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Warning: Dangerous Undertow and Strong Currents

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The doorbell's been slowly failing, and when it rings late-ish on Friday night, it makes that sick, flat slide in tone that it's been doing lately, like a dying cat. Pam looks up from the bridal magazines she's been going through, browsing for ideas for centerpieces, and turns the TV volume way down as she gets up to answer it. The Royal Tenenbaums is playing on Comedy Central.

When she opens the door the January cold is sharp even through her hoodie, and Jim's standing on the steps rocking back and forth on his heels, looking flushed, his coat unbuttoned. Behind him, a taxi is pulling away from the curb.

"What're you doing here?" she says, surprised, but with a pathetic little burst of happiness behind it. They haven't really talked outside of work since her wedding date got set, which is probably for the best, considering. Because she needs to get detached from this – she knows that Jim apparently just sees her as a friend-with-benefits, that Roy's the one in this for the long haul, that Roy doesn't deserve to get cheated on. And it feels different, cheating on him when she's making a guest list and checking out reception halls, versus back when it was feeling like the wedding might never happen. Which is stupid, but it does. She'd been hoping she and Jim would just stop, that she wouldn't have to say anything to him to break it off. She's still hoping that, even if in that sad place deep inside her she can't help being pleased to see him, happy that he would just come over, that he wants to see her.

"Can I come in?" Jim says, and pushes past her into the living room, the cold from outside radiating off his body. He smells strongly of alcohol, and all of his movements are both sloppy and a little too careful, like he's a marionette someone's concentrating hard on moving accurately. She hasn't seen him really drunk in a long time, not since the Christmas party the month after she started at Dunder-Mifflin. It's weird.

He circles the room aimlessly, touches a framed picture of her and Roy at her parents' Fourth of July barbecue from a few years ago, picks up one of the origami cranes Pam's making to test if they'd work for the tables at the reception, then almost slips on one of the bridal magazines still scattered all over the floor. He catches himself and gives the magazine he slipped on a baleful look. There are a lot of them all over the place – from where Pam's standing, the floor looks covered in glossy brides smiling toothily in white dresses and she feels vaguely exposed, like she's been caught half-dressed. On the television, Royal's taking Margot out for ice cream.

"Is everything okay?" Pam asks, moving to pick up the magazines. Jim has to move his foot to let her get the one he's standing on, and Pam mutters, "Sorry."

Jim doesn't say anything, and after a few seconds she glances up at him from where she's kneeling. He looks very tall in his wool coat, no hat or scarf, and she wonders how he could stand to be outside in that cold without them. His cheeks are still a deep pink, whether from the alcohol or the wind, she doesn't know.

She's thought about him coming over before, about sleeping with him at her place. Not, like, in a fantasy way – just, curious, what that'd be like, him in her comfort zone. He hadn't ever been over to their apartment before, and it's weird to see him in such a familiar setting, taking off his coat next to a shelf full of her lame DVDs.

Weird and disconcerting, and she immediately worries that Roy will come home and catch them, even though she knows he's at Lonny's poker game, spending the night over there so he can play basketball with the guys in the morning. Jim knows it too – he was standing right there this morning when Roy told Pam his plans. That's probably why he came over in the first place, and it's completely irrational to think that Roy's on the verge of walking in.

It's just that she's had that nightmare, about sleeping with Jim in her and Roy's bed, and then Roy catching them, the worst possible scenario she can think of. Her and Jim naked together, and Roy standing in the doorway with keys in his hand, his face stunned like everything'd turned on its head for him, like he never really knew her at all. The Pam he knew in high school would never have done that. And she doesn't really know why, but she thinks about that dream a lot, especially when Roy and Jim are both around, thinks about the look on Roy's face. It's morbid, like poking at a bruise to see if it still hurts, like picking at a scab.

Jim tosses his coat onto the arm of the couch and drops to his knees carefully, so they're almost face to face. He starts to lean in to kiss her.

"Jim," Pam says, turning her head away.

"What?" Jim says. He sounds annoyed or angry or something, and it startles her a little. She doesn't know what's up with him, why he's being all aggressive.

"I just don't think we should do this anymore," Pam says. She's looking over his shoulder at the framed poster of Van Gogh's Starry Night on their wall, and in the background she can hear the soft plucked music of the Tenenbaums soundtrack.

"Why not?" Jim says. His breath smells boozy, and he's leaning in again. "It doesn't mean anything, right?"

It doesn't – she knows that. He finally kisses her and she doesn't pull away, though she doesn't quite kiss him back either. He puts his hand in her hair, holds her head still, nudges her mouth open. Obviously it doesn't mean anything. She had been starting to think that it might, that maybe Roy didn't love her enough to marry her after all, that maybe Jim was more – that maybe they – well. It was a stupid thing to think. On the booze cruise she felt like the door was open, that she'd opened it to let Jim in, that he could've changed everything, but instead Jim just stood there and Roy was the one who walked through the open door. Which is what she wanted anyway, right? What she wants.

It's just that she thought everything would be different once they'd set a date, but it turns out that it's not, it's all just the same. Roy still spends his weekends playing poker with the guys, or fixing cars with his brother, and when she talks to him he still only half listens, and they still fall asleep watching Deal or No Deal. And now she's about to have sex with Jim again, even though she thought she was going to stop. She feels like nothing ever makes any difference, like she's stuck in a dream where you can't run, where you try but your legs won't move, and she doesn't know how to wake herself up.

She's got to wake up. "Jim," she says, pulling away from him. "Come on. Stop."

"God, Pam," he says. "What's the problem?" He's still using that annoyed voice, and she winces a little.

"I just don't want to, okay?" she says, but he leans in again and kisses her, hard, so she feels his teeth. She shoves at his shoulder but he grabs her arm and holds onto her, his big hand spanning her wrist and not letting go. For a second she feels panicky, but that doesn't last long because it's just Jim, and the stupid thing is that she really does like him as a person, really does trust him, and it's hard to keep pushing him away when it's Jim, her friend Jim, no matter how weird and angry he is. The whole thing's exhausting.

She sighs and finally gives in and starts kissing him back, and he pushes her gently until she's lying on the floor and he's half on top of her, kissing her neck, his right hand on her breast. She looks up at the ceiling. There's dirt in the light fixture, dark spots on the glass, maybe a dead fly caught in there. She should get it down to clean sometime.

Jim's crotch is pushing against her leg, but she can feel that he's not hard, and that doesn't change the more they make out, even once he's wiggled both of them out of most of their clothes. He must've drunk a lot. "Dammit," Jim mutters.

"It's fine," she says. "It doesn't matter."

"Whatever," he says, and starts to move down her body.

"Oh," she says, when she realizes what he's doing. "Jim, you don't have to – " She reaches down to pull him back up again, but he shakes her off and keeps going. Oh, for heaven's sake, she didn't even want to do this in the first place, so if he's not getting anything out of it, what's the point? "Jim – " she says.

He's pushing her legs apart, running his hand up her inner thigh. "Just," he mutters, "let me." And then his mouth is hot on her, his finger sliding into her and she inhales sharply.

He starts using the tip of his tongue against her clit, too hard so it hurts, and she winces a little bit. "Gently," she says, trying to wiggle away from him even though his hands are holding her hips still. But he does relax a little bit, softens up so it feels really good, his tongue circling her, his hand against her thigh. He slides a second finger into her as he sucks her clit into his mouth and oh God.

She closes her eyes and tries to focus on how it feels, tries not to think about anything but her building arousal, the carpet against her back, Jim's mouth, Jim's fingers.

"Come on, Pam," he murmurs, moving his fingers into her harder, and he still sounds a little on edge, maybe a little angry, like he's trying to prove something. He twists his fingers, tongues her hard, and then she's coming, making a strangled noise, and she can't help feeling really vulnerable as she bucks against him, vulnerable in an unpleasant way.

When she finally opens her eyes again, he's sitting up, rubbing his jaw with a smug look on his face, and he doesn't look like Jim at all for a minute. They're both still naked, and Pam fumbles for her clothes, turning half away from him to pull her jeans and hoodie back on.

There's a long silence as Jim gets dressed, Pam sitting on the floor feeling awkward, neither of them looking at each other. Finally Pam reaches for the remote and turns the volume back up on the TV. The movie's getting towards the end, when everybody's finally breaking down in a flood of catharsis. Eli Cash drives his car into the side of the house just before the wedding. They sit and watch it play out.

Every time Pam watches this movie she waits for this one particular line at the end, when Ben Stiller gets sort of choked up and says, "It's been a hard year, Dad." It always makes her cry. She feels weird about that with Jim here, all drunk and quiet, and she pretends her forehead itches so she can wipe her eyes on her sleeve while he's not looking. When she glances over, Jim's sitting on the floor with his back against the couch, watching the movie with a serious look on his face.

Ari and Uzi shoot off a BB gun salute at Royal's funeral, and the credits finally roll. An ad for Reno 911 comes on, so much louder than the movie that it's jarring, and Pam quickly mutes the TV. The silence is abrupt, and neither of them break it by speaking, so instead they just sit there awkwardly watching the silent television. Jim doesn't show any signs of leaving, and finally Pam asks if he wants anything to drink, just to have something to say.

"Uh, water?" Jim says, and she goes to the kitchen to get it. Even though there's enough in the Brita pitcher already, she puts more in the filter and waits for it to drip through, mostly to put off having to go back into the living room. She's starting to get a headache, and she just wishes he'd leave already. Being uncomfortable with Jim, that's something new and unpleasant.

When Pam comes back with a glass of water in each hand, Jim's sitting on the floor with the box to The Game of Life open in front of him, setting up the board. Pam and Roy had babysat Roy's niece the weekend before, and Pam hadn't bothered to put it away yet.

Jim glances up and sees her watching him and grins. Sometime in the interlude he's turned back into himself again, friendly and dorky and ordinary, smiling like the weird sex dynamics never happened. "I haven't played this since I was a kid."

"Yeah?" Pam says, relieved they're back to normal. She sits down next to him and hands him his water, taking a sip of her own. Jim's trying to fit a blue peg into the red car, but he keeps missing, still a little drunk. "Here," she says, setting down her glass and doing it for him. "Are we playing this?"

"Obviously," Jim says, and scoots the yellow car towards her, with a pink peg already in it. "Here," he says. "That's you." Yellow's her favorite color – it's funny Jim would remember that. "You can go first," he adds.

She laughs a little. "Okay," she says, then spins the wheel and moves forward four spaces along the college path.

She ends up with a career as a doctor, and Jim ends up a teacher, much to his chagrin. "I'm winning," she grins, and he bumps her with his knee.

"We'll see about that," he says.

They each get married, as the game mandates, and when she adds the blue peg to her car, Jim gets a weird look on his face. "You owe me a gift," she says, and holds out her hand for the money. It's a weird game, The Game of Life. To take the sting out of it, she leans her head on Jim's shoulder as he spins the wheel, and he puts his other arm around her, and they play like that for awhile, moving their cars forward while the TV flickers. It's comfortable, quiet, and Jim's warm and solid under her cheek. She can almost pretend that he's the one who's her fiance, that they live together and can spend every night like this, that they don't have to sneak around. It's a nice thought the way that unicorns are a nice thought.

She gets up to use the bathroom, and when she comes back into the room, Jim looks overly innocent. "Halpert, did you steal from the bank?" she says, and hits him on the arm, sitting down cross-legged across from him.

"Are you calling me a cheater?"

"Are you a cheater?"

"I can't believe you're calling me a cheater." He reaches out and spins the wheel, moves forward five spaces. "Sweet!" he says, reading off the space. "Have baby girl." He gets a pink peg out of the box and Pam takes the interval to try to grab some of the money he stole from the bank out from under his side of the board.

"Hey!" he says, catching hold of her wrist, and there's a brief struggle which results in the pink peg flying out of his hand to the left, towards the armchair. "Iphigenia!" Jim yells, panicked sounding.

Pam dissolves into giggles, laughing so hard that she can't hold onto his stolen money anymore and he wrests it away from her. "Iphigenia?" she gasps out.

"What, you wouldn't name your daughter that?" Jim says, and crawls over to where the peg had flown, looking through the carpet to try to find it. "Man, where did she go? What am I going to tell her mother?"

Pam's still laughing, watching him comb through the carpet fibers, and shakes her head at him. "I love you," she says, not thinking about it.

Jim freezes, the look on his face something between shock and complete dismay, his mouth dropping open. Oh crap, she didn't mean it like that. He looks appalled.

"No," she says, backtracking fast. She knows she has to get herself out of this, though for one sick, self-destructive second she doesn't want to, she wants to say yes, she did mean it like that, she's always meant it like that. But she can't face the horrified look he's giving her, and she does have some dignity left, or some instinct for survival, or something. "I don't mean – sorry, I just meant that you were being funny. I didn't mean…." She trails off and kind of laughs self-consciously. Because she knows that Jim doesn't think about her like that, he's made that really obvious, and if he hadn't made it obvious before, the look on his face right now would. It's so embarrassing, and she doesn't want him to think that she's into him or something, that she thinks this means more than he wants it to mean.

He still has a really strange look on his face, and as she backtracks he kind of shrinks back into himself like the whole exchange took something out of him. "Right," he says. He's still on his hands and knees, poised over the carpet. After a long moment he shrugs his shoulders and goes back to normal, looks back at the carpet. "No, I know." He grabs something and holds it up. "Aha!" he says. "Iphigenia! I have found you at last."

He crawls back over to the gameboard and puts the peg in his car, and they resume the game, moving their cars around the track. At the end they both retire to Millionaire Estates and trade their kids in for money – it's a weird game. When they count it all up in the final tally, Pam wins.

She gives Jim a ride home afterwards, since he left his car at the bar. He's gotten to the quiet stage of drunkenness, and leans his head against the window the whole way to his house. The radio's playing old U2 songs, the ones from the 80s about war. She pulls the car into Jim's driveway and stops it, and Jim starts upright like he'd almost fallen asleep.

"We're here," Pam says.

Jim nods, a red spot on his cheek from where it was leaning against the window. When Pam reaches her finger out to touch it, it's cold. He looks at her.

"Goodnight," she says.

He nods. "Later, Pam." He starts to open the door, but then stops and leans in fast, kisses her, like they've just been on a date or something, like he's her boyfriend. She closes her eyes and his hand cups her cheek and it's nice. When he pulls back he smiles at her a little ruefully, and ducks his head and opens the door, makes his way up the sidewalk. She watches his back as he lets himself in, and makes sure the door's safely shut before she puts the car in reverse and drives away.

**

Spring cleaning, spring cleaning. She finds weird stuff in her desk – a dollar thirty-seven in change, a piece of twine, a birthday card from Michael from 2004. Otherwise, it's a pretty unremarkable day until Jim corners her in the kitchen on camera and tells her about how he used to have a crush on her. Which is fine. It's just that he doesn't have to rub it in quite so hard that he doesn't have feelings for her now, like he's terrified of encouraging her.

And whatever Michael says later – well, it's Michael, right? And it doesn't matter anyway, because when it comes right down to it, if Jim really did have a crush on her, he could've said something. He could've said something a thousand times. Imagining that he wouldn't is just wishful thinking.

**

She's been looking forward to their vacation in the Poconos for weeks, thinking about sleeping in, about wearing whatever she wants, eating good food. She goes to the bookstore two days before they leave and gets The Last Samurai and Cloud Atlas to read while she's gone and doesn't realize until she's halfway home that Jim was the one who recommended them to her. Oh well.

The first night they're at the resort, she and Roy get a table by a fireplace, so the light from it flickers over them while they're eating, and Roy smiles at her.

"What?" she says.

"You look real pretty in this light," Roy says, a little bit shy, like they're back in high school, and oh, she really does love him, she does. They go back to their room and he kisses her and they barely leave the bed for the rest of the week. Sex with Roy is so achingly familiar, comfortable, easy. He knows exactly what to do to get her off, and she's so used to his body, and best of all she doesn't have to worry about anybody catching them. They can take their time with it, ease in and out of sex, relax and enjoy themselves like grown-ups. At first the sneaking around with Jim had been kind of exciting, the illicit thrill of it, but by this point it's started to just be depressing, never getting enough time, always having to be careful. She hadn't realized how much it had been wearing on her, but it's actually nice to have a vacation from all that, from the stress of it.

But even so, times she almost calls Jim that week: when she sees a guy fall over on the bunny slope. To see if he's watching Letterman on Tuesday night. To talk about the Luisa Rey section of Cloud Atlas. When they serve beets with her entrée on Friday. When they hear Mambo #5 on the radio on Saturday.

"This was a great week, huh, Pammy?" Roy says on the drive back, and puts his hand on the back of her neck.

"Yeah," she says. "I can't believe we have to go back to work tomorrow." She thinks about Michael, about Dwight, and dreads it – thinks about Jim, and the dread in her stomach keeps building, but pleasantly. She really is a mess.

**

Work is work. Jim's in the back all that first day because of the thing with Michael's carpet, and it's surprising how much more terrible receptioning is without him there. Well, not surprising, but you know. At least Roy's coming in and out with Darryl all day, that helps, though not enough that it stops her from calling Jim's voicemail every time things get to be particularly intolerable. Which is about once an hour.

Kelly makes some photocopies right after lunch, and afterwards comes by Pam's desk to talk about last night's episode of American Idol.

"And oh my God, Pam," Kelly says, after a long monologue about how she has a love/hate relationship with the early episodes because they are sooooo embarrassing but also sooooo funny, Pam, they really are. "It is so fun having Jim sitting back by me today. And guess what, he totally asked a girl out on the phone just now! Isn't that the most adorable thing you've ever heard?"

"Oh," Pam says. She doesn't – well. Oh.

"Oh my God," Kelly says. "I'm sorry, was that totally awkward? I know he has a crush on you, and I didn't mean to make things weird or whatever, it was just so cute that I -- "

"Oh, no," Pam says quickly, interrupting. "It's not weird at all."

"Okay, good," Kelly says, and then is off talking about asking people out via text message, but Pam's barely listening.

It doesn't change anything, is what she tries to remember. She and Jim are still friends. They'll always be friends, and she leaves a message in his voicemail about Sudoku to prove it.

Michael comes up to her desk a few minutes later and takes a jelly bean, throws it up into the air and tries to catch it in his mouth. It bounces off his nose and skitters off the edge of the reception desk. Michael pretends not to notice. "Pamelas," he says. "Do we have any more post-it notes?" and the long afternoon stretches in front of her.