Title: Run

Title: Run

Author: Scarlet

Pairing: Jim/Josh

Rating: PG

Disclaimer:

Author's note:

--

On the day of Pam's engagement party Jim buys a bottle of Jack Daniels and toasts her good fortune with shots from a dixie cup he commandeers from Jeffrey's desk. The fact that he does this at seven o'clock, two hours past the time Karen swished gracefully out the door, and three hours since Andy slunk carefully out the rear fire entrance, doesn't escape him.

The light is still shifting under Josh's door so Jim knows he's not completely alone, drinking in the dark. Josh is here, and Margaret over in accounting who seems to have even fewer things to do than Jim does these days. She casts judgmental glances Jim's way as he refills his Snoopy dixie cup and he's reminded of Angela. Wonders if Angela was invited to the engagement party.

An hour passes, then two. Margaret stomps off at eight, somehow put out that she's not the last to leave on a Friday night for once. Dozes. Wakes. Jim's face rests pleasantly on a stack of memos in Karen's neat handwriting and one of them sticks to his face as he sits up, blue ink staining his cheek in reverse. If he were to stand at the men's room mirror he'd be able to read the words clearly.

A further search of his surroundings tells him he's alone at long last. The beam of light under Josh's door is extinguished and Jim sighs. Then he notices the note taped to an empty Big Gulp on his desk.

Don't stay too late.

It's not on a post-it, but a scrap of Dunder Mifflin's finest, taped with precision from Jim's own dispenser. The thought of someone, anyone, caring enough to leave him a note warms him a bit so he takes another celebratory drink and lays his head back down.

Six-thirty, and not in the p.m.

Jim's mouth feels like cotton or sandpaper or something equally cliché. He runs his tongue over his teeth and breathes deeply, trying to clear his mouth and mind. Something woke him up. Something besides the dumptruck sound outside his new apartment (which he's grown used to), or the sound of his old alarm clock (which he's never gotten used to).

Coffee sounds like a great idea. And maybe another bottle of somethng brown and strong and anti-memory-inducing. His car is somewhere...close. The parking garage across the street maybe. But the thought of wandering the dirty parking garage in the brisk early-morning hours isn't appealing either. He settles for resting his head on his arms and trying really hard not to think thoughts that are too...visceral.

Warm skin, flushed and just a little damp from nerves and anticipation, heart thudding--

"I thought you might still be here."

Josh's voice is odd and unexpected. A scream in church or a giggle in Mr. Johnson's eleventh grade American History class. Inappropriate because, well, misery doesn't love company as much as the saying would lead you to believe.

"I guess I fell asleep."

"I guess that's the understatement of the century. Gonna talk about it?"

"Nope." Jim searches for his bag. His laptop is tucked neatly in it since last night, when he had a dim hope of simply going home and pretending the girl loves--loved--wasn't getting married to a, to some fucking, to... someone who wasn't him.

"Look Jim, I didn't say anything last night because I thought you needed your space, but when you get drunk on company time I think--"

"Fire me, then." Not bitter, just defeated. In all things.

"I don't want to do that. I want you to be the salesman I know you are."

"Sure thing. Monday morning is only forty-eight hours away." He wags his finger in the air causally. "Everything will be better on Monday." He knows it's a lie, but it sounds good and he thinks maybe he believes it a little bit so maybe Josh will too. No luck.

"Come on." Josh gestures for Jim to follow him outside. And what choice does he have? The employee, drunk at work, has little options. He imagines what Dwight would say if he'd been the one to find Jim passed out cold on his desk and realizes he can't imagine. He's been away too long, maybe. Or maybe he's still too drunk. "Drink this." Josh passes a bottle of water to Jim as they walk the Dunder-Mifflin hallway. It's warm, but satisfying, and when he gets to the bottom of it he thinks that his tongue might feel a little more human.

Once in the parking lot, he casts cautious glances around, wondering if the DM intervention team has descended, but it's just Josh that's come in on his day off to nurse a heartsore salesman back to health.

Jim spies his car four stalls from Josh. It's not hard—it's the only other car in the parking lot.

Josh is waiting by his car, staring at him. "I want you to come with me."

Jim's eyes are blurred and pancakes would hit the spot right now. Or even an AA meeting would improve his Saturday. He could tell the sad crowd how it feels to have your heart torn out not once, but twice, by the same woman.

Josh doesn't seem to be taking about a destination, per se, but an activity. For the first time Jim notices that Josh is wearing a loose pair of jogging pants and a tee shirt. He's wearing sneakers, too. Those really great ones that Jim would get if he had the money or if he really cared about running instead of, let's face it, just the sneakers.

"I don't run."

"Sure you do. I've seen you."

"Yeah, well I don't run when I'm drunk, then."

"Fair enough. I'll just give Jack Mifflin a call and explain to him how the third highest salesman in the company couldn't be bothered to run with his supervisor, but could toss back enough alcohol to—"

"—And running it is."

His shoes aren't bad, but his clothes are completely wrong. Two blocks into it and dark circles of sweat stain his shirt beneath his arms and he can feel the criss cross brand of sweat down his back. His head is pounding and his heart is pounding and the smells assaulting him from the industrial complex in northeast Stamford make his nausea more pronounced.

Thankfully, Josh doesn't try to make him talk. He just jogs slowly next to him in that way that says he wants to go faster but is slowing his pace for Jim's benefit. Jim huffs and puffs but Josh has barely broken a sweat.

"I usually do about six miles on Saturdays, but I'll give you a break."

"Thanks." It's a great victory that he can even gasp out the word and Jim mentally pats himself on the back. What is he doing? Sprinting nauseous and heartbroken on a dirty road, miles from home and far too close to strip malls and fast food. The smell wafting from a Dunkin Donuts assaults his nose and it's all he can do to keep himself upright.

"…and after I left last night I figured I'd give Michael Scott a call and see if he knew what was going on--"

And that's all it takes. Jim heaves the contents of his stomach into the gladiolas behind a decorative retaining wall surrounding the Dunkin Donuts. He heaves and heaves and watches almost an entire bottle of alcohol, and something that might have, several hours ago, been a cheeseburger, come up.

Josh's hand is warm on Jim's back and he strokes him slowly, like his mom used to do. Concentric circles, flat palm. Josh is good at it. Josh is good at everything.

"Did you talk to him?" Jim manages.

"No. He wasn't answering his cell phone."

Probably at the party.

"Well, it's just as good."

"You want to talk about it now?"

"Really, really no." What point is there? Rehashing old memories? Painful ones? Good ones? Making everything raw and recent all over again? Time heals all wounds. The only problem is that the time he needs to heal this one isn't time he has to spend. Maybe in a few years it will all be better. And now all he has to do is wait ten years to feel better again. His stomach hurts.

"I'm going to take a couple of shots in the dark—just to narrow things down for my own peace of mind. Okay?"

Jim shrugs, sits on the cold cement wall and scrubs his face.

"Family?" Jim lets out a low, stale breath. "A girl?" Jim's eyes sink shut and Josh squints up at the overcast sky. "Okay then."

They stay that way for a while, Josh standing across from him, Jim sitting on the wall, letting the cold seep through his khakis. Sneakers and khakis. Who decided that Casual Friday was a good idea?

"Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going get some coffee. You're going to sit here and try not to ralph before I get back."

"Yeah, you don't want to miss that thrill."

Josh smiles and jogs off. Jim tries not to stare at the wet spot in the gladiolas. It's hard not to let his gaze drift back, but he realized it's easier if he looks away, finds some other area to stare at: the pile of cigarette stubs from the last person to grace the wall, the guy spraying out the Arby's drive through across the street, the sound of the cars on the freeway just past the onramp.

That's when he realizes what he has to do. He just has to look away. Not literally, but metaphorically. He'll just shine over the last few years and all mentions of…her. And anything to do with broken hearts or soft hair or the way she pinched his arm every time he started to let a grin ruin a perfectly good—

"Black. No sugar, no cream. Thought it was safest at this point."

"Thanks." Jim takes the large cup and they each sip in silence. His ass is freezing but the alternative seems to be jogging with hot coffee so he suffers in silence.

"I know that saying I know what you're going through is both trite and unwelcome, but I do know. We all do, in some way."

Somehow Jim doubts that. Doubts that anyone knows, with as much clarity as him, how destined they were to be with someone, then watched that same person take a big, tasty crap all over destiny.

Nice picture, Jim.

Her voice is in his head. He has to erase it. Make his mind blank.

"So who broke your heart?" Jim stares very hard at his Dunkin Donuts cup, his cracked cuticles, and the mustard stain on his pants. Blank. It helps. He doesn't feel quite so nauseous anymore.

"Which time?" Josh chuckles in that fake-friendly way, like they're two paper reps being introduced at a sales conference, instead of two quasi-friends loitering on the side of the street. Jim winces and Josh bites his lip contemplatively. With resignation he begins. "Okay. Truth? Junior year of college. We had dated four semesters, which, in my fraternity, was the equivalent of a diamond anniversary. I thought he was the one. And he thought Chad Copeland was the one and…he broke my heart." Josh chews the rim of his cup, a million miles away and yet now he's somehow closer and more real to Jim than he was before.

Josh's sexuality doesn't phase him—there've been rumors and hearsay in the office since the first day he started. A dull haze of winks and knowing glances that Jim learned to tune out as much as Dwight's moon-eyed stares at Angela. But the thought that someone else, someone he genuinely respects, has been as mutilated by love as he has been is strangely, oddly, comforting.

"How long did it take you to get over him?"

"Who says I got over him?" His voice is flat and Jim feels the few things he knows about Josh subtly shifting into place. The late nights and early mornings where everyone remarks on how diligent Josh is at his job, while Jim notices the dark circles of insomnia under his eyes. Josh's frequent trips to Jamaica, Cancun, Borneo, all timed to coincide with the company picnic or the Christmas holidays. His luxurious townhouse that no one's been invited to, but has been much speculated upon.

Jim nods in understanding and drinks his coffee. It's cool enough to take small gulps and it feels good going down. His mouth tastes less like alcohol and more like something resembling early-morning breath. Not a huge step up, but something that puts him in the realm of human.

They set off again, just walking this time, not really talking about anything. Josh chats comfortably about the current sales market, football, the weather. Jim practices making his mind—that part of his mind—go blank like the hazy sky. The sun's risen by now but is obscured by a thin cloud cover. Josh's voice is like that filmy haze, covering thoughts too painful to bear.

Josh tosses his empty cup into the brush at the side of the road. It's scandalous to Jim. He half expects some Environmental Police car to cruise up and make them collect it. But after another block Jim thinks what the fuck? and tosses his as well.

Maybe that's his new life. The New Jim. Maybe now he's the guy that tosses cups on the side of the road and doesn't signal before he turns. A completely different guy than before. Because that other guy didn't get laid much, now that he thinks of it. Maybe a New Jim is a Better Jim.

They start jogging again, but this time Jim feels better, clearer somehow. Not just his stomach—which does feel miles better—but everything. Maybe it's time to reinvent himself. Throw himself into his work. If Dwight, Dwight of all people, can be the top salesman in the company, what's to stop him from doing the same?

He tells this to Josh as they circle back to the office. Josh nods in the right places, gives the Male Head Nod when needed, then stops.

"You sound like a Man with a Plan, Jim," he laughs.

Josh sounds a little like Michael. Without warning the ache returns. But, shockingly, it's better this time. He thinks maybe the first step in healing broken hearts has been achieved when the thought of people surrounding the breaker no longer bring you pain. He can take a moment to wonder where Michael is now (probably in bed) and what he's doing (dear God let it be sleeping) without the twisted gut that's made his life hell ever since he got the invitation.

"I just think that throwing myself into work will keep me occupied for a while. Make me think about something besides myself."

"Work is a great motivator, Jim. But it can't be a panacea for all life's pain. You have to take time for yourself." Jim chuckles. "What?"

"Naw, it's just I've never heard anyone use the word 'panacea' before. I wasn't even sure how it was pronounced."

"I'll try 'cure-all' next time."

"Well don't lower yourself on my account."

"I wouldn't dream of it." Josh is leaning against his mustang, chin up, in that way that's almost arrogant except it's not. It's not called arrogance when it's all true. A sudden thought causes Jim to blush.

"Hey, are we having a moment?"

Josh looks startled, then thoughtful in turn. "Some people might call it a 'moment', yes."

"Interesting. Should I be expecting more of these?"

"Well, you're only permitted three per fiscal quarter, but they are available for you to use at your discretion."

Strange how friendly banter can lead to friendly flirting, can lead to any number of impossibly strange and alluring scenarios, regardless of orientation. Now, for example. Josh is leaning and smiling and staring straight in to Jim's eyes. Jim wonders what it would be like if Josh leaned forward and kissed him. Would he push him away, cling to him pitifully, or just stand straight like cardboard, pardon the mental pun.

"I'll be sure to save them for emergencies," he says, but his mouth is dry and he's very much aware of the fact that he smells like sweat and booze and vomit. Josh licks his lip and it seems like one of those inviting moments that he had with Pam except they weren't invitations at all and—

"What do you want, Jim?"

"Want?"

"Out of life. You're just floating here in Stamford. Is the whole 'jumping in with both feet' idea real? Because I like my people here for the long haul."

It could be a double entendre if Jim looked at it just right. It's probably a…single entendre? Is there such a thing? Jim realizes that he's been silent for too long and the pause between their words is lengthening. The long haul. A quick pros and cons list leaves him as unsure as ever. He owes Josh an answer though, an honest one.

"I don't know. I really don't." Josh nods his head in understanding but doesn't speak. "But I think…"

"Yes?"

"That I want to be one of them. The long-haul guys, you know? I just don't know where I want to haul…my…load—can I just skip the analogy?" Josh grins.

"No trucker analogies. Good to know."

"Well, not all trucker analogies. I don't want to limit myself, you know?"

"Because you're keeping your options open."

"Exactly," Jim says with a faux-serious face that he almost pulls off.

"Well, Jim, as your boss I think that's a wise decision. Trucking analogies have been known to inspire many people in the workplace."

"Much like the stapler."

"Or the zip drive."

"You really are some kind of maverick aren't you?" Jim's face has that easy grin he hasn't felt in months. "The next thing I know, you'll have Andy—"

Josh kisses him.

Jim doesn't have time to think about it. He doesn't run and he isn't cardboard. He isn't clinging pitifully, either. He just brings his hands up to Josh's arms and pulls him closer.

Then, too soon, it's over and the dopey grin on his face isn't mirrored on Josh's. His boss studies him critically and Jim squirms under the scrutiny.

"Yeah…you'll be okay." Josh pats Jim's face affectionately and finally smiles.

"Wow."

"What?"

"I thought I heard my mother in the parking lot. My mistake."

"You're comparing me to your mother. I see."

"Well, she's a pretty amazing woman."

"Oh, undoubtedly."

Jim kisses Josh this time. It's longer than before, slower. He's not sure if he's going to make a habit of this…whatever it is they're doing. But New Jim is already a lot happier than Old Jim, though in all honesty that doesn't mean much. When they part, Jim realizes that he hasn't thought of her—Pam—in several whole minutes. He takes a deep breath and reaches into his pocket to get his keys.

"You know, I think maybe I am that long-haul guy. If not Dunder-Mifflin, then something…else."

"If this company doesn't meet your needs, I think I saw a Help Wanted sign at the Dunkin' Donuts."

"Woah, let's not rush into anything. I've already been headhunted by Arby's and I want to keep my options open."

The End