Disclaimer: I own no part of these characters. I have a hard time hanging onto what little character I have, so I wouldn't dare try to steal someone else's. I just want to borrow them for a little while.
He was over it. Mostly. There may have been a smoldering ember of resentment still roiling around with the Count Chocula in his stomach, but seriously, when wasn't there one these days? The chair scraped against the worn linoleum floor as he abruptly stood up from the table and carried the remnants of his chocolaty milk to the sink. He tugged on his tie, the ember of resentment flaring a bit; fired up by the injustice of being dressed for work on a Saturday morning. He turned on the tap and let the water run for a minute, unable to work up the energy to actually wash the bowl or the spoon submerged in the swirling brackish water. Jim didn't spare the open cereal box a second glance as he shut off the water and turned on his heel, pulling his car keys from his pocket as he headed toward the door.
He settled his long, lanky frame into the driver's seat and cranked the engine, scowling as the stereo sprang to life, blaring "I'm the Man Who Loves You" by Wilco. Jim punched the button silencing the previous evening's chosen music, and then put the car in gear. Still, his fingers drummed the beat to the unheard song as he cruised slowly toward the business park. When he spotted Roy's truck exiting the lot with two wave runners in tow on a trailer, his jaw tightened and his lips thinned into a straight line. The tub comments he had overheard Pam and Roy exchanging as they walked out of the office the day before had been the capper on what had been a roller coaster ride of a day.
He hadn't missed the appreciative way her eyes swept up his body when he stepped out of the men's room in his shorts and t-shirt. But then, he wasn't sure that he appreciated the dose of torment that Pam had served up in a flirty tone as he put his shoes on. She had stood with him down in the warehouse; laughing and joking. But still, it was Roy that got her good luck kisses before she tossed the ball up for grabs. He'd caught her watching him and he knew that the pink flush in her cheeks was more than the fact that she was impressed by his skills on the court. He heard her gasp when he caught Roy's elbow with his mouth. He saw her rise up out of her seat with a worried frown. And when he began mopping the floor with the boys from the warehouse, he basked in the gleam in her eye.
All in all, by the end of the day he was feeling pretty good about himself, despite the fact that Michael had folded and sold them all out in the end by making the office staff work on Saturday. And then, his post-game high was doused by a bathtub full of coldwater. He had pushed himself out of the chair, grabbed his gym bag and ducked out just before five; figuring that the time he'd have to put in the next day would have to satisfy Dwight and his penchant for keeping score on everything that didn't really matter.
So, here he was, pulling into his usual spot in the still deserted parking lot, knowing that Pam was up there, probably all alone. He sat in his silent car for a minute as the song he had listened to the night before bounced around in his head. He then jingled his keys in his hand, waiting for someone else to arrive because there was safety in numbers. Finally he sucked it up and opened the car door, confident that he could pull it off again; certain that his days, weeks, months and years of practice would be there to back him up when he wished her a good morning, just as it always did.
Pam liked the office when it was still and quiet. It seldom lasted for long. She liked being a little early. Being the first one in meant that she could brew her tea without feeling compelled to make conversation. She didn't even mind getting the coffee started for the others, because she knew that when Jim walked through the door, he'd dump his bag and head straight for his morning jolt of caffeine. She smiled as she set the pot on the burner, knowing that he would call her his lifesaver and give her that crooked little smile. And, she liked that smile more than she dared to admit to anyone; sometimes, even herself.
But she was not oblivious to him, despite outward appearances. Pam knew that if she didn't keep Jim in check, she'd have a damn hard time keeping herself in check. No, she wasn't oblivious to him; and yesterday, she had been anything but oblivious when she looked up and saw him step into the office in his basketball clothes.
Marveling at the difference a pair of loose gym shorts and a faded t-shirt could make, Pam sent up a silent prayer of thanks that his work clothes didn't flatter him as well as his athletic clothes did, otherwise, she'd never get anything done. It was almost as if he were a different Jim altogether. Yesterday she got to see sporty Jim; a slightly cocky version of the Jim she knew. Pam didn't know that long legged, lean muscled, startlingly masculine Jim; even though he sounded just like her friend. She did her best to keep him in check by mentioning Roy's plans to head for the lake. She did her best to keep herself in check by mentioning Roy's plans to head for the lake, and reminding herself that one of those damn wave runners was supposed to be hers.
Pam's lips curved into a secretive smile as she watched the last of the coffee drip into the pot, picturing him trotting up and down the court. She knew that Jim liked sports. He had even told her that he had played basketball in high school, and given his height, she wasn't surprised. Maybe that's why the information hadn't really clicked for her. But when she saw him spin around Roy, bouncing the ball behind his back as he broke gracefully to the hoop, it clicked. Oh boy, did it click. And it kept clicking.
She draped the tag of her tea bag over the rim of her mug, and poured hot water over it, feeling the steam rise up to greet her blushing cheeks. Up and down the warehouse floor, her eyes had trailed him. She had tried to check herself. She purposefully sought out Roy; smiling and clapping when he made a shot and giving him the adoring smile that a former football hero expected as his due. That was easy; she had perfected that long ago. When she overheard Jim saying that he was going to cover Roy, well, she had been indescribably relieved. Pam had sat back a little, settling in as she reveled in the knowledge that she would be free to admire this new and different Jim as much as she pleased. And she could admit, here in the still, quiet office, that she was pleased. Very pleased.
She heard the office door close and jumped away from the counter, sloshing hot almost-tea onto her hand as she snatched up her mug.
"Ow, crap," she muttered as the scalding liquid soaked into her skin. Pam placed the mug back onto the counter and grabbed a paper towel, pressing it to the afflicted flesh before running some cool water in the sink and holding her hand under the stream.
She looked up as the break room door opened and saw Jim stop just inside the room, cocking his head as he peered at her curiously. "Morning, Pam," he greeted her, a slight smile curving his lips. "You okay?"
"Tragic tea accident," she replied with a self-effacing smile of her own.
Pam shut off the water and reached for another paper towel. Her head jerked up when Jim appeared suddenly at her side and tore some towels from the roll. "Tea can be vengeful, you should switch to coffee. It's safer, less rebellious."
"How do you figure?" she asked as she took the proffered towels and dried her hands.
"Well, you know, the tea leaves are kidnapped, smashed up and then held captive in those little bags. Then, to top it all off, you drown them in boiling water. They have to be a little ticked about that, don't you think?"
Pam couldn't help but grin at his reasoning. "Well, the coffee beans are plucked, ruthlessly ground up, and then subjected to a slow, steady stream of equally hot water sucking their very essence from them," she pointed out. "Seems to me that the coffee would be just as dangerous."
"Good point. We should probably avoid the hot beverages and go straight to the soda machine."
Pam ducked her head and smiled as she moved past him to toss the towels into the trash can. "So, how are you feeling? Sore from the game?" she asked as she busied herself with wiping up the drips of water left on the counter.
"Me? Nah. I play most weekends," Jim said as he pulled a mug from the cabinet and reached for the coffee pot.
"Yeah, you're in good shape," she murmured. Catching what she had said, Pam's head jerked up and she stammered, "I mean, you're used to it then."
Jim tried to stifle the satisfied smirk that threatened to curve his lips. "Yeah."
Pam tossed the sponge she had been using back onto the lip of the sink, keeping her eyes averted from his lanky frame as he lounged against the counter. "Sorry about Roy," she said quietly.
Jim's eyebrows shot up as he pondered all of the different connotations that blanket apology could cover. "Roy?"
"Well, he gets a little competitive."
"Most people do when they're playing a game. You're pretty competitive too, Beesly," he observed.
Pam turned to look at him. "No, I mean, Roy's too competitive. He goes too far. He shouldn't have hit you like that."
Jim bristled at the implication that Roy had somehow bested him. "Flying elbows are a part of the game," he said gruffly.
"He always has to win, no matter what," Pam continued. "He doesn't know when to stop."
"Pam, seriously, it's fine. I got a few shots of my own in, and believe me, my elbows are a lot bonier than his," he tried to laugh it off.
"I think it's some kind of leftover jock mentality. You know, nice guys finishing last," she said with a weak smile.
Jim's lips thinned into a line. "Huh, I could have sworn we won that game. Are you saying that I'm not a nice guy?"
"No, I mean, you are a nice guy. Roy just, sometimes he's kind of a bully when it comes to that stuff."
"A bully?" Jim asked, seemingly amused by her choice of descriptor.
"Well, you know what I mean. He just plows in and plows right over people."
"He didn't plow over me," he said stiffly.
"No," Pam said quickly, hoping she hadn't ruffled his masculine pride. "I just, Roy doesn't always stop to think," she struggled to explain. "He just wants to get what he wants, and he doesn't really care how he does it, or who he hurts."
"I see." Jim pushed away from the counter with his hips and turned to look at her. "Well, you're making him sound great, Pam," he told her, trying desperately to hide his growing agitation, but failing.
"Jim, I'm just saying that I'm sorry that he was kind of a jerk yesterday," Pam said impatiently.
"And you don't think that I can hold my own," he stated flatly. "It's not your job to apologize for him."
"I'm not," she said defensively.
"Sounds like you are."
Pam blew out a frustrated breath. "No, I'm saying that I don't think that the way Roy does things is always right."
"Maybe it is if he gets what he wants."
"Not if you play dirty to get what you want."
"Sometimes you have to. Maybe it's true; maybe nice guys really do finish last."
"I don't believe that," Pam said with an adamant shake of her head.
"Happens all the time, and not just on the basketball court," Jim said grimly.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that sometimes the people who step up and take what they want get what they want."
"I think that people get what they deserve."
"Really? You really think that? What did we do to deserve having to come in here on a Saturday? We won the game. Losers come in to work, that was the bet, wasn't it?"
"Yeah, but Michael let them…"
"Yeah, see? Michael was the nice guy. People don't always get what they deserve, Pam. And sometimes, people get things that they don't deserve," Jim said darkly.
"Not in the end," she insisted. "It may seem that way sometimes, but I really think that in the end it doesn't work out that way."
"When? When does that happen, Pam?" he demanded, shaking his head in disbelief.
"It happens all the time!"
"Not to me."
"Sure it does."
"Just because you say so, doesn't make it true, Pam."
The hard edge in his voice caught her off guard. She reached out and touched his arm. "Jim, I think things work out the way they're supposed to in the end," she said softly.
Jim blinked slowly as he stared down at her hand and then looked her in the eye. "You really think so?"
"I know so."
He nodded slowly. "Wow, okay, so you're going to break up with him?" he asked.
"What?" Pam gasped.
"What has Roy ever done to deserve you, Pam?" Jim demanded.
"You said he was a bully, that he doesn't treat people well, he doesn't care who he hurts. So, in the end, he won't get to have you, right? That's what you're saying."
"I was talking in general, about life!"
Jim stared down at her, the pink rising in her cheeks as a clear indicator that he had gone too far. He took a deep breath and then held it for a moment before letting it seep slowly from his lungs. He'd gone too far, but not far enough.
"Well, I wasn't. I guess I'm not such a nice guy after all, am I? But I can tell you this, Pam; Roy sure as hell doesn't deserve you," he said quietly.
Pam gaped at him as he shook his head to stop her and turned, scanning the deserted office. "Where the hell is everyone?" he sputtered as he yanked open the break room door and stalked to his desk.
Pam stared at him, her mouth still slack with shock. She moved closer to the door, peeking through the blinds to see him pull his cell from his pocket. He ducked his head, shifting from foot to foot as he pressed the phone to his ear, gripping it so tightly she could see the blood drain from his knuckles. His other hand raked through his hair as the worn white shirt stretched taut across his shoulders. She saw him curl slightly into himself and spoke into the phone, and it made her catch her breath. And then the fabric gave, bunching along the long column of his back as his shoulders slumped and he nodded slowly. She watched as his fingers flexed, spanning the length of the phone as he pulled it away from his ear and snapped it shut before dropping it into his pocket.
She couldn't stand it. His every gesture was but a ghost of the cocky Jim she had met the day before. His jerky motions bespoke defeat. She ached to comfort him; to tell him that it was okay, that he hadn't said anything she hadn't already thought, that she thought about him too, too much, and that maybe she wasn't as nice as she wanted to think she was.
As if sensing her gaze, he turned his head and their eyes met. Pam opened the break room door and Jim looked away as he buried his hands in his pockets.
"I called Michael. Apparently he's such a nice guy that he decided that no one had to work today," he said with a low, hollow chuckle. "I wonder what he'll get for that."
"Listen, Pam, I'm sorry," he said as he ran his hand through his already rumpled hair. "I shouldn't have said those things." When she didn't say anything, he raised his head to look at her. "Look, I know Roy dropped you off. I can give you a ride home if you want," he said, reaching out and opening his palm as he tendered his weak peace offering.
Pam looked down at his outstretched hand, and then back up at him. When his hand began to fall helplessly to his side, she let impulse take over and reached for it; capturing his loosely curled fingers in hers.
"You are a nice guy," she whispered as she looked down at his hand in hers.
"Yeah, well…yeah," he said with a sigh as he looked away, his gaze boring into the now deserted break room. "Probably not as nice as I should be, and probably not as, I don't know, ruthless as I'd like to be."
Pam nodded slowly as she let his words sink in. She placed her other hand on his shoulder, as if to steady herself, and then gave his fingers a squeeze. "I think you're very nice," she murmured as she stepped into him, pulling him down until she could press her lips to his.
Jim's shocked passivity lasted only for a moment. When her fingers slid up the back of his neck and into his hair, he sank into the kiss, feeling her soft lips yield beneath his sudden burst of ardor. Pam sighed softly, and he angled his head, gathering her close to him as she released her hold on his hand, parting her lips in invitation. He would later swear that the jolt he felt as his tongue touched hers made his toes tingle. He would one day claim that the moment she kissed him he knew that the game was lost, or won, depending on how you looked at it. But now, in this moment, there was nothing more than the feel of his mouth on hers, the taste of her tongue as his circled it, and the feel of her soft curves melting into his body with the heat of a thousand steaming cups of tea. He wound his fingers into her hair and his thumbs grazing the smooth skin of her jaw. He kissed her deeply; pulling her under, taking her with him to a place where neither of them knew how this game was to be played.
Pam braced both hands on his chest and pushed gently away as she pulled back. His lips were parted and moist, his breath warm and ragged, and his eyes, at once hopeful and wary.
"I've wanted to do that for a long time," she whispered.
A breathy laugh rushed from those parted lips as the hope battled the wariness in his eyes. "I'm glad you did," he managed to croak.
Jim dipped his head, recapturing her lips as he wound both arms tightly around her.
Pam moaned softly as their tongues tangled once more, and pressed her body into his, forcing him back against his desk. Jim grunted softly as the desk caught the back of his legs, but it turned into a strangled groan as Pam kissed him heatedly, her small hands eagerly mapping the contours of his shoulders and chest.
He spread his fingers wide over her back, letting his hands span the slight breadth of her. He broke away, peppering her cheek, her jaw, and finally her neck hungrily as his hands roamed restlessly over her back. "Pam," he murmured against the delicate shell of her ear.
"Oh, Jim," she sighed in response.
"Is this happening?" he asked as he pressed his lips to the throbbing pulse beneath her jaw.
"God, I hope so," she answered with a breathy laugh. "Touch me, let's see if it's real."
Jim's hands swept down over her bottom, and cupping the soft curve in his palms, he pulled her against him forcefully. Pam giggled, a happy laugh bubbling up from inside her as he lifted his lips from the curve of her neck, obviously about to apologize. "Don't," she said softly.
She leaned into him, pressing her breasts into his chest as her hands slid down his back. Her nails raked over the fabric of his shirt as he kissed her neck, drawing the delicate skin into his mouth and laving it with his tongue. Grasping his shirt in both hands, she pulled it free from the waistband of his pants. She tipped her head back, granting him better access to the slender column of her throat as she sought the warm skin of the small of his back.
"Oh my god, Pam," Jim murmured into her skin as she pressed her palms flat on his heated flesh and ran them slowly up his back.
"So long and lean," she whispered to the ceiling. "Strong." His tongue dipped into the hollow of her throat and Pam moaned. "I think about you. I think about you way too much," she confessed in a rush.
Jim lifted his head and looked down into her eyes. "You're all I think about."
The wonder of it hung in the air as the uncertainty between them evaporated like the steam rising out of his coffee cup. Her lips molded to his, and she melted into him as if he were the one she fit all along. Their kisses grew greedy and more passionate; each willingly surrendering to the other as they took exactly what they needed all along. Pam's hands reclaimed his back, and his thumb teased the side of her breast as his fingers pressed into her back, pulling her tightly against him. Her fingers slipped into the waistband of his pants as his hand covered her breast. He kneaded the soft mound insistently as her tongue circled his. Jim's other hand slid from her waist to her thigh, his fingers curling into the fabric of her skirt as he inched it higher.
Pam broke for air, gasping as his lips trailed down her neck. His tongue traced her collarbone, edging the fluted neckline of her sweater as he worked his way lower.Pam stared down at him open-mouthed as he nuzzled the swell of her breast. Then she inhaled sharply as he dipped his tongue beneath the edge and gently licked the valley between them. His thumb brushed teasingly over her nipple and his warm palm finally claimed the skin of her thigh, and a lightning bolt of desire shot through her veins.
Her eyes widening with shock and arousal, she grasped his head and both hands and pulled him up. Jim blinked slowly, and then she saw it; the moment he pulled back, mentally, and then, physically.
"Uh, we shouldn't…" he began, but then lost the trail of his thought. "I'm sorry."
"This isn't a rebound. Not for me," Pam told him firmly, but quietly.
An almost giddy laugh escaped on his next breath. "You don't understand. This is a slam dunk for me."
Pam nodded slowly, her fingers gently stroking the tiny hairs along his temple. She licked her lips nervously and then whispered, "We should stop."
"I don't want to," she assured him quickly.
"But we should," she said with a troubled frown. "I need to figure some stuff out."
"All right," Jim agreed, reluctantly relinquishing his tenuous hold on her.
"I don't know what to do with this," she said as she waved her hand between them, her engagement ring catching the light, and capturing their attention. "I have to talk to Roy," she whispered as she lowered her hand.
Jim pressed his lips together and looked away for a moment. "You don't have to," he said at last, his voice hoarse.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, you know I'll never--I won't ever say anything, Pam, if that's what you want," he stammered.
Pam tried to blink away her confusion as she took a small step away from him. "Do you think it matters if we say something or not?" she asked in a bewildered tone. "I mean, something is obviously very wrong, right? I'm engaged. To Roy."
"Yeah, I know," Jim mumbled as he ducked his head and ran his hand tiredly over his neck.
"And I need to figure out what to do," Pam said firmly, her hands belying her resolute tone as she twisted her fingers together in knots. "I need to figure out what to do about him, what to do about you. Maybe Kenny will buy my wave runner," she murmured, lost in thought.
"Pam, you don't have to…"
"Yes, yes I do," she said, her head snapping up as she cut him off. "Even if it weren't for you, I'd still have to figure this out, wouldn't I?"
"Would you?" he asked gently.
Pam tilted her head as she looked up at him. Staring back at her was Jim, her Jim. Friend Jim. Not the Jim who had just been kissing her senseless. She nodded slowly as she lowered her hands to her sides, closing her fingers into loose fists.
"I think so," she confessed softly. "But that doesn't make sense either, because there is you," she rambled as she stared at him unflinchingly. "None of it makes sense."
"Well, um, you don't have to make sense of it right now," Jim said quietly.
"Not at this very minute, no," he assured her with a slight chuckle.
"No," Pam whispered, sighing her relief. She watched as Jim buried his hands in his pants pockets, his shirt billowing out behind him in back, as he pulled the fabric away from his body in an attempt to disguise his still evident arousal. She studied his bowed head, itching to touch the soft curls that popped up behind his ears. Instead, she reached out and placed her hand gently on his arm to get his attention. "I meant what I said," she said quietly.
"Yeah, me too," Jim answered with an uncertain smile.
"I'm going to do my best to figure it out," Pam promised.
"Yeah, I know."
Her lips curved slightly as he offered her a weak smile. "We should get out of here," she said with a slight shrug.
"Right." Jim glanced down at his desk and then back at Pam. "I'll give you a ride home."
Pam nodded. "I'll, uh, get my purse," she mumbled as she hurried for the reception desk. "Oh, the coffee maker," she said as she stopped in her tracks.
"I'll get it," Jim answered as he shouldered his messenger bag and headed for the break room.
After making sure that everything was shut off, Jim held the office door open as Pam turned out the lights and flipped the lock. "Hey, so were you still thinking about going to the outlet mall?" she asked hopefully.
Jim chuckled and said, "That was kind of a joke."
"Oh," Pam said as she pressed the button for the elevator. She looked up at him and shrugged as she said, "I need a new toaster oven."
"You do, huh?"
"Warranty expired," she answered with a wry smile. "I guess I don't need to get one today…"
"Now is as good of a time as any."
"I want to be sure that I get the right one," Pam said as they stepped into the elevator.
"You'll figure it out," Jim answered with a reassuring smile as the doors slid closed.