Title: all your fault
Author: Cassandra Mulder
Rating: PG
Classification: The Office; Jim/Pam; angst
Spoilers: General season 3
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Not even Jim, much to my misfortune. No infringement is intended.
Written: April 28 - 30, 2007
Word Count: 3314
Summary: There's no way they're attending another inventory party.
A/N: Oh my God! This is a disease! I have never written this many fics in succession in my life. In tribute to the title, still all my friend's fault. So if you're sick of me and Jam already, blame her. ;) If you're not and you like this, remember feedback is love.


It had been two weeks, five days, and twelve hours since Karen had broken up with Jim. She had left him for another life in New York, and, as she so kindly put it, "perhaps a less stagnant relationship".

It had been something of a relief, because he couldn't say he hadn't seen it coming and he hadn't had it coming. He just hadn't had the heart to end it himself because there was nothing visibly wrong. The problem was purely internal on his part, and it had slowly chipped away at what could have been a good thing in his life.

He tried not to blame Pam for it, but that was really hard since it was all her fault.

Nothing had transpired in the almost three weeks since his breakup that indicated she cared anything about it. She had lamented the loss of Karen as the only other young woman in the office (besides Kelly, who was more like a fourteen year old girl), but beyond that and a soft 'I'm sorry' when he first told her, she had avoided the subject.

He was starting to wish he could avoid her. His life pre-Pam had not been anymore perfect than it was now, but it had been a lot less painful. He could date who he wanted, when he wanted, and there was no incredible standard to hold anyone to.

He had hoped that if this day ever came and he felt strong enough to try again, she would have realized something. Anything except her usual stance, which seemed to be running scared.

It was never ending confusion where she was concerned, and he had to wonder why she played the commitment-phobe now. She had wasted a decade being taken for granted by Roy, but she couldn't just give in and see what he had to offer. She couldn't possibly be anymore scared than he was at the prospect of having found the love of his life at twenty-eight, and the rest of his natural life being a complete wreck if she didn't return his feelings. That was true fear, and he had a feeling she had no clue what that was like.

If she hadn't had enough time to breathe and sort out her feelings by now, how long was it going to take? He didn't think he would have the patience to find out.

Two weeks, five days, and twelve hours had turned to two weeks, five days, and fourteen hours when he got an e-mail alert on his computer. He clicked his account open.

To: jhalpertatdundermifflindotcom
From: pbeeslyatdundermifflindotcom

Subject: We are so screwed

Jim,

Michael's scheduled another inventory party tonight. Thought you should be the first to know, in case you can cook up some emergency for us to run away and take care of. How can he be this bored?

Pam

He shook his head and glanced over at her pleading face, then hit reply.

To: pbeeslyatdundermifflindotcom
From: jhalpertatdundermifflindotcom

Subject: Don't panic… Yet.

Pam,

You know as second in command, there's no way I can get us out of this. Michael's our superior, and his authority must be respected.

Jim

He hit the 'send' button, and waited. Pam made a face and he went back to work while she worked on her reply. A couple of minutes later his alert went off again.

To: jhalpertatdundermifflindotcom
From: pbeeslyatdundermifflindotcom
Subject: Suck it, Halpert.

Jim,

Way to be a hero. Is this really how you want to spend a Friday night?

You suck. Mightily.

Pam

He tried not laugh as he hit 'reply' again, unable to remember the last time they had a good game of e-mail tag.

To: pbeeslydundermifflindotcom
From: jhalpertatdundermifflindotcom
Subject: That was mature.

Pam,

And did you have anything better to do tonight?

Isn't Michael still reading our e-mails? You're taking a huge risk here.

Jim

He hit 'send' again and waited. He could tell just by looking at her that she was ready to stick her tongue out at him, but she showed considerable self-control.

He had time to make a sales call before his computer dinged again.

To: jhalpertatdundermifflindotcom
From: pbeeslyatdundermifflindotcom
Subject: Stop being a jerk.

Jim,

Michael got tired of spying on us ages ago. He has the attention span of a gnat. Surely you know this by now.

So, have you thought of a way I can go home and crash tonight instead of sifting through paper for four hours?

Seriously,

Pam

Everything devolved into the ridiculous from there.

To: pbeeslyatdundermifflindotcom
From: jhalpertatdundermifflindotcom
Subject: Here's a thought.

Do you have a match?

He saw her put her hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter, and he turned back to his own computer so she couldn't see him grinning.

To: jhalpertatdundermifflindotcom
From: pbeeslyatdundermifflindotcom
Subject!

Jim! I knew you were a closet arsonist. It's always the quiet ones.

To: pbeeslyatdundermifflindotcom
From: jhalpertatdundermifflindotcom
Subject: Does jail sound appealing?

Because they're going to arrest me for threatening to burn the warehouse down.

Michael always sends us for dinner before we have to inventory. Meet me in the parking lot at 5:05.

Jim

To: jhalpertatdundermifflindotcom
From: pbeeslyatdundermifflindotcom

Subject: It's okay.

If they do, I'll bail you out. Promise.

Thank you! I knew you would have a plan. I'll meet you then.

Pam

Five minutes later, the inventory notice went out to everyone in the office from Pam's computer. Jim could tell who had received it when, because there was a groan of frustration after every click. He played along, but he smiled to himself because he knew he and a certain someone wouldn't be in attendance.

It had been a long time since he had saved her, and even longer since she had asked. If there was a chance that meant anything, he had to take it. He knew he could just be a sucker, but he doubted it. Pam's jealous side had come out more than once when he had been with Karen, and he wanted to see what was behind it. He would make her reveal it if he had to.

The day always went faster when he had something to look forward to, and before he knew it the afternoon had gone by, and it was time to leave. He was going to dinner, supposedly, but what Michael didn't know wouldn't hurt him.

He stopped by the reception desk on his way out. "See ya later, Pam," he said with a wink.

"See ya, Jim," she said, her smile brighter than he'd seen it in a long time.

Five minutes later, she met him in the parking lot. She was bouncing on her toes, her cardigan hanging over her clasped hands.

"So what's the big plan?" she asked eagerly.

"Get in your car and follow me. We'll take it from there."

Her brow furrowed, but only for a second before she did as he instructed.

After a few minutes he pulled into another parking lot, gestured for her to park beside him, and he got out, going to her car and opening the door for her.

"Jim, why are we at Wal-Mart?" she asked, confused.

"I'm out of toilet paper."

She just gave him a look that said she clearly doubted that was the reason.

He shook his head. "No reason. You're just leaving your car here."

"In the Wal-Mart parking lot."

"Yes. It'll be fine. Trust me, okay?"

"Of course," she said. "Why are we doing this and what now?"

"If anyone asks Monday, your car was towed from the restaurant where we went to dinner, and we spent the rest of the night trying to get it out of the impound lot. And if someone comes looking for you tonight, which they probably won't unless Michael decides to send out the Dwight Calvary, your car won't be at your place. I'll bring you to get it in the morning."

"This is your brilliant plan?"

"You gave me short notice, Beesly. Do you want to do this or not?"

"No - I mean, yes. I want to. It sounds plausible."

"Okay, good." He opened the passenger door to his car. "Jump in."

She climbed in without further protest and he closed the door, jogging around to the driver's side.

"Where are we going from here?" she asked as he started the car.

"Anywhere you want," he said.

She nodded as he was pulling out of the lot. "Can we just… Can we ride around for awhile? I mean, I'll pay you back for the gas if that's-"

"Don't worry about it," he said, shaking his head. "It's not a problem." He didn't care if it cost him a thousand dollars worth of gas. It had been a long time since he had just cruised around talking to a girl in his car and listening to music, and it sounded like fun. Especially with Pam.

He loosened his tie and she kicked off her heels as he drove around Scranton and hit the highway, taking them about half an hour out of town.

They spotted a drive-in restaurant at an off ramp, and decided to have dinner there. They laughed and talked as they ate enormous burgers and too many fries. It all seemed so painfully natural to him, but he knew they were fine when it came to the ordinary details of the world and their lives. It was only when they accidentally cut beneath the surface that things started to get messy.

Things hadn't felt so normal between them in ages that he knew neither one of them wanted to say anything to break the spell. It was like time had been turned back, except there was no ring on her finger and no dead-end girlfriend nagging at his conscience.

They were gathering their trash to leave on the tray below the menu outside, when Pam sighed deeply.

"I haven't been this full in forever."

"I don't blame you, with all that rabbit food you eat," he teased.

She gave him a sideways glance. "A girl's gotta watch her figure."

"I doubt that," he protested. "An occasional burger is not going to kill you, though."

She smiled. "I know. Since college I just - Nevermind. Thanks for dinner, Jim."

He smiled back. "You're welcome." He wasn't about to tell her that their second date was almost as good as their first, because he had no idea how she would take it. As long as he didn't open his mouth, this could be anything he wanted it to be, even if he knew he was just going to get hurt in the end. He couldn't seem to help it.

"Where to now?" he said, pulling out of the restaurant lot and back onto the highway.

She looked contemplative for a moment. "I don't really know. I'm not dressed for anything."

Jim laughed. "You're such a girl."

She laughed back. "Thanks for noticing."

Like he couldn't. "How about a movie? Is there anything you want to see? Theaters are dark." He cleared his throat, hoping that didn't sound like he thought it sounded. He wasn't about to push his luck by trying to make out with her in a dark theater. He did still value his life, however pointless it felt without her.

"Um… not really. You?"

"I don't think so."

"Oh! I haven't seen Spider-Man 3 yet. Do you want to see that?"

"Sure, they're good movies." He frowned. "Since when are you a comic book junkie?"

She shook her head. "I'm so not. I just like the movies. They're cool. Plus, I need to see in what way they're going to screw up Peter and Mary Jane next."

He smiled and rolled his eyes. "Ah, the romance. Should've known."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm such a girl. Shut up."

"Do you have the number for a theater? It's seven-thirty now, so if we could catch something between eight and nine…"

"I'll look it up on my phone," she said, getting on the internet. A minute later, she looked up. "There's a showing at eight-fifteen."

"We can make it," he said. "We'll be back in Scranton soon, anyway."

"Okay, cool."

The ride back into town was comfortable, and he smiled to himself as she messed with his CD collection, changing the music and asking if she could borrow this and that to burn.

"You're going to have to make a list, at this rate," he joked, making her roll her eyes.

"Maybe I will. I always like your music."

"I can do those for you. It's not a problem."

"Oh, thanks, but I've got a stack of blank CDs at home just begging to be used. It's been awhile since, well… I haven't really been sharing music with anyone lately."

Since they'd been on rocky ground is what she meant, but he still wasn't ready to go there. He was holding his breath like it was.

He made it to the theater by eight, and it wasn't terribly crowded for a Friday night. He got out, went around and opened her door for her, reminding her to grab her cardigan in case it was cold.

There were only six screens in Scranton, and two of them were showing Spider-Man 3, which was why they could catch it at the time they did. He insisted on buying the tickets, and whatever snack she wanted when they got inside.

She made a face, but she gave up protesting. "I don't know how much more I can eat. Just a small popcorn, I guess, and a soda. I have to run to the ladies', so don't go in without me, or I'll never find you."

Jim laughed. "Okay, I'll wait for you over there if you're not back by the time I get through this line," he said, pointing to the entrance of the proper auditorium.

"Be right back," she said.

As he watched her go, he still wondered how this was happening. He was just supposed to get them out of inventory, and now they were officially on a full-fledged date that he had never asked her on. For all of its average qualities, sometimes his life was really bizarre. At the moment, he couldn't complain about that.

He had a tray full of popcorn, soda, and a couple of different kinds of candy by the time she returned, and he was standing by the entrance as promised.

She stopped in front of him, laughing. "Oh my God, who is all that food for?"

"Mostly me," he grinned.

She rolled her eyes. "You are such a boy."

"Thanks for noticing," he said, mocking her tone from earlier.

Pam smiled at him and turned on her heel to open the door for him.

"Who said chivalry is dead?" he said, and her laugh rang into the corridor.

He was feeling way too good, and this was way too perfect. He fully expected to wake up any second.

All through the movie, he had to keep reminding himself to keep his eyes on the screen and not Pam. She was thoroughly involved, daintily crunching away on her popcorn and seeming not to notice the few times her fingers brushed his arm when she reached for her soda in the armrest cup holder.

He did his best to focus on the screen and sighed. At least Mary Jane had a clue.

When the movie was over, he handed her the two untouched bags of candy to put in her purse. "You can use them at the office, if you want," he said as they walked back to the car.

"Your eyes were bigger than your stomach," she said with a laugh. "That's what my mom used to say."

"Yeah, I guess," he said, opening her door for her. He made sure she was safely inside before closing it, and he took a deep breath as he walked around to the driver's side.

"Home?" he asked as he turned on the ignition.

"Yeah, guess so," she said quietly.

Jim wondered if she felt something tenuous coming to an end as well.

"You know, I wonder if Dwight has seen that movie yet," he said as he took the long way to her apartment complex. It was silly, but he wanted to keep her with him as long as possible. "Because he hasn't said anything, so if he hasn't there are a lot of spoiler possibilities there."

She gasped in mock horror. "You wouldn't! You would crush his world."

She sounded sincere, but he could see out of the corner of his eye that she was about to burst out laughing.

He nodded, feigning a frown. "You're right. Maybe that's too cruel." He heard her snicker. "You're just evil, Pam."

She scoffed. "I'm not the one who thought of it," she pointed out.

"True."

They were at her apartment too soon, and as he helped her out of his car he wondered what to do next. He didn't want to let this go, but he didn't want to push either.

She stood in front of him, her eyes flitting from him to the pavement. "You don't have to -"

"No, I want to," he said. "You never know what kind of crazies are around."

"Yeah, those eleven o'clock crazies are the worst," she teased, but she smiled up at him.

He walked with her into the building, they rode the elevator up to her second floor apartment, and she unlocked her door as he leaned against the frame.

He straightened as she turned to him.

"Thanks for tonight, Jim," she said, and she took his hand. "I can't remember the last time I had so much fun."

He wanted to make a crack about her standards for fun being pretty low, but he couldn't speak. Her small hand was warm in his, and he couldn't remember the last time they had touched…

Shaking it off, he said, "Yeah, me too. I had a great time."

"I wonder if they missed us tonight."

He didn't know, but he knew he would have missed a lot if they hadn't bailed on work. "They'll live." She still hadn't let go of his hand, and he knew there was only one way left to make this an official date.

He only had to tug slightly before she was in his arms, and his lips were on hers. She didn't protest, kissing him back, one hand going to his face as the other wound into his hair.

His hands slid beneath her cardigan, around her waist, pressing her closer. This had to be it, this had to work this time, or he was going to lose his mind. He deepened the kiss and she followed his lead, raising up on her tiptoes to get as close as possible.

When they parted for air, she buried her face in his neck, and he could feel her breath against his skin. His cheek rested against her head, and he was drowning in the smell of her hair, the feel of her hands clutching the front of his dress shirt. He closed his eyes and tried to regain some sort of equilibrium, but he was too far gone and his head was spinning too fast.

"This has to be real this time, Pam. Because if it's not, my life is over and it's all your fault," he said softly, and he didn't really realize he had been speaking until she lifted her head to look at him.

Her eyes were glassy with tears.

"I didn't mean -" he started, fearing he had said the wrong thing.

She shook her head and raised up, kissing him again until they were both out of breath.

She still had a handful of his shirt front as she reached behind her to open her door. She stepped back and pulled, taking him with her. "Jim, please come in. I love you."

He could breathe again.

Finis