Title: Jelly Beans
Feedback: Any and all constructive criticism would be lovely, whether e-mailed or left in a review.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything. 'Tis rather unfortunate.
Pairing: Cory/Shawn
Notes: An alternate take on episode 5x16, Torn Between Two Lovers- the episode in which Cory tries to decide between Topanga and Lauren.

Jelly Beans
By Angel of Harmony/Harmony/Jen

The scales were even. Despite the variable net weight of each individual jelly bean, the scales had managed to balance themselves out perfectly. It was just unfair. Surely there should have been one slightly larger bean to tip the scales in one direction or the other, to divine Cory's future for him. But instead the scales were still, and level, and mocking.

"It's a tie," Shawn said, pointing out the evident truth, "You like Lauren as much as you like Topanga and you can't live without either of them." Frustrated, Cory turned his back on the scales and paced the length of the apartment's living room.

Shawn paused, then sighed. "Maybe this was a bad idea." Cory turned around and saw Shawn looking back at him from across the room, eyes brimming with genuine concern.

"No. No, this was a good idea," Cory replied, even though he felt like putting his head through the wall behind him. "It's made me realize that I like them both equally." He paused, looking down at the checkered dishrag he'd been twisting nervously in his hands. "But that doesn't make sense, Shawn. I've been with Topanga for practically my entire life, and I've only known Lauren for one night and one afternoon. It should be no contest."

"Maybe you really, really like Lauren. Some people just hit it off. You can't help it," Shawn suggested.

"Or maybe I don't really like Topanga."

Shawn's eyes widened to an impossible extent. "That's crazy talk, Cor. You love Topanga. You two are the most nauseatingly perfect couple I've ever met. Of course you 'really like her.' That's not the question. The question is whether you like Lauren more."

But Cory wasn't convinced. He hadn't planned to actually say what he'd said about Topanga, but once it was out of his mouth he knew it was the truth. If a girl he'd just met could make him feel the same way he felt about the girl he'd spent practically his entire life with, the feeling couldn't possibly be all that powerful. Topanga was an unbelievable friend, and he couldn't imagine his life without her in it. But beyond friendship, where did the bond really stretch, if it could be replicated in a single evening?

"Cor?" Shawn ventured, taking in his friend's silence. "You're worrying me, man. Say something before I call Eric in here to accidentally set the couch on fire and snap you out of it."

Despite the tempest in his head, Cory had to laugh at that. The laugh felt good.

"Who makes you laugh?"

Had the debate been between Topanga and Shawn, or Lauren and Shawn, Cory thought, Shawn would have won that question, hands down. No one had ever made him laugh like Shawn had.

"Who would you rather have deep conversations with?"

Come to think of it, Cory realized, Shawn would most likely have won that one, too. Cory had probably had more deep conversations with his best friend than with anyone else in his entire life. He remembered when they were in middle school, before Topanga, how they'd sit in his room and have all these ridiculous talks about life and the way they saw it as 12-year-old boys, all baseball cards and cherry bombs. The conversations had gotten slightly more sophisticated over the years, and more depressing at times, but they'd never stopped. Cory could tell Shawn anything, even things that he couldn't tell Topanga. Like, for instance, the conversation they'd just had. And he could definitely tell him things he couldn't tell Lauren, because Lauren could never know him as well as Shawn did. Yeah, Shawn definitely would have won that bean.

"Honesty. You can trust them. Very key."

Cory couldn't say that Shawn had never lied to him, but the lies were usually trivial or, at the very least, told for good reason. And they certainly didn't diminish any trust between them. Cory knew he could trust Shawn Hunter with his life, and then some. There had never been a time when Shawn wasn't there for Cory, even when they'd gotten in their occasional fights. He wasn't like Topanga, who would ignore him until Cory apologized. He stuck by him no matter what; hell, he'd once arranged secret rendezvous and eventually broke up with a girlfriend just so he could spend time with him. He'd definitely never betrayed him. It was a double beaner, all right.

"Who's got the better… you know. Who do you see yourself… ahmmhmmhmmhmm?"

Ah, Cory thought. See, here's where Shawn would finally lose the contest. He just lacked the necessary equipment.

And yet… Cory looked across the room again, back at Shawn's sympathetic face. It wasn't that his face looked new again or anything like that, but Cory suddenly found himself noticing things he'd never really noticed before. Like the way Shawn's hair would fall just slightly into his eyes, eyes that were brown and clear and could hold poetry and mischief all at once. Or the way his lips curved in just the right way to balance out the little cleft in his chin.

Cory remembered that time that Shawn had dressed up as a woman, and how he had justified his attraction to him by telling himself that he really did look like a girl, and a pretty girl at that. Now Cory wondered if he'd just been rationalizing. Why had he never thought it was strange that, for at least a week or so, he'd found his male best friend more attractive than his girlfriend? For that matter, why had he never thought that it was strange that he'd never even considered being with a girl other than Topanga (and now, Lauren)?

Why had he never realized that he'd been in love with Shawn Hunter for even longer than he'd thought he was in love with Topanga Lawrence?

Cory strode across the room in a daze, still surrounded by a cloud of shocked bewilderment at the track his thoughts had followed. "I think I've made my decision," he began, tentatively, not even really knowing what he was saying but feeling like it was the right thing to say anyway. He played idly with the jelly beans in each tray, letting each one slip through his fingers to clink softly against the metal below. Then, in one swift motion, he scooped them all up and put them back in the paper bag. Setting the bag down next to the scale, he stared at Shawn and continued, "I know… I know who I care about more." His voice betrayed his incredulity, but there was also a certainty behind it, and he gripped the towel in his fist even harder to keep from shaking with fear at the strength of that certainty.

Shawn stared at him expectantly, and when Cory failed to provide any further information, he finally prodded, "So, who is it? Lauren, or Topanga?"

Cory placed the dishrag on the counter, smoothing out the blue and white pattern to occupy his hands. Then, breathing deeply and swallowing air, he looked Shawn in his mischief poet's eyes and spoke, in a voice filled simultaneously with disbelief and a feeling of inevitability.