gus but he knows he doesn’t have control if they’re not allowed at all ).
Gus thinks this over for a second before removing the ring pop again. “We’re too young,” he points out and dang Shawn hadn’t thought of that. Maybe he should’ve asked his dad what laws there were about marriage before he asked Gus. “I think you have to be like twenty to get married and we’re only seven.” Shawn scowls and picks at a splinter on the floor of the tree house, and Gus continues, “Also… I think there’s rules about boys marrying boys. Father Andrew says God doesn’t like it.” Gus puts the ring pop back in his mouth looking troubled and sad.
“Father Andrew is an idiot,” Shawn says with vehement conviction. “God doesn’t care about stuff like that. He only cares if you’re good and nice and you’re the goodest and nicest person I now. And anyways, if you love each other, why should it matter if you’re a girl and a boy or two boys or whatever? Isn’t marriage just about loving each other?”
Gus shrugs but he doesn’t look less troubled and Shawn’s shoulders slump. He might not care much about church and God (it doesn’t make any sense ; if Adam and Eve were the only people then their kids must have had kids together but when Shawn asked Father Andrew about if that was allowed—because Shawn was pretty sure it wasn’t —he’d just said that was a sin and when Shawn asked if that meant Adam and Eve’s kids were in hell, he’d gone all quiet and told Shawn to stop asking questions), but he knows it’s really important to Gus and Father Andrew is an idiot but if he says boys can’t marry boys, Gus is going to listen. What Shawn needs is more information, and he resolves to ask his dad later, about the law and about God because he also agrees that Father Andrew is an idiot, and maybe he’ll agree on this too.
- Spy Ring
So apparently there are parts of the Bible that say boys shouldn’t marry boys (that doesn’t make Father Andrew any less of an idiot in Shawn’s eyes though, maybe even more of one for being grown and not seeing what Shawn can, that love is love no matter who’s it between) and for some reason the government agrees. “But,” Shawn protests when his dad tells him all this, two weeks after he first proposes to Gus (he’d meant to ask immediately but then he’d gotten distracted by a water balloon fight started by the McArthur twins and then he was being yelled at for getting the sofa wet and then he just forgot for a while), “what about the separation of church and state?”
Shawn’s dad looks a little sad as he shrugs and says, “Yeah, well kid, it doesn’t always work like that.”
When Shawn’s own face pulls into a frown, he reaches out and ruffles his hair in a reassuring manner. “But hey, there’s people out there trying to change that right now, so maybe by the time you’re old enough, you can get married to whoever you want.”
Shawn cheers up a bit at that and starts planning another proposal; he’s going to get Gus to say yes, and then they can wait to be old enough Together.
This time, Shawn proposes with a spy decoder ring he gets from a gumball machine for 50 whole cents. Ring pops, he reasons, while delicious, won’t last till they’re old enough to get married. Plus, Gus doesn’t have a decoder ring yet and this way playing spies will be ten times as fun. And Gus will like that the ring is practical too, and maybe that will help convince him to say yes.
Shawn asks while they’re camping in Gus’s backyard for the night. They’ve been running around trying to catch lightning bugs all night (they have a jar and everything but every time they catch one, Gus gets sad about trapping it and separating it from its friends so they let it go again), and now they’re laying out on a blanket (at Mrs. Guster instance to keep their clothes at least kinda clean) and watching them flit and flicker above them. Gus is smiling and happy watching the lights, and Shawn thinks this is as good a moment as any so he pulls out the ring. “Here,” he says, “I got you a spy ring.”
Gus takes it with a wide grin and holds it out to admire how it gleams in the dim light from the porch. “Awesome! Thanks Shawn!”
“Also, I talked to my dad and you were right. We couldn’t get married right now , but we could when we’re all grown up, if you wanna.”
Gus is quiet for a moment as he considers this. “Maybe,” he finally says, and it’s not a yes but he lowers his hand so it’s on top of Shawn’s and they hold hands and talk and watch the lightning bugs dance till Mr. Guster comes out and tells them if they’re going to be camping out, they have to actually get in the tent and sleep .
- Mood Ring
Shawn’s eleven when he decides to try and propose to Gus again. Shawn knows that they’re going to get married someday, knows it in the same way that he knows his parents love him and that he’s probably never going to develop superpowers, so now he just has to convince Gus.
He has mood rings this time, matching ones that his mom helped him get when they went to the zoo. He doesn’t want to give it to Gus right there , not with his mom there and also the crowds of people, so he gets the ones he wants while Gus is distracted by the model zoo train and she pays for them and puts them in her purse so Gus won’t see. Gus’s is shaped like an elephant and Shawn’s is shaped like a giraffe and they’re the best things he’s ever owned.
“How’re you going to ask him, Goose?” his mom asks that night, when Shawn crawls up next to her in the armchair in her office (even though he’s eleven and too old for cuddling, he still likes curling up with her in the evenings when all she’s working on is reading a new book). She puts an arm around his shoulder and runs her fingers through his hair absently and he cuddles closer, already feeling warm and sleepy.
(She looked sad the first time that Shawn said he was going to marry Gus and that night he overheard his parents talking in low, serious voices about some things he didn’t really understand but that scared him anyway. His mom came in to check on him later and instead of admonishing him for still being awake past his bedtime, she bent down—and her eyes were still wet from tears—and hugged him tight. “Oh Goose,” she said, voice choking up like she was going to start crying again. “I love you, no matter what. Remember that, okay? Your father and I love you very, very much.” He’d nodded against her shoulder and held on to her tight till he got sleepy again. Now, she hardly ever looks sad when talking about it, but Shawn understands more about all the things that scared her—still scare her—and the cuddling is as much for her as it is for him.)
Shawn shrugs. “I don’t have that bit planned out yet,” he admits. The other times he asked, he’d gotten the rings and just waited for the moment to feel right… but then again Gus hadn’t said yes those times, so maybe planning out the other bits is important too. “How did dad ask you?”
His mom tells the story about how he took her for a romantic evening drive and then gave her a bouquet of wildflowers (which doesn’t sound like his dad but okay) and popped the question while they were watching the sun set over the city.
“I can’t drive,” Shawn says contemplatively when she’s done. “But flowers are nice.”
Shawn gets a bouquet of cloth flowers from the craft store for 97 cents. Fake flowers are nice because you can keep them forever without worrying about water and they don’t attract bugs and they’ll never wilt or die. Shawn likes the idea of giving Gus something for forever because even after they outgrow rings, the flowers can still be there.
He can’t do a romantic drive at sunset either, so instead he prepares a picnic for the beach. His mom helps him make sandwiches and Gus’s favorite cookies, and he even prepares a written out list—“93 Reasons that You, Burton “Gus” Guster (Age 11 and 1/2) Should Marry Me, Shawn Spencer (Age 11 and 1/4)”—that he wrote out with his very Best penmanship and his dad even checked for spelling and grammar mistakes (because Gus doesn’t like those and Shawn wants Gus to like this list).
His parents have some kind of conversation with mainly their eyes as Shawn packs his backpack and double checks that he has everything. His mom smooths down his hair and wishes him luck, and his dad shakes out his newspaper and says, gruff but faintly amused, “Go get ‘im, kid.” Shawn waves to both of them and then races out to meet up with Gus at their meeting spot (the big bush on Holland that Gus thinks is lilac and that they occasionally see buds on but never flowers; it’s a botany mystery).
Shawn and Gus eat their sandwiches while debating the relative merits of Spider-Man vs Batman. When they get to the cookies, Gus nibbles on one cautiously (Shawn said he made them himself which okay, yeah, one time he’d made cookies that made everyone throw up, but now his mom always supervises and anyway Shawn would never intentionally hurt Gus), before deeming them edible and taking a big bite.
“Hey Shawn,” Gus says a moment later, halfway through his second cookie. “What’s going on?”
Shawn takes a deep breath to steady himself (he doesn’t remember it being this nerve wracking before, but then again he’d been 7 and not a lot of things had made him nervous then) and reaches into his bag to pull out the last few things. “I wanted to give you these,” he thrusts the fake flowers at Gus who takes them with a blink of surprise. “My mom said flowers were good and romantic and you never have to water these and they’ll never die so you can keep them forever.” This isn’t really where Shawn had planned to start and mostly he’s just rambling at a quick pace but he knows Gus can still follow along after years of practice. “And I wrote you this list,” he passes over the papers which are only slightly crinkled. “Which you can read later if you want because I worked really hard on it. And,” he takes another breath, “I got you a ring.” He holds out the ring and Gus takes it, still blinking in surprise. “I got it at the zoo the last time we went because your favorite was the elephant right? And I got myself one of the giraffe because I like them best. It’s a mood ring too and it came with sheet saying which is what but I left it back at my house sorry, I can give it to you later. And I know we can’t get married yet because we’re too young and we’re both boys and that’s against the law, but I like you Gus and if we ever can get married, I want to marry you.”
Shawn runs out of breath and pauses to take another one, but when he opens his mouth again, nothing comes out. He just sits and stares nervously at Gus who’s still looking wide eyed and surprised at the flowers and the list and the ring in his hands.
Eventually Gus moves, running a finger over one fake petal, skimming over a few lines of the list, pressing his thumb to the mood ring rock to see if it would change color. He’s smiling slightly, just a little upturn of his lips with bright eyes, but a smile nonetheless and yet… he’s still not looking at Shawn.
Finally, after a few nervous minutes, Gus says, “I don’t know Shawn. I like you too; you’re my best friend.” He looks to Shawn at that and Shawn nods vigorously in agreement. Gus is his best friend too which is why he thinks that getting married would be so good (item number 23 on the list). “Bu I think there’s more to marriage than just being best friends which is maybe why you have to be a grownup to do it.” Gus bites his lip and toys with the mood ring for a second. “I’m going to say no,” Gus says and Shawn’s heart drops to his stomach. Then quieter, still without meeting Shawn’s eye, “but we can still be best friends right?”
Shawn plasters on a smile that is only partly fake and says with forced brightness, “Of course! We’re best friends forever Gus! Nothing is going to change that!” Gus looks up and meets his eyes with a grateful smile and Shawn’s heart settles back in its rightful place even as it still hurts. “These can be our friendship rings,” Shawn continues confidently slipping on his giraffe ring as Gus puts on the elephant and they fist bump.
Gus makes an awkward gesture with the paper and the flowers. “So do you uh…”
Shawn shakes his head and motions for Gus to keep them. “I got those for you so they’re yours,” he explains simply. “Keep ‘em or throw them away, whatever.” Gus nods and carefully puts them in his own backpack.
(“How’d it go?” his mom asks when he comes home.
Shawn sighs and lets his shoulders slump. “He said no.”
“Aw Goose.” She opens her arms wide and Shawn crawls into her lap and if he cries a little, nobody has to know.)
- Class Ring
Shawn is drunk. It’s the end of the summer, and his mom is gone, and his dad arrested him, and Gus is going to go away to college in a few days, and Shawn doesn’t have a plan beside not doing anything that his dad wants which isn’t really much of a plan at all, so Shawn gets drunk and brings Gus along with him.
The Gusters are out of town for the week so Shawn brings over alcohol he bought with his fake ID that Barbara G’s older brother had made him for $100, and they’re getting drunk on Gus’s bed—the same bed they once shared for sleepovers before it became ‘weird’ for boys to sleep together—surrounded by boxes and suitcases dividing Gus’s life up to this point into two categories: things he will take with him and things that will be left behind to gather dust. Shawn doesn’t know where he fits in there and he doesn’t want to ask, scared of the answer. Gus is fretting over his last-minute packing (like he hasn’t been totally prepared for three weeks already), and Shawn tries hard not to think about how alone he’s going to be.
“I’ve lost it,” Gus groans in defeat after combing through all of his drawers and still not turning up with his class ring. “I think it must’ve been at Alyssa’s party last month,” he says forlornly as he collapses on the bed next to Shawn and takes a pull from the half empty bottle of vodka. “I thought I’d managed to keep it in my bag, but I guess not.”
“Wait,” Shawn, who’s only been half paying attention for the past 20 minutes finding familiar pictures on Gus’s ceiling, says, sitting up and grabbing his bag. He rummages around in the bottom for a second, pulling out a few pencil nubs and broken hair ties, before emerging triumphant with his own class ring. He presents it to Gus with a dramatic flourish. “Here, you can have mine. I’d just lose it eventually anyway.”
Gus studies him for a second, in that quiet intense way that makes Shawn’s skin tingle and itch a little and his breath catch for a moment, before taking the ring and slipping it onto his finger. “Yeah, okay. Thanks Shawn.”
Gus is admiring the ring, twisting it around a few times on his finger, when Shawn, lips a little loose because of the alcohol, says, “It’s kind of like a proposal.” (He hasn’t proposed to Gus in nearly seven years, which has been harder than it would seem seeing as how kind of all he wants to do is marry Gus and live happily ever after together, but tonight he’s drunk and melancholic and there’s too many things he doesn’t think about to keep them all straight right now.) Gus laughs but he doesn’t say anything as he passes the bottle back to Shawn.
Shawn takes another sip and then because he doesn’t really have anything to lose, he says viciously, “We should run off and get married. That would make Henry mad.” He knows they can’t really get married—the laws haven’t changed that much yet—but they can get some semblance of it. They can make vows and exchange rings and swear to stay together in the eyes of God if not the state. And anyway, legally getting married didn’t make a difference for his parents so maybe if Shawn and Gus don’t they’ll actually stay together.
Gus goes quiet and still for a moment, and then says, slow and serious, “Marriage shouldn’t be about making somebody else mad, Shawn. It should be about love and commitment and wanting to spend the rest of your life with someone.”
“Yeah alright,” Shawn mumbles and drops the subject, instead getting up to change the record to the Beatles before sitting back down beside Gus. He doesn’t say that he loves Gus more than anybody in the whole world, has since they were kids. He doesn’t say that commitment scares the fuck out of him but not when it’s with Gus. He doesn’t say that he’s been planning for their lives together since they were five years old and Shawn met a kid with a too big name and shiny shoes and decided they were going to be best friends forever. He doesn’t say any of that and just stays quiet until Gus drifts off to sleep in the silence.
(Shawn is out of town before Gus wakes up. He leaves a short note on the nightstand next to a bottle of aspirin, and his class ring on Gus’s finger, and he doesn’t look back for nearly two years.)
- Engagement Ring
Shawn gets down on one knee halfway down the boardwalk, surrounded by tourists and buskers and couples out for romantic strolls. They were in the middle of debating the different ninja turtles and Gus stops a step in front of him and turns, curious as to why Shawn has stopped in the middle of a heated defense of Donatello. This is when Shawn proclaims loudly and dramatically, “Burton Tiberious Guster,” and pulls the ring from his pocket. Gus’s eyes flash with understanding and he looks around for an escape but finds himself blocked by onlookers. Shawn smiles cheekily up at him because Gus can’t run or say no in a public space like this without embarrassing both of them, and Gus does the eyebrow glare at him while plastering on a returning smile. “Will you make me the happiest man in the world and marry me?” Shawn asks and extends the ring out.
Gus keeps smiling as he takes the ring and then pulls on Shawn’s arm till he’s standing. He brings him in close in what might be considered an intimate embrace if it wasn’t for Gus’s iron grip on his arm to hiss through gritted teeth, “I’m not marrying you for a case Shawn! Those other guys died!”
“Which is exactly why we need to go undercover,” Shawn replies. “You don’t want anyone else to die, right?” Gus grinds his teeth but when he doesn’t answer, Shawn takes it as agreement and pulls back a little, deftly managing to slip the ring onto Gus’s finger. He holds their entwined hands above his head for all the onlookers to see and yells, “We’re getting married!”
The crowd erupts with applause and it drowns out Gus’s exclamation of, “Oh for Pete’s sake!”
(They don’t actually have to get married, just go to the wedding planner they suspect is poisoning their clients and pretend. It turns out not to be the wedding planner at all, but the florist, and Gus is very mildly poisoned before they catch him. He grouses all the way to the hospital in the ambulance and Shawn doesn’t leave his side once . He may have fibbed just a bit to get to ride along but the EMTs saw his ring and didn’t try to stop him and even Gus, stickler for the rules he is, doesn’t rat him out.)
+1. Ring Pop Redux
“Reason number 91." Shawn wakes up with a start to find Gus standing beside his bed, reading from a yellowing piece of paper.
"Wha?" he mumbles in sleepy confusion, but Gus just continues on.
"Reason number 91," he repeats. "Lots of people are going to want to marry you but I asked first and I want to the most . Shouldn't that count for something?"
Shawn knows what this is now. "I thought you threw that away?" he asked quietly but Gus just shakes his head. He looked tired and a little manic, the way he gets when he's been up and obsessing over something for a while.
"Reason number 92," Gus continues. "I promise that I'll never ever hurt you on purpose. And if I hurt you on accident I'll apologize right away. Also married people get to ride in the ambulance with you but best friends have to wait forever.”
Shawn wants to make a joke about how they did ride in an ambulance as friends but he stays quiet as Gus takes a breath and reads off the last one, "Reason number 93 that you, burton 'gus' Guster (age 11 and 1/2) should marry me, Shawn spencer (age 11 and 1/4) if not now then someday when we're grownups and it's legal." Gus takes another breath and Shawn breathes with him in the quiet of his apartment, all there is their shared breaths and the slight rustle of the paper. "Reason number 93. I love you, and that's what marriage is all about I think. If you love each other and stick together then you'll be happy together. So maybe we can't get married right now but I think if we stick together till we can, till we're old enough and the laws all change, then that means we'll be able to stick together through marriage as well."
Gus sits softly on the edge of the bed. "Reason number 94," Gus says quieter still, and Shawn remembers writing that one, stopped at a bench before he met up with Gus, cramped and crooked into the small space with a broken pencil. He would've changed the title but he didn't have an eraser. "I'm always going to be your best friend Gus. Even if you say no and you never ever want to marry me. I'll always be your bestfriend, don't worry."
Shawn is quiet, he's not sure what Gus wants or needs him to say right now so he's waiting to take his cues from him. Gus just sits quietly staring down at the papers for a moment then he turns and stretches out so he's laying next to Shawn but not touching. Shawn turns his head so he can look at Gus a little better but that's it. Gus stares at the ceiling in that peculiar intense way Gus does when he's faced with a particularly vexing problem and the solution is right there. They just lay there in the quiet next to each other for a long time till Shawn can almost feel like he's drifting off back to sleep, lulled there by the warmth of the bed and the steady rhythm of Gus's breathing next to him (Shawn's always slept better with somebody else and always the best nights of sleep during childhood were with Gus by his side).
When Gus speaks again though, Shawn's all the way awake. "Did you mean all that?" Gus asks quietly, voice loud in the stillness of the room. Shawn opens his mouth to reply (because of course he did, otherwise he wouldn't have written it) but Gus shakes his head and interrupts, "no no that's not a good question. I meant to ask... do you still mean it?"
Shawn takes a breath and opens his mouth, and he wants to make a joke here, wants to make a movie reference ("I just can't quit you" seems sort of appropriate but Brokeback Mountain always makes Gus cry; Shawn too but he hides it till he's alone), he wants to give a long emotional heartfelt speech about being in love with his best friend, he wants to say a lot of things, but all that comes out is a simple, quiet, "Yes."
Gus doesn't say anything after that for a long while, just stares up at the ceiling and breathes deeply (in any other circumstance, Shawn would tease him for the Lamaze breathing). Shawn waits, eyes fixed on Gus, unable to look away even if he wanted to (which he doesn't, he really really doesn't. He watches as the side of Gus's face he can see shifts, squinting and raising eyebrows and pursing lips while Gus has a silent conversation in his head. Shawn waits, feeling just a little bit sick to his stomach and more jittery than he thinks he's ever been.
Finally, Gus turns onto his side so he's facing Shawn and he says, "Ask me again."
Shawn blinks and swallows hard because that wasn't what he'd been expecting. "What?"
"Ask me again Shawn. Ask me to marry you."
Shawn's mouth is suddenly dry and his palms are sweaty and he's shirtless and in Scooby Doo pajama pants and Gus is in a wrinkled purple shirt and still has his shoes on for god's sake. "I don't have a ring," he finds himself saying. Because yes, Shawn has given a lot of thought to marrying Gus since they were seven and if there's one thing he knows, it's the importance of the ring.
Gus raises an eyebrow at him. "Really? There's nothing in this whole apartment that could be called a ring?"
Shawn wracks his brain for a second, trying to remember if he does have anything that could pass as a ring besides the frozen onion rings in his freezer when he remembers what he bought on a whim in the checkout line the other day.
"Stay here," he orders as he quickly slips out of bed. Gus follows him with his eyes and a smile as Shawn heads to the kitchen to dig through the bags he still hasn't unpacked (listen, the only things that even need to be put away in a kitchen are the cold things, everything else can wait till the get used or Gus comes over and does it himself): he finds what he's looking for and quickly heads back to his room, sliding back into the bed.
"I should really be kneeling..." he says as he tries to think of something to say but Gus just rolls his eyes so he takes a deep breath and goes with his gut. "Gus, my best friend, my partner in business as well as crime, the peanut butter to my jelly, the mac to my cheese, the rice to my a-roni, the kit to my kat, the-"
"Shawn," Gus interrupts, getting Shawn back on track.
"Right, thanks. My point is that you're the other half of me and I honestly can not imagine a world where we're not together. I just can't."
"Number 61," Gus says, not really an interruption just a recognition that it appears on the list and Shawn grins at him.
"Yeah. Gus, I could recite that whole list from memory right now, plus a whole other list of additions since I wrote that. Burton Guster, age 30 and a 3/4, will you marry me, Shawn Spencer age 30 and a 1/2?" Shawn pulls out what he'd gone looking for, a simple strawberry ring pop.
"Yes," Gus says, and Shawn had been expecting it but it still knocks the air out of his lungs. Gus takes the ring pop and opens the package and Shawn shakes himself back into action to actually slip the ring on his finger. Gus holds it up to admire it in the dim light and then immediately brings it down to suck on it.
Shawn watches, now that he's totally free to watch and not feel guilty about it, and then Gus smirks over at him as he pops the ring pop out of his mouth. "Well come on," he says, "you aren't going to make me wait for a kiss right?"
Shawn laughs and moves forward. Their first kiss is soft and sleepy and warm and tastes vaguely like artificial strawberry flavoring. It's the best kiss Shawn has ever had in his life. The second kiss is also the best kiss he's ever had and so is the third.
In the morning, they're going to have to talk about things, negotiate feelings and this shift in their relationship, but for now, Shawn watches happily as Gus takes off the ring and carefully sets it on the nightstand and raids Shawn's dresser for a nightshirt that was probably Gus's to begin, and when they fall asleep, they're tangled together, happy and in love.