Unexpected Ties

The Return of Shawn

In all of the years Shawn had known Maya Hart, he'd never seen her as vulnerable as she was now.

The girl was tough, very tough; there was no way around it. But he knew from personal experience that acting all tough, whether or not you actually were tough or not, didn't help when you finally reached your breaking point. Now, Maya had been pushed back so far she didn't even know where the breaking point was, and he felt partially responsible.

After Angela had told him to move on, he'd gotten scared. Scared that Katy would leave him if he tried getting close to her, scared of losing Maya. No, maybe terrified was the better word. And though Hit The Road was giving him more and more jobs that took him further and further away from home, he'd still made a point to keep at least a small part in Maya's life; he was too fond of the girl not to, and he would never want to leave her like his own parents did.

It had been a few months since he'd last seen her- months he'd spent traveling the country, seeing the sights, wishing he could share them with her- and he should have known that if something like this were to happen, Maya would go after her father like a hawk catching prey. Maybe, if he'd been there, he could have stopped her...

Maybe she wouldn't be crying into his chest like she was right now, a miserable, emotional mess which he had absolutely no idea how to clean up.

Maybe he wouldn't feel so awkward and useless right now.

All he knew was that he needed a father- one not like her own, from what Katy had told him over the phone, and from what he knew of the previous events of that night. If this terrible man didn't want to be the type of father Maya needed in her life, then somebody else would have to do it, somebody with her best interest at heart. That somebody was right there all along. He just hadn't known it yet, until now. Now he could feel his own father, a presence in the back of his mind that had never left, but was stronger now more than ever.

Look at her, Shawn, his voice echoed in the back of his head, sounding so real that Chet Hunter might as well have been standing right there next to him. She needs you. Don't be like me. Stay with her.

You don't have to tell me twice, Shawn vowed, stroking the distraught teenager's back in what he hoped was a soothing way- despite his good intentions, he didn't quite know how to comfort her, especially since he'd never imagined himself in this position. Maya was the toughest girl he knew...

"Sh-Shawn..." she stammered softly, her voice hitching in her throat. She removed her face from where it had been buried in his chest, looking up at him with the saddest blue eyes he'd ever seen. "You-you're here...?" he noted the hint of a question in her tone.

"Yes... I-I'm here..." he whispered softly. "...and I'm not going anywhere anytime soon."

"Good." Maya's voice was firmer now. "Because I don't want you to go anywhere. But... how did you know? How did you get here? I thought you were off somewhere for Hit The Road."

"I was," Shawn admitted, leading her to sit down in one of the seats, sitting beside her. "But... well, your mom called, and I...I had to come. I couldn't let you go through this alone. I know you're not alone," he added once seeing the slightly outraged look on the girl's face. "You've got Cory and Topanga and Riley and that Minkus kid... but now you've got me, too."

Maya flashed him a weak smile... God, he loved that smile, and he'd do anything he could to keep it on her face. "Thanks, Shawn," she sniffled softly, wiping at her tears.

"You alright, kiddo?"

"Kind of, I guess," she said with a shrug. "Just... just in shock, really... I didn't do anything to him... none of us did... we didn't do anything, and he hurt them..." she was shaking now, the force of her withheld tears too much for her to fight. Shawn held her close, wiping them for her. No.. don't cry... please... don't cry... he pleaded in his mind. "He-he did it to Lucas all the time and we didn't even know..."

"Lucas? Riley's cowboy boyfriend Lucas?" Shawn couldn't help but interrupt. "What does he have to do with this?"

Maya smiled at the 'cowboy' remark. "Yeah, that Lucas," she giggled softly. "He's... he's kind of my half-brother, so... yeah..."

"I know," he said softly. "Your mother told me everything... I'm sorry for leaving for so long... The job was worth a lot of money and I didn't want to turn it down..."

"Don't be sorry," Maya told him. "If anything, I'm the sorry one, for letting all of this happen.."

"Sh... You know you don't really mean that." Katy spoke up, placing a gentle hand on her daughter's shoulder.

The blonde didn't respond right away, but when she did, it was something completely different- obviously she wanted to change the subject, and Shawn would not be the one to make her talk about it if she wasn't comfortable yet.

"Shawn..." she began, taking a deep breath. "Why... Why do you care so much? I mean... All of the stories Mr. Matthews tells..." her voice trailed off and she refused to meet the man's gaze.

"Maya..." he breathed. "Let me tell you something that I'm not sure Cory would have told you...

"When I was in high school, there was a girl named Claire, and her father... Well, her father wasn''t going to win any father of the year awards. I knew I had to protect her at all costs...

"I barely knew her."

He studdied Maya's face for a few momoments- she stared at him, the gears turning in her head as she processed what Shawn was saying. Then, the understanding sparked in her steely blue eyes.

"Do you understand, Maya?" he asked hoarsely, though he already knew the answer. "I love you, Maya, you're like the daughter I never had. Your father, he doesn't deserve you, and I'll keep reminding you of that until I beat it into your skull." he let a joking tone creep into his voice towards the end there, and as her face lit up into a smile, he couldn't help but return it.

"Shawn... Do you really mean that?" she asked him softly, a guarded, reluctant look in her eyes matched only by the look in her mother's eyes.

"More than I've meant anything in my entire life," Shawn said, and he meant it. Nothing could make him change his mind.

"I... I love you, too."

Maya leaned her head against his chest, breathing a soft sigh. Shawn looked down at her, feeling his eyelids drooping. He had no idea what time it was, but he knew it must have been late. Really late.

"Hey, kiddo?" he asked her. "I think it's time to go and get some sleep. You've had a long day."

"But what about Riley and Lucas and Farkle?"

"Cory was going to get Riley when I came in. I think they're about ready to go."

Maya only yawned in response, standing up, Katy following.

The Matthews were just outside of the waiting room, all looking like they were falling asleep on their feet. It wasn't helping Shawn, who was going to be hitting the road with both Maya and Katy in the car with him.

After biding goodbye to the Matthews and Farkle (who would be riding with them) they hit the road, Maya falling asleep almost instantly. Somebody was tired, Shawn thought, but said nothing. He sighed and kept his eyes on the road with the radio turned down, but not completely off. It was late, much too late to be driving anywhere for more than half an hour, and the Matthews lived too far away... where would he be staying tonight?

"You can stay with us tonight." Katy said, as if reading her mind. Shawn opened his mouth to protest, but she interrupted him. "It's the least we can do, right, Maya?... Maya?" she turned and saw that the girl had since fallen asleep. "She was tired, huh?" she laughed weakly.

"Yeah..." Shawn chuckled. "We all are."

"Shawn?" Katy spoke up after a long, awkward silence broken only by the faint music from the car radio. "Do you think I'm... A bad mother?"

Shawn was speechless. How could she even think that, with what her daughter was going through with Daniel? He was the perfect model of a bad parent and she was hardly comparable to him. Sure, she wasn't the perfect mother, but who was?

"N-no," he stammered once he found his voice. "Katy... Katy, why would you even think that?"

The woman avoided meeting his eyes. "It's just... I shouldn't have let her go with her father. It was the worst thing I ever could have done, and now, she and her friends were hurt... oh, Shawn..."

For the second time in that hour, Shawn had to see someone he viewed as tough at their most vulnerable, completely clueless as to help them. Katy was biting her lip to keep from crying, her eyelids brimming with tears that he longed to wipe from her cheeks as they finally spilled over. He wanted nothing more than to take her into his arms and comfort her, tell her that everything would be alright. But doing so in the middle of a busy street in the middle of the night would be disastrous, so instead he kept his eyes on the road, letting Katy vent to him.

"Shawn... I feel like I've failed her."

"Wha-what?!" he stammered. Keep your eyes on the road, Shawn, don't look at her.

Katy sniffled. "Daniel wasn't always as bad as he is now," she began, wiping at her tears. "I've known him all of my life, he was one of my best friends, and when he asked me to marry him, I didn't hesitate to say yes. I loved him, Shawn, I really did. We were only nineteen but I didn't care. I said all of those words in front of God and I meant them. I didn't think my marriage was disposable, but apparently he did."

She took a deep breath and continued. "I knew I wasn't ready to have kids, but he wouldn't take no for an answer, and... and he rushed me into it. I thought it was worth it when I got pregnant with Maya. He was so happy, and so was I... until we found out she was a girl. Then... then he changed-"

"Are you kidding me?!" Shawn exploded. How could someone be so close-minded about the gender of his child. If he had a child, he'd love them even if it wasn't the gender he wanted (though come to think of it, if someone was having his child he wouldn't care the gender anyway), without any thought. If he ever met Daniel face to face... needless to say, it wouldn't be pretty.

Katy shook her head. "I'm not," her voice was soft. "He wanted a son, for whatever reason that was, and I didn't give him one..."

"... So he left you and got with Lucas's mother?"

"Exactly," Katy said with a slight whimper, as if the memory was too painful. "I should have known something was up, but he seemed to be fine with it for a while. It wasn't until the day she was born that he said anything... Maya was born premature, and Daniel didn't like that. She almost didn't make it, and.. and as she was barely clinging to life, he was going off on me," her voice faltered.

Shawn felt his hands tighten on the steering wheel, though he couldn't find any words to say. Luckily, the apartment was coming up. He pulled into the parking lot with a sigh, pulling Katy into a tight hug.

"Katy... listen to me," he found his voice, and it was much firmer than he expected it to be. "You're the best mother that girl could ask for, whether you think so or not. She loves you, and I know you love her, to."

"I-I love her more than anything in the world," Katy said, burying her face into his chest and crying.

"And she knows that. There's no such thing as a perfect parent, everybody makes mistakes. But when you can move on, and forgive each other for those mistakes, then you haven't failed her. You would never be able to fail her."

The only one who has failed her is Daniel, he added in his thoughts, though would never dream of saying so out loud. Katy pulled away from him, wiping her tears as she exited the car. Shawn followed her, opening the back door, which Maya had been leaning on. The girl was clearly knocked out- her head lolling to the side. Shaking his head with a slight smile on his face, he unbuckled her seat belt and picked her up bridal style. She was light- almost too light for a sixteen-year-old, and he swore he could feel her ribs under her clothes.

Katy led the way up into the apartment, where Shawn set Maya down in her bed, slipping off her shoes and tucking her in. She looked so at peace, sleeping soundly now that she knew everything was okay, that everyone was safe. He smiled at her, and leaned down, placing a gentle kiss on her forehead.

Maya was born premature... She almost didn't make it. Katy's words echoed in his head as he started for the door, and his heart nearly shattered. He didn't want to think about a world without Maya. Where would Riley, Lucas, and Farkle be without the spunky blonde? Where would Katy be? Where would he be? Still writing for Hit the Road, still making up excuses to avoid the Matthews?

Did Maya even know what she'd been through? How terrible her father really was on top of abusive and uncaring? Did she even need to know? She was already broken enough, but the real reason her father left would completely shatter her, and picking up the pieces would be impossible.

"Sweet dreams, kiddo," he paused and turned in the doorway to whisper. He then added something, something she needed to hear from a father figure, one who cared enough to let her know it and mean it. "I... I love you."

Either he was going crazy or he saw her eyelids flutter a little bit as he walked out of the room. She had heard him. She knew.

And when he left the room, softly shutting the door behind him, Katy was standing in the hallway, leaning against the wall. Katy had heard him say it. She knew.

To Be Continued...

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