"Don't go pulling a Philip Kiriakis on me, all right?"
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I so immensely dislike the Jan’s baby storyline that defines Shelle’s senior year of high school – especially since the plot and relationship angst are quite similar to those at the heart of my IY fandom opus, Fleeting. They share similar characteristics: the girl’s sexual insecurity, the guy’s seemingly-noble secret-keeping, and the betrayal and angst that occur when they start to push each other.
So why is one so near and dear to my heart, while the other makes my heart hurt?
I think it comes down to more than just the fact that I wrote Fleeting, and thus am in control of the characters, their situation, and the world they’re dealing with. Of course, characterization is important to me, and characterization is one of the first things that seemed to have flown out the window when it came to setting up this storyline on DAYS.
(Sure, it’s a soap, but is consistency too much to ask, even in the realm of the fantastic?)
The Jan’s baby storyline ultimately grew out of the summer “tropical temptation” storyline, when the Last Blast teens go on the school ecology trip. There are several strands of storylines, but Shelle’s is centered on Shawn’s desire to find his grandmother’s stolen ruby, which he believes is buried with other stolen jewelry on a nearby island. Shawn, Belle, Philip, and Mimi are in on this little side venture; they manage to engineer moving the ecology trip’s original destination of Puerto Rico to their forbidden island nearby. They all have their doubts about their oh-so-friendly captain, Paul, but begrudgingly decide to let him in on their secret. He can get them to the places on the island that they need to be to search for clues, both through his knowledge of the area and serving as a designated adult chaperone.
Amazingly, they have enough downtime on this so-called school ecology trip to do all of these things without being missed by the wider group. Shawn and Belle also have enough time to sneak off together and explore their burgeoning romantic feelings for each other. They (finally) kiss for the first time, and have a decent go at having sex before they’re interrupted – mercifully by Mimi, instead of creepy old Paul or one of the teachers leading the trip. Mimi rakes them both over the coals (albeit separately), and their reactions to her over-the-top admonitions are more or less in character. They are teenagers, after all; in addition to all of their romantic feelings for each other, built upon a very long friendship and two years of flirtation, they are totally being driven by their hormones. Belle is angry and embarrassed that Mimi interrupted them, but ultimately admits that Mimi has given her a lot to think about. Shawn is just annoyed by the time Mimi gets to him, because he’s already realized how close they came to doing something they couldn’t ever undo.
This should be the epitome of the ship – after all, they are finally getting together. There’s lots of hand-holding and hugs and kissing and even some foreplay. Two things ruin this, however: Belle spends just as much time, if not more, bonding with the sullen Philip, and Shawn stumbles upon the aftermath of Jan’s rape at the hands of Paul.
Belle’s bonding with Philip is more ominous IMO, because it has much farther-reaching consequences. The Last Blast teen cohort started with a Philip/Belle/Shawn triangle, and all of their togetherness during the school trip ultimately serves to fuel this triangle’s reemergence. As something who’s pretty adamant at an OTP being an actual One True Pairing, I don’t like this ‘threat’ lingering in the background, especially considering how long it’s going to linger before its acted upon again.
Shawn’s discovery of Jan’s rape is the more immediate problem, however. He gets sucked into her trauma, and being the good-hearted guy that he is, he tries to help her – even though Jan has done nothing but antagonize him and his friends for years. He listens to her woes, and comforts her in the aftermath. He also tries to actually get her professional help, both on the island and when they return. Jan makes him swear not to tell anybody what happened, though, and he promises to keep her secret.
There is an attempt at redemption for Jan. She’s on this trip by court order, as part of her punishment for setting up a pay-site exploiting Chloe. There is much made of the fact that her parents are neglectful, and that that’s part of the reason why Jan is as obnoxious as she is. Her boyfriend Jason also turns into a total alcoholic on the trip, and he’s more interested in his secret stash of rum than in his girlfriend. Jan does initially single Shawn out for nefarious reasons, but ultimately comes to depend on him as a genuine friend. It’s not until they return to Salem that she decides she’s going to steal Shawn away from Belle.
That’s about the only way I can stomach the ending of the trip for her – but more on that in a minute.
Shortly after all this, Shawn, Belle, and Philip go after the last clue in their treasure hunt, not realizing that Paul is tailing them, because he wants the jewels for himself. Shawn repels into a cavern to grab the goods, and when he emerges triumphantly, Paul makes himself known to the group and fights with the lot of them for the jewels, including Great Gran’s ruby – the only thing Shawn wants of the haul.
Paul ends up throwing the three of them back into the pit, making off with what he thinks are all of the jewels. Shawn managed to keep the ruby for himself; however, now they’ve got to find a way out of the pit before it fills with water and they drown. Paul initially offered to extract Belle from the cavern, but Shawn refuses to let her go, knowing full well that Paul would rape her, if given the chance to be alone with her.
His suspicions are proved correct when Paul returns, just as Belle manages to get out of the pit. He traps her on the surface and taunts the boys, who are stuck treading the fast-rising water. Shawn is forced to give up the ruby in order to secure Belle’s safety; of course, once Paul gets it, he throws Belle back into the pit. She does manage to get the ruby away from him, but she’s unconscious as she goes under the water – and brings the boys down with her.
Luckily, their rescue party (Mimi, Chloe, and Brady) has arrived, and Paul manages to get away after tussling with Brady. Belle’s brother rescues the trio trapped in the pit; only Philip is in a bad way, as he spent much longer unconscious under water. Shawn goes back in for the ruby – after all, it would be heartbreaking to get that far and not be able to bring it home.
The group heads for the hospital, where they sit vigil for Philip, who’s in a coma. When Brady learns that Belle felt sexually threatened by Paul, on top of being traumatized by being trapped in the pit, he goes after him for revenge. Shawn and Belle begin to work through the aftermath of their ordeal, and they surmise that it’s brought them closer than ever. The best Shelle moments of the entire storyline IMO happen at the hospital when they are discussing their relationship over the years and how they relied on each other to stay strong while down in the pit.
Two things happen, though, to shatter this lovey-doveyness – first, during a fairly routine call home, Belle tells her mother that she’s “a woman now,” which means different things for Belle and Marlena. Belle is referring to the fact that she, Shawn, and Philip lived through arguably the worst moment of their lives and managed to save themselves without adult intervention. Marlena, however, thinks that Belle is telling her that she had sex on the island – which she is not happy about.
The other things that happens is that Belle and Shawn get word that there’s been a shooting, and they’re afraid its Brady. They rush to the emergency room, only to discover that it was Paul who was shot – and that Jan shot him. It was an impulsive act of self-defense, as Paul was attempting to kill his daughter Nicole right in front of her, but Jan of course is already traumatized from the rape. The idea of being convicted for Paul’s murder is more than she can handle, so she falls apart in Shawn’s arms while Belle celebrates Brady still being alive.
Jan refuses to leave Shawn’s side when they are hauled off to the police station; only the intervention of a hotshot lawyer on Jan’s behalf keeps her out of a Puerto Rican jail. Shawn agrees to accompany her back to the hotel, even when Brady offers to take her so that Shawn and Belle can be together. This hurts Belle; she takes it as a rejection, so soon after their ordeal in the pit.
Everyone returns to Salem, and Belle and Shawn return the ruby to Great Gran. Gran gives the two of them her blessing as a couple, and all is right with the world – until they run into Jan again, and Shawn agrees to go off and talk to her. Belle is immediately jealous and starts to think the worst – that Shawn is romantically interested in Jan, her mortal enemy. Her evidence is the fact that Shawn refused to actually have sex with her on the island.
This is annoying, because they actually talked about it and made the decision together to refrain while they were on the island, not wanting to regret anything when they returned to real life. This is also annoying because even though Shawn and Belle have been in love with each other for years, they have only just gotten together, and every character on the canvas has made a Huge Deal about the fact that they’ve only been on one date. The juxtaposition of their actual relationship to their feelings for each other throws Belle’s reaction out of character. She isn’t this crazy jealous possessive person. She’s dealt with quite a bit of jealousy over the last year, and she always stops herself and thinks through her conflicting feelings. Not now, however – she just immediately jumps to the worst conclusion and challenges anyone who tries to get her to stop feeling and start thinking.
This includes her mother. She is a total bitch to Marlena, and she refuses to clarify whether or not she’s having sex. This just mystifies me – it’s one thing not to want to tell your mother every little detail of your life, but considering that she has done exactly that for the last sixteen years? It is a total personality change, especially the nastiness. And it’s not as if Marlena has no reason to be concerned – she’s already had one daughter get pregnant as a teenager; she certainly doesn’t want another one! Belle knows that and throws it back in Marlena’s face.
She whines about this to Shawn, who’s equally mystified by her attitude and her decision to keep her mother guessing about that state of her virginity. Belle continues to pressure him about having sex, too. This is totally out of her character; she was certainly far more romantic than lustful, prior to summer at least. She was ridiculously worried about the idea of kissing him on their first date, and mere months later she’s the one pushing him into having sex? Talk about zero to sixty in ten seconds!
Of course, she doesn’t know that Shawn is quickly developing a complex about sex, due to the fact that Jan has shared intimate details of her rape. He actually takes her to a crisis counselor at the hospital, but Jan is becoming fixated on him – and when he tells her that he can’t talk to her because he promised to help his dad with a menial task, she decides that he isn’t really her friend, and she’ll get back at him – by destroying his relationship with Belle.
Even with all of the reassurances in the world that he loves her, Belle continues to be suspicious of him because he won’t tell her the secret Jan has sworn him to keep. Every time they are together, if the specter of Jan even floats through Belle’s mind, she pushes Shawn away. One minute she’s practically demanding that he prove his love for her by having sex with her, and the next she’s pushing him away, convinced that he’s carrying on with Jan behind her back and that’s the reason why he has no sexual interest in her.
Just – ugh, it makes my head hurt. It makes my heart hurt, because it seems like for every step forward they make, they take three steps back due to Belle’s possessiveness and jealousy. Shawn doesn’t help matters by being so secretive, but he does every other thing he possibly can to assure Belle that he does love her, and only her.
Everything escalates when Shawn’s baby brother is taken away from his family. He was super-attached to his brother because of his attachment to his parents and finally having both of them back in his life. Losing his brother as he does definitely pushes him over the edge of reason. Why else would he do what he does next?
He agrees to accompany Jan when she goes in for an abortion, but she ultimately can’t go through with it. She’s carrying her rapist’s baby and she decides that she wants to keep it. She and Shawn both know that her secret is about to come out – unless Shawn agrees to tell the world that he fathered her baby instead. He actually agrees to this, because he wants so desperately to save the innocent baby’s life.
Jan’s got him now, because she knows if he does this, Belle will never forgive him. She even looks forward to their breakup (because of course, she’s back to being evil incarnate). She moves in with Shawn and his parents after her parents kick her out.
Finally, Shawn has to tell Belle. He tells her that he fathered Jan’s baby, and their breakup is predictably explosive, as it seems to confirm all of Belle’s suspicions. He might’ve told her he loved her and given her his ring, but this seeming betrayal is more than she can handle now that she’s so sex-obsessed. He rejected her in the most basic way that he possibly could, and took up with her mortal enemy instead.
Of course, all of their friends take Belle’s side when they learn of the breakup, leaving Shawn isolated and alone and having to deal with everyone’s disappointment. He still hasn’t told anybody the truth: that Jan was raped on the island. He’s taking all of the punishment, and discovers that maybe his noble intentions aren’t so noble after all.
Things are only made worse when Jan miscarries and blames Belle for losing the baby. Shawn actually believes her and accuses Belle of intentionally killing the baby. Even with Belle’s personality 180, that is definitely a bridge too far. She might’ve been crazy with her possessiveness and unfounded suspicions while they were together, but now she has a reason to feel aggrieved. She and Shawn never quite manage to get out of each other’s orbit, though, so they fall into this sort of co-dependent quagmire. They still love each other but they don’t trust each other, and they really don’t make up even after they get back together. Even after Shawn tells Belle the truth and she forgives him, there is that hint of doubt. This lie over Jan’s baby will forever drive a wedge between them, and they are each way too quick to accuse the other of being unfaithful whenever something even appears to pear-shaped in their relationship.
What good is a romance without a basis of trust? That’s what made their relationship so beautiful in the beginning – that they had this foundation of friendship and an inherent ability to trust each other, and that they would always be there for each other. Friendship is the excuse they cling to when they are broken up but still in each other’s lives, but it only serves to make them miserable.
I think this storyline still could’ve been done, but it could’ve been done in a way that wouldn’t destroy Shelle for good, before it really even got started.
The characters could’ve stayed in character, for one thing. Take the whole sudden obsession with sex out of it altogether – not only does it lessen the degree of the perceived betrayal, but it would place the emphasis on Jan’s rape as being a crime instead of a lurid sexual act. Everybody is already traumatized from their time on the island – Belle and Shawn by their near-death in the pit, with the threat of sexual violence hanging (quite literally) over their heads; Jan by the actual rape and the fact that she killed a man, however justifiably.
Shawn could’ve told Belle what was going on way before he did. It still would’ve caused problems in their relationship, as Belle dealt with the fact that he was protecting Jan basically out of the goodness of his heart. That’s a lot to handle, and would give Belle a lot to think about, considering his generous heart is one of the things that she loves most about him. There could still be a question about his commitment to/love for her, but it would ultimately be surmountable.
Shawn would’ve thought twice about falling into Jan’s trap of claiming her baby as his own, and even if he did do that incredibly stupid thing, forcing him to break up with Belle, their road back to each other wouldn’t be nearly as fraught with unnecessary drama. There would be no accusations of murder; no further lies and misdirection and nastiness constantly pushing them apart even as they long to get back together. Their ability to forgive and move on would be 1000% more believable, because they wouldn’t have lost that basis of trust.
With Fleeting, I wasn’t trying for anything near the dramatics of a soap opera (even though the story has been called that, heh). I was trying to be realistic and rein in some of the drama, even though those elements are what move the story forward. I do have a degree of control over the characters, and can limit the damage they do to themselves and each other. I think it was vitally important that I was able to tell the story from each of the character’s perspectives, to give everyone shades of gray. Even if you thought Sesshoumaru’s reasons for keeping secrets from Kagome was stupid, it was justified (in a convoluted way). His intentions were noble, if pigheaded. When Kagome found out that he was keeping something from her, their breakup was just as explosive as Shelle’s, but it felt cathartic. Everything was out in the open now, and they had the pieces to work with that would ultimately bring them together. Of course, they loved each other as well, and understanding where the other was coming from helped them repair their friendship and then their relationship.
I didn’t set out to consciously mirror the Shelle relationship in Fleeting – it was the furthest thing from my mind, actually, when I started the fic. The only bit that I deliberately brought in was the final piece of their breakup, when Belle tells Shawn that she hates him, because it had made such a lasting impression on me. It was only when I went back to re-watch the Classic Shelle storylines that I realized that so many elements from the two stories were the same. There’s even the sexual insecurity part – part of the reason why Kagome broke up with Sesshoumaru was because he refused to have sex with her. They thought of sex in completely different ways – and in completely different ways than Shawn or Belle. Sess/Kag had no trauma or sustained threat of sexual violence to inhibit them. Even the creepy stalker from Chapter 11 wasn’t an explicit threat – and even then, Kagome was already having issues with the glacial pace of their physical relationship. If anything, the creepy stalker incident brought them closer together, maybe even ultimately was the catalyst of what drove them apart.
Is that why it’s easier for me to take the lies and betrayal that separated my OTP of Sess/Kag over the lies and betrayal that originally thwarted my OTP of Shelle? I did try to keep Sesshoumaru and Kagome internally consistent and consistent with their canon characterization. I made them adults, which I do think helped readers understand not only their world and the situation that drove them apart, but also their reactions to each other and, indeed, everything around them.
Both Shawn and Belle act petulant and immature at times, and though I do very much indeed like the way they were able to reunite at the Last Blast with basically a look and a touch, and that they did actually talk about everything that happened, there wasn’t enough of them working through their massive, massive issues for me to 100% believe in them again. And that makes me really sad, because the two years that they flirted and danced around each other were pure magic. It feels like they were shafted out of a real romance – they had no idyllic honeymoon period to cement their feelings for each other and their trust and love before trouble came knocking.
Even on soaps, couples are allowed to be happy for a little while before something tears them apart. It’s the upside of watching a soap opera – getting to see the moments of happiness and pure joy that rise from the ashes of the violence and the crazy. I think DAYS got the first version of Shelle’s romance totally and completely wrong, and it dampens my enthusiasm to re-live the rest of it, even though I absolutely love the actors portraying these characters.