Fandom / Pairing: The Office (U.S.), Jim
Disclaimer: Yeah, no.
Summary: Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.
Notes: Spoilers for Conflict Resolution, small lead-in to Casino Night. Written just before S3 started, so forgive any major grievances.
The alarm goes off; it's that horrible noise that makes people start in movie theatres and just makes him want to kill things. He slaps the snooze button and rolls over, content with five more minutes.
Three minutes later, he crawls out from under the mass of covers and turns off the alert. He figures he is awake now, may as well just get up. He rubs his eyes and half-stumbles to the bathroom and catches glimpse of himself in the mirror. Red-rimmed eyes, mild shadows.
Just another day.
He feels infinitely more human after the shower, and finally well and truly awake. There's a difference, he muses as he chews the blandest cornflakes of his life (what the hell is Mark buying with his money?) and stares at newsprint without really seeing it, between awake and waking coma. He stares transfixed at the Magic Eye the paper runs sometimes until his eyes cross but he can't see anything beyond splotches of color that don't go away when he moves his eyes and grabs his keys and heads to work.
Ten hours later he has:
1. Made Pam laugh two dozen times - a new record.
2. Listened to Michael bullshit his way out of another sticky situation...badly.
3. Tormented Dwight in some small, insignificant way that will annoy Dwight to no end.
4. Sold some paper to a customer who needed paper.
5. Scored about a zillion points in Hateball.
6. Walked Pam out to her car.
He heads home and flops out on the couch.
"Jim! I made lasagna."
He laughs and hooks his arm over his eyes. "God, I am a girl."
"What was that?"
"Nothing, nothing." He sits up and moves off the couch and tries some of Mark's Awful Lasagna, patented to be amazing. They play Metroid Prime until his aim is off by about half the screen because he's so tired.
He sheds his button-down and the khakis he wore today and pulls off the t-shirt until he's in a wifebeater and his bizzare blue tartan boxers that he doesn't quite remember buying and collapses into bed.
The alarm goes off shrilly and harshly, far earlier than he'd really like to wake after a night of, well, being young and single and Monday. He rolls over with a yawn, sits on the edge of his bed, and glares at the poster of Alpha Centauri (or is it Andromeda?) on his wall for no good reason. He stands and scratches at the waist of his boxers (the elastic is itchy) and wonders - sleepily - if it's a good idea to wake up with stars in his eyes.
He brushes his teeth and shaves and washes his face and looks at his reflection in that order. He doesn't see himself as he brushes his teeth. He wonders if that's strange, if maybe that's not normal. But then he's never been really normal.
Speaking of abnormal, he thinks sardonically, tying the red pseudo-silk that is his tie, wonder what Michael's going to come up with today.
Turns out, nothing, which leaves him bored and utterly without any real thing to do. He's always wondered if maybe he should write a novel or something equally ridiculous. He's sure telling tales of all the pranks he's pulled on Dwight, and some that he hasn't (yet) would fill a fifty thousand word book. A little help from Pam, too, would keep things in perspective.
He toys with Solitaire and FreeCell and Hearts until he gets sick of face cards and, instead, takes up Minesweeper. After his thirtieth consecutive loss, he decides that it was a good thing he didn't register for the Army. He closes the program, shuts down the computer, and walks out the door.
The key turns in his lock, but when he opens the door the fire alarm is beeping and he can hear the laughter of Mark's girlfriend coming from the kitchen, interrupted by coughing. He sighs, rolls his eyes heavenward as if for a sign, and then walks out the door, leaving it unlocked. Making his way back to the car, the jacket and the tie land in the back seat along with the messenger bag and maybe his patience. He is tired; endless hours of boredom leave him drained and exhausted.
He lies on the hood of his car and watches the colors in the sky, then the sodium lights turning on, and finally the shadows of the buildings in the area and whatever midnight creature decides to obscure the light before flitting off.
He retries his house and sees the tie on Mark's door, smells smoke and powder and burnt butter, feels the haze in the air and decides it isn't worth it. He shuts himself into his room, opens a window in the cool night air and crashes, clothes and all.
The alarm goes off - he's not sure how; he didn't set it last night - with its usual annoying beeping. He rolls over and almost chokes on his shirt, the top buttons still done from the night before. He stands, runs a hand through his hair, and peels off his clothes, letting them fall where they may.
The tie is still on Mark's door, and he really doesn't want to think about that; it's much too early. He showers quickly, grabs his keys, and is out the door faster than he's ever been.
Michael's bright idea for the day is to air the staff's dirty laundry. Goody, he thinks caustically, and counts on one hand the number of times he's complained about someone. Twice Dwight and...
And once Pam. He doesn't think Toby kept his name on there.
Dwight pulls him into the conference room, and he reminisces fondly about every trick, every prank, until the memories leave a bitter taste in his mouth. He spends days tormenting Dwight ceaselessly, not doing anything but plotting and planning with Pam.
The camera's red light turns off and he steps out of the interview with the rest of the world faded into the background. His life is sameness, and he is slowly dying of beige.
The clocks tick by, echoing sharply in the silence of the office; Michael has ruined the tentative comraderie it took two years to forge in less than two minutes.
His eyes linger on Dwight before flicking back to his computer screen. He composes an e-mail. His response is a time.
Michael calls them over for a group photo no one is in the mood for. He stops Pam from unleashing her anger out on Angela and outs himself. He hears Phyllis inhale sharply and Pam's eyes slam shut; he can't read her.
Eight tries later, he grabs his bag and heads home, nervous and disappointed and tired.
The alarm buzzes even earlier than normal, and he groans and rolls over, willing it to die a slow, painful death. It gets louder. An arm snakes out and hits a button, he doesn't care which, and the buzzing stops. He sits up and stares blankly at his sheets.
Nine-thirty. Minus two and a half, that's seven. It's six.
He presses against his eyelids with the heels of his palms until the fireworks of color fade to gray splotches and the buzz is returning, full force.
A shower and cold poptarts later and he's in his little red car speeding up the interstate to the corporate offices in New York, not sure why but feeling like he's being chased by a million demons. He floors the gas when it's just him on his side of the road and feels the power in the car, the rush of a revving engine. He lets up when the rpm edges toward six thousand and coasts for miles and miles. It almost makes him wish for home.
He almost misses the exit, but manages to cut across three lanes (Pam would tease him for breaking about seven rules of traffic, but he tries not to think about that until he does) without killing himself.
He fumbles for his cell phone, dialing one-handedly while trying to not get side-swiped in rush-hour traffic. He practices his message in his head. "Hey, Pam. I've got an interview in the city with Jan. Don't tell anyone; it's not major or anything. I'll be gone for a while, but I'll be there in the afternoon. Don't go crazy without me."
What comes out is a lie, clean and unfaltering, about a doctor's appointment and the city. He hangs up and tosses the phone on the passenger seat and feels heavy.
He waits in the lobby for five minutes - he's early, despite traffic - and stands when Jan comes and greets him. Beyond the tinted glass is a small, red light, and he swallows; they're here. She leads him to her office, and they do the marked dance of an employee and corporate. He charms her enough and proves his sales record with finesse until she is smiling far more naturally than he's ever seen her do before and shaking his hand warmly. He looks at her and wonders what she was like at his age, if she was him back in the day. He wonders if he wants to be her.
He drives back during lunch hour at breakneck pace, music blaring and windows down until the rush of air and the drum of the bassline drown out everything else, and it's just him, the road, and the sound of his voice melting in the breeze.
He walks into Dunder-Mifflin, Scranton, will his hair windswept and his tie askew, unsure of what to expect. Pam smiles at him, phone pressed to her ear, and rolls her eyes. Michael's blinds are down. Everyone else is function normally, unfazed by his five-hour absence.
It leaves a bitter taste in his mouth.
She hangs up the phone and he leans over her desk, and they're both easy smiles and surface gleam despite the weight between them.
"Where's the cameras?" He pops a jellybean in his mouth and holds it there, letting the candy soften slowly.
"I think they're up at corporate," she says, her fingers playing with her jewelry. "I heard Sam say something about negotiating sponsors or something. One of them was up here earlier, but he left before lunch." She licks her lips and his tongue follows the pink tip as it darts across.
"How was the appointment?" He watches her lips move until what she's saying registers.
She smiles a little. "How was the doctor's? Everything okay?"
"Yeah. Uh, everything checked out perfectly." He taps his fist against the countertop and pushes away. "I have to at least pretend to work a little." He rolls his eyes and watches her smile a little crookedly and settles into his chair.
Five-thirty and he stands and stretches, puts on his blazer, slips on his messenger bag, and heads back to the apartment; it's his night to cook dinner. He's mentally reviewing recipies as he waves goodbye to Pam distractedly and heads to his car.
He opens the door and Mark isn't home yet. The bag gets tossed into a corner, the jacket hung in a closet, and he changes into a t-shirt and old sweatpants. He cuts vegetables and preheats an oven; it's an automatic motion and he's been running on autopilot for hours.
He sets out the salad and the casserole just as Mark walks in, Mal in tow. Mal is Mallory, but she hates her name for sounding so Texas and goes by Mal instead. He secretly wonders if she's got a Firefly fetish, but Mark's completely crazy for her so he doesn't ask questions.
"Oh yes! You made your crappy casserole, didn't you?"
Mal rolls her eyes. "It's not obvious you two have roomed together since college at all."
Mark elbows her gently. "Quiet, you." She sticks her tongue out at him. "Oh, real mature." She just grins cheekily and heads down the hall, shrugging off her jacket on the way.
He can't help but laugh. "You're crazy about her."
"You're really not allowed to talk." Mark pulls out a chair and falls into it heavily, plucking a carrot from the salad bowl. He's tempted to slap his hand with the wooden spoon, but it reminds him too much of his mother.
"I really am." He opens the fridge and grabs whatever he sees first; a couple beers, a soda, a waterbottle. "How far are you?"
"I'm almost ready; a couple hundred more and I'll have enough." He pauses and shakes his head. "Two-and-a-half carats. She's gonna love it."
"At that price, she better." Because Mark's known he wants to marry Mal since six months in, and Jim envies him a little for that. He cracks open a bottle and tilts it back. He can feel Mark's eyes on him.
"Hey. What is it?"
The bottles settles on the counter with a clunk and he grabs a knife. "I don't know, it's just...I'm realizing that maybe I do need to move on. Get away from here." He starts sectioning off the casserole. "There's an assistant regional manager position open at Stamford. I interviewed for it this morning."
"You should take it," Mal interjects softly, sitting down beside Mark. "You're a charismatic guy, Jim. And you're not happy here. It's written all over your face"
But Mark is studying him; they've lived together for almost a decade and Mark knows better than to just take him at his word. "That's not all, is it." There's no question there.
"I...It's Pam." He sets down the knife and starts to serve, still on autopilot. "I vented at Toby once - once - and she found out. And I don't think we're... I don't know if I can keep doing this."
Mark and Mal share a long look as he settles heavily into a chair, the legs squeaking as he folds his frame under the table. "Do it," Mark says, and his gaze is intense in the lowered light. "Move to Stamford. Mal can move in and take over your share of the rent--"
"I practically live here anyway--"
"And if something goes awry--"
"Like that downsizing you kept mentioning a few months ago--"
"You can move back in."
He blinks silently and then smiles a little. "Okay," he says, and it feels too uncertain. "Okay," he repeats, and he feels decisive.
He flops on the couch after dinner, smiling a little as he hears Mal squeal; Mark's probably splashed her with soapy water. He flips to the Daily Show and relaxes, feet stretched out on the couch to the limit of his lanky frame.
Fridays are the worst, he decides, as he trudges into the shower, the alarm ringing in his ears. Michael is always particularly him on Fridays, and he's not sure where he stands with Pam at the moment, and bad things just always seem to fall on Fridays.
But, in some strange twist of fate, the only noteworthy thing is an impromptu visit from Jan, who checks in on Michael and the branch, doing totals and seeing if anything has gone awry. (Which it has, but it's nothing Jan can fix, so nobody bothers to tell her.)
At lunch, Kevin and Stanley share a jar of Miracle Whip. Phyllis and Angela hold a civil conversation about cats, and Oscar and Toby are quietly comparing notes on children; Oscar is taking his neice for the weekend, it seems. Ryan and Kelly are making plans--more like, Kelly is making plans and Ryan is just along for the ride.
And he and Pam are plotting.
At five-thirty, the office winds down. Michael bolts out of there, very ready for the weekend. Stanley ambles out, muttering about something or other. Jim slips on his jacket, slings his messenger bag across his shoulders in one easy movement, and walks out with Pam.
And it's almost enough.
He sits out on the roof of his place that night and stares into inky blackness. Mark and Mal are doing things and it's just a little stifling to be around them. If he squints he can see pale lights aside the moon and hopes they aren't airplane towers. If he doesn't focus much, he sees the shades of black and purple of the late-night sky and wonders what is on the other side of the clouds.
He leans against the cement barrier and watches red butterflies of taillights pass.
He's going to tell her, he thinks. Before he leaves. And the decisions tastes like release.