After This
Part 12

by DeepBlueSea

Joey placed her unfinished drink on the windowsill behind her, feeling a slight wave of nausea rise up in her throat as she watched the blond at the bar lean into Pacey, placing her hand on his arm and laughing at something he said. She stood there with the others, barely listening to Dawson tell them of his day of editing disasters, just lowering her head to watch Pacey with this girl. Finally, not able to take it any longer, she excused herself.

“I’m going to find a ladies room.” She almost whispered, quickly turning to walk away before anyone could even respond.

“Well…” Jen sighed. “I was just about to say the same thing. I’m going to go try and catch up with her. We’ll just meet you guys back here.”

Jack shrugged. “And, I think I’m ready for a refill…how about you Dawson?”

Dawson just shrugged his shoulders, his eyes following Joey leave the room. “Yeah, I guess.”

Jack turned to see the crowd at the bar. “This might take a while.” He groaned as he walked away. “Wish me luck. I’m going in.”

Pacey had seen Joey leave the room from where he stood at the bar and now turned to just glance over his shoulder to where Dawson was standing by himself. He turned back to his blond companion.

“Do you think I could ask you to do me a favor?” He leaned down as he spoke in a sweet voice.

The girl smiled up at him, leaning into him again as she grazed her hand up along his thigh. “Sure…” She purred.

“Uh huh…” Pacey chuckled nervously as he reached down to grab her wrist to still her. “Not that kind of favor.” He glanced over his shoulder at Dawson again, nodding to the bartender at the same time. “See my friend over there…?”

The girl raised herself up to look over Pacey’s shoulder, making a face and shrugging her shoulders a bit. “Yeah?”

“Well, he doesn’t like me to tell people this when we come to these kind of events, but he is an up and coming director of independent films. Very, very hot at Sundance this year. Some are even calling him the next Steven Soderbergh.” Pacey raised his eyebrows as he took a swig of his beer.

“The one who did that movie with George Clooney?” Her eyes lit up as she took a sip of her drink through her straw.

“Exactly.” Pacey drew out the word, nodding with a little chuckle. “But, the thing is…” Pacey leaned into her again, lowering his voice conspiratorially. “He likes to keep a low profile. He’s shy, but he also has been burned a bit. Seems like women are only interested in his money lately. Sometimes the troubles that kind of wealth can bring…well, frankly, I don’t know if it’s worth it.” Pacey shook his head sadly, reaching for the drink the bartender had just appeared with. “That kind of money can be it’s own prison, you know.” He turned to face the girl again. “So, you seem like a genuinely nice person and I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind bringing this over to him and talking to him a bit. You know, just to cheer the guy up. Though I have to warn you…” Pacey smiled as he watched her take the drink from his hand. “You really kind of need to lay it on thick with him to bring him out of his shell. He just had his heart stomped on by Gisele.”

“You mean…?”

“Yes.” Pacey nodded.

“I thought she went out with…”

“She did.” Pacey cut in again, nodding. “Until she met my friend.” He raised his eyebrows suggestively.

“Okay.” She nodded. “I think I can do this for you.”

“You’re a doll.” Pacey grinned at her. “And, remember…don’t let on that you know who he is.”

“I won’t.” She smiled, beginning to make her way over to Dawson by the windows.

Pacey chuckled, turning back to the bar and slapping a hundred dollar bill down. He nodded to the bartender. “Can you keep ‘em coming for my friend over there?”

The bartender raised an eyebrow. “It’s open bar, pal.”

“Yeah. I know.” Pacey smiled.

The bartender looked over at Dawson and slowly grinned. “You got it.”


Joey walked out of the room and straight past the restroom doors, picking up speed as she made her way towards the exit. She wrapped her arms around herself once she got outside, just standing there, trying to hold the tears back. When a group of loud and obnoxious partygoers spilled out of the door behind her, she started walking away down the sidewalk, crossing the parking lot and heading towards the harbor. She almost didn’t hear him call out her name, but then he was right there next to her.

“What are you doing?” He asked, slightly out of breath after running after her.

“I just needed some air.” She avoided his eyes. “You can go back in there, Pacey. You don’t want to leave your friend waiting too long.”

“My what?” He asked, the anger immediately rising up in his voice. He then tilted his head to look at her, his face softening. “Are you crying?”

“No.” She sniffed, bringing her hand to her forehead as she looked down at the ground. “Just leave me alone.”

“Joey…what do you want from me here?” He asked helplessly. “I didn’t even want to come to this thing.”

“I know I made you come tonight. Well, I’m sorry - you can go do whatever you want now. I can’t stop you, after all.” She was looking away, wiping her face with the backs of her hands.

“I am doing what I want, Jo. I’m looking at you.” He said softly as he stood there in front of her.

Her face crumpled as she began to cry again. Pacey reached out to touch her shoulder but she shrugged him off. “What is this to you, Pacey? Is it just sex? If I wasn’t here tonight, would you have gone home with that girl, or maybe even someone else? Because I just need to know. You have to tell me the truth.”

“What?” Pacey’s mouth dropped open. “Where is this coming from?”

“This is coming from me needing to know what is going on here with us.” Joey sniffled, trying to gain control. “Even though I know I have no right to ask.” She looked down and her voice cracked a bit on her words.

“Look at me, Jo.” Pacey said quietly. She looked off to the side, wiping her eyes again and taking a deep breath before she met his eyes. He took a step towards her, raising his hands to her cheeks and brushing the last of her tears away with his thumb. “Look at me and tell me what you see. You tell me if you think this is just about sex.”

She just regarded him for a long moment with her large, watery eyes, finally closing them and leaning her forehead against his with a sigh, just whispering his name. “This is such a mess. How did this happen?”

He sighed as well, wrapping his arms around her as she bowed her head and cried against his chest. “I’m sorry, Jo. This isn’t your fault. I should have stopped this a long time ago…before it went this far.”

She sniffed, becoming quiet. “Is that what you want? To stop this?” She asked, still looking down at the ground.

Pacey sighed again, closing his eyes as he breathed in the scent of her shampoo, gently brushing her hair back over her shoulder with his hand. He opened his mouth but he couldn’t answer her for a minute. “Well…we have to stop it, don’t we?” His voice caught a bit on his words.

Joey lifted her head, taking a step back. “Why?” She asked softly, watching his face.

“Why?” Pacey furrowed his brow. “Because you are with Dawson.” He stared at her and then dropped his head. “Although for the life of me I can’t figure out why.” He couldn’t hide the bitterness in his tone.

“It’s just…complicated, Pacey.” She ran her hands through her hair. “I made promises to him…when I told Dawson we could have our chance before he left for LA last year, I really meant it.” She dropped her head, lowering her voice. “I really thought I meant it.” She was quiet for a minute. “Then…this summer, when it was just you and me, back in Capeside for a while, just the two of us, and we fell back into that whole…Pacey and Joey thing…” They both smiled a little as they looked down at the ground. “Well, it was just so unexpected and so…so…”

“Don’t say it…” Pacey muttered and closed his eyes.

“…Nice.” She finished helplessly.

“She said it.” Pacey sighed, shaking his head.

“I didn’t realize how much I missed you…missed us.” Joey shrugged.

“But there you were, waiting with open arms for Dawson when he came back.” Pacey looked at her, his eyes darkening a bit.

Joey just looked back at him, her wide eyes still shining with tears. “All I ever heard my whole life is “Joey and Dawson’. It was like I had this vision of my future that I fantasized about when I was a little girl, and all of a sudden I woke up one morning and someone had set it in stone for me...without asking and without taking into consideration that people change as they grow up. And all I could feel was this guilt – like I should be happy or grateful because this was what I wanted, and a lot of people never get that. But, the thing was…by the time I got it I didn’t want it any more. I wasn’t even the same person any more. And…then I started to wonder if it was ever really what I had wanted at all, or just what people had made me believe that I wanted my whole life.”

Pacey shook his head, biting the inside of his lip. “Sorry, Jo…but you’ve used that one of me before.” His voice was quiet and low. “You told me this once before, remember? And yet you still ended up going back to him.”

Joey dropped her head. “Well…you weren’t exactly an option for me, Pace. You were with Audrey, remember?”

Pacey just looked at her, his mouth falling open. “Oh, so now I’m the reason you are with Dawson?” He raised his voice angrily. “That’s the best one I’ve heard in a long time.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Joey shook her head sadly. “It was just…I just had to look at my life differently then, Pacey. When you weren’t in it.”

“So…what are you saying, Jo?” Pacey scowled. “That you had to settle for Dawson? That’s bullshit. You don’t need to settle for anyone. You shouldn’t settle for anyone. Hell – I’d rather be alone than…”

“You are a lot stronger than I am, Pacey.” Joey’s voice rose a bit and started shaking. “Okay? Is that what you want me to say? That I am a weak person? That I was scared of being alone? Does that make you feel better if I admit that?”

“No. It doesn’t.” Pacey watched her. “Because that’s bullshit, too. You’re not a weak person, Jo. I know that. Why can’t you see that? That’s the most infuriating part of this whole thing, the way you let him…” Pacey suddenly stopped what he was saying, looking away from her. “You know what…I think I’ve had about enough conversations with you about Dawson Leery to last me a lifetime. And I already know that they all end the same, so why don’t I save us both some time and say what you’re going to tell me next.” Pacey took a deep breath. “Let’s see…Dawson is a big part of your life and he’ll always have a piece of your heart and you are afraid to lose your place in his life, and – oh, this is my personal favorite – you just need a little time? Did I get that right, Jo?” He glared at her.

“I am afraid to lose him in my life, okay?” She cried. “He’s the only one who has never left me.” She looked at him pointedly but he just met her gaze evenly.

“I had no choice.” He spoke through gritted teeth. “You left me no choice.”

Joey just shook her head, continuing. “It doesn’t change the fact that some days he was all I had, Pacey. That has to count for something, doesn’t it? And, he may have forgiven me once for hurting him, but after this…?” Her voice trailed off into tears. “This…he is never going to forgive.”

Pacey looked at her a minute. “Why are you always so worried about what he will forgive? Yet, you just seem to take it for granted that I will forgive anything.” He asked quietly.

Joey couldn’t speak for a minute as she looked back at him. “I’m going to break up with him, Pacey. I know you don’t believe that right now, but I am.” She finally whispered.

Pacey dropped his head. “Well, just don’t do it for me, okay?”

Joey furrowed her brow. “What…what do you mean?”

“I mean – I don’t want you to do it for me. Or…do it because you think it’s what I want you to do. I don’t want you and I to be about Dawson anymore, Jo. If you are going to be with me, I don’t want it to be just because you aren’t with Dawson. And…I don’t want to be with you…just because you are.” Pacey looked to the ground and then slowly back to her.

“Is that…?” Joey’s voice caught on her words. “Is that what is going on here with you, Pacey? Is this just…some kind of revenge…some kind of contest to you?” The tears started sliding down her cheeks again. “Is that really why you suddenly want me again?”

“Look…” Pacey sighed, running his hand through his hair, ignoring her question. “What if I was gone tomorrow, Jo? Would you still be thinking of breaking up with Dawson? You need to ask yourself that question. Because…I don’t want to be part of this anymore, the bouncing back and forth. I’m done. And…I can’t help you make decisions about your life. It’s your life, Jo, and you only get one chance to live it. You have to do what is best for you…forget about me and forget about Dawson. The only person you owe anything to is yourself.” He dropped his head and started to turn away. “So…I’m just going to go now.”

“Pacey…” She dropped her head, shaking a bit as she brought her hands to her face.

Pacey sighed, turning back to look at her. He walked over to her, gliding his hand over her hair and then pulling her into a hug. He bowed his head to whisper in her ear, his husky voice tearing at her heart. “I’ve always wanted you, Jo, and there are so many reasons why that I couldn’t even begin to tell you…but I can assure you that behind every single one is the simple fact that I love you. Nothing else.” He gently kissed the top of her head before releasing her and just walking away.

Joey just stood there alone in the parking lot until she had no tears left to cry. She finally started to compose herself, walking back towards the party. Suddenly, she saw Jen emerge from the front doors.

“Joey? Is that you?” She called out. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. We have to get out of here – like now. He’s a mess!”

“Jack?” Joey asked, sniffing a bit.

“No…Dawson!” Jen exclaimed. “He’s falling down drunk. We are literally going to have to carry him home. I don’t know what happened to him, do you?”

Joey raised an eyebrow, sighing shakily and smirking a bit as she followed Jen back into the party. “I think I could place a few guesses.”


Joey sat on the couch, wrapped in a comforter as she gazed out at the moon through the window behind her. She remembered that summer when Pacey had first gone away, sometimes she would lie awake in bed missing him so much that she couldn’t breathe. She would look out at the moon like this and think that, wherever he was, he would be looking up at the night sky at that exact same moment and that would somehow connect them to each other. But the truth was that she and Pacey had always been connected in some way.

Dawson spoke so often over the years of the bond they shared as soul mates that Joey didn’t know if it was something that she believed in because she actually felt it, or because the idea had just been so ingrained on her mind by him. Sometimes – most times – she couldn’t even begin to understand him. Other times she knew what he was thinking before he did himself. It was a concept she could never quite grasp – how he could be talking to her and she would be listening to his words and knowing that she could most likely complete his every sentence, yet she would look into his eyes at the same time and it was as if she was seeing a stranger.

Pacey, however, she always understood – ever since they were just kids, really. Where she and Dawson had exchanged a lifetime of words and still had not really said anything to each other, she and Pacey had always had some sort of unspoken language. She always knew what it was she saw when she looked in Pacey’s eyes…because what she was seeing was herself.

“Josephine, dear? Is that you?”

Joey turned to see Grams shuffling into the living room in her bathrobe.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Ryan…did I wake you?” Joey cringed a bit.

“No, no, dear.” She smiled, shaking her head. “I’m up and down a few times most nights. Another one of the consequences of growing old. So, how was your concert?”

Joey just smiled. “Well...Dawson certainly had a big night for himself. Jack had to carry him up and put him to bed. I have a feeling he might be regretting it in the morning.”

Grams raised her eyebrows. “Oh my. That doesn’t sound like Dawson.” Joey smirked a bit at this, looking down. Grams looked over at Joey. “So, I assume that is why you are sleeping down here on the couch.”

Joey just shrugged her shoulders, a bit embarrassed to discuss why she wasn’t in Dawson’s bed with Grams, of all people. She hesitated, and then finally spoke. “Can I ask you something?”

“Certainly, dear.” Grams smiled and nodded, sitting down across from her.

“Well…as far as your being a religious person, do your beliefs tell you…do you believe that two people can really be meant to be together? Destined to be together, even if life keeps getting in the way?” Joey watched her carefully.

“Oh my…what an odd thought.” Grams sat back in her chair, speaking almost to herself now. “How could life get in the way of life?” She considered Joey’s question then, answering her slowly. “I think I believe to a certain extent that God may have a divine plan in mind for us if he has our lives cross paths with others, and I believe that God gave us our hearts and made us capable of love. But, do you know what one of the greatest gifts God ever gave us was?” She smiled, leaning forward. Joey just shook her head slowly. “The gift of free will.” Grams smiled. “God may have given us our hearts, but he lets us decide who we, in turn, give them to.”

Joey just bowed her head and smiled sadly, before looking back up. “You know…you’re not so scary. Mrs. Ryan.”

“Good to know.” She raised her eyebrows, nodding as she smiled back.

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