Author's Note –

So... here's another one of my pet projects. I may end up subjecting this to multiple rewrites, as I feel that this is still very rough at this point. As I add more chapters, I should get a better feel of where I'm going with this, and will be able to adjust from there. I'm also not happy with the title, so that may change (as it already has).

In short, I'm telling Pam and Jim's story and kind of filling in some of the gaps. I'm anticipating multiple shorter chapters, which is kind of in contrast to my previous work, but then again these things never work out the way I plan, anyway. I look to reviews and helpful readers to really tell me where my writing is successful, and where it needs more work. As this is my first "Office" fic, I've been having some trouble really finding a narrative voice, so hopefully that will work itself out over time.

Also, some of you may notice that this wasn't originally the first chapter. Like I said, "sequencing" and so on and so forth. Think of it as keeping you on your toes.

I'll end now, because it's late and I'm tired, and I want to post this before I go to bed. So as usual, without further ado… on with the show.


- Couldn't Help It -

Chapter One - The Dundies

--:--

"…aaand this next award is goin' out to our own little Pam Beesly," Michael continued, "I think we all know what award Pam is gonna be gettin' this year…"

Jim's mouth dropped open in stunned silence. He thought he had talked Michael out of the horrible "Longest Engagement" award. Michael was never actually funny, but this crossed the line into just plain mean.

Jim was getting ready to be really angry when Michael continued, "… it is the whitest sneakers award."

Glancing at Pam, Jim saw her face light up.

"Because she always has the whitest tennis shoes on!"

Relieved, he joined in the generous applause as Pam stumbled up to the microphone to give her acceptance speech. Jim had a bit of buzz going, but Pam had been knocking back drinks however she could, so he guessed that she had to be on the far side of a buzz, and well on her way to sloshed.

There was one thing she wasn't, though, and that was disappointed. The surprised elation was written all over her face.

Jim laughed in disbelief as she hammed up the microphone for her acceptance speech, this extroverted behavior so out of character for the soft-spoken receptionist. And after giving props to Michael and Dwight for hosting the evening, the pièce de résistance was Pam's invocation of the Lord in the House of Chili's to conclude her acceptance.

With a final thunderous "Whooooo!" into the microphone, Pam handed the mic back to Michael and even gave him a quick hug. Jim got up to hold her chair for her as she bounded back off stage. Riding her high, she threw herself into his arms, laughing.

Still laughing, he suddenly felt her lips press against his.

Panicking, he extracted himself as quickly and delicately as he could, and sat her down before she teetered off her feet.

Holy shit, he thought to himself as he walked back around the table to his chair. It had suddenly become very difficult to think straight.

Did everyone else just see that?

He tried to think rationally about what had just happened, but it was hard to ignore the physical effect the kiss had on him. His blood was rushing in his ears, his heart pounding. He needed a moment to get himself under control before he could think about the possible consequences.

Pam was still giggling like an idiot, and hadn't seemed to notice anything out of the ordinary. Come to think of it, it seemed like the rest of the Dunder-Mifflinites had decided to ignore what they had seen (if anything), and just chalk it up to Pam's drunkenness.

Jim decided it was best to carry on as if everything was normal.

--:--

He stood outside the Chili's watching the taillights of Angela's car retreat into the night, his thoughts spinning. He'd had the last of his beer hours ago, so he couldn't blame the whirling feeling on alcohol. Glancing over, he realized that the cameras might catch him looking wistful for a moment too long, and turned to walk back to his car. Thankfully, the camera didn't follow him.

Slumping himself into the familiar driver's seat, he played the evening's events through his head as he started the car. Somehow appropriately, the radio cut into the first chorus of Elton John's "Tiny Dancer." All that was left inside him as he backed out of the parking space was the feeling of frustration with a slight tinge of guilt.

How long had it been now? Of course, he had realized the he liked Pam more or less from the first day he met her. And despite noticing the ring on her finger almost immediately, it quickly became difficult to avoid talking to her. She was smart, and fun, and could match him word for word in any verbal sparring contest. Their conversations, no matter how inane, always gave him a kind of rush, and he became addicted in no time.

But he knew that she was engaged, and had long ago settled on being her friend. And Pam was a terrific friend.

… and her smile…

Jim pulled that futile thought process to a halt as he wound his way through the late night streets of Scranton.

But why the hell did she kiss me?

Did that mean that she felt something, too?

Hope leapt into his heart, and for a moment, he allowed himself to entertain the notion that there could be something between them. But then there was Roy to consider, and Jim knew that if anything were to happen between him and Pam, that it would have to be Pam who made that decision. He refused to be the homewrecker, or the "man on the side."

In this light, he figured that the best thing to do would be to consider the kiss as just a drunk Pam acting on impulse, and to not reading anything into it other than that. Or better yet, forget it ever happened. But he was still alarmed at the intensity of his own reaction to it. Actually, to tell the truth, it was a pretty crappy kiss; she pressed a little too hard at first, pinching his lips, and although it was a relatively chaste closed-mouth kiss, he could smell the strong heat of the alcohol on her.

Not what he'd had in mind.

...and what did you have in mind, Halpert?, he chided himself.

But somehow the kiss (crappy as it may have been) just made him want her more. To give her a real one. Y'know, show her how it's done. And while he resented that part of him that entertained such sophomoric desires, he couldn't deny that he had stepped into the role of drunk-sitter a little too eagerly.

That same sophomoric part of his mind wanted to tell him that "drunk-sitter" was just a step away from "caretaker," which was just a step away from "provider." Of course it was bullshit, but he had willingly played the part, hadn't he?

He had played the part of the concerned friend, laughing and joking with her, making sure that she didn't make any more of a fool of herself than she already had that evening. The angel on his shoulder scolded him, saying that he was only doing it so that if she did make any more of a fool of herself, she would do it with him. And that was wrong.

I know. I know it's wrong.

But he couldn't stop himself, right up until the point where Angela pulled around in her car, and she'd said,

"Hey, um… can I ask you a question?"

And for a moment, as she looked at him, he had thought she was going to say something about the kiss. But then she had just said thanks. He had even opened the car door for her, still playing the part of the caretaker.

Something had bothered him about that exchange, and he couldn't figure out what it was. She wasn't that drunk anymore that she didn't know what she was saying. Did she want to say something about the kiss? And then couldn't for some reason? Yet another nagging feeling that there was more to Pam Beesly than she was letting on.

Forget it, Jim, there's no hope down that road.

As he pulled into his driveway at home, he figured it was going to take a lot longer to get over her than he originally anticipated.