tuesdayficarchived: (Gus!)
[personal profile] tuesdayficarchived
Title: Less Traveled By
Fandom(s): Psych (main fandom), Criminal Minds
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 1,700 words
Summary: Gus went to college, and Shawn went away.
Notes: AU. Gen. Written for Death Bingo's amnesty. Brief reference to cannibalism (Henry, I am writing this warning just for you). Thank you so much to [livejournal.com profile] trascendenza for betaing and [livejournal.com profile] sirdrakesheir for audiencing when I was panicking over the Death Bingo deadline (even if I gave up making it before the amnesty).

Less Traveled By


Gus went to college, and Shawn went away. He wasn't at graduation, he wasn't at his house, and Mr. Spencer wouldn't talk about it, just looked deeply and quietly pained behind his pinched lips and shuttered eyes. Mrs. Spencer was already gone, had been for a long time now, but Shawn wasn't with her, either. Gus had called five times, and each time she had told him not to worry.

"Shawn's a strong personality. He'll be fine. If he has any trouble, I'm sure he'll call."

Gus remembered Shawn's eyes, closed off and angry, when he got out of jail. He remembered Shawn's lips, pressed thin and stubborn, just like Mr. Spencer's, before he'd flashed a bright, empty smile at Gus and told him there was nothing wrong.

"I needed a change of scenery anyway," Shawn had said, "and you know how girls dig a rap sheet. Everything's fine." Shawn's voice was carefree, but he never met Gus's concerned gaze.

Gus had his doubts.

--

For a year, two, Gus received post cards in the mail, delivered to his college dorm. He didn't bother to wonder how Shawn found his address, because it was Shawn. He did these things. Gus had once gone camping with his family over a school break, soon after Shawn had gotten his license, and Shawn showed up the second night in with Henry's truck, a mannequin, and a ridiculous plan involving changing both their names to John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, convinced he was there on a rescue mission.

Shawn's postcards started out short: "Pittsburgh has some kick-ass leaves in the Fall, but no one here understands right of way." "Boston is 90% one ways. The roads are out of an Escher painting." "Who knew you needed a license to be a ski instructor? Vermont, I will miss your ski bunnies." "I'm being taken on as a 'personal assistant' to a private eye. It involves less lap dances than I was expecting."

They grew somehow shorter still, until finally one arrived with a stamp of the Sears tower at night on one side and, scrawled on the back, the words, "I'm fine." That was the last postcard.

In college, Gus made friends and joined an a cappella group. He didn't forget Shawn. He even tried to file a police report, but, "He stopped sending me postcards!" didn't qualify for missing persons, not when he couldn't give Shawn's contact information for the past couple years.

When Gus changed majors, it wasn't with some conscious plan to increase his resources for finding Shawn.

(That's what befriending Brenda, a comp sci major and part-time hacker with a weakness for Mountain Dew, pizza, and Terry Pratchett novels, was for. If Shawn appeared anywhere on the net, eventually she would track him down.)

It was just that it weighed on his mind, all the things that could have happened. So when an Agent Reid came to the university to give a talk (and tell some horrible jokes), Gus attended. It was only natural to have studied up on the books he'd written beforehand and ask questions based on the reading. Gus didn't have to go out of his way to obtain them--they were all available through the main campus library. And when Reid mentioned afterward, almost offhand, that Gus wouldn't make a bad agent himself one of these days, if he kept studying and applying himself--Gus remembered wanting to be a fireman once, wanting to help people. He could try criminal science for a semester, and if he didn't like it, he could always switch back to biochem.

--

The day before graduation, Brenda left a message on his apartment's answering machine. "I think I found him." Her voice was soft, subdued. "Call me back as soon as you get this."

--

Graduation day, Gus was standing in the Chicago morgue, choking on the smell of formaldehyde and trying not to vomit. When he'd shown up at the station and said he wanted to be sure--that it wasn't some other Shawn Spencer they'd found--they let him see the body. Standing there, too bright overhead lights hurting his eyes, Gus wondered why he hadn't called the Spencers before coming, why he had to see for himself. Why he had to look, shivering in the cool air, at the corpse on the slab, an officer and the coroner watching from the side, one concerned, the other apathetic.

"Why doesn't--he doesn't have any--" Gus tried to compose himself. "How did he die?"

It was Shawn. There was no doubt it was Shawn. His eyes were closed, but he didn't look like he was sleeping. It was Shawn, and he was dead.

"Like the others. Strangulation," the coroner said in a bored voice. Gus wasn't surprised she worked with dead people. She didn't look like she liked the living very much.

Gus looked at Shawn again and swallowed. Looking closer, the marks were just visible.

"And how long--?" Gus wondered if he could have tracked Shawn down if he'd tried harder, if there was some way to have pulled him home and tucked him away somewhere in California, safe and sound. Then again, Gus supposed Shawn could've run into trouble anywhere, if he was looking for it.

As if reading his thoughts, the officer stepped forward. "He's been--gone--a long time."

"His body's still--" Gus reached a hand forward, let it drop.

"He was frozen," the officer said gently.

Gus's mind thought through all the reasons someone might freeze a body. Bodies. There were others. All frozen. Gus tasted bile, swallowed down hard.

"How many were intact?" Gus asked.

The officer looked regretful, like she had already said too much, but she answered: "Two."

Gus had passed a restroom on the way down to the morgue. It wasn't very far, but he barely made it in time. After he'd thrown up the entirety of his stomach's contents, then dry-heaved several minutes more for good measure, Gus rinsed his mouth in the sink and then splashed his face with the cold water. He thought, because he couldn't help thinking, mind racing down paths his major taught him to follow. He exited the restroom and walked back into the morgue.

He had to know. "It was a couple of years. Why didn't the killer--why not Shawn, too?"

The officer looked surprised. "Didn't anyone tell you? We only broke this case when the FBI connected this disappearance with the others. Mr. Spencer didn't fit all the usual victimology, but that was because he knew his killer."

"He knew--?" Gus thought back to the postcards, to Shawn's last known career. "Shawn was killed because of a case? While he was assisting that private detective?"

"He was killed by the detective, Crane." The officer made an aborted motion with her hand, like she'd wanted to put a hand on Gus's shoulder, then reconsidered. "Someone at the FBI, he said Mr. Spencer was--preserved, because Crane considered him his best student."

"Shawn figured it out," Gus said. Gus wondered when Shawn had sent the last postcard. Before he knew? Or after he'd already put the pieces together?

Gus had always known that Shawn was better prepared for this, because four years of college was nothing next to a lifetime of Mr. Spencer's extreme training tactics. Between that and Shawn's uncanny instincts, Shawn seemed made for the life of a detective, of some sort of agent for mystery solving and justice.

Gus had considered the BAU, or some other position in the FBI or CBI, or something taking down bad guys with his brain, but--but he'd also had some small thought that if Shawn ever did show up, boasting skills in 27 different fields and wanting back in Gus's life, that he might let him. That Gus would be an equal partner in crime fighting adventures of some sort. It had only been a day dream, something to sustain him between long hours straining his eyes in the library and poring over case files that filled him with a dull horror. That light, passing hope had been even more far-fetched than he'd believed at the time.

Shawn had been practically born a detective, but it had gotten him killed, stuffed in a freezer as some bizarre trophy for a cannibalistic serial killer.

In another universe, where Gus was a different person, where this wasn't Shawn, Gus might have backed down, walked away. He might have gotten his Masters in something safe, like business or pharmaceuticals.

But maybe in another universe, Gus's day dreams of being one half of a crime fighting duo had come true.

This was Gus, and this was Shawn, and it felt like some great future, some overpowering destiny had been suddenly swept away. It felt like there was a gaping hole in world justice waiting to be filled.

Gus couldn't walk away. Staring at Shawn's too still face, swallowing down fear, and sorrow, and fury, there was only one path Gus could see himself walking, one space left open to him. Gus wasn't Shawn, but Gus was determined that he would be enough for the both of them.

"Are you okay?"

It took Gus a long moment to realize the police officer had repeated this several times. After careful consideration, Gus gave the social lie: "I'm fine."

Despite the lie, in the very least, Gus was moving forward.

--

A few years later, Gus ran into Agent Reid again, this time in a professional capacity. "You look very familiar," Reid said after shaking hands.

"We met at a talk you gave at my university," Gus said. "You recommended the BAU."

"Really?" Reid's beaming smile was an amalgam of surprise, pride, and something else. "I joined the BAU for the same reason." Then, "I mean, I had a colleague who--" Reid's smile slipped away. "Agent Gideon, he's not with us anymore."

"It's a difficult job," Gus said, voice rough with sympathy.

"Burnout is quite high in BAU agents, actually--"

"Reid." Derek Morgan, one of the other team members to whom Gus had just been introduced, stepped forward and clapped a hand on Reid's shoulder. "Give the guy a few hours before you start scaring him with statistics."

"Actually," Gus said, smiling at Reid, "I like statistics."

Reid brightened again, and Morgan grinned and shook his head. He offered his free hand.

"Welcome to the team."

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