602: Old Times
by Ophelia

Posted on 10/08/02

It was a huge beige pile of cards that nearly covered the whole floor, where Joey sat cross legged, her brows knit in concentration. She bit her lip, picking up the top card and reading the number. Lot 628. Behest to the Museum of Colonial Art and History upon the request of the Spencer family. Still life of a cheese wedge. Her lip twitched and she took a deep breath to stifle the laugh. Glancing down at the remaining cards the laughter died on her lips. Every card was out of order, every one needed to be entered into the hard bound ledger before her and then entered into the computer system. And then she had to make sure there was a painting to go with each card. Even the cheese wedge one.

Darting a quick glance up and around her small corner of the cluttered office, Joey reached under the desk for her bag and fumbled around inside it until she found the envelope and the small newspaper cutting. She tore at the envelope first, holding its contents out in the dim light. Her first paycheck from the museum. Two weeks worth of alphabetizing and typing had produced...barely two hundred dollars with taxes taken out. She subtracted her books from the sum and found she was in the red by fifty dollars. And she hadn't yet bought her biology book. She was waiting to see if she could get by without it. Dropping her head, she fingered the newspaper clipping finally. A groan escaped her lips involuntarily.

"It's not that I think you're computer illiterate or incompetent, Pacey," Dr. Patel said, her voice echoing through the corridor that led to the small office. Joey looked up sharply.

"Except that I am," Pacey replied.

"Well...yes."

"I'm just a bit behind with the school groups worksheets and scavenger hunt flyers. It's extra duties and the computer program is..." Pacey's voice trailed off as Dr. Patel fixed a look on him. She opened the office door and continued to stare at him in her fierce way. He swallowed and passed through the door, dropping his head sheepishly. "The computer program is fine. And I'm extremely grateful for all the trust you've placed in me."

"You've earned it," Dr. Patel said, smiling. She nodded down at Joey as she moved past her to sit at her desk. "Ms. Potter."

"Dr.Patel," Joey answered, nodding at her. She bit her lip at the clipping and shoved it into her messenger bag quickly. Grabbing the stack of index cards off the ground, she struggled to stand.

"Hey, Jo," Pacey said, grinning. He held out his hand, righting her on her feet.

"Thanks." She pulled her fingers from his slowly, dropping her eyes to the floor.

The professor looked back and forth between the two for a moment. Then down at the mess on her floor. "How is the filing going, Josephine?"

"Fine," Joey said, straightening. She glanced down at the remaining piles of invoices. A card slipped from her grip, followed immediately by three more. She winced as they fell unceremoniously at her professor's feet. "It's taking a bit longer than I expected."

Pacey bent over to pick up the cards. He brushed at the bent edges. "Good as new."

Joey squirmed miserably, taking the cards, turning and carefully stacking the pile onto the desk. Dr. Patel pulled her chair around another pile of cards with a rueful smile and sat, motioning Pacey into the other chair beside her. She grabbed the legal pad off her desk and handed it to him.

"Look into taking a class, Pacey. It would be an advantage for you to have some skills." Pacey grinned. She raised an eyebrow. "With a computer."

"I don't know."

Dr. Patel pulled her glasses off and rubbed at a smudge with the edge of her scarf for a minute before glancing up again. She sighed and pulled a pen from her inside coat pocket, handing it to him. "I've never been a model student."

"I'm not proposing you take an apple to your teacher, Mr. Witter. Just try out Bunker Hill."

"The battle?" Joey laughed, prompting a swift look from her professor. Sobering quickly, she went back to her indexing.

"You have a quick mind. It might be nice to challenge it once in awhile."

"Maybe," Pacey said, dropping his head.

Dr. Patel rolled her chair over to her desk and with some rifling produced a worn brochure emblazoned with the insignia of Bunker Hill Community College. Rolling back towards Pacey her chair toppled over a pile of cards. Joey's eyes went wide.

"The community college offers an excellent business program," Dr. Patel continued, choosing to ignore the increasingly frantic shuffling sounds beneath her, "a good foundation of study will improve your usefulness at the museum. I want to give you more to do, Pacey. But I need to trust that you have the knowledge necessary."

"Okay, okay." He held up his hands. "But I swear Excel is beyond mortal man. It's an alien language."

"For the moment," she conceded with a small smile.

"Right."

"You'll finish this before you leave?" Dr. Patel asked, turning her attention to Joey, with a frown.

"I-I-" Joey gulped in a breath. "I can't."

"Class?"

Pacey stared at Joey as she bit down on her lip. "I can finish this for Joey, Doc."

"I suppose," Dr. Patel began.

"Looks like all the heavy sorting's been done already, right?" Pacey said, eyeing the growing stacks.

"Uh..."

Dr. Patel rose from her chair. "It's fine with me, Ms. Potter."

"Great. Thank you," Joey said, fetching her bag off the ground. She started towards the door and then turned back quickly, "I'll see you in class, Professor. Bye Pace!" With that she raced from the room before anyone could change their minds.

Dr. Patel watched her retreat with crossed arms. "I don't know about that girl. Seems like her head is in the clouds."

"Anywhere but," Pacey whispered, dropping his gaze. Feeling Patel's eyes upon him, he glanced up, clearing his throat and grinning. "She might surprise us yet."

***************

"Sosh?"

"Huh?" Pacey glanced up at Audrey blankly.

"Social Security Number, Pacey." She caught his wince before he could think to hide it and wrinkled her nose. "I'm not planning to steal your identity or anything. Like you even have anything I want."

"Oh really?" Pacey leered, leaning in and letting out a hot breath along her collarbone.

"You lost the Stang."

Pacey pulled away with a pout. "You're a cold woman."

"Whatever." She waved a hand in his face. "I rock your world."

"I'll never live that down, will I?" He stared at her for a long moment. "543-21-0000."

Audrey arched an eyebrow his way, sitting cross legged in her dorm room, her pen still poised high above the registration form for his computer class. They'd been poring through the Bunker Hill Community College application form and course catalog for the lesser part of an hour. The better part had been spent listening to Audrey's latest Tower Records spree and kissing.

"Just let me write it," Pacey said finally, making a grab for the form.

"You don't trust me," she pouted, pulling the papers out of his grasp.

"I do," he insisted, even as his mind raced over the amount of havoc she could wreck with his identity given the chance, "but, I don't know it offhand. I've gotta get the card."

"Course number?" Audrey pushed ahead as she always did when faced with her boyfriend's hangups. He had one too many pushable buttons in her opinion.

"23669. Introduction to Computers. Might as well call it what it is. Typing for Dummies."

"Then you'd fit right in, Sweetie. I've seen your two fingered method." She leaned over to ruffle his hair with a grin. Pacey fell silent, his eyes dropping to the floor. He eyed Audrey's purple shag throw rug with a growing smile.

"You never had any complaints about my finger method before," he said, his tone lowered to a growl.

Joey stopped in the hall just long enough to hear a high pitched squeal and an all too familiar male groan. The door was ajar. She rolled her eyes and then realized her attire with her own moan. "Shit."

"Joey?"

Pacey rolled off of Audrey, sitting up. He dropped his head, quickly running fingers through his mussed hair. "Jo? I wanna thank you for that project you dropped in my lap the other day," he called out.

Joey smacked her hands over her eyes. She could see her door from her place in the hall, where she currently stood frozen. Yanking her keys out of her jeans pocket quickly, she made a run for the door.

Hearing the smattering of footsteps Audrey and Pacey went to the door, glancing out in time to see a flash of Joey's long brown hair before she disappeared behind her own door.

Joey breathed a sigh of relief as she fell back against the door. Her knees gave out beneath her and she gratefully slid to the floor. She pulled her t-shirt over her head with a grimace. Her fingers traced the oil spattered "Boston Bay Marina" insignia with a small frown.

***************

Marvin Hall was alight with energy by Friday night. Freshmen milled around in their uncertain way, clinging to the shaky friendships made over cold pizza at orientation. They stayed to the edges of the lecture hall, pulling up the small desks at their side like a shield, to ward off the upper classmen.

Jack and Jen led their entourage in with that touch of, "I own this school," that signaled their sophomore year had finally begun. Audrey slipped a hand in the back pocket of Pacey's jeans, urging him ahead when he paused uncertainly under the frayed banner proclaiming it "Boston Bay College Movie Night!" The banner was attached at an angle, drooping on "Night!" in a discouraging manner.

"The banner's a nice touch," Audrey said, her tone jokingly haughty.

"I suppose at Worthington the banners are always straight," Jack returned.

"Unlike you, Jackers," Pacey said, moving behind Audrey for a moment to dodge Jack's glare.

"Well, at least they're taped properly," Audrey said.

Jen stopped for a moment, surveying the crowded hall for enough seats. In the back row of the hall, Eric stood, raising a hand and motioning the group over to the spot he'd saved with a colorful array of jackets, candy bags and sodas.

"There he is," Jack enthused, moving ahead to greet Eric with a hug. "You come prepared," he said, observing the snacks with a grin.

"I try," he replied, smiling.

Audrey raised a hand at the group, smiling in that five year old way of hers. Pacey grinned, eyebrows arched expectantly. "What movie are we seeing again?"

"One of those American Dessert ones...Pie. Cake. Flan. Something like that." Jen sat down next to Jack and proceeded to fight him for the armrest.

"American Flan." Pacey sat down between Jen and Audrey, eyes alight as he surveyed the crowd. He yanked the desk up and hunched down behind it quickly. "I'd pay to see that."

"Ask Dawson to make it," Jen said, grinning, victorious over the armrest at last. Jack stuck his tongue out at her before turning to Eric with a blush.

"I find it really sad we're having Movie Night without him."

"Aw." Audrey ruffled his hair.

"Miss him, Pace?" Jen asked.

"No. I found it really sad we had movie night, period. But before I convinced myself that it was for Dawson's inner film geek sake, now I realize we simply are this boring."

"Hey, Witter? What is flan exactly?" Audrey asked, popping an M&M in her mouth.

"Well, it's a custardy type dish. First you heat up some sugar and water to prepare the caramel and then there's the condensed milk and you have to make certain you don't burn the caramel or it'll be ruined from the sta-" Pacey stopped suddenly at the glazed over expressions of his friends. He shook his head. "Point taken, Liddell."

"Anyways, I'm not boring. Ever. I'm planning on a wild night after this little movie thing. Maybe even gonna yell 'fire' just to see what happens." She winked, her grin saucy.

"We have fire drills all the time here, Audrey," Eric interjected. "Nothing will happen. I promise."

"Yell kegger. It works on Jack," Jen offered.

"Shut up, whore."

"Queen," she returned. Jack leaned into her until their foreheads met with a bump. He narrowed his eyes.

"Yankee fan."

"That was low," Jen pouted.

"Kiss and makeup?" Jack pressed a smacking kiss on Jen's forehead, laughing.

"Eric, how do you tolerate them?" Pacey asked, resting his chin in his hand.

"Good sex."

"Hey." Jack blushed. "That's private."

"Not anymore," Pacey said, whistling. A gaggle of freshmen turned toward the noise, eyes wide.

"So," Jack cleared his throat, still flushed. "How're classes going, Audrey?"

"Great," Audrey enthused, leaning over Pacey to answer. "I've got the best Psych class right now. Totally explains why my mother is the way she is." She winked. "And excuses why I am the way I am too."

"Oh, I've got a Psych class," Jen said, frowning. "Unfortunately it's all terminology and papers so far. And my Lit class...I don't know how Joey can stand taking all those English classes."

Audrey raised an eyebrow, smirking. "Have you seen Prof. Wilder?"

Pacey bristled.

Eric grinned, "One of those, huh? I think that's why Jack's stuck with the high end calc, truthfully. Prof. Buchanan is one of those infamously hot professors..."

"Hey, I like the class," Jack said, holding up a hand.

"Sure you do." Eric chuckled.

Audrey winked. "Hey, if I could get Wilder to notice me the way he noticed Joey, I'd totally be the next Dorothy Parker, but...he only had eyes for the fair Miss Potter."

Pacey coughed, a frown darkening his eyes. Jen glanced over at him quickly. "Y'know, Audrey, you should take a journalism class. Lots of writing still, but I'm loving the way it actually seems to apply to the real world. I've been talking to this guy in my class about starting up a news program for the radio station and-"

Audrey grinned. "Is he hot?"

Jen stared at her blankly. "Is who hot?"

"The guy in class, duh." Audrey batted her eyelashes, giggling. "Or the professor..."

"N-n-no," Jen stuttered.

"Y'know my roommate's driving me nuts," Pacey said suddenly, shifting four pairs of eyes to him in surprise. He turned to Jen with an exaggerated sigh. "Dave's one sixth Cherokee, Jen. One measly little sixth. And he thinks that gives him the right to hang those damn little feathered dream nets in every corner of the apartment."

"Pacey, aren't you being a tad melodramatic?" Jen furrowed her brows at him, warming slowly to the abrupt topic change.

"They don't catch dreams. They catch cobwebs. Glorified spider homes." Pacey pounded his tiny fold up desk in emphasis.

"You're what?" Jen said, grinning, "one twentieth Irish and you drink Guinness like some-"

"That's so not the point."

The group started laughing as the lights dimmed finally, signaling the movie's start.

***************

The phone rang from a distant place. Joey barely stirred in her book. Ring. She bolted upright, glancing down at the depressing drool stain in the middle of her Econ book. At least she hadn't been studying art history. She loved that book.

"'lo?"

"Joey? Where are you?" Audrey's voice was far away. Music nearly drowned her out completely. Wherever she was, she sounded way too awake for anyone's good. Joey glanced at the alarm clock. 12:21 am.

"Jeez, Audrey. It's late."

She thought she heard Pacey's voice in the background. "You woke her, I told you."

"It's the start of the night! We want you to come out with us. Eric found this great place. A coffeehouse with huge couches like on Friends. Only less preppy. With music. This band Jen was playing the other day is there tonight. C'mon. Caffeine and I'll buy you a chocolate croissant too. It'll help you study."

"Somehow I think staying in my room studying will accomplish that just fine, but thanks," she replied, struggling to keep the grumpiness out of her tone. She propped her drooping head up with the heel of her hand, blinking.

"Please? Pacey's being a stick in the mud," Audrey whined, turning as Pacey frowned at her, crossing his arms. "I need you here to keep him up and-"

"Is his class starting soon?" Joey wondered sleepily.

"He told you about that," Audrey stated flatly.

"No, not really." She rubbed at her eyes. She looked down at her book. Only halfway through the required reading. "I was in the room when the Professor suggested it and he sounded like he was leaning towards...I was curious. He must be a wreck."

"Doing just fine actually," Audrey replied, her lips tightening to a thin line. She darted a look over at Pacey. He met her eyes and promptly avoided all further eye contact with a decidedly petulant drop of his head. "So you won't come?"

"I'm sorry." She sighed, popping the cap off her highlighter. "Maybe another time."

"Your loss, Bunny. But I'll miss you."

"Right back at ya. Night Audrey."

"Night Joey."

***************

"So," Eric leaned into Jack's lips with a grin.

They kissed leisurely, Jack finally resting his hand on the nape of Eric's neck and pulling away. The streetlight shone down on the men, lingering before the gate to Grams' stately brownstone. "So," Jack said, smiling widely.

"So what, Audrey?" Pacey's voice was loud and the men broke apart, startled. "I have class in the morning. And work. I work for a living."

"And I don't?" Audrey's hands were on her hips, her lower lip jutting out angrily.

Pacey scratched his chin for a moment. "No, you don't. You don't work. And you barely seem to go to class-"

"I go to class!" Jen sidled between the warring couple warily, stepping quickly over the cobblestone covered sidewalk towards Grams' front door. She passed up Jack and Eric with a small smile and a nod. A moment later she had disappeared behind the door. "Jen, tell Pacey I go to class!"

"Y'know, Audrey forget it," Pacey groaned, resting his hands on her tensed shoulders. He pressed a kiss to her cheek and attempted a half hearted smile. "You go to class. You work very hard. And you can do it all without sleep. Unfortunately, not all of us have your energy. I promise we'll stay out all night sometime soon. Kay?"

She pouted. "I guess."

He leaned down to kiss her more fully and she turned her cheek to his lips with an air of melancholy. He gritted through his teeth. "Are you going to continue sulk the whole way back to the dorm?" She narrowed her eyes at him. "You're such a drama queen," he growled, annoyance creeping back into his tone.

Audrey turned from him, her tone dismissive as she made her way over to his parked truck. "Should be used to it, your last girlfriend was a drama queen too."

Jack whistled low in his throat as he watched a muscle begin to jump in Pacey's jaw. Tossing them a quick wave, he grabbed Eric's hand and dragged him bodily into the house.

Pacey's voice was low as he opened the driver's side to the truck cab and climbed in. "Get in, Audrey."

She stared at him through the window for a moment, sucking her cheek in at the side. As she climbed in he slammed his door shut and gripped the steering wheel, his knuckles turning white. "Pacey?"

He glared out the windshield, refusing her hesitant gaze. He turned the key in the ignition and the engine roared to life, echoing the anger evident in the tight set of his jawline. She dropped her hand on his thigh, rubbing at the tension there. "I'm sorry...about the dramatics." He looked over at her, blue eyes still dark. She traced her fingernails over his inner thigh, watching his eyes darken further, ignoring his rather tired sigh. She grinned a little, her gaze growing sultry. "But nothing like making up, huh?"

***************

"Y'know," Jack said, grinning as he pulled the beat up Civic to the curb, "It's great having a boyfriend with a car."

"Yeah, well, it's not so much a car anymore as a box with wheels," Eric replied, climbing out of his car with a small frown. He leaned in on the passenger's side. "But, I'm fond of this box, so bring it back, 'kay?"

"Check. When do you get off?"

Eric rolled his eyes. "Late. Sometime after the ladies have lunched and just before the trust fund babies beg for beer." Jack raised an eyebrow as Eric closed the car door. "Eleven, eleven thirty."

"I'll be back. Library beckons," Jack said, putting the car into drive and waving.

Eric held a hand out, watching his car drive away without him. He glanced over at the looming gray structure behind him. Boston Bay Yacht Club. He groaned inwardly as he jogged through the parking lot, past the docks, barely sparing a glance to the few Marina employees remaining as the sun began to set.

Joey glanced up at the sound of footsteps, leaning over the hull of one of the Marina's rental sailboats. Shielding her eyes against the sun, she frowned. With the a dirty rag still in her hand, she wiped the sweat that trickled down her brow. She groaned at her stupidity. Picturing the smudge now adorning her forehead, she adjusted the brim of her baseball cap and pushed her sunglasses further up her nose. She snuck a look at her watch and smiled. Nearly off. "Yay me."

***************

Room 602. That's what it said. Pacey looked down at his scrawled note and back up at the corresponding door. He peaked his head around the opened door. There was no one in the small computer lab yet, but then again he was twenty minutes early.

Shouldering his backpack with an uneasy shrug he walked in, glancing around the room as he crossed the threshold. He stood, shifting from foot to foot. A seat in the front would be disaster, but a seat at the back could mean failure from the start...maybe... "Middle," Pacey said, eyes widening when he realized that had become an outloud thought. Well, what did it matter? "No one here to hear me," he said, louder still, testing the waters. He grinned. Not a soul. "No one here but me."

Pacey sat in a chair, settling back and tilting the chair back a bit with his toe. He looked up at the ceiling, eying the walls for cameras...none. "I'm here!" The computer screen before him dully flashed a sea of flying Microsoft icons back at him. Monopoly on parade.

He checked his watch again, watching the second hand tick along. Fifteen minutes and he was a college student. In college. He pulled a spiral notebook out of his backpack. "I'm in college," Pacey whispered, a small smile echoing his awe.

***************

"You don't think it's important for broadcast news to shield obscene material from the public?" David's green eyes were even more piercing when only inches away from Jen's. She grimaced, shaking her head.

"That's not what I said."

"You said," David looked down at his notes to check, "'broadcasters are protected by the first amendment. And that they can't be expected to shield any viewers stupid enough to tune into something they don't wanna see.'" He raised an eyebrow at her expectantly.

Jen rolled her eyes. "I simply said that legally they can't be held responsible for-"

"But they can," he insisted. "Under the Supreme Court's 1973 decision on Miller V. California they can be deemed liable for the material they air. It's the obscenity definition that's important."

"Okay, right. Prurient, devoid of all value and not meeting community standards." She eyed him with something close to malice. Her professor was already signaling the end of class with a shuffling of transparencies. "But...who decides what's obscene? You?"

David opened his mouth and promptly closed it.

"Ha!" Jen grinned. "Speechless."

The professor cleared his throat, "And on that rarity, I think we'll close the debate until next time. Please come prepared to discuss chapter three through five of your text and the journal article on your assignment sheet."

As the group filtered out, David watched Jen close her notebook and cap her pen. He frowned as she shoved her legal pad in her backpack, bending the cardboard backing in the process. "Is it okay to speak again?"

"I dunno," Jen said, eyes down. "Make sure it's nothing obscene first."

"Uh..." He was at a loss for words.

"Speechless again?" Jen glanced up, eyes alight with amusement. "Got ya, David."

He let out a relieved sigh. "I thought you were mad."

"I was. You're incredibly annoying."

"Me?" David's eyes were wide with innocence. "You should meet my roommate."

"Yeah?" Several students tromped their way through the classroom aisle, scowling at Jen's crossed legs. She pulled her knees up to her chest quickly. "What's wrong with your roomie?"

"Everything," he groaned. "He's filled our kitchen with tons of weird spices. Mind you our kitchen is postage stamp sized, so he's taking up my valuable Ramen storing space. Oh and he's got the perfect life, too. Loads of charm, a good job and a gorgeous girlfriend."

"Ah." Jen laughed. "You're jealous."

"Well, yeah," David admitted. "But you know the worst thing about a guy who has it all?"

Jen shrugged.

"Is a guy who doesn't want what he has. Or at least know what he really wants. See, there's this other girl." At that he leaned in conspiratorially.

"It's his ex-girlfriend, and maybe I'm a hopeless romantic or a really good investigative journalist," at that he winked at Jen, "but the guy has pictures of her all over our place. In that, 'I just put em up because that's where they belong, not cuz I have to think about it sort of way.' Like breathing."

"Breathing?" Jen stared at him blankly.

"Yeah, you don't think about it. You just breathe. All the time, or you die. Girls are like that." David finished off with a large swallow of air, dropping his gaze from hers. "Some anyhow."

"It's a shame we always have to cut these convos short, Jen. You're a worthy adversary, debate-wise."

"Maybe you're just not very good, debate-wise." She tilted her head an eyebrow raised in challenge.

"I'm a great," David lowered his voice to match the darkness in his eyes, "debater."

"Yeah." She smiled, rising as she shrugged her backpack on. "It's nice having a friend at school, finally." He stared back up at her, his smirk fading fractionally. She looked down, her eyes hopeful. "Maybe we can hang out sometime?"

"Hang out." David grinned again, seeming to enter this new information as if it was part of the lecture notes. "Sure. I'd like that." He stood, already gathering his notebook and his pen. "Bye Jen."

"Bye David. Good luck with the roommate."

***************

[Honest-Kendall Payne]

"This is perfect," Joey declared, smiling brightly. She took a bite out of the chocolate chip cookie. "Mmm. No one makes cookies like Grams."

"And no one eats them quite like you, Joey Potter." Dawson grinned, reaching over to brush a bit of melted chocolate off the corner of her mouth. He brought the finger back to his own mouth, licking it. He wriggled his eyebrows at her mock suggestively as she took a sip of milk. Her eyes widened and then she spit her milk out, white foam spraying across the length of the counter, laughing. He wiped at his wet cheek. "Or drinks milk the same."

"I'm sorry, Dawson." She brought her hand to his cheek, smudging at it with calloused fingers. When he made a move to examine the rough skin, she retracted them apologetically. "Work." At his raised eyebrow, she expanded. "Y'know, lots of paper cuts and such." She kissed him to quell any further questions.

Dawson reached out a hand to her hair and tugged her closer, pulling her onto his lap with a small groan. They exchanged tiny kisses, tasting each others' lips briefly before leaning back to stare at each other. He traced a finger over her jawline with an expression close to worship. "You're so beautiful."

She smiled, shrugging and glancing down quickly. "Tonight has been really great," she offered.

"Yeah, it has."

She chewed on her lower lip. Then she bolted straight out of his lap, turning back to him and quickly smacking a hard kiss on his cheek before leaving the kitchen completely, Dawson trailing behind her. "I've got something for you!"

He found her kneeling by the entryway, her purse in hand. She dug through it for a moment before straightening before him a thin envelope held out in her hand. She presented it to him, eyes shining with pride.

"It's the first of many," she said, smoothing out her blue sundress as she avoided his curious gaze. She glanced up, shrugging her shoulders. "Here. It's to pay back the loan." He stared back at her blankly. She held it out under his chin. "For freshman year."

"Joey, it's okay. I don't need it." Dawson smiled reassuringly, even as he pushed her outstretched hand away.

She dropped her eyes to the check and found her fingers trembling around it. Her mouth felt like cotton and she swallowed, the words echoing off her skull, her silence deafening. I need it. She tried again, grabbing his hand within both of hers, the check pressed between them.

"Take it. Please."

She smiled, conjuring up the remains of her injured pride. Dawson had to understand. He stared down at the paper silently for a long moment before taking it from her with a small grin. The check ripped cleanly into two parts with a firm tug of his long fingers.

"It really doesn't matter," he said, smiling widely and leaning in to kiss her cheek. She turned her face from him, a tear sliding down her cheek.

Joey twisted away from him then, reaching for her purse and pulling out a pen and her checkbook. Resolutely, she wrote out the amount again. She handed Dawson the check, her eyes cold. The words she wanted to say rose up in her throat, choking her. It matters to me.

Dawson took the check from her with an indulgent sigh.

"It matters to me," Joey said finally. Goddammit, she added mentally. Dawson stared down at her, blinking. She raised up on her toes to kiss his temple gently. He seemed relieved, a smile brightening his eyes marginally.

The goodbyes were whispered that night before she left, preparing already for another day of study and work.

***************

It was morning at Grams and the sun was shining through her bay window. Grams sat at the head of the dining room table, the arts section of the newspaper spread before her. She sipped at her tea primly, occasionally glancing up at the children who now filled her adjacent kitchen, preferring to take their breakfast standing around the large wooden island. Jack had his very own carton of Jack Milk opened and proceeded to drink straight out of the carton. He winked at Grams, who merely shook her head.

Dawson leaned back against the tiled sink counter, barely even glancing at the latest copy of Variety that the whole group believed he only pretended to read. His gaze was locked on Jen's strawberry frosted pop tart even as he chewed on a large bowl of Cheerios. Jen guarded the pastry treat cautiously, perched atop the island.

"I can't wait to see Lily," Dawson said, munching on a mouthful of cereal. "She's growing. Mom takes crazy amounts of pictures. And this is the first time I get to bring Joey home since we started dating. It's a big deal."

Jen pressed her lips together, returning to her scrambled eggs wordlessly.

"I'm amazed at Joey, Dawson. She's doing a lovely job of balancing everything. Working, study and now this visit home. I really don't know how she does it," Grams wondered, the warm admiration echoing in every carefully chosen syllable.

"Joey's a juggler all right," Jack added.

"Many balls in her hands," Jen muttered. Three pairs of eyes focused on her, jaws dropped. "Eww. Cereal in mouthes." They promptly shut their jaws. "So. Joey's thrilled about the Capesidian jaunt?"

"Actually," Dawson mumbled, taking a reluctant sip of orange juice, "I haven't told her yet." All eating ceased. "I didn't think it would be a problem," he added hesitantly. He glanced from face to face. All of them said "busted" in bold. He took a deep breath. "Okay. So it's a problem?"

***************

"Oh, yeah," Pacey said, tapping excitedly against the edge of his desk. He stared at the computer screen, grinning. Audrey stopped in the doorframe, unnoticed by Pacey. "Beat that, Excel."

He clicked down the column, watching happily as the programmed equations solved themselves, cell after cell. "I am Cell King," he crowed.

"All hail, Pacey," Audrey deadpanned. She leaned further against the door, whistling. "Hey, good lookin."

"Hey, Audrey," Pacey said, looking sheepish. He stood quickly, glancing at his watch. "You're early."

She smiled, her eyes raking over him. "I thought I might entice you out of here. We could celebrate whatever it was you were hooting about just now."

Pacey beamed, looking back at his monitor. "I can program equations into Excel."

Well, now, that sounds entirely impressive and deserving of..." she narrowed her eyes dangerously, "rewards." At this Audrey stepped towards him, Pacey following the seductive sway of her hips with a gulp. "Don't you think?"

"I think," Pacey watched her near him, so close he could feel her body heat, "we should get to my place ASAP."

Audrey leaned forward, her lips brushing his, "Mine's closer."

"Or better yet yours," he growled, pressing his lips down on hers quickly and leading her out of the classroom. A minute later Pacey returned, running. He pushed the button to shut the computer off and winked. "I'll see you later."

***************

"I'm telling you we can't. Because there's no way George Lucas wouldn't sue us. Yes, he would. No, he would. Hi." He spared a quick smile her way before turning back to the phone with a grimace. "We can't. Because Star Wars is licensed. And I'm not sure it lends itself to a study on dysfunctional families at all. A mockumentary is not the best way to show admiration, Oliver."

Joey sat down on the bed, her leg brushing against Dawson's. She smiled up at him from beneath heavy lashes, running a tentative hand over his thigh. He caught her fingers in his and stilled her hand with an apologetic sigh. "I didn't say you were blocked, Oliver." He ran his hands through his hair and pulled the phone from his ear.

"Hey," she whispered, grinning.

"How was your day?" Dawson kissed her before allowing a response. Oliver's voice echoed loudly from the phone, surprising them both. He returned to it with a weary look. "I'm here."

Joey curled up against Dawson for another moment before he stood, pacing the length of his small room. "Should I go?" she mouthed, eyebrows raised.

"No, stay. I need to talk to you about something," he said to her, "Not you, Oliver. Joey. Joey's here. Yeah. Of course I think you're a genius. And work does come first. Yeah. But...yes. Okay. I'm listening."

Joey rolled her eyes and snuck beneath Dawson's sheets to settle in for a nap. Just a few minutes.

***************

There was something wrong with her watercolor, but Joey couldn't quite pinpoint it.

The figure was proportional to his surroundings. He lay on his back in a drift of sand among the dunes. The sea wasn't quite in the painting, but the light that played on his features and the shafts of color that fell on his pale skin echoed the blues and teals of a rough wave. It was okay. But...

Perhaps it had to do with the depth of color. She wasn't very good with the watercolors yet. She diluted the paint too much. It was weak.

In her mind's eye, she could see him. All alive with...possibility. His skin was warmer than the marble she'd managed to evoke. The dunes were alive and the wind was visible in the brushstrokes. However now they just looked kinda less than brilliant. It was swoopy in a kid's drawing sort of way.

She wondered yet again if maybe she should have started by painting a bowl of fruit. In all honesty, she knew this scene better than she could possibly know a bowl of fruit on a stand in front of her.

And she ate all the fruit she had for lunch.

Hey.

She was a starving student and a bowl of free food was gonna be eaten. It was a given. Even if it was Holly Davis' still life model. The still life was finished and somebody had to eat it.

Her cell phone rang that annoying little tune. Dawson had programmed the thing again. Now it played My Girl every time it rang. As if she wasn't leashed enough.

"Hello?" She held the phone with her shoulder, her hand still poised over the canvas with her paintbrush.

"Joey, dear! I'm glad I caught you. I can never get through on Dawson's phone." Gale Leery was just as perky on the phone. Joey rolled her eyes and smirked.

"Yeah, Ollie likes to monopolize his phone time."

"I was just calling to check on what time your train would be getting into Capeside."

"My train?" She blinked at the phone, straining to follow Gale's train of thought.

"I wanted to be able to meet you at the station, but Lily has a playdate that morning and I think they might conflict. Unless it's an afternoon train. Are you waiting til then? You probably have class on Fridays."

"No," Joey said, frowning and setting down the paintbrush. She turned from the painting like it was a person. "I usually work on Friday."

"It's really nice of you to take time off to visit with Dawson, I know it means the world to him."

The realization dawned on Joey slowly and she sat down on the nearby table top, her hazel eyes grim. "It's no big deal, Mrs. Leery."

"Well, I know he appreciates it."

Joey nodded slowly, remaining silent.

"So, Joey, the train arrives when?"

"I'll have to get back to you on that, Mrs. Leery. Dawson's in charge of our travel plans," she said, seething. She covered the phone with her hand for a moment and took in several calming breaths. "I can't wait to see everyone at home."

"Oh, of course. Let me know, when you find out. Bye, Dear," Gale replied breezily.

"Bye."

The silence blaring in her ear, Joey stared over at the painting for a long while.

***************

Her rowboat was still at the end of the dock. Joey was almost surprised to see it there, steady in an otherwise cloudy day. The end of summer heat was at its worst today and along with the thickness in the air was a collection of inky black clouds looming. She kicked at a pebble with her bare toe, scowling when it sank into the creek almost immediately.

"Joey!" Her sister appeared on the back porch and behind her stood Bodie, Alex wrapped around his right leg. Bessie grinned, waving. Joey turned to her with a small smile. "You didn't say you were coming home!"

"Last minute plan," Joey said simply. She hugged Bessie. "Dawson needed to visit Gale and Lily." She rolled her eyes. "He has a dead parent now."

Bessie wisely chose to ignore that comment. "Well, I'm glad you could make the trip with him."

"As if I had a choice," she muttered to herself. She glanced up at her older sister guiltily. "It's nice to be home." Alex toddled up to his aunt with a bright smile and outstretched arms. Joey picked him up with a grin. She nuzzled his soft skin with her nose. "Better now."

"It's gonna get even better," Bodie volunteered, wincing when Bessie batted him in the arm. Joey was caught by the way Bessie's hand seemed to catch the dwindling sunlight. "Fine. Fine. You tell her."

"Bess," she whispered, her eyes widening on the glittering diamond gracing her sister's left hand. "You're getting married!"

Bessie smiled widely at Bodie. "Yep."

"And..." Bodie prompted.

Bessie rested her hand slowly on the slowly growing curve of her stomach and smiled. Joey was in her sister's arms before any more words could be spoken, Alex pressed between them and Bodie enfolding all three of them in his strong embrace.

***************

He felt the glance over his shoulder before he saw her coming. "You have this amazing stealth capability, Doc."

She raised an eyebrow at him, leaning closer to the monitor to examine his progress. "Those look great, Pacey."

"Scavenger hunt."

"That's a fun idea," Dr. Patel said encouragingly.

"Yeah, it'll get increasingly less fun once you realize I'm planning on unleashing eight to twelve year olds loose on your precious museum for what amounts to an educational version of hide and seek."

"I'm sure it'll be fine, Mr. Witter." Off his dubious look, she smiled. "We have insurance."

She turned from him, setting her briefcase down on the desk and adjusting the clasp of her necklace. He took the hint and stood, rolling her desk chair back to her, replacing it with a rickety stool nearby. She sat, scooting into her desk and leaning back. "Thank you."

"Don't mention it." He turned back to the computer screen, hand moving over the mouse quickly. "I'm nearly done. Just have to finish updating your class site and then I'm outta here." He brought up the site and glanced down at the notes she'd left for him that morning. "Test time?"

"Indeed." She nodded for emphasis, head down in her schedule book.

He scrolled down list of slides. "Sure is a lot to cover."

"Always." She glanced up at him. "I'm surprised Joey hasn't told you about her exam already."

He narrowed his eyes. "Meaning?"

"Meaning you seem to be friends and she's been carting around flash cards with some regularity." She already had her head back in her work by the time Pacey darted a look at her. "Joey Potter has quite the course load. I wonder if she's not taking on too much."

Pacey paused. He shook his head, focusing once again on the computer. Catching his own worry filled blue eyes in the reflection, he frowned.

****************

"Did I tell you Lily's been saying things now?" Gale smiled proudly at her daughter. Dawson circled a baby spoon before her mouth, trying to entice the baby to eat her peas. Which Lily happily batted away with a tiny fist, sending them spraying back at Dawson. He blinked against the onslaught of green pellets and laughed at his sister's expectant open mouth. "She talks all the time now. Mostly colors. She said 'blue' the other day."

"That's great, Mom." He glanced over at Joey, eyes cast towards her lap. Lily chose that moment to latch a fierce grip round his index finger, attempting to get the spoon. "Applesauce time, Lil?"

He scooped applesauce and held it out to the baby appeasingly. She accepted it with a happy gurgle. Joey cast a sideways look over at the highchair, her lip curling upwards on one side before dropping her head to her lap again. "Joey, how is your job going?"

"My job?" She looked up in surprise. This was the first time Joey had been addressed personally...she'd been studying her art history flash cards diligently in the wake of dozens of baby stories and film school tales. "Uh..." She shrugged, rubbing her calloused palms together nervously. "My job is good."

"You're doing something special for the library Dawson said," Gale continued, flashing with maternal pride. She smiled over at Joey, only to find the young girl blinking back at her. "Is this like that estate project you were selected for last semester?"

"No." Joey shook her head, her smile fading fast. "It's actually just work study. At a local museum. I wasn't really selected or anything..."

"Oh."

"Yeah." Joey nudged Dawson with her shoulder. He looked over at her somewhat dismissively.

"I must've made an assumption," Gale said, nodding her head even as she glanced over at Dawson with doubt. "I am proud of how well you're doing, Joey."

"Thank you, Mrs. Leery," Joey said sincerely.

Lily let out a monster yawn, propelling the attention of all three adults back to her. Gale smiled, reaching out a finger to Lily, who latched onto it happily. "I should be getting this one to bed."

Joey rose quickly, her flash cards scattering to the floor. She knelt to scoop them up, glancing over her shoulder at Gale who lifted Lily up from her chair quickly. "I should be going then. I'll see you in the morning, Dawson."

Gale turned on the first step. "No, Dear, stay. It's fine with me. Lily and I will be out like a light soon enough. She skipped her nap today."

Oh, well," Joey stuttered. Dawson stood, wrapping an arm around her waist and pulling her against his chest with a grin. "I....don't know."

"Stay," Dawson said, his voice seeming a little to adamant for Joey's tastes. But she obliged with a nod.

They followed Gale and Lily up the stairs, Dawson shadowing Joey the whole way. She felt his breath on her neck, all hot and sticky. He leaned into her when they reached his room, pressing a wet kiss on the nape of her neck. She turned to meet his needy gaze. As he traced his tongue around the corners of her lips seeking entrance she caught sight of Gale down the small hallway. She was rocking Lily from one hip to the other, humming a soothing lullaby.

Dawson shut his door, effectively jolting Joey back into the situation at hand. Which involved Dawson's roving hands, one insistently snaking down the front of her jean's waistband. She heard the baby cry and forgot to make the necessary cries Dawson expected from her. Joey pulled back, barely masking the scowl painting her pretty features. She stilled his hand. "Dawson. Stop. Okay?"

"Okay." He stared at her, frowning. "What's wrong?"

"I can't do this with your baby sister in the next room," she stated, rolling her eyes. Plus, Im tired. And my art history test is Monday. Which means tomorrow morning I need to get up early and study. All day. And Sunday needs to be a big driving back to Boston to study again day. Im sorry. Although Joey had to admit to herself, she wasn't all that sorry. She lifted her sweater over her head, revealing her thin gray tank top. She glanced over at Dawson, brows raised. He turned to give her some privacy and by the time he turned back she was climbing into his bed, jeans stripped off and left on the floor where she'd been standing.

Dawson stared at the heap of clothing and bent to pick it up. He opened his mouth and promptly shut it when he could think of nothing to say. Before long he had joined her in bed, leaving a considerable space between them.

They laid in bed silently staring at the ceiling, their positions echoing how they were at fifteen.

"This is nice," he said, uncertainty surrounding every syllable. "Like old times."

"Old times," she echoed dully.

"Well..." He reached out a hand, hovering midair over Joey's for a moment before returning to his own side in defeat.

"Good night, Dawson."

"Night, Joey."

***************

[Hard Candy-Counting Crows]

Joey pulled her Marina t-shirt over her thin green tank top on her way out of the cavernous museum basement. She wrinkled her nose against the tickle of dust from her two hours of filing.

She was pretty glad to be on her way to the Marina all in all. Some nice ocean air would be good, even if it meant she spent the whole afternoon scraping gunk off rental boats. She carried her dark blue windbreaker over one arm, her messenger bag on the opposite shoulder. She might even be able to do some studying on her ten. She cringed remembering her recent art history exam.

Joey was so lost in thought as she rounded the corner of the spiral stairs up to the museum entrance that she almost walked into a young boy from one of the elementary school tours. She looked down at him with a small frown, as she skidded to a halt.

Looking back up, she scanned the hall and found Pacey, deep in conversation with an older docent she'd met in the break room last week. Saul? Sam? She tried to remember while tugging her windbreaker on and zipping it up to her neck. As she neared Pacey and the other docent, Joey froze a small distance away, waiting for a break in conversation.

"Sam, it's no biggie." Pacey grinned, patting the gray haired man's blue blazer clad arm. "Go be with your wife."

"You know, Pacey," Sam said, his voice warm with grandfatherly affection, "I've seen very few kids your age stick to this job with any measure of success."

"Okay," Pacey said, his smile faltering.

Sam then leaned closer to Pacey, a hand on his shoulder, "But you...are one of the best, Kid. I'm hoping you stick. At least until you go off and light up the world."

"Thanks," Pacey said, dropping his head. Joey smiled. His ears were turning red. "It's quite a compliment coming from you."

Sam laughed, "Me? I'm a dinosaur." He glanced up, eyes lighting as he noticed Joey for the first time. She stepped back guiltily. He raised a hand. "There's our girl."

Joey's eyes flickered to his name tag briefly to be sure. "Sam! Hey." She stepped nearer, her shoulder brushing against Pacey's as she moved to greet Sam with an outstretched hand. "How are you?"

Sam grasped her hand in his, kissing it in a sweetly old fashioned way. Pacey grinned. "Hey Jo."

"Hi." She smiled, beaming up at him. "How're the kids today?"

Pacey winked. "Good. They're ransacking the museum."

"Ransacking?"

Sam nodded. "Pacey has them on a scavenger hunt."

Joey glanced around at the small groups of children, clad in matching devil red tees. They seemed to delight in their newfound freedom. "Brave."

Pacey shrugged. "Eh. They've got a time limit and I've planted spies." He indicated another tour guide in a far corner of the room, her arms crossed as she surveyed the group. Pacey smirked. "We'll keep 'em in line."

"On that note," Sam began, tilting his head towards the door.

"Yeah, go," Pacey said. "I've got it covered."

"I know you do," Sam replied, surprising both Pacey and Joey by pulling them into his gentle embrace. "Two thorns and a rose," he pronounced, grinning happily. He released them with a nod and a small wave.

"Bye Sam," Joey called to the elderly man as he headed out the door. She shifted on her feet. Pacey turned to focus his full attention on her. "Pacey..."

"What?"

Joey dropped her eyes from his gaze. "I've got to go, but..."

"But?" He waited expectantly.

She tilted her head, raising her eyes to his finally. "I don't really have any right to the words anymore, I guess."

He frowned, confused. "Go ahead, Jo."

"I'm really proud of you," she whispered, her gaze bright.

Pacey smiled. "Thank you."

"You're welcome."

They stood together quietly for a moment, each lost in their own thoughts. Pacey cleared his throat. "How was your trip home?" At her look, "I have my spies."

"Audrey." Joey shrugged. "It was good to sleep in my own bed, I guess. And Bess-"

"You slept at the B&B?" Pacey cut in, surprised. He recovered, shaking his head to himself. "I guess...I just thought you'd stay with Dawson."

I did for one... she started, cutting herself off. I didnt-I wanted to be home with my family. And now I need to go...study.

He nodded, dropping his head. When he looked up again his gaze was neutral. "Y'know I'd like to take you home right now-"

Joey's eyes widened and she started to shake her head, her jaw dropping a bit. "It's not necessary, Pace. I can walk."

Pacey eyed her carefully. "But I have to cover a shift for Sam, so unfortunately you're stuck for the day."

"Oh," she said, letting out a sigh of relief before she could stifle it. She avoided his curious frown. "Well, I'll let you get back to work then, okay?"

Pacey barely had time to nod before Joey fled. He watched her leave the museum and disappear down the sidewalk to the left with a raised eyebrow. Turning back to observe his kids, he frowned. "She should've made a right," he said finally.

***************

[Honest - Kendall Payne]

Boy know your place, lies do not become us
Real is more attractive than a slick and polished mask
Girl dig deep down, I know there's more between us
There's bound to be a question you're just dying to ask

If you can be honest, I can be too
If you'll take the first step, I'll follow you through
But no one wants to bleed, no one wants to hide
No one wants to hurt, alone inside

Child, don't close your eyes
The truth contains much beauty
And though it scars your soul, it can heal the wounds it makes
You've been deceived to think the pain is to be dreaded
When you've got nothing left, it'll give more than it takes

(Bridge) If you can't find the peace, I'll help find it for you
I don't know how, but one thing that's sure is I won't leave you now

***************

[Hard Candy - Counting Crows]

On certain Sundays in November
When the weather bothers me
I empty drawers of other summer's
Where my shadows used to be
She is standing by the water
As her smile begins to curl
In this or any other summer
She is something all together different
Never just an ordinary girl
And in the evenings on Long Island
When the colors start to fade
She wears a silly yellow hat
That someone gave her when she stayed
I didn't think that she returned it
We left New York in a whirl
Time expands and then contracts
When you are spinning
In the grips of someone
Who is not an ordinary girl
When you sleep
You find your mother in the night
But she stays just out of sight
So there isn't any sweetness in the dreaming
And when you wake the morning covers you with light
And it makes you feel alright
But it's just the same hard candy
You're remembering again
You send your lover off to China
Then you wait for her to call
You put your girl up on a pedestal
Then you wait for her to fall
I put my summer's back in a letter
And I hide it from the world
All the regrets you can't forget
Are somehow pressed upon a picture
In the face of such an ordinary girl
When you sleep
You find your mother in the night
But she fades just out of sight
So there isn't any sweetness in the dreaming
And when you wake the morning showers you with light
And it makes you feel alright
But it's just the same hard candy
You're remembering again
Again [4X]
It's just the same hard candy
You're remembering again
Again [4X]
And it's just the same hard candy
You're remembering again
Go ask her to come around
And see me late after dark
Don't ask me to come around
Then wait to if there's a spark
[3X]

***************

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