Title: Rubicon
Rating: K+, for one curse word
Fandom / Pairing: The Office, Jim/Pam, Jim/Karen
Disclaimer: That's what she said!
Summary: The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover the core of strength within you that survives all hurt.
Notes: For Em and Chrissy. Because we all fell in love at about the same time. ♥
Notes II: Spoilers through "Initiation," but not really.


He takes three steps and kisses her without pausing. Because he's decided that that's what he wants to do. And it's a point of no return the minute his lips touch hers, and it means everything. He kisses her with all that he has, all that he can be, because this could be it - this could be the last time.

And it's his moment.

&&&

His world history teacher, back when he was a sophomore in high school, told him about Caesar crossing the Rubicon. How it changed the course of history forever. He wasn't sure how much veracity was behind that statement; his teacher was a drama major and tended to make events seem more dramatic.

He - he was the quiet guy just left of center in the class, funny in a rather sarcastic fashion, and gangly. His legs barely folded under the standard-issue desks, and his hair was always floppy, and he remembers loving that class with a quiet intensity.

"When Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC," she said, tapping a collapsible pointer against her palm, "it constituted an act of war against Rome." He sat up; the word Rubicon hit his brain like a pinball against bumpers, and he could feel the wheels in his mind turning frantically, making connections until a puzzle fell into place in his mind.

He stares with wide, green eyes at the flamboyant teacher. And then he yawns.

&&&

Austrailia is a country of almosts.

It's winter in Sydney and he's very glad he checked the weather before he went to bed last night. He rolls his way to the hotel and doesn't think about the day he's lost in flying over, doesn't think about the meaning of lost days and hours and where they could have gone. Time is too big for his tired mind, and he is one day lost.

He stands on the gray beach in the morning, the ocean air biting against his skin, and he thinks of sands almost white and islands almost perfect, and kisses that shatter and shatter and shatter.

He gets opera tickets on the cheap and watches people in large costumes and heavy makeup sing in a language he doesn't understand. The vowels wash over him as he sees two people meet and then be torn apart. One of them dies and he feels himself watch in morbid fascination as the other weeps disconsolately at the corpse's side. The curtains close and he feels stiff and small, something he hasn't felt since he was in junior high.

He goes outside and it's dark enough that he can see a few stars in the sky, but the constellations look strange and he suddenly misses camping with his father and listening to him point out dippers and bears and belts.

He walks back to his hotel and tries to blow smoke rings with the white steam that hangs in the air as he breathes. He manages a star once, but he's not sure how.

&&&

He remembers his first day at Dunder-Mifflin. Michael, who wasn't nearly as neurotic as he is now, intoduced him rather calmly to a generally indifferent crowd of workers. An older woman worked the phones, her Southern accent softly receiving callers, and his desk was turned differently then.

He sat down and turned on his computer.

"Hey," came a voice, and he looked up. A fair-haired man with brighter eyes smiled over at him. "I'm Toby. Good to meet you."

He remembers relaxing and shaking his hand. "You too."

"I work Human Resources, so if you ever need anything, just ask."

"Yeah, that sounds good. Thanks." And that was that.

His first day at the Stamford branch is pretty generic. He gets a dozen names thrown at him and he's tempted to play Guess Who, but he just sits in his (squeaky) chair and watches the clouds over the water.

He meets Andy and becomes Big Tuna and wishes God would come down and kill him now.

&&&

Brad is his new roommate. Brad is a nice guy, a little quiet. Brad is going to grad school at the moment, but has senioritis like crazy, so they play Quake III on old Macintoshes Brad has networked until three the first night.

Brad can't cook worth a damn (unless it's spaghetti o's or grilled cheese) so Jim's taken over cooking duties. Brad, in turn, cleans. Apparently, Brad has six sisters, all of them Monicas, so Brad owns every cleaning device known to man, and a few he claims to have invented on his own. Jim doesn't react, just wants to know if Brad's allergic to anything. (It turns out pineapples, but Jim doesn't use pineapples, so it works out in the end.)

It makes Jim wonder if Scranton's ruined him.

Brad has a healthy love of fake news and bad TV, so they mock "America's Next Top Model" while cheering on President Bartlet in old reruns of "The West Wing," and throw popcorn at the screen the one time they catch The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Brad hasn't asked Jim many questions. Just enough to get a feel for him, but not much else. He hasn't asked why Jim moved. Hasn't asked why Jim doesn't seem to want to date. He thinks maybe Brad's six sisters taught him something about empathy; he wonders if Brad hasn't intuited his whole story as is.

It turns out Brad is a photographer on the side (Brad's a journalistic guy; Jim doesn't really know what he does) so prints of odd scenes pepper the place. There's one of a purple flower that he can't look at, an African violet and beatiful in it's artistry.

It almost doesn't make him miss Mark.

&&&

His mother calls him a week into his life in Connecticut. She claims to just be passing through on her way to an auction, but Jim knows better. He doesn't call her on it, though; just gives her his address with a laugh in his voice and a certain sort of fondness.

His mother is all bustle and just the way he remembers her. He takes binders full of wallpaper and paint samples from her hands and rolls his eyes. She pounces on Brad and dictates which curtains he should get so that the least amount of dust gathers in the folds. (Jim's starting to think Brad had a few too many women in his life growing up.) Brad, in turn, tells her the best places to find antiques in the city.

His mother calls over her shoulder that she's got a surprise for him in the car, so he drops the binders on the kitchen table and ambles down the stairs. He wonders what it could be, and hopes it's nothing decorative.

It's his sister, and he bounds the few feet to her and hugs her. "Sarah!"

She laughs and smiles in that crooked way he's seen in photos of himself and replies, "Mom drove out to Parson's and kidnapped me."

"That's Mom."

She grins conspiratorially and a little part of him wonders if that's how he looks when he plans to prank Dwight. "So...Mom's been going on about this Pam girl. Who is she?"

His eyes widen and his tongue turns to stone, and he feels cold. Sarah's face goes from mischevious to something he's never seen before and she hugs him again. "Oh, Jim. What happened?"

And he tells her, just like he told Mark that night, halting and stumbling and without eye contact. He feels Sarah's hand on his shoulder and it anchors him in the now because if he goes back to the then he's going to lose himself.

Sarah grabs his face when he's finished and it forces him to look at her. She's got that determined look in her eye, the one that makes him want to cross his arms across his chest and stick his tongue out at her. "She's an idiot," she says simply, and it means a lot more to him than he thought it would.

He takes her up the apartment and shows her around. And when Brad smiles a little bit wider and Sarah laughs a little bit louder, he feels a little bit better.

&&&

At first, Karen doesn't like him.

He thinks it has something to do with the cameras; if she had cameras on her all the time, he'd probably be weirded out, too. As it stands, he's so accustomed to Jack and his crew that he almost doesn't notice them anymore, except for the first few weeks they were around. Then, he was still the new guy, still a little ignored and a little alone and Jack and Bobby were the only ones he knew, who understood what he could be thinking. They were at Scranton, too. They got it.

He caught her making his face at the camera and outed her after work. She smirked up at him in her three-inch Prada heels and her lips dared him.

But he didn't take the dare, and he walked away wondering what it was he was running from.

It's a month later and he's gotten her to smile, gotten her to make faces at him in the reflection of his monitor, gotten her to plot against Andy with him. And it feels familiar, a groove, a beaten path he's not unfamiliar with.

He asks her to dinner as she's leaving, humming "Lovefool" under her breath and cursing between lyrics.

"Sorry, but I don't date people I work with," she replies, and shifts her weight. "Especially people I work for." And she pokes his badge, the badge that titles him assistant regional manager. (Dwight would hate him for that.)

"What if it's not a date? Just two co-workers having dinner. It might be candlelit, but I can't really help that."

She laughs and nods, and he's happier than he's been in months.

&&&

When Pam started at Dunder-Mifflin, she was different. Back then, she dressed to impress. She was fresh-faced and young, and her boyfriend and her were still sweet even after so many years together. She wore cuter clothes and tried a little harder to look pretty for work. But the flourescent lights took their toll, and after two and a half weeks, he noticed less makeup and simpler clothes. He still thought she was darling.

He didn't know she was spoken for until she'd worked there three weeks on. Roy kept to the basement, kept to the trucks and all the things he thought he should worry about. Each night, Pam walked out just as Jim shut off his computer, and he would wave goodbye. But three weeks in and a few pointless conversations later he learned about Roy. And saw the ring on her hand.

And he backed off, only to get sucked in again by the very person he sought to avoid. She shared a most brilliant plot with him involving carrot cake, plastic frogs, and dimes and he was right back where he wasn't sure he wanted to be.

But he went in eyes wide shut and now - now he was here.

&&&

Karen is beautiful, charming, and engaging. She has a sarcastic streak a mile wide, hates Andy with a passion, and clearly can't shut up, so he does it for her and kisses her.

It does stop her from speaking, and when he pulls back, he sees something softer in her features he knows he'd never see at work, in the corporate world. He opens his mouth to apologize, to explain himself, when she pulls him by his tie to her and kisses him fiercely.

She tastes nothing like her, not like sunshine and summertime. She tastes like cold air and autumn rain. He almost could love her, could almost see himself in love with her. But he's tired of almosts and maybes and laying himself on lines only to be left in pieces.

It's another Rubicon, but this time it doesn't mean the end, it doesn't mean he has to live with himself after dying inside.

This time, it's a beginning.

&&&

He stumbles into the apartment, backlit by sodium lights and the moon. He's a little drunk but not nearly enough, and he's feeling like he's in pieces held together in a fleshy bag.

"Jim?" Mark's voice calls from the darkness softly, and his form is just visible against the black. Jim closes the door behind him and sinks onto the couch, this head in his hands, braced on his knees. Mark falls beside him and the old couch groans under their weight.

"I did it. I told her."

"I'm guessing by your half-drunken state that it didn't go so well?"

He pounds the coffeetable once and is still. "No." He breathes. "Twice, dammit."

"You told her twice?"

He shakes his head and rubs his face with his hands. "I told her once. I...I kissed her, Mark. I kissed her at my desk in the office and I gave her everything I had."

There's a rustle and a shift, and Mark's girlfriend - fianceé - comes out of their room. She stifles a yawn and sits in front of them on the table and takes Jim's hands in her own. "Hey." He looks up at her and bites the inside of his cheek. "Come here." She pulls him to her into a hug and he cries quietly, because he's never been a sobber but it hurts too much for anything else and he can't put on a brave face any longer.

He is Caesar, but he has lost the war.