Absence of malice
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Five: Limbo

The next morning Joey arrived at the office early, and was surprised to find Pacey already there poring over a pile of law books. Pleased by his new found studiousness, she greeted him with an approving smile.

"Find anything good?" Joey helped herself to a cup of fresh coffee that Pacey had made.

"A list of cases we should take a look at, a couple of rulings we could use," Pacey replied, hoping she would be impressed. 

His spirits sank slightly when Joey pulled out a thick wad of notes from her briefcase. He could see she was already three steps ahead as usual. He passed over his single sheet of paper covered in scrawling handwriting. Joey accepted it gratefully, nodding in thanks.

"How's Nora this morning?" he asked.

"Down. Mrs Ryan's over there trying to cheer her up, but I think even Grams is going to have a hard time with this one."

"No bumps in the night then?"

Joey leveled her eyes at him. "Don't even joke about it. I barely slept all night thanks to you putting that idea in my head."

"That's what I get for caring, I guess," mumbled Pacey light-heartedly, mostly to himself. 

Joey chose to ignore him, not wanting to start bantering with him this morning. 

"I don't suppose you've changed your mind about us taking this case?" he ventured hopefully.

She didn't bother to reply.

"Thought not." Pacey sighed and rose to return a stack of books to the shelves. "So what's the plan of attack, chief?"

Joey finished looking over his notes before answering. "I should go up to Boston today and start collecting some background research from Harvard law library. I'll pick up these case studies and trial transcripts you found and talk to a couple of people there." 

Her train of thought slowed when she came to something she'd been pondering ever since deciding to use this particular defense strategy. She glanced over at Pacey who had begun shooting hoops energetically at the mini basketball ring set up by his desk. Joey chose her words carefully. 

"I also thought I might arrange to see Richard while I'm there," she said as casually as if she'd made a comment about the weather. Joey kept her eyes on the paper in front of her but she could sense Pacey stop jumping around and turn to stare at her. She decided to continue as if she hadn't noticed his reaction. "He did a paper on automatism in college so he may have some suggestions we could use to tighten up the defense."

"You want to go and ask that Dick for help?" Pacey asked, his distaste all too evident.

"His name is Richard, and I think his input would be valuable," Joey corrected him patiently, used to Pacey's dislike for her former boyfriend.

"I don't recall him being too helpful in college. That Dick was always a pompous egomaniac from memory."

"You just never got to know him."

"Yeah, because he hated my guts and resented the fact that we spent time together."

"If he didn't like you it was because you always referred to him as 'that Dick'."

"Well, he was," Pacey retorted defensively. "You never should have stayed with him for so long, he wasn't good enough for you."

Joey rolled her eyes at the familiar statement. Pacey had repeatedly bludgeoned her with it for nearly three years. "Was it really so hard for you to try and be civil to Richard during that time? I never made disparaging remarks about the blond-headed bimbos you dated in college."

"Um, I think you just did." Pacey grinned at her briefly before the smile disappeared from his face. "Look, all I'm saying is I don't see why you need to go and see him."

"Because it might help our cause," Joey answered. "And you were the one going on about doing the best we could for our client. Well, I think Richard can help."

Pacey frowned at the floor as he conceded defeat on the issue. Joey saw the expression and smiled to herself. She couldn't help but be amused by Pacey's petulant reaction. She turned back to her notes, waiting.

"Do you want me to come to Boston with you?" Pacey tried as a last attempt, forcing himself to sound fairly disinterested.

Joey had expected the thinly-guised suggestion. "No thanks, Pace. I need you to sort things out at the office. We need to clear as much of our other work as possible because we don't know how long we'll be tied up with this case. And it's going to take both of us working full time to get prepared for the prelim. I also need you to start calling some sleep disorder clinics on the east coast. Nora will have to be tested and we'll need expert testimony from the specialists affirming that she does experience episodes of sleepwalking."


Joey glanced at her watch and calculated the time it would take her to drive to Boston. "I guess I should get going. I've got my cell phone if you need me."

Pacey stood by his desk, absently squeezing the miniature basketball between his palms. He opened his mouth to say something as she collected a few items from her desk, but when she stood and caught him watching her, he clamped it shut again. Joey had noticed how often he did that lately — as if he had something important to tell her but at the last minute he would lose his nerve. She didn't have the patience to play games with Pacey today.

"I should be back by late afternoon," she commented, pretending not to notice his troubled gaze. "Will you be all right handling things here?"

"No problem," he replied straight away. "You can trust your old pal Pacey to hold the fort."

"Thanks, Pace." Joey headed for the door. "If you get a chance later today, maybe you could check on Nora?"

"No problem," he repeated inanely.

"See you later."

Pacey waited until Joey was gone before letting out an angry breath. "Be sure to say hello to that Dick for me," he muttered before letting the basketball go in a vicious slamdunk that ripped the small hoop from the wall. Pacey surprised himself with the outburst and bent slowly to retrieve the plastic ring. With an embarrassed shrug he tossed the hoop into the trash and settled back down at his desk to do as Joey asked. The black look did not disappear from his face for several hours.

* * *

Later that day, Joey added another stack of transcripts to the mounting pile on the back seat of her car and contemplated her next move. She had found more than enough case studies to help them on their way, so there was no putting off her visit to one of the most prestigious law firms in Boston. 

As she drove through the city, Joey looked up at the towering buildings full of lawyers who had achieved success where she herself had failed. She felt small as she passed the very law firms that had turned her away when she was looking for her first job. Her past failures haunted her as she parked and made her way into the offices of Jacobson Ballard & Fraser.

The foyer of the law firm was simple but very elegant, and Joey couldn't help but feel awkward. The place positively reeked of money and was intentionally intimidating. She approached the reception desk where a thin woman in a suit twice as expensive as her own sat thumbing though a fashion magazine. Joey had to wait a full minute before the receptionist deigned to look down her nose at her and acknowledge her presence.

"Can I help you?" the willowy blonde purred, giving Joey the once over.

"Yes, I'm here to see Richard Tremain," Joey replied, trying to match the receptionist's haughty tone. "Josephine Potter, I have an appointment at two."

The receptionist cast a bored eye over her computer screen, again taking her time. Joey bit back her impatience.

"Ah yes, Ms Potter. Take a seat, I'll let Mr Tremain know you have arrived."

"Thank you," said Joey as civilly as possible. She moved over to a thick leather armchair to wait for Richard.

Nearly half an hour later, a small harried looking woman approached her and informed her that Mr Tremain would see her now. Joey was annoyed by this stage, wondering if Richard had kept her waiting on purpose — perhaps some form of payback for breaking up with him. When she arrived at his office however, her ex-boyfriend greeted her warmly.

"Well, well, Josephine Potter," Richard smiled as he came out from behind his desk to embrace her. Joey noticed he hadn't changed much, even in law school he'd had a taste for Italian suits and wore his hair slicked back.

"Hi, Richard," she said, returning his somewhat stiff embrace. She was glad she didn't feel too nervous about seeing him again after more than two years.

Richard held her at arms' length and looked her up and down. Smiling appreciatively, if a little lecherously, he motioned her towards a chair. 

"It's good to see you, Jo-Jo. It's been a while."

"Since before we passed the Bar actually." Joey glanced around his office and noticed the carefully lit antique décor. Richard had always been a show off.

He let out a hollow laugh now, refusing to think about how Joey had finally dumped him after graduation. She had always given herself airs, as if she was too good for him. Richard leant up against his desk, trying not to look bitter. 

"How time flies… I must admit I was a little surprised to hear from you." 

"I hope you don't mind — I realize how busy you must be, and I appreciate you seeing me on such short notice." Joey was relieved that things were cordial between them. It would make her request a lot easier to make.

"Well, I always have time for an old friend," Richard said magnanimously. "But you're lucky I wasn't in court. My schedule's pretty hectic these days."

"So I hear," Joey murmured, casting her eyes around the room once more. "I see you're doing well for yourself."

"I can't complain." He smirked with false modesty. "They do treat their associates very well, especially when you have the strike rate I do… I'm known as The Viper around here."

Joey smiled with feigned interest. "Oh."

"What are you doing in Boston? I thought you were living the easy life in your hometown mom and pop practice."

"I'm still practising in Capeside," Joey replied evenly, preferring to ignore the none too subtle dig. "Actually I have a client I'd like to talk to you about, if that's all right."

"I'll start the clock," Richard said, reaching over to his timer before laughing at his own wit. "Only joking, Jo-Jo… Besides, I doubt you could afford me."

Joey smiled politely and wondered if he had always been so obnoxious. She was beginning to see why Pacey had disliked him so much. Richard walked around to sit behind his vast mahogany desk, and lent back expansively in his chair. He did not look at her again until he had retrieved a rubber stress reliever that he began squeezing. More props of the pompous executive, Joey thought to herself. 

Richard finally returned his attention to her. "So, tell me about this client." 

Joey took a deep breath and began her explanation.

"She's a local woman, someone I've known my whole life. Nora Coleman is her name. She's been accused of murdering her husband by giving him a lethal injection of morphine while he slept. There's no real motive for the crime, but the evidence is pretty conclusive and it all points to Nora. The thing is, she has a long history of sleepwalking, and I think she committed the act while in the middle of an episode. I was thinking that a defense of non-insane automatism could be used."

Richard pondered her words, nodding thoughtfully. "Not easy to prove… sleepwalking is a pretty easy way to cover up a murder. That defense has failed more times than it's succeeded."

"But there's no other explanation, Richard. You'd know that if you'd ever met Nora…" Joey swallowed her emotions, remembering they would not have any affect on him. Richard was a brilliant but clinical lawyer, never persuaded or ruled by emotion. She tried again.

"This is why I have come to you. I know you did a research paper on this at school. I need your help."

"Hmm… When's the trial?"

"The prelim's next week." 

Richard glanced through his appointment book, keeping her waiting. "Next week's not really good for me. If we could get a continuance I'd be available around the 25th."

"What?" Joey said, puzzled.

"Well, if you want me to take the case, I'd better be at the preliminary hearing. I'm already in court next week."

"I don't want you to take the case, Richard. I will be defending Nora. I was just asking for your advice, that's all."

"My advice?" Richard leaned forward, staring hard at her. "My advice, Jo-Jo, is to get a real lawyer to take the case. This is a murder trial, not some petty theft charge. You need someone with experience, especially if you're going to use non-insane automatism as a defense."

Joey's eyes glowed angrily. "Are you saying I can't do this?"

"Have you ever defended a murder charge? Have you even had a jury trial?!" he scoffed.

"Of course I have!"

"Misdemeanors, right?" Richard's smile was victorious when she didn't respond. "Grow up, Jo-Jo. You can't take this case yourself. It would be bordering on malpractice."

"Malpractice?!" Joey was furious now, her fists clenched tightly in her lap. Her face was flushed as she tried to think of something bad enough to say to him. 

"Does this client — this Nora — know what she's up against?"

"Of course she does."

"Then unless she's a total loon or wants to be put away for the rest of her life, she should be begging for a criminal defense attorney on this… not some inexperienced small town lawyer who gave up a promising career because the going got too tough in the big city."

"I can't believe you…" Joey breathed incredulously. 

Richard was really going for the jugular. He had never been a truly vicious person, but his time in Boston had obviously had a bad affect on his personality, which was dubious to begin with.

"That's what happened, wasn't it, Jo-Jo? A few bad job interviews and you ran home to Capeside with your tail between your legs… And now to prove that you're not totally washed up, you're taking on a case that you're not equipped to handle. How can you even put in the time pre-trial — this sort of case takes the most meticulous research…"

"I'm not doing this alone, I have Pacey as second chair," Joey spoke up, all the while wondering why she felt the need to defend herself to him.

"Oh, how could I forget? Pacey Witter… a guy who'd turn up to court in a Hawaiian shirt and cut-offs if he could. Yeah, that just fills me with confidence."

Joey wasn't going to listen to anymore. Fuming, she rose to her feet. "Coming here was obviously a mistake. I thought you might be condescending enough to help me considering we were together for what, three years? Obviously that meant nothing to you if this is what you think of me."

"You're wrong, Jo-Jo, I thought very highly of you. I just didn't understand how you could give up everything you worked towards in law school, only to end up in some two man practice in a seaside resort town. You had such great potential. All those hours we spent studying together and planning our careers… all of it was for nothing. It's really sad."

"Just because I'm not in some high brow Boston law firm on the partnership track, playing racquet ball and driving a Mercedes doesn't mean I am nothing… Although that is how you made me feel every moment I was with you. You're such an arrogant jerk, it makes me ill when I think about all the time I wasted trying to be something in your eyes. Like your opinion even matters…"

Joey looked at Richard with disgust, and walked towards the door.

"This isn't about you — this is about your client, remember?" Richard's words were taunting. "You have a duty to put on the best defense you possibly can, even if it means giving the case to a better lawyer." 

Joey stopped at the door and turned around to face him for the last time. "You know, Pacey was right about you. You are a dick."

"That's really mature, Jo-Jo." Richard shook his head sadly.

"And another thing, it’s Joey, not Jo-Jo. I hated it then and I hate it now. Joey!," she thundered, and then slammed the door behind her.

As she stormed past the front desk, she heard the receptionist snort contemptuously to herself. Joey stopped short.

"And you, get over yourself. You're just a glorified secretary," Joey snapped.

With that, she passed through the glass doors and left the offices of Jacobson Ballard & Fraser behind.

* * * 

It wasn't until she was on her way back to Capeside that the fears started to creep in. After her anger had dissipated, Joey replayed Richard's criticisms over and over in her mind. It was difficult to ignore such harsh, personal comments, especially coming from someone who had once been close to her. It didn't help that those criticisms were the same ones she'd inflicted on herself since returning to Capeside. Not being good enough was probably Joey's greatest fear.

Her misgivings grew the further she got from Boston. By the time she had reached the office she was having a hard time convincing herself that Richard wasn't right about everything. Defending Nora themselves when they had no experience at murder trials… it was the very same reaction that Pacey had had. Joey paused before she pushed open the glass door to their office, doubting herself… and hating herself for it.

"Hey, you're back!" Pacey greeted her, just hanging up the phone. 

He kept talking as Joey deposited her large stack of trial transcripts on her desk, not noticing her withdrawn demeanor. 

"I just got off the phone with the top sleep disorder clinic on the east coast. It's in Providence and they said they could see Nora the day after tomorrow." Pacey expected some reaction but Joey's attention was seemingly focused on the top sheet of her pile. He frowned slightly when the silence continued. "So… how did you go?"

"Fine," Joey replied after a moment, as if jolted back to reality. "I got plenty of case studies and transcripts. They'll be really useful."

Pacey nodded, but he knew there was something bothering her. Joey's moods were never particularly subtle. He wondered what had dampened her enthusiasm so successfully — it was the first time he had seen her down since they agreed to take the case. Pacey had a pretty good idea what might have caused this change… or more to the point, who.

"Did you get in to see Richard?" He hoped she would notice he had refrained from calling him 'that Dick' for the first time. It took all his self control.

"Oh yes, I saw Richard all right," muttered Joey, pulling her hair back from her face tiredly. She felt like she had no energy at all.

"And?" Pacey prompted impatiently as she stalled her response.

"If I tell you, you'll just say I told you so."

"I see." Pacey crossed his arms and walked over to stand beside her. He waited until she was ready to talk this time.

"I don't what I was thinking of, going to see him," she blurted out suddenly. "I should have known he'd be a jerk."

"I told you he was no good for you…" Pacey said without thinking. He smiled apologetically when Joey shot him a look. "Sorry, I didn't mean to say I told you so…"

Pacey was trying valiantly to bite back the words he was itching to say, and Joey finally had to roll her eyes in acquiescence. 

"Go on then, just say it."

"Okay, I told you so, Joey…" Pacey couldn't help himself. His words came out in a rush. "The guy is a completely self-absorbed moron intent on making a name for himself, no matter who he has to step over to get there. I still cannot believe you even entertained the idea of dating him, let alone staying with him for so long. He is a complete and utter leech… the incarnation of everything festering and repugnant about this profession."


"No, but I'm just running out of appropriate adjectives."

Pacey let out the rest of his breath, surprised at his own outburst. He knew he hated Richard, but it wasn't like she was even with him anymore. He glanced at Joey and saw she was bemused by his outpouring of emotion. It made him feel slightly foolish, and his cheeks reddened.

"What happened when you saw him?" Pacey asked quietly, aware he hadn't even bothered to find out what had transpired.

Joey's expression darkened, and her eyes grew sad.

"He thought I wanted him to take the case. And when I told him I didn't, he…" Joey stopped, remembering Richard's words once more. She cleared her throat. "He reacted the same way you did. For once in your life you and Richard actually agreed on something."

She smirked at the bitter irony.

"Oh," was all Pacey contributed.

"He doesn't think we should take the case. Maybe he's right… Maybe you're both right. Maybe I'm not good enough to do this."

Pacey's brow furrowed and he faced her squarely. When she couldn't meet his eyes, he grasped her upper arms and forced her to.

"I never said you weren't good enough," he said fervently, his eyes burning with intensity. "I never thought you weren't good enough."

Joey's eyes misted with tears and she tried to smile. "No, but Richard does. And he has a lot more experience than us. He knows what he's talking about." 

"That Dick has always been threatened by you, don't you see it, Jo? At school and even now… He cannot stand the thought of you succeeding or being better than him."

"I'm not better…"

"You're a lot better than you give yourself credit for. You always have been." Pacey's words were sincere. He searched her face for some sign that she believed him.

"And yet he's the one who's made it as an associate in one of the best law firms in Boston! Look where I am…"

Joey didn't notice Pacey's face fall. She didn't see the look in his eyes as he took in her unconsciously harsh words. She didn't know that he was as proud of their small practice as if it were one of the most prestigious firms in Boston… because it was theirs. Pacey swallowed his disappointment with difficulty.

"Listen, that Dick made it in Boston because he can talk the talk and kiss butt to get what he wants. You have principles."

Joey's laugh was hollow. "So that's what stopped me getting all those job offers…"

Pacey leaned his head back and sighed heavily. 

"Joey Potter, you are a great lawyer… good enough to take this case and win despite the odds and the Dicks of this world. Nora is lucky to have you on her side."

She looked at him gratefully, but expression grew skeptical with each passing second. "What if you're wrong?"

"Hey, when am I ever wrong?" Pacey wrapped one arm around her shoulder and they shared a smile. 

"You're the heart of this practice, Joey, even if it is just some small town firm," Pacey murmured. "We have taken on this case because of your belief in Nora's innocence and because you want to see justice done. I will stand by you… so don't back down on me now."

Joey looked up at Pacey and held her breath. Their eyes locked and she felt the insecurities melt away. A small smile of admiration tugged at her mouth as she silently thanked him for his faith in her. The moment ended suddenly when Pacey's cheeks blushed and he withdrew his arm from her shoulders.

"Besides," he said lightly, "if you give up now I'll be forced to try the case without you and take all the glory… I can see it now, they'll hold a parade in my honor and women will fall at my feet. I'll be the greatest thing to come out of Capeside, I'll be renowned across the country as—"

"I get it!" Joey laughed, cutting him off. 

She sat down at her desk with a small sigh, clearing the last doubts from her mind. She had to remain focused on Nora and the case — they were her only responsibility now. Hers, and Pacey's. Joey couldn't pretend he didn't play a very important part in the scheme of things. She glanced up at him as he quietly straightened up the papers on his desk.

"Thanks for believing in me, Pacey," she said softly.

"Always have, always will," he smiled back. "You make it pretty easy."

It was Joey's turn to blush. She had never learned to accept praise very well, especially from Pacey. He always found a way to catch her off guard. 

"What's say we order in some dinner and get started on these case studies?" Joey suggested, changing the embarrassing subject. She was keen to get back to work on the case but was also hoping not to have go home and be alone with her thoughts. She looked expectantly at Pacey, and was surprised when he appeared cagey.

"Um, I hadn't actually counted on working back tonight…" he replied uncomfortably.

Joey's voice grew mischievous as she did her best Billy Crystal impersonation from When Harry Met Sally. "'What do you have, a hot date?'" 

Pacey avoided her eyes, and Joey felt her spirits sink, the smile disappearing from her face. 

"Oh," she murmured, puzzled why she suddenly felt a deep throb in the pit of her stomach. It wasn't like she wasn't use to Pacey dating… it was just somehow different tonight. He had shown such faith in her and she had felt so close to him as friends and partners should… Joey knew she was being foolish.

"Look, I'm sorry Jo. I made these plans last week before any of this happened," Pacey tried to explain, but his manner was awkward too. "I realise we'll have to curtail our social activities from now on because of the trial, but I really can't get out of tonight."

"That's okay, you go." Joey chastised herself that she sounded annoyed at him. It wasn't fair on Pacey. She purposely looked up and smiled at him, wanting him to know he had her approval… even if she really didn't believe it. "You have a nice time. I'll see you tomorrow."

Pacey held her gaze longer than necessary. He wasn't sure why he was waiting, but he found he had difficulty leaving. When Joey went back to work and became engrossed in one of the trial transcripts she'd collected in Boston, Pacey reluctantly shrugged on his coat and collected his briefcase.

"See you in the morning," he said from the doorway.

Joey didn't look up. Pacey walked out into the street feeling like he had betrayed her somehow, though he could not discern how. He didn't bother taking his car and walked slowly towards town where his date was already waiting for him.

* * *

Joey worked on, using it as a way to forget her disappointment that Pacey had gone. She knew it was selfish, but she had hoped he would realize that she needed his company tonight. She had gotten so used to him being around that she had started to take his presence for granted. At that moment Joey didn't like herself very much — she didn't like resenting the fact that Pacey was out having a good time with some other woman.

It was something of a shock then, when half an hour later Pacey reentered the office, startling her from her work. He carried a large bag of take-out which he wordlessly handed over to her before sitting down at the desk opposite her.

"Hope you feel like Chinese," he commented lightly, before reaching over to pull a case study from the pile on her desk. 

Joey watched in amazement as he casually began eating dinner and reading through the papers, as if nothing was out of the ordinary. She was about to make a comment about his date being over rather early, but then changed her mind… just in case Pacey changed his. Rather than question his actions, Joey decided just to be grateful. 

They worked on in a companionable silence for the rest of the night.


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