Summary: A little bit of perspective goes a long, long way.
Timeline: Post series finale, though basic knowledge of Season One will help with the context.
Disclaimer: Any spare Paceys found lying around are fair game as far as I'm concerned…
Author's Note: This is the first Dawson's Creek fan-fiction I've attempted in years, and the first one I've ever had the courage to post anywhere.

RETURNING TO THE SCENE

Tamara Jacobs stepped out of her hire car and looked around the bay, one hand shielding her eyes against the sun's glare.

On the surface it was the same. There were a few cosmetic changes here and there - fresh paintwork on shopfronts, some new signage - but it was essentially the same picture perfect little town, with its clear skies and tranquil waters.

And it's dirty little secrets.

Capeside, Massachusetts: the home of her greatest crime, and her greatest regret.

The Boy.

The way she'd used him back then was so wrong, she knew that now. She had known it then. She was, for all intents and purposes, a smart woman - rational…relatively sane - but from the moment she'd first met him, she hadn't been able to resist. She'd been compelled to involve herself in spite of the risks because the Boy had been so compelling.

She'd been drawn in at first by his charm, his sly wit and humour, his stubborn persistence. Most especially, she'd been intrigued by the raw sexuality he exuded, the pure animal magnetism. The Boy held all the charisma of a Hollywood leading man, one of those old-school pin-up movie-star sex-symbols, and yet, astonishingly, the young girls of the town seemed wholly oblivious to it, were unaware of the untapped potential in their midst.

It was only later that she became aware of his sharp insightful mind, his tender heart, and the lurking sadness in his stunning ocean-coloured eyes. By then she was hooked.

He was perfect; the stuff that fantasies were made of. Everything she'd always wanted in a man, but had never been able to find. Everything her ex-husband wasn't.

Greedy, she'd seen him, wanted him and taken him. And in response he'd taken something from her. Something she'd never gotten back. A large piece of her own heart had been left behind - with him. She was here to find out if he'd be willing to return it so that she could finally begin to move forward.

"So this is the place, huh?"

Tamara turned to regard her younger sister's sceptical countenance. "Yes," she replied wistfully. "This is the place."

Melissa snorted and pushed her sunglasses back off her forehead. "So, has it got anywhere decent to eat?"

xxx

The Icehouse had been rebuilt at some stage. She recalled it being somewhat of a smaller establishment, and much less up-market. Mel barged on through the door without a second glance, but Tamara found herself slowing to a stunned stop. Right there, etched onto the glass was the name she'd been half-dreading to see.

'Proprietor: Pacey J. Witter'.

Pacey owned a restaurant?

Mel had gotten sidetracked from her hunger long enough to notice that her sister was no longer behind her. She came back out. "What's wrong?"

Tamara shook her head. Her mouth opened and then closed again. She resorted to pointing.

Mel rolled her eyes. "What are you, five?" She read the sign. "Oh." Pursing her lips in thought for a moment, she grabbed Tamara's arm and began to drag her in the opposite direction. "We'll go somewhere else."

"No!" The word was out before she was conscious of it forming. "This is why I came. I have to…"

"Yeah." Mel sighed. "Yeah, you need some serious closure on this. I am well aware."

They both peered tentatively back through the glass like they were looking into a fishbowl full of piranhas.

"Hey, can I help you?"

Tamara nearly jumped out of her skin, her head snapping around sharply. A busboy was eyeing them like they were planning to rob the place. He was wearing khaki chinos and a loud Hawaiian shirt, and the familiarity of the outfit almost brought tears to her eyes.

"We're not real busy today if that's what you're wondering," he continued. "There are always plenty of seats inside when Mr. Witter's got the day off." He grinned, flashing an attractive set of dimples. "Sometimes I think the customers don't even care about the food and only come to see him. Most of the female customers, at least."

Tamara swallowed. God, if the rest of the world had finally realized the extent of his charm then no one was safe, her least of all. She'd already proven her own susceptibility.

"Mr. Witter isn't here, you said?" Mel asked. Tamara wanted to hit her.

"Nah. Sorry. There's some kind of family thing going on over at the Potter B & B. Were you looking for him?"

Tamara nodded absently in reply, but her mind was racing.

A family thing. That was interesting. And why was the Potter name so familiar to her?

"I hope you don't think I'm rude for asking this…Corey," Mel continued, reading the name from the tag on his lapel. "But why isn't he having his family thing here?" She smiled teasingly. "Is the service not good enough?"

Corey laughed. "Oh, no, the Icehouse is one of the most successful restaurants on the Cape," he informed them, before holding up a hand in clarification. "I know, I know, the boss would skin me alive if I said otherwise, right? Except that it's no lie, I swear. He's got plans to open a second place in New York next year." He beamed proudly. "It's a pretty big deal." He pushed open the door again, preparing to enter. "You sure you don't wanna come in? I promise you won't regret it."

"Alright, Corey, you've twisted my arm," Mel said. "Lead the way."

Tamara had no choice but to follow.

Young Corey was indeed correct, and the meal was delicious. Tamara was impressed. She and Mel were relaxing with a fine selection of wine when a cheer came from outside. They glanced at each other and then out the window.

Tamara gasped, the glass almost falling from her suddenly nerveless fingers. "Oh. God."

"Holy mother of..." Mel instinctively rose from her seat, craning her neck to get a better view. "That's him, isn't it?"

"Uh-huh."

Pacey Witter was strolling along the boardwalk.

No, on second thought, that wasn't entirely accurate. He was strutting.

He was dressed casually in flip-flops, blue jeans and a white T-shirt; no differently from any of the tourists passing him by, and yet somehow completely set apart. He was even taller than Tamara remembered and built like a professional swimmer; long-legged and narrow-hipped, his shoulders had broadened to the point of stretching out the cotton, and his arms were tanned and toned. His hair was longer too, the sea breeze blowing thick dark curls onto his forehead, and the scruffy little goatee beard on his chin only managed to emphasize the stubborn line of his jaw.

The difference was incredible.

As a boy, he'd been cute and cocky. But as a man, he was striking - the very embodiment of trim, taut and terrific. And he exuded confidence. There was no doubting that here was a person very much a peace with his place in the world.

Tamara wished desperately to see his eyes, but they were hidden behind a pair of designer sunglasses.

He stopped to chat to a young family, continuing to wave and call greetings to several other acquaintances in the meantime, smiling that rogue's smile of his all the while. An older man came over to shake his hand, yet another clapped him on the back. He was the star attraction out there.

Mel dragged herself away and slumped back into her seat. She blinked at her sister, stunned.

"Whew…" she breathed, using a hand to fan her face. "You really weren't exaggerating. He's like a - a force of nature or something. I mean, you tried to tell me…you said how sexy he was, but…Sweet Jesus." She took a hearty swig of her merlot.

Tamara nodded, a smug smile playing about her lips. "I told you so."

Mel snickered. "Okay, I deserved that."

"You could see it even when he was fifteen, you know," Tamara mused. "All that heat just simmering away. The thing is, Mel, it's not his looks that catch you. He is gorgeous, I can't deny that, but no more so a lot of other men. Given just a photo of him, most women wouldn't bother to look twice. There's just something about him in person, this…aura, this passionate intensity. You can't manufacture that." She sighed. "And when he turns those baby blues on you up close, then it's all over."

"That good, huh?"

"Better."

Mel shook her head. "I give up."

"What?"

"You are a lost cause. You do realize you've put this guy on some sort of pedestal, don't you? No wonder you can't move on."

As they watched his progress toward the front door of the restaurant, Tamara's heart was beating so loudly in anticipation, she was sure it was audible to anyone who cared to hear it. Mel reached over to top up her glass, and Tamara nodded her thanks. She needed all the Dutch courage she could get.

"Open bar!" Pacey declared with great exuberance as he crossed the threshold, and several staff members immediately scattered to do his bidding. He yanked off his shades and tucked them into the neck of his tee, then clapped his hands together. "Okay! For those of you playing the home game, the reason for my unprecedented generosity is that congratulations are in order. You, my loyal customers, are looking at a brand new father to be!"

Tamara's nervous system shut down. At least, that's what it felt like. Amidst all the ensuing shouts and well wishes, all she could hear was a dull roar in her ears.

"Tam?" Mel was leaning over the table, concern etched on her features. "Are you okay?"

Tamara gulped down a mouthful of wine, and then glanced back at Pacey. She didn't know why she hadn't anticipated just such a development, why she'd simply assumed he'd be unattached. It wasn't as though he was abhorrent to the opposite sex - all evidence to the contrary in fact. More than likely, she hadn't wanted to know, hadn't wanted to consider the ramifications of him actually having someone in his life, someone who wasn't her. Even now, with this recent revelation fresh in her mind, she couldn't look away, couldn't not want him. "I don't know."

Pacey chose that moment to scan his clientele, counting heads and seeking out familiar faces. His eyes met hers and widened in shock, his smile evaporating.

Startled by the connection, Tamara looked away.

She'd often thought that perhaps her decade-old memories had exaggerated the impact of that bright blue gaze, but was finding instead that they had been woefully inadequate. She felt naked, exposed, emotionally stripped bare.

She began searching frantically for an escape. She wanted to run. She wasn't prepared for this, not in the slightest. Why had she come back? What the hell had she been thinking?

"Tammy?"

Oh, and that hurt - his voice saying her name in that sweet, husky tone, like he used to do when they were lovers. It was deeper now, but it still had the same effect. Her eyes closed and she shivered.

And he was coming closer…

"Tammy?"

Realizing that Tamara needed a moment to compose herself, Mel stood up to intercept him. "Hi," she said brightly. "I'm Melissa Bartlett. Tamara's sister. I've heard quite a lot about you."

Pacey glanced down, his eyes skimming over her in a quick, hot flash. "Nice to meet you," he said distractedly, then looked back over her head and waited.

"Hello, Pacey." She finally managed a small smile.

He stepped around Mel, who collapsed into her seat like a wilted flower, and pulled Tamara up for a hug, wrapping her in his warm embrace. "Hi! It's been a long time. How are you?"

"I'm good." Tamara carefully extricated herself, unable to bear the contact. He felt so solid and real, and smelled wonderful; a heady mix of the fresh ocean air, exotic spices, and something that was just plain male. "Though not as well as you, apparently."

He chuckled, raking his left hand through that unruly hair. A platinum band gleamed on his ring finger, a complement to the silver bracelet at his wrist. "Yeah. Things are going great right now. And you heard the announcement, right?"

"I did." Tamara sank back down onto her chair, uncertain as to whether her knees would continue to hold her up. Her teeth were clenched together in a gruesome semblance of a smile so tight it made her cheeks ache. "Congratulations!"

No, Tam, that didn't sound insincere in the least…

Pacey grabbed a chair from a neighbouring table, spun it around and straddled it, leaning his arms against the back. It seemed he was settling in for a good long chat. He tilted his head and gave Mel a long appraising look, one dark brow arching. The corner of his mouth twitched in amusement when she let out a little whimper.

"So, Pacey," Tamara blurted, drawing that all-seeing gaze back to her. "Fill me in on the last ten years."

Her eyes devoured his face, noting the subtle changes that time had wrought. His cheeks were leaner, his jaw line stronger, but he still had those soft, supple lips and the thin grooved scar on his cheek that always made her want to taste it. This close, she could see each and every one of his sinfully long lashes and the unusual gold flecks in the centre of his irises that sometimes made them appear green.

"Well, let's see…" Pacey began ticking off on his fingers. "School. Joey. No Joey. Caribbean. Boston. Cook. Rogue trader. Broke. Restaurant. Joey."

Tamara blinked at the pinky finger he was waving in front of her face. "There seems to be a recurring theme there."

He grinned. "Yeah, well, after y--" He broke off and shot a quick glance at Mel, before throwing caution to the wind. "After you, and then Andie, who you kind of met once I think, I committed the mortal offence of falling in love with my best friend's girl. An event which knocked Capeside on its proverbial ass and caused this great big roiling mess that took us years to sort out." The grin widened, the corners of his eyes crinkling. "Eventually Jo agreed to let me make an honest woman of her, and here we reside in the kind of sickening connubial bliss usual reserved for reruns of The Brady Bunch."

The mention of his best friend gave her the elusive connection she'd been looking for. She vaguely remembered Joey Potter now. A lanky tomboy, who was both smart and opinionated, and spent most of her time as a virtual appendage to Dawson Leery. Pacey had married this girl?

"I can only imagine," she murmured.

"Yeah." Pacey waved Busboy Corey over in their direction. "Hey, Cor, bring us another bottle of the merlot, okay?" He shot Tamara a wink. "On me."

"Why, thank you, Pacey."

He nodded, hands tapping a rhythm against the chair-back. "Not a problem. I'm feeling beyond generous today."

"Yes. Parenthood at twenty-five. You're still so young. Are you prepared for that?"

"Oh, hell no."

"Really?"

"Who ever is?" Pacey shrugged, and then suddenly turned on her sister. "So, Melissa, right? Is this trip for business or for pleasure?"

Mel froze, caught with her wineglass halfway to her mouth, buckling under the full force of that penetrating stare. "Uh…"

Before she could answer, Pacey straightened in his seat, muscles drawing bowstring taut, nostrils flaring. A tremor shook his body, almost as if he'd caught a chill, and then he slowly rose and turned back toward the boardwalk. He took a few steps in that direction, brows furrowed in concentration, eyes scanning the crowd.

"Just a sec," he murmured, moving even further away as he spoke. "I'll be right back."

Tamara watched in curious awe. He's like a wild animal, she thought. Like a big cat scenting something in the wind. She wondered what had snared his attention.

Corey came over with their wine. He was smiling indulgently at Pacey's retreating form. "Sorry about that. My girlfriend says it's romantic, but it's really kind of spooky how he always knows."

"Knows what?"

"Whenever she's around." Corey tipped his chin, indicating that they should look out the window. "See there? Mrs. Witter at 2 o'clock."

Tamara caught a glimpse of a willowy brunette mere seconds before the other woman was gathered up in Pacey's embrace and spun around in enthusiastic circles. They could hear his low laughter under her protesting squeals.

Tamara stared, amazed that he'd gotten back outside so fast.

"Disgusting," Mel grumbled, although there was more than a trace of envy in her voice.

"Most definitely," Corey agreed. "Though, I have seen them do worse." He raised his brows. "Anything else I can get you?"

"No, thank you." Tamara turned to him just as he began to walk away. "Corey, can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"How long have they been together?"

That was a more personal question than he'd been expecting, the internal debate on the merits of answering it evident on his young face. Gossiping about the boss could get him into trouble. Making a spur-of-the-moment decision, he said, "This time around? About four months."

"Four…?" There had to be more to it than that. No one in their right mind got married that fast. "That's all?"

"Yeah. It was a whole whirlwind type deal. No one expected it, especially right after the funeral and everything."

"Funeral?" Mel prompted.

"Yeah, for a friend of theirs. Um…Jen Lindley, I think her name was? They all went to high school together. She had some kind of heart problem or something. Anyway, they hooked up about then and they've pretty much been inseparable ever since."

Tamara didn't recognize the name, but then most of her students were fairly unmemorable. None of them haunted her like Pacey did. She was so busy wallowing that she missed some of the ensuing conversation as Corey warmed to his topic and continued reporting their recent history to his captivated audience, ostensibly clearing the table as he spoke.

"…this unbelievable chemistry, you know? And when they argue, it goes right off the charts."

"You're kidding?"

Tamara could understand Melissa's scepticism, but Pacey had always been passionate and he had quite an impressive temper when he was riled, his wife undoubtedly did as well. She'd have to.

Corey quickly backed that theory up.

"No, it's really something else. You'd figure it'd be all sunshine and roses after reuniting like they did, right? But their fights are…" He made an expansive gesture, as though words alone couldn't describe the phenomenon. "Ever seen that old show from the 80's, 'Moonlighting'? It's kind of like that, only with snappier dialogue. Like, after the first month or so, they had a real doozy down at the Marina, right on the Kitten's foredeck. It was during Regatta, in full view of most of the town…"

"The Kitten?"

"Boss's yacht - the Skittish Kitten." Corey waved a handful of silverware distractedly, before depositing it on his tray. "There was some problem with her job, and they were trying to decide what to do about it. I don't know exactly what it was that he said to her, but Joey ended up shoving him overboard. I mean, she really let him have it. Made the local paper and everything. But then, the next day, she rang her office in New York and quit," he snapped his fingers, "Just like that. I don't know all the details, but she does some kind of freelance thing now, travelling back and forth."

Mel nodded, entranced by the story. She was really starting to get caught up in the Byzantine machinations of this town. Tamara's own plotline notwithstanding, this was better than some of the soaps on television. "That was quite a big sacrifice for her to make."

Corey shrugged. "She seems cool with it."

Tamara filtered them out, concentrating instead on the little reunion taking place outside. If one could even call it that. As far as she could surmise, they'd only been separated for ten minutes or so, probably even less.

Pacey was talking animatedly, large hands tracing random shapes in the air, and his wife was smiling at him - a tolerant smile, the kind that was usually reserved for parents to use when their children misbehaved in public.

From afar, Tamara had to concede that Joey really was an exceptionally lovely woman, with cascading brown hair, dark doe eyes and model-slim body. Her height, rather that being impedimental, was an ideal match for her husband's.

As if proving that observation, Pacey suddenly stepped closer until he was toe-to-toe with her.

Everything stilled. Time slowed to a crawl as those waving hands settled on either side of her face. He dipped his head and slowly drew the tip of his nose along the length of hers in a gentle Eskimo caress; they took a moment to breathe each other in, lips hovering only millimetres apart, before finally sharing an achingly tender kiss, effectively shutting out the world around them.

It was somehow more intimate than if they were making love right out there in the open. Feeling like the interloper she was, Tamara reluctantly tuned back in to Corey and Mel's ongoing gossip-fest. She couldn't watch anymore without wanting to cry.

"…So when Mr. McPhee told us they were voted Class Couple back in 2001, we were all like, yeah right," Corey related, "But then he showed us the yearbook, and there they were. I think there's a copy floating around behind the bar somewhere if you want to take a look. We drag it out for special occasions."

"And Mr. McPhee is…?"

"My English teacher. I guess you could call him Mr. Witter's brother-in-law. Sort of." He paused and then snickered. "Brother in law. Heh. That's funny."

Mel looked confused. "Why is that funny?"

Corey waved her off. "Oh, Mr. McPhee's gay. He lives with Mr. Witter's brother, the sheriff."

"Doug is really gay?" Tamara blurted, genuinely shocked by the news. Pacey used to say it all the time, but Doug had been so emphatic in his denial. That whole incident with the gun…

"You know Sheriff Witter?"

"I used to live here," Tamara explained. "I was actually Pacey's English teacher a long time ago."

"Oh hey, that's…a weird coincidence."

Corey glanced up over at the bar. His eyes fell on the framed poster for 'The Creek' there and almost bugged out of his head when a certain controversial storyline came to mind. They'd given the boss such a hard time about it, but if the show was as true to real life as it was purported to be…

He swung back and gave them a nervous smile. "Look, I've got to get back to work before Mr. Witter comes back in, so… Um, it's been nice talking to you. Bye."

Tamara watched him scurry away, and then turned back to meet Melissa's shrewd brown eyes.

"You're regretting this trip now, aren't you?" Mel asked. "Coming to your senses?"

"Yes and no."

"You need to give it up, Tam. There's no room for you in this little fairytale he's living."

"I think you're right insofar as that I needed to see for myself that he'd moved on. In my head, he's still that fifteen year old boy, but seeing him like this is…"

"Stimulating?"

Tamara snorted with laughter. "Well, there is that."

Pacey swaggered back through the door, towing his wife along behind him, one hand cuffed around her slim wrist. She stumbled a little, digging in her heels.

"Pacey! It's your day off! We're supposed to be…"

"Celebrating our good news?"

"Yes!" she confirmed, eyes sparkling mischievously despite her serious tone. "The more intimate details of which are better performed in private."

He stopped when they got to the bar and suddenly twirled her so that she was standing with her back to his chest, his arms tight around her middle. It was the sort of elaborate manoeuvre that was made to look simple from continued practice, almost like a choreographed dance move. He tucked his chin into her shoulder and murmured something into her ear that made her duck her head, blushing. An instant later she bumped him with her hip, though not hard enough to dislodge him from his cosy position.

"Only in your very perverted dreams, Witter."

"Oh, I see. So I was actually dreaming that spectacular performance last night?" He paused. "And this morning."

"Wow. Yet more delusional ranting. You obviously need professional help."

"Witnesses!" Pacey slapped a hand on the bar. "I want this on the record. Hey, Jim-boy, you heard that, right? She just gave me permission to hire a professional."

Jim, the bar manager, shook his head at them, bemused. Several other patrons laughed outright.

Joey scowled. "Cretin."

"Prude."

"Jailbait."

That one was apparently an inside joke because they both laughed.

Pacey glanced over at Tamara's table with heavy-lidded eyes. Beneath the lingering humour in their depths, there was a flame smouldering that hadn't been present earlier, something that heated the blue from the inside out. She'd never considered Pacey particularly beautiful before, it wasn't an adjective that came readily to mind, but right at that moment there was no other way to describe him.

His love for Joey made him beautiful.

The realization was bittersweet, bringing a stinging sensation to her eyes and a lump to her throat. She wondered if it wasn't her heart that was jammed in there. It hadn't been left in Pacey's keeping after all. He didn't need to return it - he'd never had it, never really wanted it. Instead, it had been frozen by her blind refusal to accept reality, held securely in stasis while she wasted a decade daydreaming on what could have been. She felt like she'd finally woken up, and the resulting thaw hurt all the more from such an overlong hibernation.

She'd used Pacey as an excuse, but she'd let life pass her by and it was nobody's fault but her own.

Something must have shown on her face, because he quirked an inquisitive brow at her, the barest hint of a frown forming. The concern seemed somewhat impersonal now, though. He was simply an attentive host worrying over a finicky guest. She'd become invisible to him, irrelevant, her presence merely that of a fond memory.

Tamara shook her head and gave a little wave, sending him on his way.

She knew that he wasn't coming back to her table.

He wasn't coming back to her at all.

THE END