A/N: A giant thank you to JamJunkie14 for bidding on me in the author auction, her generous donation to Support Stacie, and her ongoing patience and support. Special thanks to all of you who took the time to read and review. I truly appreciate it!
Disclaimer: I own no part of these characters or this show. No infringement is intended.
Now he knows what it's like to be Catholic. Now he understands the naked longing he'd see in Danny Sullivan's eyes when he'd unwrap his Hostess Cupcake at lunch. Jim never thought much about what it was like for the Catholic kids during Lent. He thought it was funny, the way their eyes would follow every bite he took of a Snickers bar. He thought it was more than a little pathetic, the way they'd practically whimper when they heard someone open a can of soda. Later, he'd learn to think of the word 'abstinence' in a whole other light, but when he was twelve, it was still a little fun to watch Danny Sullivan's eyes practically fill with tears as he bit into a hamburger on a Friday.
He remembers Danny filling him in on what went on in the catechism classes he was forced to attend every Saturday morning. He remembers thanking his Protestant God that he got to spend his Saturdays on the little league fields rather than hearing about Purgatory. But now he knows. Now he knows what Purgatory is. Purgatory is telling the girl you love that you love her, and then having to wait for her to sort it all out. Purgatory is hearing her say that you are her reason for getting out of bed in the morning, and then helping her pull a fitted sheet taut across her brand new mattress, knowing that you don't get to crawl in there with her. And, you surely know that you are in Hell's waiting room when every time you look up from your computer, you catch her quickly turning away before your eyes meet.
Better than anyone, Jim Halpert now knows that Hell may actually be preferable to spending eternity with your nose pressed up against the window to Heaven. When he was in Hell, he could comfort himself with the knowledge that there wasn't a damn thing he could do about the flames that licked at his flesh. When he was in Hell, he didn't have to think about the heat he felt each time she came near because his life was already consumed with it, with her. But here in Purgatory, he was expected to be there next to her; helping her without doing it for her and comforting her without daring to lay a hand on her.
He was caught between Heaven and Hell. Heaven was her smile; warm and genuine, and meant just for him. Hell, was the occasional brushes of her hair; softly curling red-gold flames that drew him like a moth. Heaven was the sound of her laugh carrying through the phone lines. Hell was the rustle of her sheets as she settled in to talk to him before drifting off to sleep without him.
He'd been patient. Hell, he'd been a freaking saint for the past two weeks. He bit his lip when she'd grabbed his hand and dragged him through Target's sliding glass doors. He'd bit his tongue when she told him that she was meeting Roy for coffee to finally hash things out once and for all. He bit back a shout of exultation when she called him on her way home for the coffee shop, relieved that they were able to finally put their relationship to rest with minimal fuss. He bit into cookies she had baked in her new kitchen, and cheesy garlic bread she had ordered when they ate lunch at Cugino's, but all he really wanted to do was take a bite out of her.
Her perfume drove him wild. It wasn't sensual and smoky like Katy's, or laden with a heavy dose of rosewater like Phyllis'. It wasn't the cacophony of scents that wafted from Kelly's magazines and filled the break room. It wasn't the odd whiff of patchouli that occasionally drifted from back of the office, but no one would lay claim to. Pam smells like sunshine. Soft, warm, fragrant flowers heated by the sun, clean fresh-cut grass, and sweet plump strawberries. He didn't know for sure if it was her perfume, he didn't trust himself to get close enough to investigate. But each time she leaned in close to whisper something in his ear, Jim knew without a doubt that Danny Sullivan would be laughing his ass off if he could see him now.
Abstinence has become a very real word in his vocabulary. He abstained from looking at her for too long, for fear that everyone else would see the Hostess Cupcake style lust in his eyes. He abstained from touching her, even casually, for fear that the heat of her skin would sear him. He abstained from spending too much time with her outside of work, afraid that he wouldn't be able to control himself and fearing his fall from grace.
But he did allow himself a little time, because he simply needed to be near her. And, of course, the phone calls. The nightly calls that started out with a simple, 'Hey, it's me,' and eventually wound their way around to becoming confessionals; as little by little, they revealed their 'first times' to one another.
He'd already confessed to discovering his love of soft-shelled crab during a family vacation to the Chesapeake Bay area. She'd already divulged that mixed berry was not her first yogurt choice, but slowly grew on her as she grew tired of the same old strawberry-banana. Jim told her about his first fender-bender, and Pam admitted that she had received her second speeding ticket within two miles of her first. He owned up to hating ham and pineapple pizza at first bite, but continuing to eat it because his college girlfriend loved it. She revealed that the first award she had ever won for her art was in second grade, for a watercolor rendition of McGruff the Crime Dog which netted her a book of McDonald's gift certificates.
They talked about everything and nothing. Art classes and movies. Music and childhood mischief. Houses with terraces, and dreams of pitching for the Phillies. Little by little, the peeled away the layers, sharing secrets they had never told anyone else, rehashing old information, and filling in the blanks with new. They stripped each other bare, each confession tantamount to an extraneous piece of clothing to be examined, removed and set aside. They asked each other the easy questions and together, struggled to find answers to the harder ones. Hours were spent focused solely on one another through the safety of the phone line, cradled in the intimacy of their respective beds, confident that the tales told in the dark of night would never be used against them in the light of day.
But, for some reason, this day was different.
First, he had caught her openly ogling him when he bent to retrieve his lunch from the break room refrigerator. When he had raised his eyebrows and said, 'Really, Beesly? I'm not a piece of meat, you know,' she simply smiled, her gaze unwavering.
Second, when they walked out of the office that that afternoon, he had asked his now customary, 'Coffee, tea or Target?', only to be met with a slight shake of her head as she said, 'I think I'm gonna just head on home.'
By the time he settled on his bed with a book and his cell phone, he was beginning to wonder if she planned to call at all. He worried that he had said something wrong. He passed the evening replaying the previous night's conversation in his head, parsing it for nuance. But then, the phone rang, and his worries flew out the window.
"Hey, it's me."
"Who was the first girl you ever kissed?" she asked, jumping in feet first.
"My mother," he answered promptly.
"Aside from her."
"Becca Randolph, third grade. She could climb to the top of the monkey bars." He held his breath, counting off the seconds as she processed the information he had just given to her and filed it away. Ten, eleven, twelve…
"When was the first time you realized that you liked me?" she asked, her voice so soft and sure he thought he could almost feel her breath tickling his ear.
"You had me at 'Hello,' Beesly," Jim quipped with a deep chuckle.
Pam rolled her eyes as she rolled over, pressing her cheek into her pillow. "When was the first time you wanted to kiss me?" she asked persistently.
"Who said I did?" he countered.
"Oh, you want to kiss me."
The smile in her voice forced him to close his eyes involuntarily. "I think it was just a couple of seconds after, 'Hello,' if I recall correctly," he admitted, his voice soft and a bit rusty.
"I want to kiss you," she whispered into the phone.
"I'll be right over," he told her, only half joking.
"But I don't think I should." Pam hesitated a beat and then added, "Yet."
"Good God, you are a tease, Beesly," he groaned. Jim licked his dry lips as silence filled the air. Eight, nine, ten… he counted, smiling because he knew that the silences were slowly but steadily evaporating.
"I don't mean to be a tease, Jim. Not really," she said sincerely.
"I just, I want to be sure. I want it to be right," she tried to explain.
"Well, kissing can be tricky, but I think I've heard something about practice making perfect," he teased gently.
"You're too important to me," Pam said bluntly, unwilling to be distracted by his soft chuckles and the husky timbre of his voice. "You are so important."
Jim blinked up at his ceiling, wondering if his breastbone could withstand the beating his hammering heart was inflicting. "You're, uh, everything," he managed to croak. "I meant what I said, Pam, I'd save you first."
"It's not up to you to save me," she said, her voice softly vehement.
"Yeah, I get that," he assured her. "But I would, just so you know."
Pam smiled and sighed contentedly as her eyes drifted shut, drifting along and letting the surety of his words buoy her. "It's too soon," she whispered, reminding herself more than him.
Six, seven, eight… "Is it? Is it really, Pam?" he asked quietly. "Will another week change anything?"
Four, five, six, seven… "No," she admitted softly. She moved her feet against the smooth sheets as if treading water.
Jim smiled, her confession shooting through him like the rush of sweet, sugary chocolate after forty long days of self-denial. "That's good enough for now," he murmured, tossing her a line to cling to.
Two, three, four, five… "Now," Pam said softly.
"I want to kiss you now," she told him, her voice growing stronger.
One, two, three… "Pam," he rasped.
"Come over," she whispered without a moment of hesitation.
"It's late, you're tired, we're not, um, thinking straight."
"This is stupid. I know what I want. I know, Jim," she insisted as she sat up, pushing back against the pillows as she brushed her hair from her face.
"You just said that you weren't ready," he argued.
"That was a lie. I'm ready. I've been ready since that night on the boat," she told him. "I was ready, but I shouldn't have been, and that was wrong. I shouldn't have been ready."
"I'm sorry. I don't mean to pressure you, okay? I was just teasing, you know, flirting," he said sincerely.
"I know that. I know, I know," she said, frustration coloring her voice. "I knew the minute you told me that it was true. I knew when I looked into your eyes that I felt the same way, and I shouldn't have. I shouldn't have felt like that."
"Pam, it's okay," he tried to reassure her.
"And I feel guilty about that. It's like an anchor weighing me down. So I keep pushing you away, but I can't let you go too far or I'm afraid you'll drift off to somewhere else, someone else. And I know it's not fair, Jim. I know it's not right."
"I'm not going anywhere."
"I want you to come here."
"Maybe tomorrow, if you still feel…"
"Now. I'm drowning here, Jim," she told him, her voice gently pleading. "I can't think about anything else. I want to kiss you, right or wrong. I can't see you without wanting to kiss you."
"Pam," he murmured soothingly.
"I want you here. I need you to save me. You said that you would save me," she said adamantly.
"I'll be right there."
"We're jumping in. Me and you. I don't care if it's too soon. I don't care if it's right or wrong," she continued as if she hadn't heard him.
Jim looked down at the baggy shorts and t-shirt he wore, but didn't bother changing into warmer clothes. Instead, he shoved his bare feet into a worn pair of tennis shoes, yanking the tongue up forcefully until he could wedge them in there. "Hang on, Pam. I said I was coming over."
"Well, hurry," she prodded.
"I had to put shoes on," Jim answered, snagging the collar of his coat and yanking it from his desk chair. The back of the chair hit the floor as he all but sprinted from the room.
"I kind of feel bad for you, though. I'm a mess," she said worriedly.
"You are perfect. But, if you're gonna change your mind, you'd better tell me now. If I freeze my ass off to get this was all just some big test to see how far I'd go, I won't be happy, Pam." He juggled the phone as he shrugged into his coat.
"Because I'll tell you, I don't care how far I have to go. I will," he warned her as he pulled the front door shut behind him. "Crap," he muttered as he felt the coat pockets for his keys and then reached for the doorknob again.
"Got 'em," he said as he snagged his keys from the end table and headed out the door once more. "This is crazy."
Pam giggled. "I know. It doesn't make any sense. That's why I trust it." When he laughed breathlessly, she smiled and said softly, "We're doing this."
"Yeah." Jim jammed the key into the ignition and cranked the engine, wincing as a blast of icy air from the vents hit him full in the face. "I'll probably end up with pneumonia."
"The fall alone would kill you. But to tell you the truth, I'm a lot more concerned about that water being so cold."
"Huh?" he grunted, tucking the phone under his chin as he backed out and then took off toward her apartment.
"You jump, I jump, right?"
"Wait a minute. Are you quoting Titanic to me, Beesly? Now?"
"I'll never let go. I'll never let go, Jim," she answered, dissolving into fits of giddy laughter.
"Stupid movie," Jim groaned.
"How can you say that?" she asked, affronted.
"You said you hated it too," he reminded her as he took a corner a little too quickly and had to force himself to press the brake.
"I lied. I love it," she answered with an impish grin.
"I may have to turn around now."
"Oh, but Jim! If you turn around, how will my heart go on?" she protested.
"I'm going to kiss you, Beesly. I'm gonna kiss you so hard you're gonna wish you had never laid eyes on Leonardo DiCaprio," he growled threateningly into the phone.
"Where are you?"
"About four blocks away."
Pam tossed back the covers and swung her sock-clad feet from the bed. She glanced down at the flannel pajama pants and stretched out t-shirt she wore and then shrugged as she hurried from the bedroom. She switched on the hall light, and then opened her door. "How far now?" she whispered as she tip-toed down the staircase, hoping they didn't wake Margaret, her landlady.
"On your street. Well, not that you own it. You're already getting too cocky for your own good. The street where you live," he corrected himself.
"There are show tunes about that," she said in a hushed voice.
"I'm begging you," Jim groaned as he pulled to an abrupt stop at the curb.
Pam watched as he unfolded his long, lanky body from the Corolla, and let the door slam loudly as he circled the hood. "Shh," she called out with a breathy laugh as she held one finger to her lips.
Jim trotted up the walk and took the porch steps two at a time, his long legs eating up what little distance remained between them. He wrapped his hand around hers, lowering her finger from her lips and trapping her palm against his chest. He stared down into her bright green eyes, one corner of his mouth lifting self-consciously as the icy wind bit through their inadequate clothing. "Are you sure?" he asked, his voice cracking endearingly.
Pam wet her lips with the tip of her tongue and nodded slowly, her gaze never wavering from his until she saw his lashes sweep down, and his lips caressed hers in the barest of kisses.
Pam hummed deep in her throat as he pulled back and pressed his forehead to hers. "Michael was wrong, I'm king of the world," he whispered, his breath warm on her face. And then he kissed her, hard and hot, his hands framing her face as he tilted his head, desperate for more of her.
She wound her arms around his neck, threading her fingers through the tousled curls at his nape, returning his kiss ardently as she backed into the foyer and pulled him inside with her. The click of the door shutting behind them, startled them apart. Pam cupped his cheek in her hand, running her thumb over his full, soft lips. And then, she smiled as she took his hand and began to lead him up the stairs.
When she opened the door, Jim's lips quirked into a smile as he leaned in and whispered, "Man overboard," before capturing her lips in a long, lingering kiss.
Pam gazed solemnly into his eyes as she stepped into her apartment, pulling him with her. "Don't be afraid, I'll save you."