Domino by: Nicola

Notes: Set a few hours after the end of Parental Discretion Advised.

If you never had it then
You don't know how bad it is
There is nothing like it, well
Needless talk then, I can tell

Here comes the day, I sit and wait
Always, always something
(Dominoes are falling still)
The bills keep coming, the car ain't running
Now I'm coming home again
(As I know they always will)
Another day, oh, the mailman's on his way
Just sit and wait
(Dominoes a test of will)
Always pondering my fate too late
And then the day goes

~“Domino” by the Goo Goo Dolls

The sun had long since set over the modest, low-slung house adjacent to the creek. Silence hung heavy in the air inside the Potters’ kitchen and blackness cloaked the room. Joey was slumped on the floor, hugging her knees to her chest, her head cradled in her hands. Memories of the day’s events still tainted everything around her, and she had to fight to maintain control as snatches of conversation echoed inside her head. Her father, promising everything would be all right, Dawson professing his love for her. Lies, all of them, she realised now. It was devastatingly clear that nothing would all right ever again. Her lip trembled slightly as a wave of sobs rose up inside her. Staunchly, she blinked away the tears which formed in her eyes. She would not cry, she decided. For everyone’s sake -- including her own -- she would remain strong.

Joey’s head snapped up as the front door opened.

“Bess?” she whispered into the darkness. For a moment, as her sister paused in the doorway, Bessie was silhouetted against the pale moonlight which spilled inside. Joey felt a slight chill as she took in her cold, clouded expression. Bessie shut the door behind her with a decisive snap, and Joey swallowed hard. “What happened?” she asked softly. Bessie had been at the station for several hours and despite Joey’s limited knowledge of police procedure, she doubted this was a good sign.

“What do you think happened?” Bessie retorted bitterly, shifting Alex slightly in her arms.

“Is dad going back to jail?” Joey asked in a small voice. Tears sprang to her eyes once more, but she tenaciously refused to let them fall.

“No, Joey, they’re just going to give him a slap on the wrist and pretend it never happened.” Her sister’s voice was loaded with weary sarcasm. “Of course they’re sending him back to jail,” she snarled.

“But . . . but, they said they could cut a deal,” Joey cried desperately.

Bessie let out a harsh, mirthless laugh. “There’s no deal to be cut. This is real life, in case you hadn’t noticed. It’ll be 3-5 years at the least, so don’t hold out much hope of seeing daddy dearest for a long, long time -- unless it’s by telephone, through a sheet of bullet proof glass, that is.”

Joey realised suddenly that she was shivering. Despite the muggy, summer night, every inch of her body was trembling uncontrollably.

“And do you know what the worst part of all this is?” Bessie demanded furiously. “It was my own sister that put her father away. It was you who did all this.”

“No . . . ,” Joey whispered. But as she felt her heart slam into overdrive, she realised that Bessie spoke the truth. It was she who was to blame. Maybe Dawson had played a small, unforgivable part in the whole affair, but primarily, it was her fault.

“I hope you’re happy with what you’ve done,” Bessie declared contemptuously, as she swept out of the room, leaving Joey to pick up the shattered pieces of her life.

As Joey stared hopelessly after her, she felt something hot and sticky crawl down her cheek. Gone was the time to be strong, she realised as tear after tear spilled from her eyes. What little strength she’d retained had been sucked from her as Bessie had delivered her final blow.

“I am to blame for everything that’s happened,” she murmured miserably, and the truth that she now knew lay within that statement only made her cry harder.

And you know and you know
'Cause my life's a mess
And I'm trying to grow so before
I'm old I'll confess
You think that I'm strong
You're wrong, You're wrong
I'll sing my song, my song, my song

~“Strong” by Robbie Williams

Joey was still crying as she slipped soundlessly out the door much later that night. Her heavy, cumbersome suitcase bounced against her thigh with every step she took, as she stumbled clumsily down the front steps. She suspected she’d have a bruise as a result the next morning, but she was too distracted to spare it much thought.

Something had become clear to Joey during her earlier argument with Bessie: she couldn’t stay there any longer. She’d always felt somewhat of an outcast living as a lodger in her sister’s house, and the argument had only served to reinforce her belief that she was no longer welcome at the small, slightly shabby house on the edge of the creek, that she’d come to call home. It was time to make a clean break, she realised, resolutely wiping away her tears.

The only difficulty was, where could she go? It was no secret that Joey didn’t exactly have a battalion of friends who would be ready and willing to let her stay with them. Going to Dawson’s was unthinkable, of course, and now that Jack had moved in with Jen, he was out of the question, too. Which left only one place. Joey sighed as the familiar brick house which was her destination loomed into view.

The crushed shell underfoot crunched slightly as she hobbled up the Witters’ front path. On reaching the imposing, red front door, she hesitated. Straining to read her watch in the darkness, it dawned on her that Mr and Mrs Witter might not appreciate being woken up a such a late--or, technically, early--hour -- however upset the caller might be.

Shuffling awkwardly across the dewy lawn, Joey gave silent thanks for Pacey’s bedroom being situated on the ground floor. Finding his window, she tapped as loudly as she dared on the glass pane. From inside, there came the muffled sounds of someone moving about. She knocked again, and this time the curtains shifted slightly, before finally being drawn open to reveal a pair of bleary eyes, peering questioningly out at her. As the window was pushed open, Joey was struck by how insane it was to be hovering outside Pacey’s bedroom window in the middle of the night. She pushed the thought away.

“Joey?” Pacey’s sleep-slurred voice asked. The incredulity in his tone was marked. “What are you doing here?”

“I . . .” Joey began hoarsely. “I just . . . I just--um, I needed to . . . ,” she trailed off and it seemed to dawn on Pacey that there must be a valid reason for her unexpected visit. His face was still quizzical, but now it was also touched with concern.

“Come on in,” he said, stepping back so that she could enter. Pushing her suitcase through the window first, she followed, clambering nimbly through the wooden frame. It seemed that nine years of climbing through Dawson’s bedroom window had stood her in good stead.

“So, what’s up?” Pacey asked, once she was inside. For the first time, Joey realised that Pacey was dressed only in a pair of boxer shorts. She was glad that in the half-dark of his bedroom, the blush which rose from her neck upwards would go unnoticed. Sternly, she fixed her gaze on his perturbed-looking face, fighting the urge to let her eyes wander his lean, well-muscled body.

“What’s the matter, Jo?” he prompted. “Unless you explain yourself, I’ll be forced to assume that you were driven here by your overwhelming attraction to me, and want to spend the night making mad, passionate love.” A cocky, teasing smile appeared on his lips, and Joey felt her blood begin to boil.

Glaring poisonously as Pacey, she reached for her suitcase, preparing to climb back out the window. “It was a mistake coming here,” she declared icily.

“Joey, wait,” Pacey said earnestly, reaching forward to catch her by the elbow. “It was a joke. Really.” Joey wasn’t sure, but she thought she detected a note of wistful sadness in his voice.

Placing a hand in the small of her back, he guided her over to a chair. Reluctantly, she sat down, and he, too took a seat, perched on the edge of his cluttered desk. Joey sighed, resting her gaze on her lap, where she fidgeted distractedly with the bracelet looped around her wrist. It was a long time before she spoke, but Pacey waited patiently, without passing comment.

“I . . . I kind of, um, left,” she began quietly. “I left home.” Sneaking at glance up at Pacey, she waited for him to make some sort of derisive remark, but he let the moment pass without judgement. His eyes were surprisingly soft and encouraging as he waited for her to go on. “I, uh, I guess you heard about my dad.” Pacey moved his head slightly in acknowledgement of her statement, and haltingly she continued. “Well, it was all my fault. I was the one who turned him in. Me.” Her words were choked with sobs as she realised that the tears had begun to flow once more. “I just couldn’t stay there any longer. Bessie hates me -- and with good reason. God, what have I done?” Now her fingers twisted her bracelet so viscously that Pacey was afraid the fine, silver chain was going to break. She only released her vice-like grip on it, when he touched her hand lightly. He wasn’t sure whether she’d even been aware of what she’d been doing.

“Now I have nowhere to go and--” she continued desperately.

“Shhh,” he said gently. “You know you can stay here for as long as you like.”

Joey looked up at him with huge, grateful eyes, and he opened his arms to her tentatively. She hesitated for only a moment before stepping nearer, accepting his embrace. Pulling her close, his fingers smoothed her silky, dark hair, and he closed his eyes, inhaling her sweet, fragrant scent.

“I’ll always be here for you, Jo,” he promised softly, and for the first time that day, Joey smiled.

You need someone to hold you
You need somethin' that you ain't been getting
Yeah, I could be the one
To tell you what to do, but it don't mean nothing
And you're holding on forever
But that something just ain't true

I'm just like you
And I know
It's what I'd do
Here I go

'Cause I couldn't stop the world, 'cause I loved you
I couldn't stop the world, and I don't want to
I couldn't stop the world, and I won't
'Cause it ain't enough

~“Stop the World” by the Goo Goo Dolls

“Knock, knock,” Dawson called as he pushed open the door to Pacey’s room the next morning. His best friend was propped up in bed, flicking idly through a glossy car magazine. Pacey’s hair was visibly sleep rumpled and he was still dressed for bed. “Your dad said you’d probably be awake, so I should just come on in. Sorry to stop by so early, but I really needed to talk to someone . . . ,” Dawson said, making an apologetic face.

“Oh, no problem,” Pacey replied, tossing the magazine aside. “But, actually, there’s something you should--”

“Joey broke up with me,” Dawson blurted out, before Pacey had a chance to finish. “I guess you heard about her dad,” he sighed. “Well, she got really mad about my part in it and . . .” he trailed off, sensing that Pacey’s mind wasn’t fully focused on his problems. His friend seemed slightly on edge, almost skittish. His eyes darted nervously around the room, returning always to the closed door of his adjoining bathroom.

“Dawson, there’s something you should know--” he began again uneasily, but was interrupted by a loud band as the en suite door swung open forcefully, inadvertently hitting the wall as it did so. Outlined in the doorway stood Joey. She was dressed in a bathrobe and her hair was swept up, turban-style in a towel. Steam from inside the bathroom billowed in wispy tendrils around her.

“Joey?” Dawson gaped. “Wha . . . what are you doing here?”

The look of surprise which had initially registered on Joey’s face, was replaced by icy contempt. “I don’t feel I need to explain myself to you,” she declared angrily.

“But why are you . . .?” Dawson trailed off as he glanced from Joey to Pacey, and then back to Joey. You could almost see the cogs turning inside his head, as he drew conclusion from the compromising situation. “Oh, my God,” he said slowly, in a low, furious voice. “You two . . . you’ve been screwing around behind my back.” He glared accusingly at Pacey. “This is just too much! My best friend, sleeping with my girlfriend!”

“Ex-girlfriend,” Joey corrected disgustedly. “And it’s you who’s too much. When are you going to get over yourself, Dawson?”

“There’s nothing going on between us. Nothing.” Pacey held up his hands placatingly. “Joey just needed somewhere to crash. That’s all.”

“Somewhere to crash?” he echoed. Already he felt his anger begin to slip away, as reason kicked in.

“Joey’s moved out of home,” Pacey supplied quietly.

“But, why?” Dawson asked, aghast.

“I don’t think that’s any of your concern,” Joey snapped, retreating back into the bathroom. The door slammed shut behind her.

Dawson looked at Pacey questioningly.

“It’s a long story,” Pacey explained wearily. “But you’ve got to believe me when I say that there’s nothing going on between me and Joey.”

Dawson waved his hand dismissively. “I know, I know. It was just jealousy induced stupidity.” He let out a short laugh. “You and Joey. As if! It’s ludicrous, really, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, ludicrous,” Pacey agreed softly, forcing a smile. Inside though, he felt his stomach twist at the realisation that his best friend was right. The idea of he and Joey ever being anything more than just sparring partners was unthinkable. Utterly ridiculous.

Pacey barely listened as Dawson continued to lament his break-up with Joey. His mind was elsewhere; focused on a memory of many months ago. A day on which he’d come to realise that his feelings for Joey ran deeper than he ever could have imagined. Pacey was still thinking of his and Joey’s ill-fated Marine Biology experiment, when Dawson broke through his reverie.

“Well, I’d better go. No use sticking around here.” Dawson smiled painfully. “I’ll call you later, okay?”

Distractedly, Pacey said his farewells to Dawson. Closing the door behind him, he dropped despondently onto his bed.

There had been a time when Pacey had entertained the farcical fantasy that perhaps he and Joey could graduate beyond the friendship stage. This hope had been dashed when she’d rejected his kiss, and at the same time, him. The thing which hurt the most was the fact that until recently he had been so certain that he was over her. He’d thought that his relationship with Andie had killed any lingering romantic feelings he still harboured for Joey. Not so, he realised ruefully, as he watched Joey step out of the bathroom, glancing warily around for any signs of her ex-boyfriend.

His eyes drank in her appearance thirstily. She was still dressed in his sister’s ridiculous pink robe, but somehow on her, it managed to look elegant. Now, her hair hung in wet ropes around her shoulders, excentuating the face he felt so inexplicably drawn to. Pacey sighed. Maybe his interest in Joey had been buried for a while, but he knew now, that it had never quite disappeared.

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