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Story Notes:
Disclaimer: I do not own the Office or any of its IP.
Author's Chapter Notes:
As usual, I don't own these characters but I like playing with them.

Later, he will lie to her and tell her he fell in love with her when she first showed him to his desk, whispering delightfully while she barely held back what he now knows was pure amusement at his inevitable reaction to Dwight.

 It's a white lie, like how he didn't tell her he had bought the ring a week after they started dating. Or how he tried to tell her that he didn't have a crush on her anymore after Michael almost spilled the beans about the Booze Cruise. Or any of the thousand times he walked over to her desk, ate some jellybeans, and didn't blurt out that he was in love with her. 

 It was all of a piece, really. Even after they got together. Don't scare her off. Don't let her know how long you've been wanting this, how hard and how fast you fell, so that she doesn't feel pressured to tell him what she thinks he wants to hear. So that she doesn't push him away. So that--most important of all--she doesn't think he's put her up on a pedestal and she'll never be able to live up to his image of her.

 Because she can and she will and--again, most important of all--she doesn't need to.

 Because she's Pam. Being herself is all he's ever wanted from her. Well, being herself and eventually being with him. But being herself most of all.

 So he tells her he fell in love with her his first day of work with her, because you're supposed to at least have met the woman you love.

It's kinda creepy otherwise.

But after knowing her for years; after being married, and having kids; after all of that and more than that (and more than that), he knows when he fell in love with her, and he knows it was her he fell in love with. Not some ideal or some statue, but Pam, even if he didn't yet know her name. 

It was on the day of his interview.

Michael Scott (not yet Michael!, not yet Agent Scarn, not yet the best boss I ever had, just this guy he'd emailed a resume to and surprisingly heard back from) had called him in for a ridiculously early interview for no reason he could tell, and then left him waiting in his office while he went in search of...something. He can't remember that detail anymore, because it slipped out of his mind as soon as Michael left. 

 Because right after Michael left--left the entire office, mind you, right out the front door--someone else came in.

He was sitting in Michael's office with the blinds just barely cracked, and his eyes were right on her as soon as she walked in, because he'd been watching Michael leave. So he watched her. Not to be creepy, just because there was literally no one else in the office and he was alone and unsure and he sure as heck wasn't going to go out and talk to someone he didn't know. What do you say? "Hi, just so you know, I'm in here. Where you boss left me in your completely deserted office while searching for who knows what. I've never been here before and you may never see me again, but I just wanted you to know I'm here"? No. You say nothing, you sit and hope Michael comes back really soon, and you wait. So that's what he did.

He watched her settle into what was clearly a morning routine for her. She slipped off the incongruous pair of white sneakers that clashed amusingly with the earth tones of her clothing and put on what looked like much less comfortable shoes...then stole a glance around, noticed none of her coworkers were present, and slid the other shoes off, wiggling her toes before sliding behind her desk. She leaned back in her chair and sighed, running a hand unconsciously around her ear to replace a stray lock of hair. Then, to his surprise, she looked around again, with a suddenly conspiratorial look on her face, and, seeing no one, spun her chair around in a wild whirl. Her face flushed with pleasure, and it was only when the door cracked open again that she settled herself down and, running her fingers through her hair to put it back in place, looked up with a smile.

All of this had a distinct impact on him, because he immediately thought that she was in some ineffable way the most beautiful woman that he'd ever seen. He was aware that this was, from a faux-objective standpoint, ridiculous. His college roommate had had a giant blowup picture of Cindy Crawford on the wall, for goodness' sake, and he was pretty sure that one of the cheerleaders at his high school was now a model for a fairly large clothing brand, with billboards of her plastered all over the highway. So he'd seen female beauty before, both in print and in person. But something about this receptionist (he assumed that was her job, since she was sitting at the circular desk that faced the entryway) meant more than that to him. He couldn't take his eyes off her, and he was grateful for the blinds that kept her from catching him staring. He felt a little guilty for that, but by now it would be a really bad idea, he thought, to suddenly alert her to his presence.

 This was not, however, when he fell in love with her.

That happened as he watched his other potential coworkers shuffle in (and where was Michael?) and saw her try her best to make a human connection with each of them. The tall blonde lady blew past her with what, he was sure from the receptionist's reaction, was a some kind of cutting remark. The large friendly-looking man who also headed for the back area must also have said something hurtful--maybe vulgar. The one who reminded him somehow of Michael despite a vast physical dissimilarity was clearly making her uncomfortable. The conservatively-dressed one with glasses just ignored her. The neat Hispanic man with smile wrinkles looked more promising, but he was obviously distracted and rushed by her urgently, already yelling something to the other two in the back. The nebbishy one with the disheveled blazer flashed her only a wan smile before vanishing, too, into the back. 

The common element in each case was her. No matter how vulgar, rude, or disengaged her coworkers were, she never stopped trying. She was almost painfully vulnerable, or at least it looked so to him. It was possible, he reflected, that her coworkers could not see the welcome in her eyes or the pain that reflected there as they snubbed her. But the light of humanity there never winked out. His heart went out to her for that, because he knew all too well how difficult it was to keep offering human connection when it was rejected. He buried the pain under a quick wit and an easy manner, but he could see that she had no such defenses--or that the defenses she had were not protecting her. 

He watched the little drama of her and her coworkers for what felt like an hour, though it was probably only about half that, and by the end of it he could no more have walked out on her than he could have rooted against the Phillies. He had been unsure if he wanted this particular job for anything more than being able to keep himself in food and shelter; now he was desperate to get it, and when Michael finally (finally) returned, he threw himself into the interview with a fervor that surprised him. Michael seemed not to notice that his prospective salesman had transformed from a laidback slacker to a spontaneous firebrand, but he responded just as Jim had hoped. Before long, he was slapping Jim on the back and telling him to come back on Monday to start work. 

As he walked back out of the office, Jim was sorry to see that the receptionist was no longer in her place, but struggling with the coffeemaker in the break room. She looked up as he turned to walk out the door, and he finally managed to catch her eye and grinned. An answering smile spread slowly over her face, and he could feel himself beginning to blush. Michael's hand slapping down on his back brought him back to the world around him, and he was hustled out the door with a loud declaration of how much Michael looked forward to seeing "his new best friend" on Monday. He tried to look back and catch her eye again, but the moment was gone, if not the memory.

When he spoke to his sister on the phone that night he almost forgot to mention that he had a job. 

 He definitely did not forget to mention the receptionist. 

But you can't go telling someone you fell in love with them before you even knew their name. Even--or perhaps especially--when it's true. 

Chapter End Notes:
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this little heresy from the Gospel of JAM.

Comfect is the author of 13 other stories.
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