the things that made us you and me by BigTuna
Summary: An exploration of the things that helped turn "Jim" and "Pam" into "Jim and Pam." Inspired by the 31 day challenge prompt on the MTT blog.
Categories: Jim and Pam, Episode Related Characters: Jim/Pam
Genres: Angst, Drama, Fluff, Romance, Workdays
Warnings: Adult language
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 17 Completed: No Word count: 41067 Read: 5694 Published: February 20, 2018 Updated: July 04, 2018
Story Notes:
I wanted to take each of the 31 prompts and explore them a little more. How did these individual things impact our favorite couple? Were they significant moments that we didn't get to see? Were they insignificant moments that we did get to see but didn't get to fully understand? Set pre-pilot and moving forward in their relationship, I hope to dissect these words/phrases/scenarios and see how they shape Jim and Pam.

Each prompt is one chapter; prompts are listed as chapter titles. Rating may change as chapters are added.

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

1. Paper by BigTuna

2. Conference Room by BigTuna

3. Desk by BigTuna

4. Office Party by BigTuna

5. Message by BigTuna

6. Prank by BigTuna

7. Office Romance by BigTuna

8. Secret Santa by BigTuna

9. Video by BigTuna

10. That's What She Said by BigTuna

11. Lunch by BigTuna

12. Office Outing by BigTuna

13. Phone by BigTuna

14. Bears by BigTuna

15. Parking Lot by BigTuna

16. Birthday by BigTuna

17. First Day by BigTuna

Paper by BigTuna
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A familiar looking shadow falls across Pam's desk and she looks up from spider solitaire. Jim is there, but he isn't looking at her. Instead, he has his long fingers almost comically crammed into the jellybean dispenser. He's well practiced, his fingers more nimble than they look folded up inside the plastic, because he manages to avoid the licorice and cinnamon and snag two elusive buttered popcorn. He shakes them in his hand and pops one in his mouth before finally meeting Pam's eyes. "So, how much do you wanna bet that Michael bribed this doc crew in a desperate attempt to become famous?"

"Odds are pretty good that that's exactly what happened."

"I mean, out of all the places in the country, they pick Scranton? And then out of all the places in Scranton, they pick Dunder Mifflin? It's just too coincidental. Money had to have exchanged hands."

"Maybe. Maybe they're actually an undercover karate documentary crew and they're here to film Dwight."

Jim chuckles and she feels pleased, the way she does when she really makes him genuinely laugh because Jim is so funny and if Jim laughs at her jokes then she must be funny, too. Jim's laugh is warm and round and makes her think of Christmas, because the office party three years ago was the first time she'd ever heard his real laugh. He tosses the remaining jellybean into his mouth and raps the top of her desk with a knuckle. "Thanks for my afternoon project, Beesly."

She watches him walk back to his desk and tilt his head towards Dwight. She can't hear what he's saying but notices that Dwight immediately sits up a little straighter and glance sidelong at a nearby cameraman. Jim motions over his shoulder towards the rest of the crew setting up inside the conference room. When Dwight reaches into his bottom drawer and pulled out his blue belt, Pam has to duck behind her desk so that she can hide her laughter. As Dwight stomps into the conference room, belt in hand, Jim swings his chair towards her. "Why does he even have that at work?" he mouths.

Pam shrugs her shoulders and extends her arm for an air high five. Jim does the same and they execute what Jim calls their 'signature move' in perfect sync. He gets back to work after that, but she watches him without really realizing it. She was noticing that the corner of his mouth was still pulled up in a smile when the documentary crew called her for paperwork and introductions.

Back at her desk, her mind wanders to the first few days after the announcement that Dunder Mifflin Scranton was going to be the setting of a documentary detailing the every day happenings of an American workplace. Absolutely zero work had gotten done for the rest of that day; for the rest of that week, actually. It was all anybody could talk about, and they all had the same thing to say:

"Really? Here?"

And that about summed it up. It was unbelievable. Even within Scranton there were more exciting options than a place that sold paper.

Paper.

Quite possibly the most boring thing in the entire world. Sure, it was kind of essential, but still. It was paper. Pam can't figure out what there was about Dunder Mifflin Scranton that screams 'great documentary material.'

Whatever it is, the crew seems excited. They were slated to start filming at the end of the week, so they had been spending entire days at the office so that they could become part of the background. The producer was adamant that the day to day routine shouldn't change, that the crew just wanted to film average workers at an average workplace. Over and over she had stressed for them to just be themselves. Pam thought that the entire crew had no idea what they were getting themselves into, but that was on them.

A jiggle of the mouse resumes her forgotten solitaire game. She moves a fully stacked nine over to a ten and the cards went ftpftpftpftpftp and it was another normal day at Dunder Mifflin. Reams were sold, calls were made, notes were taken, solitaire was played, Michael was tolerated, Dwight was laughed at, Jim was laughed with. How they'd make a documentary about that, Pam had no idea.

May as well get some actual work done, she thinks, so she faxes some completed paperwork to corporate, refills the copier, and delivers messages on her way to the kitchen. On her way back, a yogurt that she'd found hidden in the back of the fridge in hand, the producer hands her more paperwork and Michael reminds her of a 1:30 conference call that she needs to sit in on. Yep, she thinks, opening her yogurt. The average TV watcher is going to find this riveting.

She stirs her Yoplait as she waits for a fax confirmation. Her chair is turned away from her desk but she knows she has a visitor when she hears the sound of jellybeans clinking against plastic. Jim starts speaking before she even turns to face him. "This might sound weird. And there's no way for me to know this. But...that mixed berry yogurt you're about to eat has expired."

Pam gives him a quizzical look and checks the date stamped on the bottom of container. She kind of can't believe it; he's right. It's way expired. "Wow, almost a year out of date. How did you know?"

Jim shrugs, an affable expression on his face, the one where the corner of his mouth quirks up, the one Pam thinks looks best on him. "Just checking out for my favorite receptionist. It would be pretty boring around here if you were out sick with food poisoning."

"It's pretty boring around here, anyway. I mean, we're a paper company. What are they thinking?" She hitches her head towards the doc crew in the conference room.

"I don't know. Maybe something interesting will happen one day." He fishes out another jelly bean (chocolate pudding, it looks like) and it disappears behind straight white teeth and full lips and a quick lick at the corner of his mouth. Pam is jerked away from staring (why she was even staring, she didn't know) by Michael calling for her from the door to his office. She grabs her notepad and rounds the side of her desk, her eyes focused on the floor instead of Jim's tanned forearm against the stark white of his shirt as he leans against the counter top. "Have fun in there, Beesely."

"Yeah, thanks," she says with a soft laugh. "Maybe you were right, maybe something interesting will happen. Hey, better go sling some paper. I'll need a refill on my jellybeans soon."

__________
End Notes:
Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think.
Conference Room by BigTuna
__________



Jim Halpert very rarely gives more than fifteen, maybe twenty percent at his job.

Maybe its because its insultingly easy. Maybe its because selling comes very naturally to him. Maybe its because the whole thing is pretty automated, seeing as how he'd inherited a lot of clients from the salesman he'd replaced and all it took was one phone call for an account to renew and a commission check to come in. He figures--why expend more energy than it takes to have a comfortable life? His bills get paid, his hobbies get funded, and the rest goes into savings. So it doesn't really matter than four out of the five days of the week saw a minimal amount of effort.

On the days that he actually tries, he's always surprised at how well he can do. Landing the Deckerd Auto Sales account happened on one of those days. Deckerd had long been a name--the name--in Scranton for a new or certified pre-owned vehicle. Its a huge account, responsible for a quarter of his yearly commission. It was his first big sale and also a huge account (responsible for a quarter of his yearly commission) so that night he'd gone out and bought a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Pam had teased him mercilessly the next day, when the fluorescent lights were too bright and and the whir of the copier too loud.

Renewing the Deckerd Auto Sales account, however, always fell on one of the low effort days. Mostly because they love him over there, for one reason or another. Earning that 25% of his commission takes nothing more than a quick phone call and its generally the only thing he has to get done that day. That, and sneak about half of a miniature champagne bottle over to the reception desk.

The same day she'd teased him about coming to work a little hungover was the day she'd asked him to invite her next time he drank champagne on a work night. He remembers that (because he remembers everything about Pam) and so the next time the account came up for renewal, he shares with her. Because he knows that she likely won't go out with just him for a drink (even on a work night) so why not just split a mini-bottle of the cheapest champagne money could by on a random weekday afternoon?

90 or so milliliters of champagne is just enough to get Pam Beesly good and giggly. She also gets just the tiniest pink tint to her cheeks...not enough for anybody to notice really, except for him. He likes that her cheeks flush because of their secret, likes that she shares part in his celebration, likes that she laughs a little louder at his cheesy jokes and holds eye contact a little longer. Her eyes get bright and her smile gets extra wide and she tries to hide it with the sleeve of her cardigan and that's something that makes a warm feeling settle in his chest, kind of like a purring and contented cat.

He knows he balancing precariously on a tightrope, one without a net underneath. There are many nights that he promises himself that he'll cut it all out: the jokes, the pranks, the laughing, the barely there flirting. She is engaged; he's setting himself up for heartache. But then the morning after he tells himself that, she'd invariably come sit on the edge of his desk and roll her eyes at something Michael said and he'd convince himself that he can do this.

It just so happens that one of those night is the night before the Deckerd account is due for renewal. Resolve steeled, he gets in early so that he'll be able to hang his coat up near reception and not be tempted to stay. When he throws his keys in his bag he hears them clink against the miniature champagne he'd bought a week ago. He pulls it out and felt himself waver for a minute: seeing Pam without tension rolling across her shoulders and a flush that crept down her neck to hide behind her shirt collar was...well, if he was being honest, it was the stuff of his fantasies. But he can't think about things like that so he tucks the bottle into a desk drawer and tries to forget about it.

A chunk of his morning is spent in the kitchen, staring at the coffee pot while his coworkers trickle through the door. He only heads back to his seat with a full mug once he sees that Pam has gotten in and is checking voicemail. He's able to get away with a wave and a mouthed greeting from ten feet away. The doc crew calls him in for a talking head before she's done writing out the messages and she's busy in Michael's office when he gets out. So far, so good.

He gets some paperwork done, answers some emails, sends some invoices over to accounting. Probably the most productive day he's had in a while and its was only 10:00. He figures its as good a time as any to call Mr. Deckerd. Dwight conspires against him, however, (with or without meaning to, Jim isn't quite sure) and he thinks he might go insane if he has to sit at his desk for a minute more. He's on his feet and headed towards the reception desk before he even knows what he's doing. As he leans against the counter his mouth starts watering and he recalls freshman psychology and Pavlov's dog. Whether he's salivating at the jellybeans or at the girl behind the counter, he doesn't know. That's a lie, he does know. He just doesn't want to think too much about it.

But they can be friends. She puts those jellybeans up there for everyone, right? It's just a coincidence that they only appeared after Jim's first day, when Michael had put him in the middle of the conference room and asked about all his favorite things. And friends can offer advice on computer card games, that's totally an innocent thing. He can do this, talk about dumb stuff that doesn't really matter and eat free candy (that happens to be his favorite) and slowly but surely try to put a little distance between him and Pam, for his own sake. Never mind that he feels his resoluteness being chipped away every time she smiles at him.

The rest of the morning distracts him from doing much of anything--work related or otherwise. It's frustrating that he can't get done the one thing he'd set out to get accomplished that day but he's not thinking about things he doesn't want to think about, so...it's okay. He's confident that he'll get in touch with Mr. Deckerd soon enough. In the meantime, he's glad for conference room meetings and diversity day and is even kind of looking forward to the ridiculous/offensive game Michael thought up. Is, until Pam looks towards him over her shoulder with an index card reading JEWISH affixed to her forehead and an incredulous expression on her face. He doesn't trust himself, not when she's looking how she looks (kind of insane but mostly adorable) so he ducks out of the room and tries to call Mr. Deckerd again. No luck there, though, but he isn't ready to head back into the meeting so he wanders over to where Ryan is sitting at Pam's computer. It registers in the back of his mind that his mouth doesn't water, but he can't be bothered with dissecting that just now, so he chats and eats a jellybean and eventually leaves Ryan to pirating Chappelle's Show with his own reminder of "she's engaged" ricocheting around his brain.

The rest of the afternoon passes in a blur. He avoids Pam (mostly), watches his boss make an ass out of himself (completely), and connects with Mr. Deckerd (finally). It stings like a bitch to hear that somehow, somehow, Dwight has snuck in under Jim's radar and stolen the account. And it isn't even like Jim hasn't been trying; he's been working all day to make that sale and try to keep his mind focused on something else other than a soft voice and red curls and a striped button down.

At least this solves the dilemma of what to do about the champagne, he thinks as he awkwardly shuffles to the only empty seat in the conference room. It happens to be next to Pam but that's okay, because they can be friends and friends can sit next to each other in conference room meetings.

But then he sees her move towards him out of the corner of his eye and thoughts of being "friends" fly from his mind the second that her head gently bumps against his shoulder. They're replaced with one singular realization that flashes across his brain with blinding clarity: he loves her. He smiles in spite of himself, in spite of knowing that she's engaged, in spite of knowing that it can never happen. He smiles because he has never been more sure of anything in his life, except for maybe the fact that he will happily sit in an uncomfortable chair in the conference room of his boring job for forever if it means that Pam Beesly stays sleeping serenely on his shoulder.

The universe zeroes in to the place where Pam's head is touching his shoulder and he closes his eyes so he can make sure he's burned this moment into his memory. Everything else goes away: the meeting, his coworkers, his own voice saying the words "she's engaged." With his eyes closed, he can pretend that this is normal, that she does this all the time, that afterwards they would stand up and walk out and head home and she would rest her entire body against his because that was something they did. But then it almost starts to feel like something he made up, so he opens his eyes again so he can see for himself that she's really there, really this close, really a gentle and warm weight against his shoulder.

And then, it's over. People are leaving. He debates with himself--could he sit there a little longer? Could he sit there all night? But his eyes meet the camera across the room that had been trained on them (for who knew how long, had they caught all that?) and this probably wouldn't look that great when (if) the documentary ever airs.

"Uh, hey." She makes a sound, the type of sound that you make when you wake up on a Saturday and the sheets are all twisted around your legs and there's someone else in the bed with you asking what you want for breakfast. That's what flashes through Jim's mind, anyway. "Hey. We can go." But we don't have to, if you want. We can stay.

She glances up at him, meets his eyes, and he wants to die or melt into a puddle or just do something to deal with just how....how much everything is. But he doesn't and she says "sorry" in an small and tired voice and he says it was fine instead of saying what he want to says. Her hand pushes against his knee for support as she stands up and that's another thing he wishes would last forever but unfortunately it doesn't.

She smiles at him as she leaves and he knows then that he'd been kidding himself all damn day. They can never be just friends; he can never be just friends. He will always be more than that because to him, she will always be more than that.

He takes his time getting his things together to leave. His shoulder is on fire from where she'd been leaning against him and he puts his hand on it, trying to trap the warmth and the feeling inside his skin so that it stays there a little longer. It's only after the sound guy calls his name a few times, asking for another talking head, that he takes it away.

"So, Jim, how are you feeling after today? Pretty crazy day at the office, right? Dwight stealing your account, the diversity seminar, Michael's behavior...how are you feeling about the day and how it went?"

"Uh..." It went awful. It went great. I'm in love with her and I can't do anything about it, but she slept on my shoulder and trusted me enough to let her guard down enough for that and I'll take it. He smiles.

"Not a bad day."


__________
End Notes:
Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think. See you soon!
Desk by BigTuna
Author's Notes:
Some texts are exchanged in this chapter. In case it's not clear, this is Pam and this is Roy.
__________


There's a new girl in the office. Its weird.

Pam shakes her head, admonishes herself. It isn't weird, its just...different. And anyway its only temporary, surely. She probably sets up shop at a different office every Friday--payday. Smart girl. And really, its was nice to not have to worry about inappropriate comments from Michael. Or Kevin. Or Creed. Or Dwight. Or occasionally Meredith. Nice. Not weird.

That is until Kevin very bluntly says what Pam is sure everyone in the office is thinking: "she's prettier than you, though." Then it isn't nice or weird but just kind of...ugh.

Yeah. Of course Pam has noticed that Katy looks a lot like an upgraded version of herself. Rather, she looks like the Pam that Pam wishes she had the confidence to be, if that makes any sense. When she tries to curl her hair like Katy's, soft and full and loose, everything winds up being frizzier than when she started. She has a few shirts like the purple one Katy is wearing, but when she wears them she always gets lewd comments from Roy and Kenny and that make her feel gross and kind of humiliated, so they stay in the back of the closet. And the confidence to go office to office and sell purses? Pam could never be able to do that. That was really something.

So, sure, Katy is definitely Pam 6.0. It doesn't take a genius to see that (obviously, because the entire office has seen it). Its...whatever. Its fine.

And maybe not the whole office has seen that, because Jim doesn't seem enamored with Katy. He hasn't seemed to notice her at all, actually. Pam kind of wants to ask him what he thinks, but she also kind of doesn't. So. She doesn't. Instead she texts Roy and asks if he'll come upstairs to eat lunch with her. Some reassurance from the only person whose opinion really mattered is exactly what she needs.

Right?

Right. Who cares if everyone else is obsessed with the "new and improved" Pam as long as she has Roy?

Will you come eat upstairs today?

y

Just feel like eating lunch with you.

i guess

darryl sd a hot grl up there

The sound of her phone snapping shut is loud enough to cause Jim to swing his chair towards her desk. He makes one of his faces, the one that means you seem annoyed, everything okay? Pam rolls her eyes in the way that means I am annoyed, just the usual. Jim nods in understanding, the corner of his mouth turned up in a small smile. She smiles, too.

__________


He cant't help it. When Kevin asks his type, he looks straight at Pam. He did it without even thinking, without even realizing. But she looks at him, too, her eyes wide and questioning, like she's really curious about his answer. Like it matters.

And he can't handle that so he deflects, the way he always does. He covers up emotion with humor and tries to make Pam laugh, tries to put a smile on her face after Roy (yet again) says something stupid to wipe it away. Because it isn't like he can say what hes really thinking, not like he can look Roy straight in his eyes and say, "actually, Kev, I have a very specific type. Curly red hair, green eyes, usually in a cardigan. Likes to draw. Good at puns. Warm and funny and sweet and beautiful. Sitting in between me and her stupid, insensitive, undeserving fiance." He doesn't say that, obviously, because he knows better, but Roy apparently doesn't have that brand of common sense because he immediately says exactly what hes thinking, which is that he'd be "all over that" if not for Pam.

A few moments after Pam walks away in anger (and humiliation, probably, Jim thought) Roy leans towards Jim somewhat conspiratorially. "She always gets like this when she's close to being on the rag."

Jim barks out a harsh laugh that isn't really a laugh, more of an attempt to disguise the derisive sound that is trying to force itself out of his throat. "Yeah. Maybe she just doesn't like her fiance talking about how hot another girl is."

"Nah, I talk like that all the time. Pam doesn't care. And come on, I mean I might be dating Pam but I'm sure as hell not blind."

"Engaged to Pam, you mean." Hes glad the cameras have lost interest and moved somewhere else because hes never been adept at hiding his emotions and he is sure that his face is relaying exactly how he feels. The camera guys had figured that out really quickly, judging by how often he hears the whir of a camera lens zooming towards him. So thank god they're not there, or he'd have to contend with the fact that they know (because of course they do) and try to keep them from knowing more than they know...and that doesn't make sense, really, but he's pissed off and doesn't care.

Roy laughs, a real laugh, not like Jim's from earlier. This is the laugh of a man who doesn't think he's done anything wrong. "Maybe you really are gay, Halpert. You sound just like Pam." He pushes his chair back from the table and it scrapes against the floor with a screech that makes Jim wince. Its fitting, as that's how most of his interactions with Roy end.

He knows Pam well enough to know that if he acknowledges what happened, she'll get flustered and upset and it'll be hard to pull her out of the funk that it seems like only Roy or Michael (more often than not, Roy) are capable of putting her in. And anyway, Pam isn't really one to have a lot of in depth conversations (other than the occasional venting session) and Jim isn't one to do a lot of dancing across the thin little line that he'd laid down between them (other than the more than occasional and slightly more than friendly flirting). Distracting her from the incident that went down at lunch time is his best bet.

And it works. She straightens up, unhunches her shoulders, laughs as he imitates Dwight, leans her head towards him in a conspiratorial way, too, but in a way that doesn’t infuriate Jim the way it did when Roy did it. They're close enough that when she turns her face towards his they're eye level with each other. He can see the freckles across the bridge of her nose, smell the scent of Bath and Body Works lotion she keeps by her keyboard, hear the way that her laugh gets the tiniest bit breathy. When they're like that, doing something like crouching behind the reception desk, it gets easier to pretend. It is torture, the best kind.

The rest of the day winds up being fine, if not even better than. Dwight with a purse--no, sorry, mini-briefcase--on his shoulder is enough to make anybody's day. Michael is in top Michael form, which is always entertaining. And towards the end of the afternoon Pam does that thing he loves and sits on the edge of his desk.

The first time she did that, leaned against his desk and stretched her legs out so that they could cross at the ankles next to his chair, it had been summer. That was significant because in the summer, she usually didn't wear hose. He isn't particularly proud of it, but he couldn't help it when his gaze traveled up from her white Keds to the scar below her knee to the hem of her skirt. He'd always been a leg man...and the fact that the legs in question had been attached to the greatest woman in the world, well. It had just been a great day that day.

The days that ended with (or started with, or were interspersed with) Pam bracing the heels of her hands against the edge of his desk and looking down at him were always good days. She only did it when she was in a great mood. Jim wasn't one to toot his own horn or anything, but if Pam was in a great mood at work it was usually because of him. That's maybe the best part of the whole thing. When she looks down at him with that smile and talks with a grin behind every word and he knows that he is the reason they're there? It makes him feel good. Really, really good.

He doesn't think too much about it beyond that. He just knows that he loves it and if she wants to perch among his lamp and phone and keyboard and take up all the free space on his desk every day, well, that he's okay with that.

Its ruined, though, because someone else comes along and makes her laugh, too (a different laugh from the one he likes to think she reserves for him, but still). Being so close as Roy touches her in such an intimate way and knowing that lunchroom transgressions are going to be forgiven with a half-assed apology that isn't even an apology ("I was just kidding, you know I didn't mean it!") is torture, the worst kind.

He gets up from said desk and lets Pam and Roy reconcile at it instead. Three people at one workspace are two too many, or maybe one too many, depending on who they are. He feels a little like his heart is twisted up into a knot that also includes his stomach, but also feels a little (a lot) like...like an idiot.

After he gets back to his desk, he realizes that he can hear her give a talking head: "Jim's a great guy. He's like a brother to me. We're like, best friends, in the office. And I really hope he finds someone." And he feels even more like an idiot. Why the doc crew even feels like they have to ask her feelings on his relationship status...well, whatever. They can do whatever the hell they want, the doc crew and Pam and Roy and whoever else. And so can he, with or without Pam's permission or blessing or wishes for him to find "someone"--

It all clicks into place, very suddenly. He is pathetically pining away, completely in love with a woman who is nothing but his friend, his good friend. Of course she wants him to be happy, just the way that he wants her to be happy. If sometimes that happiness takes place against his desk with her fiance, so be it. Shes just...living her life, and that's fine and they're friends and it's fine and he needs to live his life, too.

And maybe he wants to...make her jealous? No, of course he doesn't. Actually, yes, he does. Whatever. He doesn't know.

He pushes away from his desk and heads into the conference room before he can think too much more about it.

Pam sits on the edge of his desk again later. Twice in one day. Normally it would have been...it would have been something. Now it doesn't matter, doesn't mean anything, because they're just good buddies who want the other to be happy. He has plans for a date with Katy and he tells Pam so. She doesn't stay perched against his desk for much longer after that. He doesn't dwell on it.

__________


Pam sits behind reception, suddenly more aware of how little effort she puts into her appearance at work than she ever has been before. How hard would it be for her to get up ten minutes earlier and fix her hair a little nicer? Maybe brush on some mascara or swipe on some lip gloss? In fact, she's pretty sure she has some lip gloss in her purse, and maybe a compact...

But then the camera guy steps closer and zooms in on her putting it on and she sees her reflection in the lens, upside down and tiny. Its a pretty good representation of how she feels...although she didn't quite know why. Its just been a tiring day, that's all, maybe. And the lip gloss feels weird, kind of gummy and sticky, so she wipes it off with the back of her hand and wills the cameras to find someone else to film.

Ten feet away, Jim is getting ready to leave. Katy is leaning against the edge of his desk at her spot, at Pam's spot, but that's ridiculous because she doesn't have a spot on his desk, so, whatever, it's Katy's spot and that's fine. Her legs go on for miles and the way shes sitting, hands behind her hips and leaned back a little, make her...make her everything look good. Pam watches as Katy laughs at something Jim says, something Pam can't hear. It makes her feel even more upside down and tiny and she can't wait to go home.

They're leaving, Jim and Katy, heading past reception and towards the door--together. Jim taps the top of her desk with his car keys.

"Night, Pam. Have fun moving your cousin this weekend."

"Um, Roy's cousin. But yeah, you too. You guys have a good weekend. Have fun."

The three of them exchange smiles and Pam catches a snippet of conversation as Jim and Katy head out the door. "Any place special you wanna go?"

"No, I'm easy, I'm good with anything!"

As she leaves for the night, Pam is convinced that she had definitely been right, before, about having a new girl in the office. Its weird.

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End Notes:
If you are reading and enjoying, please consider leaving a review! I would love to know what you guys think.
Office Party by BigTuna
Author's Notes:
05-05-05, only happens once in a billion years!
__________


“Party planning committee, I need you, stat! ASAP! Front and center! Phyllis, Angela, Pam, let’s see some hustle!” Michael is standing at the entrance of the conference room, impatiently gesturing through the doorway. Pam ignores him; its too early to be corralled and she's in the middle of receiving a sixteen page fax, so. Plus, there isn’t even a party scheduled anytime soon. The next one would be the Dundies in September, but its only May. Surely he doesn't want to start planning the Dundies this early? But she wouldn't put it past him, she remembers last year when-

“Pam, please? This is important. We have less than 6 hours to get a party together, probably the most important party of our lives. Get a move on.”

“Michael, there’s a big fax coming through. I need to make sure it doesn’t get jammed.” Which ss a definite possibility considering the age of the fax machine, but she also wants to stall as long as possible. She's not really in the mood to be judged by Angela for something as innocuous as banners or napkins, something that happens pretty much any time Pam makes a suggestion. “What party are we even supposed to be planning? There’s nothing on the calendar.”

“Pam, that’s top secret. I can’t tell you until you get your tiny tushie in here.” He almost immediately looks around for the cameras, but they're on break for the summer. He explains himself away anyway; Pam supposes he needs the practice before the doc crew comes back. “Not offensive because I didn’t mean it sexually and also I called her tiny, so I gave her a compliment. Now, Pam, move it!”

The fax is finished and none of the pages had gotten eaten and she can’t think of another excuse, so she rounds the corner of reception and heads to the conference room. Jim follows her path from his chair, swinging it towards her as she passes by his desk. “Good luck in there.” Its early enough in the morning that his voice hasn’t gotten all the sleep out of it yet. It makes his words come out low and soft, intimate, which makes Pam blush, which is silly, because its just a voice and its only like that because its barely 9:00 and Jim likes to sleep in as much as possible (she knows that because he told her, once) and he just hasn't talked much yet.

“Um, thanks. Yeah, looks like I’m gonna need it.” Michael is glaring at her from inside the conference room so she doesn’t linger even though she wants to, just heads inside.

“Thank you for joining us, finally. Not like this is time sensitive or anything,” Michael says snarkily as he shuts the door behind her.

“Michael, what is going on here? You haven’t given us any advance notice, our supply of decorations is running low, we don’t have a budget-“

“Angela, shut it. We do have a budget, corporate pre-approved money for a party at the beginning of the year. I couldn’t give you advance notice because I didn’t realize that such a huge day was upon us until I saw it on my Far Side calendar this morning.”

“What day, Michael? Cinco de Mayo? We’ve never had a Cinco de Mayo party before, but it could be fun. We could-“

“No, Phyllis not Cinco de Mayo. 05-05-05!” His exclamation is met with a confused look from Phyllis, a scowl from Angela, and a blank stare from Pam. "You guys, come on! We have to have a party. This only happens once every billion years."

That earns another scowl from Angela. "That's wrong. It happens every hundred years."

Michael rolls his eyes. "Okay, do you want to plan this party or do you want to go back to accounting? Since you seem to be so worried about numbers?" When Angela doesn't respond past a straightening of her shoulders, Michael knew he'd won. "Thank you. Now listen. It's 05-05-05 and it just happens to be Cinco de Mayo-"

"Yes, Cinco de Mayo. As in fifth day of the fifth month, May."

"Pam, please? Have some respect. This is a big deal. We have to throw a great party, okay? Todd Packer is coming."

Yep. There it is. There's almost always an ulterior motive when Michael wants to spontaneously throw a party, which happens with alarming regularity. There's almost never a way out of it and its always easier to just let it ride. "What do we need to do, Michael?"

Michael quickly gets to delegating: Angela is put in charge of snacks (five cookie trays, five dips with five types of chips, etc...continuing on the theme, of course), Phyllis is in charge of getting extra decorations and supplies. They both leave quickly, and that means Pam in charge of finding what they had on hand and start setting up.

She glances at the clock. It was 9:30, and Michael wants the party to start at 3. If she's lucky, she can make this project last all day. Maybe she can shut the door (under the pretense of making super secret decorations, obviously) and take a nap. Maybe she can grab her sketchbook out of her purse and finish the drawing she'd started for her mom. Maybe she can recruit Jim into goofing off with her all day.

That last thought sounds like the most fun. He was the most fun. Jim makes coming to work bearable; she thought she'd die without his company to look forward to. Lately she'd even started missing him over the weekend, and that makes her kind of...sad? She doesn't know how it makes her feel.

It was probably just because she doesn't have many friends outside of Roy, and Roy is usually either with his warehouse buddies or with his brother, Kenny. And it's just that its nice to have someone to talk to, someone who appreciates her sense of humor and says nice things about her art and makes her feel listened to instead of listened at.

Because that's how it got, right? When you've been with someone as long as she's been with Roy? You got settled and comfortable and things weren't as passionate or exciting, but that was normal. She figures that it has to be normal; that's how her own parents are, that's the type of relationship that makes for a long and happy marriage.

But for some weird reason, she can't stop thinking about that time a few months back that Jim warned her about her expired yogurt. Why does that moment play on repeat in her brain?

She shakes her head and brings herself back to reality. If she thinks too much about her relationship, her engagement, her head starts to hurt and her chest gets kind of tight and she feels sort of itchy all over. She always chalks it up to pre-wedding jitters and nevermind the fact that that they're jitters for a wedding that hasn't been planned or even set. So she doesn't think about it anymore, and anyway, she has more pressing matters: Michael's 05-05-05 party.

After forwarding the reception desk phone to the one in the conference room, she checks out the closet where all the miscellaneous crap is kept. There's several sheets of poster board and various rolls of crepe paper streamers and she figures that's enough to keep her busy for a while. Jim raises an eyebrow at her as she deposits her findings into the conference room and she rolls her eyes at him. He grins his big toothy lopsided grin and she grins, too, as she walks past him and into Michael's office.

"Um, Michael? I think I might need some help with decorating. Since Phyllis and Angela aren't here--"

"Get Kelly to help you. Wait, no. She'll just blab to everybody, it has to be a surprise." Pam doesn't remind him that he'd essentially announced that there'd be a party to the entire office first thing that morning. "Get Meredith, she's a girl, kind of, she'll be good at that stuff." He glances around, once again looking for the cameras so he can make a justification for whatever offensive thing he's said now, but they of course aren't there. He looks at Pam instead and she furrows her brow at him and hopes she looked annoyed. God help me, she thinks. I've been here long enough that I know what Michael Scott is thinking.

And sure enough: "I mean, I'm not sexist, men and women are just as good at decorating for parties. Just because Meredith is...I mean, a woman in today's world...you know, just get Jim. He's kind of girly, got that long hair. He can help you."

Pam decides to not acknowledge Michael's aspersions on Jim's masculinity (not that Jim would care, anyway) and instead promises that they'll work tirelessly to make this the best party the office has ever seen. She practically skips over to Jim's desk and bumps her hip against the side of it. He's on the phone but he turns towards her and cocks his head to one side. She can read the expression on his face as plain as day: how are we blowing off work today, Beesly? She presses her lips together and tries not to smile, but she knows that he can read her expression, too. He always seems to know exactly what she's thinking.

There's enough room on his desk for her to rest against the edge of it, so she does. She thinks that he tenses up for a second, which is weird, and she swears that she hears him suck in a sharp breath, but the weirdness passes before she can really decide if it was there or not. The call he's on wraps up soon and he turns towards her, leans back in his chair, looks up at her. One of his long legs is underneath his desk and the other is just a few inches away from where her feet are crossed and she feels a blush creep up her neck as she realizes that he's effectively straddling her. Before she can stop herself, her eyes flick across his lanky frame: thighs, belt buckle, exposed forearm resting against the arm of his chair, the knot of his tie, his mouth and the hand curled across it, the hint of a smile hiding behind his fingers. Finally, they make eye contact and she blushes in earnest. He had very obviously been watching her the entire time.

"You okay there, Pam?"

"Yes!" she squeaks, her voice much higher than it usually is. She clears her throat. "I mean, yes. But, um, there is a very sensitive special project I'm working on in the conference room. Michael asked if you could help me with it."

As expected, there's a slight commotion behind her. "Excuse me, Michael asked for Jim to help you with a sensitive special project?" Pam doesn't trust herself to turn around and look at him, she knows she'd start laughing. Instead she watches Jim, who keeps his face carefully arranged so as to not smile and give it away.

"Um, yeah, Michael said that Jim had the expertise that the project needed."

There's the sound of a chair being roughly pushed back and Dwight stalks past her on his way to Michael's office. "No, okay, if anyone in this office has expertise, it's me. None of the rest of you know anything. Michael!"

Pam giggles as she watches the door to Michael's office slam shut. She glances down at Jim, who is beaming up at her in a way that makes feel warm all over. "But seriously, want to help me make decorations for Michael's secret party?"

"Oh, that wasn't just to mess with Dwight?" Pam shakes her head. "And you're just handing me a Michael-sanctioned reason to put off work?" She nods. "Nice work, Beesly! I'm all yours."

They spend a good portion of the morning making posters with huge '05's all over them. Pam sketches the numbers and Jim helps fill them in. She teases him about whether or not he can color inside the lines and he retaliates by throwing a roll of crepe paper at her. As it sails through the air it reminds her of her junior year of high school when she sat in Roy's truck and watched him toilet paper the vice principal's house, feeling uneasy about being the lookout and guilty about the mess and angry about being dragged along to do something she disagreed with in the first place. The roll of streamers lands square on the top of her head and as it rolls away, she decides to replace that unpleasant memory with this happy one.

Angela returns around lunchtime, her lips pressed into a hard line and her arms full of grocery sacks. Pam is pulling her lunch out of the fridge when Angela deposits the groceries on the kitchen counter and Jim joins her in the kitchen then just in time to witness Angela telling Michael that no, she didn't get five margarita buckets and he could just plan his ridiculous party without her help before she stops out of the kitchen with Michael hot on her heels. Jim and Pam lean their heads together and laugh.

Phyllis comes back in after lunch and tells Pam she'll help finish getting the rest of the decorations up. "Oh thanks, Phyllis! Angela, um, bowed out. It's just been me and Jim this morning."

"Oh, Jim's been helping you? He's such a sweet young man." Pam nods in agreement and starts looking through the rest of the decorations. With her attention turned towards the shopping bags, Pam misses the look that comes over Phyllis' face: the look of someone making up a little white lie. "Oh, Pam, dear, I forgot all about a sales call I scheduled this afternoon. And I've just been terribly busy. Do you think you and Jim can finish setting everything up?"

"No, I think we can handle it. Great job on the decorations. I can't believe you found so much stuff with "5" or "05" on it. Let me guess: kids birthday party section and graduation party section?" She pulls out a package of cardboard and tinsel table decorations with a huge glittery '5' in the center.

Phyllis giggles. "A little here, a little there."

Back in the conference room, Pam enlists JIm's help in hanging streamers around the room--five rows, of course. He acts affronted, puts his hands on his hips. "You're just using me for my reach, aren't you?"

Pam smirks. "You caught me. Put those freakishly long fingers to good use," she teases as she hands him a strip of tape. Their fingertips brush together as he tries to unstick it and images of those long fingers being put to very good use in a way very different from taping up bits of crepe paper. It distracts her from noticing that he has his hand extended towards her and is asking for another piece of tape.

"Uh, hello, calling space cadet Beesly. Stay with me here, this is important stuff we're doing."

"Sorry! I just got...I was thinking." She glances up at him, hoping that this would be the one time he couldn't tell what she's thinking (don't think about your best friend like that) and notices for the first time that he's doing an absolutely terrible job. "Jim, seriously? That's how you hang streamers?"

His eyebrows disappear underneath his hair and he does a remarkable job of looking truly offended. "Oh, I didn't realize that I was talking to the authority on streamer hanging. Care to show me how it's done, then?" He hands her the roll he's holding and she playfully snatches it away from him.

"Yes, I do. Watch and learn, Halpert." She climbs up on a chair and demonstrates how you have to turn crepe paper so that it twisted and doesn't he know anything? He laughs at (with) her as she tapes it back up and does a polite golf clap as she turns back towards him and gives a small bow. "See? Not so hard. Now help me down or I'm going to break an ankle."

He steps towards her and reaches out a hand. Its an innocent gesture, a response to an innocent request, but when her hand slides across his palm and she feels his fingers curl across her skin...well. The images that flashed through her mind earlier come back in full force and are accompanied by a several new ones. Out of the corner of her eye she sees him hold out his other hand and she doesn't think twice about taking it. The world, the universe, time itself seem to slow as he helps her step down. And then the world, the universe, time itself, they all froze, just for a second, at the moment that Jim and Pam are eye to eye.

Jim's eyes are dark, the pupils so huge that she can barely see any green. Pam wishes that she can just stay where she is and look at them for...for forever? She doesn't know, she doesn't want to think about it, just wants to stay where she is if it means she can look at him looking at her.

Gravity has other plans, however, and she continues to move towards the ground. Her eyes travel down his face as her feet touch the floor--when she's level with his mouth, with his lips slightly parted and a hitched breath escaping from between them, she changes her mind and decides she wanted to stay there.

And then its over, her feet are on the ground and she thinks she feels his thumbs slide across the backs of her hands but she can't be sure. She wants to ask him to do it again (or do it for the first time) but he drops her hands and steps away. He clears his throat and scrubs the back of his neck with a hand (a hand that was just holding hers) and finally lamely gestures towards the streamers. "Um, looks great. You know what you're doing."

Pam laughed, kind of, more of a breathy exhale that only slightly resembled a laugh. "Thanks. I was voted 'Most Likely to Succeed in Decorating for Office Parties' in high school, so." It's a lame joke but she can't think of anything else to say because she can't...she doesn't know why she...it's those pre-wedding jitters again. It has to be, because that's the only explanation for how she's feeling. She's just nervous because she's getting married soon(ish) and Jim is cute (objectively) and they're close and Roy's been so busy lately and it's just an innocent, friendly thing.

He has his back towards her and is rifling through the shopping bags, but he laughs at her joke and he can't see her face to read what she's thinking, thankfully. His laugh makes her feel better, makes the tension roll away and lets things get back to normal. Normal, where she's engaged to Roy and she's happy and yeah maybe she's had some...inappropriate thoughts about her best (work) friend, but Roy has just all but admitted to having those same types of thoughts about all kinds of people, like Katy--

"Katy."

Jim whips his head towards her. "What's that?"

Shit. "Um, Katy, right? That's the name of the girl you...of the girl who sold purses?"

Jim turns back away and picks at the cellophane around a pack of napkins. "Yeah, that's right. What about her? Need a purse?"

"No, just, uh, just wondering how she's doing. How you guys are doing."

"Oh, fine, I guess. It's not really a serious thing." He turns to face her and about twenty different emotions flit across his face. She picks up on a few: hopefulness, desperation, indifference, fear. "We've only hung out once or twice. She's nice. I don't...she's not exactly my type, really."

And for Pam, that settles it. Its nervousness about her upcoming wedding, just like she'd decided earlier, and if it isn't? It doesn't matter. She and Jim are friends, they will always be friends, and they will never be more. Could never be more. Engagement aside, if someone like Katy wasn't Jim's type, then meek and mousy Pam Beesly never could be. So none of it matters. Their friendship was just friendship; she just feels so close to him because he's the only one in the office that she can relate to (because he's the only other sane one). She needs friends outside of work, she needs to appreciate her friendship with Jim for what it was, and she needs to always remember that love with Roy was the only love that mattered.

She clears her throat and helps him smooth out wrinkles in the table cloth he'd just laid down. "Oh. Well, that's too bad. You guys are cute together."

"Yeah. Hey, where should these go?" He holds up the centerpieces and she points out where she thought they'd look best. They finished setting up that way; Jim asking questions and Pam answering and neither making eye contact. Angela comes in as they're finishing up and asks Pam to help her put the food out. Jim takes that opportunity to head back to his desk and get to work on something that's apparently very engrossing.

Todd Packer swaggered in as Pam and Angela finish setting out the food. Michael immediately insists that everyone abandon what they're doing and come to the conference room for the party. Packer immediately dubs it a Cinco de Mayo party, asks where the margaritas were (earning Angela a nasty look from Michael) and makes a crude joke about finding a girl to "sink-o his may-o" in.

The party seems to be a success, though, even if people are a little confused by the theme. There's laughing and socializing and its always nice to not have to work and eat guacamole instead. Pam chats with each of her co-workers and nibbles on party food and carefully and deliberately avoids Jim. Its stupid, really, there isn't a point to it, she should just go talk to him, but then she finds herself in a conversation with Oscar and Toby and she can always just talk to Jim tomorrow.

But then he meets her eye from across the room and she feels bad for him because Kelly has him cornered. Pam makes her way towards them and tells Kelly that Creed is looking for her. Jim looks relieved when Kelly leaves and gives Pam a small smile. "Thank god for Creed, huh?"

"Oh no, I made that up. I figured he'd never know the difference, anyway." Jim laughs and Pam knows things would be okay. They were probably never not okay; she was probably over analyzing every little thing just like she always does. Fleeting thoughts and warm feelings in the pit of her stomach because Jim Halpert held her hands didn't mean anything, because they were Jim and Pam, coworkers and good friends.

"Great party, by the way. Streamers look like they were done by a real professional."

"Well, I had excellent help. Thank you."

"No problem. It was fun."

"Yeah. Yeah, it was."

"Hey! I can't believe I haven't told you this, it's so cool. Do you remember that-"

"Pammy. Hey, Pammy!" Pam turns towards the door and sees Roy standing just outside the conference room. He looks impatient. She turns back towards Jim and his expression is, for once, unreadable. She wants to ask what was wrong, but she doesn't get a chance before Roy calls her name again. "Pam! I'm ready to go. I'll meet you downstairs." He leaves before she can acknowledge him.

"Um, yeah. I gotta get going. Tell me later?"

"Sure. Have a good night, Pam. See you tomorrow."

"Yeah. Look, really, thanks. You were a huge help today. You keep me from losing my mind, here, Jim."

A smile broke across his face, the kind that lit up his eyes and was kind of lopsided but incredibly endearing. "Same here, Pam."

On her ride home, she leans her head against the window and lets the cool air from the AC blow across her face. She keeps thinking about Jim, about the way he laughs with her and helps her and looks at her and how he was just so great.

She can't wait until tomorrow, so she can see him again.

__________
End Notes:
Thank you for reading! If you are enjoying, please let me know. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Basically, please let me know what you think!
Message by BigTuna
Author's Notes:
Some notes for this chapter:
-I went back and edited previous chapters so that the tense is all the same, so feel free to reread.
-Part of this chapter is based on a few deleted scenes. One is where Dwight describes his perfect woman (Konikotaka, a fictional anime character who was orphaned and brought up by a businessman. She's a martial artist and also a survivor of monster rape. She's on Dwight's shirt in the "Basketball" episode. Another scene is a prank that Jim and Pam play on Dwight, in which Jim find's Dwight's wallet in the parking lot, Pam suggests to leave everything alone and give it back to him, and Dwight is convinced that they did something sinister so he cancels all his credit cards. There's also an extended scene where Jim and Pam discuss the name of the game they play where they throw things in Dwight's coffee cup; that's where skeet-shruting came from.

Obviously I took some liberties with this prompt, but instant messages and text messages are still messages, right?
__________


Jim has spent the summer convincing himself that he and Pam are just friends. He's been doing a good job of it. Really. He's been seeing Katy, kind of, since late spring, and yeah okay she isn't exactly his type but she's always excited to see him and cute and peppy and she laughs at his jokes and in relationships sometimes you have to make compromises, right? You can't always be with your perfect match or soulmate or whatever; sometimes you're with someone that also fits the description of a labrador but that's just how it is. And Jim is okay with that, and he's been able to almost persuade himself that he's not in love with Pam and he can move past his crush or infatuation or whatever the best term is and it's been...things have been good.

Yeah, sometimes (a lot of times) he thinks about the day of the 05-05-05 party, when he found out what it felt like to have her fingertips slide across his palm, when he found out that his hands could completely cover her small ones, when he could have sworn he watched her rake her eyes across his body and get a little fixated on his mouth. But generally, he does okay. He's gotten in this nice kind of safe area where he can enjoy her company and joke and laugh and mess around with Dwight but also not get that feeling like he's been punched in the gut.

Until she kissed him. That blew the entire thing straight to hell.

It wasn't even...it isn't even a big thing. It could so very easily be written off as something friendly and alcohol-fueled and because she was so happy about her 'Whitest Sneakers' Dundie. Friends kissed friends like that, sometimes, just an innocent thing that doesn't deserve to be analyzed or dissected or replayed over and over and over. Which, of course, is what Jim's been doing since the second it happened.

More than that, though, he's been analyzing and dissecting and replaying the moment they'd shared after, in the parking lot. Where he could feel her shoulder pressed against his as they laughed about her bathroom graffiti. Where she looked at him with wide eyes and a hesitant expression, like she was about to jump off of a cliff instead of talk to him in a Chili’s parking lot. He’d felt so hopeful when she'd asked if she could ask him a question. Like she was going to ask something significant, say something that would make all of this actually mean something, because there was just no way that she didn't know, didn't feel it too. Those damn cameras, though, they'd been there lurking in the parking lot and made everything weird, made Pam self conscious.

So he'd never know what she wanted to ask. And she'd kissed him. Those two things completely destroy the wall that he's carefully constructed over the summer. He's in deep, he can no longer even try to deny to himself that he loves her. Its amazing, and it also sucks.

He's taking it one day at a time.

Which brings him to now, to this particular day, which is turning out to be one of the best he's had in a long time. Finding Dwight's wallet in the parking lot is good enough, but Pam's suggestion to put everything exactly as it was and just return it to Dwight is nothing short of genius. Watching Dwight painstakingly navigate automated systems so that he could cancel his credit cards (including one for a short sleeved dress shirt warehouse that Jim didn't even know existed but explains a lot) is enough to make anybody's day, but when Dwight mournfully calls the number on the back of a slightly pornographic looking business card, things get even better. He pulls up his and Pam's instant messenger window (is it telling that the first thing he does when he gets to work is sign onto IM so that he can discreetly talk to Pam all day?) and alerts her to the most recent development.

JIM9334: What's the name of that Japanese cartoon girl that Dwight is obsessed with?
Receptionitis15: Konikotaka.
Receptionitis15: I hate that I know that.
Receptionitis15: Why? Got a crush yourself there, Jim? :-P
JIM9334: God, no.
JIM9334: I just think that Dwight is currently agonizing over whether or not we compromised his membership to the Konikotaka fan club.
Receptionitis15: omg
Receptionitis15: omg!!!
Receptionitis15: Wow. That's kind of sad. He looks like he's going to cry. I couldn't hear, did he cancel his membership?
JIM9334: Pam, don't feel bad for him. This is Dwight we're talking about.
JIM9334: And yes, he did cancel his membership. He said he would still be active on the internet forums, thought, so it's not as bleak as it seems.
Receptionitis15: Is it weird that I have kind of a morbid interest in finding these forums and seeing what goes on there?
Receptionitis15: OK OK! Don't give me that look.
JIM9334: I just don't want you to be permanently scarred or anything.
JIM9334: Because who the hell knows what gets discussed on a Kanikatanka forums.
Receptionitis15: Konikotaka. Get it right, Jim.
JIM9334: Whatever.
JIM9334: Dork.
Receptionitis15: 8-)

The phone rings then, so Pam turns to answer it and Jim minimizes his chat window. He actually has some work to get done today, expense reports, but he isn't quite able to muster up the energy to do more than ten minutes of actual work before he dies of boredom. Pam always comes to rescue when he dies of boredom, so he does it pretty often. And sure enough, he hears the chime of a new instant message.

Receptionitis15: Revive yourself and come over here. I have a secret game to show you.

Pam's game (skeet-shruting, they decide to call it) turns into a day of games and Jim has the most fun he can remember having in a long time. Pam effortlessly steps into the role of co-chair and the whole day is just...great. Largely due to her. The way she pulls everyone back into the spirit of the games with the closing ceremonies is, quite frankly, amazing. Jim is amazed by her. In awe of her. She puts a smile on his face that lasts until well after he gets home.

He's in front of the TV with leftovers and a beer when his cell phone vibrates. The smile on his face gets bigger when he sees that it's a message from Pam.

I have a confession.

spill the beans beesly

Curiosity got the best of me.

???

I went to the Konikotaka forums.

pam, no!!!

I couldn't help it!

is it sad that i kind of want to know all the details?

Trust me, you don't.

But get on IM and I'll tell you anyway. :)

lol

see you soon


Jim is all too happy to oblige. His laptop is upstairs in his bedroom and chatting with Pam while in his bedroom sounds appealing, even if it's just online, so he shuts off the TV and heads upstairs. It only takes a few seconds of internal debate to decide that (online) chatting with Pam while he's stretched out in bed sounds really appealing, so he rushes to take a shower and get settled in.

Receptionitis15: Took you long enough, Halpert.
Receptionitis15: What'd you do, solve world hunger?
JIM9334: Yep. And took a shower, got ready for bed.
Receptionitis15: I'm in bed too!

That makes Jim's stomach twist, but not in an unpleasant way. Chatting with Pam while they're both in bed sounds the most appealing of all, online or otherwise--but he doesn't let himself think about the "otherwise" part of that thought.

Receptionitis15: You there?
JIM9334: Yeah, sorry. I hope I'm not keeping anybody awake.
Receptionitis15: No, it's just me. Roy went out with Kenny, or someone. He'll probably be out all night, since it's Friday.
JIM9334: Ah.
Receptionitis15: Oh gosh, I'm not keeping *you* from anything, am I?
Receptionitis15: I mean, you're not ignoring Katy or anyone to talk to me, right?
JIM9334: No, I'm not with Katy. I'm all yours, Beesly.
Receptionitis15: So...it's none of my business, I know, but are you guys...
JIM9334: Are we what?
JIM9334: Are we guys? Is that what you're asking?
JIM9334: I don't know if you've noticed, Pam, but yes, I am a guy. Katy does not seem to be. Does that answer your question?
Receptionitis15: You're such a goob.
Receptionitis15: But no, I meant, are you guys dating?
JIM9334: I don't know, honestly. We see each other time to time. It's casual, if anything.
Receptionitis15: Oh. I just remember you said once that she wasn't really your type, is all.
JIM9334: Wow, stalker much? ;-)
Receptionitis15: OMG, you're so right. I'm sorry, it's none of my business. I've had some wine tonight, it makes me talkative.
JIM9334: I'm very familiar with inebriated Pam. I remember your speech at the Dundies.
Receptionitis15: God really was in that Chili's, Jim. Don't make fun. ;-)
JIM9334: Oh I totally felt it, Pam. It was a religious experience for me for sure.
JIM9334: But you're right, I did say that. But not every couple can be a perfect match, right?
Receptionitis15: No. They can't.
JIM9334: Anyway. She's nice. We have lunch plans next week, I think. We're just hanging out.
JIM9334: Hello?
Receptionitis15: I'm here, sorry.
JIM9334: Back on those forums again, huh?
Receptionitis15: Oh my god, I can't believe I haven't told you about them yet! I think I found Dwight's account. Actually, I feel positive I found Dwight's account, because someone posts on the public board under the name DwightKShrute.
Receptionitis15: There are some private boards that you have to be a member of, too. I have no desire to try to get on those, though, the public board was bad enough.
JIM9334: Do I want to know?
Receptionitis15: Jim, it's sad. He's obsessed with this girl, this fake girl. She's his dream girl and he can literally never have her.

They talk for a while longer, but Jim doesn't feel the same excitement he'd felt when she first texted him. The conversation had taken a turn that was a little too close to reality, to his reality, and Jim feels about as pathetic as Dwight, pining over an unobtainable woman.

He know that he needs to try harder to move on, be more present with Katy, do something, because this? With Pam? It's never going to happen. The sooner he understands and accepts that, the better off he'll be. The wall he'd so carefully built over the summer--the one she tore down with a drunken kiss and a look in a parking lot--he starts to put it back up.

They can be friends. They are friends. That's all they'll ever be.

Receptionitis15: Okay, I feel like I've lost you. And it's pretty late, anyway. I better get to bed.
JIM9334: Oh yeah, sorry. Didn't mean to disappear like that. But you're probably right.
JIM9334: Night, Pam.
Receptionitis15: Goodnight, Jim. Sweet dreams.

__________
End Notes:
I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to know what you guys think! Please leave a review and pour your heart out!
Prank by BigTuna
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"I like your costume. It's really funny. I could never come up with something like that."

"Nah, you could. You're almost as funny and smart as I am. I like your costume, too. Cute whiskers."

A blush colors her cheeks. "Thanks. I didn't realize there'd be so many cats in here today, though."

"Yeah, we'll have to make sure someone keeps the litter box clean."

"Gross, Jim. Not on Halloween. There's no kitten around on Halloween."

"Pam, seriously. If I can't make cat toilet humor, you can't make cat puns."

Pam giggles and she can feel her tongue pushing against the back of her teeth the way that it does when she's genuinely pleased about something, genuinely pleased with herself. "Sorry. I'll stop. Right meow."

Jim groans and rolls his eyes but she can tell that he thinks it's funny by the way he ducks his head and smiles. "On fire today, Pam. Nice work." His hands dangle over the edge of her desk and she watches them straighten and curl as he flexes them. She gets a little mesmerized by them, by their length and shape and the how they curve around the lip of the counter top and thinks that she might get better at drawing hands if she could draw his and maybe she should ask him. The words bubble up in the back of her throat and start to dance their way across her tongue before her brain catches up and she's getting ready to say I hope this isn't weird but can I draw your hands sometime because I suck at drawing hands and you have great ones, Roy's are always too dirty when he speaks again. "Hey, what was that with Michael this morning?"

She swallows her question and instead tells him about how Michael has apparently had all month to fire someone and has waited until the last possible minute to do so. They speculate for a moment and Jim casts a comically furtive glance around the office as they try to discern who it might be. This, of course, brings Dwight over. When they don't immediately tell him what they're talking about, he points out that Pam isn't the only cat in the office and punches Jim in the chest.

Dwight is still cackling as Jim leans further in towards Pam and rubs the heel of his hand across his chest. Pam watches him press his palm against his shirt, watches the way the fabric pulls against him as he move his hand, almost gets distracted enough to miss Jim muttering under his breath that it's too bad Dwight won't be the one getting fired. She catches it, though, straightens up and snaps herself out it and instead of looking at Jim's hand where it's still against his chest, she looks at her computer screen.

"We should put his resume on job hunting websites. Maybe we can solve Michael's problem for him." She pulls up monster.com and looks up at Jim with what she hopes is an innocent expression on her face. "I'm sure there are even some out of state jobs that he's a perfect fit for."

He comes to stand behind her, close enough that they can whisper without worry of being found out by Dwight or Michael or someone else. Pam knows that Jim should probably be at his own desk, that today is one of those rare days where it's important to do actual work. Again, the words are about to jump out of her mouth on their own accord, but he's laughing at something she wrote and she forces why don't I just write up a fake resume and email it to you because it's easy for me to pretend to look busy and somebody's getting fired today back down to wherever it was it came from.

And anyway, she likes it when Jim positions himself behind his desk like that. He always braces his hands on the edge of the desk and brackets her body with his arms. It makes her feel kind of hidden away in a secret little space: the reception counter in front of her, Jim's arms on either side of her, Jim himself behind her. A secret little space where she doesn't have any problems and is always in a good mood.

They spend a fair amount of time on Dwight's resume and Pam thinks it might be her favorite prank ever.

When finally Jim walks back to his desk, she feels cold.

Dwight is thankfully away from his desk when someone from Cumberland Mills calls. Pam transfers them to Jim's phone and is immediately enthralled by his quick thinking. His Michael Scott impression is spot on and Pam is a little blown away by how clever he is, how funny. He's like a magnet, she can't pull her eyes away from his face. After he hangs up she extends a hand for their signature move and knows without a doubt that he's doing the same.

It turns out that the resume prank is a gift that keeps on giving. Messing with Dwight is always a guaranteed good time (even if she's just a spectator) but it's doubly hilarious to watch him whisper on the phone about martial arts experience while in a black robe and thick makeup. Jim struggles to contain his laughter when Dwight calls back to see if his fax was received and seeks refuge at Pam's desk. She knows that the cameras are watching her watch him, but she can't help it, so she doesn't.

She thinks again that he's just so great. It's like a broken record in her head: Jim's great. Jim's great. Jim's great. Because he is, he's talented and funny and great at his job without really trying. He deserves to have people calling him up and offering him positions with more money and better benefits, not Dwight. It's unfair, it's so unfair because Jim could do so much better than Dunder Mifflin, and she can feel words once again forming in her mouth before her brain can stop them and this time they spill out of her mouth before she can stop them.

"Don't take this the wrong way, but you should go for that job." She doesn't know why she says it because she really feels like it would be the end of the world if Jim left, but the words are out there, hanging in the space between them.

His face falls and then recovers, kind of. "Um, it's in Maryland."

"Yeah." More words force themselves up and out of her mouth and she understands the phrase 'word vomit.' "But, I mean, look at the salary. And it's definitely a step up. And a challenge."

He looks like he can't understand why she'd say that, like she's flipped everything around and is playing a prank on him. His mouth quirks up on one side but not in a smile and Pam finally realizes what she's said and she wants so bad to take it back so that she can take that look off of his face. He doesn't respond when she calls out to him, just walks away, and she is overcome with the urge to cry.

They've had pranks backfire before, sure. There was the time that the jello clogged up Dwight's calculator and they had to order him a new one, the time that Toby was an unintended victim and was locked in the bathroom for close to an hour, the time Dwight gave himself a black eye with the receiver of his phone and and got Jim written up for it (Pam felt guilty for that one because the nickels in Dwight's headset was her idea). But none had backfired like this. None had left Pam feeling like she could vomit a lot more than just words.

All she was trying to do was...she just wanted to be nice, give him a compliment. He should have Dwight's job, Michael's job even. He really should go for the Cumberland Mills job because he could be great at it, and Pam is torn between wanting her (best) friend to be happy and successful and wanting him to stay here. With her.

She can see him talking to the documentary crew in the conference room. He's leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and he looks almost angry. That's probably not the best description, but she's never quite seen him look like that so she doesn't know what else to call it. She's trying to figure it out when Michael interrupts his talking head in a low voice and a serious expression on his face.

Pam's heart sinks as Jim follows Michael into his office without so much as a glance in her direction. It drops directly into the pit of her stomach as she watches Michael close the blinds. Dwight does everything but say the words 'Jim's fired' and it drops to somewhere around her knees.

When the door opens and Jim comes out, she jumps to her feet and rushes towards him without pretense. He still doesn't look at her but she grabs his hand, clutches at it in something a lot like desperation and she absolutely does not care if the cameras see because it can't be him that Michael's decided to fire.

She feels a rush of thankfulness when he says "it wasn't me" but it's quickly replaced by the now familiar feeling of her heart dropping again (to her feet, this time) when he pulls away from her. She follows him, partly to get away from Michael as he opens his door again, but mostly to find Jim, find a way to apologize or make him understand that the last thing she wants in the world is for him to go somewhere else. She thinks about saying it was all a prank, gotcha Jim, ha ha ha, trick or treat, Happy Halloween! but he disappears into the men's restroom and she hears the phone ring so she hurries back to her desk.

The rest of the afternoon is, in a word, horrible. It was horrible anyway, but now it was more horrible. They all listen as Creed successfully negotiates not being fired and then as Devon storms out in a way that Pam is a little bit jealous of. There's a mass exodus because Poor Richards's sounds way better than the Halloween party and Jim is walking past her desk not looking at her again and here comes the word vomit:

"Oh, hey, Jim, wait! Stop. Uh, I'm sorry for pushing you toward Cumberland." He's still not smiling, his mouth is lopsided but it doesn't look right and she hears herself say that if he left she would blow her brains out and finally finally he laughs again and what feels like a ten ton weight falls from her shoulders. He motions for her to come with them, come with him, and she rushes to grab her coat and purse. There's a forgotten game of free cell still up on her computer, as well as her Dunder Mifflin email account, but she can't bothered with shutting it all down.

She sits by him at Poor Richard's and tells him how much she needs a drink. He doesn't ask why or offer an explanation when he says he needs one, too. Her heart is still not quite in the right place (it's hanging out somewhere around her belly button) so she drinks close to half of her beer in an attempt to coax it back up. Maybe the carbonation will help push it back to the center of her chest, she thinks.

Next to her, Jim has downed almost half of his drink as well. He picks at the edge of a napkin and speaks without looking at her. "Hey, so, do you think you could come in early one day later this week? Wednesday, maybe? I figured out today that the men's bathroom has just enough room to fit a desk, so...you know. I need your help, Beesly." He looks up at her then, green eyes shining and crooked smile firmly in place.

Pam smiles back, tongue against her teeth, and her heart nestles back in place behind her breastbone. "Sure. Wednesday sounds good."

__________
End Notes:
Thank you for reading, and thank you to those that have left jellybeans and reviews! I've enjoyed writing again and writing this story so much, so I hope that you all are enjoying too. Please feel free to let me know what you think! :)
Office Romance by BigTuna
Author's Notes:
Everyone's favorite: Email Surveillance! This chapter was a struggle, but overall I (think) I'm happy with it. Let me know what you think!
__________


"So, I definitely think there's an office romance happening."

He doesn't quite register what she's said until a few seconds have passed. Once he realizes that she spoke, he very quickly has three thoughts. The first: Pam is on my bed and looking for all the world like she belongs there. The second: yeah of course, it's happening right now. The third: she's engaged she's engaged she's engaged. Thankfully, none of those thoughts make their way from his brain to his mouth. Instead, he says: "what's that?"

"An office romance! I've been observing Dwight and Angela all day."

"Ew. What happened to happy thoughts?"

"I know, I'm sorry! Yes, ew. But also, a little cute?"

"Okay, who are you, and what have you done with Pam?"

Pam laughs and tosses his high school yearbook to the side. She turns towards him and literally flops forward on the bed. She props her elbows up and rests her chin in her hands. Jim's heart stops.

"I'm serious! They're kind of perfect for each other."

Jim just looks at her. His expression, whatever it is, makes her laugh. His heart stops again. There's something about Pam laying across his bed with her chin in her hands and a smile on her face that is...just, it's something. He notices that his heart has restarted, harder and faster than before and somewhere in the vicinity of his throat.

"If you say so, Beesly."

"I do, Halpert. So suck it. Oh! Did I tell you that she bought two Baby Ruth bars today? And guess who was eating one earlier?"

"Could be coincidence. I just can't believe that anybody would actually want to be a relationship with Dwight."

"Yeah. But. Angela is definitely...unique."

"True. Well, keep me updated. You've roped me into this so I have no choice but to see it through."

She laughs again, then leans onto one hand so that she can bring the other one down to pick at a lose thread on his bedspread. "So, um, speaking of relationships." Her eyes meet his, kind of, because her own barely peek up from underneath her lashes. "I was just wondering-"

"Oh! Sorry. Thought this was the bathroom." Jim swings towards the door in time to see Oscar backing away from it. "Across the hall?" Oscar disappears before Jim can answer, so he instead turns back towards Pam to see that she's off the bed with an anxious expression on her face and her right band busy twisting her ring (engagement ring) around her finger.

"Um, yeah, we should-"

"I guess we'll go back-"

"-I'm just gonna head downstairs and get a drink. See you down there?" She doesn't wait for him to respond, just walks past him and hurries out of the room.

Jim sighs. He looks at the spot on the edge of his bed, the spot that he swears still bears Pam's imprint and drags a hand down his face. He's pretty sure that he'll lay awake all night and replay the words "speaking of relationships" in his mind over and over, wondering how in the world she was planning on finishing that sentence. He sighs again and turns to head downstairs.

A drink sounds good.

__________


Pam needs--she doesn't know what she needs. Another beer, maybe. To get away from the cameras, definitely, because what she doesn't need them to zoom in on her face and get footage of her as she tries to process the fact that Phyllis assumes that she and Jim are part of an office romance.

She meant Dwight and Angela, obviously. Obviously. Not...she and Jim are just friends, best friends that joke and prank and have fun in the office. She pushes aside an invasive thought about Angela's ridiculous Pam Pong game and how tries to forget how quick Phyllis was to assume that there was more to their relationship--friendship--than there really was.

Yes. Another beer, definitely.

She usually doesn't like beer, but Jim's is way fancier than the stuff of Roy's that's usually in their refrigerator. She twists the cap off with the edge of her shirt and heads to the corner of the living room. Everyone is watching Phyllis timidly sing karaoke and nobody talks to her and for that she's thankful, because her own thoughts are going a mile a minute and she doesn't think she can handle a conversation.

She takes a drink of Jim's classy imported beer and admits it to herself: they flirt. She flirts. And sure, she often turns to Jim for emotional support, or just support in general. And that's good, right? It's good to have a friend like that, someone to be silly with and tell your worries to and get advice from. Roy has never been that for Pam and she's never been that for him and Jim has stepped into that role nicely and that's fine. It's good. It's normal. Her own mom doesn't rely on her dad for any of that stuff and they had a perfectly healthy relationship, they have best friends outside of their marriage, and that's fine. It doesn't mean that there's some clandestine romance. And yes, fine, okay, she's had some inappropriate thoughts and maybe she's more interested in Jim's relationship status than he himself seems to be, but he's objectively attractive and she wants him to be happy and those things are normal too. Totally totally normal.

Jim sits next to her then and asks about her side project, and she decides it's best to just let the whole thing go. If she really was involved in a secret office romance, she'd want it to stay that way. And besides, just because two people hang out or share candy bars or play pranks or whatever doesn't mean that they're into each other, and that's what she tells the doc crew when they (annoyingly) pull her outside for a talking head and ask what she's uncovered on Dwight and Angela.

She spends the rest of the night sitting on Jim's couch, sometimes squeezed next to Jim himself, and thinks about...things. She thinks about how the two most important men in her life, Jim and Roy, and how they fill such different roles in her life. The little voice asks: shouldn't your fiance also be your best friend? but she reflects again on her own parent's marriage and decides that no, real life and real relationships aren't like that. It's not a fairy tale, it's reality.

Jim bumps her shoulder with his and smiles down at her. She smiles back instinctively. She thinks about what she'd do if she didn't have him in her life, if he wasn't her best friend. If she lost him. She doesn't like to think about that.

So she doesn't.

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End Notes:
Thank you to all those who have read and reviewed! I appreciate the feedback so much. See you soon!
Secret Santa by BigTuna
Author's Notes:
Another reference to a deleted scene in here, for the episode "Christmas Party." Pam's Secret Santa recipient is Meredith and Pam paints her a picture because she had at one point said she likes Pam's art.
__________


The office draws for Secret Santa the first week of December. Jim gets a name and doesn't immediately unfold it, because he knows that as soon as he unfolds the paper he'll look at whoever it is he got and then the "secret" in Secret Santa is ruined. He opens it later, when he's in the men's room, and he's glad he saved it because it says Pam. He lingers over it, lets the smile that comes from seeing her name on a tiny slip of paper stay on his face for a little longer than he would have otherwise. The thought of getting to buy a Christmas gift specially and specifically for Pam is...it's good. He's excited.

Pam's in the kitchen when he comes out of the restroom and he tries to not smile like an idiot so he doesn't give himself away. It doesn't work, of course, but he's always smiling like an idiot when she's around so she probably can't tell that this smile is a I got you in Secret Santa smile and not his usual you're amazing and gorgeous and I'm happy when I'm with you smile.

"Hey. Did you do your weird Secret Santa bathroom ritual?"

"I don't know what you're talking about. And why are you so interested in my bathroom rituals?"

She shrugs. "I know what you do in there, Halpert."

He loves it when she's like this, when she's in a fun mood and initiates the jokes and makes him feel like it's not a totally one sided thing. When she dances across the line in the same way he does. "Wow. Just...wow." She ducks her head down and grins up at him, and it looks like she's enjoying the game they're playing as much as he does. She's glowing, radiant, so bright that he can't keep looking at her because it's just too much, so he pulls open the refrigerator and reaches in to pull out his lunch, even though it's only 11:25.

Pam follows suit and pulls out her own lunch. She sits in the seat next to him and waits what he suspects she believes to be a polite amount of time before asking the question he knows she's been wanting to ask. "So who'd you get for Secret Santa?"

"Against the rules, Pam."

"Come on! I'll tell you who I got. I'm actually kind of excited about, they're one of the only people here that has said they like my art. Except for you, of course.”

"Meredith?" She gives him a surprised look and he knows that he's right. "You told me she was really interested in your sketchbook that time you brought it in." He takes a bite of his ham and cheese in what he hopes is a nonchalant way because he realizes he might have given himself away a little, let on just how much he hangs on every word she says.

He doesn't see it, but Pam's eyebrows shoot up in surprise. "That...that was a long time ago. Good memory." She sounds pleased, though but also a little sad and it makes him wonder if Roy remembers things like that. Or if she even talks to Roy about things like that. She clears her throat and interrupts his thoughts with "Um, so yeah, you know who I got. Who did you get?"

"You'll never get it out of me. May as well give it up now."

She bumps his knee with hers underneath the table. "You're no fun. I bet you have all kinds of juicy secrets over there, Fort Knox."

Nope, he thinks. Just the one.

He goes that weekend to buy her gift, a teapot that he knows she wants because she told him so herself. It's something else he remembers, something she mentioned to him offhandedly about a week after Halloween. She'd been to the outlets the weekend before and raved about the cutest teal teapot that was the perfect size for brewing tea at her desk but how she didn't get it because they needed to save money and money was a little tighter because they were still paying on the jet-skis. At the time, Jim filed away the useful information (teapot) and tried to forget the frustrating information (jet-skis taking priority over more important things). He's relieved to find the teapot quickly and he has to laugh at how he was likely to have picked it out for her himself if he didn't know she wanted it; it was very Pam. The teapot itself isn't enough, though, so he spends the weeks before the Christmas party thinking up things to add to it: bonus gifts.

He knows immediately that he's going to add his yearbook photo, the one she thought was so dorky and funny (and hopefully kind of cute). When he can't track down any extra wallet size photos, he brings the yearbook into the office and covertly makes a copy when Michael has her distracted in his office. He also adds in a cassette tape that he'd made back in high school and that they'd listened to when she was teaching him to drive stick shift over lunch breaks--something that he'd known how to do for a good decade, but she'd offered and he'd jumped at the chance to spend some extra time with her. She'd good-naturedly ribbed him about his choice in music back at age 15, but by the end of the first week she'd been singing along at the top of her lungs to "Informer" (as much as anyone can sing along to that song) and "Better Man" (the irony of which was not lost on Jim). Another addition is the pencil that she threw at him after he soundly kicked her ass at team-building mini golf and gloated about it. He kept it and would occasionally hide it somewhere at her desk, which turned into an ongoing game of mini golf pencil hide-and-seek. He rounds the extra gifts out with the Boggle timer that Dwight had used to time Jim's cold calls back when he first started ("because if you can't make the sale in 3 minutes, you don't deserve it!") that Pam was thought was hilarious and one of the three Taco Bell hot sauce packets that she'd mistaken for ketchup. He's really satisfied with it; thinks that she'll like it. Hopes that she'll love it.

It isn't until the night before the party that he decides to include a card. Maybe it's because he worries that the gift is still lacking, isn't significant enough. He thinks that maybe the universe is throwing him a bone in letting him draw Pam's name, giving him an opportunity to come clean and lay all his cards on the table--or in this case, lay one card in a box with a Secret Santa gift. Maybe it's because Mark and his girlfriend are watching Love, Actually and the scene with the cue card confession is like a gut punch. At Christmas you tell the truth, according to Andrew Lincoln, and that's really all the prompting he needs.

So he digs out a mostly full box of generic Christmas cards from a few years ago and sits down at his desk to write one out. He writes "Pam-" below the pre-printed message and surprisingly enough, the words come on their own. He very quickly runs out of room and considers flipping to the back of the card, but he's got at least 15 more in the box so he just gets a new one and starts over. This time he starts at the top of the page, well above the cursive "Wishing you a joyous Christmas and a Happy New Year!" and runs out of room again. Third time's the charm he thinks, and starts a new one.

This time he fills up all the empty space the card has to offer. He tells her how much these memories they have together mean to him, that the best part of coming to work is getting to make new ones with her. He tells her in no uncertain terms how he feels about her, how she makes him feel. He writes that making her laugh is the thing he wants to do for the rest of his life and that he couldn't go another day without telling her how he feels just in case she feels it too, even just a little. He just has to take the chance. He signs it "Love always, Jim" and means it.

The doc crew call them all in for talking heads the next day, asking each person who they got as their Secret Santa and what they got them as a gift. He knows by now that they have a very strict "don't interfere" policy, just like he knows that they know, so he doesn't see the harm in showing them the card as he packs it in the box. It's nice, actually, to not have to pretend as much. To be kind of honest with somebody--multiple somebodies, as it were. He can tell by the sound guy's raised eyebrows that they're impressed, but he doesn't know if it's because of his bravado or because of his stupidity. He doesn't know which one he's impressed with, either.

When she opens it, there in the circle with everyone else looking around, he thinks he might throw up he's so nervous. The smile on her face is heart-stoppingly radiant when she see what it is, though, and her reaction is absolutely genuine. She knows immediately that it's from him and he loves her for it. It makes him feel hopeful.

So when Michael instigates Yankee Swap or Dirty Christmas or whatever the hell stupid name its called and the teapot (and the memories and the card, holy shit the card) make its way around the circle, his heart sinks. He feels like an idiot when Pam chooses the iPod over the teapot, because of course. It's a metaphor for his entire life: Pam chose something else other than him and it doesn't matter how many dumb jokes there are or how earnestly he writes in a card, she will choose something other than him every day for the rest of her life. It's plain as day and evidenced by the ring on her finger and the man she goes home with every day and the fact that she refers to Jim as her "best friend" and not something else.

And it's not Pam's fault. It's his. He's known for years that she's engaged but he's allowed his feelings for her to root and flourish and become such a concrete part of his reality. He feels like the biggest jerk in the world, looking for hidden meaning and secret signals in every interaction he has with a woman who is nothing but his close friend. Yeah, maybe Christmas is the time to tell people how you feel, but not when the people you're having feelings for don't have them back--and shouldn't. He needs to be honest with himself more than anybody, needs to get a fucking grip on reality and stop hanging so much responsibility on Pam, someone who never asked for it. Who isn't even aware of it.

So later, even though she's got the teapot back and that makes him happy, he stomps it down and picks the card back out of the box. They laugh about the yearbook picture and the hot sauce and she's excited about the mixtape, but he's having like, an out of body experience about it. Like a fly on the wall, watching their interaction. It's obvious, painfully obvious, that there is nothing more than friendship there.

He stands in the parking lot of Poor Richard's later and watches everyone's tail lights as they exit the parking lot. It's late and he's kind of sad and lonely and a drink away from getting good and emotional, which is always a bad combination. His inhibitions are lowered enough that he does something really stupid: pulls out his phone and sends a text.

hey

heyyyy u! wat ru up 2

poor rich

i cn come by?

i need a rie home

b there soon! :)


He waits outside, not feeling the cold as much as he would because of the amount of alcohol in his system. He doesn't have to wait long, a little less than ten minutes, before a car pulls up in front of him. The driver gets out and hugs him so excitedly that it would have knocked him to the ground if he weren't standing against the wall. "It's great to see you, Jim. You've been such a stranger. I thought I'd never hear from you again."

"'S good to see you too, Katy."

__________
End Notes:
Thank you for reading! I appreciate any and all feedback. See you soon!
Video by BigTuna
__________


Michael calls them into the conference room first thing Friday morning. He's moved the table out and arranged the chairs in rows, all facing the TV. The color changing DVD symbol is bouncing around the screen and Pam wishes that they could watch that all day instead of whatever likely homemade video Michael has queued up.

Pam is one of the first ones in the conference room and takes a seat in the back of the room. Her coworkers file in behind her and she tries to catch Jim's eye so he can sit in the empty seat next to her, but he doesn't look at her. He sits a few rows ahead of her and she tries to not take it personally, but that's how the things have been since the Christmas party a week prior.

She worries that he's angry or upset with her about the whole teapot/iPod/White Christmas situation, but she doesn't know how to ask him. It all seemed fine by the end of the party, when she'd shown him that she'd traded with Dwight, but afterwards, at Poor Richard's, he'd gotten distant. Like he'd been avoiding her. She thought, at the time, that maybe it was just because she'd been so busy with Roy (trying to convince him that no, he doesn't need another round) and he'd been chatting with Kevin and Toby. It had felt weird that night, but she knew that come Monday morning, things would be back to normal.

But Monday morning has come and gone, and so has Tuesday...all the way to Friday. Pam wants to ask him straight out if he's mad at her or something, but she doesn't know how. She's never been good at confrontation of any kind, even if it's asking her best friend if there's something wrong between them. She's not good at being honest with her emotions, so she usually just doesn't say anything. Instead, she's sat at her desk all week and wondered why he wasn't joking around with her, why he hasn't eaten lunch with her, why he all of a sudden seems to have a distaste for jellybeans.

So when he doesn't sit next to her, it stings. She wants to kick herself for ever giving away his Secret Santa gift, because that's the only thing that she can think that would have caused him to feel any different towards her. It was so stupid. Yeah, she'd gotten it back, but that didn't make up for initially choosing the iPod and throwing his heartfelt gift in his face. If the roles had been reversed, she'd have been devastated. So she doesn't blame him if he is upset. It just sucks. It's been the longest week Pam's had at Dunder Mifflin since...since she can remember.

There's a sound next to Pam and she's jerked from her thoughts to see that Angela is sitting next to her and is looking at her with one eyebrow arched rather severely. Angela looks pointedly towards the front of the room and Pam follows her gaze to the back of Jim's head. She realizes that she's been staring at Jim as she thinks about their relationship and the weird turn it's taken over the last week. It's a blessing that the camera crew has already left for the year, because she just knows that they'd have been watching her watching him. They seem to almost always have a camera trained on her, for whatever reason. She can't figure it out.

At the front of the room, Michael is explaining why he's called them all in for a meeting on their last day before the holidays. "I've spent the last week working tirelessly for you. For my family. So that I can give you the best Christmas you can possibly have." He presses the play button and keeps talking. "And also because we have to come in tomorrow morning and do inventory--" he raises his voices over the sounds of noises of extreme indignation and powers through in a way that would be remarkable if it wasn't for the circumstances. "Don't, okay, just--look, gang, we have to do it, and I've worked really hard on this video that will hopefully reinventotutionalize the entire inventory taking process, okay, so let's just--just shut it, and watch the video."

The video turns out to be probably the best "Michael Scott Joint" she's ever seen. Well, "best" relative to all the others...but definitely the most entertaining. It's a remake of Home Alone filmed in the warehouse. Pam has a sneaking suspicion that it was filmed without Darryl's permission, because there's no way that Darryl would have allowed for industrial sized rolls of bubble wrap to be pushed down the stairs or for reams of paper to be tied from the railing and thrown at the shelving. The Michael on the video tried to marry together the themes of "beloved classic Christmas movie" and "end of the year inventory" with puns and jokes that the Michael in the conference room was very obviously proud of.

"If we don't get the inventory forms completed and sent to corporate on time, they might get lost in New York," video Michael says. Conference room Michael looks around the room with hopeful eyes and Pam laughs, a little bit out of pity but mostly because the joke was goofy enough to be just a little bit funny. Two rows ahead of her, she hears the unmistakable sound of Jim attempting (and failing) to stifle his own laughter. Michael is beaming, though, and Pam starts beaming too when she sees Jim turn his head and look at her over his shoulder. He's smiling. At her.

It's the first smile that she's seen from Jim in a week. It's brief and slight but it's something and it isn't until she sees it that she realizes just how much she's missed it. And seeing it means that maybe that there isn't anything wrong, that maybe he's just had an off week or been really busy or not felt well or something. She feels relieved, feels like they'll really and truly be back to normal now. She sure hopes so, because a week without her best friend is something that she absolutely does not want to go through again.

The video is over and Michael ushers them out of the conference room with a proud smile on his face. Pam doesn't yet feel like answering phones so she heads to the break room. 10:30 AM sounds like the perfect time for french onion chips and a Coke, so she selects both and makes herself comfortable at one of the tables. She's just gotten the bag open when Jim walks in.

"Hey," she says. She hears the hesitation in her voice, because sometimes a smile is just a smile and not a guarantee that things will be fixed--if they were ever even broken in the first place? She doesn't know, so she doesn't say anything else. Just waits.

"Oh, uh, hey." He offers her another little smile and she's unable to stop herself from returning it. That makes two in one day and that makes her happy, hopeful. "Didn't mean to interrupt your break."

"No no! It's fine. You can--you can join me, if you want." She pushes out a chair with her foot and it bumps against his side. He laughs softly, makes his selection, and turns to face her.

"Sure. I could use a break after that video, anyway." He sits down next to her but doesn't look at her, so she's able to study his face without fear of him seeing her do so. About fifty different emotions play out across his it and she tries to place them all: happiness, sadness, fear, anger...something that looks like resignation? She wants to analyze it but he chooses that moment to look up at her. Her bag of chips suddenly becomes very interesting.

"Um, yeah, right? I have to say, though, it was pretty good. Maybe his best."

"I'm partial to The Scranton Witch Project, myself."

Pam throws her head back and laughs. She can't believe that she's forgotten about The Scranton Witch Project. "Oh my god, that's the one from your first day, right?"

Jim looks at her then, really looks at her. It takes a minute (a few seconds, really, but it feels like much longer) but a real smile spreads across his face, all wide and crooked, and Pam has to stop herself from literally breathing a sigh of relief. He laughs, looks at his hands, then speaks: "Yep. My very first day. I should have turned and ran."

"Well, I'm glad you didn't. It would suck here without you."

What looks like fifty more emotions race across Jim's face, but this time she can't place any of them. The atmosphere in the room has suddenly changed; it feels heavy, tense. Pam feels a little bit like she's suffocating, like the air in the break room has gotten thick and it's pressing down on her, forcing her to do something or say something but what, she doesn't know.

Jim says it for her. "Thanks, Beesly. It would suck here without you, too." She doesn't know why, but hearing him say that makes a lump form in her throat. Probably just because he's been her best friend for years and she's felt all week that suddenly he wasn't anymore.

It's the thought of him no longer being her friend that pushes her to ask. "Um, are we...are you mad at me? Or upset or something?" The words are small and soft and she hopes for a second that he hasn't heard her and that he'll ask her to repeat herself and she can come up with a convincing lie, because it's scary, opening herself up and asking something like that. Giving a hint as to how she's feeling. She doesn't do that often.

"No. I'm not mad at you. I've had--it's been a weird week for me, personally. I'm sorry that I've been distant."

"It's okay." She twists her engagement ring around her finger without realizing that she's doing it. His eyes are trained on it, though, and she notices after a moment, so she stops. "Um, anything you wanna talk about?"

He looks at her and he's smiling but she sees that his eyes seem sad. "Nah. It's no big deal. But hey, we better get back." He pushes away from the table and she follows suit. "What do you think the odds are that Michael made more than one of those inventory videos?"

"They're probably all Christmas themed. Like, An Inventory Story."

"Nice. How about Santa Claus is Coming to Inventory?"

"Eh. Miracle on 34th Sheet of Paper."

"Wow. What's it like in there, inside your mind?"

She doesn't answer, just laughs. He laughs back. The prospect of getting up early on a Saturday to come into work and count packages of pens and legal pads suddenly doesn't seem so bad.

Not when's got her best friend there with her.

__________
End Notes:
Thank you to all who have read, reviewed, and left jellybeans! I appreciate all the feedback and would love to continue to hear your thoughts. See you soon!
That's What She Said by BigTuna
Author's Notes:
A little different than what you'd imagine for a TWSS prompt, but I hope that you enjoy it all the same!
__________


Jim's alarm goes off at 7:15 the following morning, Saturday. Inventory day. He snoozes the alarm and buys himself an extra nine minutes. The bed is inviting and he pulls the covers back up over his shoulders and turns towards the warm body that's next to him. He's still in that place somewhere in between sleep and awake, the place where the dreams and reality can so often get mixed up, but the small figure laying next to him is so warm and solid and real that he knows he's not dreaming.

He buries his nose in curly red hair and inhales. It's nice--soft, and smells like coconut. The woman it belongs to wiggles her body until he's flush against him, and that's nice too. He can feel the soft cotton of the t-shirt that she wore to bed (one of his) agains his bare chest. A nother nice thing. She sighs, stretches a little, and sleepily mumbles into the pillow. "Good morning."

At the sound of her voice, his eyes spring open. He's hit by the realization that it's Katy in his bed and not...someone else. Of course it's Katy in his bed, they'd had plans for the night before and she'd come back to his place after dinner and a movie. She's leaving today, heading home to spend some time with her family for the holidays and that's why she'd stayed over--she'd batted her eyes and whispered suggestively and swore up and down that she didn't mind that he had to get up early for work the next day, she just wanted to spend some quality time with him before she left town for a while. He remembers all of this in the span of a split second and he's jerked out of the half asleep, half awake state he's been in since his alarm went off. The state that made him forget who was in his bed, the state that made him wish it were someone else.

The alarm goes off again, and he really could probably snooze it again and still get to work on time, but he uses it as an excuse to get out of bed. Katy turns towards him and he feels the twisting weight of guilt start to settle in his stomach at the soft smile on her face. Guilt because Katy is sweet and nice and fun and gorgeous and she likes him and wants to be with him, and here he is dreaming that she's someone else.

He pulls a shirt out of his dresser and shrugs it on, then finds his jeans on the floor and steps into them. Katy watches from the bed with a pout on her face. "Do you have to go into work today?"

His voice is muffled as he pulls a hooded sweatshirt over his head. "Yeah, it's inventory day. We have to have it done by the end of the year."

"But it's so close to Christmas...why did your boss put it off so long?" She sounds a little whiny and it grates on his nerves.

"Come on, you've met Michael."

Katy wrinkles her nose. "Yeah. What a freak."

Jim feels a surge of defensiveness towards Michael, for whatever reason. It's nothing that he hasn't said himself, but it feels wrong to have someone who doesn't know Michael insult him. "He's not. He's just...he's just Michael." He sits down on the edge of the bed so that he pull on his socks and shoes. The bed shifts behind him as she crawls up behind him and wraps her arms around his waist. She rests her chin on his shoulder and his guilt gets a little heavier. "Hey," he says as he turns towards her. "When are you headed out of town?"

"Around 9 or so, I guess."

"I don't think we'll be done by then. I'm sorry. Look, have a good Christmas, okay?" Her face is turned down as she nods and he doesn't have to see her expression to know that it's sad. Guilt has settled firmly in his stomach and it prompts him to tilt her chin up so that she can see his face. "Call me when you leave and call me again when you get there, okay?" She smiles and kisses him softly and he doesn't know why but the guilt gets even heavier.

He manages to not dwell on any potential reasons why as he gets a fast food breakfast and makes the drive to the office.

Most of his coworkers are already in the warehouse and are trying to get started by the time he arrives. Michael tries to get everyone involved in some warm up games, but Stanley flat out refuses and Oscar has a system set up that he believes is the most efficient way of getting everything inventoried so everyone splits up starts comparing the numbers on the inventory sheets with the numbers on the shelves.

As he grabs a sheet and a clipboard, he sees Pam descending the stairs into the warehouse with her pink mug in hand. She sees him too and waves, smiling. He waves back and starts to cross the warehouse towards her, intending on telling her about Michael's grade school warm up games or Oscar's "well, actually" but then he feels the leaden weight of guilt again, right in the pit of his stomach. So instead of going to talk to her he lowers his hand and turns away. He doesn't see the way her smile fades or how her eyes get a little sad.

As luck would have it, he winds up on the same row as Kelly. He tries to tune her out but she keeps up a steady stream of chatter and he loses his place at least four times. He takes a few steps sideways in an attempt to put some distance between him and Kelly and focuses on making sure that there's 117 boxes of single table file folders. Kelly's attention shifts to the unfortunate soul on the opposite side of her (Toby) and Jim is finally able to count more than twenty boxes before losing his place.

He gets to 31 when something moves on the other side of the shelf and knocks a small stack boxes to the ground. A few of them pop open and file folders spill out across the floor. As he bends down to pick them up, he sees a pair of stark white Keds in his peripheral vision. "Oh Jim, I'm sorry. Here, let me help you pick these up."

It was Pam, of course. She looks at him tentatively as she starts to gather up the folders and he remembers their conversation from the day before, when she'd asked if he was upset at her. He'd tried to clear things up, make sure that she knew that it wasn't her fault that he'd been distant. It was evident by the expression on her face that she was still a little unsure--probably because of the way he'd avoided her earlier-- so he shoots her a smile and some good-natured ribbing. "God Beesly, such a klutz."

She blushes and he looks away because it's probably the most adorable thing he's ever seen and that's counterproductive to the whole "get over Pam" thing that he's been trying to do for the last week. In his head, he repeats the mantra that he's adopted since the morning after the Christmas party: We're friends, best friends, she's happily engaged, it's time to move on. He busies himself with picking up the rest of the file folders and returning them to their box, allowing himself a little bit more time to get his thoughts together before he looks at her again.

There's still some color on her cheeks when he meets her eye, but he doesn't look away this time. Instead he takes her in, notices that her hair is pulled into a pony tail instead of half up and that it exposes a lot more of her neck than he'd ever seen before, sees that she has on jeans instead of a skirt and nylons and a sweatshirt instead of a button down. It's rare that he sees her like this and it puts images of a future he'll never have in his head: seeing her dressed like this on the weekends as they run errands or do work around the house, watching her throw her hair into a ponytail as she gets ready to paint, kicking off a pair of of tennis shoes next to a pair of small white Keds. He realizes then that she's not looking away either, she's looking at him looking at her, and he feels all the hard work he's done putting his feeling aside start to crumble.

His phone rings in his pocket and jerks him out of it. She jumps at the sound, too, and quickly turns away, disappearing around the corner of the shelf. Jim clears his throat and answers his phone, kind of glad that the moment is over because he feels pretty sure that he was about to open his mouth and make a fool of himself. He exhales as he lifts the phone to his ear and repeats his mantra again: we're friends, best friends, she's happily engaged, it's time to move on.

It's Katy on the other end, letting him know that she's getting ready to hit the road. For a split second, he wonders why she's calling him at 9:20 in the morning, then remembers that he asked her to. Guilt rears it's ugly head once more, so he speaks to her for a little longer than he would have normally. She says that she'll miss him and he says that he'll miss her, too, and he tries really hard to believe the words as they leave his mouth.

He hangs up after several minutes and gets back to counting boxes. He's on number 48 when he becomes aware of someone staring at him. He sighs, resigns himself to counting the same (hopefully) 117 boxes for the rest of his life, and turns to face Kelly. As soon as they make eye contact, she's off.

"Who was that you were talking to?"

He feels his eyebrows raise into his hairline, then knit together. "Um, why?"

"Because it sounded a lot like a girlfriend. Who's your girlfriend? I didn't know you had a girlfriend."

He feels someone else staring at him, too, someone on the other side of the shelf. He clears his throat and very decidedly doesn't look at Pam. "I don't, I guess? I don't know. It was Katy."

Kelly's mouth drops open into a perfect, round "O." She crosses over to Jim, her own inventory duties totally forgotten. "Katy? Purse girl Katy? Oh my gosh! I didn't know you were still dating her!"

"Uh, yeah, it's a casual thing, I guess. We, um, we stopped hanging out for a bit but..."

"But you got back together? You guys are such soulmates. I can totally tell about soulmates. I was so sad when Pam told me that you guys broke up--"

Wait, what?

"--because I was thinking that out of everyone in the office you guys would make the cutest babies even though she doesn't technically work here, and then Pam said that you said that she wasn't your type and that you guys weren't that serious and Jim, I was so said--"

He chances a glance across the tops of the file folder boxes and doesn't see Pam there, so he takes a risk. "Kelly, wait, Pam told you all of that?"

"Yeah, that's what she said! And then Ryan told me that you told him at your party that you and Katy hadn't talked in a while and I was just so sad for you, Jim. I'm so happy you're back together!" She flings her arms out and squeezes Jim in a hug that's surprisingly hard before she turns away and happily goes back to counting boxes of message books.

Jim's mind is reeling. He doesn't know what to make of the fact that Pam was discussing his love life. Or had been discussing his love life. That she seemingly had more than a passing interest in his love life. And then the disappearing act she'd pulled when Kelly started talking about the things Pam had told her, or maybe she got away from the conversation when she overheard that Jim had been talking to Katy? He needs to get out of the warehouse and out into the fresh air and think about the implications of what he's just found out, or even if there are any implications at all. He can't help but think that there must be some, that it has to mean something.

He marks on his sheet that yes, there are definitely 117 boxes of single tab manila file folders and tosses his clipboard onto the stack of boxes. He heads for the side door of the warehouse and wonders if any of this means what he hopes it means, that Pam talking about his dating life means that--

And then he sees her, standing a few feet away and winding her arms around Roy's neck. Roy has one hand on the small of her back and it fills Jim with jealousy and heartache and an overwhelming desire to throw up and he turns away just as he sees Roy lean his face towards Pam's. He walks back to his shelf and finds his clipboard, sees that next he's supposed to count how many boxes there are of single tab hanging file folders.

Of course it doesn't mean anything. He feels stupid to even attempt to find hope in what is nothing more than office gossip. That's the way it is in a small office: people talk about their coworkers. To attach any significance to the fact that Pam discussed his love life is absurd.

He starts his mantra again, only a little different this time. We're friends, best friends, she's happily engaged, it's time to move on. It doesn't mean anything.

We're friends. Best friends.

She's happily engaged.

It's time to move on.

It doesn't mean anything.


__________
End Notes:
Please let me know what you think! I love each and every review and jellybean. See you soon! :)
Lunch by BigTuna
__________


“Pam, you can come sit over here by me!” Kelly waves Pam over from where she’s standing in the doorway of the breakroom. Quite honestly, Pam doesn’t really feel like a lunch that she knows will include non-stop conversation, but Kelly is sweet and it’s better than eating in the kitchen with Creed and his weird smelly fermented soybeans. So she tucks her chin to her chest and smiles a little and takes an empty seat at Kelly’s table.

“Thanks, Kelly. How was your Christmas?” She panics internally for a minute because she’s not totally sure that Kelly even celebrates Christmas and she feels horrible for nevertaking the time to find out for sure.

“Oh, it was great!” Pam breathes a sigh of relief that goes unnoticed by Kelly as the other woman launches into an blow-by-blow account of her holiday. Pam nods at the appropriate times and makes interested sounding noises when Kelly takes a breath and gets most of her lunch eaten before Kelly asks her a direct question. “So, what did Roy get you for Christmas? I bet it was something really romantic. You guys are so in love.”

Pam laughs a little, because Roy’s gifts to her were decidedly unromantic. She appreciates the gifts, of course, but she just...she just can’t help but compare what she’d gotten from Roy to the teapot that she’d gotten from Jim. Not that Roy’s gifts weren’t nice, because they were: an mp3 player (not a video iPod like he said but still), a sweater (that had a lower neckline than she was generally comfortable wearing), and a coffee table book on Baroque art (nevermind that she generally found Baroque art a little too dark and busy for her tastes). But it’s the thought that counts, right?

She’s been trying hard to not dwell on the amount of thought that Jim put in versus the amount of thought that Roy put in.

“Oh, he got me a few things. An art book and a sweater and a, um, PrismDuro Sport?”

“What’s that?”

“It’s like an iPod.” Kelly nods her approval but Pam suspects that she’s not as impressed as she would have been had it been name brand. Pam nibbles on her turkey sandwich and listens to Kelly break down which gifts she’s going to return for store credit and which gifts are worthy of keeping and out of the corner of her eye she sees Jim come into the breakroom.

“Ooh, Jim, come sit with us! I wanna hear about your Christmas!”

Jim meets Pam’s eye and smiles a little awkwardly. She thinks about the conversation she overheard on inventory day, the soft way that he talked with Katy and asked her to call again when she got to wherever it was she was headed, the way he laughed at something she said. How overhearing that conversation made her feel is something else that she’s tried not to dwell on over the holiday, mostly because she isn’t able to put her finger on it.

That’s not true, and she admits it to herself in a moment of complete honesty. She’s surprised that Jim would date someone he admitted to being “not his type.” She’s a little hurt that her best friend didn’t tell her about his love life when she was so open with him about pretty much everything. She’s...she’s a little jealous, because Katy gets to see a part of Jim that she never will. That’s what she’s been trying to not dwell on while she’s been away, because she doesn’t know what to do with it, other than explain it away by deciding that she just feels a little possessive of her best friend and that’s totally normal. Right?

Right.

Jim’s listening to Kelly give the exact same description of her holiday that she gave to Pam, almost as though she has it memorized. Jim nods in the same places that Pam did, smiles and laughs and makes eye contact with Pam over his ham and cheese. He presses his lips into a line and his cheeks puff out as he exhales through his nose and he raises his eyebrows and she stifles a giggle that Kelly thankfully doesn’t notice.

“So, Jim, what did you do for Christmas? Did you see Katy? Ugh, she’s so gorgeous.”

Jim’s eyes dart to Pam’s face for a split second, so fast that she immediately second guesses even seeing it. He clears his throat and drops his gaze to container of baby carrots on the table. “Uh, yeah. I saw her some. She was out of town for a lot of it, a tiny town called Trout Run.”

“Trout Run? That’s on the way to Liberty, where my parents moved a couple of years ago? Right outside it, actually.”

“Oh, yeah? She said the whole area is pretty dinky. It’s where her grandma lives.”

Pam feels a rush of anger because yeah, okay, maybe Trout Run and Liberty both are tiny towns, but they’re not dinky. They’re charming and sweet and beautiful with the river and the old houses and the mountains. Her face is hot and her words are clipped when she says “it’s not a dinky area. It’s actually really nice.”

Jim looks surprised. “Uh, no, yeah. I bet it’s um, really relaxing.” He picks up a baby carrot and twirls it around in his fingers, doesn’t look at her. Pam feels shame swoop in her stomach and she’s embarrassed of her little outburst. She coughs and takes a sip of her soda to smooth the the sudden lump in her throat.

“Yeah. It’s...relaxing is a good word. You should go visit sometime. You know, um, that is, if Katy goes back to see her grandma.”

Jim nods and she thinks it looks a little stiff. “Yeah, maybe. So, how was your Christmas? Spend time at your parents place?”

“Yeah. In Liberty. Just a day, though.”

“Just one day? Didn’t stay the night?”

“Wait, that’s a few hours away, right? You drove up and drove back down? Wasn’t it like, super snowy up there?” Jim’s eyebrows are knit together in confusion and concern.

Pam fidgets in her chair. “Yeah. Roy wanted...Roy had to get back, so…” She trails off, not wanting to tell him that Roy didn’t want to stay so that he could meet up with Kenny and try out Kenny’s new snowmobiles.

“Wow. I’m sorry you didn’t get to spend more time with your family, Pam. That sucks.” The look on Jim’s face tells her that he has a pretty good idea of what she didn’t say. He’s always been good at reading between the lines that she so carefully draws.

“Oh, um, it’s okay. I’ll see them soon, I’m sure.” It wasn’t okay, actually, because she was still hurt that Roy had flat out refused to stay even one night and that Pam hadn’t really gotten to see her sister or her grandmother at all and that they’d fought the entire way home about why didn’t Roy want to spend time with her family and they were her family not his and it’s boring up in Liberty anyway and she can stay if she wants if someone can get her back home again because he’d rather hang out with his brother and she’s feeling more and more like she just doesn’t get Roy any longer and the lump in her throat is there in full force now. She takes another sip of soda in an attempt to swallow it and chances a look at Jim. He’s looking at her with a soft expression, not like pity, but like...something different. Like he sees her sadness and is sad, too. He’s opening his mouth to say something, but in between them Kelly gasps and slaps her hands on the table.

“Oh my god, you guys. Did you get that weird email last week from Michael? The one that said something about a toothbrush and a swimsuit, or whatever? For the camaraderie event? I bought a new swim suit, it’s so hot. It has a strappy part and some gold parts, and I even got it on sale because it’s the off season.”

Kelly keeps talking but Pam doesn’t pay attention to what she’s saying because Jim is still looking at her. It’s doing something to her, making the lump lodge a little more firmly in her throat and a fluttery feeling take residence in her stomach, like she’s nervous. Or could puke. She can’t decide if it’s altogether a good thing or a bad thing that a look from Jim makes her feel that way.

Suddenly, she can’t be there anymore. She get up from the table so quickly that she bumps it and the whole thing shakes. Jim has to grab his grape soda can so that it doesn’t topple to the floor and she shoots him what she hopes is an apologetic look. “I should get back, I have a lot of faxes to get out.”

“See ya, Pam!” As she turns away, she can hear Jim start to say something but Kelly talks over him. “Michaels memo made it sound like we could bring dates. Should I bring a date, Jim? Oooh, are you going to bring Katy?”

Pam hurries to leave the break room so that she can’t hear what Jim has to say, but she hears him anyway. He’s quiet as he says “yeah, she was there when I got the email. She’s coming.”

The walk back to her desk feels ten miles long. Or maybe it’s just that her body suddenly feels so heavy, so tired. There are a thousand thoughts battling for dominance in her mind and she doesn’t want to think about any of them so she tries to push them all away. It doesn’t work, like at all, so fragmented phrases flash across her consciousness: don’t want to share my best friend why can’t my family be Roy’s too teapot teapot teapot Roy could be more thoughtful I hate that sweater should I cut my losses “that mixed berry yogurt you’re about to eat has expired” she’s not good enough for him why can’t Roy be more like—

The phone rings and for once she’s thankful for it. The customer keeps her occupied with questions that would normally annoy her, if she felt normal.

But she doesn’t.

Instead, she feels like she’s on the cusp of something, maybe.

Like something big is about to happen. Maybe.

Like...maybe her whole life is going to change. Soon.

__________
End Notes:
If you are reading and enjoying, please consider leaving a review! I love all of them and appreciate all of you that leave them. Love ya, mean it, see you soon! :)
Office Outing by BigTuna
Author's Notes:
Another reference to a deleted scene in this one: Jim's toast in "Booze Cruise." Also borrowed quite a bit of dialogue from the show in this one, hope you don't mind!
__________


“Hey, Jim. Wanna do the thing?”

“Huh?” Jim swings his chair around to see his buddy Steve, the guy who restocks all the vending machines in the office building. “Oh, yes! Thanks, man. Yes, this is perfect. I’ll meet you back there in just a second.” He’s been waiting to pull this prank for months. Dwight is thankfully safely ensconced in Michael’s office, begging for details on the top-secret first quarter camaraderie event, so Jim scoops up as many items as he can from his coworkers desk so that he and Steve can put them in the snack machine.

He’s thanking his lucky stars that Dwight left his wallet in the top drawer of his desk when Pam walks by, steaming mug of tea in hand. “Prank?”

Jim hesitates for half a second before he looks up at her. “Uh, yeah. Steve is gonna help me put Dwight’s stuff in the vending machine.”

“Oh, nice! You’ve been planning that one for a while, right? Need help?” Her eyes are wide and hopeful and sparkling just the tiniest bit, the way they do when she’s excited about something or when she has her head thrown back in laughter. He remembers the way she looked at lunch the day before as she talked about how she didn’t get to spend much time with her family over the holidays, and it makes his heart ache. It wasn’t just that she looked so sad, it was that she also looked so resigned to it. Like she already knew that this is what life was going to be like for her and she’d just accepted it.

So, because we’re friends, best friends is on repeat in his head and because she just looks so eager to be part of his prank and because he’s never been able to resist when it comes to her even though he tries, he really really does, he smiles and nods. “Yeah. Do you think you can track down some nickels real quick?”

She smiles widely, her tongue poking between her teeth. He’s been trying to remind himself that she’s happily engaged, it doesn’t mean anything but when she looks at him like that, the words all run together until all he can think is love her love her love her--

Those two words thrum inside his head for the rest of the day, only stopping when they head down to the parking lot to leave for the booze cruise and Katy is there. As she throws her arms around his neck he tells himself to snap out of it. He should feel lucky--he is lucky--to have a great girl like Katy all pressed up against him and threading her fingers through his hair, smiling at him like the cat that ate the canary. Then, love her love her love her is replaced with just friends just friends just friends and in an attempt to drive the point home, he watches her climb into the passenger seat of Roy’s truck over the top of Katy’s head.

Jim heads straight to the bar once they get on the boat. He’s not usually one to drown his sorrows (and he tells himself that he doesn’t have any sorrows to drown, anyway), but he’s glad he has a beer in hand when Katy grabs his arm and steers him over to the booth that Pam and Roy occupy. He sips it slowly and tries to listen to Katy as she chats with Roy while also trying to not let his eyes flick towards Pam too often. He fails at both.

He fails at listening to Katy because honestly, he doesn’t really care about it being like they’re in high school and at the popular table. He fails at not looking at Pam because Pam is openly looking at Katy and he’s trying to decide what the expression on her face means. Disbelief? Contempt? He can’t put his finger on it. He watches her as the conversation unfolds, notices the she casts her eyes towards the table when Roy and Katy laugh at Pam wearing turtlenecks and liking art in high school and can’t help but to jump to her defense, albeit pretty lamely.

When Roy asks Katy if she cheered in high school, he’s not sure why he automatically assumes that she didn’t. It’s not a surprise when she corrects him, and it’s not even a surprise when she starts a cheer at the table. What is a surprise is the way that Pam reacts to Katy’s cheer. She looks at him with an expression that he takes to mean really? He responds with a look of his own that says hey, what can you do? Pam’s answer to that is to very openly mock Katy with raised eyebrows and a head jiggle and he can’t stop smiling at her because he thinks it’s ridiculous as she does and love her love her love her.

Jim quickly turns his attention to the label on his beer bottle and starts picking at the corner of it so that he doesn’t accidentally speak his thoughts and distract Roy and Katy from reminiscing over their high school glory days. He stretches his leg out underneath the table and his foot slides against Pam’s and it immediately causes an intense and visceral reaction. It’s like his heart is in a vice grip and is being squeezed while also expanding so much that he can’t catch his breath. He knows that it’s pathetic that just the tiniest bit of her body touching the tiniest bit of his (even through socks and shoes and nylons) is electrifying enough to cause his mouth to go bone dry. It’s intimate, or at least it feels that way, and he almost feels guilty about her fiance and his girlfriend being inches away and none the wiser.

Almost.

Michael starts talking then, though, and Pam shifts in her seat so she can look at their boss and the moment passes. If it was even a moment at all. He tries to listen to Michael but all he can can hear is the blood rushing in his ears and it doesn’t matter anyway, because Michael is sidelined by Captain Jack. The boat descends into a little bit of chaos, complete with a very entertaining dance contest and a couple of rousing (if uninventive) chants. He can hardly hear himself think, and one look at Pam’s face tells him that she feels the same.

And that’s how they wind up outside. Together. It’s cold and a little windy and he’s almost positive there’s a cameraman somewhere out here because how could they miss an opportunity to film Dwight “steering” the ship? But he can’t make himself care about the possibility of being filmed because being next to Pam overrules everything. Her cheeks are rosy from the cold and he’s tempted to cup them in his hands, let the way he feels seep into her body and warm her because it’s burning him up from the inside out. His hand begins to move of its own accord and he grips the rail in an attempt to keep it still.

“Sometimes I just don’t get Roy.”

He grips the rail harder. He doesn’t know what to say to that; doesn’t know what she wants him to say to that. There are a lot of things he’d like to say, and he gets out an eye roll and a “well,” but there’s not a way to finish that sentence that’s very nice, so he doesn’t say anything.

“I mean, I don’t know.”

He wants to ask her to clarify. She doesn’t know what, exactly? Doesn’t know why she’s with Roy? Doesn’t know what she sees in him? Doesn’t know why she’s let her engagement stretch and her wedding date be postponed over and over?

She looks at him and he feels his heart leap. Her expression is serious enough that he’s sure she’s going to keep going, to pick apart the reasons why she “doesn’t get” Roy. Instead she smiles and cracks a joke about dating a cheerleader and he laughs, not because it’s funny, but because it’s just so ridiculous. Their entire relationship could be summed up in this one exchange: they tiptoe around something serious, flirt with the idea of opening up and letting things get raw and ugly and real, and then at the very last second they deflect with humor. It’s a (not at all) fun little game they play and they’re equally talented at it.

That means that it’s his turn. Those are the the rules, or at least he thinks they are. Either way, he knows she’s expecting their usual banter and for him to steer the conversation into something more palatable and less heart wrenching. And he tries, he really does. He just doesn’t feel very funny, so all that comes out is “oh, um…”

And then he looks at her, really looks at her in the way that he always wants to but never allows himself. There’s silence between them and it makes the cold air heavy and thick and he can tell that she’s uncomfortable but it’s suddenly become the most important thing in the world that she speaks first. He feels like they’re on the cusp of something, like Pam is about to finally be honest with herself. With him. Because there has to be something there. Maybe if he stays silent long enough she’ll get the courage to admit it.

She smiles at him, obviously waiting for his response to her cheerleader joke. When it doesn’t come and he doesn’t break eye contact, she shifts. He watches as the smile shrinks away from her face and her body turns away from him just the tiniest amount. Any hope he may have had for some big revelation is lost.

“I’m cold.” It sounds like an apology. He guesses that it is, in a way. He’s not sure he wants to know exactly what for.

He stays at the railing long enough for the lights of the city to not look quite so blurry.

Back inside, he heads straight for the bar once again. The bartender is at the opposite end recreating scenes from Cocktails to a rapt audience of cute girls and therefore probably too busy to take Jim's order, but he doesn’t really care. He doesn’t think another drink will help, anyway. Captain Jack is there, too, with Michael and Dwight but he’s so caught up in his own thoughts that he doesn’t listen to their conversation. So when Captain Jack asks Jim who he would save if the building is on fire, he’s caught off guard. He casts his eyes around the room so he can think of something good to say, and they land right on Pam. She’s laughing and she’s beautiful and he’s struck by it, by the weight of his feelings for her. But he can’t say “I’d save Pam” so he gives the kind of answer that he knows Michael wants to hear.

He doesn’t expect Captain Jack to call him on it. Nobody’s ever done that before. He feels like he’s been dunked into the icy water of Lake Wallenpaupak as realization washes over him. He would save the receptionist, maybe he could save the receptionist (metaphorically speaking), but not if he’s just standing around waiting for her to make the first move. He knows now that it has to be him.

Roy semi-drunkenly stumbles up to the bar and starts asking Captain Jack about near death encounters. Jim takes that as his cue to leave. The camera crew catches up to him as he heads towards Pam and he knows that they know, probably a lot more than they let on. So he’s honest. It feels good. “You know what? I would save the receptionist. I just wanted to clear that up.”

He doesn’t know what he’s going to say. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do if it goes badly. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do if it doesn’t go badly. Not to mention, her fiance and his girlfriend are there, too, and they still have at least a few hours before they make it back to the dock. But he can’t find it in himself to care about anything other than getting to Pam and telling her the truth.

But then the world comes crashing down around him. He hears Roy say “Pam” and “wedding date” and “June 10th” and the entire boat starts cheering and Pam brushes past him without a glance in his direction. He sinks into the booth as they kiss and hug and sway and he becomes completely numb. He can’t--he doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know anything. Outside the window, the lights of the city look blurry again.

Everyone’s dancing and he can feel Katy looking at him expectantly, but he keeps his head turned towards the window. She eventually gives up and slides into the booth across from him. There’s no way he can stand on a dance floor next to Pam and Roy, not without puking or sobbing or flying into a rage or something equally dramatic. The best course of action, he decides, is to sit there and stare out the window and try his hardest to just not feel.

Katy seems determined to not let him do that. Not that she even knows what he’s trying to do, but still. “You should make a toast.”

“No. I really don’t...want to.”

“Jim, come on! Don’t be shy.” She stands up and turns towards the crowd before he can stop her. “Everybody? Everybody, there’s a toast.” She comes to stand by Jim and pushes him to get up. “Come on!”

Pam is smiling at him and she looks so goddamn radiant that he almost loses his breath. He feels like he’s been stabbed in the heart. It’s for her that he shuffles forward and lamely begins a toast. “Thanks, Katy. Um...didn’t really prepare anything to say. We’re all caught pretty unprepared with this whirlwind courtship.” Pam laughs and looks up at Roy who takes it in stride and smiles goodnaturedly like the charming bastard that he is, which makes the whole thing even more difficult. Fuck. “I guess I just wanna say that Pam is…” The love of my life. The reason I wake up in the morning. The person that makes me happier than I’ve ever been. He looks at her, at Roy’s arm wrapped around her with a level of comfort that he know he’ll never get to experience, at the way Pam is tucked against Roy’s body with her left hand against his chest. He swallows his confessions and gives a watered down version instead. “The greatest. My best friend. And..she’s awesome. And--”

He’s going to say that he wants nothing more than for her to have the happiness she deserves. That his wish for her is to have the life and the love that she’s dreamed of. That he hopes that her marriage is full of laughter and fun and encouragement and understanding. But Dwight cuts him off and soon the band starts back up and Roy’s hands are on her hips and her fingers are stroking the back of Roy’s neck and Jim has to get out because the walls are closing in on him.

But once outside he finds himself standing at a window and staring in at the dance floor. He can’t escape. Maybe because he won’t let himself. It’s like some weird form of self-flagellation, watching her as she looks at Roy with love and admiration written all over her face. He can’t look away but even if he could, he wouldn’t. He feels like he deserves this for falling in love with her in the first place, because how stupid could he be, really? He never had a chance but he held on, let himself get deeper and deeper into the fantasy he had of her one day realizing how perfect they are for each other and leaving Roy in the dust. He deserves the pain, he thinks, because he’s been a jackass.

Katy finds him before too long and cuddles up next to him. She looks in at Pam and Roy, too, with a smile on her face. “Do you think that’ll ever be us?”

The “no” that comes out of his mouth is more deliberate and harsh than he intends for it to be. But it’s the truth and it’s a relief to say it. He’d been so ready to be honest with Pam before, so why not be honest with Katy now? She’s innocent in this, just caught up in his attempt to move on and not be so pathetic. But it isn’t working, was never working, and there’s no time like to present, right?

“What is wrong with you? Why did you even bring me here tonight?”

“I don’t know. Let’s break up.” This isn’t quite how he expected the conversation to go, but oh well. He’s still numb enough to not really care. He really is a jackass.

The rest of the evening passes without much more upheaval of Jim’s personal life, although not without incident. Michael causes a commotion (of course), Katy glares at Jim from across the room (she has every right to do so), Pam and Roy canoodle (he tries not to look), and Jim stares at the brown glass of the mostly full beer bottle on the table in front of him. Eventually the hostile looks Katy throws at him combined with the sound of Pam and Roy giggling and whispering on the dance floor drive him outside.

He finds Michael, zip tied to the railing. “Somebody there?”

“What happened to you?”

“Captain Jack has a problem with authority.”

“Oh, right, ‘cause you announced that his ship was sinking.”

Michael scoffs. “He just totally lost it. If you ask me, he caused the panic.”

Usually Jim would point out the flaw in Michael’s thinking, but he just doesn’t have the energy. Instead he just sighs. “What a night.”

“Well, it was nice for you. Your friend got engaged.”

We’re friends, best friends. “She was always engaged.” It’s time to move on. It doesn’t mean anything.

“Roy said the first one didn’t count.”

“That’s…great.” It’s not, though, it’s maybe the worst fucking thing he’s ever heard, but what can he do about it? He’d like to get mad and ask Roy exactly what he meant by it and look Pam in the eye and say he said it didn’t count! but there’s no point in any of that, so he shakes his head and tires to push the thought away. His brain is so preoccupied that it doesn’t catch up with his mouth and he hears himself speak without knowing what he’s going to say. “You know, to tell you the truth, I...used to have a big thing for Pam. So.”

“Really? You’re kidding me.” Jim doesn’t respond, he’s not sure what to say. Maybe he just needed to get it out, tell some version of the truth to somebody other than the documentary crew. He didn’t expect for that somebody to be Michael. “You and Pam? Wow. I would have never...put you two together. You really hid it well. God! I usually have a radar for stuff like that.” Michael sighs. “You know I made out with Jan--”

“Yeah. I know.” That’s a conversation he definitely doesn’t want to have.

“Yeah, yup. Well Pam is cute.”

“Yeah. She’s really funny, and--she’s warm, and she’s just…anyway.”

“Well, if you like her so much, uh, don’t give up.”

Michael says it like it’s obvious. Jim jerks his head towards his boss, because doesn’t he know? Wasn’t he there? “She’s engaged.”

Michael shrugs that away like it’s not a problem. “BFD. Engaged ain’t married.”

She’s happily engaged. Engaged ain’t married. He’s never thought of it that way before. “Huh.”

“Never, ever, ever give up.”

__________
End Notes:
Thank you for reading! I appreciate your reviews and will admit to obsessively checking for new ones, so feel free to leave them! Thanks y'all, see you soon!
Phone by BigTuna
__________


“Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam. Oh, yes! I was calling to ask about the wedding packages you offered on your website. June 10th. Okay, great! Let me get you the details...”

“Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam. Yes. Yes. June 10th. Um...chocolate? Oh, I guess then vanilla, and maybe...strawberry? Sounds good. Okay, see you then.”

“Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam. Hey, mom. No, I made the appointment for next week. That’s enough time, right? How long does it take to get a dress altered? Oh, and did you talk to Aunt Shelia about the veil?”

Jim grips the edge of his desk and watches his knuckles turn white. Listening to Pam plan her wedding has become a daily occurrence, so much so that he (a little bitterly) wonders if it should be added to his job description. Sometimes he even gets sucked into helping, which he does because he can’t say no to her and because she values his opinion on colors and flowers and because he’s a little (a lot) pathetic and being near her soothes the ever present ache in his heart, even though it’s just for a moment. And even though the wedding that he’s helping her plan is her a wedding to another man.

But.

The closer it gets to June 10th, the more difficult it gets for Jim. He feels like time speeds up every day and that the event horizon that is Pam’s wedding to Roy is rushing towards him and that there’s nothing he can do to stop it. It’s been especially difficult lately because abstract details have steadily started becoming concrete ones. Jim doesn’t know how much more of it he can take.

Because it hurts. It really fucking hurts.

After the ill-fated booze cruise, Jim had grand ideas of confessing. At the time, he’d figured that since he’d already ruined one relationship he may as well potentially ruin another and take Michael’s advice: never, ever, ever, give up. Because what if telling Pam how he felt didn’t ruin their relationship but instead elevated it? So he planned it all out: the phone call he’d make, the reason he’d give for wanting to meet her somewhere. How he’d tell her that he lied about being totally over it, totally over her. Hell, maybe he’d even quote The Notebook at her: “It wasn’t over. It still isn’t over.”

The only thing he couldn’t plan out was how she’d react. His mind has run the gamut of possibilities, everything from her laughing in his face to throwing herself into his arms. On the days he imagines the latter, he lets himself get as far as scrolling through his phone contacts until her name is highlighted before giving up on it. Because realistically, as much as he likes to look for hidden meanings and indications that Pam feels even the tiniest bit for him that he feels for her, he knows that he’s grasping at straws.

Especially after their argument. He can still hear her voice ringing so clearly in his mind: “Oh, excuse me, I’m fine with my choices!” Not pursuing graphic design program, contenting herself to be the receptionist at Dunder Mifflin for the rest of her life, marrying Roy. Her choices. None of them have anything to do with him, so what point is there in telling her that he loves her?

None.

So he pushes Michael’s advice of never giving up to the side (like he should have done in the first place) and tries to ignore the twisting, stabbing pain in both his gut and his heart with each phone call she makes or takes. He throws himself into his work for the first time since he started, figuring that if he has a client in one ear he’ll have a harder time hearing her talk about dresses and rings and vows in the other. The sales come without him even really having to try and it makes him wonder if he’s fine with his choices...mostly his choice to stay at a job that is neither a challenge nor fulfilling, all so he can stay next to a girl that is neither interested nor available. But those kinds of thoughts are counterproductive to the whole “distract from Pam and Pam’s wedding” thing he’s trying to do so he pushes those aside, too.

Try as he might, though, he can still hear her. He’s still surrounded by it. And it still really, really hurts.

On this particular day, the day that finds Jim white-knuckling his desk and pressing his telephone receiver into his shoulder so hard that he wouldn’t be surprised to find a bruise there later, it hurts more than it ever has. Because she just looks and sounds and seems so happy and he’s such a dick because she’s his best friend and he should be happy for her but she’s also the love of his life and the last thing he wants in the world is for her to be happy with someone other than him.

Not to mention that Dwight is in top Dwight form, boasting about being the top salesman for the previous year and the fact that he’s going to be “an honored guest” at some convention later. Jim is getting wedding planning in one ear and over the top bragging in the other. He’s going to go insane.

The wedding planning is the worse of the two, though. He can’t listen to another second of her talking to her mom, hearing her talk about what she’s going to do for her “something blue” and Roy’s tuxedo and what does her mom think is a good groomsman gift? It’s only 10:15 (how in the world could she have gotten so many wedding related calls already?) but he needs respite from the anguish he feels, from this very specific and particular brand of torture. His own personal hell. Well, at least until she adds a second ring to her finger and has a new last name.

He heads to the break room because the kitchen doesn’t feel like enough of an escape. He stares into the vending machine unseeingly and is contemplating bashing his head against the glass. Whether or not the cleanup would be worth the possible partial lobotomy is the question on his mind and he’s so caught up in his internal debate that he doesn’t hear someone else walking in.

“Hey, Jim.” The low and unassuming voice startles him out of his thoughts. He relaxes when he sees it’s just Toby. Jim used to feel bad for Toby, isolated in the annex away from (almost) everybody, but today he’s envious.

“Oh, hey, Toby,” he sighs. He heads his forehead against the cool front of the vending machine. It’s dramatic, he knows, but his entire life feels pretty dramatic right now so he thinks it’s fitting.

“Can’t decide what to get, huh?” There’s a hint of humor in Toby’s voice, but Jim knows what the other man is really asking. He doesn’t respond, and Toby gets the hint. “Well, if you need help. You know, with deciding what to get. Or with anything…else. You know where I sit.”

Jim nods. “Thanks. I’ll figure it out eventually, I’m sure.”

Toby offers him an encouraging smile. “I’m sure you will.” He returns to his desk and Jim doesn’t get anything because none of it tastes good, or even tastes like anything at all. An unfortunate side effect of being lovesick or heartbroken or whatever it is that he is, but he can’t quite work up the energy to worry about it. He can’t quite work up the energy to do much of anything, except drag himself out of bed so he can come to work and see Pam and then throw himself into working so that he can avoid the unpleasant realities that come with seeing Pam--bridal magazines, her engagement ring, Roy himself. It’s not a good way to live, but what can he do? It hurts to be near her, but it hurts worse to not be near her.

Lately, though, the hurt of being near her is starting to hurt worse. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do when she’s not Beesly anymore and is Anderson instead. Can a person literally die from a broken heart? If so, he feels pretty positive that’s what will happen, if it’s not happening already. Because he’s just so fucking miserable. He tries to put on a brave face and most of the time he thinks he succeeds, but internally he’s just a husk of the person that he was before he met Pam, before he fell in love with her.

But that’s not true at all. He’s a better person because he’s met her, and maybe even because he’s in love with her. She’s taught him about looking for the best in people and how to trust and how to listen and be still when someone needs you to be. She’s made him laugh harder than he’s ever laughed before in his life, she’s expanded his horizons as far as music and books and art, she’s made him want to be a better person, the kind that she’d be proud to be friends with. Or proud to just be with, period.

Way deep down, he knows that eventually he’ll have to cut her out of his life. He should have done it a long time ago, as soon as he started to have feelings for her--so basically, the first day he met her. He should have moved her from the “friend” column to the “coworker” column and treated her as such: friendly, but impersonal. If he’d just done it back then, then maybe he’d be in a happy and healthy relationship of his own with someone who wanted to be with him. Maybe he’d be excited for Pam as she plans her wedding, maybe he’d even be making plans for one of his own. Maybe he just wouldn’t care about any of it at all and not think one thing about Dunder Mifflin Scranton or the people that worked there after he walked out the door at 5:00.

The thought of not having the last few years of memories with Pam is heartbreaking, though. He knows he’d rather have those than have nothing at all. It’s just going to make it that much worse when he finally finds the self preservation that got lost somewhere along the way as he fell in love. The thought of not having Pam in his life make his throat close up and his chest constrict, but so does the knowledge that he’ll never be able to move on as long as he’s ten feet away from her and seeing her smile every day.

Staying in the breakroom for the rest of the day is tempting, but he’s sure that Dwight will eventually come looking for him and threaten him with demerits while simultaneously and not so subtly insinuating that the amount of time Jim wastes is the reason that he was the ninth place salesman and not the first. Maybe a cup of coffee will soothe the pounding in his head, so he pours one and starts to head back through the annex. At the door out of the kitchen he looks up and towards Pam’s desk, as is his habit. She’s laughing, her head thrown back, and Roy is there with a self-satisfied smile on his face. As Jim watches, Roy reaches out and catches Pam’s chin between his thumb and his finger as he smiles down at her. The whole interaction looks familiar and comfortable (because it is) and Pam’s smile is radiant and Jim wants to sob or puke or both.

He can’t walk go back to his desk, not when the two of them in there. So he turns away and winds up back in the breakroom. He sits at a table and puts his head in his hands, grinds his palms into his eyes in order to force back the burning hot tears that are collecting there.

“Jim? Do you want to talk?”

It’s Toby again. Jim feels the tell-tale sensation of words he doesn’t mean to say building up in the back of his throat and threatening to spill out of his mouth and for once, he doesn’t stop them.

“It’s just...does she have to plan her wedding on office time? Can’t she do that at home?”

Toby doesn’t look surprised, which is at least a little expected. The entire office probably knows or has some idea of how Jim feels. Everyone except the person that matters. “I’m sorry, Jim. If you want, I can talk to Michael about it? It’s a misuse of company time, anyway, so…”

Jim shakes his head. “No. I don’t want to get her in trouble. Today has just been hard. Harder. I don’t know how much more of it I can take. And that makes me feel like such an asshole, you know? I go back and forth between being sad because it hurts and being pissed off because I know she can plan at home and hating myself because what right do I have to be anything at all? ”

It feels good to get it out. Toby stands there with a look that is a mix of pity and understanding and Jim doesn’t know if he wants to slap it off his face or give him a hug. He decides to just sit there and take a deep breath in an attempt to shrink the boulder that’s gotten lodged in his throat. Toby gives him a moment before speaking. “You have the right to feel however you feel. And look, I have to write this up anyway, if you want to make it a formal complaint I can do it without--”

“Wait, you have to write this up? Why?”

“I’m your HR representative. Any complaint made by one employee about another has to be written up. It’s company policy.”

Jim shakes his head vehemently. “No. I don’t want to make a formal complaint. Can’t you--I don’t want her to find out.”

“That’s fine. I can take your name off it and file it with the resolved complaints. Don’t worry about it.” Toby turns to walk back to his desk, but stops short and turns back to Jim. “Listen, if you ever want to talk, you can talk to me. Just, we’d have to do it off the clock so that I’m not your HR rep.”

“Thanks, man. I’ll let you know.”

He waits in the breakroom for a little bit longer, but eventually he feels back to normal enough to head back to his desk. Roy is still out there, though, leaned against Pam’s desk like he belongs there, so Jim nukes his cold coffee and sits at the kitchen table, because what else can he do?

Phyllis comes in and pats him on the shoulder as she passes by on her way to the bathroom. Jim is pretty sure it’s out of pity. He’s wondering if it’s safe to leave when the door opens again and Pam walks in.

Her eyes find his and she smiles brightly. Every fiber of his being reaches out to her, like they know that they’ve found their counterpart and are yearning to complete the connection. He resists the pull, as he always does. If she picks up on his weird behavior she’s good at hiding it, because she certainly doesn’t seem to think that anything is wrong when she speaks. “I was getting ready to send out a search party. I was worried you’d gotten lost or something.”

He laughs, just a chuckle, but it’s genuine. The hurt both lessens and intensifies. “No, just talking to Toby. Had to get away from...from Dwight.”

Pam rolls her eyes. “Tell me about it. He didn’t seem to want to leave you alone this morning, did he?”

He likes that she even noticed. He didn’t think she had, she’d been so busy on the phone. It ignites a spark of hope deep inside his chest, but he quickly snuffs it out. She’s probably just being friendly. “Nope. And you know, I can’t figure it out. What did I do to deserve this?”

“Are you sad that Dwight beat you?”

“No.”

“Are you gonna cry, Jim? Do you need a tissue?” She teases him and her eyes are sparkling. He hides his smile with his coffee cup and thinks that maybe things wouldn’t be so bad if the two of them could stay in this kitchen forever and leave talk of weddings and top salesman and paper and everything else behind them.

But he’s not quite that lucky, because Phyllis comes out of the bathroom then and asks Pam about her wedding dress. He doesn’t miss the way the camera immediately swings in his direction, of the way Phyllis looks at him over her shoulder. The safe little bubble that was him and Pam and the kitchen is popped and he thinks he might suffocate. He plasters what he hopes is an unaffected expression on his face and all but bolts for the door. “Oh, I should get back. Talk to you guys later.”

Back at his desk, he doesn’t even bother trying to get any work done. It’s a lost cause already. He tries to distract himself with Dwight and Michael and Dwight’s sudden onset anxiety about making a big speech, and it almost works.

Almost.

His ears are trained to perk up whenever he hears Pam’s voice, so he hears every word of her conversation with her mother. She rolls her eyes at him when she mentions orange invitations and it pushes him to the verge of anger, kind of—like this is something they’re dealing with together instead of very much apart—but also right over the edge of heartbreak.

He makes a decision, then, and picks up the phone himself. Maybe because that self preservation he’s been missing has finally decided to show up, or because he has airline miles going to waste, or because he’s long overdue for a vacation.

But, if he’s being honest, he knows that it’s because it just hurts too much to bear.

“Hi, yeah, can I speak to one of your travel agents, please?”

__________
End Notes:
Thanks for reading! :)
Bears by BigTuna
Author's Notes:
The prompt for this chapter is “Bears, Beets, (or) Battlestar Galactica.” I took some liberties with it, haha. This chapter is a little bit more introspective but I wanted to get us in the right frame of mind before the next installement. I’m sure you can guess what’s coming next!
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Pam tugs the blanket around her a little tighter and settles herself deeper into the couch. It’s been a weird day. She doesn’t want to do anything except wrap herself in a cocoon and watch dumb reality tv and not think about anything, especially not the day she’s had. Roy is out with the warehouse guys for something called “Thirsty Thursday” at Poor Richard’s, so she’s able to manage the first two items on her list without interruption.The third, though...

“I’m the one who complained about you.”

The words are a constant loop in her mind. Actually, they’re more like a jackhammer. She doesn’t want to think about it but she can’t stop thinking about it. It feels like...like a betrayal. To hear that her best friend in the office—her best friend in the world—had gone to Toby and complained about her wedding planning? Yeah, okay, he said he’d taken it back immediately and that he didn’t know Toby was even going to make a report, but still. Still.

She pulls her feet up and tucks them underneath her body, trying to make herself as small as possible, because that’s how she feels: small. Like a wounded animal. It’s a hurt that’s deeper than she expected it would be, and that’s exactly why she doesn’t want to think about it. Thinking about it is like tiptoeing next to that line that she doesn’t want to acknowledge but that she’s intensely aware of. And she’s scared that if she thinks about it too much, she’ll step right over it.

Because it’s not like she hasn’t wondered what it would be like, to be with Jim. That line of thinking is dangerous, though. Dangerous because it throws her entire world for a loop. She recalls the times she’s caught herself daydreaming (mostly innocently, but not always) about Jim; about what it would be like to see him in jeans and a t-shirt on the weekends, to cook dinner and take walks and see movies and enjoy each other. It always seems like it’d be so easy, that they could make the transition from friendship to romance without losing a beat. There are reasons why they’re best friends, right? And what if those reasons are the same reasons why they’d be the best partners, too?

But. Those thoughts only seem to creep in when the waters of her relationship with Roy are troubled. And as far as she’s concerned, that’s pretty normal. Relationships are consistently hard work according to pretty much everybody, and she can’t be the only one whose mind has strayed a time or two when the going gets tough. And it makes sense that it would be Jim, because it’s not like she even knows that many men. Plus, there’s the fact that Jim would never be into her in that way. She can’t hold a candle to women like Katy in terms of looks or charm, so what does she even have to offer someone like Jim? So her fantasies or whatever it is they should be called are harmless.

She watches TV absently, barely registering what’s happening until she hears the beautiful bachelorette debating the pros and cons of two of the handsome and eligible men vying for her hand. “Max is great, he really makes me laugh. He seems like sweet and supportive guy. We have great chemistry. Cody, though, it almost feels like we already have a history even though we barely know each other. We were raised in the same area, have a lot in common as far as our backgrounds. There’s something to be said for that.”

Pam raises her eyebrows in surprise and her mouth drops open. She can’t find the remote fast enough. Once the channel has been safely changed to an innocent and non-relationship related show (something about aliens and conspiracy theories, she thinks), she regards the television with a look of contempt. She almost wants to say out loud “how dare you?” because it feels like Tina or Tiffany or whatever the bachelorette’s name is is holding up a mirror so that Pam is confronted with the very dilemma she’s trying to avoid.

There is definitely something to be said for having a history with someone, the way she does with Roy. Roy has been a presence in her life for almost half of it, and they’ve been a couple for more than a third. He’s been there as she’s grown and changed and learned who she is. He knows her fears and her secrets and her hopes. Sometimes he doesn’t understand them...sometimes she doesn’t understand him. But they’ve settled into something that’s familiar and comforting and she doesn’t worry about their future because she knows it’ll be the same as their present. And that’s a nice thought, right? To know exactly what you’re getting from someone because you can read it in their expressions, in their actions, the way she can with Roy?

It’s not like that with Jim. She knows him well enough that she can decipher his mood and his thoughts in an instant, just from the look on his face, sure. Most of the time. But sometimes she’ll look at him—or more accurately, he’ll look at her—with a look that has what seems like a thousand emotions hiding behind it, none of which she can put her finger on. It’s been happening a lot lately and it makes her uneasy, because most of the explanations she can come up for why he’s looking at her the way he sometimes does don’t just dance alongside that imaginary line, they hurdle right across it.

He looks at her sometimes and she thinks she sees despair and hope and heartache and—dare she even think it?—love. And she just...she doesn’t know what to do with that.

Because when she thinks the words “Jim” and “love” in the same sentence, it makes her feel a warmth in her stomach and a pulling ache in her heart. It makes her wonder. It makes her think of the way that he pushes her and encourages her and hopes for her to be more than she is. When she thinks like that, it makes her start to doubt if she really is fine with her choices.

Sometimes, late at night when it’s dark and still and the only sound is that of Roy’s heavy breathing and occasional snore, she admits to herself that there are times where she wishes that she chose differently. Those are the nights that she wishes she had done the corporate internship or signed up for art classes or done something instead of being lulled by security and familiarity and comfort and allowing herself to settle into a rut of her own making. Those are the nights that she hears Jim’s voice in her head, telling her that she has to take a chance on something sometime. Those are the nights that she convinces herself that she does see love in Jim’s eyes, love and want and need and everything wonderful and scary. It makes her wonder if that is the thing she should take a chance on.

But in the harsh light of the morning after, she crashes back to reality. Jim sees her as a friend and only a friend. The look she sees isn’t love, it’s probably something a lot like pity. Pity for the girl that’s stuck behind a reception desk at a failing paper company, who had dreams but is too scared to reach for them, who allows herself to be treated unfairly because she’s too meek to stand up for herself.

Because deep down, she knows. She hasn’t spoken her feelings into existence or given them more than a passing thought before cramming them away somewhere into a dark corner of her mind, but they’re there. She knows that there are things missing from her relationship with Roy, areas where she feels like she’s compromised more than her fair share. She knows that “Pam” outside of “Pam and Roy” doesn’t exist and hasn’t for a long time. Roy, on the other hand, doesn’t have that problem. He knows who he is, what he wants, and what his life is going to be like. He never questions it or his behavior or their relationship, because he’s confident that everything is going to turn out the way he’s planned it and will always stay the same.

And that’s exactly why she stays.

Well, it’s one of the reasons. The main one, at least. Because despite his brusqueness and his occasional dismissiveness and all the other things that make her start mentally inching for the door, she still loves him and she can’t bear to think of breaking his heart. At the end of the day he’s a big teddy bear, really, one that’s rough around the edges but that knows her and all her stories and can turn on the charm and makes her feel safe and wanted when he wraps her up in his big arms. He works hard and deserves to have things turn out the way he’s planned and she’s a big part of that.

They’ll be happy, she knows, and that’s what she tells herself to quiet the voice piping up in the back of her mind; the one that says “you deserve to have things turn out the way you’ve planned, too.” She’s good at doing that, at quieting little voices.

That’s what she’s doing when the door opens and Roy walks in. He stumbles a little bit on the rug in the entryway, and she can tell by that and by the way his cheeks are red and his eyes a little glassy that he’s two, maybe two and a half sheets to the wind. She starts to get annoyed, but his gaze lands on her and his face lights up and he just looks so sweet and boyish, so she lets it go.

“I got ya somethin’, Pammy.” His voice is thick, like his tongue is just a little bit too big for his mouth, and his movements are slow as he makes his way towards her perch on the couch.

“What is it?” He doesn’t answer, just comes to stand in front of her with a grin that could almost be described as “shy” on his face. She notices then that his hands are behind his back—he’s being playful. That almost never happens. It makes her heart flutter a little. She giggles and adjusts her position on the couch so that she’s on her knees, smiling up at him. “Really, Roy, what is it?”

“Close your eyes and hold out your hands.” When she does what he asks, she has a fleeting thought that he’s going to do something sexual or inappropriate and if he does she might snap, but he doesn’t. Instead, he places something soft and fuzzy into her outstretched hands. She opens her eyes to find a pair of teddy bears, one dressed in a tuxedo and the other in a wedding dress. They’re sweet and silly and Roy is beaming at her and she’s going to cry.

“You like ‘em, babe? They were in the window of the pharmacy next to a delivery. I thought you’d think they’re cute. Me ‘n’ you.”

“They’re really cute, Roy,” she says. Her voice comes out tiny and raspy and there’s a lump in her throat caused by the tenderness of Roy’s expression and the weight of the guilt she feels at the thoughts she’s been having all night. She stands up and wraps her arms around her fiancÚ’s neck so she can kiss him, partly to say thank you and partly in an attempt to still the nagging doubts in the back of her mind. It works, kind of. The doubts don’t ever really go away, but.

When she pulls away, he grabs her by the hand and leads her to the bedroom. She sets the bears on her nightstand, arranges them carefully so that they’re leaning on each other the way a married couple should be, and crawls beneath the covers where Roy is waiting. He takes his time, kisses her cheeks and tells her she’s beautiful, and after they finish he sighs like he’s the most satisfied man in the world. He probably is.

He’s asleep when she gets out of the bathroom, his back towards her. Pam stays awake for a little while longer. She curls her body against his and wraps one arm around his waist the best that she can. With her head against the broad expanse of his back and shoulders, she can focus on the sound of his deep, even breathing. It lulls her to sleep and the persistent little voice in her head is silent, for once.

She dreams of teddy bears when she finally falls asleep. Teddy bears in wedding outfits. They’re not the same ones given to her by Roy, but similar. The main difference is that the groom bear’s stitched on smile is a little bit lopsided. Looking at it makes her stomach flip and her heart pound and all those tell-tale signs of being in love. She hugs it to her chest, never wanting to let go.

When she wakes up the next morning, though, she doesn’t remember her dreams.

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End Notes:
Thanks for reading! Leave a review if you wish. See you soon!
Parking Lot by BigTuna
Author's Notes:
This one was harder than I expected it to be. I hope I did it justice.
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Pam strolls across the parking lot with a smile on her face. It’s been a great day. It’s been a great week, actually. Roy has been nothing but sweet and attentive and has even sat with her at the kitchen table as she puts the finishing touches on their wedding—coming up in just a few short weeks! The wedding bills have miraculously been paid (with a little help from her parents) and her mom has been working diligently on silk flower bouquets and over the weekend, she and Roy are headed over to the VA hall so they can finalize where the tables will go and how many fairy lights they can hang and all the little details that still need to get taken care of. It’s exhilarating, being so close to the day she’s been anticipating for the past three years.

And things at work have just been great. She was worried that there’d be awkwardness after Jim admitted to complaining about her, but things had immediately gone right back to normal. If anything, they were goofing around more now. They’ve spent the week laughing and messing around with Dwight and even a little (maybe intentional but definitely harmless) flirting, which has been fun. Nothing has been able to get her down, not Angela’s disapproving looks or Michael’s inappropriate comments or Dwight’s indignation at whatever joke they’re pulling. She’s just been too happy.

Today, especially. She had initially been a little annoyed that Roy hadn’t decided on a band, but he’d been so helpful with everything else that she let it slide. It was just that the prospect of watching a dozen wedding band videos was not her idea of a good time. But Jim had come to her rescue, watching and laughing and reveling in the discovery of “Scrantonicity.” She can’t remember the last time she’d laughed so much.

So as she heads across the lot towards Roy’s truck, she feels happy and bouncy and light and good, like she could just float away. And she’s not even bothered by the fact that she has to come back to work on a Friday night. She’s actually excited about the casino fundraiser. And if anything, it’s excuse to take some extra time on her hair and wear the pretty blue dress that’s been hiding in the back of the closet and just have a good time. It seems like she so rarely has the opportunity to do that.

“You seem like you’re in a good mood,” Roy comments as he starts the truck.

“Yeah,” she says, smiling. “It was a good day.”

“Good.” They turn out of the parking lot and Roy relaxes in the driver's seat, one hand on the steering wheel and the other reaching the other over to rest on Pam’s thigh. He used to do that when they first started dating, she remembers. It always made him seem so confident, so happy. She leans her head against the seat and smiles over at him. He glances over and smiles back. “Hey, babe, listen. I’m sorry I never watched those videos.”

“It’s okay. I watched them today.”

“Yeah? Anything good?”

She shrugs. “Kevin is in one of them, actually. He’s the drummer and the singer.”

Roy gives that some consideration. “Big Kev from upstairs? Nice. I’ll have to watch that when we get home.”

Pam covers his hand with her own and gives it a squeeze. “Sounds good. As long as we’re not late for the casino night.”

__________


Jim makes his way a little hurriedly across the parking lot, towards the warehouse. He’s a late, he knows, because he recognizes most of the cars in the lot as those of his coworkers, including Roy’s little green truck, the same one he saw Pam ride away in just a few hours before. His heart thumps a little harder at the thought of seeing her, just like always.

It hurts a little more this time, though, because he knows it’s likely the last time he’ll see her outside of work, even though they’ll technically be at work. Not to be overly dramatic or anything, but he knows that this will be the last time he sees her freed from the confines of the reception desk and out from under the thumb of Dunder Mifflin and everything that comes with it. Because after next week, he’s gone, and then he won’t see her anymore at all.

She doesn’t know it yet, though, and that only amplifies the hurt. Jim knows that she won’t be able to see it for what it is—self preservation—and that it’ll likely come across like...like he’s abandoning her, or something. Because honestly, that’s kind of what it feels like to him.

Which is stupid, of course. He’s not abandoning her, he’s just starting a new chapter of his life that coincidentally doesn’t feature her as a starring player. She’ll always be there, of course, because she’s been so pivotal in shaping him into the person that he is, but she just won’t be front and center anymore. And she’s first and foremost his best friend, so maybe (hopefully) she’ll be happy that he’s gotten a promotion and won’t feel like he’s deserting her. And anyway, can you even call it desertion or abandonment when the person you’re leaving behind is getting married in less than a month?

She probably won’t even give him a second thought after he’s gone.

He immediately chastises himself, because he knows her better than that. Of course she’ll be sad to see him go, and that thought alone is enough to stop him in his tracks halfway across the parking lot and reconsider for about the thirtieth time since Jan had called that afternoon to tell him that the position was his. Once he leaves, who in the office will she talk to? They’re both friendly with some of the documentary crew, but when the cameras are rolling there’s supposed to be limited contact. So who will hear the jokes she makes under her breath, or appreciate her expertise in Michael wrangling, or be her sounding board when she needs one? Who will she confide in or laugh with or share her lunches with or show her art to?

It’s almost enough to make him stay. Almost, but not quite. Because at the end of the day, even when she doesn’t have him, she’ll have him—Roy. Her soon to be husband. The man that should have been all those things in the first place, so much so that there never even should have been a role for him to fill.

He can’t explore that line of thinking, though, not again. It never leads anywhere good and when he finally snaps himself out of it, the ache in his chest is always a little sharper. He’s done comparing himself to Roy, building himself up in his head to be the better match for Pam and entertaining grand notions of sweeping her off her feet and into the sunset. Because even though he can’t begin to understand what Pam sees in Roy, she obviously sees something and who is he to even attempt to come between them? Pam’s excited and happy and getting her happy ending.

Jim wants that too, so as he crosses the rest of the parking lot, he tells himself that he’s doing what needs to be done. The only ending here for him in Scranton is a miserable one.

Still. Telling her is really going to suck.

__________


“You sure you can’t stay a little longer? It’s been such a fun night.”

“I know, but I don’t think so. We had a long day today. Plus I got that thing with Kenny tomorrow morning, early. Sorry, babe, I am just beat.”

“It’s okay. I’ll see you at home.”

“Okay. Hey, don’t try to lose too much money, alright-”

“Okay.”

“-cause you still wanna go on a honeymoon.” Pam laughs because it’s funny, because Roy is so sweet and earnest when he jokes around and she likes him like that. Right now she likes everything--the way her blue dress shifts against her skin, the way her hair brushes along her upper back, the floaty feeling that she can contribute to one and a half glasses of white wine and the fun she’d had at the poker table, Jim accepting his defeat gracefully. A smile has been plastered on her face for most of the night and she feels like nothing can chase it away. She likes that, too.

Jim walks by and she has just enough time to register that he’s walking away from the warehouse--he can’t be leaving already, can he?--before Roy spots him, too, and calls out. “Hey, Halpert. Keep an eye on her, all right?”

“Okay. Will do.” Pam’s heart swells to bursting when she hears that. She feels so indescribably lucky to have them both; two of the most important men in her life, the two that she can trust to always be looking out for her.

Roy puts the truck in gear and waves. His see ya is carried away from her on the wind, but she calls “bye!” after him anyway, even if he can’t hear it as he drives out of the parking lot. Before his tail lights turn past the corner of the fence, she’s walking towards Jim. The smile on her face feels even more permanent as she looks at him, ready for his next joke or quip or anything, really. “Hey.”

“Hey. How’s it going?”

“Good.” She grins up at him because she can’t help it. The lightness of her heart has spread so that she can feel happiness bubbling throughout her bloodstream. It makes her arms swing and her body sway and her voice tease as she says “especially after I took all your money in poker.”

Jim laughs, but not as much as she would have liked for him to. He sounds nervous, stilted almost, when he says “yeah, um…” and she realizes then that he’s not looking at her. The high she’s been on all night--all day, all week--falters a little. “Hey. Can I talk to you about something?” His voice is thick, like maybe he’s had too much to drink, and when he finally does look at her, it doesn’t really feel like he’s looking at her. A nervousness steals over her for a second or two, but she chases it away with a joke.

“About when you wanna give me more of your money?”

“No, I--”

“Did you wanna do that now? We can go inside. I’m feelin’ kinda good tonight.” Her brain is a little slow, fogged by the buoyant cheerfulness she feels more than the wine she’s had, and she only realizes that he’s said no after she stops talking. The nervousness rushes back, more consuming this time, and the parking lot suddenly feels heavy and serious and claustrophobic. Jim’s not smiling and she’s a little troubled to find that she can’t read his expression. It’s happened before, sure, but this time is different because it’s the first time she can’t get a read on him at all. She feels her own smile fall off her face and her hands still, and before he speaks again she has a fleeting thought that whatever it is he’s about to say is going to change things forever.

“I just...I’m in love with you.”

She’s not sure she heard him correctly. In fact, she knows that she didn’t. She couldn’t have, because she knows Jim, knows he wouldn’t do that to her. She says the only thing that makes sense, hoping against hope that he’ll say something else when she asks “what?” because if he said what she thinks he did, her entire world will start shattering into a thousand tiny pieces and she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to put them back together. And even if she does find a way to reassemble them, she knows that they won’t be the same.

He’s talking again, saying something other than the five words that have turned her world upside down, and she wrenches herself out of her thoughts enough to hear him apologize, to hear him say something about “needed you to hear it” and “not good timing” and she doesn’t know what to say. Usually she looks to Jim for answers when she’s at a loss for words, so what is she supposed to do when it’s Jim that leaves her speechless? What is he doing to her?

When she thinks that, she knows she wants it answered. “What are you doing?” He gives her a look that very clearly says you know what I’m doing and it all clicks into place. She knows. It’s so obvious, now, that the expression she could never place before was love. It’s always been love, since pretty much the day they met. She doesn’t know how respond, what to do or think or say. That’s what she wants to tell him, but instead she asks: “What do you expect me to say to that?” It comes out a lot harsher than she intends for it to but it’s out there, hanging in the air between them. The look on his face as he absorbs it makes her heart break.

He drops his gaze to his feet and when he swings his eyes back to hers, they’re so open and he looks so vulnerable and the thousand little pieces that her world has cracked into crack even more. “I just needed you to know. Once.” She recognizes the thickness of his voice as being due to emotion, not drink, and she’s struck by the realization that she’s never heard him like. She knows now that it’s because he’s never let her. That leaves no doubt in her mind that he’s never been as honest as he’s being in this moment. It’s thrilling, a little, to see him like that. Thrilling and terrifying. It makes him magnetic, even more than usual. His eyes hold contact with hers and she feels like she’s being pulled into him, drawn like a moth to a flame or some metaphor equally as damning, because it feels dangerous and tempting and like if she lets herself go, she’ll fall and fall and fall and never be able to climb back out. It’s exciting and new and safe and unfamiliar all at the same time, and that’s terrifying, too.

She drags her eyes away from his steady stare because it’s just too much. She can’t think with him looking at her like that. It’s hard for her to make much sense of the myriad of thoughts racing through her mind, but she tries to give voice to them anyway. It’s hard to speak because her heart is thundering in her ears and threatening to beat straight out of her chest and her stomach feels like lead and it’s almost painful to take the breath she needs to say whatever it is she’s going to say. “Well I, um...I…” Her fingers wring together and she’s acutely aware of the fact that she’s trying as hard as she can not twist her engagement ring, her usual nervous habit. She doesn’t know what that means. He’s looking at her, his eyes dark and liquid and she can’t catch her breath, she thinks she might hyperventilate because—“ I can’t?” It comes out like a question or maybe a plea, as thought she’s not even sure of it herself, but as the words disappear into the air she realizes that she’s telling him the truth.

She can’t, because she’s getting married in less than a month and it would destroy Roy, not to mention both of their families. She can’t, because so much time and money has been spent on a wedding that had been hanging in limbo for three years and now they’re past the point of no return. She can’t, because she doesn’t know how to be Pam independent of Pam and Roy, because that’s what she’s known for more than a decade. She just can’t. She doesn’t know how.

Not once does it occur to her that the reasons that she can’t don’t have anything to do with how she feels for Jim.

All he says is “yeah,” like her answer is what he expected, and his eyes drop to the ground.

Her mouth is dry and her arms are shaking and she doesn’t know what else there is to say, but she feels like she has to say something. “You have no idea-”

He jerks his head back up, almost angrily. “Don’t do that.” He knows her so well, she thinks, he knew what she was going to say before she did.

“-what your friendship means to me.”

“Come on. I don’t wanna do that. I wanna be more than that.” He says it like it’s so simple, and maybe it would be. But—

“I can’t.” She sounds more sure of herself this time, so she stops herself from adding because I don’t know how. Knowing Jim, he’d take her hand and show her how and a (huge) part of her thrills at the idea of that, but she’s planned her life with someone else and those plans are set in stone. So she struggles to find a way to make it all go back to how it was before he said what he said, a way to fix the huge fractured chasm that’s between the two of them now. “I’m really sorry if you misinterpreted things” aren’t the right words but she says them anyway. They’re followed by “it’s probably my fault” and she wishes she could rewind and take back the “probably” because it’s definitely all her fault.

But as she watches tears brimming in his eyes, even as one betrays him and starts to slip down his cheek, he shakes his head no. “Not your fault.” Her hand twitches with the overwhelming desire to wipe away the tear that’s tracing a shining path across his face but he beats her to it. She never really had the right to do something like that, anyway...and especially not now. That realization hurts, almost as much as hearing him say “I’m sorry I misinterpreted our friendship.”

Because as he leaves her standing there in the middle of the parking lot and the events of the last few minutes sink into place, the tiniest pinprick of a thought wedges itself in her brain: he didn’t misinterpret anything.

But she’s made a promise to Roy, and it’s one that she intends to keep. She just—she needs...a lot of things. She just doesn’t know what any of them are.

__________


From across the street, Jim watches through slightly blurred vision as Pam stands in the parking lot for a few moments longer. She stays so still that he begins to worry about her, and it’s so typical. Even after breaking his heart, he’s still more concerned with her well being than his.

But that’s not fair, really. He meant what he said. It’s not her fault. He knew from the beginning that she was engaged. He’s the one to blame for the hurt he knows they both feel, because he’s the one that dug the hole so deep that it became impossible to climb back out. So yes, his heart is broken, but it’s not her fault—it’s his.

Especially since he never intended to confess his feelings in the first place. He’d had it all planned out, too: “Jan approached me about a position in Stamford. I’m putting my two weeks notice in with this branch on Monday.” Short and simple and to the point, because he had been worried that if he tried to say too much that she’d look at him what that sad, surprised look she gets sometimes, like when Roy does something thoughtless or Michael says something even more inappropriate than normal...and if she looked at him like that, he knew that his defenses would break down and he’d start talking himself into staying.

And if he stayed, it would just be delaying the inevitable. His heart, his broken and bruised and battered heart, would fracture beyond repair at the first sight of a second ring on her finger. He’d sink further and further into the hole he’s dug, so much so that he wouldn’t be able to see the sunlight. Every day that he sees her is already like a punch to the gut and he knows that if he stays, that feeling will be accompanied by one that’s a lot like a knife on his chest.

So he’s making the right choice. Especially now, after he’s ruined everything between them. And the thing about is that he never even meant to tell her how he felt, just about his transfer—

His transfer. She still doesn’t know, and she deserves to be told. Maybe he can go back and apologize and explain that he’s getting out of her hair, out of her life, and after next week she won’t have to worry about him ever again. Across the street, she’s walking slowly towards the building and soon has slipped inside, not bothering with the elevator but disappearing into the stairwell. He gives it a few minutes, and then makes his way back across the street.

It takes him a while to get up to the office, because he pauses in the stairwell to try and decide what he’s going to say. I’m sorry and I didn’t mean to and I’m leaving battle with I’m not sorry and I’m glad I did and please give me a reason to stay and none of them sound like the right thing, because they’re all representative of how he feels. It’s true that he didn’t mean to tell her, but when she smiled at him and he came face to face with the fact that he was going to run away and never let her know...how could he not tell her? He needed her to know, needed her to understand the depth of his feelings for her, because he needed to know that he’d done everything he could before turning to his last resort: leaving. He’s sorry that he sprung it on her, but he’s not sorry for telling her. And as for leaving...well, that remains to be seen.

When he steps onto the second floor he still doesn’t have it quite figured out, but he presses on anyway. The main door into the office is propped open and he can hear her voice drifting towards him, and he panics for a moment. Is she talking to the cameras? Is she talking to Roy? There’s not another voice, but he pauses at the entryway to listen. She’s not at her desk, but she still sounds close--his desk, maybe? The thought makes his heart skip a beat.

It becomes clear that she’s on the phone when he hears her say “I don’t know, mom, he’s my best friend.” Hearing her say that bolsters him, and he steps inside the doorway. Her voice sounds small and unsure when she says “yeah, he’s great” and even more so when she says “yeah, I think I am” and he doesn’t know what means but maybe it means something good, and that’s the driving force behind him as he rounds the corner and turns towards her. She is at his desk, perched against it in the way that he loves. There’s barely enough time for her to hang up his phone and turn towards him before he’s leaning towards her, because he knows now that there’s nothing left to say. He doesn’t wait to hear what’s at the end of her “listen, Jim,” just wraps his arms around her and presses his lips to hers. It’s chaste and simple but it electrifies him.

And then she kisses him back, her hands on his neck and her body against his and he’s sure she can feel his heart beating wildly against hers and he’s on fire. The material of her dress is smooth and cool under his palms, and as he slides them to her waist he realizes just how much of her he can hold at once. Her hands are against his chest, tracing a tingling path across his skin even through two layers of clothing, and when she rests them against his own he doesn’t resist the urge to brush his thumbs against her knuckles. Every inch of her is perfect and he wants to touch them all. The smile on his face absolutely cannot be contained, because she kissed him back. He feels like he should say something, wants to say something, so he settles on the truth. “You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that.” His voice sounds low and husky; he can’t decide if it’s due to the physical effect simply holding her has on him or to the lump of emotion in his throat because finally, finally.

She’s looking up at him, her eyes clear and bright underneath her eyelashes. “Me too,” she says, and he wants to shout it from the rooftop. He laughs because he can’t help himself, it feels just as good as if she had said “I’m in love with you, too.” Me too means that there was no misinterpretation, means that maybe she wants more, means that--“I think we’re just drunk.”

“No, I’m not drunk. Are you drunk?” He’s scared to hear her answer, because what will he do if she brushes this off as a drunken mistake?

“No.” Thank god. There’s the hint of a smile on her face and everything seems so full of possibility, he can see his entire future folding out before him as he leans towards her again. He’s close enough to feel her breath against his lips--mere millimeters between them--when she speaks his name.

She sounds scared. He pulls back and her expression changes. Where seconds before she had been looking at him with a sense of clarity--like she was seeing him for the first time--she now looks panicked. He knows immediately what it means, but he has to ask. He has to be sure. “You’re really gonna marry him?” She nods, but she doesn’t have to, because he already knew.

“Okay.” It’s not okay, but what else is there to say? She’s made her choice, and it’s not him. He lingers for a moment, tries as hard as he can to memorize the way her hands feel in his and how perfectly she fit against him and how even the smallest, briefest of kisses with her has been better than anything else. And then he leaves, because he has to.

The tears start to fall as he exits the building into the parking lot. This time, he doesn’t bother to wipe them away.

__________
End Notes:
Please let me know what you think! Love ya, mean it. See you soon!
Birthday by BigTuna
Author's Notes:
Had to find a way to fit this prompt into the timeline. Hope it's not too contrived while at the same time explaining why I feel like Pam didn't call Jim to tell him that she'd called off the wedding. Hope you enjoy! Thanks for all the recent feedback, you guys made my day.
__________


On June 17th, Pam finds herself in New York City, perched on a too small stool in a too tight dress with a too strong drink on the bartop in front of her. It’s seven days out from her would be wedding, twelve days out from the day she sat Roy down and said “I can’t,” and thirty-six days out from the night she’d said the same two words to Jim after he’d said five words to her and shattered her entire world.

It’s not where she wants to be, but then again she’s not quite sure where she does want to be. Her new apartment smells like fresh paint and bleach and it doesn’t feel like home yet. Her home--the one she shared with Roy--isn’t her home anymore. Her parent’s house isn’t home either, and plus it's too far away for commuting to work. And work...she definitely doesn’t want to be there. She hasn’t wanted to be there since the Monday morning she came in with her heart in her throat, petrified and anxious to talk to Jim, only to find out that he wasn’t coming in that day. Or any other day, for that matter. So, yeah, she doesn’t want to be there.

And since she doesn’t really have a choice in where she is at the moment anyway, she settles in on her too small stool in her too tight dress and takes a sip of her too strong drink.

On the dance floor behind her, amid the pulsing music and flashing lights, her younger sister Penny celebrates being young and beautiful and newly twenty-five. Penny is the entire reason behind Pam being in the club and the city and the dress, because Penny all but forced Pam into coming to the city for the weekend (“Come on Pam, it’ll be good for you! And it’s my birthday!”) as well as forced her into the dress (“You have a bangin’ bod, Pam, show it off! We’re not in Scranton, we’re in New York, baby!”) and forced her first drink in her hand.

Despite the fact that she doesn’t much feel like joining Penny and her friends in the middle of the throbbing crowd, she has to admit that it’s been good for her to get out of Scranton. New York offers a lot in the way of distractions: lights, sounds, crowds, drinks. Her sweet, well-meaning sister, who Pam knows is less interested in celebrating her birthday and more interested in making sure that Pam’s okay.

She is, kind of. There are a few things that she can’t stop thinking about: Roy’s face when she told him that she couldn’t marry him. Roy’s heartbreaking reaction when he realized that she wasn’t changing her mind. How hard it was to pack up the last ten years of her life and deposit it in a stark, bare, white-walled apartment.

Jim, tears in his eyes and a waver in his voice as he says he wants to be more than that.

Jim, the way his arms wrapped around her entire body and held on like he would very happily never let go.

Jim, his head bowed and shoulders hunched, walking across the parking lot as she watched from a conference room window, crying harder than she’d ever cried before and for more reasons than she thought her brain could handle.

So. Yeah. She’s okay. Or at least, she pretends to be. Some days she’s better at pretending than others. Today is not one of them.

Because there’s a new thing added to the list of things she can’t stop thinking about. It’s the fact that Jim is 40 miles and only one state line away and they’re the closest they’ve been in weeks.

For the millionth time that night, Pam fidgets with her phone. She flips it open and closed, open and closed, open. She runs her fingers over the raised buttons, trying to decide if she has the courage to call or text, or if it’s worth it trying to contact him at all.

Because she loves him too, of course. She just didn’t know it thirty-six days ago. Or rather, she did know, but she didn’t know she knew, like that even makes any sense. She knew there was something, you don’t have the thoughts and the emotions and the tiny little tugging pangs (that she now recognizes as unabashed lust) for someone and there not be something. It just wasn’t a something that she ever thought she’d be able to have, and when she had it in front of her she panicked.

And what was she supposed to have done differently, really? Take Jim’s hand and run away with him in the night? Not give a second thought to Roy or the future that they’d planned together? She’s never been brave or spontaneous or anything but deliberate and meticulous, and Jim knew that, so what did he even expect?

She flips her phone closed with a resounding snap, because now she’s pissed off. Pissed at Jim for shattering her worldview and running away without giving her a chance to process the emotional nuclear bomb that he’d dropped on her. Pissed at Roy for not being right for her in the first place, which isn’t even his fault. Pissed at herself for not recognizing her feelings earlier and facing them head on instead of stepping back and allowing her life to crumble into the mess it is right now. Pissed at Penny for insisting that her birthday had to be celebrated in quite possibly the loudest club in New York when all Pam wanted to do was curl up somewhere and feel sorry for herself.

Maybe she will call. Maybe she’ll figure out how to tell him that she didn’t marry Roy, because she thinks he deserves to know. Maybe she’ll give him a piece of her mind and tell him how horrible it felt to have him walk away without giving her time. Maybe she’ll rant and scream and cry and give him a taste of how it feels. Maybe she’ll just tell him how sorry she is, that she loves him, that she wants to be with him, that she’d called off her wedding because it was the right thing to do but that it didn’t become important until after he’d pulled the veil from her face and showed her the light of day, so to speak. Maybe, if she calls, they can close the distance between them and she can tell him all of this to his face.

She has her phone open and is scrolling through her contact list when Penny suddenly appears at her elbow, a wide smile on her flushed face. “Pam! Aren’t you gonna come dance with us?”

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe in a little bit."

Penny’s grin falls a little. “Come on, Pam. It'll help you get your mind off things and I think that'll help.” Her eyes fall to the phone in Pam’s lap and one of her eyebrows arches sharply in a way that’s extremely reminiscent of Angela. “Pam,” Penny says sternly. “You are not thinking about calling him, are you?”

Pam looks down at her phone, then back at Penny. She’s confused for a second, because how in the world does Penny even know about Jim? But then it dawns on her: Penny’s talking about Roy. She opens her mouth to say “no,” but Penny interrupts her by grabbing her around the wrist and dragging her off to the bathroom.

Once inside, Penny rounds on her. “Look, Pam. I can’t begin to know what you’re going through. You and Roy were together for so long, and it must be so hard.” Pam nods, because Penny’s right. It is hard. “But you made the right decision. He wasn’t right for you. You know that, don’t you?” Pam nods again. “So whatever it is that’s making you want to call him, remember that. He wasn’t right for you. And no amount of loneliness or sadness or whatever it is is going to change that.”

Penny looks so sweet and worried that Pam doesn’t have the heart to confess that it’s not Roy she’s thinking about, but a man that she’s only just recently realized that she’s been in love with for years. Her best friend that ran away. Probably her soulmate, but she’ll never have the opportunity to find out because she told him no and crushed his heart. Plus, she doesn’t trust herself to talk about it just yet anyway, not without dissolving into a puddle of tears while simultaneously wanting to break several somethings. So instead she just pulls her sweet baby sister into hug, so appreciative of the fact that Penny took time out of her own birthday celebration to check up on her.

Pam sags against her sister when she feels Penny return the hug. Maybe it’s the too strong drink, but Pam feels so overcome with emotion that she thinks she might start sobbing. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been like this on your birthday. I’m being so selfish.”

Penny hugs her tighter. “No, don’t say that! You’re allowed to feel however you feel.” Nobody’s ever said that to Pam before. And it’s so silly, because of course a person doesn’t need permission to experience their own emotions, but it feels like that’s what Penny’s given her. Like it’s suddenly okay for her to be confused and sad and heartbroken and not as upset about calling off her wedding and her ten year relationship as she thinks maybe a person should be. It suddenly dawns on Pam that the only person who ever kept her from feeling how she felt was herself. She starts crying in earnest, huge fat tears that she only allows herself to cry late at night when she’s too exhausted to fight them away.

Tears immediately spring to Penny’s eyes, too, as she pulls away to wipe away the ones that roll down Pam’s cheeks. “Pam, listen to me. Do you know what would be the best birthday gift you could ever give me?”

Pam shakes her head, not trusting herself to speak.

“For you to learn how to be okay with being by yourself. So much of your identity has been wrapped up in being with Roy that I’m so scared you’ve forgotten about the things that make you who you are. Pam, I don’t think you realize how great you are. And I’m not just saying that because I’m your sister and I have to. I really mean it.”

Pam has to marvel at how astute her sister is, and then she remembers: “All those psychology classes are coming in handy, huh?”

Penny laughs. “Looks like it, huh? But I’m being serious. You’re funny and you’re smart and you are so talented, and it’s been sad to see you forget those things over the last few years, you know?”

“Yeah.”

“I’d love for you to take some time to figure out what it is that you want in your life. Are you happy with your job? Do you want pursue art more? Go back to school? Just to see you take a chance and try something new would make me so happy. Mom and Dad, too.”

You’ve got to take a chance on something sometime, Pam. It’s like a punch in the gut, because of course Jim saw that she’d lost herself. He knew her better than she knew herself in a lot of ways, and how unfair was it that it took him leaving for her to figure out the things he’d known for years? Well, him leaving and a tear-filled talk with her younger sister in the cramped ladies room of a popular nightclub.

She decides that Penny (and Jim) is right. She has to take a chance on something sometime, so why not start with taking a chance on herself? It’s true that she doesn’t know how to be by herself, or even who she really is. The years of her of her life that should have been spent figuring those things out were instead spent learning more than she ever cared to know about football and striving to perfect Mrs. Anderson’s meatloaf recipe.

So she’s not going to call. Yes, she loves Jim. Yes, she wants to be with him. But she doesn’t trust herself to not submerge herself into being one half of Pam and Jim, as tempting as that sounds. And it would be so easy, and she would probably be really happy.

But.

She owes it to herself to be alone for a little while and figure out what that means. She owes it to Jim, too, if they ever are going to be with each other. But it’s like she’s seeing the world with such clarity now, here in the dimly lit women’s room with her sister smiling at her through watery eyes. Figuring out who she is is something that she needs to do for herself, not for Jim or for Penny or for anybody other than just Pam.

Just Pam. She likes the sound of that. It’s scary, in a good way.

It’s dark enough on the dance floor that it doesn’t matter than she’s cried off all her makeup. And she wouldn't care, anyway. She feels almost like it’s her birthday instead of Penny’s. And it kind of is, in a purely metaphorical sense. She’s sad still, and confused and anxious and a little bit unsure of what the future holds, but it’s okay. She also feels new and excited, like she’s a blank slate entering the world for the first time.

Maybe one day she’ll call. When she’s found herself. Somehow, she knows that the story of her and Jim isn’t quite over, just has a bookmark stuck somewhere in the middle so that she can start writing her own story.

Next to her, Penny laughs and smiles and dances, celebrating being beautiful and happy and newly twenty-five. Pam laughs and smiles and dances, too, celebrating being free and sad and hopeful and giving herself permission to feel all of these things at once.

Later, after they’ve danced their hearts out and had a few rounds of shots purchased for the birthday girl, they climb into the back of a cab and make their way back to their hotel. Penny’s three best friends claim the couch and one of the two beds immediately, so Pam and Penny climb into the other one. Pam feels like she’s a kid again, having a sleepover with her sister. She smiles across the pillow at Penny, who is more than a little bit buzzed and about ten seconds from falling asleep.

“Hey,” she says softly. Penny’s eyes flutter open and she offers a small smile. “I’m gonna give you your birthday gift, you know. The one you asked for.”

“Good. I’m glad.”

“Me too. Happy birthday, Penny.”

__________
End Notes:
Please let me know what you think! Love ya, mean it.
First Day by BigTuna
__________


Jim starts his new position as Assistant Regional Manager at Dunder Mifflin Stamford on June 19th. It’s been thirty-eight days since he stood in the parking lot at DM Scranton with his heart in his hands and a lump in his throat, wanting nothing more than to give the woman he loved anything and everything, only for her to refuse it. Twice. It’s been twenty-one days since he loaded up the last box into the back of his Corolla, handed Mark his set of house keys, and headed down I-84 towards Connecticut.

It’s been nine days since Pam walked down a church aisle in a white dress and married Roy.

As he sits at his new desk in his new office with his new (admittedly spectacular) view, he tries to think about anything other than whether or not they’re back from their honeymoon and if they are, if Pam took the day off so she could visit the DMV and the social security office and anywhere else she needed to go so she could transition from Beesly to Anderson. He tries to not picture how beautiful she must have looked in the dress he’d accidentally seen a photo of, with the satin strip at the top and the lace sleeves, her hair curling loosely at her collarbone. He tries especially hard to not envision himself waiting for her at the front of the church, never more sure of something as he is the fact that he loves her, wholly and unconditionally and eternally.

Desperate for something to take his mind off of thoughts of Pam and the way that thinking of her now makes him sick to his stomach with regret and longing and all those other horrible things that come from unrequited love, he casts his eyes around for something—anything—work related. The desk before him is bare because of course it is, it’s his first day. He isn’t even able to access any information about the clients he’s inherited because of some system glitch that/s completely locked him out. He wouldn’t put it past Michael to have somehow done something to his credentials, purposefully or not, as payback for Jim having left with no notice. He smiles at the thought and automatically glances to his right, looking for curly red hair and a soft pink cardigan and a flushed, smiling face all too willing to theorize on Michael’s hacking abilities and whether or not he was able to rope Dwight into helping. Pam’s not there, though, just a blocky grey industrial printer that is completely void of the charm he’s so used to having ten feet away.

He’s going to go crazy. More likely, he already is crazy.

He’s been in Stamford three weeks, unable to start until today because “Thomas wants to finish his last two weeks before you replace him” and “corporate already approved your vacation, you should relax!” To hell with Thomas, he thinks, and to hell with vacation. How is he supposed to enjoy Australia knowing that the love of his life is now inexorably linked to the luckiest, most undeserving bastard in the world? And doesn’t Thomas know that Jim needs this, is actually craving the monotony of his nine to five?

Because without something that he has to do in order to earn a living, he won’t do anything except stare at the four walls of one of his living room, or maybe his bedroom. He’ll turn the TV on and go through the motions, maybe try to choke down a bowl of tasteless cornflakes or something, but none of it distracts from the utter emptiness he feels inside his chest. He can’t make himself leave his new apartment because what’s the point? He can’t talk about it to his family, because what would they have to say that would do any good? “She doesn’t deserve you, Jimmy.” “You’re better off without someone who doesn’t see what she has right in front of her.” “You’re in a brand new city! Go see the sights, meet new people!”

Yeah, no thanks.

Maybe all that stuff is true, but it sure doesn’t feel that way right now. He can’t think of anybody more deserving of someone who would love them the way that he loves Pam. And when he's around her he's the best version of himself, or at least the version that he likes the most. And what good is being in Stamford if everywhere he goes reminds him of the person that isn’t there to share it with him, the only person that he wants?

So. He needs to work. He needs to be doing something that produces some kind of quantifiable results, because the work he’s been doing for the past five years has produced nothing but heartache.

Since that seems impossible, he settles on familiarizing himself with the office. It’s bigger than the one in Scranton and absent of the years worth of accumulated clutter that seemed to be all over the place at his old branch. It has a more professional atmosphere, too, which he both appreciates and despises. Appreciates because he assumes that he’ll spend more time being busy because it’ll be expected of him, and being busy means that he'll also be (hopefully) distracted. Despises because it’s just another reminder that he’s not where he was.

Not that he even wants to be there. It would hurt too much, considering how much it hurts from 150 miles away. It’ll hurt forever, he thinks; that constant stabbing wrenching pain in his heart and his gut and his head and his entire body for every minute of every day. Every beat of his heart pumps a reminder through his bloodstream; each thump-thump sounding more like I can’t.

Thoughts like that are counterproductive to not acknowledging the fact that he can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t focus on anything except for regret and heartache and shame and so on. Going down that path is nothing but an endless cyclical pattern that only ends in numbness and self loathing, so he shakes his head free of the hurt (as much as he can, anyway) and pushes away from his desk. Maybe if he gets up and walks around, tries to get to know some of his coworkers, he can start to fill his brain with more than just the fleeting memory of what it felt like to wrap his arms around Pam, to feel her lips against his...and the knowledge that there’s another man--her husband--that gets to experience those things for the rest of his life.

That thought propels him out of his chair. He’s already had enough of the man in the desk in front of him (“Andrew Bernard, Cornell ‘95. You can call me Andy. I’m the big dog around here. The Nard Dog. So watch out, Scranton.”) and the desk behind him is empty because its inhabitant is out on a sales call, so he heads towards the break area. An incredibly pregnant woman is in there, fanning herself at the table, and Jim smiles at her. Perhaps attempting some small talk is what he needs. “Any day now, huh?”

“Excuse me?” The woman (he thinks her name is Hannah) narrows her eyes at him. “What exactly do you mean by that?”

“Oh, just, uh...it looks like the baby is almost ready to make an appearance,” he says with a lame gesture to her belly. Her eyes narrow even further.

“Who do you think you are to comment on a woman’s body? How do you even know I’m pregnant?” He looks around the room a little frantically as though the cabinets or refrigerator are going to tell him what to say, and surprisingly enough, they do. There’s a paper bracket stuck to the freezer door bearing the inscription HANNAH’S BABY POOL and several dates within the upcoming weeks. He points to it and Hannah scoffs. “Whatever. Learn some boundaries.”

Jim nods awkwardly and backs out of the break room. He turns towards the back of the office, where a few more desks are arranged. Another salesman is back there in a large L-shaped corner desk, Tony. Jim stops and smiles in what he hopes is a genial way. “Had a case of foot-in-mouth back there with Hannah,” he jokes. Tony stares at him blankly and blinks slowly. It’s a little reminiscent of Dwight, actually, and Jim finds himself missing his former coworker. Just a little bit, but still.

Nothing in comparison to how much he misses another former coworker, but, there’s nothing he can do about that, really.

With Tony still thousand-yard staring at him, Jim turns away. Everyone else is busy, so he makes his way back to his desk. Maybe Josh and the IT guy have found a way to get him back into the system so that he can actually get started doing the job he was hired to do. Maybe the guy in the desk ahead of him, Andrew or Andy or Nardo or whatever the hell he wants to call himself, has settled down enough to hold a conversation that isn’t as weird as the ones they’ve had already. Maybe he’ll just bang his head against the desk until he passes out.

He’s too busy contemplating the pros and cons of giving himself a concussion to notice that the person assigned to the desk behind him has returned from the sales call. It’s not until he’s in his chair and aimlessly opening and closing the drawers looking for a distraction from his thoughts that he becomes aware of someone new in his immediate vicinity.

When he swivels his chair around, he finds a woman getting settled into the desk. She’s dressed smartly in a grey suit and white shirt. Her long dark hair is shiny and her olive skin is actually pretty striking. She glances up and makes a face when he realizes that he’s looking at her. “So. You’re the new guy, huh?”

“Um, yeah. Yep. That’s me, Jim. Jim Halpert.” He reaches his hand across her desk and after a moment of hesitation, she puts her hand in his. It’s small and warm, not as small as Pam’s, but he’s not thinking things like that right now.

She gives him a look that makes him feel as though he’s being sized up. Despite that, she seems fairly normal in an office of weirdos. Not that he doesn't have experience with that, but Stamford weirdos are different than Scranton ones. One normal person in the office would be a good thing, he thinks. A friend, maybe. He could use one of those.

“Well. Nice to meet you, Jim Halpert. Karen Fillipelli.”

__________
End Notes:
Thanks for reading!
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