Shawn wrung his fingers through Jules' slender own. While the plush bear had held him over the four days he spent inside the mental institution, nothing compared to her skin. It's warmth, it's smooth- and softness. Nothing compared to the feel of waves of silk nestled against his cheek. Nothing compared to the real woman. His lovely, lovely lady-friend: his Juliet. On his bed, they lied, safe beneath a tangle of comforter and his favourite of Juliet's several velvet blankets. Their breaths cycle together. In, then out. In, then out. Perfect harmony.
Countless of these cycles breathed by before Shawn's mind snapped out of its peaceful fog and regarded, hypervigilant, the darkened walls around him. He reaches his outside hand for the stuffed toy nestled between he and Jules' torsos and scratches at the hair behind its ear, as if it were a live animal and not a shrunken-down representation. The feel of fur beneath his fingertips helps ease some of the tension that had been riding around his bloodstream, keeping him from sleep, but something still did not sit right by him. He should be safe, as he was safe; he was out of the institution at least! Yet something still weighed uncomfortably on his chest. Shifting half an inch to the side, he glanced down at Juliet pressed tightly into his side – was it just him or was she snuggled closer into his side than usual? Had absence simply made his heart grow more sensitive? – before reaching for the bedside table and clicking on the lamp.
"I thought I was the only one," she mumbled. Her voice, lowered with sleepiness, trembled across his skin just as well as it meandered through the air. The shock of her stirring quickly ebbed away upon understanding that he wasn't the cause, not the direct cause, of Juliet's insomnia. She lifted her head so her eyes could flick up and meet his.
"You, me, and the bear makes three," Shawn replied, stunned a second at how hollow his voice sounded. Was it the darkness that amplified just how pointless all his words rang? If so, he decided he didn't like the dark. During the day, one could always see something, at least, to draw attention away from the small yet damning things like intonation.
Jules chuckled at his rhyme and pulled him deeper into a hug with her cross-body arm. "I'm glad you're out again, Shawn," she said. "I was worried... I don't know."
"That lonely?" he quipped, smirk tugging at his lips, but Jules only partook in another round of breathing before attempting further explanation.
"I thought, maybe, that place being like a fortress, that they wouldn't let you walk away." A beat of silence sliced through. "I don't know, is that crazy?"
A smile – so soft, so small, so genuine – crept over Shawn's features. He inched his head towards her temple and planted a kiss between strands of hair. People being worried for him, that wasn't a new sensation; usually, Shawn could ignore it. But Juliet's concern touched a chord much deeper in his heart.
"Sure, it wasn't the nicest place" –code: there were times I lost most of my hope in getting out– "but I'm here. Now. With you." And I don't ever have to go back, again.
"I'm glad." Her voice sounded more defeated than relieved. "Why aren't you sleeping?"
Here goes, he thought.
The idea of being honest still haunted him, but he knew that if he didn't open up at this point in time, he would never rid himself of the elephant standing on his chest. That was what the sessions had been for, he reminded himself. It was a way of feeling better, and during the instances he allowed himself to draw on a tiny bit of his history, it had made him feel better. For a glimmering second, he held his chin up without a burden.
"The groups sessions they made me attend," he started, unsure what his next word would be (and if he even wanted to find it), "I think I get it. I think I get why people do that sort of stuff."
"Are you thinking...?"
The question loomed in circles above him like a vulture. His lips, however, pressed into a line. The concept had never occurred to him, not in all his thirty-four years of living. Growing up had been about self-sufficiency. The years after that, he thought of himself as escaped and unscathed. He figured that, since he was functioning, he didn't need anything but his own two hands to lift the pressures off his shoulders, to unsee the victims of the job and unfeel the ropes and knives and gun barrels that have shoved him down in the past.
"Do I...?" He bit his lip. "Would it make sense to attend now?"
Jules' eyes turned upon him and with them all of her attention, too. Her eyebrows knit together, not in concern but in hopes of clarification. "Are you asking about attending therapy sessions?"
"Maybe?" He squeezed his eyes shut; yes, it's yes, just say 'yes'!
"Shawn?" began Jules, and his heart dropped some at the rising inflection. "Of course I support this."
And then it – like the sun would in three short hours – rose again. "You think?" he said, the remnants of guilt still within him, swirling into nausea.
"There's no shame in it," she said. "I see one every month."
Emotions far too wild for definition, Shawn lapsed into silence. He pulled Jules in closer – or perhaps it was she who tugged on him – and suddenly, the darkness did not feel so loud and daunting. It covered him like a third blanket. It warmed him like Juliet's small frame. His breaths grew longer with each beating moment. He felt like he could do anything lying in this bed, even say for certain his most recent of relationship declarations. He felt like he could finally stablise the seesaw; it felt like his turn to, anyway.
"Jules?" he asked the ceiling.
"Shawn," she answered in a tone he always heard when paired with her most adorable smile.
"I, I love you."
Juliet squeezed his hand.
"I love you, too."