Rating: T, for cursing
Fandom / Pairing: The Office, Jim/Pam, Jim/OC
Disclaimer: My middle name is Danger.
Summary: You can't run away from trouble. There ain't no place that far.
Notes: Take the only hit from "Flock of Seagulls," finding out John's a lit major, and a few weeks of Hamlet and Dante's Inferno and what do you get?
Notes II: Part of my "Writ in Water" series - a series of fics based on love letters by John Keats.
There's a mantra in his head.
It's really just a litany of swear words, though "shit," "fuck," and, "what the hell am I thinking?" seem to be rather prominent among them. It's pounding against his temples, a cacophony he can't seem to mute, like atonal music (unmusic) and banging pots and pans.
He's headed for Scranton.
He was a history major. Sometimes he wonders if the only reason he chose to take history is because he took the phrase, "Those who fail history are doomed to repeat it," a little too much to heart. It comes in handy; reruns of Jeopardy and motivating Dwight are certainly easier when you can quote some of the greatest leaders in history and actually pronounce Charlemagne.
He flips to the History Channel sometimes (not without a little irony) as a refresher course. Old black-and-white film reels of dogfights and color soundbites of the first atomic detonation remind him of blonde curtains of hair and flip-flops in November, of long expanses of alabaster skin (the real deal, not just untanned) and smiles made of big.
Her name was Shannon.
He stands on a cold, gray beach rimmed with black water and breathes. The air tastes like shattered dreams, and it leaves a bitter taste in his mouth.
He thinks about storms and power, of bolting arcs of lightning and rolling clouds of rumbling ominously. The water rolls and ebbs, like light against obsidian, and even the white crests are darkened by the inky murkiness. He's halfway tempted to jump into the void from a platform he can just make out in the distance. Except it's mid-June and Australia, so the water's probably freezing, and he doesn't feel like getting pneumonia.
He thinks of Gallipoli and old Mel Gibson movies on TV and running and running and running.
Her name is Madison, but she tells him to call her Maddie. Her accent makes him smile, and his makes her laugh. She's from Melbourne, she tells him over fish and chips under an awning as the rain pours down in sheets.
"I came up here on holiday from uni," she says around a french fry (chip). "I wanted to visit my boyfriend."
"What happened?" And he curses his luck - every goddamned time.
She laughs humorlessly, a french fry chip held delicately. "He was sleeping with his ex."
"Tell me about it." She chews thoughtfully. "But you know what?"
"I was going to dump him anyway." She smirks and he can't help but grin back in response.
"Well," he says, and he moves to throw away the basket.
He decides he loves rain as he kisses her in it, on an empty street under a lamppost outside the restaurant her asked her to dinner to. She tastes like soft wine and escape, and he drinks her in until his head is spinning and her hand is drifting lower than is probably appropriate in public.
"Let's get out of the rain, yeah?" Her eye lashes stick together, but her mascara doesn't even run, and there's something in the lines of her face and say she's doing this for all the reasons he is, and he can understand wanting to run. He nods and helps her into his car (she took a cab) and she tells him how to get to her hotel.
Her hand is on his leg the entire time.
They stumble into her little hotel room, wet and chilled, and she pins him against the back of door. He pushes off her heavy coat and she tugs a little on his belt and they both kick off shoes and socks and broken hearts. He presses against the base of her neck with his hand, and she curves into him, the material of her dress heavy with water.
"I'm not wearing anything under this," she purrs into his ear and he leaves an openmouthed kiss against her pulse point even as she tugs his sweater over his head. He's nipping at her earlobe when she pushes his shirt off and she's kissing the underside of his jaw when he unzips her dress.
She keeps her promise.
She drags him to the beach the next morning, so early the sun is just starting to creep over the horizon and the water glimmers like volcanic glass, and it's breathtaking.
"Wow," he breathes, and he can't tear his eyes away even as the cold air whips past his face.
Soft fingers brush back the edges of his hair, up and away from his eyes. "You look so different." He swallows and nods and takes her hand.
"Let's go for a swim." She smiles widely, and he watches the colors bend across the planes of her face. She interlaces her fingers with his and they run into the dark water, whooping and shouting like madmen. She's just wearing a large t-shirt, he's just in a t-shirt and boxers, and as their teeth chatter they laugh at the absurdity of it all.
"He left me for Emily," she says, floating on her back, the white cotton billowing out around her as she bobs against the waves.
"She decided to marry Roy," he returns, treating water. There's a long pause and the sound of the lapping water is enough to drown them.
"Lord, what fools we mortals be," she murmurs. Arching her back gracefully, she slips under the surface, long, powerful kicks propelling her. He treads carefully and searches the waves for a sign of her until she comes up for air in front of him and kisses him. His hands seek out her curves, and she's just a little too hard, a little too sharp, a little too right. She tastes like salt and a little like guilt and he can't help but wonder if perhaps they're a little too alike for this.
They're curled up in the little fortwo he rented for the joy of it, running the heater full blast and wrapped in fluffy towels borrowed from the hotel pool.
"I leave in two days," she says quietly, fingers stretched out against the vent.
"I know. I leave the day after."
"Is this..." She gestures between them, at their state of dress and what they have between them and everything and nothing.
"Yeah," he replies. "You wanna head back to the room? I'm pretty sure if I don't check in soon they're gonna call the cops."
She grins, but the edges look hard. "Sure. Do lunch?"
"Sounds like a plan." And he turns the key in the ignition.
The last night she's in Sydney, she knocks on his door.
"I thought I was picking you up?" She's a striking figure, black boots and red sweater, blue jeans and her hair tied up.
"You were, but I couldn't sit still." She leans up to kiss him and the door swings shut behind her.
They don't leave his hotel room. And when he wakes up in the morning, she's gone and it feels like heartbreak without the "heart-" part.
His last day he spends on the beach, watching a gray ocean, and trying desperately to not think of her.
He curses fate and sighs aloud, long and heavy.
He can't escape her, not half a world away, not anywhere so long as he's trapped inside his head.
He shakes his head and turns away from the dark water and wanders the streets until what feeble light there is fades in the twilight.
He drives from Scranton to Stamford, four years of his life quietly packed away into six boxes loaded up into his little red car.
It's early - he wanted to avoid rush hour - and all he can see is dull gray asphalt and low, dense clouds that hang over his head.
He turns on NPR and tries not to think about summer weddings and quiet honeymoons, about grilled cheese sandwiches and fireworks, about voicemails and time lost and gained, about purple at all.
He pulls up to his new house - his roommate sits on the front steps - and sighs heavily. He clambers out, stretching long limbs and rolling stiff joints, and greets Kevin, a redhead with green eyes and square glasses and freckles across the bridge of his nose. They shake hands and Kevin shows him around the house, chatting quietly in a low tenor.
There are violets in the flowerbeds.
His sister calls his second day in town (it's a Saturday).
"Liz?" His is all astonishment even as he hears her laughter on the other end.
"Jimmy?" She's teasing him, and the smiles on his face shows in the warmth of his voice.
"It's really good to hear from you."
"Yeah," she says, and he can see her twirling the cord between long fingers. "Mom says you went down under? Jim, you don't even change your curtains if you can avoid it - Australia? Really?"
"Really," he laughs. "It was amazing."
"I'll bet. Did you get to go diving?"
"No," he says, and he's surprised when he realizes he laments it. "It was stormy and I wasn't really ready for it."
"That's fair," she replies, and her voice is distant, almost thoughtful. "Why'd you go?"
"Just..." It's the million-dollar question, he thinks dryly. "I needed a change."
"Hell of a change."
"No, seriously - new job, new town, new life. New Jim," and the last part is softer, hesitant, and he sucks in a breath to steel himself. "Jim, what's going on?"
"It's nothing," but it's too quick and Elizabeth Halpert is nobody's fool - he made sure of that.
"Bull," she whip-cracks across the line before softening into the pitying tone he hates so much, except he knows she's sincere. "It's me. C'mon."
He bites his tongue and stares out the window and blinks very hard a few times and breathes. "Liz," he says at last, and his voice is a little rough and a little thick. "Just...not now, okay?"
He hears her sigh five hundred miles away. "Okay." She pauses. "But remember - you can't run away forever."
He smiles. "I know." He licks his lips and clears his throat. "So, you have to tell me what's going down on Project Runway."
She laughs and he feels warm.
Andy pisses him off.
He had figured that after Dwight he could handle anything. Apparently, he had been wrong, and the trump was a Cornell-educated asshat with the emotional maturity of a two-year-old.
Oh my God, he thinks. No wonder I hate Andy - he's every negative office quirk I've seen. It makes him laugh, but he saves it until lunch, when he goes for a walk after being dubbed Big Tuna. It just makes him hate Andy more, and he makes sure to stop by a grocery store to grab a box of Jell-O.
And gets a bunch of nickels - you never know.
The local bar - Kevin drags him along his second week there - is just as sad and sorry as any pub he's been in before. Which is why, when the pretty girls show up, he gets why Kevin hangs out here despite the general seediness.
The first girl to come up to him - he's really just content to leave be until he's settled - tells him her name is Chastity, and that she's nothing like her name. The effect is ruined when her sultry look cracks and she breaks into laughter.
"You're not really good at that, are you?" He takes a swig of the bottle for strength and stands. And stands. And stands - she has to crane her neck up to look at him.
"Nope," she grins. "I'm actually Chandra, and my friends dared me to do that."
"Not afraid of dares - I like that. Name's Jim." They shake hands and end up getting a little bit drunk together and kissing a little (a lot) in a booth in the corner.
She tastes like strawberries and chocolate and mint and he halfway wishes she tasted more like--
"Lizzie, it's me."
"Oh, hey big bro. How's life?"
"Pretty good. I hate my coworkers, the girl I work with hates me, my boss thinks I'm a kiss-ass, and the guy in front of me calls me a fish, but otherwise not too shabby. You?"
"The same, more or less. My professors think I'm untalented, all my prisma-colors broke, I can't design worth a damn lately, and all I want to do is get drunk and get laid."
He pauses. "Okay, that last one? Never wanna hear that again."
She bursts out laughing. "Shut up. You're so not allowed to talk - don't think I didn't hear about your collegiate escapades."
"Hey, my drunken lays were all girlfriends."
"Yeah, sure." He can hear the arched eyebrow.
"Okay, maybe not all of them."
"Uh-huh. That's what I thought. Twit. So, why'd you call?"
"No reason." Today's Pam's a birthday for someone.
"Right. Because you can just call New York anytime you want."
"Actually, I can - promotion, remember?" He pauses and licks his lips. "Hey, um, you wanna spend a weekend together sometime? I'm only forty-five minutes away now, instead of, like, four hours."
"Sounds good. You free next week?"
"No, but I will be."
"Hot office party. I'll just cancel - I hate them all anyway."
"I'm thinking it's not a good sign when you can declare your hatred so flippantly."
"Nope, can't say that it is."
"Oh, hold on." He hears muffled voices and a little screaming. "Hey, Jimmy?"
"You gotta go?"
"You know me so well," and her smile - wide and sweet and very much like his - travels across the line. "I'll see you next week."
"I love you," he says, and he means it.
"Love you too, bro. Bye."
It's her hot mouth under his and all he can think is breathe, breathe, breathe.
(There's a mention of something else, but dammit, he's trying to escape all of that and if uprooting himself isn't enough then there isn't anything else he can possibly do except this.)
Her dark skin and dark eyes make him feel pale and light, but it's a dark theatre anyway, and with her hand on his leg like that it doesn't really matter, does it? Her hand drifts higher - he can feel the cold of her fingers through denim, and it makes him shiver twofold - and he bites down on her bottom lip.
"Ow!" she cries softly, and her hand pulls away to touch her bottom lip gingerly, and he knows he looks deflated and that his hair is everywhere from her hands. He brushes it back and to the side and sighs.
"You okay?" He cracks an embarrassed smile and rubs the back of his neck. "Sorry about that."
She smiles back a bit and cuddles against his shoulder. "It happens." She's quiet for a second. "Guess I can't call you Big Tuna anymore."
She grins. "Fish don't have teeth."
He calls her accidentally and his heart hits his throat, and her, "Oh my God," is a little too pitch-perfect for him to be able to swallow. He stumbles out his reason for calling and it's hard and awkward and then...
It's like the last four months have just been him on vacation, even as he knows she didn't marry Roy and is taking art classes. (Oh, Phyllis.)
He's teasing her and even as he does it hurts a little, because two hundred miles and two and a half hours feel even further when you're running as fast and hard as you can.
She says goodbye and he hangs up and goes home from an office long since empty. Kevin - who probably has a few too many sisters given the sheer number of photos around his end of the house - just takes one look at him and offers him a beer. It makes him think of Mark, which makes him think of Scranton, which makes him think of her, and then he wanders in circles of thought until he swears under his breath and goes to numb his mind with alcohol and bad television.
(Or, at least, The Daily Show. And when Jon wears a lavender tie, he takes a long draw from the amber bottle.)
He stands in front of the Scranton office building, his little red car somewhere behind him, blazer sitting on his shoulders heavily, and his bag pulling against his shoulder like dead weight.
Fuck, he thinks, and sighs heavily. He feels like a hamster in a cage, running nonstop on the wheel until he's just back where he started. It feels so static here, and he's made so many changes so quickly that the whirlwind of adjustment feels like it just got shut off while he was a hundred and ten feet in the air, and he feels disoriented and dizzy.
He takes the stairs to the third floor slowly to buy himself some time, and each step makes him think of hard decisions. Committing U.S. troops to Korea, dropping the atomic bomb, to tack on ninety-five theses to the church door. Pulling G.I.s out of 'Nam, Lee choosing the South over the North, sitting on the beaches of India and making salt in defiance of the Crown. Standing against redcoats in Boston as they shot into the crowd, going back into the slave-ridden South to save others, death or impressment.
To cross the Rubicon. To kill Caesar. To betray Jesus. To listen to the voice of God.
It whirls in his mind, and his heart beats faster until he can barely hear over his pulse and the rush of blood and there's the door and the it sticks a little remember? and--
He turns a little and she's there at her desk, wearing a blouse the color of wine and the widest smile he's ever seen. He smiles back and makes his way over to her. When she hugs him, he knows he's just as doomed as he was when he left.
He can't run fast enough.
My dearest Girl, how could it ever have been my wish to forget you? how could I have said such a thing? The utmost stretch my mind has been capable of was to endeavour to forget you for your own sake...I would have borne it as I would bear death if fate was in that humour: but I should as soon think of choosing to die as to part from you. - John Keats to Fanny Brawne, February 1820.
This was written about five seconds before The Merger so blame that for how dated this is. This is part of the same series as "Somos," in which I use excerpts from John Keats' letters to Fanny Brawne as basis for fics. It's a lot of fun, but it's also an incredible challenge. Even though this is only the second from this series, it's one I'm quietly working on and through. This is definitely one of my favorite things I've ever written.