Just between friends
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Three: Drowning by numbers

The ride back to Capeside was made in complete silence. Pete had tried to strike up a conversation with Pacey, reassuring him they would catch the guys who hurt his brother, but Pacey just ignored him. Joey shrank into her corner of the back seat and tried not to look at her friend who sat so close and yet was so distant that she could almost feel the invisible void between them. She didn’t know what to do. Maybe Dawson would have an idea, since he and Pacey were close. Joey did not understand what was going on in his mind, and from the look he had given her outside Doug’s room, she wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Pete dropped them both off at Joey’s house because it was closer for him to return to the station. Pacey had not spoken any more than to say that he would walk home from there. He saw Joey to her door but it was obvious that his mind was elsewhere. He was unreachable and impenetrable, so it was with some measure of relief that she bid him goodnight and stepped inside the house. Once inside, away from him and his unreadable mood, she let out a deep breath and leant up against the door. The house was silent, and she looked at the wall clock and was surprised to see it was nearly midnight.

She readied herself for bed as quickly and quietly as possible so as not to wake Bessie, Bodie and Alexander. Tying her hair loosely in a braid, she brushed her teeth and climbed into her warm pajamas. They were old fashioned flannel night clothes that had been her mother’s, and Joey only ever wore them when she needed comforting. With a sigh, she realized Pacey needed the comfort more than she did right then. She was so confused over the events of the night that she tried not to think about them, but she could not deny she was worried about her friend. Joey had never seen him so upset, and she had known Pacey more than half her life. Still thinking about him, she stepped to the window to draw the curtains closed so she wouldn’t be woken too early by the sun. When she saw a lone figure on the end of their dock, her heart thudded in her chest. He was still there. Joey hesitated for a moment, but then knew she had to go to him. Pulling on her coat and shoes, she slipped outside into the cold night air.

He sat there with his long legs drawn up to his chest, his arms wrapped protectively around them. Joey knew he probably couldn’t curl his tall body any tighter. Her eyes stung from the cold wind as she approached him silently, and then sat down carefully beside him. Pacey did not even seem to notice her at first. He was staring with incredible intensity at a shimmering spot on the water, and his fists were clenched in rage. Joey felt completely unsure of herself, having no idea what she could do for him. Gently, she pushed her fingers into his white knuckled fist and pried his hand apart. In the moonlight she could see the bloody crescent bruises that his fingernails had left on his palm. She held her breath and closed her hand around his own, feeling his body shaking again.

It was only when the warmth of her skin actually penetrated his own that Pacey finally noticed she was there. She was wide-eyed and frightened, incomprehension written all over her face. ‘But how could she know?’ he thought to himself. No one knew. It was family business. The words echoed in his mind as tears started to fall down his cheeks. He didn’t even feel them until Joey wiped them away with gentle fingers. The warm tears wouldn’t stop though, they just continued to fall uncontrollably. He felt himself letting go as she pulled him slowly towards her, cradling his head in the crook of her shoulder and neck. She held onto him as painful sobs racked his broad frame and he let out a strangled cry. Joey just held on to him and didn’t let go.

Pacey didn’t know how long he cried, but it felt like a very long time. Eventually he quietened and sat there nestled in Joey’s arms, feeling safer than he had in his entire life. She stroked his hair occasionally, rocking him gently and lulling him into the sweetest oblivion he had ever imagined. He didn’t want the moment to end, but then the dreaded thoughts started invading his mind again and he knew he would have to. It took all his will power and physical strength to unclench himself from her embrace. He was shattered both emotionally and physically, so it hurt even to think.

Pacey sat back from her, his face red and puffy. Joey found herself wishing he hadn’t, because for a short while she actually thought she was helping him. Now he just sat there, unsure what to say, unable to look at her. The space he had been occupying next to her skin was freezing, now it was deprived of his warmth. She pulled her coat tighter around her and shivered. They were both drained of feeling and energy so they sat there in complete silence for another long stretch, neither of them moving or speaking.

Finally though, the emptiness had to be filled. Pacey had to clear his throat carefully before he could even begin to form the words. Joey waited for him expectantly, but terrified of what he was going to say.

"I should apologize," Pacey began hoarsely, only to be hushed by her immediate protests.

"Don’t," she said sharply, her voice barely a whisper. "Don’t say that to me."

Pacey looked down at the water and she could feel him drawing himself away from her again. To make sure that didn’t happen, she shuffled back beside him and laid her head on his shoulder. She wanted to be close to him again to comfort him, but she also knew this way he wouldn’t have to look into her eyes when he told her. Somehow she knew this would make it easier for him.

"I don’t know what to say, how I can possibly put into words what…" Pacey’s eyes sparked with tears again and his throat constricted. Joey’s arms tightened around his middle and he wrapped his arm round her shoulders, drawing strength from her. "Do you have any idea what happened tonight?"

"You brother was attacked," she whispered back.

"Yes, he was… But it wasn’t a retaliatory beating by a couple of regulars he happened upon in Settler’s Park."

"That’s what Pete seems to think."

"Pete doesn’t know dick. He doesn’t know my family. Not my real family."


"Joey, I think Doug’s attack was a gay bashing… I think my father did it." Pacey’s was low and frightened like a child’s and it grew even softer. "I know my father did it."

Joey pulled herself away from him abruptly, truly shocked by his words. Pacey just stared back at her with a despairing gaze, but one that was strengthened by his conviction. He believed in his statement with his whole heart, battered though it was. Joey shook her head slightly, not wanting it to be true for his sake.

"How do you know?"

"I saw the look in Doug’s eyes when he came into the room. It was of pure fear, Joey. I have never seen him look like that and I’ve seen him afraid before. I knew in that second what had happened. And my father knows I know."

"Maybe it’s just a mistake, maybe you misinterpreted—"

Pacey cut her words off with once glance. "You don’t know him, Joey," he said gravely, lowering his voice again. "You don’t know what he's capable of like I do."

Joey blanched with a sudden revelation, her eyes almost round with terror. "Has he ever… has ever hurt you?"

Pacey looked away again and tears immediately sprung up in Joey’s eyes. She held a trembling hand over her mouth so she wouldn’t cry out. The thought was unthinkable, unimaginable. That in all the time she had known him, Pacey had been dealing with this — hiding it from her, and Dawson, and everyone else. She couldn’t believe it, it was just too much. But the fact that he couldn’t even look at her now gave her the answer to her question.

"Oh my God, Pacey," she mumbled and tried to put her arms around him again. This time he stopped her. He couldn’t wrap himself up in her embrace again and face those demons. Not tonight, not again. He simply wasn’t strong enough.

"It really doesn’t happen that often. I don’t want you to think I’m some battered kid. It’s only when he’s really angry or drunk or I do something to—"

"Shhh," Joey whispered shakily, holding a finger to his lips to stop him. When she was certain he wasn’t going to continue to apologize for his father’s behavior or make excuses for his actions, she removed it. Pacey just took a deep breath and broke her gaze. "Does he do it to all of you?"

"Just Doug and me, he left my mother and sisters alone."

"Did you ever go to the authorities? Did they?"

"He is the authorities, Joey. There was nothing they could have done. Doug and I were just glad he left them alone. We wanted him to take it out on us if it meant leaving them alone." Pacey ran a tired hand through his short, coarse hair. "It was worse when we were younger, when we were smaller and weaker. We used to plan the day when we’d be able to stand up to him together, once we were grown. Dougie said that one day we’d be strong enough to stop him. But then we grew up and suddenly Doug became the golden boy. Something happened to him and he started becoming exactly like Dad. That’s when I knew I was on my own."

Joey couldn’t think of anything to say. Her mind was swimming with memories of the times growing up when Pacey was suddenly absent from school for a couple of days without explanation, or when he started ditching so he wouldn’t have to go to gym class. She and Dawson had just assumed it was because he was athletically challenged, but now she knew differently. The thoughts crashed down upon her and she felt pummeled by the idea that this had been going right in front of her and she had never noticed. Joey felt more guilty than she ever had in her entire life.

"The funny thing is," Pacey continued, staring into space, "I thought Doug had done everything right, you know? He was a good student, a great athlete at school. He graduated with letters and honors and went to the Academy so he could follow in Dad’s footsteps. But even that wasn’t good enough for the son of a bitch. What hope do I possibly have of impressing him? It doesn’t make any sense, Jo. I’m the wise-ass class clown with the quick mouth and no future. It should’ve been me, not Doug."

"Pacey, no!" Joey cried vehemently. "Don’t ever say that!"

"But it’s true. If I hadn’t started all those cracks about Doug being gay, or pushed him to lash out at me, maybe none of this would have happened. It’s all my fault!"

"No, that’s not true—"

"Yes, it is! I knew he was gay, even though he always denied it and made a show of dating women. I was the only one who guessed the truth. But I was so angry at him for deserting me when we grew up and were big enough to face up to our father… He became the perfect son and I was left to deal with Dad on my own. I blamed Doug every single time Dad laid into me after that. I stopped blaming the man who was beating me and made myself believe it was all Doug’s fault. That’s why when I realized he was gay I went out of my way to make things difficult for him. I knew what my father thought of homosexuals, but I still made the snide remarks. It’s my fault that he got suspicious and followed Doug tonight to the park. He was probably meeting someone and my father caught him. Do you have any idea what I’ve done, Joey? He could have killed him! I could have killed my brother!"

Pacey was shuddering with rage and regret, his haunted eyes boring into hers once more. Joey shook her head and with an impassioned plea begged him to stop.

"This not your fault, Pacey, please! Stop blaming yourself and blame your father. He’s the one who’s guilty!" Her hands were on either side of his head and she pulled it to her shoulder. "Stop blaming yourself, Pacey. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault."

Pacey snaked his arms around her back and hugged her tightly. He desperately wanted to believe her. He wished the words could simply wipe the slate clean and he could start again. He was just so tired now. He wanted to sleep and drown in the blackness that washed over his body. Pacey felt disembodied as he sat there in Joey’s embrace, divorced from the shattering events of that night.

"I can’t go back there tonight," he whispered. "I can’t be in the house with that man and pretend like nothing has happened."

"You’re staying with me tonight," Joey said without thinking. She would worry about Bessie, and the pink fit she would have, in the morning. Right now her concern was for Pacey. "Come on."

Joey hauled herself from the cold dock with difficulty, her joints stiff and sore. Pacey straightened painfully as well and needed her support to walk towards the house. When they arrived inside they both collapsed on her bed in utter exhaustion. Before they could fall asleep though, Pacey had something to say.


"Hmmm?" she murmured. Pacey was in her arms again as they tried to warm each other up, his head nestled next to her chest.

"I can’t even put into words what you’ve done for me tonight. I’ll never be able make it up to you or repay you in any way. Nothing I could I ever do for you would come close to this."

Joey didn’t answer, she just hugged him closer, needing him next to her just as much as he needed her. Eventually Pacey’s breathing deepened and he drifted into a deep, dreamless sleep. At least, Joey prayed it was dreamless. She couldn’t protect him from his dreams.


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