A/N: This story is for JamJunkie14, who so generously bid and won me in the Support Stacie Author Auction. She may be a junkie, but I am happy to be her pusher. Thank you!

Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of these characters, this show, or even a life preserver. I just want to go along for the ride with them. If I drift too far into sovereign territory, I apologize. No infringement on either copyrights or maritime treaties is intended.

Self Preservation

Okay, you know that things aren't really going your way when the only hope that you have to cling to are five words uttered by a man zip-tied to ship's railing, but the words, the words…

Never, ever, ever give up.

He stared at the lights on the approaching shoreline. He knew Michael had probably swiped them from a Successories poster. And, he knew that the Successories people probably swiped them from Winston Churchill or someone else who had something of real importance to convey, but at this moment, Jim Halpert clung to the Michael Scott version of those words as if they were a life preserver.

Over the hum of the engines he could hear the pulsating rhythm of the bass and drums. The now familiar chant of 'Snor-kel shot! Snor-kel shot!' and muffled whoops and hollers of approval carried on the crisp wind. His hands tightened on the rail as he heard the cabin door open, allowing the desperate sounds of last call revelry to invade the night. He turned his head, annoyed by the intrusion, but the unmistakable silhouette framed in the doorway wasn't entirely unwelcome. Something had to be said.

The door closed behind her, the snick of the latch catching making his heart stop for a second. Only a second. Or maybe it was more. It seemed to stretch between them. Another moment here, another moment gone. As she walked slowly toward him he hunched his shoulders, sinking deeper into the collar of his coat, seeking what little protection it could offer.

"Big night, huh?" she asked with a smile, hesitating fractionally when he didn't return it.

Jim focused on the lights of the dock, willing them closer, wondering how long it would be before he felt solid ground beneath his feet again. "Big night," he said softly.

The engines droned but the safety of the shoreline still seemed miles away. The silence hung heavy, lading the night air thick and heavy with words unsaid. His thoughts rippled like the waves left in their wake. He had to say it. He knew he had to say it.

"Jim," she began tentatively.

"I'm in love with Pam, Katy," he said as he turned to look at her, one hand clutching the rail in a death grip.

"What?" she gasped.

"I'm in love with Pam. That's why that will never be you and me, that's why I couldn't make that toast," he confessed in a rush.

"But…"

"Yeah, I know," he said as he hung his head, nodding slightly. "I know, and I know that I wasn't fair to you, and I know that it's - it's hopeless, but there you go," he said, lifting his head as his nods became more resolute.

She gaped at him for a moment, and then pulled her coat tighter around her. She closed her mouth and swallowed hard before opening it to speak, but stopped when she saw the truth of what he had said in his pleading green eyes. She stepped back, her mind reeling as she wondered if he expected her to help him somehow. She shook her head slowly as she took another step back, her jaw tightening.

"Well, that sucks for you, doesn't it?" she said in a tight, hurt tone, and then whirled on her heel to head back into the cabin.

"Yeah, it does," Jim said quietly as he turned back to the rail and gripped it with both hands.

He leaned forward, pressing his weight into it as he bent at the waist, staring into the churning waters below. He lowered his head, wondering what it would feel like to wallow in their icy depths, knowing that whatever it was had to be better than what he was feeling at that moment. Numb. Numb would be good, he told himself. I could go for feeling numb right now.

He stiffened as the cabin door opened again, and he heard her call, "Hey, don't jump, the ship isn't really sinking."

Jim turned his head, his eyes locked on her as she huddled into her coat and walked toward him. "It's not?" he asked, unable to resist returning her teasing smile.

Pam shook her head and said, "The analogy ran aground, though. Sank like a tons of bricks."

"Well, that's a relief," he said as he straightened up.

"Where's Michael?" Pam asked as she looked around.

"Captain Jack has him tied to starboard," Jim answered as he nodded along the railing toward the front of the boat.

"Poor Michael," Pam murmured. She shook her head and gave him their patented 'what-are-you-gonna-do' grin.

"He's okay. I gave him my hat," Jim said as he shifted slightly, unable to tear his eyes from her.

Pam nodded and then glanced down at her own feet as she shivered in the cold. "So, I, uh, I saw Katy come back in. She looked a little upset about something," she said tentatively.

"Yeah, um, we broke up," Jim admitted gruffly.

Her reaction was instantaneous. She reached for his arm, squeezing it gently through his coat as she met his gaze. "Oh, Jim, I'm sorry," she said softly.

He shook his head a little and then turned to check the shoreline. To his relief, the dock seemed a little closer than it had moments before. "Nah, it's just, I'm not…" he stammered. "I've never been into cheerleaders," he said at last, turning back to her.

Their eyes met, and there it was, the silence again. It spread between them like an endless ocean as he counted the seconds in his head, searching for the right words to say. Twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five… He licked his lips, and opened his mouth, but all that came out was, "I would save you."

"What?"

Jim turned to face her as her hand fell away from his sleeve. "If this ship was sinking, I would save you," he said, his gaze boring into hers.

"Me?" she asked with a puzzled frown.

"If I had you, I wouldn't ask you to marry me and then put you off for three years; I'd marry you right away. If I were engaged to you, it wouldn't take six snorkel shots and some cock and bull story from Captain Jack to get me to set a date. I've never wanted to date the cheerleader or sit at the cool kids table. I like the artsy girls," he said with a self-deprecating little smile. "I could do without the 'fartsy' part, but if that came with you, then I'd learn to deal with it," he told her solemnly.

"Jim," Pam breathed, his name carried away on the wind.

"And I know that I have no right to say these things. I know that it won't change anything, but I'm drowning here, Pam. I'm so in love with you that I don't know what to do," he told her. Jim pressed his lips together and glanced down at his shoes. "There you go…" he muttered under his breath.

"I don't know what to say," Pam murmured as she stared at him, her brow furrowed. "What am I supposed to say to that?" she asked, her voice growing stronger.

Jim shook his head and turned to look at the shore. He took a deep breath as he saw the wooden planks of the dock tantalizingly out of reach. "You don't have to say anything," he told her without turning to look at her. "I just needed you to know, I'd save you first." With that, he pushed away from the rail, and walked the perimeter of the deck, heading for the front of the boat.

Pam turned and stared after him, watching his broad shoulders disappear as he skirted the side of the cabin. She started to follow him, wanting to demand an explanation, hoping to clarify things; just to be sure that she had heard him correctly, needing to know if what he said was true. Her steps slowed as she rounded the edge of the cabin and saw Jim reach up to pull his hat down further on Michael's head to cover his ears. She stopped, one hand gripping the rail as the other reached out to find purchase on the exterior wall of the cabin.

Pam stood poised on the narrow passageway, watching as Jim patted Michael's shoulder and then turned to go back inside. She sucked in a deep breath of the cold night air and closed her eyes, absorbing what she knew with absolute certainty was truth. Pam tipped her head back, the wind lifting the ends of her hair and whipping them against her cheeks and eyes like a thousand tiny lashes of a whip. She pulled her hand from the wall and gathered the torturous tresses in her fingers, holding them tightly as she leaned into the rail and opened her eyes. The first thing she saw was a white circle striped with red and the carefully stenciled words 'Princess' and 'Lake Wallenpaupack'. Pam reached up and touched the line that tethered the life preserver to the boat, and wondered idly if it would be strong enough to hold her.

tbc