A large and festive Christmas tree standing tall over the rustic living room, guarding over the brightly wrapped packages laying beneath it. The living room itself decorated cheerfully in anticipation of the one day a year that everything seemed just right with the world. Things hadn't always been this way, to be honest. Over the years, the home had been not much more than just a house – a place only there to keep a roof over someone's head. And even then, it had often been an empty house at that. The walls themselves had seen their share of happy times, then unhappy times, followed by those empty years. Never would have anyone thought that the cheer would one day return to these walls.
Henry sighed as he hung the last length of garland on those branches, then turned his attention to the last box of colored glass ornaments. He couldn't help laughing at the thought that he finally felt brave enough to buy glass ornaments without the fear of them getting broken by that rambunctious little boy of his. He laughed even harder at the thought that perhaps he should still be worried about that possibility happening even now. Maybe, somewhere deep down in the recesses of his mind, he wondered if he actually hoped it would happen.
His gaze wandered over to the chair, where his gift to Shawn lay – carefully picked out, carefully hidden, and as carefully wrapped as ever it had been. And still, he knew that it would not be a surprise. He kept up the ruse of being able to keep up with his kid on that damned yearly game they played, but he knew by now he would always lose. Aging brain being one reason, not that he would ever admit to it. Also just as important being his kid's incredible abilities made much stronger by now with his frequent practice. No, Henry knew, he was no match for Shawn. And yes, part of that frustrated him, but he only played at being as annoyed as he looked. It was fun. He enjoyed it, and most of all, he enjoyed seeing what Shawn had grown into.
His entire adult life, he had hoped for nothing more than to have that quintessential image of what a home and family should be like at the holidays – or every day for that matter. Perhaps people were right when they said that things had a way of working out. His wife would never be part of it again, that part was hard to handle, but that was just part of the way things were working out. Shawn, on the other hand, Shawn eagerly coming back year after year after everything that had happened between them was the greatest and most surprising gift he could ever want. So what if he never guessed the contents of his own gift ahead of time. It was simply the chance to have his kid here at home for Christmas that he truly cared about.
Five chairs around the dining room table, five stockings hung over the mantle, and five place settings so carefully laid out in wait for a festive dinner celebration. Winnie Guster smiled as she watched Gus happily filling each of the stockings while her husband "supervised" the goings on from his designated living room recliner. There was some sort of disagreement over what should go into the stocking with Shawn's name embroidered on it, but no longer a disagreement over whether that stocking belonged there in the first place. Sure, he might not have been the best friend they ever imagined for their son, but they both had to admit he was the best friend that their son needed. Never mind the word "friend" anymore, to them, he was much more a member of the family.
'He's the son I never had,' her husband had once said, and in response to Gus' protests, he had promptly replied, 'Well, you're the son I did have!'
Perhaps they had convinced themselves they should allow Shawn to hang around so much when he was younger out of pity – the poor kid being an only child after all, and a son of two so busy parents as well. He was lonely and in need of attention. Winnie often thought he was in need of a stay at home parent, but she knew that was never to happen, and so she reluctantly welcomed the hyperactive boy into her home time and time again. Not until Shawn had disappeared for such a long time did she realize how much a part of her life – of her heart – he had become. He wasn't so much in need of someone else as they were in need of him, she realized as she saw her own son struggle to find his own way in the world at first. An even stronger sign for her was how she had started to find herself thinking about him, worrying about him, hoping he was okay, and just as any mother would – she often wondered if he'd had enough to eat that day.
She laughed at a memory that Gus brought up about one of his and Shawn's antics at the house so many years ago, and noted how much Gus needed that boy even now. They were brothers, plain and simple, all genetics placed aside. They had grown up together and done more together than most actual brothers actually do, and in doing so, he had become an integral member of the family. Perhaps they still complained about him now and then – ok, often – but deep down inside, they all knew that even the house seemed to have developed a space inside of it that could only be filled with his presence. That space in each home that is reserved for members of the family? Yes, the home had created a space for him, and Winnie knew that he needed to be here, at home, for Christmas.
So many changes in so little time, enough to make anyone feel turned upside down during the holidays. Juliet wondered if she should be feeling that way, but mostly she wondered why she in fact did not feel that way at all. Her family all going to Miami to celebrate their traditional Scottish Christmas would have normally been enough to make her take a week off work and book a flight to Miami at the first chance she got. Failing that, she could always keep her ever lonely partner company at least. This year, not only was she staying home and away from her family, but she also knew that Carlton, for once, had no need for her. He had found his someone, and they were busy celebrating their very first Christmas together. She was happy about that, truly, because she had her very own "First Christmas together" to celebrate this year, and after all that had happened, it would be so much more magical.
Yes, after all that had happened. Getting together, finding out that major secret, breaking up…she would never have thought of herself as someone to take him back after something like that. In fact, sometimes she even wondered why she took him back at all. Such a lie. Such a major lie that was forcing her to lie to her own partner, not to mention her Chief, and she took him back. Why? Every bit of logic within her screamed the question over and over, and she could never answer it logically. She had done it out of love and second chances, of course, whether or not it was deserved.
Second chances, because she had seen first hand how much second chances meant to Shawn. She valued honesty, he valued second chances. Hard honesty was great, but second chances were what was given to someone for being human. He tracked down and caught more criminals than any officer she had ever known, but whatever his methods were, she could not ignore the way he rarely judged them – the way he always treated them like human beings. Surely someone like him deserved a second chance himself, and so she gave him one. He was grateful, but then again so was she, that he would give her a second chance as well.
After all that had happened to her as a child, after all the lies that had hurt her so badly, she couldn't blame herself for seeking honesty as fiercely as she did. She wanted that perfect home life that she had been denied while growing up. Every kid deserves that life, and if she couldn't have it as a child, then she damn well was going to demand it as an adult…or so she thought. Perhaps there is no such thing as a perfect home life. Perhaps some lies are necessary, and even when they're not, perhaps they're forgivable, and perhaps perfect honesty is not what makes a perfect home. Perhaps someone can truly love us even when they lie to us, and perhaps lying to us is the only way for them to protect us. She wasn't so sure she believed that last part, but maybe Shawn believed it, and that was good enough for her.
She knew from their first moment as a couple that he wasn't perfect and that he never would be. If only she had been able to accept that an imperfect Shawn would mean an imperfect home. Well, if she had, she would never had seen how dedicated he in fact was to her, so it worked out in the end. She opened her door back up to him, he chose to walk back through it, and her apartment was once again their home. This was their home once again. He was back, and home was right where he would be for their first Christmas together. It would be awesome, and she couldn't wait.
He could never get over how early the sun set in the winter. It made him feel like he was late for his dinner date already. Thinking he might actually already be, he checked his phone just to make sure. Still half an hour to go before he had to be there. But where was 'there'? He was expected everywhere, and he had agreed to go everywhere, because he never thought far ahead enough to realize what that meant. Maybe he accepted everywhere because he truly believed he could be everywhere. Well, he definitely wanted to be everywhere. Everyone, the look in all their eyes when they told him about their plans…so hopeful, so happy. They all expected him, maybe because they all believed he belonged with them.
Such a difference from what he had experienced for so many years, and he couldn't imagine the irony that both situations led to him sitting in a darkened room alone on Christmas Eve. Back when all he could see in his father's eyes was disappointment, dismissal from his mother's eyes, and his own inability to look his best friend in the eyes – back then, he belonged no where. Following that, during his years of freedom, as he called them, he came to realize that this kind of freedom meant loneliness and being alone for the holidays. So many Christmases spent on his own, wondering what everyone else was doing. Wondering how dad was, how Gus was, how his mom was, and wishing that maybe things could have been different. He didn't often think that way, but during the holidays, it was hard to think differently.
What could he have possibly done so wrong this time around to get himself into this situation?! Shawn slapped his head in frustration, worried that he had messed this up yet again somehow, dooming himself to yet another Christmas alone after having worked so hard to fix things with everyone. So this is what it would be like to put down roots – making choices that would make one person happy but disappoint or anger everyone else. And how was this supposed to be a good thing? How was this supposed to be any better than what he had endured alone for so many years? Maybe being on his own had been somehow better. At least then he wouldn’t risk making anyone else miserable with his decisions. They all wanted him home for Christmas, but what was home if making a choice meant hurting those he loved? Did this mean he didn't actually have a home after all? Home should be where the heart is…or something like that. Home should feel right. Nothing could be home if being there meant hurting those he loved. It had taken him a long time to realize that – his parents getting divorced would mean he'd have to make a choice between homes, however crappy each might be. He hated living with his dad, but it was the only place he had, and maybe things would be better without the stress of a bad marriage on his mind. But staying there would mean choosing him over his mom, so that was out of the picture. He couldn't imagine choosing his dad over anyone at that time. Going with his mom was an option. They always got along okay, but that would also mean choosing her over dad – or worse – choosing her over Gus. That just wasn't right either. Not when Gus had been there for him during so many difficult years. Choosing someone over someone else – that always made life difficult. It had made life intolerable for him, and now here he was – caught in the trap yet again.
The glare of headlights outside the window reminded him that maybe he had let more than half an hour pass by. He was late then…to…everywhere. Would it be so bad, or worse, or maybe even better if he just decided to go ahead and disappoint everyone? He thought for sure they would call him first, whoever would be the first to get tired of waiting, but no, it would be a visit instead. Probably from his dad. Actually, he recognized the sound of his dad's truck, and yes, of course it would be him first. He stood up and went to turn on the lights, only now realizing he had allowed the place to get dark.
"Wondered if you'd be here." His dad greeted, surprisingly not with an angry undertone to his voice.
"How'd you know I'd be here?"
"Gus called wondering where you were, and Juliet said you weren't with her. This was the first place I thought of."
That sounded logical to Shawn, although there was still something odd about his dad's actions. "Why didn't you call?"
"Because you didn't, kid." Henry laughed. "Thought I'd check this place out first, then call if you weren't here."
"Could have saved yourself the trip."
"Yeah, but you coming to hole up in here means you've got something on your mind. I know you, kid. Always retreating to your fortress of solitude, so to speak."
Shawn looked down and nodded. He knew when he was beat. "I…I guess I got nervous. Sorry."
"Nervous about what?"
"Nervous about what would happen." He confessed. "Jules said she wanted us at our place for Christmas. And Gus said he and his parents wanted me there for Christmas. And you…and I didn't tell anyone no. I was just thinking about how to…" he stopped short as his dad started laughing. What the hell? What could possibly be so funny?! He was about to ask when he realized that not only was his dad laughing, but he also seemed to have tears in his eyes. Laughing and crying at the same time. This couldn't possibly be good.
"I can't believe it, kid. You've grown up." He gave himself another moment to compose himself, then picked up his phone and dialed. "Hey Gus. He's here, at the Psych office. Looks like he might have triple booked himself and got in a pickle. It's ok, I'll make sure he gets to….no? You sure?....Okay then. Thanks, Gus." He placed the phone back in his pocket and looked back at Shawn with a smile.
"That's what happens when you grow up and learn to make your own way in the world – when you make a good way in the world, Shawn. The next step is learning to balance it, but for now, we got it figured out. I'm proud of you, kid."
Shawn sat back down at his father's insistence, completely confused as to what had just happened. Even more confusing was the way his father had gotten to work rearranging the furniture and putting the desks together. Something was happening, and he couldn't imagine what.
His answer came 15 minutes later when he saw Jules arrive, shaking her head and smiling at him, carrying the gifts that the two of them were going to exchange that night. Shortly after, Gus and his family arrived, also bearing gifts…and what seemed like a lot of food.
Christmas dinner happened that night in the Psych office, not in anyone's home, and yet, everyone seemed to feel right at home. Everyone was happy, which was a whole lot better than what he thought would happen. That part was the most confusing part of all for Shawn, only slightly more confusing than the fact that everyone else seemed to 'get it,' but none of them seemed in a hurry to explain it. Whatever it was, it felt good, and at least for tonight, that was good enough for him.