Story Notes: Drama! Laughs! Tears! Hot man-on-man action! Wait, what? Yes, it's official: I've lost my mind, sayeth the straight, male KaPAM! lover.
Within a week of starting his new job, Ryan stops asking how Michael has managed to not be fired. He starts asking how come the company hasn't folded yet. Dan must have drank all of Buffalo's profits away, and the less that was said about Craig, the better.
He meets with David Wallace first thing in the morning on his first day here in New York. He grins down at Ryan and beams smiles all around. "Ryan! Great to see you." David shakes his hand, gripping firmly and pumping three times in that calculated way that business lifers have. Though he knows just how fake those handshakes can be, he fully appreciates that here's a man who can do it right, and finds himself liking David already. He's somewhat annoyed though that, once again, everyone in the corporate office is taller than he is - at least the couple of guys that Ryan has seen this morning and on the day he interviewed for this job.
Shoving that thought aside, Ryan says, "I'm happy to be here," and it is the truth.
"I'm so glad," David replies, letting them sit on either side of his large desk. "How was the trip up here? Is the hotel we've set you up with meeting your standards?"
He's two years removed from a frat house. Red Roof Inn would be like the Radisson to him. "Yes sir. The hotel is great and I'm looking forward to getting started."
"Well, okay then," says David, leaning back in his plush chair. "We'll just have you meet with Kendall to fill out your paperwork. Ugh. I'm sorry about that in advance. He's our very irritating H- oh, just wait," he puts up his hand to pause his inappropriate criticism, yelling out into the hallway. "Hunter!" The man - no, probably boy would be more accurate, doubles back to stop by Wallace's door.
"Yes sir?" the boy meekly asks.
"Hunter, come in. This is Ryan Howard, like the ballplayer only less black. He'll be taking over for Jan so you'll be taking your orders from him now. Ryan, Hunter."
"Mr. Howard? Pleased to meet you," the boy profers his hand to Ryan. Standing, he absently took the extended appendage, pumps three times. Hunter has a good, strong grip, much manlier than he'd expected from such a slight guy. Makes him feel a little inadequate, truthfully, since they're about the same size and he always has to work to give the appearance of business confidence. Hunter has a mop of unruly hair and the stunned, vacuous eyes of a dairy cow. He doubts his new subordinate could do anything like that consciously - maybe self-consciously...
"Hi," Ryan replies slowly, not knowing what to say really. It's the first time he's ever had the priviledge of talking down to somebody. He hopes to be able to take advantage of the situation many, many times.
They take a quick trip down to HR before Hunter leads him to his office. Ryan takes a brief moment to admire the glass door of room number 2512, with his name on it and everything. He orders Hunter to get him a coffee. Life is good. Singing: If he can make it here, he can make it anywhere, et cetera.
He's chatting with Kendall in the much fancier break room during lunch.
"At least now Michael won't be lusting after his boss anymore."
Ryan glances around his new office as he unpacks his personnal effects from the shiny new briefcase he'd bought for his interview. It struck him instantly that he has very few effects. Hunter's standing there, staring at him expectantly. He grimaced in vague annoyance. "I'm sorry, who are you again?"
The guy looks sort of nervous and unsure. He could likely use those words to describe himself at this moment. "I'm Hunter," he says, tentatively. "I'll be your administrative assistant." Hmph. How come he couldn't get a girl secretary? Hot chick. Long legs... Meh. Probably a good thing, now that he thinks about it. He's seen how bad that sort of thing goes.
"So you've been working here long?"
"About two months," replies Hunter. "I've been Ms. Levinson's assitant since the beginning of April, so if you have any questions about what you're going to be doing, I can help you out." Bullshit, thinks Ryan. He knows that it takes twice that long to really learn a job, but he likes how eager the kid is, and figures him for a bit of a pushover.
He wonders what the kid's educational background is. Looks like he should still be in high school... though he has that admittedly stylish black and gray suit. Ryan makes a mental note to buy some new suits.
Hunter doesn't look a thing like James Van Der Beek (and for that he's somewhat grateful). He's just happy Dawson's Creek hasn't been on in years, sickened to think how much he would know about the show had it been otherwise.
"Good morning, Grace. Good morning, Kendall. Good morning, Beardy."
"'Morning, New Guy."
Hunter comes in the next day with a stupid earpiece cell phone stuck to his head. Who does he think he is? Lt. Uhura?
"Why are you wearing that thing?"
His administrative assistant looks at him like he's grown a second head. "I take a lot of calls. It's more efficient."
"Lots of calls?" he asks. He'd only gotten three calls all of yesterday and one of them was from his mother phoning to congratulate him and wish him luck. Ryan had held the phone away from his ear for most of that call.
"Yessir, Mr. Howard. I deferred most of them yesterday since you were just getting settled in. But we get lots of calls all day long. I also carry a lot of things, so it helps to have the hands free." He demonstrates this without trying when he hands Ryan his morning coffee and Albany branch reports.
"Huh," Ryan scratched his chin, meeting with itchy stubble. It's only been one day and already he forgot to shave. At least he's got on a nicer suit this morning. Maybe he looks swarthy. He'll have to check that in the washroom later. "So who are we getting calls from? It's not as if we interact with the customers at this level. Who's phoning us?"
"Mostly branch managers."
"Mostly branch managers? How much time can that take? There's only a handful of them."
"Well, you're going to be in near constant communication with all the branch managers in the north east, directing, troubleshooting... It's sometimes like you have to babysit them."
Ryan sits back. Ponders. "Yeah, I can definitely see that." Ponders ruefully.
Grace is really attractive. Good figure. Nice, dark skin. Seems intelligent. Ryan is considering asking her out when he hears her discussing Tom Cruise's baby.
After that, he doesn't much talk to her anymore.
He just realized that he had just thought of one of his coworkers as a 'punk kid' (oh God, he feels ancient). He's thinking this because at this moment, Hunter is telling him about his band, mostly about the problems they've been having at rehearsal. Normally he'd be less than happy to be having this conversation, but he's (they've) been working nonstop for several hours and he welcomes the distraction.
"So you're in a band," Ryan says. "What genre of music do you play? Wait - Let me guess-"
"Yeah, I know," Hunter laughs, and it's young sounding. "The hair kind of gives away the mystery." Ryan can't help but laugh too. Hunter explains to him how this administrative assistant job is just to pay the bills until the band picks up enough of a following to commit to full time. They're leaned back in the comfy chairs, and it seems easy and light for a second, but then Hunter's phone vibrates and he looks serious again. He pushes the button to activate the headset and starts talking. Craig again. Ryan pulls up the mess that passes as Albany's inventory summary and shakes his head. Fuck, what a mess. He works out an interim schedule for shipping new stock to the beleagured branch in the absense of any clear picture of what levels they're currently carrying. That Japanese just-in-time delivery system they tried just isn't working out. He'd loathe to implement a proper Kanban system, knowing full well that the alerts wouldn't be monitored.
It's over an hour later when he's satisfied with the situation and Craig hangs up. Actually, he's not satisfied with the situation, they're going to be bleeding money from that warehouse for months, he's sick to death of Craig, and he told Hunter to hang up on him.
Hunter breathes a sigh of relief. "Hey, I know this is kind of weird, considering you're my boss, but we've got a gig coming up, if you'd like to have a listen."
"Nah. It's not really my scene. Thanks, though." He witnesses the slightly hurt look on the poor boy's face. "Okay, when is it? I'll see if I can make it."
David really hates Kendall. Ryan knows enough to not look for a reason.
He's starting to get a callous on the last knuckle of his middle finger. The last time he had one of those was in high school, before he started slacking off and playing euchre half the day. In college he used his laptop exclusively, and the hard patch disappeared completely. Now he can't even flip somebody off without them knowing that he writes far too much.
He asks Hunter if he could get one of those name stamp things so he wouldn't have to bust his hand up writing his signature a hundred times each day. Hunter informs him that David Wallace has banned those in the office because stamps lack the personal touch of the human hand. For some reason, Ryan is not surprised at that turn of events. It goes along nicely with the huge stack(s) of paperwork piled in front of him.
It's summer now. Slow times for the paper industry. Taxes were filed a few months ago and school's out. Hot summer air beckons all living bodies to play, hit the beach, ride the waves, run in the grass, sip a cool margarita on the patio.
The sun's going down now, a pleasant twilight, the lights just blinking on for the night. And Ryan has just settled down with another cup of coffee, black this time, for another late night session with the collected clusterfucks left him by his good friends Craig, Dan, and Michael. He'd really like to zone out right about now, but really needs to get this done.
He's surrounded himself with four tall stacks of records, five Excel spreadsheets open (one for each of his branches, plus another one for calculations) and his pocket calculator when he's startled by a knock on his door.
"Boss?" It's Hunter again. He thought he'd left a couple of hours ago. "What are you still doing here?"
"Ah, I've got to finish these quarterly projected sales target sheets for Thursday." He notices Hunter's attire, no longer the snappy designer suit from the daytime, instead a fairly grunge looking ensemble of ripped jeans, tight ironic tee, and Converses. "What are you doing back here at this time of night?"
"Just coming to stash my gear while I'm playing my gig. It's safer here than the club. It's a pretty seedy club."
Shit. He'd forgotten all about Hunter's band's gig tonight. Not that he was really keen on listening to the music, but he thought it would be nice to support the guy, considering all the help he'd been to him getting settled into his new job. "Hey, man. I'm sorry. I know I said I would try to make it to your gig, but there's no way this is getting done by the deadline unless I pull a couple of all-nighters."
"That's okay. I figured as much..." He fumbled with his knapsack for a bit. "Actually, Ryan, if you want some help I could blow them off. Not entirely altruistic, I'm punching in if I stay."
"No, no. You're going to your gig. I'll make it up to you once I finish this... big pile of crap."
Hunter just nods, taps his door frame once. "Yeah. Okay. I'll see you around."
"Break a leg. Don't come in too drunk tomorrow."
He sighs with exasperation, turns back to his reports. At least Utica isn't giving him any problems.
This job comes with a huge pay raise over what he was making before. Like, double, and that's if he had ever made a commission. The thing is, is that property prices in New York are so much more than in Scranton that his standard of living isn't much higher than it used to be. That's not to say that his new apartment isn't swankier and that his clothes aren't nicer and that he doesn't eat better than when he was working as a lowly salesman, but at least there he was able to enjoy what he had. Now he's lucky with the 12 hour plus days if he has any energy left to do anything when he gets home other than eat and sleep.
His XBox 360 sits unused beneath his equally unused flatscreen.
Familiar numbers and letters swam together to form undecipherable hyroglyphs before his eyes. How many days has he been staring at the damned sales projections already? He's beginning to think that they'll never be done, let alone the throughput improvement process follow-ups David wants Monday morning.
Hunter yawns at the other side of his desk. He'd had a late night last night as well. Hell, later than Ryan's own night, which had ended about half an hour before today. Hunter's was probably more fun though.
He feels like yawning too, but suppresses the reaction. Not sure why, just wanted to look a little tougher than he felt. What he really wanted right now was a power nap - just a brief twenty minute, maybe half an hour-ish, two hours, tops, to recoup some of his depleted energy so he could take a running start at the home stretch and dear lord he's starting to think in clichés.
"Hey, Hunter. You look pretty tired. Why don't you head home, get some sleep so you can be fresh for tomorrow when I'm dead on my feet."
Hunter nods and slowly stumbles his way out of the office, murmuring 'g'night' before disappearing off into the lobby.
None of this made any sense. His numbers just didn't add up with the branches or the accountants, and Buffalo's quarterly figures are definitely wrong but he can't get anyone at that branch to 'fess up to it or give him something even remotely plausible.
Do they fire guys with 14 years management experience or guys with a month and a half?
He thought he was the only person left in the office, but he hears footsteps in the hallway telling him otherwise. A few seconds later, David Wallace peeks his head in, asks him how he's doing. As if the scattered files spread around his desk like a tornado had gone through wasn't enough of an indication. Like Twister without the flying cows. Man, he could go for a burger right about now.
"Why did you hire me, David?" he asks slumping into his palms, fluffing up his hair in a decidedly un-swarthy manner. "Everyone else you interviewed had far more experience at this sort of thing than I do."
David considers what he was going to do for a few seconds before settling down in Hunter's vacated chair. "Those guys never stood a chance. We wanted someone young who could bring fresh ideas to the company: you."
Ryan harumphs, like he wasn't suffering a minor breakdown in front of his boss. "What about Jim and Karen? They're not much older than I am. And they know what they're doing. Why didn't you hire one of them?" He lifts his bleary eyes from his hands and stares at David, who he just notices now had taken his glasses off for the night. He looked tired too. Maybe it came with the territory.
David blows a breath of air out between pursed lips, mulling over his response. "To be honest, Jim sort of zoned out during his interview, like his mind was somewhere else. Karen interviewed fine, but then there was that incident with Jan and - well, I shouldn't really be telling you this because Kendall will get on my ass about some stupid confidentiality horsepucky..."
"Oh." He wasn't at all uplifted by this information.
"I know you're stressed, Ryan, but believe me when I tell you that you're the best man for the job. You'll be really successful here for a long time."
They want to send him to Scranton to check up on Michael and the situation down there. They suggest that it would be relaxing and comfortable trip for him to go back to his old stompin' grounds.
Like going to hell for a visit.
He'd made it up to Hunter by taking him out for drinks after work at the end of that horrible week (and was mildly surprised that, yes, Hunter was indeed legally able to purchase alcohol). Just chillin' on the patio of some pub down the street, lukewarm domestic beer and greasy nachos, ties off, sunglasses on. Ryan took the opportunity to examine some of the local eye candy from behind the protective mirror of his shades - not that he ever needed to hide behind tinted lenses to do that.
Ryan didn't think of himself as much of a complainer. Sure, he found himself in ultimately shitty situations... on an almost daily basis... which sucked... but he sucked it up. And he never vented on his friends. Not that any of his friends would have been sympathetic; none of them would have found any of it believeable. What's the point of complaining if your victim has no clue what you're talking about? He missed the cameras.
"Hunter, the best part of my week was going back to Scranton just so I could talk to the cameras again."
"Dude, that's just wrong."
But they're laughing too easily and for the first time in a long time he vents. And vents. And Hunter vents with him. Man, what a shitty week.
"So... what happened with Jan?" Ryan liked Jan. He doesn't add that he liked Jan because she deflected Michael away from him. "I hear there was an incident."
"Umm..." Ryan hates putting Hunter on the spot like this, but he needs to know (he's felt so out of the gossip loop since, well...) He doesn't know when he started caring. "Jan found out she was being fired. Michael, I guess told her. I don't know how he knew, he's usually so clueless. She flew off the handle, started screaming at David in the middle of his interview with the brunette."
"I don't know. I only know Michael because of, well, you know."
"He's weird. Maybe crazy." Ryan doesn't want to think about that. "They had to call security to escort her out."
Ryan finished his drink a few minutes ago. He'd ordered another one, but it hadn't arrived yet. There's nacho cheese and sour cream on his fingers.
"I'm glad you got the job," Hunter tells him. "I didn't like Karen. She was so mean. She laughed at her."
That did sound petty. For Ryan to call that out though would be a flagrant case of pot-kettle-black. "I can be pretty mean too, sometimes," he admits.
"I don't see it." Ryan doesn't want to contradict him. He'll just let him learn it on his own.
He's unfortunate enough to be caught in David's office during one of his arguments with Kendall. He looks out the window, at the bookshelves, the carpet, anywhere except at the combatants with David's loud, accusatory tone and Kendall's complete exasperation. Ryan smirks at David's pretentious golden birdie-whatever statue, sextant (this isn't a boat), and awards or whatever they are. He has a daughter, but there's precious little of her in the room. What a jackass.
Hunter was fiddling with his beer bottle. "I miss Jan," he says quietly.
"Yeah," Ryan agreed. He couldn't remember what Hunter was drinking. The label was unreadable now. "She could actually do this job," he sucked on his bottle again, but it was still empty, just like last time. They didn't hire the waitresses here for their abilities. "Plus she's better to look at that I am."
Hunter screws up his face, disturbed. "What? No! I mean... I guess..."
"Do you want a mulligan on that sentence?"
His assistant achieved a lobsterlike hue, took a deep breath filled with nervous embarrassment. "She was like a second mom to me."
"A mom? A mom with big..."
"Don't do that! Argh! Scarring my brain here, Ryan."
"Cough MILF cough."
"Stop it!" he yelled, but he's laughing too... until his flailing hand lands on Ryan's. "I don't like to think of it as losing a mother as much as gaining a..." he trails off, not knowing what word to put there.
"Drinking buddy?" Ryan supplied.
Hunter nods. "Drinking buddy." But something in his eyes told Ryan that wasn't the term he had been looking for.
He's discovered that the people in this office are just more successful versions of the same neurotic people he knew back in Scranton. Instead of terrifying or depressing him, the thought brings unexpected comfort: people are people no matter where you go.
It should depress him.
Hunter's much stronger than he looks... sinewy.
Ryan knows this because Hunter has him pinned against the wall just inside his apartment door, kissing his lips raw. He isn't sure what brought them here - subway, ha ha - maybe it was loneliness, sprinkled with a sense of loss, with a side of kinship. He doesn't want to think about this now. He doesn't want to think about it ever.
The skin on Hunter's face is pretty smooth; there's no way in hell he's growing a full beard. Ryan sucks on that hairless jaw, plants a sloppy kiss on Hunter's mouth before sliding lower down his neck and collarbone.
His lean body pulls them, crashing down toward the couch. Since when was he the kind of guy to take the sub position? (Since when was he the kind of guy to do this at all?). Hunter is pawing at him, recklessly, and they both struggle to remove their itchy, beer smelling, work clothes. He tastes like sweat and booze and the faint dirtiness of sidewalk smoke and smog.
Hunter shoves him rough against the cushions, undoes his belt. Ryan blacks out, but hears the throaty moans ringing in his ears and feels the warm breath on his ear and neck.
He gets off with some other guy's hand on his dick. Exhales. Lets his heart rate slow. Lets reality seep into his drink-addled brain. "Shit," he mumbles to himself, as this all comes crashing down around him.
Hunter picks up something worrying in his tone. Self-loathing-face comes easy to Ryan. He's had years to practice (but never practiced hiding it). "What's wrong?" He looks down on Ryan with wide, dark eyes, shiny and reflecting tiny mirror images of his own terrified face for him to see.
Fuck. This was a mistake.
He pushes a confused Hunter away from him.
"Ummm... I... should go." When Ryan doesn't say anything, Hunter gathers his things and slips out the door.
At work on Monday, things are toughest. Hunter doesn't talk to him. He doesn't talk to Hunter. He meets David Wallace first thing in the morning on his whateverth day here in New York. He looks upon Ryan with disinterest and tells him that, all things considered, he's mildly pleased with his work so far. Next quarter, things will go even better, right? Right.
As he sits on the rooftop of his tenement smoking a joint, Ryan wonders how his life turned out this way. He sees his future, and that future is Dunder-Mifflin.
"Fuck you, Sinatra." He takes a long drag, coughs a little. "Fuck you..."