Title: One Hundred Twenty-Two Miles
Disclaimer: Don't own them; just borrowing.
Summary: Pam and Jim, between Customer Survey and Business Trip. Sometimes, they are masters of avoidance. It is, after all, why it took them so many years to get here in the first place.
Spoilers: Up to 5.07 Business Trip (written before Frame Toby, so no spoilers for that)
Note: This is an attempt to bridge the ending of Customer Survey (and my post-ep fic, The Distance from Here) to episode 5.07 Business Trip. There seemed to be something missing in that episode that I'm trying to fill in here. You don't necessarily have to have read The Distance from Here to understand this fic, because I don't directly reference the happenings in that one, but this does act as a sequel of sorts, anyway.
New York and Scranton have never seemed so far apart.
Things are still tense, and though they don't talk about it much at all, she hears it in his voice every time they speak. "You're coming home," he says, and, "six more days," and she hears it, silent behind the barely-tempered joy and excitement – What if you'd rather be staying?
But he never asks it aloud, and she can't (won't) answer aloud a question his lips don't form. She doesn't know, but thinks it's probably because they're both afraid of the answer.
Sometimes, they are masters of avoidance. It is, after all, why it took them so many years to get here in the first place.
She attends her final classes, writes her exams and turns in projects, starts packing and saying goodbye to residents. All the while, his ring is on her finger and her own words echo in her mind: Jim's in Scranton. Her dorm room's in boxes and she's scared shitless. And she hates herself for it.
She dreams of him at night: His arms, his hands, his mouth. She wakes gasping, aroused and aching, and she turns into her pillow and cries.
He calls her, even more often than usual, as if to convince himself she's still coming back. He tells her everyone in the office is excited to see her, excited for him, in a weird and inappropriate way. She laughs, and it makes her happy that he laughs with her. "Jim, when has anything at Dunder Mifflin not been weird and inappropriate?"
"God, I miss you," is what he says. And, "You're the only part of this place that's sane."
"Sane? I'm marrying you, aren't I?" she counters, lightly, and it almost feels normal.
But only almost. Because then he says it, the closest they've come to discussing it, since the night after Alex told her she should stay in New York. "Not getting cold feet, are you?" He means it to sound like a joke, but they're both immediately aware that this is perhaps the farthest thing from a joke.
A few moments' silence. Then, "You know I love you, Jim. More than anything." And neither of them points out that she hadn't really answered his question at all.
Instead, then, always trusting (and she dares not wonder why), he agrees with her. "I know, Pam. I know."
The chair in her advisor's office is meant to reassure. It's plush and deep and comfortable. It is also not made for short people. Pam sits perched on the edge, afraid if she leans back, she won't be able to get up.
The words "failing" and "what happened" and "repeat the course" fall over her, and she nods her head as if this isn't a shock, and she twists her ring around and around her finger. "Oh," she says. "Oh."
She leaves the office clutching the course offerings for next semester. Her advisor is calling after her and she keeps walking.
She doesn't know what she's expecting when she tells him, but it isn't this. She pictures him at his desk, his face passive because Dwight is watching, one hand playing at the mouse of his computer in case he needs to seem like he's working. She pictures him like this as he's telling her she should stay, come home the right way, and the ache moves from her chest, down, until it settles in the pit of her stomach. Hard.
He should want her to come home, the ache says, mocking her. He should ask her to come home now, on time, to forget about the failed class and come back to him. (Right?) Except she has no idea what is right anymore, just the phone pressed to her cheek, his voice in her ear, the ache in her gut.
She will not cry on the phone with him, she vows, as she watches the couple sitting on the steps clasp hands and stand up, together. She will not cry, so she gives him a small lie instead (she charged her phone over lunch today) and figures he can hear the untruth in her voice. But then she says love, and this, at least, is the truth. Her strongest truth.
And now another truth, suddenly, and she presses her lips together as she flips her phone closed: She cannot do this. Another three months of this and she will suffocate. She knows it clearly now, in the absence of his voice, as clearly as she'd once needed to come to this city, to find herself, to dream. New York, classes, art – they are not, can not, will not – be more important, be more necessary to her very being than home, than love, than Jim.
Back at her dorm, her car is already filled with boxes. She'd left this morning wondering if it was the right thing, to pack up, to leave. And now – now, when she has a glaring, painful, embarrassing reason to stay, finally, she knows.
Surprisingly, she is not afraid. Maybe this is the biggest, the best part of Fancy New Beesley that she will take back to Scranton with her: She is not afraid.
The miles between New York and Scranton have never flown by so quickly. A familiar parking lot, now (and she remembers sketching it once, a lifetime ago). She gets out of the car and leans against it, setting sun warm on her face.