Meng (chibi_care) wrote in office_fanworks,
Meng
chibi_care
office_fanworks

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FIC: Aftertaste (Ryan/Pam, Jim/Pam)

Title: Aftertaste
Author: chibi_care
Pairings: Ryan/Pam, Jim/Pam
Rating: PG-13
Summary: She's playing Free Cell. Ryan doesn't play Free Cell; he prefers Spider Solitaire.

After Jim leaves everything gets really gray and awful. Not that Ryan naturally categorizes things like that, but it's like the world's suddenly been scribbled in by some awful Crayola hue. Dunder-Mifflin has never been neon green, but now it's overcast and even more unpleasant than usual. Every time he looks out the window, he can see buttery sunshine and a summer breeze moving through the trees and then Michael is calling him to his office to ask him some asinine question about that realtor he's been seeing. Ryan has fielded queries about the best places to eat in Scranton, picked the ties that match Michael's skin tone the best, and said, "Yes, Egyptian cotton sheets are a good investment."

Sometimes Kelly comes over and sits down at his desk and blocks him so he can't move his mouse without having to brush his knuckles against her thigh. It'd be cool if only he could block out the sound of her voice. She keeps talking about Jim and Pam these days. Loudly. Ryan knows that Pam can hear because if he strains his neck, he can see her sitting very still, head bowed.

It's been a week when he goes over to see how she's doing after a particularly bad Kelly episode (there were ruminations about whether Jim was seeing a new girl at Stamford). He takes a little scoopful of jellybeans from the counter and feels weird jiggling them in his palm, so he eats an orange one. Eating jellybeans at the reception desk was such a Jim thing to do. Pam raises her downcast eyes from her computer screen. It might be Ryan's imagination, but they look a little red at the corners. She's playing Free Cell. Ryan doesn't play Free Cell; he prefers Spider Solitaire.

Ryan doesn't know what to say, so he says, "I never play Free Cell."

"Yeah?" her voice is strained.

"Yeah," he replies, and eats another jellybean. "Never figured it out."

She moves a card. "You should. It's fun."

"Yeah. I might give that a shot." He swallows, gives her a tight smile.

There's a moment of awkward silence between them. He straightens his tie. "I should get back. I'm supposed to call this client." He remembers a beat too late that he's been helping with sales because Jim left. He doesn't suppose that Pam's forgotten. He turns to go.

"Ryan," she says.

He glances at her, quizzical.

"Um. You can take the jellybeans." She points to the container.

"Oh. I – uh – I don't really like jellybeans," he admits.

She taps her nails against her desk. "What do you like?"

"Jolly Ranchers," he tells her after a second.

"Cool." And her eyes slide back to her Free Cell game.

Ryan goes back to his desk and sits there for a long time before picking up the phone. There are three jellybeans left in his pocket and the aftertaste lingers in his mouth.

***

The temp agency goes out of business midway through July and Ryan finds himself sitting in between Jan and Michael in the conference room and feeling distinctly uncomfortable. The blinds have been drawn and he's endured and intercepted many of the frosty looks Jan has given Michael. He doesn't know why she does that. He's been trying very hard to forget that the two of them hooked up, banged, whatever. Jan tells him that they've agreed to keep him on at Dunder-Mifflin Scranton as a sales associate. Michael looks as delighted as a puppy.

"Thanks," Ryan says. He feels weird, but business school costs money.

Michael reaches out and tousles Ryan's hair before Ryan shifts in his chair. "You're family. Family doesn't let family get fired."

"Can I go back to work now?" Ryan asks.

Pam's eating yogurt behind the reception when he slips back into his chair. Everyone else is in the break room or the kitchen with their lunches. Ryan can see their heads through the glass window in the door. He glances back at Pam. She's looks like she's concentrating really hard on something. On a whim he takes his saran-wrapped tuna fish sandwich and celery sticks and approaches her. He stands there for a full minute, one hand curled around his brown paper bag, before she notices him.

"Hey. Can I eat with you?" He thinks this is stupid.

She blinks, "Sure," and shifts a pile of papers so he can put his food down.

Pam watches him while he unpacks his sandwich, holding her yogurt container.

"It's a not a ham and cheese," Ryan blurts out, loudly.

Her cheeks color and her face sort of crumples and then he feels like crap because she looks like she's going to cry. He didn't even mean to say it.

"Sorry."

She turns away. "Yeah."

"It's tuna fish," he amends.

"I like tuna," Pam says, looking down at her plastic spoon. "I do."

"Yeah. I do too." He takes a bite and chews slowly. The bread is soggy. He hates that. He wishes someone would invent something that would keep sandwich bread dry. Maybe he'll do it someday.

She plays with her engagement ring for a minute. The wedding's postponed again. September, she said, but Ryan's not so sure. He remembers helping her with those Save-the-Dates.

"What was that meeting about?" she asks him.

"I work here now," he replies, and feels a numbed terror settle in against his shoulders.

Pam bites her bottom lip. "I'm sorry."

"Me too," Ryan says. He takes another bite and rests his elbows against the desk. "Hey – " And he picks up a watermelon Jolly Rancher from the former jellybean container. "You changed them."

"Yeah, well, you were the only one eating them…" she trails off.

"No, totally. Thanks." He unwraps it. The plastic crinkles in his hands and he grins a little.

"Think of it as my condolences." Pam may or may not be smiling. He can't tell.

Ryan pops the candy into his mouth, tucks it against one cheek. "I feel better already."

***

He guesses that they're kind of friends now. It's a possibility. He can't think that he really has friends at Dunder-Mifflin, because Kelly isn't any sort of friend whatsoever, and Jim was pretty chill but now he's at Stamford. She's pretty when she laughs and Ryan can see why Jim liked her so much. Pam doesn't say anything about that, and he hasn't either since the ham-and-cheese slip, but they both know there's something unspoken. He catches her looking at a map of Connecticut in late August and she blushes when she folds it and puts it away. Ryan takes a Jolly Rancher instead.

"I'm thinking I might go see the foliage," she lies.

"I hear it's pretty," he replies and doesn't stay to chat.

Ryan eats lunch in the break room by himself that day and he doesn't know why he's doing it. But Kelly comes and sits with him and he doesn't pay attention until halfway through the conversation when she asks if he has a crush on Pam now that Jim's gone and she looks rapt and serious and her lips are a glossy pink. He thinks fleetingly that she looks pretty today, with her hair catching the light from the fluorescents overhead, and says, "No."

Later that night he's lying next to Kelly and thinks to himself, "Maybe."

***

In mid-September Michael has a company picnic and makes it mandatory for everyone to be there. He says it's going to be barbecue dinner and Dwight hosts it at his beet farm, which makes it ten times less appetizing than it already was. They meet his cousin Mose and there are grilled beets, mashed beets, beet-kabobs, and baked beets on the table. Dwight not-so-subtly implies that Angela made the baked beets according to his grandmother's recipe and Ryan pushes his around on his paper plate. Pam is sitting across from him and she looks nauseated when Dwight gives her another helping.

Mose builds a bonfire for them later and they gather on logs around the flames. Michael passes around bottles of vodka. He's bought too many, as usual, but Ryan notices that Meredith has been tucking them away whenever it goes her way. It's probably not a good idea to be drinking around a fire he thinks as he takes his turn when Kelly hands him a bottle. He can taste lip gloss with alcohol. Dwight tries to lead everyone in rousing campfire songs in German.

"You wanna go somewhere else?" Pam appears at his shoulder from nowhere. She has vodka in one hand and her face is red from the heat. Her hair's in a ponytail. It's never like that.

"Sure." He ducks around Kelly's questions and leaves with her.

They walk until they can't hear the noises anymore and Ryan really has to hand it to Dwight. It's a damn good piece of property. The sky is clear with stars. He's never seen so many stars. He lies down in the middle of the field and his head is buzzing and he guesses that he's drunk. Pam lies down next to him, so close that he can smell her hair mingling with the grass, and their shoulders bump. They pass the bottle in silence for a few minutes. Ryan spills a little onto his shirt and inhales.

"I'm not marrying Roy," she says suddenly, her words slurring.

He closes his eyes to better distinguish her shampoo. "I know."

"You do?" she says morosely.

"Yeah." Ryan squeezes his eyes until it hurts and he can see stars bursting on the inside.

He hears her sit up and so he looks at her. Her curls are in disarray around her face, the ponytail messy. He can't tell what she's thinking, but she looks pretty. Ryan sits up too and it makes him momentarily dizzy. Pam has her knees drawn up to her chest.

"Hey – " he says, but she kisses him, and so he kisses her back, and it's easy, this kissing. It's easy and he likes it and she tastes sour, vodka-sour, and sweet too because of the beets. Her hands are small and cold against his neck and her shirt smells like smoke.

Pam pushes him away after a minute and he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. Her lips are flushed and she licks them. Ryan sees her look at him and then she lies down again.

"I'm in love with Jim," she says. It's the first time in months she's said his name.

It hurts. He doesn't expect it to hurt. He makes an affirmative noise. "Mmm."

"Did you know that too?" she asks.

He did. Everyone knew. "Yeah."

She's quiet, twirls a piece of grass around her fingers. The vodka bottle lies between them, half-empty. Ryan can't smell anything now besides the alcohol.

"You should go see him," he finally says.

"I can't," Pam replies.

"You should," he says again.

Her voice is very soft. "I know."

There's a moment that passes between them before she sits up. He turns to gaze at her and she kisses him again. He knows they're both so, so, so drunk, but it doesn't seem to matter very much anymore. Her mouth falls open beneath his and he slips his tongue into her mouth and touches her front teeth.

"I'm gonna go back," she tells him, pulling away.

"Yeah," he replies. The sky's spinning.

She gets up, unsteadily, and he doesn't look at her when she walks away. He opens the vodka bottle and takes a sip and tastes her on the air.

Yeah.
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