And if you knew how much I wanted someone to come along,
And change my life the way you’ve done.
[feels like home; chantal kreviazuk]
Joey knows that sometime after she turns sixteen the initials D.L. will appear on her wrist. She’s known it since she was old enough to understand what soulmarks meant, and even though there’s a part of her that intrinsically disapproves of the very concept of two people belonging to one another without any conscious decision on their part, there’s always been the relief of knowing exactly who those little black letters will lead her to.
Not that everyone receives a mark. She knows she may be one of the lucky masses that never have to worry about developing feelings for someone whose initials don’t coincide, or not dating at all due to some misplaced sense of loyalty towards a person they haven’t even met. She could be, but she’s not. She knows it like she knows the steps between her house and Dawson’s window, or every line of E.T., or when Pacey’s going to drop a smartass comment to ruin any semblance of a meaningful moment.
So she turns sixteen and waits.
Finally being with Dawson and then losing him - watching it all come crashing down around them and feeling the sting of rejection in every pore - has Joey digging her fingers into the pale, clear skin of her wrist and wondering how those two little letters can possibly appear and wishing they would just so she’d finally know.
Dawson’s wrists are still unmarred, though Jack and Jen throw them all through a loop when they display their matching set with a laugh that rings of joy and friendship and the relief that romance doesn’t have to be everything. Later, alone on the dock outside the Leery house, Jack takes off his watch and shows Joey the D.W. printed on the skin beneath with an embarrassed shrug, and Joey grins and calls him a player, and he ducks his head and smiles and looks like he’s maybe, finally, starting to feel at home in his own body, and Joey couldn’t be happier for him.
Andie still looks at Pacey like maybe, but Joey finds herself staring down at Andie’s wrists every time she wears short sleeves and can’t help but be glad she’s not the only girl in their incestuous little group without the mark.
(Later there’ll be Will, and Joey will see Andie’s eyes light up and wonder, but sat on Aunt Gwen’s porch they’ll all see the S.C. he doesn’t bother to hide, even as he smiles gently at Andie and recites soft verse he so obviously believes and Andie lets herself be talked into something that’s destined not to last.)
It’s all so stupid, and Joey hates that it’s just an accepted part of life and hates that media culture is so obsessed with spouting illusions of fateful happily ever afters and hates that those two little letters won’t just appear when she can already feel the tug of it settling behind her heart like a promise.
She has a soulmate.
Her wrist stays clear.
“Why are you so freaked out about this?” Pacey asks, sat on the steps of the B&B and eating his way through a whole plate of sandwiches Bess had bribed him with as payment for fixing a leak in the guest bathroom. “I thought you were all for independent thought and free will and stuff.”
“I am,” Joey says, and hates that she started this conversation in the first place. “It’s an archaic joke of the Fates and completely detracts from any real concept of romance. That doesn’t mean—”
“It doesn’t mean you don’t want one,” Pacey finishes for her, and she wonders if he’s always known her this well. “Wow, Potter. You’re the universe’s puppet after all!”
“Shut up,” she says, rolling her eyes and pushing at his shoulder. He drops the last bite of his PB&J and stares down at it mournfully.
“Well, that was just cruel,” he says, and proceeds to get his revenge by quoting soulbond clichés at her until she threatens him with the garden hose and doesn’t give him time to call her bluff.
Joey meets A.J., and it’s the first time since she broke up with Dawson that she can see a future with a boy. The whole long-distance thing kind of puts a damper on the more traditional aspects of dating, but there’s something so delightfully innocent about the hand-written letters, deliberate cursive and purple prose that have Bessie batting her eyelashes and Joey blushing as she hides them away in sock drawers and back pages of books.
“You think college guy’s your soulmate?” Pacey says when she casually mentions it, waving a hand around and pacing in front of the kitchen island.
Joey feels the indignant flush start rising, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring in his general direction. “And why not?”
Pacey snorts. “A, he’s too old for you. And, yes, I know that’s hypocritical coming from me, but take it from someone with twenty-twenty hindsight, okay, it is not a good idea. B, he quotes Hemingway and Kerouac and corrects you on scientific academia and, no offence, but that sort of pretentious outpouring makes Dawson on a bad day look like a fifth grade novice. And C—”
“And C?” Joey says, spitting mad and defensive.
Pacey sighs, rubbing a hand across the back of his neck and refusing to meet her eye. “And C, I just know it, okay?”
“You just know it?” Joey says, and hates that Pacey’s always, always, been able to get under her skin and tug at every one of her vulnerabilities. “It’s none of your business, Pacey!”
“Fine,” he says, “fine. But you know I’m right, Jo.”
The worst thing is, she does.
A.J. doesn’t need a mark to point him in the direction of a girl who’s not her, and Joey’s already said her goodbyes so at least the sting of it’s lessened in the halting of humiliation.
She’s not surprised, and she’s hurt but she’s not sad, not really, not about A.J.
Later, bone-tired and numb to the cold, Pacey kisses her, and she wants to hate him, but even as she pushes him away she’s glad that this thing they’ve been steadily racing towards has finally come to a head.
The timing’s atrocious and there’s Dawson and Andie and Dawson to think about, but for a few moments she kisses him back anyway.
Free will, she thinks, and it’s terrifying.
In the end, she’s too scared of what it means - what it might mean - to lose Dawson that she lets it come screeching to a halt before it ever really begins.
Pacey’s facing a broken heart and the loneliness that comes with daring to defy the natural order as defined by Dawson Leery’s all-encompassing orbit, and Joey’s mad at her own cowardice and at Dawson for making her choose and at Pacey for caring enough not to push her into a decision she’s not ready to make; she’s mad at Jen for spilling a secret that wasn’t hers to tell and at Andie for being there for Pacey when he needed someone and at her own stupid wrist for not giving her the out she so desperately needs.
“We’re soulmates, Joey,” Dawson says for the third time that week, and it doesn’t seem to bother him that their skin is unmarked and he’s crowding her into a metaphorical corner and that somedays Joey’s lungs ache as she reminds herself how to breathe.
The guilt is almost overwhelming.
Her wrist still stays clear.
“Here,” Pacey says, sitting on the bench next to her and holding out a black marker. “If it’s so important to you.”
Joey wonders if he’s being cruel or kind or some unintentional collaboration of the two. She tugs the sleeves of her sweater down over her fingers and presses her lips together, ready for a fight or an apology or whatever it is he needs from her.
“It’s just two little letters,” he says, and she wonders if he knows that his eyes give him away. The only thing Pacey Witter’s never been able to lie about is love.
“Don’t you want to know if you have a soulmate, Pace?” she says, and can’t believe she’s never asked before, not really, not since the answer became so immensely important.
He looks sad and hopeful and lost, and Joey’s not surprised when he doesn’t reply.
When she looks at his wrists, they’re covered in the ever present watch and mismatched bracelets he’s been sporting since last summer, and she feels the twist of suspicion even as she blinks and looks away.
“Fate’s a bitch,” Pacey says, sticking the marker back in his pocket, and Joey smiles and tries to remember her reasons for choices that don’t seem real anymore.
“They’re just words, Joey,” Dawson says, finally setting her free like it was ever his prerogative, and Joey’s still scared but she made her choice a long time ago and she doesn’t need Dawson’s heartfelt permissions to know this was always where her path was heading.
Dawson’s not her soulmate.
It’s like a weight lifting away, and that should make the guilt flood back but instead she runs - runs and runs and runs - until Pacey’s standing in front of her, still there, and the world rights itself on it’s axis.
“I think I’m in love with you,” she says.
“You think or you know?”
Pacey’s smile is the only confirmation she needs that this was the right choice, her choice, and when he tugs the bracelets off over his fingers and she sees the J.P., smooth and sun-faded and far from new beneath, she kisses him until her lips feel bruised and they’re both laughing, desperate with it all.
“Jo,” he says, fingers tracing over the inside of her arm as she buries her face in the crook of his neck and breathes, “look.”
On her wrist are two tiny, fresh, black letters.
Joey bites back tears and clings to him.
“I didn’t need them,” she says, and hopes he knows how much she means it. “I didn’t need them to know it was you.”
“Yeah,” he says, and she gets it now, she understands. “Me either.”
Free will, she thinks.
She takes Pacey’s hand and boards True Love and basks in the gratitude that, with this beautiful boy, she gets to have both.