Title: Reinvent Me

Author: LuxKen27

Universe: Days of Our Lives/General Hospital crossover

Genre: Angst/Romance

Rating: T

Word Count: 7,875

Summary: Because sometimes even destiny requires do-overs. A classic Shelle/M&M remix.

Author's Note: For further notes about this piece (and to see the clips it's based on!), please visit my LiveJournal, which is linked in my profile.

DISCLAIMER: The Days of Our Lives concept, storyline, and characters are © 1999-2004 Ken Corday/Tom Langan/Stephen Wyman/Columbia TriStar Television/Columbia Pictures Television/Sony Pictures Television/NBC/SoapNet. Dialogue from parts I – V originally composed by Lorraine Broderick, Tom Langan, Peter Brash, Paula Cwikly, and James E. Reilly.

The General Hospital concept, storyline, and characters are © 2008 Jill Farren Phelps/ABC/SoapNet. Dialogue from part VI originally composed by Robert Guza, Jr.

No money is being made from the creation of this material. No copyright infringement is intended.

.xxxxx.

I.

He tags along to the hospital with his grandparents. He understands their concern, he feels their distress, but still, he's reluctant, not yet willing to deal with the fallout of leaving school unannounced. Cautiously, warily, he surveys his surroundings – but still, he doesn't see her until he nearly runs over her.

She smiles shyly, their eyes meeting for a split second before she pulls away, continuing across the room, towards the coffee. "Belle?" he breathes incredulously, his eyes traveling down the length of her and back. She's not at all what he remembers, an obnoxious child who continually fought with him over toys in the sandbox. No, no, this girl…she's pretty, with long blonde hair and ocean-blue eyes.

He's intrigued; he's appreciative; he's curious. Grandparents forgotten, he veers away to follow her, before another voice stops him in his tracks.

"Shawn-Douglas?"

He recognizes it instantly. He turns, a slow, patient smile rising to his lips. "Great-Gran," he greets her, the matriarch of the Horton clan.

"What are you doing here?" she asks him, surprised. "I thought you were in boarding school."

He shrugs, dropping his eyes, not ready for this interrogation – one he anticipates will come from his father as well. "Yeah, well, it didn't work out," he replies nonchalantly. "It's just – not my scene, you know?"

His great-grandmother looks perplexed as she eyes him, dubiously. "What is your scene?" she inquires.

"I know, I know," he sighs. "You hate my hair, and my clothes…"

She nods wryly. "And, uh – you forgot the earring."

He resists the urge to roll his eyes; Great-Gran wouldn't hesitate to slap him for that, and he doesn't need this kind of trouble – not on top of everything else. "It's just because you're not used to it," he replies, tucking his hands into the back pockets of his ratty jeans.

She stares at him for a moment longer, her gaze assessing. "You look like a homeless person," she finally declares.

"Yeah, well, maybe that's because I am," he shoots back, before he can stop himself. He turns away, masking his annoyance under the curl of a sneer as he slips out of his leather jacket.

"Young man," his great-grandmother breathes, sounding nearly faint with shock, "did your parents give you permission for that – tattoo?"

He glances down at the tribal band encircling his right bicep. "No," he says shortly. "Did Dad get permission to get his? Did my parents get permission to leave the country, run off to the jungle, the bayou – off to Europe?" He scowls. "Did my mom ask my permission to turn into a completely different person?" He shakes his head, biting back the anger and frustration that fills him as he thinks about the way his parents have abandoned him in his absence. "Look, Great-Gran, its better this way. I'm better off on my own."

He turns, grabbing his jacket and stalking away, unwilling to stand for any more of his great-grandmother's piteous disdain. If there's one thing boarding school taught me, he thinks darkly, it's that I am better off on my own. Maybe coming back wasn't such a great idea – what's left for me here?

That's when he spots her, a few feet away, staring off into the distance. He watches her for a moment, watches her watching a resident hurrying away, and he can't help but smile again. When the hell had she become, well, a girl? And such a pretty one, at that.

She isn't paying attention; the coffee she's pouring overflows, spilling onto the tray. "Oh, that's great, Belle," he teases as he approaches. "I'll have mine light. Hold the napkins?"

She flushes, grabbing a napkin to mop up the mess, but it quickly soaks through. They both reach for the napkin dispenser at the same time, and she looks at him again, her cheeks darkening. He smiles, holding her gaze as he helps her clean up the mess. Just as he's working on what to say next, she looks past him.

"Brandon!" she calls. "What about – " The resident rushes by, not even acknowledging her.

" – our talk," she finishes, disappointed.

He scoots a bit closer to her. "Don't worry, Belle, I'll keep you company," he offers.

"Great," she deadpans, gathering up the soiled napkins.

"So," she says a moment later, clearing her throat, "when did you go grunge?"

He smirks at her. "When did you turn into such a klutz?"

Her expression turns hurt as her eyes fall back to the tray, and he feels a strange twist of regret.

"I thought you were away at boarding school," she tries again, continuing to fidget with the napkins.

He shrugs. "I was," he replies, "but now I'm back – for good this time."

She nods, still smarting. "Whatever," she murmurs, turning to walk away. "Well, see ya."

"Hey, Belle," he says swiftly, pleased when she faces him once more. "I'm sorry about Sami. I hope she gets better."

Finally, she smiles at him, her features softening. "Thanks, Shawn-D," she says as she turns away once more. She doesn't quite make it back to her family before someone else stops her, offering their sympathy for her sister's plight, and he takes the opportunity to get another good look at her, this girl he used to know.

Looks like I just found a reason to stick around, he muses to himself.

He is fourteen years old, and he has just rediscovered a girl from his past.

.xxxxx.

II.

"Close your eyes," he commands gently as he opens the squeaky passenger's side door of his father's old truck.

She feels the rush of cold air fill the cabin as she complies, burrowing further into her winter coat. What are we doing up here? she wonders to herself, a thrill of exhilaration scoring her spine. Lookout Point is deserted, but that's no surprise – practically everyone in town is crowding into the DiMera mansion right now, at a party honoring his mother. They were there, not too long ago, but he insisted on bringing her here…and now she's curious.

What does he have planned?

Silently, he reaches for her, his arms encircling her waist, and she leans into him, eager to feel his warmth. He helps her down, landing softly in the pristine white blanket of snow, and pushes the door closed. For a minute, they simply hold each other; she presses herself closer, and can feel his heartbeat racing in his chest.

Delicious anticipation fills her stomach.

He takes a step back and shuffles to the side, still holding her tightly. She feels like she's tripping over her own feet; as much as she loves her outfit, and as grown up as she feels in it, three-inch heels were definitely not made for walking around in the snow. "Ready?" she asks, still clinging to him, when he finally comes to a halt.

She can feel the sharp intake of his breath. "Ready," he finally says, releasing her.

She opens her eyes, and her vision is filled with the scene before her: there stands a perfect, round snowman, with a hat and a scarf and a little note pinned to his side. She blinks, the words coalescing, and suddenly she's the one who can't breathe.

"He's telling you the truth, Belle," he says, his voice hitching at the last. "I do love you."

One minute, she's standing there, staring incredulously at this frozen declaration, and the next, she's in his arms, her lips pressed to his, her hands curled into his hair. She tells with her actions what she cannot speak in words, her emotions storming the gates of her soul, her body, and her mind.

"Shawn," she finally whispers, feeling the first flakes of a brand new snow falling down all around them, "I love you, too."

He smiles and pulls her close, his mouth eager and insistent against hers. Soon they are shaking, freezing under the gentle wintry assault, but she pays it no heed. This moment is perfect, absolutely perfect, more than she ever could've dreamed or wished or imagined.

Tears prickle behind her eyes, a surge of joy and warmth flowing through her, over her, around her. "Shawn," she begins breathlessly, finally separating herself from him, "you once told me your parents getting married was the best Christmas gift." She glances up, her eyes meeting his, and unconsciously, she presses herself ever closer to him. "This is mine," she continues. "Those three words suddenly make the great gift I got you seem…not great." She snaps her mouth shut as a flush of heat rises over her neck.

His smile is slow, soft, and quiet, his eyes full of love and warmth. "Those three words mean the same to me that they do to you," he replies, trailing a gloved finger over her hair, wiping away the heavy, wet snow.

"Shawn," she bubbles, her tears near the surface. She breaks away from him, moving closer to the snowman, the words of the note blurring together as she sniffles.

"Oh, come on," he pleads lightly, twining his arms through hers, "you can't cry – there's not crying in snowman-making!"

She laughs even as the tears spill over, even as his gentle teasing continues: "You'll melt – and I won't let that happen."

You make me melt, she thinks, turning to face him once more. She smiles, and he smiles, and for one tiny moment in time, they bask in the glow of their dual confessions. Their love is heavy, and heady, and fills the air around them, and she thinks, I've never felt closer to you than I do in this moment, Shawn Brady.

His expression sobers, and suddenly, he appears nervous – more nervous than before, if that's even possible. "Okay," he says, exhaling sharply. "I gotta ask you to do this – you need to take off a glove, just for a moment…so I can give you something."

Her brows creases in curiosity, and she shivers in the cold, withdrawing the glove from her right hand, feeling the strange sensation of cold hitting warm, her fingers tingling.

He digs in his pocket before taking her hand, uncurling her fingers and placing something warm and solid there. She looks down, almost afraid to touch it, testing its heavy weight in the palm of her hand.

Her gaze swivels back up to his. "Your class ring," she murmurs, closing her fingers over this most unexpected gift.

"Yeah," he breathes, "I want you to – wear it, although, I mean, you don't have to, I know it's big and clunky – "

"Are you kidding?" she intones incredulously, her heart on pace to outrace a hummingbird's.

It's his turn to flush now, and he looks away, adorably sheepish. "I don't know – I mean, it's something that, you know, people do when they're going out," he stumbles on, "and, I mean, I don't even understand it, because I know you – have – your own…"

She glances down at it. "You're not kidding," she says, releasing a breath she doesn't even realize she's holding. "Shawn, this ring symbolizes who you are…basketball, baseball, Honor Society, blue stone – "

"Like your eyes," he cuts in quietly.

She gazes up at him. "It's perfect," she proclaims.

Her words seem to assure him; he no longer looks fidgety and unsure. "I just wanted to give you something special," he says.

"As special as you," she replies. "Everything about you, including this."

He brushes her hair from her brow, allowing his fingers to trail down the length of it, pressing the silky blond lock behind her ear. "When you give somebody a ring, it's supposed to be like a promise," he says quietly. "It's supposed to mean something. I mean, I don't want you to think that – I'm trying to – announce to everyone at Salem High that I'm claiming you – "

"No, Shawn, I want – " she interrupts, drawing her shoulders close, "I want everyone to know how much we mean to each other. Not just, 'look how great my boyfriend is,' but – 'I'm taken,' 'I'm happy' " – she glances over her shoulder at her snowman, unable to suppress her grin – "''he loves me'!"

His expression melts into a smile, and her heart feels like it's about to burst, and she loves the fact that she can make him look like this, and feel like this – it's…better than what they had during the summer, when they finally shared their first real kiss, and almost gave in to their ultimate desire. It's stronger, unbreakable, and now…

Now…

It's official. He's given her his ring, and his promise, and his love. What more could she ask for?

"Let's try it on," he suggests, taking her still bare hand in both of his, sliding the ring over each of her fingers, finding the closest fit on her thumb, though with plenty of room to spare. She loves the way the metal feels against her skin, so warm and solid and strong.

"Perfect," she whispers, wrapping her arms around him once more. His lips press against the base of her neck, and she lays her head on his shoulder, and stares at her gift.

She is sixteen years old, and she has just fallen hopelessly in love.

.xxxxx.

III.

He hates this.

He hates each word as it tumbles from his mouth; he hates the way her expression changes from fear to dread to pain as she listens.

She's crying. He's crying – and suddenly, his noble intentions don't seem quite so noble anymore.

He follows her out into the school's courtyard, his heart heavy in his chest. She's silent – totally silent – as she throws her books down on a bench and turns to face him. Her beauty is marred by the hurt etched across her features, as if the very act of looking at him causes her pain.

He can't stand it. "Belle, please," he pleads, "just talk to me. I need to know what you're thinking."

He doesn't want to know – he fears he already knows – but he needs to know. Just how much has he fucked this up, for the sake of helping a friend out of a jam? And not even a friend he particularly likes.

Goddamn, this is so messed up, he thinks, as he watches her fold in on herself, sobs breaking through her chest. "Don't cry – " he tries, reaching for her, attempting to soothe.

"Just – don't touch me, okay?" she replies brokenly, pushing his hands away.

"I'm sorry," he whispers, all out of other words. "I'm so sorry…"

She's lost in her thoughts then, looking away from him, beyond him. It's almost surreal to see her like this – she's usually so warm and bubbly, someone who tries to be friends with everyone, no matter how much they resist. He loves that about her. She gave him a chance when few others did, simply because of her nature.

Her silence is deafening.

"You didn't want me," she finally says, her voice low and disbelieving. "When we were on the island, you stopped. Like – like it was wrong, like we were doing something wrong – "

Oh, God, he thinks, feeling flushed, embarrassed, upset. She's connecting dots he never expected. "That's not true," he argues, angrily swiping at the tears still sliding down his cheeks. "I wanted to make love to you. It just – " He pauses, glancing away as the memories flood his mind. "I didn't think we were ready."

Her lips curl into a sneer. "You know what, Shawn? Obviously you were ready."

Okay, he deserves that – maybe. It certainly sounds bad, now that he's hearing it out loud. But he has to make her understand – none of this has changed the way he feels about her. God, if only I could tell her, he thinks. "I love you," he vows. "You have to know that. And I do not want to lose you."

But she isn't listening – she's still lost in her memories of that summer, what they shared – and didn't share. "It was different when you were with Jan, than when you were with me, wasn't it?" she asks slowly, her voice preternaturally calm. "Because when you were with her, you couldn't stop…or maybe you didn't want to."

The tears flow hotter and faster now, and dimly, he realizes he hasn't cried this much over anything – over losing his family, his home, his mother, or his little brother. Not until this moment does he realize how much he loves her, and how much it hurts to hurt her, even if only to protect her.

"When did it happen, Shawn?" she asks, her voice hard, her expression closed. She crosses her arms over her chest. "Where? Jan's house? Your house? In your dad's truck?"

"It's not important," he replies swiftly, still unable to look at her.

"You know what? You're right, it's not important – because it probably happened in all those places, right?" she shoots back, her pain and rejection turning to anger and venom.

He shakes his head, wishing to clear the atmosphere of confused and congested thoughts. "No, no, no, it's because – " – because she was raped, and not by me – " – it doesn't matter how it happened, okay?" He takes a deep breath, but finds the words no easier to say the second – third – fourth – time around. "I'm going to be a father. I've got to help Jan through this."

She's crying again, shaking her head, absolutely disbelieving. "No – no – no!" she cries. "This can't be happening. Either I'm dreaming – or this is a lie." She moves closer, reaching out for him, curling her hands around his neck, pressing her forehead to his. He can feel her tears, the way her breath hitches in her chest as she pleads with him. "Please – Shawn, please tell me you're lying to me…please."

Oh, God, he wants to – but he made a promise to Jan, and he doesn't go back on his word. Think of the baby, he reminds himself, think of the little life you're ultimately trying to protect. "I'm sorry," he whispers lamely, only to feel her immediately pull away, a strangled cry lodging in her throat.

"No!" she wails. "Because – because you – " – she reaches for him, only to drop her hands in frustration – " – you are Shawn Brady, and I am Belle Black, and we are supposed to be this – this perfect couple who is going to be together forever! Forever, Shawn!" Her eyes are swimming in tears now, her face turning ever-deeper shades of pink and red. "And now? No…no, this can't be happening!"

He feels restless, and helpless, not knowing what to say – every time he opens his mouth, he only makes it worse. She's coming unglued, and he wasn't expecting this; he knew telling her would be hard, but he never imagined it would be this hard. She's so tense, so full of unspeakable pain and rage, that he almost wishes she would lash out and hit him.

Any alternative would be better than witnessing this.

"You've been lying to me for months," she bursts out, her sobs calming, though her shoulders still shake. "'Jan and I are just friends' – right," she spits. "I would walk around the corner and you would be – with her. Holding her hand. You'd say to me, 'I have to go take care of Jan' and then – you would just walk away from me!"

Her words stab at him, thousands of tiny, shallow cuts, all bleeding simultaneously.

"You took care of her, all right, didn't you, Shawn?" she continues. She crosses her arms over her chest, pulling at the ends of her sleeves. "How could I be so stupid?"

She turns, begins to walk away, and he rushes to stop her. "It's not like you think – I swear," he says, reaching for her. "It's not like any of this meant anything to me – "

She whirls around. "It didn't mean anything to you, Shawn?" she asks incredulously. "No. No, this is not you talking. The Shawn Brady I know would never sleep with a girl for the sake of having sex, and not use protection, and create a baby – " She stops abruptly, closing her mouth, closing her eyes. "Because that does not make any sense!"

He closes his eyes, trying to reign in his own emotions. Somehow, these words sting even more than the accusations of sleeping with another girl. "You really do know me," he says, to no avail.

"No," she insists, "no, you are wrong. I thought I knew you…but I don't. And I obviously never did."

She takes a breath, but she doesn't turn away. When she speaks again, she is calmer, but no less regretful. "You know, my mom tried to warn me," she begins. "Brady did, too – they said I was too young to be so serious about you."

She sniffles, taking a step closer, reaching out, pulling the sides of his shirt together. "That it wasn't right for you to be the most important person in my life…" Her hands rise to touch his face, lightly, fleetingly. "…and that I should be prepared for it to all end someday. But I wouldn't listen to them. Because – all I could think about was us being together."

Silent tears slide down her cheeks as she hugs herself, so close – and yet, so far from his grasp. "You know, all my life, my parents and Brady have loved me, and protected me…but I told them they were wrong, because they didn't know you. And – I believed in you." She meets his gaze. "I loved you. But now look what's happened – look at what you've done to me, Shawn!"

She flings her arms in the air, gesturing at her disheveled form, and all he wants to do is gather her close and soothe her pain away – but he can't.

Because this is his doing, and he can't undo it.

So he just stands there, uselessly, staring at her, wishing he could telegraph his sorrow and remorse without speaking. Words have only made his hole deeper, have only hurt her more. He wants this all to stop – her pain, her anger, her disgust.

"Who else knows about this?" she questions, crossing her arms defensively over her chest.

"Nobody at school," he replies, his shoulders shrugging as his gaze turns away. "Jan's mom knows, and her dad probably found out…and my parents – "

"You told Jan's parents and your parents before you told me?" she cries, her tone accusatory.

He closes his mouth. It's gotten him into enough trouble already.

"I don't mean anything to you, do I?" she asks, horror-stricken.

He reaches for her, his hands brushing over her shoulders, down the lengths of her arms. "You mean everything to me, okay?" he says, his voice barely above a whisper. "Everything." He tries to pull her close, tries to take her face in his hands. "I love you – "

"No!" she cries. "No, no, NO! Don't even go there, Shawn!" She jerks out of his reach. "Do you really think that I would believe anything that you have to say after all this?"

She shakes her head, biting her lips and closing her eyes, as she turns away from him again.

"No, Belle, just – " he calls. " – please, don't go yet."

She stops, but she doesn't turn to face him. When she speaks again, her voice is flat and resigned. "I don't want to hear any more of your lies, Shawn."

Now everything I say is a lie? he thinks, staring at her back. When did this happen? When did this spiral out of my control?

"You don't understand," he states. "It's so much more complicated than you think." Why can't you see the bigger picture here? Why can't you trust me, to know I haven't betrayed you in that way?

"No, you know what I think?" she shoots back, turning on her heel and advancing towards him once more. "That I understand perfectly. And you know what?"

She waits, until she captures his gaze once more, and sends a hard, penetrating look straight through him. "I hate you," she whispers, before turning and, finally, walking away.

He is seventeen years old, and he has just lost the love of his life.

.xxxxx.

IV.

She stands at Lookout Point, her back turned away from the stars. The night air is balmy and breezy around her, cloaking her in the warm relaxation of summer.

"Shawn, when can I turn around and look?" she inquires impatiently, a tiny smile rising to her lips.

"Just one second," he replies slowly, and she hears him shuffling something around. "Okay," he whispers, approaching her, covering her eyes with one hand while the other slides around her waist. "I hope you like your surprise." Carefully, he spins her around and removes his hand.

"Shawn…" A little sigh escapes her lips. A picnic blanket covers the ground before her, just at the edge of the cliff. Stars twinkle overhead, their light complimented by the slow glow of a lantern he's placed nearby.

"Well?" he breathes. "What do you think?"

"Look at this – it's amazing," she replies, her eyes sweeping over the scene to take it all in. He's built a cozy little spot, just for them, and her heart warms.

"And there's food, for when we get hungry," he remarks, gesturing to an overflowing picnic basket grounding one corner of the blanket.

She smiles as she steps forward, sinking to her knees next to a floral arrangement. "These flowers are so cute," she declares, glancing up as he settles beside her. "You've been watching Martha Stewart, haven't you?"

He gives her a narrow glare. "I made a list of the things you like, okay?" he deadpans, unimpressed with her tease. "I just wanted to make you happy."

"Just being here with you would've been enough," she sighs, leaning into him. Her kiss is soft, tentative; they are still learning their boundaries, even though this road has been well travelled in the past.

She scoots closer to him, turning to lie on her side in front of him, his arms circling her waist from behind. "You know," she begins, "I kinda always thought of Lookout Point as our special place."

His grip on her tightens; his breath is warm against her cheek as he speaks. "Yeah, well, it was here, the first time I told you I loved you."

A little thrill shimmers down her spine. "I remember…" that cold, snowy evening, Christmas Eve, sneaking away from the party to exchange gifts…

"The only thing we're missing now is our snow," he muses aloud.

"And our snowman," she adds. After a moment, she pulls away, turning and sitting up, wrapping her arms around her legs as she brings her knees to her chest.

He furrows his brow. "Did I – say something wrong?" he inquires.

She looks at him. "No," she replies. "It's just amazing how people can be on the same wavelength at the same time, without even knowing it." She pauses, a quiet tension settling in the air around them.

"I brought something for you, too," she finally says. "I had a feeling tonight would be the right time."

His eyes search hers as he waits for her to continue. "Well, what is it?"

A sad smile rises to her lips. "My broken heart."

His gaze turns away, his eyes falling to the blanket. "I never wanted to break your heart, Belle," he says softly, mournfully. "And I wish I could go back and change the way I acted."

Her expression turns wistful. "Wouldn't life be great if we could hit the 'rewind' or 'edit' button?" she muses aloud. She touches his shoulder. "There are a lot of things I know I'd do differently."

He glances back at her appreciatively.

"But when I said my broken heart? What I meant was this," she continues, reaching for her bag. It doesn't take long to find it, these two halves that were once a whole. Gently, she retrieves the pieces of the paper heart and holds it up. "Do you recognize it?"

He stares at it for a long moment, before lifting his gaze to hers. "Is that the heart I put on our snowman?" he questions, as if he can't quite believe his eyes.

She nods.

He takes the pieces from her, eyeing the jagged edges. "You know, this heart – and that snowman – was what gave me the courage to say 'I love you' for the first time," he reminisces, layering the halves back together before pulling them apart again. "So what happened here?"

Her shoulders tugged down in a sheepish shrug. "After everything came out about Jan, I was in my room crying –" – she pauses, considering her choice of words – " – well, I did a lot of that –"

"I'm sorry," he cuts in.

"It's okay," she rushes to reassure him. "It's okay – I have to let it go." She brushes the hair back from his brow. Chloe was right, she thinks, I could never turn off my love for you. Even though you hurt me…even though it all worked out in the end…

He sighs. "You probably wanted to rip my head off," he intones, gesturing to the ripped up heart.

"Yes," she admits, "but now…I want to move past those feelings. And I thought, maybe this heart could help me. I want to tape it back, to the way it was – both of us, together."

When he doesn't respond, a flush of embarrassment washes through her. "Is that dumb?"

"No!" he says, his lips curving into a smile. "I mean – this heart is obviously just made out of paper. You could've just thrown it away, but you didn't. You held onto it."

"It's like a symbol of our love," she replies. "That's why I want to put it back together." Because we've moved on, the truth is out, and we've reconciled, she adds silently, matching his smile with one of her own. "So you hold onto those."

He frowns as she pulls away, once again digging in her bag for something. "What? Oh," he says, as she pulls out a tape dispenser. "The girl comes prepared!"

"You're talking to the salutatorian here," she reminds him cheekily, pulling off two long strips of the plastic adhesive. "Okay, you hold onto those and I'm going to tape them back together."

"All right," he agrees, laying the two pieces together.

She laughs as she turns back to him, the tape dangling from her fingers. "On your heart?" she teases. "Nice move." She leans forward, pressing the tape in place. "It's a little crooked, but I think it works."

"That's the best I can do from this angle," he replies wryly, motioning to his awkward stance as he holds the paper heart over his own. As he finishes he picks it up, pressing the ends of the tape over the back of the paper.

"Okay," he sighs, "I know we're putting this heart back together, but still – underneath – it's in two pieces. And every time you smile at me, I know that the pain is still there – inside."

Her expression is somber as they look at one another. "Love can grow back stronger than ever," she says. "I really do believe that." She takes the heart, turning it around so that those three words are facing him. "We did it."

He reaches for her, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her close. "I promise you, I'm not going to give you a reason to ever rip that up again," he vows.

"Seal it with a kiss?" she replies, and he complies, pressing his lips against hers, firm and sure and full of reawakened love.

She is eighteen years old, and she has just put her broken heart back together.

.xxxxx.

V.

He lowers himself down on bended knee, reaching up to grasp her hand. "Isabella Black," he says slowly, relishing the way her name rolls off his tongue, "will you marry me?"

Her expression is awash in shock as she stares down at him. "Oh, my God, Shawn – are you proposing?"

It's not quite the answer he is looking for, but given the circumstances, he understands her reaction. "Yeah," he replies with an indulgent smile, "yeah, I am. I'm sorry, this probably isn't how you dreamed it would be – if I had more time, I probably would've planned some big, romantic evening, instead of just pulling you up here on the hospital roof – "

"No, no, it's not that," she cuts in. She's fighting to control her emotions, and he can only hope some of them are good. "It's just – this has probably been the worst day of my life. I just – it feels wrong, to want to be happy, you know?" Her expression crumbles. "I don't deserve to be."

"Whaaaaat?" he drawls, rising to his full height, his hand still firm over hers. "What are you talking about? Of course you deserve to be happy."

She turns to face him, and he's struck by the very real fear he sees in her eyes. Suddenly his impulsive excitement begins to fade, the ever-present knot of dread once again grabbing hold of his stomach. It's been such a stressful time, for both of them, and now – in the heat of that horror – he so desperately wants something good to happen, even if he has to force fate's hand.

"Shawn, I'm just afraid," she says brokenly. "My dad's saying that my mom murdered all these people – your great grandmother, your two grandfathers, your grandmother Caroline, your aunt Maggie, your uncle Roman –" – she whirls away as her voice hitches – "oh, my God, I can't even look at you right now."

He can feel the seductive whisper of confusion and paranoia, but he fights it, reaching instead for her, this beacon of light in his otherwise desolate life. "Why?" he asks, covering her shoulders with his hands, drawing her back against him. "It's not like you did anything wrong. Besides, you were with your mother when my grandfather was killed, so I don't see how she could be the serial killer."

He has his doubts – no, scratch that, he had them – but she had soothed them all away. She'd been with her mother the night his grandfather Doug was killed, so there was no way her mother was the culprit of any of these vicious crimes.

Still, she's nervous, near panic, and it causes his own internal alarms to flare.

"Shawn, remember when I needed to talk to you about something before?" she says in a rush. "I'm just not sure this is a good time to discuss this – "

"I know this has been the worst day of your life," he replies soothingly. "That's what I'm trying to do here, trying to turn all that around – by proposing to you." He gifts her with a hopeful smile. "Gran told me once, long ago, that you're ready for marriage when your love can get through the tough times." He takes her hands again, giving them a reassuring squeeze. "Our families have suffered so much because of this killer. And – it doesn't matter what the truth is. One thing through it all has stayed the same: I love you."

She's near tears now, and those aren't happy tears, but still, he barrels on. Maybe if he keeps talking, maybe if he keeps pushing, it'll happen – it'll come true.

"When I look into my future, the only thing I ever see is you," he says softly. "Sometimes I believe in you more than I believe in myself."

Tears spill over her cheeks as she heaves a deep breath, attempting valiantly to stave off the sobs welling in her chest. How badly he wants to reassure her, how badly he wants to give her something to look forward to – !

"Our love is going to get us through this, okay? In spite of everything," he vows.

"I don't know if we can," she chokes out.

No, he thinks, redoubling his grip on her hands. I have to stop this! "I'm going to prove it to you," he states, falling to his knees once more.

"Shawn – " she protests.

"You can't stop me now, I'm on a roll," he chides with a wry smile, fumbling in his pocket with shaking hands. He feels her sharp intake of breath as he withdraws a thick coil of wool. He smoothes it out with his fingers before lifting it up to her, along with his gaze.

"I know how much tradition means to you," he begins. "It means the same thing to me. Back in Ireland, my grandfather – when he fell in love with my grandmother, he was poor. He couldn't afford a ring, so he went to his mother, and she made these out of wool." He grins sheepishly, feeling his face flood with heat. "He couldn't wait, either."

She seems almost preternaturally calm as she stares down at him, though tears still slide down her cheeks. "These were your grandparents'?" she questions.

He nods, almost shyly. "My grandmother loved you, Belle," he says, "and she would want you to have her ring."

A sob breaks in her chest, and she curls her free hand at her throat.

"These symbolize happiness, and good luck for the new generation," he continues. She's not responding – why she is not responding? His thoughts race across the back of his mind, and dimly, he wonders…

"I know it's not a diamond ring – " he blurts.

"No," she agrees quickly, "it's so much more than that."

He's heartened by her response. "They come from the heart," he replies. He reaches for her left hand, where she still wears his ring. "Hey, so I guess I have to replace this – "

"No!" she cries, jerking away from him.

He stares at her, startled. His entire body begins to shake.

"No, Shawn – it's not that I don't want to marry you – " she says, "I do, but – "

"Don't say 'but'," he implores, rising to his feet. The air is thick around them, and the trepidation he's been trying to deny rolls past his defenses. "Do you love me?"

"Yes!" she asserts.

"Then that's all that matters!" he insists, clutching his grandmother's Irish wool ring. Why can't she understand that he's doing this for her? Something's wrong, what's wrong, she wouldn't say this unless –

"No, Shawn, of course I want to marry you! But after you hear what I have to say – I don't think you're going to want to marry me," she replies mournfully.

His heart is pounding his chest.

"You think I'm this good person – that I'm pure," she continues, fresh tears rolling down her cheeks, "but I have done something awful – not just to you, but to your family. See, I thought that I had to choose between my love for you, and my love and loyalty to my mom. And I never, ever meant to hurt you, but I did."

"No way," he grinds out, his nervous fidgeting accelerating to violent trembling. "You didn't hurt me. You couldn't hurt me – I love you too much."

"I lied!" she bursts out, and total silence falls like a stone between them.

"I lied to you," she repeats, "and a million times I wanted to take it back, but every single time something stopped me, and now I'm just afraid it's too late." Sobs break in her chest, and she's practically hyperventilating now, her tears flowing harder and faster as panic mixes with fear.

"I told myself that it didn't matter, because if it did matter, it would mean this awful thing was true," she babbles on, "and I couldn't – I couldn't face that."

He can only stare at her, fisting his hands at his side to retain some measure of control. "Why are you crying like this?" he questions, his voice a near deadly whisper. "What did you lie to me about?"

He knows – he suspects – he wonders, and hopes and prays and begs for her not to say what he fears she's going to say.

"I told you I was with my mom when your grandfather was murdered," she chokes out, her sobs breaking her words. "I just wanted to give her an alibi! Shawn, I'm sorry! You were just trying so hard to prove that my mom was the serial killer, and I didn't think she could kill anyone, let alone all those people!"

She's babbling now, talking faster and faster, nearly incomprehensible over the strength and passion of her tears. "I didn't know what to do, so I lied!"

Those three words cut through him like a knife. "You did not just tell me this!" he roars, whirling away from her. "There isn't – it's not true!"

It's not true – it can't be true – because that would mean –

"I'm sorry," she whispers.

"You're sorry?" he screams, incredulous, disbelieving. "Your – mother – killed – Great-Gran – "

"I've never wished so hard that I could go back and do something over," she whispers, accepting the full strength of his fury. She reaches out for him. "Shawn, please, I will do anything to make it up to you – "

"Don't you touch me," he replies, his tone strangled with anger, with rage, with wrath and hate and hurt.

She recoils – in surprise, in fear. Good, he thinks dimly. Let her see what she's done to me – the monster her lies have turned me into.

"You were right about one thing," he contends, his eyes searing through her. "It is too late."

He hates this.

He hates her.

He turns on his heel, no longer able to look at her, and slam the door to the stairs behind him with brutalizing force.

He is twenty years old, and he has just found out that love is nothing more than a cruel lie.

.xxxxx.

VI.

Her heels click smartly against the waxed floor of the hospital as she steps off the elevator. "Ms. Howard is going to be interviewing all of the top wedding coordinators," she says, glancing up and smiling at the receptionist at the same time. She presses a button her Bluetooth, turning her attention to the girl at the desk. "Could you tell me what room Damien Spinelli is in?"

"Six nineteen," the nurse replies.

She thanks her, pressing the button again as she walks on. "It's going to be the event of the year," she bubbles, turning the corner at the nurses' station.

He walks at a furious pace across the hall, thumbing through the chart with keen precision. "The patient's EKG was abnormal," he says, annoyed, to the nurse following at his heels. "That would indicate the meds aren't working."

She grins, her heels pinging as she hurries her pace. "Then I suggest you bring your A-game," she advises the person on the other end of the line.

He scribbles in the chart before handing it back to his nurse. "Get a bed ready for him in ICU," he orders, not breaking his stride.

They don't see each other until their bodies meet, abruptly slamming into one another. "Will you watch where you're going?" he intones with aggravation, while she screeches, "What the hell!" as her phone slips from her hands.

He glares at her, and she glares at him, removing the Bluetooth headset. Her shiny blond hair is cut fashionably short, her ocean-blue eyes a perfect match to her short, tight mini-dress. In spite of his annoyance, his curiosity is piqued, and his eyes travel down the length of her and back as he passes by her.

"Try and be more careful," he murmurs to her.

"You idiot!" she cries in response, and he turns again, wanting to get another good look at her.

She's furious. It's not a look he doesn't commonly receive anyway, so he can't quite bite back the smirk that pulls at the corners of his mouth.

"My whole life is on that PDA!" she continues, pointing to the ground at his feet.

He glances down, seeing the mangled electronic device. "Well then," he demurs, kicking it back to her, "you ought to take better care of it."

Her eyes blaze as she bends down to pick it up, drawing herself to her full height all in one graceful move. She examines the damage done, all while watching him from the corner of her eye. Somehow, he's striking, even dressed in standard-issue scrubs and a long white coat. There's something hauntingly familiar about this man, the way his eyes sparkle with mirth. He's staring at her, covertly checking her out, and she lets him – it's not a look she doesn't commonly receive anyway.

She waits until he's just about to continue on his way. "Look at this," she implores, snaring his attention once more. She thrusts her hand out, cradling her phone. "The screen is completely dead!"

He shrugs. "That's not my problem," he says.

"Yes, it is," she corrects him, one hand on her hip. "You're going to have to pay for it."

"Okay, look," he sighs, with exaggerated patience, "I'm the new resident here, which means I'm a doctor, and I have patients to attend to – it's called rounds."

His voice couldn't drip with more condescension, but she's not afraid to match ire for ire. "Okay, well, I've been volunteering at this hospital since I was in seventh grade, and I've seen lots of residents come and go, even the ones who think they're God's gift to medicine!" she shoots back.

He merely stares at her, unimpressed. She meets his gaze, her heartbeat spiking at the challenge she finds there. This is a game to him, she realizes.

Oh, how she relishes a challenge…

A new voice enters the fray as the two stand there, sizing one another up. "Is there a problem here, Maxie?"

She turns, her eyes lighting up on this potential ally. "Yes," she huffs in reply. "He broke my phone!"

Her friend examines the damage; as if on cue, a piece of the PDA's screen crumbles in his hands. "Yeah…" He glances up, lifting a curious brow as he assesses the new resident. "I don't believe we've met?"

"I'm…sorry?" His attention swivels from this new arrival back to her. "I have patients to attend to, so I don't have time to deal with clumsy volunteers."

The man reaches for his coat, pulling it closed and lifting up the name tag. "Dr…Matt Hunter, is it?"

"Yeah," he replies, not bothering to hide his snotty tone. "Oh, do you want to report me?" He edges closer, lifting the tag himself. "Go right ahead, just make sure you get my name right."

The man appears amused. "I'm Nikolas Cassadine," he introduces himself, "the one paying for your fellowship."

"Oh," she chimes in, bestowing them both with a sugary-sweet smile. "I'm pretty sure that means he's your boss."

She shoves the phone in Nikolas's hands and walks off, leaving him to deal with the uppity new doctor. But as she continues down the hall, she can't resist peeking over her shoulder. Looks like I might need to start volunteering at General Hospital more often, she muses to herself.

They are twenty-five years old, and they have just discovered that sometimes love gets a second chance.