GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER

A/N: This little ficlet is dedicated to Shuuuliet, who writes such amazing stories about Shawn and Jules. If you haven't read them, take a look – you won't regret it.

A one-shot, told from Henry's point of view.

Set in Season Six, shortly after "Shawn Rescues Darth Vader" and well before "Deez Nups".

-x0x-

"I think you have strength, of a different kind. And one day your father will see it."
(From: 'The Return of the King'.)

Henry Spencer had faced many challenges in his lifetime. He had stared down the barrel of a loaded gun and made it back home to his family in one piece. He had risen from the rank and file to become a detective, surprising everyone who knew him.

He had asked the woman he loved beyond all reason to marry him. Then, years later, he had let her walk out of his life because he still loved her, and because she asked him to.

He had raised a son and tried to teach him everything he knew, wanting to make him a better cop – a better man than his old dad could ever be. Shawn had been his shining hope. But there were far too many times when Henry despaired of him altogether. Trying to shape his character had been like trying to land a fish on a wet deck – the kid was slippery as hell. He would rather wriggle out of a problem than take the time to solve it. Skating through life was no way to build character in Henry's humble opinion, and time had proven him right, or so it seemed. More than thirty years later, Shawn was still very much a child in his father's eyes; the same impulsive, cheeky, frustrating and potentially brilliant child that he had always been. No sharp words or stern advice ever seemed to change him, no matter how hard Henry kept on trying.

And yet, here stood Shawn on his doorstep, hand in hand with Juliet, and Henry saw that he was different after all.

-x0x-

When Shawn was a boy, his parents used to fantasize together about the kind of girl he would bring home, and how they would react. Maddie always laughed about it, picturing Henry as the classic over-protective father. "No girl will ever be good enough," she joked and, deep down, he suspected she was right.

After Maddie left, and Henry's reaction to Shawn's rebellious behaviour blew their struggling father-son relationship out of the water completely, he abandoned all hope of such a normal, loving family ritual ever being part of their future.

Years later, when both he and Shawn returned to Santa Barbara and began to pick up the pieces of their old life, slowly moving past the anger that had kept them apart for so long, he watched his son dally with this girl and that, never trusting them enough to let his guard down. Never moving past that superficial first date. Had his parents' break-up hurt him so completely? Would he never commit to a long-term relationship? Henry felt a deep sense of guilt that he couldn't express – until one day, out of the blue, he saw Shawn in the presence of Juliet O' Hara. And he knew. He knew in his gut, like the first time he met Madeleine, when the world burst into glorious technicolour – movie magic in the real world. He could see the subtle flush of Shawn's skin, and the light in his eyes; he could hear the tell-tale stammer. Oh yes, his son was in love alright. In love like his father, who took three long years to show Maddie his true feelings. And history, it seemed, was doomed to repeat itself.

A conversation in an old car, at Shawn's high school reunion, had given him a clue to his son's problem. Shawn was obsessed with moments. Waiting for the right one, and fretting when he felt that he had missed it, could only lead to disappointment. Life was short. You made your own moments, as Henry knew from experience, or you wasted precious time.

He was less than impressed when Shawn took up with Abigail Lytar, though he never said as much. It seemed like a 'second-best' relationship, a sign that his son, the habitual quitter, had fallen back into old habits and given up on his heart's desire because it needed to be earned, and that required dedication.

Looking back now, he realised how wrong he had been. It was something of a relief to admit it. Abigail (who he liked enormously) had also been good for Shawn; necessary, even. She had taught him how to see things from another perspective. She had given him a taste of what it felt like to commit to someone else. More importantly, she was the past and she had given him closure.

Then she had left him, and that was right too. Because as much as Shawn loved her – and would probably have stayed with her if she had asked him to – she simply wasn't Juliet.

Henry had seen his son's face, that terrible night on the pier, when he was waiting to hear from Gus. Had held him tightly, taking the brunt of the painful tremors that ran through Shawn's body as the relief set in. Had come downstairs the next morning to find Shawn curled up on his couch, fast asleep. Had covered him up with a blanket and watched the rise and fall of his chest for a while, wishing him happiness in his dreams at least.

Shawn never told his father when he finally found his perfect moment with Juliet. He didn't need to. Henry was an observant man, and how could he possibly miss the secret look of joyful astonishment in Shawn's eyes when he came back from Canada? He was a little disappointed that his son hadn't bothered to confide in him, but put it down to the awkward advice he had offered before Shawn's trip. He also suspected Shawn knew that he knew. Why share another painful conversation about romance when they really didn't need to?

And then, three days ago, the unthinkable happened. A phone call, out of the blue, and a casual request that left Henry speechless for once in his life, until Shawn prompted him nervously: "Dad? You still there? Can I bring her…?"

Now they were standing on the porch and Henry was so very nervous – he couldn't say why. In his head, he could hear Maddie laughing. You're the host, she scolded him. Invite them in.

Do it for both of us.

Do it for Shawn.

-x0x-

He knew O' Hara well; of course he did. She was a damn fine detective. But now she was also Juliet, the love of Shawn's life, in Henry's own house, and it mattered so much that this evening went well. Shawn was acting the clown, as usual, to lighten the mood, but with an underlying steadiness that reminded Henry so strongly of Madeleine, it almost took his breath away. This was a side of Shawn that he had never seen – and how had the boy kept it from him all these years? He focussed on the little clues – the hand resting gently on Juliet's back, and the way Shawn looked at her when she was speaking.

Do you remember, Maddie? I used to look at you that way.

There was something in his throat. He cleared it hastily. "Steaks," he said. "I just need to check…"

"I'll go with you," his son offered. "Get some drinks."

With sweet concern, Shawn led Juliet to the couch, even though she could easily have made it by herself. She smiled at his over-protective behaviour, but she let him do it all the same, recognising his need on this particular occasion. Henry loved her for that.

In the kitchen, Shawn couldn't quite look at his father. "Smells good."

"Thanks."

"Need any…?"

"No, thank you."

"Okay." He rattled around in the cupboards, looking for three matching glasses. Henry grinned behind his back, feeling happy all of a sudden, and extremely proud.

"Shawn."

"Mmmh?"

The boy – no, the man turned around. For a split second, they stared at each other. Henry's gaze was steady. Shawn's eyes were wide and hopeful. Do you approve?

When Henry nodded, his son let out a deep breath, and smiled.

"Beer?" said Shawn. "Or smoothies? I could make smoothies… Got any pineapple?"