Conference room meetings are different here.
They’re professional and concise and exceedingly dull.
It’s exactly what he needs right now. There was a time he would have found them boring, but now they suit him just fine.
He’s at work to work. Not to socialize with co-workers and enjoy himself. Those days are long gone, destroyed in the ashes of nodded declarations that cry I’m still going to marry him along with any semblance of hope.
So yeah, he’s at work to work. It’s his new mantra in Stamford and he’s sticking to it.
Later, when he’s glued the pieces of his heart back together in a rough approximation of what it once was he’ll consider making friends. Although, it’s feeling a whole lot like that day will never come.
It’s proving to be a far more difficult puzzle than he ever anticipated. He thinks that she may still have some of the pieces. Moving to a new location hasn’t miraculously snatched them from her clutches and returned them to his chest like he’d so hoped it would.
It’s all still such a mess.
It doesn’t help that he’s constantly being haunted by the ghosts of Scranton past.
His new boss, Josh, has summoned them into the conference room once again. Jim has noticed a pattern. He’s calling it the Scott effect. Every time Michael does something uniquely Michael, it often clashes with Dunder Mifflin policy and as such all branches are mandated to be reminded of said policy.
Today is no different.
“We have to go over the Resolving Conflict Nonviolently in the Workplace procedure due to an incident that occurred at the Scranton branch yesterday,” Josh intones with a frustrated sigh.
Jim studies the carpet beneath his feet as he feels the collective gaze swing to him. He’s tormented by the echoes of Scranton once again.
Non-violent conflict, huh? He wonders if Michael and Dwight have had a fight again? A dry chuckle almost slips through his lips at the thought, but it’s quickly replaced with the sting of pain that now accompanies every thought of Scranton.
There’s too much of her tangled up in all his memories. The fleeting thought of the fight has already brought him back to that day at the dojo. His head swirls with how confused he’d been that day. She had been open and flirty and laughing and then she hadn’t.
A serious and stoic Pam stood in her place. At the time he had thought that maybe he had pushed her too far, been just that little bit too eager and the rush of emotions coursing through them had scared her away. That she had backed down because she too was attracted to him and didn’t want to confront it. That’s what it had felt like at the time.
He can still feel the sliver of skin from her stomach branded into the palms of his hands. They still shiver with the phantom rush of awareness. Now though, now he’s sure it’s just another moment in the long line of moments that he misinterpreted.
His spiraling thoughts are interrupted by a scathing, “What was the incident this time?”
He’s learnt that the other branches have very little tolerance for Michael’s quirks.
It’s Karen, who has spoken. Sometimes Jim thinks that maybe she was a mean girl in high school. She’s always quick with a biting comment or a pointed glare.
He wonders if they would have been friends had he been in the market to make friends. He doesn’t think so. She seems too serious. It’s almost as if she views Dunder Mifflin as a career which is utterly baffling to him.
But then again, what would he know. He doesn’t know a thing about her and clearly his instincts aren’t always right. His gut isn’t to be trusted. He misinterprets things after all…
“Umm,” Josh glances at his notes. “I don’t know the full story, but Jan said something about a warehouse worker threatening the receptionist. Scott got involved and was punched in the face.” Jim doesn’t miss the way his lips twist upwards in the makings of a smirk as he finishes. Josh evidently finds Michael getting hit funny.
Wait. The receptionist? Someone was threatening the receptionist?
The wave of nausea is instantaneous. He feels the color drain from his face. He’s a bath full of water and someone has pulled the plug. Everything is draining away. All that remains is one desperate thought gurgling above the drain: Pam.
There’s a strangled, “what?” that floats across the room and Jim doesn’t realize it’s come from him until all eyes are on him.
He grips the sides of his chair with white knuckles. “What happened to the receptionist?” he manages to gasp. He doesn’t care that he’s suddenly become this unhinged person, rocking on his seat with wild eyes and unchecked desperation leaking from his every pore.
Josh crooks his head at him a little unsure as to his dramatic change in demeanor, but ultimately decides mocking the Scranton branch is worth it.
“I don’t know what to tell you. I thought Scott getting pummeled was the real lead of the story,” he wracks his brain for information. “Jan mentioned that it stemmed from a domestic dispute. The receptionist was engaged to the warehouse worker and she called it off. He decided confronting her at work was a good move and got fired for his efforts.”
Jim’s heart jumps from his chest and tries to hitch a cab to Scranton. Was engaged. Was. Was…
He needs to… He has to…
Oh. The earth spins beneath his feet. For a second he’s sure it’s an earthquake. But it’s him. He’s trembling.
He rises on unsteady feet, the chair crashes back beneath him. Andy screeches in indignation more than pain, as the chair lands, solid and heavier than it looks on his left foot.
Jim doesn’t hear him. The sound doesn’t register. All he can hear is the thudding of his heart, a siren song that shouts, was was was over and over again.
He doesn’t know where he’s going or what he’s doing, but his feet are following his heart out the door.
Josh asks him something as he retreats, but the words fail to reach him. He’s already gone.
Somehow his coat is in one hand and his keys are in the other. He takes the stairs because waiting for the elevator feels too stagnant and he can’t fathom standing still, even for a second.
He starts his car and doesn’t stop to ask himself where he’s going.
He’s halfway to Scranton before he realizes. His heart is leading him home.
It’s funny. He would’ve thought that once his brain caught up with his body it would instruct him to cease and desist. It doesn’t.
Instead, it pushes the foot settled on his accelerator further to the floor.
He doesn’t know what he expects. Nothing his mind whispers. He just needs to see that she is okay. That despite it all, Roy hasn’t hurt her.
Roy, who was was stupid enough to punch his bosses boss strikes him as someone stupid enough to do something untoward.
He makes it to Scranton in record time.
There’s something about finding his usual spot empty that settles a piece of his heart back into place. He feels missed. It’s stupid really, but as he slots his car back into its place he feels a sense of home that warms him from the inside out.
The spot next to his car used to sit empty most of the time, occasionally someone from one of the other offices would park there in some drab, grey thing. A shiny blue Yaris fills the space now.
It’s the only thing he notices that’s different.
He locks his car behind him with an overwhelming sense of impending doom and strides across the lot.
He definitely doesn’t look at that spot where his world came crashing down around him all those weeks ago. He’s sure if he did, he would find some of those missing sections of his chest that he can’t quite place.
It’s not the time for that.
Besides, if this goes anything like the last time he spoke to Pam, he’s certain to lose a few more pieces now. He may as well call it quits on even trying to put the jigsaw back together.
When he was a kid, his family did puzzles as a group activity. His mother would always be determined to finish. He and his brothers would finish the edges and get bored.
He feels a little like that now, like it’s too hard to complete the rest of the puzzle. All the pieces are the same color. He would have to carefully and painstakingly study them to really figure it out.
If he loses any more pieces, he’s sure to call it quits on the whole thing altogether. He doubts his mother will be able to finish it for him any longer.
Gone are the days when she could solve all his problems with a little patience and a lot of time.
The nervous energy propels him forward. He hits the button for the elevator, but his feet keep moving and he’s taking the stairs two at a time.
He considers pausing and trying to wipe the erratic look from his face, to no avail. He continues forward, his hand grasping the handle, tugging the familiar Dunder Mifflin emblazoned glass door open.
He steps inside.
His eyes land, heavy and frantic, on reception.
Pam’s gaze swings to the door and her eyes widen, she rubs them almost comically, like he’s a mirage. “Jim?” it’s a whisper slipping through her lips.
“Pam?” he echoes, with the wonder of a man lost in the desert who has finally stumbled upon water.
He blinks and she’s around the reception desk, pausing before him, just out of reach. If that isn’t a metaphor for what their friendship has always been, he doesn’t know what is.
There’s a flicker of fear that washes across her face, before she’s worrying her bottom lip between her teeth and leveling him with a half-smile.
He doesn’t know what to say. The momentum that has pulled him this far drains away. His sense of certainty deflates. “Are you okay?” he finally manages to murmur.
Her eyes are red-rimmed and watery. “No,” she states, her voice small but certain. “Not really.”
“I’m sorry,” because somehow he feels responsible for all the pain painting her face.
He shrugs. “I don’t know,” he confesses. She folds her arms over her chest and studies her nails carefully, unable to fully meet his gaze.
“I’m the one who should be sorry,” she mumbles.
“Oh,” he says, not knowing how to answer that because maybe she’s not wrong. She’s the one who derailed everything they had. Or was that him? Did he destroy them by misinterpreting it all? Did he undermine their friendship by making it about more than that?
“I’m so sorry, Jim,” she sighs.
“Don’t be,” and just like always, he’s the supportive friend, trying to lift her up in any way he can.
“No,” she’s firm. “I am,” and then she’s grimacing which is a very odd change of tone.
It’s the only warning he has and then —
“Jiiiiiimbo, the prodigy son!” rings far too loudly in his ears. Michael engulfs him from behind in an enthusiastic bear hug.
“It’s prodigal son,” Dwight scoffs from over at his desk. “And Jim is neither. He’s a deserter, and deserters should not receive a warm welcome.”
And just like that he finds himself the unwanted center of attention.
“Hi Jim,” Phyllis calls softly across the office. Kevin offers him a friendly nod. There’s a muted murmuring of other greetings. Dwight continues to glare at him.
“Umm. Hi everyone,” he manages with a very forced lopsided smile.
He just wants to know what Pam is sorry for. Is she sorry that she was ever friends with his sorry ass? Is she sorry that he’s wasting his time by being here?
Michael finally releases him from the awkward, took him from surprise and behind hug. He leans back at grins up at Jim.
His stomach plummets. A sharp gasp spurts from the pit of his chest. “Michael…”
“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Michael pushes at the patchwork quilt that is his face gingerly. “Pam said it’ll help me with the ladies.”
His face is swollen, eyes almost disappearing in their sockets underneath his ballooning jaw. There’s a hideous rainbow splattered across his face, blacks, blues and purples of an obvious beating the dominant color palate.
“That’s right, Michael,” Pam answers warmly, but Jim can hear the lump in her throat that she’s desperately trying to speak around. “You’re my hero. That story will kill with the ladies.”
Jim manages to drag his wide eyes from Michael’s horribly beaten face to find Pam blinking back tears.
Pam laughs humorlessly, a hollow, throaty thing. “I called off my wedding,” there’s a pause as she wipes at a few stray tears. “I called it off for me,” there’s a fierceness behind her words that he doesn’t think he’s ever heard from her before.
“Roy, he got it in his head that I was cheating on him.”
“You wouldn’t,” Jim declares softly.
She levels him with a dry look that says well, what were we doing, but he’s been known to misconstrue everything, so it probably really says shut up and let me finish.
“He liquored up in the warehouse and decided to confront me. He asked the wrong question. He didn’t ask, are you having an affair… he asked, is there someone else… and I paused because I had to think about it… He lost it. It was after 5, and Michael and I were the only ones left in the office. He started screaming all these horrible things. He pulled his fist back and Michael appeared at my side.”
“Pam screamed and I stood in front of her,” Michael jumps in, his chest puffed out with clear pride. “Roy was a total psycho. I think he blacked out. He just kept punching and punching until I poked him in the eye. It’s a trick I learned on the Discovery Channel - it’s how you fight off a shark.”
“Or a crocodile,” Dwight calls. “I wish I’d still been here. I would’ve pepper sprayed him like the criminal he is.”
“Whatever Dwight,” Michael sniffs. “You weren’t. I’m the hero. You weren’t.”
Pam is watching the exchange with raw fondness. “Michael saved me,” she adds firmly. “He’s my hero.”
Michael’s battered jaw forms the rough approximation of a smile. “Yep.”
Jim doesn’t know what to do, or say. He clasps Michael’s hand and shakes it with all the quiet appreciation he can convey.
“Are you okay, Pam?” he croaks and all coherent thoughts have left the building. He forgets that this was his opening line already.
She shakes her head. “Do you want to?” she gestures at the break room and right, they’ve been hashing this out in front of all their - her - coworkers. Probably not the best idea.
He nods and trails her to the break room, with one last grateful tight smile in Michael’s direction. Michael’s emotional intelligence must be working overtime, because he seems to decide it would be intrusive to follow them. He allows them some semblance of privacy, like he doesn’t know Jim’s about to let Pam rip his heart out and throw it to the wolves once again.
“Jim,” she sighs and he doesn’t let himself be fooled by the relief he thinks he hears coloring her tone. He’s wrong. He’s always wrong when it comes to Pam. That’s the one thing he knows for certain. It’s his absolute truth, and has been since the bomb to his life that was the casino night.
Her hand creeps across the table and threatens to lay over his. He pulls away on instinct. He can’t bare the pain that will come with her empty gesture.
She recoils a little, but then something steels in her gaze. It looks a little like determination, but it’s hard to tell with Pam.
“Do you hate me?” her bottom lip wobbles. “You must hate me… You left.”
His jaw swings low, mouth gaping and open. “I could never hate you.”
“Why did you leave?”
“I couldn’t stay and watch you marry him.” The truth spills from him. He’s done with running.
“I didn’t,” she lays her hand on the table once again.
His remain in his lap. She doesn’t reach towards him, her fingers tremble, tapping out an unsteady rhythm against the wood beneath them.
“I didn’t marry him,” she says more surely.
He wants to say that’s good or I’m glad or he never deserved you, but he opens his mouth and nothing comes out.
It’s casino night all over again. He already put all his cards on the table. He’s got nothing left to bet. He’s all out. It’s her move.
She seems to understand. “I called off the wedding for me,” she paused and looks him square in the eye. “But I also called it off for you.”
His mind is playing tricks on him. He wants it to mean what he thinks it means, but he doesn’t trust anything he thinks anymore. Still, she’s sort of showing her hand - metaphorically, but also literally, with her palms open to him across the table. Does that make it his move?
He supposes he’s got nothing left to lose, so he may as well take a chance.
He places his hands back on the table. She stretches her fingers forward, testing the waters. He doesn’t recoil. He inches his fingers forwards ever so slightly.
It’s enough of an indication. He’s done running. She closes the gap between them. Her tiny hands only cover half of his. He relishes the warmth. A shiver courses through him at her touch.
He tries to smile at her. “What does that mean? I don’t want to misinterpret,” he chokes out the end of his sentence. He watches as her face crumpled and falls.
Her hand is a steadying presence despite how out of sorts he feels and she looks. He can’t allow himself to hope too much… yet.
She furrows her brow. “Why is this so hard to say?”
He doesn’t pull away, but he grimaces and waits for the sting to hit. She’s going to tell him they’re just friends and his battered heart will mirror Michael’s face by the end of this conversation.
She’s looking at him with a kind of frantic energy. “I, umm,” she chews her lips. “I-think-I-love-you-too?”
He’s not breathing. His lungs have forgotten how to inhale. His mouth has stopped sucking down the air. His body has ceased with the functioning. It’s fine. He’s fine.
She’s looking at him like she’s waiting for some sort of answer and he realizes the too was sort of a question. Like he could ever stop.
He gulps a very unsteady breath. “Pinch me,” he demands.
“Jim,” she sighs. “I’m serious.”
“Am I dead?”
There’s only one logical explanation. He’s wrapped his car around a tree rushing to get from Stamford to Scranton. He’s not kidding.
“I’m really going to need you to pinch me.”
He’s not sure how, but the entire tone of the conversation has shifted. The heaviness that has blanketed him for weeks has lifted.
He feels like maybe he hasn’t misinterpreted this. Pam loves him?
“I’ll do you one better,” he thinks he hears Pam say and she’s shoving the table to the side. There’s a moment of shock at the empty space that now sits between them and then she’s filling the gap. She pushes towards him and presses her lips to his.
Warmth floods his senses. Despite the sureness of her actions, her lips are timid and tentative. He opens his mouth to her instantly and he feels her certainty build. She grins against his mouth and he echoes her.
As quickly as she jumped in, she withdraws and there’s a sharp flash of pain on his shoulder. “Ouch,” he murmurs as her fingers retreat.
“Figured I best make sure,” she shrugs. He’s tempted to pinch her back, but settles for the next best thing, following her retreating mouth with his own.
He wraps his arms around her waist and tugs her back. It doesn’t take much convincing for her lips to settle on his once again.
He can taste the pure joy bubbling beneath the surface. There’s no internal struggle playing out in the movement of her lips like there had been the last time he’d kissed.
She’s freedom and sunshine and all things new.
“I love you, still,” he breathes into the corner of her mouth.
He feels her smile stretch from ear to ear. She clasps his cheeks tenderly and pulls back just enough to look him in the eyes. The awe that’s overflowing through him is reflected in her gaze.
“Do you want to get out of here, get dinner?”
“Absolutely,” he beams.
“It’s a date.”
He was right. There was no way he was ever going to repair his heart in Stamford, not when Pam held the missing piece. She slots it back into place with bright eyes and shared smiles and invitations to dinner dates.
His heart is whole for the first time in months. It fills his chest and he’s complete once again.
Pam twines her tiny fingers with his and leads him from the office.
This is what it feels to be home.