Pam loves peppermint.
She takes a sip from her spiked peppermint hot cocoa and feels the warmth run through her, smooth and steady. She meets Jim's gaze as he laughs at her whipped cream moustache, so she licks her upper lip and savors the rush she gets from his eyes flickering to her lips, the candle in the center of the table, his feet, and back to her lips. His eyes are bright as he dips a finger into the melting cream and taps her on the nose, the pressure there and gone. She feels a second wave of warmth run through her, and she holds onto the feeling.
"Mind if I join?" Ryan asks, a half empty beer in hand.
Kevin scoots over, Angela rolls her eyes and moves closer to Dwight, and Ryan slips into the rounded booth. Pam moves closer to Jim, her hip now firmly pressed against his. She silently debates whether her current intoxication is a product of the physical contact or the half empty hot cocoa at her elbow. She didn't feel quite this inebriated before Jim's hip touched hers, but she's also lost count of how much she's had to drink, and it's really hard to tell how much alcohol is actually in this hot cocoa, so whatever.
The Christmas party at the office had started out pretty badly, and between Michael's selfish meddling and Jim's disappointment, it had utterly collapsed in less than an hour. Then everyone got kind of tipsy and she traded with Dwight and things turned out okay. She thinks about the teapot snuggly wrapped in her scarf in the backseat of Phyllis's car and smiles lightly. It was just a teapot, a generic, regular, ordinary teapot from a sweet, funny, amazing friend. She tells herself that it was just nice to receive such a personal gift, a reminder of all their memories together. Jim is a nice guy, a really, really nice guy, such a nice guy that she leans into him, feels his arm pressed against her, and holy crap she's had too much to drink.
"So how about a game?" Jim suggests, and she realizes that they've been talking this whole time.
Kevin snickers. "Fuck, marry, kill?"
"Absolutely not," Angela says quickly, and Pam notes her quick sideways glance at Dwight. Maybe she was onto something.
"What about straws and rubber bands?" she says, and glances at Jim, gauging his reaction.
Ryan leans back in the booth. "How do you play that?"
"Everyone starts with a straw in their mouth," she explains, "and then you pass a rubber band around the circle using only the straw. Usually it's timed or teams compete. Oh, but if the rubber band falls, the person responsible for dropping it gets their straw cut."
"Nice," Kevin says at length, glancing between Jim and Pam.
"What if we replaced straws with candy canes?" Jim asks, raising his eyebrows at the pile in the center of the table.
"I," Dwight grabs a candy cane and cracks off the hook, "am going to win. I have excellent mouth-eye coordination."
She looks at Angela who is adamantly studying the table and wonders whether or not she can verify his claim. She also decides that thinking about Dwight's mouth-eye coordination is incompatible with keeping her drinks down.
"Do you have a rubber band?" Ryan asks.
"No, but I do have a hair tie," she says, passing it across the table.
Ryan slips a candy cane into his mouth and sets the hair tie at the end of it. He and Kevin lean in simultaneously, and Kevin receives the band on the end of his candy cane. Angela grimaces as she ducks her head, letting Kevin lower the hair tie. She looks decidedly less disgusted as Dwight gingerly takes the band. Jim glances past Dwight as he turns to him.
"What are you looking at?" Dwight asks, his words slightly muffled against the candy.
Jim's eyes snap back to Dwight. "Nothing."
Dwight begins to lean in again, and Jim's eyes drift beyond him.
"Jim, what are you looking at?" His tone is more insistent, irritated.
"I don't believe you." Dwight slowly turns back to face Angela, searching for the imaginary captor of Jim's attention.
"See? Nothing." Dwight faces Jim and drops the hair tie onto his candy cane before he can mess with him again.
Jim turns to her, the candy caught between his lips. He's looking at her with an intensity she's only seen a few times before, and she doesn't have time to analyze its meaning before he's close enough for her to see the spots where the candy has dyed his lip red. She holds her breath and leans a little closer than necessary to receive the band. She doesn't dwell on why.
She leans across the table to allow Ryan to take the hair tie, before slipping the candy cane out of her mouth.
"Ready to play with a timer? Anyone who drops it has to break a piece off their candy cane and take a drink," she says.
Everyone murmurs in agreement, and she reaches for Jim's watch. He's still watching her intently as she unhooks the clasp, letting her fingers linger against his skin, perfectly aware of his own capability. She sets the watch in the center of the table and sets the timer for two minutes.
Ryan passes the hair tie to Kevin, who promptly drops it. Angela scowls at him as he takes a drink, bites off the end of his candy cane, and repositions the hair tie, now leaning even closer to her. Angela receives the quivering band from the candy shaking between Kevin's teeth as he fights back a laugh. The band passes between Angela and Dwight and between Dwight and Jim quickly.
Jim's intentions seem to have changed, the mischievous gleam gone from his eyes, replaced with a new determination that makes her stomach drop as he turns to her. His eyes are dark, and she watches the guttering flame of the candle dance up and down the surface. His movements are purposeful, and all at once, he's so close that she can feel his breath on her neck. He smells like peppermint. The band falls.
She leans back, warmth blooming on her cheeks. "Sorry, that was my fault."
"No, I think it was mine," he says low and quiet, and her pulse quickens.
She hastily cracks off the end of her candy cane. "Too bad, I was faster," she says, her voice breathless with forced casualty.
"It's all about slow and deliberate, isn't it?" he says, and then he's leaning in again.
His pupils are heavy and it all feels so natural that she has to fight to keep her eyes open. She gingerly lifts the rubber band, her skin on fire with the weight of his gaze. She's still dizzy with the possibility in his proximity when she has a revelation; that beautiful son of a bitch is trying to make her drop it. She sneaks a glance at him, and he's practically glowing with success. Two can play this game.
She leans across the table and passes the band to Ryan, and the game resets. The universe shrinks to the size of a booth as she contemplates the distance between them, the curve of his lips. The others fade to a colorful blur, background noise, as she concentrates on this new challenge. She wants to know how far she can take him, how far he will go for her.
When he leans in again, she is ready, her gaze unwavering, her countenance betraying everything. Her skin hums beneath his undivided attention, his concentration. The candy cane in his mouth trembles. She winks at him. The band falls.
She revels in the feeling of being his downfall as he fumbles for the hair tie, takes a sip of his drink, breaks off the end of his candy cane, and turns back to her. Gone are her inhibitions, the guise of friendship, the familiarity of their routine. This moment seems to exist in an alternate plane, a place where there is only him and her, only choices and consequences. She thinks of crossed lines and pushed limits as she leans in, and it's all so easy.
The band passes between them, and the timer goes off. She looks up and Angela is glaring at her with contempt, but she feels no remorse. This has nothing to do with the game, with her coworkers, with how she feels about the man cheering drunkenly as he pockets a ball on the pool table a world away.
She resets the timer, repositions her candy cane, and the game starts once more. The band makes its way around the circle quickly, and she's overwhelmed with an anxious anticipation, a rising sense of vertigo.
"Are you ready?" he asks against her ear, and the implications tug at her.
He receives the band and turns to her, and she looks into his eyes. She can feel the vibrations of his breath against her skin as she presses her shoulder into his. She brings a hand to rest on his chest, and his heart hammers beneath her touch. He doesn't breathe as she leans in, watching him through her eyelashes as she leans down and lifts the band. She draws back slowly and lets her hand slip down his torso as she pulls away. His lips are parted slightly and he takes a shaky breath. She unravels.
"I need some air," she says, jumping up abruptly.
She hurries toward the back door and feels the bite of the icy wind as she leans against the brick exterior of the bar. The snow is coming down heavy now, and the parking lot is a sea of pure white. She thinks about out-of-body experiences, people who feel as though they are spectators in their own lives. He steps through the door, and she thinks of nothing.
His steps are purposeful, her back is against the wall, and she is perfectly still. A breath passes between them, and then his lips are on hers, slow and deliberate. He kisses her like she's the only thing he's been thinking about all night. It takes her a moment to locate herself in his want and respond, and she rises to meet him. He takes her face in his hands and her bottom lip between his, and she moans softly. She feels like she's burning, like she's falling, like she might implode.
When he pulls away, she's gasping, her forehead against his. She can still feel him on her lips, and she opens her mouth, but no sound comes out.
"You should know it drives me crazy when you look at me like that," he says, and turns away. The door closes behind him, and she is alone.
Her lips taste like peppermint.