A/N: I've been wanting to write something like this for a while, about Juliet starting to date post-Shawn, and then inspiration just struck the other day as I was falling asleep. (Why do ideas always appear when we're falling asleep?)
Anyway, I hope very much that you like it! It's my second real, complete attempt at post-breakup AU, after my piece "another auld lang syne", which is my favorite thing I've written on here.
Title comes from REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight this Feeling" (1984). You probably know the song, but if you don't, give it a listen—it seems to fit Shules in the breakup space very, very well to me. I hope you like it! Here we go:
They go to Souplantation. Once.
It was the day that Juliet decided not to let Shawn turn himself in to the Chief. But despite Shawn's hopefulness and enthusiasm, nothing more comes of it than a bowl of chunky chili and Juliet's decision that, although it will take a while, she will forgive him. She will learn how to make her peace with everything.
Juliet does forgive him. Little by little, day by day. She watches him at work more than really interacts with him, seeing the way he's right—what he does does do a lot of good. And she knows him well enough to know that his intentions align with that good, that they always have.
So, she forgives him. She understands, mostly. But she doesn't give him another chance.
After Frank, after Ewan, after everything, it's too hard to have someone else she cares about come back into her life after lying so profoundly and for so long.
And yet, she finds herself tempted. It's different from Frank and Ewan, after all. Frank hardly seemed aware that he was a con man, with the excuses that he made to himself and to her and to her mother and brothers, and Ewan just didn't seem to care what his lying might do to her—she wasn't his priority.
Shawn knew. All along, Shawn knew what his deception could do to her, and that's why he'd kept it hidden. Ewan hadn't cared, but Shawn had cared too much—still, it wasn't enough to save them, because it wasn't enough to make him realize that what she really wanted from him was his honesty. She'd seen how much it had broken him, though, when he'd finally explained everything. She believed his explanation that he'd kept it up because he didn't want to lose her.
She believed him, but it wasn't enough. Because she'd loved Shawn, had given her whole self, her whole heart to him, and she'd always trusted that he would protect it. He'd always put her first, always had her back, always been there to support her, hold her, love her. He's told her he always would be.
But all along he'd been keeping something huge from her, and she didn't know how to get past that. She couldn't reconcile it. She didn't know how to trust his promises of love and protection when all along he was lying about who he was.
And so she forgives him, eventually, but she doesn't forget. She keeps her distance, as much as possible. And although he still makes her laugh sometimes at work, his quick-witted remarks to Lassiter or the Chief, or his wild guesses that somehow turn out to be correct getting the better of her, or even just his antics with Gus making her smile before she catches herself, she doesn't let him back in.
At first, he used to look at her with such hopefulness that it almost broke her; for a while, she had to keep her eyes trained on the ground whenever he came into the station, knowing that he still had her wrapped around his little finger, and if she made eye contact with him, before she knew it, she'd be pulling him into her arms.
But he's different now. He walks around the station differently, more quietly, like a dog with its tail between its legs.
Somehow, that's worse than the hopefulness in his eyes. So now, she hardly looks at him at all.
For a while, everyone speculated that they'd get back together, but even those rumors have quieted now, and Shawn gives her space in a way he never had before, even before they'd started dating.
It's what she wanted, but it's also what makes her miss him the most. He was her best friend, had been for years, and even though she's asked him to step aside, she needs him now more than ever.
Sometimes it feels like it did when Shawn was dating Abigail, when there was a wedge between them, and neither of them could see past it.
But even then, there was a sense of hope in the air. Juliet had felt, then, that maybe their timing was just off, but that didn't mean they'd never find their way to each other. It had been hard—impossibly hard—and she'd had the same sense of having lost her best friend, but it didn't feel permanent, not like this.
And so, she tries.
Day after day, she tries. She gets up, puts on makeup, picks out the suits that make her feel most confident, tries to feel like herself again. After a while, she tells a friend in the DA's office that she's ready to start dating again, and after defending herself from the disbelieving look in her friend's eyes, convinces her friend to set her up with an attorney she knows.
Word gets around the station, as it always does, and for a moment it makes her miss Miami—Santa Barbara is too small. There's not enough gossip, so everything spreads like wildfire.
When she hears someone muttering to Shawn as he stands by the vending machine (she's never quite let go of the way she notices him, always, ever-conscious of his movements, his exact proximity to her), having just finished a loud conversation with himself about the merits of Bugles over Fritos that almost made her laugh out loud, she keeps her eyes trained on her computer, willing herself not to look at his reaction to the news.
Of course, her partner is the last person to hear, having never been particularly concerned with the SBPD rumor mill, and eventually, she has to tell him herself, so that she'll get off work early enough to fix herself up for the date.
She tries to drop it in to conversation casually, while assuring Lassiter, as they walk towards the interrogation rooms, that she'll let him take the lead as they question their suspect so they can get things done faster, especially since he's been griping about his heavy caseload lately.
"Besides, we have to wrap this up quickly," she says, doing her best to keep her tone light and casual, looking nervously at the ground as she follows him to the stairwell. "I have a date tonight."
Lassiter stops walking and turns around, staring at her, a strange mix of confusion and concern on his face. "A date? O'Hara, are you sure you're-?"
Juliet fixes him with a look, prompting him to shut his mouth immediately. "Don't finish that sentence with 'ready'," she warns.
"I wasn't going to," he protests, but they both know he's lying.
She is, too. She isn't ready. But she has no interest in hearing about it.
She doesn't cry as she gets ready for the date, not letting herself think of the dozens of date nights with Shawn, but even she can tell that she's not putting as much effort in tonight as she used to for him.
She almost cries when she's finished getting ready, as she looks at herself in the mirror, remembering that this is the first time that she's gotten really dressed up since her partner's wedding, but instead she steels her shoulders, reminds herself that her makeup isn't waterproof, and goes digging through her closet for a purse that matches her outfit.
She doesn't think about how much easier it is to find anything, now that Shawn's stuff is gone, but she does pause for a moment, allowing herself for the first time since he moved out to glance sadly at the side that's still set aside for him, empty now except for a few hangers and a ball of green fabric stuffed in the back of a shelf.
When she goes over to inspect the fabric—because she can't help herself—she nearly falls to her knees. It's Shawn's Apple Jacks t-shirt, and she knows exactly why he left it.
Feeling suddenly light-headed, she takes a deep breath and shoves the t-shirt back where she found it, not willing to risk standing there for a single second longer to find out if it still smells like him.
She breathes easier when she leaves the closet, but the t-shirt stays in the back of her mind for the rest of the night. She tries to crumple it and shove it away in her thoughts, too, but it doesn't work half as well.
Her date—Andrew—is nice. He's everything he should be—intelligent, sweet, considerate. He opens the car door for her when he picks her up at her house, pulls out her chair when they get to the restaurant, looks a little worried when she hardly eats any of her dinner, mostly pushing it around on her plate. When he asks if anything's wrong with her meal, she starts, pulling herself together, and says it's delicious but she shouldn't have eaten such a big lunch.
(She can't remember if she, in fact, had eaten lunch at all.)
Andrew asks her tons of questions about herself, taking care to never dominate the conversation, and seems genuinely interested in her answers. She tries to give him the same courtesy, tries again and again to throw herself into the date, and it must have worked a little bit, because he smiles as he walks her up to her door at the end of the night.
She doesn't let Andrew kiss her on the first date, turning her head and offering him her cheek instead, but when he says he'd like to see her again, she nods her head yes. She lets herself into the house she still struggles to see as hers instead of theirs, waiting for a beat so Andrew has time to head back to his car.
After she hears his engine start up, she makes it a respectable five yards, up the stairs and into the living room, before she collapses to the ground in a sobbing heap.
She stays there all night, waking up in the morning with the pattern of the rug imprinted on her cheek. When she gets to work, no one comments on how exhausted, how barely put-together she looks. She doesn't want to know what they're speculating.
Lassiter, upon seeing her, looks at her with concern once again, then seems to think better of saying something, after being fixed with yet another warning glare. Juliet knows that he knows her well enough to see the way her lip trembles even as she tries to glare at him defiantly, though.
Neither of them comment on that.
Two days later, Andrew calls, and she accepts his second dinner invitation, this time for a restaurant that overlooks the beach, which she hopes will be enough of a distraction that she won't think about how badly she wants to be somewhere else, anywhere else, with a man wearing a green cereal t-shirt rather than a perfectly pressed suit.
They're halfway through dinner when it happens.
Andrew is telling some story about a bachelor party he'd been forced to host for his cousin who "had had some trouble with the law", in which he'd discovered halfway through the night that his cousin's best man was none other than a man he'd once played a large part in prosecuting.
The party had obviously devolved after that, and Juliet was even laughing as he told the story, since the best man had apparently not only remembered him right away, but also apparently had an appetite for vengeance.
"Never again," Andrew says, shaking his head, laughing as he concludes the story. "Never again."
Juliet's heart drops. She arranges her face into what she hopes is something akin to an amused smile, but all at once, she's been transported away into a memory, a moment so very different from this one, one that had taken place long ago, a few months after she and Shawn had first started dating.
They're lying in Shawn's bed, cuddled together, neither one close to sleep, but just taking a moment to enjoy being in each other's arms. They haven't been together for more than a few months, and both of them can still hardly believe their luck, how happy they are to be together at last, after so many times when they thought it might never happen, that they might never be able to figure things out.
And it's one of those times—those old times, when Juliet was afraid she was doomed to hide her feelings for him forever, always wanting, wanting, wanting, but never having—that comes to her now, suddenly. There's still a time about which she needs an answer, an argument from long ago that just sort of faded to the background at some point, never having really been resolved.
"Shawn," she says, pulling back from him for a moment so she can look at him, "I've always kind of wondered something."
Fear crosses his face for a moment, but she puts her hand on his arm to ease it. "Don't worry," she says, "it's nothing major. I just—I always wondered. What happened to us, back when you were with Abigail? We had that argument about it, but we never really talked about it—we never fixed it. Why was that…why was that time so hard for us, when we were just friends then?"
Shawn smiles for a moment, reaching a hand up affectionately to tuck a lock of her hair behind her ear. "That's an easy one, Jules," he says quietly. "Because we weren't just friends then, not to me. You were…you meant so much to me. My best friend, besides Gus, one of my favorite people in the world," he pauses, chuckling.
"My whole day," he continues, "revolved around getting to see you at the station, getting to make you laugh."
She smiles at him, and he smiles back, his eyes shining lovingly at her like they always do. She's always surprised by their intensity, the way they make her feel warm all over.
"I knew how I felt," he says, "but I kept denying it because it scared me, and because I didn't want to scare you. I didn't—I didn't know how you felt, then. And then Abigail got kind of serious, and it fit. It made sense to back away. I thought it might make things better, because I didn't know if you still…I mean, after the drive-in, I didn't think you'd still…want me."
Juliet's mouth fell open. If only they'd known, then, that their feelings matched each other. Maybe they could have been happy so much sooner.
But Shawn continues, smiling. "The thing is," he says. "It didn't really work. It didn't fix how I felt. Things just got harder, even more complicated."
Juliet looks at him curiously. This is a part of the story she's never heard.
"I liked Abigail," he explains, "I did. But I was always searching, still. And eventually, I realized—I was trying to find you in her, the same way I'd looked for you in every woman I'd met since you came to Santa Barbara. I looked for you in Sophie, from the museum, in April from the aquarium, and finally in Abigail, and then I realized—I had to stop coming to the station while I was dating Abigail because even as I tried to look at her, I couldn't stop looking at you."
Juliet just stares at him, feeling like she's about to cry, wanting to pull him towards her, pull his lips down to hers, let him know exactly how what he's said has made her feel.
But she can tell he has more to say.
He shakes his head. "I let Abigail drive a wedge between us because it was easier," he says. "Because if you were angry at me, angry with the distance between us, I didn't have to be around you as much. It didn't have to hurt so much, being with you and…and loving you, already, and feeling like a horrible person because I couldn't stop thinking about how much I wished I was with you instead."
He closes his eyes, and she knows he feels ashamed of that, still ashamed of the thought that he might have hurt Abigail, still ashamed that he'd looked another way while he was in a relationship with her.
But all she can see is his heart, his care, how he'd just tried to do right by everyone in the situation, tried to focus on Abigail, tried not to hurt Juliet by leading her on, tried to make himself feel something he couldn't because it was the right thing to do.
She loved him. She knew in that moment, though she'd known it already, known it for years, but sometimes, in looking at him in moments like this one, and seeing his beautiful heart, how much he cared for her, it struck her so keenly she hardly knew what to do.
He opens his eyes, letting out a breath, and stares deeply into her eyes. "All I know, Jules, is that that time when we were hardly speaking—that hurt worse than anything in my life. And I can't go back to that. I won't. Never again."
Unable to stop herself, she does reach for him this time, pulling him towards her. "Never again," she agrees, whispering the words into the corner of his mouth just before her lips meet his.
When she pulls herself out of her reverie, she knows.
She has to see him.
It might be bad for her, for him—and it's certainly not fair to Andrew, who's been nothing but lovely, all around—and in fact, it might be exactly the wrong thing to do, but damn it, she has to see him.
Andrew, to his credit, notices immediately that something's wrong, but when he asks, she feigns embarrassment, saying that she suddenly doesn't feel well (which isn't entirely a lie), and that it's probably best for her to just call a cab and go home. She thanks Andrew for his gracious offers to pay the bill and take her home immediately, or at least to pay for her cab, but lets her faux embarrassment cover for her as she tells him to stay and finish his meal, telling him that she enjoyed the time with him, trying to make sure he knows he's done nothing wrong.
And he hasn't, but she won't call him again. Somehow, even in this moment, she knows that.
She hopes her suddenly-flushed cheeks make her excuse about feeling sick convincing, and gratefully notices that Andrew doesn't look terribly hurt when she makes her exit a few moments later.
She gives the cab driver Shawn's new address, the one the Chief had made him provide once he'd finally stopped playing musical houses with Woody while he hoped Juliet would take him back and had gotten his own place.
(She wasn't ever supposed to see that new paperwork, but hadn't been able to stop herself from snooping. Maybe even then, in the back of her mind, she'd known a night like tonight was a possibility.)
She's knocking on the door before she realizes that she has no plan, has no idea what to say to him, doesn't even know what she wants from him, knowing only that the moment at the restaurant had left her heartbroken, left her certain that no matter how noble her efforts, she couldn't stay there, on a date with another man.
She wasn't ready, wasn't ready at all.
And she's not ready to explain herself when Shawn answers the door, in sweatpants and a t-shirt, his hair a little mussed in the back, like he's been lying on the couch.
"Jules?" he asks, his brow furrowing in confusion.
She says nothing, just wraps her arms around him, burying her face in the crook of his neck, taking comfort in the familiarity of how he smells, how naturally his arms wrap around her, the way they tighten protectively around her, pulling her closer, into his chest.
She's crying again, and suddenly she can't remember whether she was already crying when he answered the door or if her tears are a sudden release of relief and joy and sadness at being here with him. All the emotions—the heartbreak, the hope, the trying she's been doing-are rushing out of her all at once, and she doesn't even know how to begin to articulate what's happened.
"I couldn't do it," she whispers. They're the only words that make it out between sobs.
Shawn, still confused, just holds her, murmuring back, "hey, hey, it's okay, Jules. You're okay."
His lips are in her hair and it's too much and not enough all at once, and she's crying even harder now, but she can't articulate why. Somehow, the thing she feels most strongly at this moment is a profound sense of missing him, which makes no sense at all, as she's much closer to him in this moment than she has been in weeks.
Eventually, he guides her to the couch, and she stays curled up against him for a few moments, terrified of the moment she'll have to dry her eyes and look up at him, because she has no idea what she's going to say to him.
How can she explain why she's here, why she practically ran out on the poor man that dared take her on a second date, just because he used an extremely common phrase that had once meant something special to her?
How can she explain that all she'd wanted to do was cry from the pain of having had a flashback to the moment in which that phrase had become special to her, and yet she'd chosen to cry into the chest of the very person who had caused that pain?
She doesn't know what she's doing here, with him, and part of her wants to get up and run away, leave him without any real explanation, just as she'd done to her date earlier.
And yet, a larger part of her, the deepest part of her, perhaps, is struck by how gently and patiently he's holding her, letting her tears soak his t-shirt, but not pressing her for information or taking advantage of the situation, just rubbing gentle patterns on her back and murmuring softly at her, just enough to make her feel safe, cared for, loved.
It's enough to make her want to lapse into hysterical tears all over again, but for an entirely different reason. It's just that he's always comforted her in a way nobody else could—even before they were together, she always felt how deeply he cared about her. For years, she'd tried to stop herself from noticing, tried to push the feelings all away when she'd recognized how much it touched her, and then finally she'd let herself be loved by him.
But that was before everything.
Still, wasn't it only natural for her to seek that comfort now?
When she finishes crying, she remains there, on the couch with him, her face pressed into his chest, already embarrassed about the mascara stains she's no doubt left on his t-shirt.
Shawn still says nothing, continuing to rub her back gently, letting her gather herself together before she explains. But she can feel his heartbeat against her cheek, and she can almost feel his familiar, anxious energy coursing through him. She knows that he's dying to ask what she's doing here, why she suddenly found herself needing to be close to him.
After several long moments of silence, his curiosity seems to get the better of him.
"Jules," he says softly. "You said—you said you couldn't do it. What did you mean by that?"
She felt the deep breath he took before he dared to ask her that question, feels the tension in him as he waits for her answer, knowing that even he isn't sure he really wants to know. He pauses, waiting to hear, waiting for heartbreak—it's a feeling she's terribly familiar with.
She pulls back from his chest at last, and feels his reluctance as he lets her go, unsure of what she'll say next. He pulls a throw pillow into his chest, like he always used to, in the days when they used to hang out as friends, before he felt comfortable holding her. She almost smiles, but she knows that he's doing it now to brace himself for whatever she's going to say, to have something to give him comfort when she inevitably pulls away again.
She pulls her eyes away from him, never letting her eyes meet his, and studies her lap, folding her hands together nervously.
"I tried to go on a date tonight," she says quietly. "It was the second date, with this guy." She pauses, taking a deep breath, hearing the way Shawn sucks in a breath next to her and knowing the hurt that she'd see if she looked in his eyes.
"But I couldn't do it," she continues, and she hears him breathe again, a soft sigh that sounds something like relief. "I couldn't—I couldn't focus on anything, and I missed you, and it hurt and I-," she trails off, not knowing what she even means to say.
Shawn is silent, next to her, but she wonders if he's holding his breath again, daring to hope that she might be about to give him a chance.
And just then, she knows she has to. Both because of her and because of him. Because the man next to her loves her, and he always has, no matter what he's done, and moreover, she loves him. She never stopped.
It's always been him—Shawn and his care and his love, and his beautiful heart, that he'd done his best to open to her, even if he couldn't do it quite all the way.
Somehow, sitting here with him now, she doesn't think they'll have that problem again.
"Do you remember that night we talked about Abigail?" she asks, and she does dare to sneak a glance at him now, just to see his response.
He nods, and she watches him grip the throw pillow tighter, uncertain at where the conversation is going.
"I was reminded of that tonight," she says quietly, looking away from him again. "It just happened, at the restaurant—my date was telling a story and he said…," she can't bring herself to say the exact words, not yet. "He said something that reminded me of that night and I just…I couldn't stay. I had to see you."
She feels Shawn shift slightly closer to her, like he's just beginning to dare to believe they might be about to reconcile.
She turns to face him at last, drawing one leg up onto the couch next to her, and looks into his eyes. "I couldn't do it, Shawn. I couldn't be on that date anymore. I couldn't stand, for one more second, to act like I'm not still in love with you, because I am."
Shawn just stares, but she sees his eyes start to well up, and she can tell he's still not letting himself quite believe that this is real.
"That night we talked about Abigail," she says, "we promised that distance would never come between us again. Never again, that's what we said."
Shawn nods, and he starts moving closer to her almost unconsciously, just as ready to close the last few remaining inches between them as she is.
She shrugs. "And I love you," she says. "And I can't put distance between us again. I can't, I won't do it-."
She's cut off again, but this time it's not from uncertainty, it's from Shawn's hand on her cheek, his other hand reaching down around her waist, pulling her towards him until her lips meet his at last.
The throw pillow has been flung somewhere across the room, and she giggles into his kiss as they hear it crash against something.
It's a kiss unlike any they've shared before-except perhaps a particular one on a bridge in Canada—and she can feel the way the warmth moves through them, healing slowly seeping in to all the broken places.
Her fingers tangle in his hair, and she wonders just as she did during that very first kiss why it ever took her this long to find her way to him. Shawn has her whole heart—is her whole heart—and he always has. Maybe it will take them some time to get back to who they were before, but she can tell from Shawn's gentle caresses, as he pulls back from her mouth and begins kissing his way down her cheek, towards her throat, that they will get there. They will fix it.
She loves him. She knows that. She always will. And from this day on, she'll never make the mistake of trying to convince herself otherwise, never let herself be forced to feel the agony of their separation.
A/N: There you have it! Thanks so very much for reading! I really hope you liked this! I had so much fun writing it. As always, I would absolutely love to read any thoughts that you have on it! Comments make my day!
Thanks again for taking the time to read this!