Summary: Jim and Pam have a fight. Pam finally has her breakthrough. A post-Business School story.

A/N: It always bugged me that Pam didn't confront Jim about not showing up at her art show. So here we are.

Disclaimer: I own precious few things in this world, and the characters and plotlines of The Office are (sadly) not among them.

She enters the office dreading the sight of it. She prays that he put it somewhere in his office. Maybe next to his sappy motivational posters or above the certificate confirming his possession of a Seyko timepiece. It doesn't take her long to realize that he has chosen the worst possible spot.

Right outside his office. Directly in her line of sight.

It makes her insides squirm whenever she looks at it. When Michael first bought it she so badly needed affirmation. She welcomed a reprieve from the overwhelming rejection and humiliation of that night.

But now when she looks at it she feels a painful twisting in her gut. Even though she knows that Michael's intentions were sincere, she can't help seeing the painting as a symbol of pity, of undeserved, patronizing praise. Like when her mother stuck her doodles on the refrigerator door when she was ten.

She pops open a game of spider solitaire (two suits) and tries to concentrate on that instead, but she knows it's there. She keeps glancing up at it occasionally, like it's a bruise that she can't stop poking.

She wants to march over there and tear it off the wall, but since she can't do that, she settles for the next best thing. At least she can tear down that stupid flier. The flier that everyone apparently ignored except for Oscar and Michael.

She walks into the break room, a woman on a mission, and almost stops short when she sees Jim and Karen. It's 9:45 and people have already long-since settled in at their desks, but Jim and Karen are sipping coffee together.

'Apparently they've decided to take five minutes for a little alone time,' a voice in Pam's head snipes.

It wouldn't be so bad if Karen wasn't practically in his lap. She's sitting delicately on his knee, his arm around her waist as she sips her coffee.

Pam can't prevent the huge frown that spreads across her face.

'Do they have to flaunt their relationship so openly? It's really inappropriate,' the same voice complains.

'Oh my God. I've become Angela!' another voice in Pam's head screams. Part of her wants to tell Karen that sitting like that is whorish, but she stops herself.

She feels the cameras on her and quickly looks away. She hates the cameras. They make her recognize the exact moment she does something weak or foolish, and it just amplifies the feeling that she's pathetic.

Her eyes find the blue flier posted on the cupboard above the sink. It looks wrinkled, like someone already tried to take it down. Probably a casualty of the bat debacle. Dwight has been retelling the story with great pride, occasionally interrupted by Meredith, who has her own dramatic tale of the night she spent in the ER getting rabies shots.

She tears the flier down, trying to take satisfaction in the act, trying to purge last night from her memory. Instead she feels the familiar stab of mortification. It conjures up memories of her desperately entreating people to come to her show.

She crumples the flier in her hand with a bit more force than she has to, and when she turns to throw it in the trash she is met once again by the sight of Cuddle Fest 2007. Her grip on the crumbled paper tightens.

"Karen, I think you have some voicemails. I saw the light on your phone blinking," she says, looking at the wall behind Karen instead of directly at her.

Maybe it's an immature way to deal with the situation, but Karen's phone is blinking, and she can't look at them like that for another second. Not today.

"Oh! It's probably the people from the North Penn account calling me back. I should go check," she tells Jim.

She removes herself from Jim's lap and leaves, but not before leaning in to give him a peck on the lips. Pam squeezes the flier so tightly that she wonders for a second if a person can actually liquefy paper if they apply enough pressure. Maybe she'll ask Dwight later. It seems like something he would know.

Jim continues to sip his coffee as if nothing awkward just happened, as if he doesn't even care that Pam is in the room. Pam tosses the crumpled ball of humiliation into the trash and retreats to the sink. She waits for a moment, pretending to straighten the napkins and sugar packets on the counter. She knows it's stupid, but she's hoping that maybe Jim will say something to her.

He hasn't spoken a word to her since Phyllis's wedding. Well, he might ask her if he has any messages or tell her that he's going out and if so-and-so calls can she tell them he'll be back at three. But they haven't really talked.

He is looking down at a copy of the Times-Tribune that Toby left on the table last Friday. He's already read the article he's staring at. She knows this because she watched him read it two days ago, hoping then that he would break his silence and speak to her. She was disappointed then too.

In the end it isn't Jim's voice, but Kelly's that breaks the silence in the room.

"Hi Pam!" Kelly says as she strides in and puts her lunch in the refrigerator. She's been ridiculously cheerful ever since she set foot in the office this morning and discovered Ryan's relocation.

Pam can't stop thinking about the possibility that Jim will reclaim his old desk now that Ryan is gone, but he hasn't shown any signs of moving yet. Apparently he prefers facing Karen, his back to Pam.

"Hey, Kelly," Pam replies.

"I'm soooo sorry I didn't make it to your art show." Kelly tilts her head to the side and scrunches up her face so she looks like the perfect picture of regret.

"Oh, that's okay. It wasn't like a big a deal or anything," Pam says. She shakes her head like Kelly is ridiculous for even bothering to apologize.

"I just felt soooo bad, but something came up."

There is an awkward pause as Pam waits for Kelly to elaborate. Kelly looks wildly around the room, as if trying to find inspiration for a suitable excuse, and Pam feels compelled to fill the silence before Kelly pulls a muscle in her neck.

"Really, don't worry about it." She lets out a little dismissive laugh that sounds like a sigh.

"I saw the painting outside Michael's office. Did you do it?" Kelly asks, eager to redeem herself.

"Yeah. That was… me." Pam cringes inwardly.

Office art. Just about as glamorous as motel art.

"It's really good," Kelly says with the same tone of voice that she used when she told Phyllis that her perfume smelled really good.

"Thanks. It was just... Thanks." She nods and smiles as another pause overtakes them.

"So who else was there besides Michael?" Kelly asks.

Pam takes a deep breath and looks up at the ceiling like she's trying to calculate some enormous sum in her head. "Um, well, Roy came. Of course."

She can't help sneaking a glance at Jim. He's still pretending to read the paper, but his eyes aren't scanning the page. She can always tell when he's listening in on her conversations. He freezes up and his shoulders get tense.

"Awww!" Kelly coos.

"And um, he brought his brother. Kenny."

She glances at Jim again. He's shaking his head slightly and Pam feels anger flare up in her chest. She knows what he's thinking. He's thinking that Roy messed up. Again.

Well, he doesn't have the right to feel that way.

Roy came.

"Awww! So was it kind of like reliving your first date? Because that is soooo cute!"

"What?" Pam frowns, and refocuses her attention on Kelly.

"Didn't Roy bring his brother to your first date? At the hockey game?" Kelly asks happily.

"Oh. Yeah. You remember that," Pam says stiltedly.

She wills herself not to look at him this time. She's afraid that she'll see smugness. Jim isn't a smug person, but it always seems like Roy brings out that trait in him. His voice floats into her thoughts. At least I didn't leave you at a high school hockey game

"Just tell me he didn't leave you there this time," Kelly says with a laugh. Her eyes are twinkling with amusement.

"Well, actually I took my own car, so…" Pam trails off, trying to ignore that the playful grin has disappeared from Kelly's face.

"Oh," Kelly says quietly. She recovers with a polite smile. "So… who else came?"

"Um, Oscar came. With Gil." The latter name comes out sounding like an expletive.

"Oh my gosh! Gil is sooo smart about, like, art and fashion and things," Kelly squeals.

"Yeah. He sounded like he knew what he was talking about," Pam replies stiffly.

Pam tugs anxiously at her sleeves and wills the universe to create a sudden distraction to divert Kelly. Maybe a new handbag. Or Ryan.

Or Ryan sporting a new handbag.

"Totally. Oscar could really learn more about his culture from Gil," Kelly says seriously.

Pam squints at Kelly for a moment. Then she decides it isn't worth asking Kelly what she means, so she just says, "Yeah."

"So… who else?" Kelly prods.

"Um, that was it," Pam says, hoping that she sounds casual and matter-of-fact. "I mean, it was a really small thing. Just me and the rest of my classmates in this tiny gallery."

"Oh, sure. Cool. So, let me know, you know, when your next one is, and I'll definitely make it," Kelly says. She is smiling genuinely now.

Pam hesitates to return the smile.

"Oh, um… yeah, maybe."

"Well, I don't have to come. I just thought…" Kelly mutters. Pam realizes her mistake and rushes to correct it before Kelly ends up with mascara running down her cheeks.

"Oh, no! No, no, no!" she says quickly. "It's, it's not—that's not what I meant. I didn't mean maybe I'd invite you. I was saying 'maybe' about having another show."

She can't look at him. She just can't. She doesn't want to see the disappointment.

"What? Oh my gosh, Pam! Why?" Kelly asks, distraught.

"I'm just… I'm not really sure that art is my thing."

Pam can't help herself. It's like poking that damn bruise again. She catches a glimpse of Jim out of the corner of her eye. He is no longer pretending to read. His eyes are locked on her and he isn't smiling. She looks away.

"I've seen your drawings, Pam. They're really good. I could never draw like that," Kelly says.

"Well, I mean, those are just, like, sketches. Doodles. And the rest of the people in my class are all like ten years younger than me and going to school to become artists. Like, for a living. And their stuff is just a lot better," she stutters.

The feeling of standing in the gallery feeling alone and inferior floods back to her.

"I'm sure your stuff is just as good as theirs. No—better!" Kelly declares.

Pam manages a weak smile.

"Thanks," she says.

"Well, I'm gonna go back to my desk now. Where Ryan is! Because my boyfriend sits next to me now!" Kelly's voice had already reached a shrill note by the time she got to Ryan's name. The rest of her statement was spoken at a pitch comfortable only to dogs.

"Yeah. He must be… really excited too," Pam says, trying to cover her wince with an over-exaggerated smile. Like the ones she uses when Michael attempted a joke.

"He is! He would kill me if he knew I was telling you this, because he would be like so embarrassed, but he told me," Kelly leans in like she's about to tell a dark secret. "That he is so turned on by me sitting that close that he has to turn away and put in headphones or he's afraid he'll ravish me right there on our desks."

Pam's eyebrows fly up on their own accord, a smirk threatening the edges of her mouth.

"Wow. That's… a lot of information," Pam says, nodding and attempting a smile that she hopes doesn't look too much like a smirk.

"I told him that if he wanted to ravish me, that it would be totally okay, but Ryan said that Toby would probably have a problem with it because he's the HR person and everything so… whatever."

Kelly rolls her eyes, making it clear that she thinks rules against coworkers ravishing one another at work are ridiculous.

'She and Karen should start a club,' the Angela-voice in Pam's head jeers.

"Okay, well, you go get him then," Pam says in what she hopes is a cheerful tone.

"I will!" Kelly squeaks.

"Try not to get… ravished," Pam mutters as Kelly walks out the door.

She glances back at Jim, hoping to share a smile with him, one of their old smiles that they used to share all the time whenever something crazy happened and they both had to confirm that, yes, the other one had seen it too.

But Jim is fake-reading the paper again, and he is definitely not smiling.

Pam moves toward the door, and she's about to push it open when she hears him speak.

"So, it's happening already, huh?" He still isn't looking up.

Pam tilts her head and says, "What?"

"Nothing," he says, shaking his head.

Pam feels that anger again. She has a feeling whatever he means, it isn't going to make her happy. She walks back over to the sink, observing him from a safe distance.

"No. What? You said it, so you must've wanted me to hear it," she retorts.

Jim looks up. He looks faintly surprised by the harsh tone of her voice.

Good.

Still, he gets over his surprise quickly enough, and now he looks exactly how Pam feared he would look—disappointed.

"You're back with Roy for what, less than a week? And you're already giving up on your art again."

He examines her through frowning eyes. He may as well be wagging his finger at her.

"Are you serious?" she balks. It comes out as a breathy, angry laugh. A challenge.

He returns her glower with one of his patented shrugs, and that just makes her angrier. She's positive that her eyes must be flashing red. Her mouth opens involuntarily and defenses come pouring from it.

"This has nothing to do with Roy. Okay? He didn't say anything to me about 'giving up' my art. He told me that my art was the prettiest art… of all the art…"

As stupid and insincere as it sounded when Roy said it, it sounds ten times worse now. She rushes to salvage her argument before he gets that look again. That 'Okay, sure, whatever you say' look.

"He supports me," she says firmly. "He was there."

She watches Jim's mouth tense into a thin line.

"Well then I guess it's just a coincidence," he says. He somehow sounds even less sincere than Roy on the topic of her art.

"Yeah. It is," Pam says tersely. She's glaring at him. She can't remember the last time she was this angry at him.

"What I told Kelly is the truth," she continues. "My art was… pathetic compared to the other stuff there."

She didn't mean to end on such a weak note. She wants to maintain that anger that propelled her to make him continue the conversation. That anger felt good.

"Pam, come on. That's not true," Jim says softly. He doesn't display the irritation he showed a moment ago.

"Don't say that," Pam snaps. "You don't know that. You weren't there. My art is… motel art. Okay? It's… I'm not an artist."

Jim looks at her without anger or pity or sadness or even disappointment. For a moment he looks at her the way he used to. He just looks honest.

He looks like old Jim.

She feels tears threaten at the corners of her eyes and wills them not to fall.

"Look, I didn't want to upset you. I'm just trying to tell you, as a friend, that you shouldn't give up on this," he says.

He sounds so honest. So concerned. But it doesn't ring true to her when she thinks about it for a moment.

"As a friend?" she says. She sounds tense and angry. "As a friend I would think you would have been there. At my show. So…"

"You didn't invite me," Jim says defensively.

"I didn't go up to everyone and personally invite them! I told a few people in the office and I put up a couple of fliers. You knew about it," she says.

There is no reproach in her voice, only disappointment.

See how he likes it.

She watches his defensive posture change. He sighs and looks down at the newspaper. It's probably only a few seconds, but it feels much longer. When he finally looks back up at her, his expression is raw and solemn and something else she can't define.

"I'm sorry," he whispers.

And all of the anger just floats away.

"Me too," she whispers back.

He takes a deep breath and starts speaking with a sigh.

"I just hate to see you get so discouraged. It was just your first show, right? Your first class. You just need your breakthrough."

She said the same thing to the old lady at her show, but now when she thinks about it, it doesn't seem very comforting. What sort of breakthrough is she waiting for? Isn't a breakthrough just a life-altering change, a new way of seeing the world?

She's already had a breakthrough. Last spring. In the parking lot. Her whole life changed that night.

She hears herself start to speak without knowing what she's about to say.

"I turned my whole life upside-down," she starts. "I left Roy. I started these classes. I have my own apartment and my own car. I had this picture in my head… of what my life could be. And nothing turned out the way I wanted it to."

She pauses and looks up at him.

"Nothing," she repeats.

She wants him to understand. She holds his stare for as long as she can, but it's just too much. Too much honesty, too much pain. She lifts her right hand and toys with the charm on her necklace, a nervous habit that Fancy New Beesly is trying to give up.

"What was the picture in your head? How did you expect things to turn out?" His voice is low and rough.

"I expected to be happy… I didn't expect to be alone," she says, still focusing on the charm.

She hears a scraping sound and realizes that he's pushing back his chair. She feels frozen, and she can't look up, so she starts attacking the charm on her necklace with both hands. She feels him hovering over her, and then she sees his hands reach out and cover her own. They are soft and warm and her head shoots up to look at him.

He is looking directly into her eyes when he speaks.

"You're not alone."

That's it. Nothing momentous or revealing. But the tears that were already threatening to spill over are leaving wet trails down her cheeks.

The problem is that Jim is wrong.

She is alone.

He pulls her hands gently away from the charm, but doesn't release them. He holds them between their bodies and she looks down at them. His thumb lightly brushes back and forth over the place where her engagement ring once rested. She wonders if he's aware he's doing it.

She's so tired of feeling sad and broken. She's tired of waiting for something good to happen to her. Tired of waiting for another breakthrough. She wonders if maybe breakthroughs don't just happen to you. Maybe you need to help them along.

She wonders if maybe it's time to show some courage and honesty.

She starts to speak, and her voice is so quiet that she's not really sure he can hear her.

"Well, there's really only one person I saw myself with. In the picture in my head. And he's with someone else right now. So I guess it doesn't really matter who else is around me… I still feel alone."

He pulls back a little, just a few centimeters, and his eyes scan her face, as if he's trying to confirm that this is really her.

"Pam—"

He starts to speak, but she cuts him off. She's feeling braver than she ever has, but she's not ready for his response.

"Move back to your old desk," she says. It's not a request.

"Why?" he asks. His voice cracks a little.

He's still loosely holding her hands in his, but it's not enough. She laces her fingers through his, pressing their palms together. She hears his breath hitch and waits until his eyes refocus on hers.

"Because I'm tired of feeling alone," she says.

Ten minutes later, when she's sitting back at her desk trying not to look at the painting, she sees him sit down and start to clean out his drawers. She considers sending Gil a thank you card.