Absence of malice
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Seven: Twentyfour seven

Pacey's footsteps echoed in the empty streets as he pounded the asphalt on his regular morning run. The light was gloomy, the early morning sun not quite able to break through the heavy gray clouds that hung low in the sky. He pushed himself harder as the cold wind picked up, his quick breaths billowing smoke in front of him. The thin layer of sweat that covered his body made him shiver.

On an impulse he turned up the street of their office. It was early, but he knew she'd be there. She had been there every morning and every night for the past three weeks. Today would be no different. Pacey had given up trying to convince Joey to take things easy. With only a month for trial preparation neither of them could afford it. But he had been keeping his eye on her, making sure she ate regularly and at least tried to get a decent amount of sleep. He didn't know how successful he was, and Joey never showed any gratitude. But Pacey continued to act as her guardian, even if she didn't notice.

He saw her car parked outside the law office, its windows frosted over from the cold. He slowed to a jog and paused for a few seconds to catch his breath before entering. Glancing at his watch, he saw it was just past 7am.

When Pacey entered the office, he saw her immediately. A small smile tugged at his lips as he looked at her, head down on her desk, fast asleep. She still wore the same clothes as yesterday. Pacey was tempted to wake Joey up and chastise her for not going home, but instead he watched for a few minutes longer, reluctant to rouse her from her slumber. She looked at peace, which is more than she did during the day. Joey was so worried about Nora's case and the trial that was only a week away. She needed all the peace she could get.

Trying to be as silent as possible, Pacey leaned over the desk and saw she had been going over the medical testimonies again. With a sigh, he picked up one of the pieces of paper, seeing nothing different from the first time they had read it. They weren't going to find a magical loophole or earth shattering testimony in the documents. The case would come down to convincing a jury that Nora could have driven to the drugstore, retrieved the morphine from a locked cabinet, returned home to murder her husband, hid the evidence and gone back to bed, all the while sleepwalking and completely unaware of what she was doing. Even Pacey had to admit it was a long shot, but it was the only shot they had.

He replaced the paper, and froze when Joey stirred. Holding his breath, he waited and hoped she would go back to sleep, but was startled when she suddenly sat up, wide awake.

Joey received as much of a fright as Pacey when she woke to find him standing over her desk, dressed in sweaty running clothes.

"Pacey!" she gasped, immediately wide awake. A post-it note remained stuck to her temple.

"Jesus, Joey, you scared me!" he laughed, taking a step away from her desk.

"What are you doing here?" Joey asked, her voice suddenly grumpy. She was annoyed to be woken but also embarrassed that he had caught her sleeping at the office. She had promised him she would at least go home at night, even if she was going to continue to work.

"What are you doing here?" he countered, peeling the paper from her face and holding it out to her pointedly.

"I was going over the doctor's statement from Nora's trip to the sleep disorder clinic. I guess I lost track of time." She snatched the note from his fingertips.

"Speaking of sleep disorders, when's the last time you had a proper night's sleep?"

"I'm fine." Joey stretched, her body stiff and sore. She hid the grimace from her face though, so Pacey wouldn't have any more ammunition.

"You're not fine, Jo," he insisted. "You've been working 18 hour days and you look like hell."

"Thanks very much," Joey huffed, rising from her chair. She ran a hand through her hair self consciously, annoyed at the comment.

"I didn't mean it like that," sighed Pacey, wondering why he was never able to say the right thing lately. It had started with the trial, or maybe even before that. He just never seemed to be able to articulate his concern for her well-being without Joey taking offense. Pacey was frustrated, by Joey mostly, but also by his own feelings. He wasn't quite ready to admit what they were, especially not to her. He didn't even want to admit them to himself, because he knew what the inevitable outcome would be.

Instead he changed tack, realizing the futility of the situation.

"Joey, we're taking the night off," Pacey stated firmly.


"Tonight, you and I are going to stop work at six o'clock like normal people and be officially off duty."

"Pacey, we only have a week until the trial, we can't afford to waste any time. We haven't even begun preparing our witnesses…"

"Potter, it's Saturday. It's bad enough we're going to work all day today and tomorrow. Tonight, we rest."


"Uh uh," he cut her off, shaking his finger at her. "You are getting out of this office even if you have to be bound and gagged."

"Is that your typical Saturday night's entertainment?" she smirked.

"Well, maybe not the gagging part…"


Pacey grinned broadly, his face lighting up. Joey raised her eyebrows in surprise.


"I can't remember the last time you called me that!"

Pacey was inordinately pleased by the fact, something Joey didn't understand.

"And this is good because…?"

"It means you still have some semblance of a sense of humor, Joey. I was beginning to worry."

"You're too kind," she replied, her face souring. She began shuffling the papers on her desk.

"I missed it, that's all," Pacey explained quietly, embarrassed, but anxious that she not lose the mirth in her voice that he hadn't heard in weeks. He missed it. He missed her.

Joey eyed him carefully, looking for any hint of dishonesty. When she didn't find it, she smiled and dropped her gaze, lingering on his body a few seconds longer than necessary. Pacey was slightly puzzled by the look. He placed his hands on his hips and felt the damp shirt under his fingers. With slight blush he realized what he was wearing. The sweaty shirt clung to his chest and his running shorts hung low on his hips. He pulled them up with a self conscious sniff and crossed his arms over his chest.

"I'm going home to take a shower and change," he stated as evenly as possible.

"That might be a good idea," Joey said, trying not to chuckle.

"You might want to do the same too. No offense, Jo, but you could use it."

"And you were wondering why I wasn't swept off my feet by the notion of dinner with you tonight."

Pacey smiled. "We're still going."

He decided to leave before she could protest further or come up with an excuse. Joey waited until he had gone before she took a surreptitious sniff in the direction of her armpit. With a roll of her eyes she grabbed her coat and headed for home too.

* * *

Joey chewed the end of her marker thoughtfully as surveyed the whiteboard that had been set up in the conference room. The table was covered in papers, organized into piles according to testifying witnesses. Pacey entered the room with two cups of coffee and silently handed her one. With a nod of thanks, she accepted it.

"Has Penny gone?" she asked.

"Yep. Here's the revised list you wanted." Pacey untucked the piece of paper from under his arm and passed it to her. He hoped she would be satisfied with it, because he didn't like the idea of calling their assistant back. Pacey was afraid that if they asked her to do any more unpaid overtime they'd soon be without an experienced legal secretary.

"How's the order looking?" he asked, looking at the board.

"Well, it's a guess, but going off Cameron's witness list I'd say he'll put them up in this order. First officer on the scene, the coroner, your brother, an imaging technician on the video surveillance from the drugstore, and then Zach Reed."

"What about Lewis' doctor?" offered Pacey.

Joey looked at him questioningly as she sipped her coffee.

"To rule out euthanasia… testifying Lewis didn't have incurable disease or anything," he explained.

"Hmm, maybe." Joey added it to the bottom of her list. "We'd better prepare for it."

"I agree he'll probably stop there. There's certainly enough evidence to convince the jury of Nora's involvement," said Pacey. "What about rebuttal witnesses? What's he going to do to blow the sleepwalking defense out of the water?"

"That's a whole other story," Joey admitted, drawing a line down the middle of the board.

"And one that will have to wait until tomorrow," said Pacey, noticing the time with surprise. He quickly plucked the pen out of her hand and removed the mug of coffee from the other. "It's almost seven o'clock."

"Pacey-" Joey sighed, trying to snatch the marker back.

"Don't 'Pacey' me, we agreed tonight's our night off. You got an extra hour, be grateful for that." He held the pen above his head, out of her reach.

"I don't remember agreeing to anything," she replied with poorly hidden annoyance. "I want to finish this."

"I'm afraid I can't allow that."

"But I'm in the middle of--"

"Uh uh."

"You're being childish-" she griped, jumping for the pen.

Pacey just laughed at her, raising her ire further.

"I'm not even hungry…"

"When's the last time you ate?" he asked, his eyes twinkling with amusement at her petulant expression.


"Exactly. It's dinnertime, Counselor. We're leaving."

He walked out of the conference room, leaving Joey to trail behind.

"Pacey, I don't think it's a good idea for us to be seen out in public," Joey said, trying any excuse as she followed him to the door. "I mean, this case is the talk of the town, Nora's under the microscope and so are we. I don't want to be stared at all night and questioned about the case."

"Okay," Pacey conceded, and Joey sighed with relief. "We'll go to your place instead. We can pick up dinner and a movie on the way."


"Uh uh." Pacey wouldn't let her finish. "You don't get out of it that easy. You know, I expected better from you."

Joey sighed, a mixture of fatigue and frustration.

"What can I say? I'm so tired I can't even win a battle of wits with you anymore," she said in a defeatist tone.

"Exactly my point. It's a sad day when you can't even best me, Potter. We're taking the night off."

Joey smiled wanly as he helped her on with her coat. She hated losing an argument with Pacey, but suddenly the idea of a night off from the case didn't seem like such a bad idea. She was exhausted both physically and mentally, and wanted nothing more than to forget that they would be in court fighting for Nora in a week's time. But Joey couldn't forget, nor could she believe that one night off with Pacey would restore her vigor. She wouldn't get that back until the case was over and Nora was acquitted.

* * *

Joey sat obediently at her dining table as Pacey unpacked the Thai food they had picked up on their way to her place. He took his time setting out the dishes and wine glasses, opening the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and poring them a generous glass each. When he finally took a seat opposite her, he held up his glass for a toast.

"To our night off," he said.

"I guess," replied Joey, clinking her glass against his. She took a sip and tapped her foot nervously on the floor. She felt guilty for not working so it was hard to enjoy the food and good wine, not to mention Pacey's company.

"You're not eating," he commented as she sat unmoving.


"Food goes in mouth," Pacey joked, miming the action.

"Right." Joey served herself some rice and chicken but only picked at it while Pacey continued to eat hungrily.

"What do you think about the rebuttal witnesses? Do you think they'll just be doctors to refute the idea of sleepwalking as a defense or…"

She trailed off as Pacey wiped his mouth with his serviette and gazed sternly at her.

"Okay, Joey, rule number one of our night off is no talking about the case."

"There are rules?" she asked, amused.

"Yes, and that's the first one. No testimonies, witnesses, affidavits, pretrial motions or opening statements."

"You think we should file a pretrial motion?"

"Joey," he said as a warning.

"What else are we supposed to talk about?"

"Has it really been so long since you've been out that you've forgotten how to socialize? Can't we just have a normal conversation?"

"What is that supposed to mean? I go out," she replied defensively.

"Joey, in the last two years you have been on two dates, both of which I had to set up for you," Pacey reminded her.


"So, don't you miss it?"

"Not everything is about sex, Pacey," Joey said with thinly veiled annoyance.

"I'm not talking about sex, I'm talking about going out and having a nice time with someone, forgetting about work and enjoying yourself," Pacey said. A smile appeared on his lips. "And okay, sex is a big part of it…"

"And you'd know all about that, wouldn't you?" she commented sarcastically, spearing a piece of chicken with her fork.

Pacey decided to let that one pass. "Don't you find it disturbing that you haven't had any semblance of a relationship since that Dick in college?"

"Okay, that's it. Rule number two, we don't discuss my social life."

"I'm just saying…"

"Ah." Joey held up her finger to stop him. "Rule number two."



They sat in silence for a few minutes, both chewing on their food and looking uneasily around the room. Neither could think of anything to say. Pacey began to wonder if it wasn't a mistake to think they could have a normal night together as friends. Perhaps work prevented it, perhaps they were both so consumed with the case that normal conversation was an impossibility. With a sigh he realized that the inability they had to talk to each other started before the case. He couldn't remember exactly when it was, nor could he admit what caused their increasingly distant relationship. Deep down he knew, and Pacey thought Joey did too. But until one of them admitted it, they would just continue with polite conversation.

"So, it's been pretty cold lately , hasn't it?" Joey ventured, breaking the silence. She had meant the weather, but wasn't sure he realized that.

"Yeah," he responded. "Freezing."

* * *

On a whim Pacey had rented When Harry Met Sally, after a comment Joey had made when he had had a date recently. He wondered vaguely if she would read anything into it, considering the film's storyline. They settled on her couch, glad that they could watch the movie and not have to think of things to say to each other.

After the opening scenes, Joey felt her eyelids grow heavy. She knew it was a combination of her exhaustion, the warm food and the wine, and she tried to stay awake for Pacey's sake. It wasn't even 8.30 yet, she couldn't go to sleep. Joey couldn't remember the last time she had gone to bed so early, but she had probably been around ten years old. She snuggled her head against a cushion and tried to pay attention to the TV screen, but she was fighting a losing battle.

Pacey watched her as she tried to stay awake. He smiled as her eyes fluttered open every few seconds and she laughed silently at a line from the movie. She barely had the energy for that. Carefully he shifted his arm behind her on the sofa, and she leant in to rest on his shoulder. Within a few seconds she was fast asleep. Pacey knew he should carry her to her room and tuck her into bed properly, but he made no immediate move. Instead he sat and watched the movie with Joey curled up beside him on the couch, a faint smile on his lips.

* * *

Sun was streaming into Joey's window and she was almost blinded when she awoke with a start. Her blinds weren't closed. Joey never went to sleep without shutting them. She glanced at her alarm clock at saw it was past 10am. The alarm hadn't gone off either. She never went to sleep without setting it.

Joey sat up and noticed she still wore her clothes from the day before, now rumpled. It took her a few seconds to remember her night off with Pacey. She rubbed her eyes tiredly and stretched her well rested but stiff body, until something penetrated her mind. With a wild glance she looked at the clock again. 10am! It was mid morning and she had just woken up. Joey chastised herself and jumped out of bed. There was too much work to do, she couldn't afford to sleep for half the day, particularly after taking the night off. Muttering angrily to herself, she searched for her shoes and ran for the bedroom door.

As soon as she started down the hallway she heard noises in the kitchen. Joey paused and listened, one shoe still clutched in her hand. She usually wasn't so jumpy, having lived in the house alone since her return to Capeside. But with the attention the case was receiving… Joey's imagination got the better of her. She held the shoe firmly in her hand as she slunk along the rest of the passageway, close to the wall. With a yell she leapt into the living room, brandishing the leather pump above her head. From the kitchen, Pacey looked up in surprise and then laughed when he saw her. He held up his hands in surrender, egg dripping from the whisk he was holding.

"Don't hurt me, I'm just making breakfast."

Joey let out an annoyed breath and dropped her shoe. "Pacey, you scared the hell out of me! What are you doing in my house?"

"That's gratitude for you. Here I am making you eggs and all you can do is complain." But he didn't lose the smile as he continued to beat the eggs in a bowl.

"I mean, what are you still doing here?" she sighed, walking over to the kitchen counter.

"I fell asleep."

"Oh." Joey tucked her hair behind her ears, before her eyes widened. "Where did you fall asleep?"

Pacey's broad grin returned. "Don't worry, your virtue's intact. I slept on the couch."

"All right then." Joey crossed the room, looking for her coat and car keys. "Look, Pacey, it's past ten o'clock, we have to get to work."

"Breakfast first, work later," he commanded, pouring the eggs into a pan.

"We've already lost hours of work, not to mention last night…"

Pacey left the kitchen to join her, removed the coat from her hands and gently led her to the dining table. After depositing her in a seat, he pulled out a pile of papers. Joey recognized them from her desk.

"While you were out of it, Sleeping Beauty, I went to the office and picked these up. We can start work while eating a nutritious and delicious breakfast made by yours truly. So stop complaining, try to relax for just a little while, and then I promise you can work yourself to death afterwards."

Pacey squeezed her shoulder and then went back to the kitchen before the breakfast could burn. Joey watched his back, suddenly grateful for all his actions. She spun out of control easily, but Pacey was always there to ground her. Joey knew she took him for granted sometimes, and always had. Pacey was the sort of person it was all too easy to take for granted because his actions were always selfless and unheralded, for all his sarcastic false modesty.

Joey looked at the witness testimonies on the table, and the intelligence they had gathered on the prosecution's rebuttal witnesses. Then she looked at Pacey in her kitchen making her breakfast. After a slight hesitation she got up and went to help him. Work wasn't going anywhere, and Joey didn't want Pacey to either.

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