Absence of malice
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Four: A hard day's night

Clouds had spread across the blackened sky, denying any moonlight to the sleepy seaside town below. The wind swept up from the bitterly cold waters of the creek and howled through the trees that surrounded Nora Coleman's house. Pacey watched the violent swaying of the branches and was thankful for the warmth and light inside the house. He had no desire to be out on a night like this, even if the circumstances had been different.

It had been a long, trying day for everyone, but it was worse for Nora. The realization that in all probability she had caused her husband's death, however unconsciously, had taken its toll. Joey and Pacey spent the rest of the night consoling her, trying to reassure her that she was truly innocent because of lack of intent, and attempting to explain the legalities of the situation she was in. But as the evening progressed, it was becoming obvious that Nora was no longer listening. Joey had finally insisted she try and get some sleep, and she had taken the increasingly frail woman upstairs to get her settled for the night.

Pacey sighed and sat back in his chair, his eyes running over the notepad Joey had been furiously scribbling on as she tried to work out their exact defense. He thought again about the insanity of them trying this case when neither had the experience or understanding of what was truly involved. Joey was determined however, and had shown little sign of changing her mind after Nora's impassioned plea for help. Pacey just hoped that with a little reflection, Joey would see that they were in over their heads and that they should get Nora a proper criminal defense attorney. If reflection didn't do it, then Pacey had a few arguments lined up just in case. He was ready and waiting for her when she came back downstairs.

"How is she?" Pacey asked as Joey wandered into the dining room. His law partner looked exhausted.

"Completely worn out." Joey flopped into a chair opposite him and supported her head with one hand.

"You don't look much different."

"I don't feel it either," Joey said. "I just can't believe it, Pacey. Poor Nora."

"I can't believe she killed him either."

"She didn't really. If she wasn't consciously aware of what she was doing then she didn't murder him. It was an act without volition, so technically she's innocent."

"Technically she stabbed a syringe full of morphine into her husband's neck and left him to die. Now you're saying we can convince a jury that she was sleepwalking at the time so they should let her go?"


Pacey looked at her incredulously. "'Yes'? It's that simple, huh? Do you mind explaining how you intend to do it?"

"There was no intent, we just have to show that. She has a history of sleepwalking, we can prove that. We can get sleep disorder experts to testify to the validity of a non-insane automatism defense… The pieces are there, we just have to put them together properly."

"And if we don't, Nora goes to jail for the rest of her life," Pacey replied more harshly than he had intended to.

Joey narrowed her eyes at him and straightened up in her seat. "What are you saying, Pacey?"

"I'm saying we need to think about this seriously before we jump head first into something we can't handle… We have to think about what's best for Nora."

"You heard her, she wants us to defend her," Joey said insistently.

"Maybe she said that because she's scared and she hasn't had time to think about all of this. The poor woman is still trying to come to terms with the fact that she did cause Lewis' death, however unintentionally. I don't think she knows what she wants or needs right now."

Joey got up from her seat abruptly, but then seemed unsure where to go. She stood behind the chair, her fingers curled around its back. She looked calmly at Pacey, her expression unreadable. He was momentarily disconcerted by her countenance, having expected anger.

"You don't think we can do it?" she asked evenly.

Pacey felt uncomfortable under her gaze. He lost some of his bravado and lowered his voice. The speech he had prepared was forgotten.

"Maybe we'd be able to pull it off… I just think Nora deserves more than maybe. Any client does, and we wouldn't hesitate to turn someone else away if we didn't think we could handle the case. We need to treat Nora like any other client and concentrate on her best interests."

Joey crossed her arms over her chest and pondered his words as she paced slowly along the length of the dining table. It was several minutes before she answered him.

"I think you're right," she said finally, her words contemplative. "Any other client, and I would be the first to turn the case down. But this isn't just any client. This is Nora Coleman, a woman I have known and loved all my life… a woman you have known and loved all your life. And when she looked into my eyes and begged us to represent her… I don't know, Pacey, something told me we have to do it. We owe it to Nora, and I won't turn her away. I couldn't live with myself otherwise."

"And if we lose?" Pacey retorted urgently, getting to his feet as well. "Could you live with yourself then?"

"This is pointless," muttered Joey dully, avoiding the question. "I don't expect you to understand."

Pacey took exception to the dismissive tone of her voice. He let out a breath of pure frustration. "Why don't you try me?"

Joey met his eyes and saw the mounting anger he was trying to control. She knew there was no point arguing with him, and she didn't have the energy for it anyway. So instead of letting lose with a tirade of her own, Joey sat back down across the table from him, her hands resting sedately on the grained wood.

"Why did you become a lawyer?" she asked quietly, studying her hands rather than Pacey's face.

"What has that got to do with anything?" Pacey didn't mean to sound as defensive as he did. She wasn't trying to bait him or antagonize him, she was just asking a simple question.

"I'd like to know."

"I don't know… it’s a good career. I get to piss my dad off by defending the people he and Doug have arrested."

"That's not a very good reason."

"Fine, what's your excuse?"

"We're not talking about me."

"Oh no you don't, you're the one who brought this up. Why did you become a lawyer?"

"The truth?" Joey waited as Pacey nodded, then seemed to be stalling her response.

He held her gaze, not letting her back out of the conversation. She hardly ever opened up to him about anything remotely personal, not since she had returned to Capeside after failing to find a job in Boston. He could see this wasn't easy for her. Pacey just waited patiently for her to find her voice.

"I never really understood the reason I why I chose law over medicine or some equally challenging career. I had the grades to do whatever I wanted, but something inside of me had always held onto the idea that I would be an attorney. In law school all our professors thought I'd become a prosecutor, some even organized internships at the D.A.'s office for me. But I turned them down, and I turned down summer clerkships with circuit judges because I never wanted to be a district attorney. I was always going to be a defense lawyer, even before I knew it myself."

Pacey contemplated her words and in a flash of inspiration he suddenly understood. He didn't know why he hadn't seen it before.

"Because of your father," he stated softly.

Joey nodded, surprised but nevertheless pleased that he knew her so well. "When my dad got sent to prison again after the fire at The Icehouse, I helped your father and the police put him there. If anyone ever needed defending it was him, but I didn’t do it. Instead I listened to the cops and to Dawson, not my own heart… I've never quite forgiven myself for not standing by him, or doing something that could have prevented what happened and the part I played in it."

"Jo, you can't think it was your fault—"

"I don't." She smiled faintly, noticing the worried look on his face. "I know there was nothing I could have done. But that doesn't stop the regret, or the guilt. So I became a defense attorney, and I swore to myself that I would be there if ever he or anyone else I loved needed me. And Nora needs me, Pacey, she needs us. That's why I couldn't say no to her."

Pacey looked away, unconsciously clenching and unclenching his fists as he struggled to stand his ground. He was convinced they should be handing the case over to someone else, and yet he felt his resolve starting to slip as Joey stared earnestly at him. She was passionate about the case as well, and he didn't know how long he could avoid giving in to her.

"I get it, Joey, I do understand," he said, choosing his words carefully. Pacey knew he was skating on thin ice. "I think your heart is in the right place and you truly believe that by taking this case you'll only be helping Nora. But I can't help feeling that this little crusade you're on has nothing to do with what’s best for her."

Joey flinched, stung by his words that were both gentle and accusatory at the same time. "A crusade? You think I'm on a crusade?"

"I think that no matter what happens with Nora, or any other client, you're not going to be sixteen years old again. You're never going to be able to save your father."

"That's not what this is about."


"No," Joey said firmly. "This is about respecting Nora's request and doing the job we set out to do."

She stood and turned away from him, busying herself by gathering up the papers on the table. Joey kept her face hidden from him as she proclaimed, "I'm taking this case, whether you help me or not. It’s up to you."

Pacey stared at her in disbelief, unsure what he was feeling. Part of him was angry that she could be so stubborn and infuriating. When Joey set her mind to something there was little anyone could do to dissuade her. But another part of him was afraid that she would be true to her word and take the case without him. She would go out and tackle it all on her own and never look back. The fear that she would turn her back on him jolted Pacey more than he cared to admit.

"You think you could do it without me?" he asked, unsure if he wanted to hear the answer.

"Honestly? No."

Pacey grinned involuntarily, forcing a grim smile to emerge on Joey's lips. They held each other's gaze for a long moment, before her eyes grew darker.

"But I will if I have to," she whispered. "I'd just rather not."

He paused, fighting his own uncertainty and conflicting emotions. "Are you sure about this, Jo?"

"As sure as I've ever been about anything," Joey stated firmly. She did not look away this time.

Pacey knew when he was beaten. He let out a long breath and threw his hands up in the air. "Then who am I to argue? We're a team, right?"

Joey sighed in relief and her whole body relaxed. The last thing she wanted was to do this without Pacey.

"We'd just better make sure we win, or we'll lose our reputation as Capeside's hottest young lawyers," Pacey went on, attempting to make her smile again.

"Perish the thought." Joey watched as Pacey sat down at the table again, fingering the notes she had started to make on their strategy. She knew he was still uncertain about the decision, but as usual she could count on his loyalty no matter what. Joey had never felt more grateful for that in her life. "Hey, Pace?"


"Thank you for doing this… for trusting me."

He looked deep into her eyes. "You haven't let me down yet. I can't say that about too many people."

"And I won't this time."

"I don't doubt that." Pacey held her gaze a little longer and then broke his intense stare. He lightened the mood with a flash of teeth and cheerier tone of voice. "Besides, you're going to be first chair. If anyone's going to look bad if we do lose, it's you and not me."

"I don't think we got around to discussing first and second chair…" she replied, but their was little doubt in either of their minds that she wouldn't be leading the defense.

"This is your call, Joey, and your show. I'll be your second chair and do whatever needs to be done."

"Thank you."

Joey mused, not for the first time, how lucky she was to have Pacey around. She didn't like to think what would have happened if he'd refused her. As sure as she was about taking the case, she knew she needed him.

"One thing though, we start this is the morning and not tonight. You need to get some sleep," he ordered.

Joey had neither the inclination nor the energy to disagree. "I'm going to stay here tonight. I don't want Nora to be alone."

"Okay," Pacey nodded. "Do you want me to stay too?"

"I'll be fine." She couldn't help but smile at the almost paternal concern in his voice. "There's only one spare bedroom anyway. Go home, Witter."

Pacey smiled back and picked his briefcase up from the floor. "Sure you don't want me to keep your feet warm?" he grinned, ever the flirt. Joey had gotten used the half-hearted passes he'd made since they were teenagers.

"I think I'll pass."

Joey walked with him to the front door, shivering as a blast of cold air hit her when they stepped outside.

"I'll see you at the office in the morning. Mrs Ryan is coming over first thing so she can stay with Nora. Her brother's arriving from Barbados tomorrow as well, so there'll be someone to look after her through all of this."

"And she has you tonight," Pacey commented, not making any move to his car.

Joey wrapped her arms around herself and wished he would just leave so she could retreat inside where it was warm. But Pacey had something else to say before he went.

"Jo, do me a favor?" he asked, the worried look returning to his face.


"Lock your bedroom door."

"Pacey!" she cried. Joey couldn't believe he could even think it.

"I mean it, Joey. If Nora has been sleepwalking…"

"You think I'm next?" scoffed Joey.

"You said yourself the act was involuntary," Pacey said sternly. "Just do it, all right?"

"Fine," she replied, mainly to shut him up.

But as she closed the door behind her after Pacey had driven off and she looked around the empty house, Joey couldn’t help but be a little spooked. She was standing not ten feet away from a sofa where a dead body had lain only a day ago. The wind continued to howl mournfully outside and the house was bathed in unfamiliar shadows that gave her the creeps. Although she cursed her own imagination that had been warped by too many horror movies, the idea of locking her bedroom door suddenly did not seem so ludicrous.


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