Pacey rubbed his hands together and looked around at the water while he waited for an answer to his knock. It was winter and the trees were bare, the air was crisp and still, and it felt like it had been years since the last time he'd seen the sun.
The look on his brother's face when he opened the door gave away that he wasn't the only one who was feeling that way. Doug's face was long and drawn, and it looked as though he'd been punched in both eyes before being run over by a school bus.
"Give her to me," Pacey said, holding out his arms and motioning to the sleeping toddler who had her arms wrapped around his brother's neck.
Doug, to his credit, did so, in spite of the look of complete bewilderment that was all over his face. "I thought you were in New York with Joey this week?"
"Plans change," Pacey replied, walking though the front door as he hoisted Amy onto his hip and ruffling his hand through her strawberry blonde hair. "There’s no explanation for how I keep managing to convince someone as understanding and wonderful as Miss Josephine Potter to put up with me after all this time, but lucky for you – and me – I have her around acting as my common sense. So, here I am."
Doug scrubbed his hands over his face as he yawned and followed Pacey down the hall into the living room.
Pacey settled Amy onto the sofa, replaced her handful of his shirt with a stuffed Elmo toy, and pulled the knitted blanket over her, tucking her in before he turned back to Doug.
"Go," he said, motioning towards the door.
Doug furrowed his eyebrows at him.
"Go. I can hold down the fort around here." Pacey crossed his heart with his left hand and did the Boy Scout salute with his right.
"Yeah. You're such a Boy Scout. I can’t imagine why I keep forgetting that."
Pacey grinned. "Well, right now, I'm the closest thing you've got and you're just going to have to trust me. And Joey. Who gave me a list of at least a week’s worth of appropriate pastimes for a 3 and a half year old. Including, but not limited to the zoo, the children's museum, the boardwalk, the library, the park, the video store, the candy store, the pet store, and breakfast at the Ice House. As well as a flow chart of the appropriate responses to any incidences of skinned knees, paper cuts, bee stings, temper tantrums, runny noses, and step-by-step instructions on how to get grape juice out of beige carpet and crayon off of drywall. And, if that weren't enough, I'm under strict orders to call Joey any time of day or night that I have even the slightest inkling that it's possible I'm not at least100% sure of what I'm doing. I'm armed and dangerous and ready to babysit Amy like she's never been babysat before."
"Pacey, what are you doing?" Doug looked genuinely confused.
"Babysitting. Seriously. Have I been talking to myself for the last five minutes?"
"No. No, I heard you... it's just..." Doug trailed off, made a vague gesture around the room with his hands and stared at Pacey.
"Doug. Your way-too-good-for-you boyfriend and father of your child has been sitting in a hospital room and sleeping on the chairs in the waiting room for the last week while the only person he's ever had resembling a real parent is lying in a hospital bed."
"And, I'm here with Amy."
Pacey looked at Doug and nodded as he realized Doug was finally getting it.
"It’s like I can see the lightbulb that just went on over your head."
"I would –. I wanted –. It’s just..." Doug tried to explain.
"Yes. Amy. You’re a good guy, Doug. It’s why you’re here. At home. Playing single parent to a toddler who doesn’t understand where her other Dad went and using up all of your vacation time and sick days so Jack can be where he needs to be. You haven't seen him for more than 3 hours at a time since last Thursday and you definitely haven't spent any time alone since then and I think he really needs you right now, man. So, go. I can take over here," Pacey motioned to the house. "You go be there."
~ ** ~ ** ~
Pacey packed up his car and bundled Amy from head to toe and adjusted and re-adjusted the car seat four times to make sure that he’d buckled her in correctly. He used his turn signal at every corner, obeyed every street sign, and slowed down at every yellow light between Jack and Doug’s house and the hospital. He used to think that Doug exaggerated when he said that Amy fell asleep as soon as they put her in the car, but so far, it had been the case when he'd driven her anywhere and today was no exception.
He carried her into the hospital in one arm and enough food from the deli to feed a small army in the other. He rounded the corner to the waiting room and stopped when Jack and Doug came into view. Jack and Doug were sitting on the floor, backs against the wall, Jack with his legs pulled into his chest and hugging his knees. His head was on Doug’s shoulder and Doug was slowly pulling his fingers through Jack’s hair, his other hand resting on Jack’s arm. Both of them looked like they’d aged 10 years in a week and a half.
Pacey felt Amy stir at his side and heard a low murmur as she woke up. He wasn’t sure if this was a good time for them to make their presence known in the waiting room, but it appeared that he didn’t have much of a choice right now. "Hey there, Amy Janey. You know where we are?" She rubbed at her eyes and looked around. She broke into a crooked smile when she saw Jack and Doug sitting on the other side of the room and wiggled in Pacey’s arms.
He kissed the top of her head and put her down. He grabbed the tray of coffee cups out of the bag and placed it on a nearby chair. "Well, go on then. Take the sandwiches to your two daddies." He refolded the paper bag and handed it to her. As he watched her wander clumsily across the waiting room, he grabbed the tray of drinks and walked slowly behind her, keeping a watchful eye, but a safe distance, until Jack first noticed Amy running toward him.
"Hey kiddo. How’d you get here?" Pacey watched Jack’s face relax as soon as he saw her. She leapt into his arms and Pacey tried so hard to be still and keep himself from disrupting the moment that he had to remind himself to breathe when he finally realized he’d been holding his breath. She squiggled herself into Jack’s lap and grabbed onto Doug’s arm and hugged it tight. Pacey could swear that he literally felt the tension in the room evaporate.
He watched Jack kiss Amy lightly on the forehead and he watched as Doug enveloped both of them in a hug and he watched the expression on Doug’s face when Jack smiled and closed his eyes for maybe the first time in a week. Mostly, Pacey just watched.
His brother and Jack may have been completely exhausted, however their daughter most certainly was not and she only managed to sit still for about 3 or 4 minutes until she started to fidget and climb all over them like a piece of playground equipment. It wasn’t until the three of them were laughing and smiling and talking that Pacey felt that it was appropriate to insert himself into the situation.
"Alright, everyone. I’m a Witter, too. Do I get to get in on the McPhee-Witter-Lindley reunion, too?"
Jack looked up at Pacey with a small smile. "Of course. Pull up a..."
"Floor tile," Pacey smiled and sat down in front of Jack and Doug. "I have... a black coffee in the extra-large size," Pacey said, pulling the first cup out of the cardboard tray. "Any takers?" Pacey smirked at his brother and held the coffee just out of his reach. "No?"
Pacey watched as his brother attempted to glare at him and he smiled, handing him the cup. "Oh, well, if you insist."
"And, I have an orange juice," he continued, pulling the carton out of the tray, opening it, putting in the straw and handing it to Amy.
"And, a coffee with two sugars for me." He placed the cup down beside him on the floor. "Oh," he continued, as if it was an afterthought. "Right. I have this incredibly girly double soy, extra-hot, no-foam vanilla latte with two packets of sweet 'n low on the side that actually caused me physical pain when I placed the order."
Jack reached out his arm tiredly and made a vague gesture with his hand. Pacey smiled as he handed over the cup.
"And, I brought a pastrami on rye for the former New Yorker, a BLT for the deputy, and a grilled cheese for the princess," Pacey announced as he handed out the sandwiches. "I think the princess and I are going to try and get some dessert from the vending machine. Sound good, Amy?" She nodded and leapt up, taking Pacey’s outstretched hand. He led her to the machine across the room and tried not to stare at his brother and Jack.
Pacey knew he hadn’t been the only one who noticed that Jack had taken the offered food and had put it down beside him without even glancing at it. Pacey also know he wasn’t the only one who’d noticed Jack’s clothes were starting to get frighteningly loose on him. He made a very lengthy decision about which snack to get from the vending machine and then lifted Amy up so she could place $1.25 in quarters slowly into the machine "all by herself". He snuck quick glances in the reflective edge of the vending machine and he could see them sitting with their foreheads pressed together, and he could see Doug murmuring quietly. He watched as his brother broke off a small piece of the sandwich and handed it to Jack and just waited, kissing the bridge of his nose lightly when Jack finally took a few bites of the sandwich.
Amy had managed to pull her box of Reese’s Pieces out of the vending machine and skipped back across the room to Jack and Doug, shaking the box excitedly. When Doug looked up, Pacey caught his eye and made a motion like a telephone and pointed around the corner and waited until Doug nodded before pulling his cell phone from his jacket pocket and calling Joey.
"Pacey, is everything okay? How are things going there?"
"No changes," Pacey replied. "I just brought them Amy and some lunch. Which, my brother is trying very hard to get Jack to eat at least some of."
"How are they doing?"
"Jack just looks so tired, Jo. It looks like it's killing him."
"Is trying very hard to keep everyone and everything together."
Pacey heard Joey sigh on the other end of the phone. "This sucks."
"I'm sorry I bailed on you this week, Jo."
"Don't be stupid," she replied without skipping a beat. "You know that wasn't what I was talking about."
"You know," Pacey sighed, "I don't think it's going to be long now. From what Jack said last night, it could be any time."
He heard Joey sigh and tap her pen on her desk. "I need to get out of here. Be back there. If I stay late tonight I can hopefully be out of here by noon tomorrow and be back in Capeside before dinner?"
"What about that symposium? Isn't that like the biggest thing of the year for you book types?"
"Yeah, but this... This is bigger than that. I'll be there."
Pacey smiled. "Well, you know where I'll be. Watching the episode of Dora and Boots at the beach for the fifteenth time. In the last three days."
"Hey, it could be worse."
"Oh? Enlighten me," Pacey challenged.
"Your brother could have encouraged the love of the giant purple dinosaur and just think of how much fun that would be."
"You know, my brother and I may have had our differences over the years, but somehow I don't think that we would ever have stooped that low."
Pacey looked across the room and saw one of the doctors walk over to where Jack and Doug were sitting. The tall man in the long white coat tipped his head down and said something which caused Jack to push himself quickly off the floor and rush down the hall, the doctor trailing only a few steps behind.
"Uh, Jo?" Pacey said.
"Pace... wha— what's going on?"
"Jack just went running down the hall. I think... I gotta go. I'll call you?"
Pacey had barely managed to get his cell phone put back into his pocket and was headed across the room when he saw Jack walk slowly around the corner, alone and with a blank expression on his face. He stopped in the doorway of the waiting room and just... stared. Held out his arms and just shrugged and stared. Doug hastily pushed himself off of the floor and walked over to Jack and just absorbed him.
Pacey couldn't see Jack, but he could see his hands gripping Doug's shirt so tightly that his knuckles were white. Pacey stood silently for a moment and watched as Doug's grip on Jack tightened as his shoulders started to shake.
~ ** ~ ** ~
It was a warm, sunny day and it was definitely the least fun day Pacey had experienced in the last three years, but Pacey couldn't help but smile a very small smile as he adjusted his suit jacket.
"Well, that's nice to see," Joey said, coming up behind him and kissing the back of his neck.
Pacey nodded his head towards the window where the sunlight was streaming through, warming his face. "I think that's the first sunlight in almost two weeks."
"You know," Joey said, brushing a few strands of hair behind her ear, "I think you're right."
"She deserves it," Pacey said, holding the church door open for Joey to walk through as he nodded slightly across the street, where Jack was pulling Amy out of the backseat of their SUV.
It was a beautiful service. The stained glass shone in an array of rainbow colours, the church was full and Pacey didn't know everyone in the room, but he somehow knew, just by looking around, that Grams would have. And, he somehow knew that everyone was there who was supposed to be. He glanced over across the aisle to where Jack and Doug were sitting, Amy between them, and he amended his previous thought. Well, almost everyone.
Jack gave a beautiful speech, faltering only briefly as he talked about the one of them who wasn't there that day as Amy, wearing a pink party dress with ribbons in her hair, stood on the church pew, Doug's arm wrapped around her waist and she leaned against him.
It was simple and short and exactly what she would have wanted. The scene at the cemetery was heartbreaking. Almost everyone present shed a tear at some point while the minister was speaking. And although there were those who had managed to keep it together during the service, the sermon and the prayers, Pacey didn't think that anyone managed to stop the tears when Doug, holding Amy in one arm and clinging tightly to Jack's hand with the other, stepped forward and waited as Amy threw the last long-stemmed white rose onto the pile.
~ ** ~ ** ~
"I didn't know that you had it in you, man," Pacey said, picking a bottle of corona out of the cooler beside his deck chair and handing it to Doug.
"What's that?" Doug asked, sliding his bottle along the edge of the deck and watching the cap flip off the top and fall to the ground with a metallic clink.
Pacey gestured to the backyard where the remnants of the activities of all the neighbourhood kids between the ages of 2 and 10 were strewn across the yard. The backyard was a mass of streamers and paper plates and tipped over bowls of potato chips. There were children's toys covering the grass from one end to the other and stretching out towards the sand on the beach. There was smeared birthday cake icing all over the deck, and Pacey was fairly certain he had seen a dog belonging to one of the guests eating the handle of one of Doug's gardening tools.
"You used to throw a fit whenever someone screwed with the alphabetization of your cd collection."
Doug looked over at Pacey, waiting for him to make his point.
"You'd still throw a fit if I touched your stuff."
Doug reached over and grabbed some pretzels out of the bowl. "Did you ever think that might actually be personal?"
Pacey reached over, grabbed a handful of pretzels out of the bowl and tossed them at Doug's head.
"You know, I actually always saw you with the 1.5 children, the white picket fence, the dog and the station wagon. I just didn't know if you did."
"Are we having a serious conversation in the middle of my four-year-old's birthday party?"
"It was bound to happen sometime," Pacey replied.
"Statistically speaking," Doug conceded.
Pacey smiled and looked over at his brother. When he noticed that Doug was looking across the yard, he followed his line of vision and found himself, unsurprisingly, looking at Jack. He watched as Jack picked up Amy with one arm and flipped her forward. She flung her arms out to the side like airplane wings and Jack spun her around in circles. Jet, Jack and Doug's greyhound, decided to get in on the action, jumping up onto Jack and knocking them both to the ground.
"Aren't you getting grass stains vicariously? Come on, you can tell me. That has to be hurting you on the inside. At least a little." Pacey laughed as he teased his brother.
"Not at all," Doug said with a grin. He pushed himself out of the chair and clapped Pacey on the shoulder."And, now, if you'll excuse me, I gotta go get in on that action."
Pacey watched as Doug made his way across the backyard and flopped down onto his back in the grass beside Jack. He reached over and grabbed the back of Jack's head with his hand, gave him a quick kiss and grinned before sitting up and grabbing Amy and swinging her over his head. She tossed her head back and laughed and smiled and tried to reach down for Jack.
"I wish Jen and Grams could be around to see her like this," Pacey tilted his head back and saw Joey standing above him, glass of wine in her hand.
"Wow. Way to bring the mood down with your great powers of wistfulness and melancholy, geeze," Pacey couldn't help but smile up at her.
"No, I mean it. Look at her. At them. That's exactly what they wanted for her."
Pacey looked back up across the lawn where Doug was still lying on his back in the grass, propped up on his elbows, watching Jack lead Amy down to the water.
"You're right," Pacey scooted over on the chair to invite Joey to join him, which she did, settling herself in the non-existent space beside him. He took her glass from her and placed it on the floor beside the chair and grabbed both of her hands in both of his. He rested his head down on top of hers and looked back out.
"She's a smart, brave, confident little girl who has no doubt where she fits. Jen knew she'd end up like that and Grams saw it start to happen." Joey's voice contained only the smallest amount of sadness, but it was definitely there.
"And, none of y'all wanted to believe me for the three hundred years that I tried to tell you that my brother marched to the beat of a slightly more flamboyant drummer."
"You really like to say 'I told you so', don't you?" Joey asked.
"I really, really do. And, as much as I like to say it as often as possible and in the most public places that I can find, I'm actually happy for more than myself this time."
”Why, Pacey Witter. Are we actually having a serious conversation?" Joey nudged his knee with her own.
"Why is everyone so surprised by this? I am capable, you know." Pacey tried his best to look indignant.
"Yeah, but after we had that discussion last week about the new manager you wanted to hire for the Ice House, I figured you'd used up your yearly quota." Joey grinned up at him and Pacey reached up and messed up her hair. "Okay, okay. Uncle." Joey laughed and let her head fall to his shoulder.
Pacey smiled. They were both quiet for a moment as they watched the scene play out before them. "They're kind of disgustingly Norman Rockwell, aren't they?" Pacey paused. "Well, except, you know, for the whole 'Amy has two daddies' thing. That's a little bit of a spin on traditional Americana."
Joey smiled. "And, there's the Pacey I know and love."
He beamed. "They'd be happy with how this all turned out, Jo."
"Definitely," she agreed. "She's a happy, lucky little girl."
Pacey nodded. "I think they wanted this for Jack almost as much as they did for her. Both of them."
"Hey guys!" Pacey looked up as he heard Jack's voice. "You're totally about to miss the best part."
A second, small voice chimed in, ringing out more clearly than Pacey would have predicted. "Yeah. Uncle Pacey and Joey! S'mores." The last word came out like a garbled version of the word 'more', but the idea was crystal clear and the enthusiasm was contagious.
Jack and Doug had started a small fire in the bonfire pit and Jack was arranging large marshmallows on the end of roasting sticks while Doug grinned up at them and held up a bottle of red wine to sweeten the deal. Amy and Jet were settled on a blanket near the fire and there were logs set up around the fire to act as seats, with more than enough room for two more to join. Jack and Doug were seated next to each other, shoulders touching and ankles hooked around each other.
Pacey smiled and pushed himself out of the chair. He turned and looked down at Joey, holding his hand out to her. "So, Miss Potter. Shall we?"
A warm feeling spread through Pacey and he could feel his smile widen just a little bit more when she stuck out her hand and allowed him to pull her out of the chair. "And turn down the opportunity to be part of a Norman Rockwell painting? Never."
Pacey gripped her hand tightly in his and they ran down the steps, across the grass and through the sand, down to where Amy was waiting for them. Amy grabbed Pacey by his free hand and dragged the two of them over to an empty log where she motioned for them to sit down and handed each of them a stick with a large marshmallow on the end. Pacey leaned over to Joey and whispered in her ear as he put his marshmallow into the flame and watched it catch fire.