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Story Notes:
Written for the 2006 Sitcomathon. Spoilers through "Email Surveillance."
Author's Chapter Notes:
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.
The door closes behind Stanley and Oscar, and then all Jim can hear is the karaoke machine, playing softly in the living room. It's gone back to cycling through Dolly Parton's catalogue, and is currently featuring "Nine to Five." It's oddly appropriate.

He starts picking up the empties, scattered around the room. They always get left in the weirdest places. One is wedged between the couch cushions, and another has been carefully placed on the top shelf of the bookcase. Dwight must have put that one there; he's the only guy tall enough to reach.

It's totally bizarre that his house was full of his co-workers all night. Sitting on his couch, eating his food, hanging out in his kitchen and his bedroom. Using his bathroom. Maybe better not to think of it.

There's a sound down the hall at the moment, and Ryan comes out of the bathroom, tucking his shirt in.

"Hey," Jim says, lifting his chin. "Thought you might have left already."

"Nah," Ryan says. "But I can take off, if you're tired or something."

Jim shakes his head. "No worries. Plenty of beer left, and I think there's still some chicken outside if you're hungry."

"Cool," Ryan says, and opens the slider door.

They've hung out a couple of times this year, after group outings at the bar. It always seems like he should get to know Ryan better, since they're the same age and into the same kinds of things, but something about Ryan's demeanor warns him off. He gets the feeling Ryan doesn't really want people to know him better. He gets that.

Ryan comes back in the house with a plate full of chicken in one hand and a dripping beer in the other. He sits on the couch, offering the plate out. Jim flops next to him and takes a wing, giving up on the cleanup effort.

"So, party: roaring success or mediocre shindig?" Jim asks around a mouthful of chicken.

Ryan shrugs. "I was having fun, until… you know."

"Oh, come on, it wasn't…" Jim looks over at Ryan, and cracks a smile. "…as bad as being beaten with a sack full of rocks. But not far off. I had no idea he was going to actually show up."

"I am beyond being surprised by Michael."

"Yeah." Jim takes another bite of chicken. "I don't think anyone saw the Macarena coming, though."

Ryan closes his eyes, briefly. "Please just... don't remind me."

They eat in silence for a few minutes. Ryan drops his drumstick on the plate and leans forward to put it on the floor, picking up his beer.

"So," Ryan says. "I brought – if you still wanted – " He reaches into his inside jacket pocket and pulls out a ziplock bag.

"Oh, yeah, totally," Jim says. "Hang on, I've got a lighter in the kitchen."

"Cool," Ryan says. "Hey, you mind if I put SportsCenter on?"

"Sure, whatever you want. Remote's over there." Jim hoists himself to his feet and goes into the kitchen, taking the plate with him. He comes back with the lighter, a bag of chips, and a beer for himself.

They pass the joint back and forth a few times, watching the football rundown. Ryan waves him off after the third pass, and Jim ends up smoking the rest of it, pulling the thick, acid curls of smoke into his lungs. He fans his hand in the air, feeling kind of guilty; Mark gave up pot in college, and his girlfriend doesn't really like it either. They're both in Mark's room, though, and he knows from long experience that it would take an actual fire to get them downstairs any time soon.

"So, Katy," Ryan says.

"Hah," Jim says.

"You calling her or what?"

Jim shrugs. "I don't know. I'm not not calling her."

"What does that mean?"

"Means, back off, buster."

Ryan snorts. "Fair enough. It's not like I'm hurting for it."

"Nice for you."

"Yeah… but seriously, what's Katy like? Is she not good?"

"What?"

"Well, if she was hot stuff, I don't think you'd be 'not not calling her' or whatever."

"Who says she's just a hookup?"

"Oh, please."

"Fine," Jim says, lifting his hands in the air. Some ash from the roach end drops onto his pants. "She's hot. She's OK in bed. She uh, gives good head – "

"Nice."

" – but, uh, during? She does this thing where she, like, yips, and then she just keeps on saying all this stuff that was kinda hot the first time but now it's just embarrassing. And it's always the same things."

"Ouch," Ryan says, taking a long swallow of his beer. "Well, that's a dealbreaker. I have a rule about dating girls who can't shut up. Drives me crazy."

"Totally." Jim reaches over, and they clink beer bottles. "So, Michael."

Ryan practically chokes on his beer. "Whoa. No. Do not put him in the same context as Katy. Or the same time zone."

"Come on. What's it like to be the focus of all that sweet, longing man-love?"

Ryan just shakes his head. "It's – you know, I would totally be filing a sexual harassment suit if…" He trails off.

"If what?"

"I don't know, if I cared enough to go through with it. I just keep thinking, you know, I'd be out of here by the time Toby actually took care of it."

"Oh, hey, it's not Toby's – "

"Sorry, man, I know you guys are friends. But HR seriously sucks here."

"Yeah." Jim stares off into space for a moment, his head starting to feel incredibly heavy and fuzzy. The joint burns down to nothing, and he drops it into a half-empty cup of beer on the table next to him. "Well. Toby tries. But what can you do? I mean… Michael."

"Yeah," Ryan says. "Michael."

They're both glazing over now, as the effects of the joint start to really hit. The TV is showing pre-Olympics coverage about speed-skating and bobsledding. It's weird that the Olympics come so often now, he thinks.

"Would you ever – I mean – have you -- with a guy?" he asks. His voice doesn't even sound like it belongs to him anymore.

"What?" Ryan asks. "You mean, have I ever…"

"I don't know. Have you? Would you?"

"Those are two different questions."

"Whatever, Howard. Answer."

Ryan does a sort of elaborate eyeroll, involving his shoulders and some twitchy head movements, punctuated by a sigh. "Um. I… yeah. I guess that's the short answer."

"Which question?"

Ryan closes his eyes. "Both? I'm kind of…" He gestures with his hands. "Let's just say I've gone through some different stages in my life."

"Oh," Jim says. He feels weird, suddenly, and he's not sure if it's the pot or the idea of Ryan doing… something with another guy. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

"So, then, Michael – "

Ryan's eyes fly open. "Dude. No. I still have standards, you know? I mean, you don't want to do, like, Meredith, right?"

Jim grimaces, laughing. "OK. I get it."

"Seriously. Michael. Yikes." Ryan shudders, a full-body movement that makes his shoulder bump into Jim's. It feels far away, though, like everything right now. Jim's pretty sure his own head is in a plastic bubble about three feet away from his neck.

"What's your type, then?" Jim asks suddenly. Maybe it's his disembodied head that's really asking.

Ryan gives him an incredulous look. "What?"

"I'm just curious."

"You're just high."

"That too," Jim says agreeably. "Come on, I'm not gonna say anything to anyone."

Ryan sighs. "I don't know, I don’t really – do you have a type?"

Jim thinks. Short, big eyes, curly hair, upturned nose, sneaky sense of humor. "Nope."

"A lot of guys in the scene kinda look like… there's a lot of guys with the model build, you know? Washboard abs and big shoulders and good hair."

"That's your type?"

"That's who I've hooked up with," Ryan says, shrugging. "Maybe I'm their type, I don't know. I don't really think about it."

"Oh?"

"And now I have totally said too much. Here's hoping you're too fucking stoned to remember any of this tomorrow."

Ryan takes a very long swallow of his beer, finishing it off, and Jim finds himself staring at Ryan's throat.

"How did you know," Jim says, flatly, still staring. There's a little shaving cut right below Ryan's chin, on the right side.

"Know what?" Ryan swallows again before he asks, and Jim watches his adam's apple bob.

"That you liked guys."

"I don't know, how'd you know you liked girls?"

"Jocelyn Glover, in the third grade. Nice hair."

"Fair enough. David Montgomery, tenth grade. Nice ass."

"Did you and him…?"

He watches Ryan shrug, his thin shoulders lost in his heavy overcoat. "We fooled around, yeah. After track practice."

"Nice."

"Yeah."

"It just… happened? And you didn't freak out?"

"I don't know, when you're fifteen and someone wants to touch your dick, you don't really ask questions."

Jim laughs. He realizes he's starting to fall forward, because Ryan's shoulder is pressing into his in a way that might hurt if he were sober enough to feel it. And he's still looking at Ryan's throat, like it's something worth looking at.

He looks up at Ryan's face instead, and Ryan is looking back at him, eyes kind of narrowed and wary, but not shut down and closed off like usual. He just seems… careful.

"Still," Jim says. "Wasn't it weird, realizing you wanted it?"

"I guess," Ryan says. He licks his lips. "Jim, I should probably – "

He stops, but Jim isn't really listening anyhow. His ears feel stuffed up, and even his breathing seems like something he's outsourced to someone else. Ryan's eyes are really interesting, all these different shades and colors. It takes him a second to figure out why he's suddenly close enough to notice that.

"Jim," Ryan says, but he doesn't say or do anything else. As Jim leans closer, the only thought left in his hollowed out, jack-o-lantern head is that Ryan only had three hits off the joint, so he's the sober, responsible one who really should be moving away so this doesn't happen.

The first time he ever kisses a guy it's Ryan Howard, the temp from his office who he talks about music and hockey with, who knows where to get good cheap pot and never talks about business school or anything else in his life, for that matter, unless you ask him and then only when you push. Ryan tastes like Asahi Black and there's a little bit of barbecue sauce at the corner of his mouth. He lets Jim rest his hand on his knee, and opens his mouth under Jim's for just a second, but the moment their tongues meet, tentative and sliding, he pulls his head away.

"OK," Ryan says, his face still close to Jim's. "That's enough for you."

"Enough what?"

"Everything," Ryan says, presumably meaning beer, pot, and kisses. He slips out from under Jim's body and stands up, shoving his hands into the pockets of his coat.

There's warning bells and serious sirens going off in Jim's head, but it's like his brain is running five minutes slow, still stuck on the moment when he leaned in and pressed his lips to Ryan's. It's already over, and he still can't believe he did it.

"Hey," he says. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean – "

"It's cool," Ryan says, just quick and short enough to make it obvious that isn't really. "It's not that I – I'm just not there right now. And dude, I don't think you're ever going to be."

Jim feels like he should challenge that, but Ryan's probably right. Probably.

"OK," he says. "Well, thanks for the joint. I'm buying next time at Poor Richard's."

"Definitely," Ryan says, shifting his weight. He looks nervous, like he's about to bolt right now. "Thanks for the party."

"Night," Jim says, yawning.

He makes it upstairs a few minutes later, after locking the door behind Ryan and turning off all the electronics downstairs. He peels off a few layers of clothes, and crawls into bed, eyes dry and head spinning. Pot always gives him a weird kind of insomnia, so his heart races while he's bone-tired, and tonight is no different. He lies there for a while, replaying the evening.

Pam was here. Sitting on his bed, touching his things. He's tucked that thought away for hours now, to mull over when he was alone. It's such a stupid thing, like he's back in high school – everything about her makes him feel like he's in high school – but her having been in his house seems like a step forward in some direction. Whatever that means.

And now he's kissed a guy. He realizes he likes that thought, almost as much as he likes the thought of Pam looking at his yearbook and meeting his roommate. It's like he can think of himself as someone slightly different now, maybe identify with this whole world of alternative lifestyles that he's never belonged to before. Jim Halpert, equal-opportunity kisser. An open-minded guy. Not bad.

Jim's not so hungover the next day that he doesn't remember what happened, but on Monday, he does a pretty good job of acting like it because Ryan is doing exactly that. And it's cool. He'll stick with just being open-minded, for now.


sophia_helix is the author of 19 other stories.
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