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The Thing Itself

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Jim quits abruptly after the fifth episode of the documentary airs.

He'd been quieter and quieter each week, as it became obvious what the show was about (besides, well, Michael), and yeah, it had been weird for her to watch. Not just to see the rooms she spent all day in look small and different on tv, but because it was like looking at baby pictures of her high school prom date -- Jim two and a half years ago, babyfaced with shaggy hair, seeming happier. Or maybe less sad. Looking at Pam in this way that he never looked at her; it made her feel like a consolation prize.

But she hadn't even said anything (yet) because it was before she knew him, right? But then he quits and he moves and it happens so fast she doesn't even know what to do.

Karen spends two weeks furious. Everyone keeps giving her weird looks, and the only good thing about it is that they're not quite as weird as the looks they're giving Pam.

There's this day where Karen's at the copy machine and she realizes Pam looks weird in that tight way because Michael's talking to her.

"Look, all I'm saying, Pam, is that last time Jim left because of you so maybe you should figure out if it's your fault that we all lost our friend and salesman again!"

Karen presses the copy button but she's watching Pam look intently at her computer screen like maybe that will make Michael disappear.

"And then we could get him back." Michael adds, as if it's obvious. "You know, Pam?"

"Hey, Pam," Karen says loudly, "I think this is jammed, can you help me?"

Pam's head jerks up, and then she comes over, head down, while Karen hastily opens the front of the printer and pulls out the toner. Pam crouches down to look inside.

"Wait, where's the jam?" she says after a minute and Karen frowns. From the corner of her eye she can see Michael wandering back to his office.

"Weird, I could have sworn there was something. Thanks, sorry."

Pam gives her an odd look, but smiles wanly.

"No problem."

**

On a Wednesday, Karen goes into the break room and finds Pam absently eating cottage cheese and reading a magazine that looks like it's seen better, pre-Kelly days.

Karen pushes the vending machine button for Wheat Thins and stands, considering.

"Hey," she says, as she stands up from grabbing the crackers. "Do you want to come over tonight and play DDR?"

"Yes," says Pam so quickly that Karen laughs.

"Have you ever played DDR?"

"No," says Pam. "But I'm trying new things."

"Cool," Karen says. "I'll e-mail you my address."

"Cool," says Pam.

**

Pam isn't just bad at DDR, she's full-on terrible. So bad that Karen can't stop laughing, which makes her own score awful.

"It's not fair, you're doing it on purpose," she says, collapsing onto her mat at the end of a round.

"I'm not!" Pam says, flopping onto the couch and reaching for her wine glass. "I can't help it."

The oven timer goes off and Karen jumps up and goes to rescue the cookies. She has friends she'd be embarrassed serving cookies to, girls who are more the hummus and goat cheese type, but Pam's kind of low key, and she likes that. Not in the boring way, though, in the way where she helps herself to a cookie when Karen brings them in and says, "Tollhouse? Classy."

She's just Pam, Karen has to keep reminding herself. Not some epic romantic rival.

And besides, fuck Halpert. She's done moping over him, she's moving on with her life.

"Crap, it's late," Pam says when The Daily Show comes on. "I'd better go."

"Hey," Karen says after Pam's finished finding her shoes and putting them back on and grabbing her purse. "We should do this again some time." Pam's face lights up and Karen's glad she asked.

**

It's been a long time since Karen's had a girlfriend at work. A friend who is a girl at work, that is. (The longer she works for Michael Scott the more careful she is about the way she phrases things, even to herself.) There's a lot of work now, with Jim gone, but it's nice to have a distraction when she can, and Pam is really good at sending e-mails that crack her up right when she's on the phone.

They re-form the Committee to Plan Parties once, because Angela won't recognize the validity of Talk Like A Pirate Day, mostly to see how many things Michael will bump into while wearing an eyepatch. (Answer: A lot.)

Pam invites Karen over to her apartment and then Karen invites Pam back to hers and eventually Pam starts texting "hey come over" when she's bored. They repaint her bedroom, which is harder than it looks, and cold, when they have to leave the windows open to air out the room.

Pam must put in a good word to Phyllis or something because she starts being actually nice to Karen, instead of mixing fake-nice with totally ignoring her. She always makes sure Karen gets invited to nights at Poor Richard's, where she and Pam spend the whole time peeling labels off their beer bottles and ignoring everyone else while they talk.

There's a weekend when they drive to Philly for a Belle & Sebastian concert and Pam falls asleep in the car on the way back, her head against the window, Karen's CD case still open in her lap.

**

Friday night means flirtinis, which is just about the most awful name for a cocktail Karen can imagine, but they're mysteriously good at being delicious and getting her drunk, fast, in that good way.

She and Pam started out watching Ferris Bueller rerunning on cable, then got bored and flipped around until they found a Project Runway marathon.

"Oh, god, that is hideous," Karen says for the twelfth time, and Pam doesn't say anything, so it's kind of weird when she glances over and Pam's looking at her. "What?" she says, and Pam grins and ducks her head.

"Nothing," she says. "What?"

"What yourself, drunky," Karen says, and Pam dissolves into giggles.

When they get to another commercial, Karen drops her head onto the back of the couch. It's Friday night -- shouldn't they be out somewhere being young, having fun, etc? Stupid Scranton.

"I wish Tim Gunn were real," she says, then lifts her head as Pam starts laughing. "No, you know what I mean. Like, that he could give me advice for my life. 'Make it work.' All that."

"Yeah," says Pam. "No, I mean, yeah." When Karen looks over again, Pam's face is really close to hers, and she's sort of -- no, definitely looking at Karen's lips. Karen licks them self-consciously, but her stomach is suddenly twisting into want, and she's the kind of drunk where everything seems like a great idea, especially this.

Pam's eyes flicker up, then down again, and she leans in a little and hesitates like she'll never go through with it, so Karen takes things into her own hands and kisses her. Pam's a good kisser, and she tastes like chapstick and vodka, and she pulls back fast, but not too fast. Karen licks her lips again and waits for her to freak out, but Pam just says, "Oh, it's back," a little too loudly, and turns up the tv.

She won't meet Karen's eyes on any of the commercials, though, and she somehow ends up half a couch away by the end of the show. It's hard, when Karen's palms are itchy and her lips are tingling and she wants Pam in a way she hasn't wanted a girl since college. Apparently she's not as over that phase as she thought.

Pam's too drunk to drive so she sleeps on Karen's couch, which is nothing new, but Karen wakes up at 7 to the sound of Pam letting herself out, and when she gets up, there's a note saying she had to go but she'll see Karen Monday.

**

Karen gives Pam one weekend and one workday of freakout time, before enough is enough, and she wanders up to her desk after lunch on Tuesday.

"Hey," she says, leaning on the counter, trying not to think of Jim leaning on the same counter in all the documentary episodes that are still airing, the ones they never talk about. "We still on for America's Next Top Model tomorrow?"

"Yeah, totally," says Pam, way more definitively than Karen was expecting, and she can't help smiling.

"Awesome," she says, and spends the rest of the day trying to pretend she's not feeling jittery and excited.

**

"Hey," says Pam, when Karen opens the door. "I brought beer."

"You know the way to my heart," Karen says, without thinking, then hopes Pam can't tell she's blushing.

"Well, you can't really eat guacamole without beer," Pam says. "It's against the law or something."

On America's Next Top Model girls are being catty and Tyra is crazy -- so just like normal.

"It must be so weird to be a model," Pam says dozily, as the preview for next week shows over the credits.

"Tell me about it," Karen says, but she's not thinking about being a model, she's thinking about how Pam's knee is just bumping hers, and how Pam's hand is suddenly touching Karen's wrist, warm and tentative, and when Karen looks up, Pam's giving her that look again and Karen doesn't have to be asked twice, she kisses Pam exactly like she's been dying to.

Pam makes a little noise and opens her mouth and that's even better, and somehow they end up lying down, Karen on top, Pam's hands fisted in her shirt.

"God," Karen gasps, kissing her way down Pam's neck. "You feel good." Pam laughs breathily and wriggles under her just enough to get her leg between Karen's, and she slides it up like she was born to do this.

"Is this okay?" Karen says as she undoes the buttons on Pam's shirt, and Pam says yes yes yes and sits up just enough to unhook her own bra.

"Fuck," mutters Karen, and Pam's skin is so smooth and she's nipping at Karen's ear and sliding her hands under the waistband of Karen's pants and holy hell is this a good way to spend an evening.

Pam makes these little noises when she comes that make Karen feel like she's going to explode, and when Karen's done making some pretty memorable noises herself she opens her eyes and finds Pam watching her with an expression like amazement.

"That did not suck at all," says Pam, thoughtfully, afterward, and Karen snorts and smacks her arm.

"Did you think it would?" she asks, shifting a little. Their skin is sticking together everywhere they're touching, but she's not about to move away anytime soon.

"Well, I imagined it might be kind of awkard," Pam says. "Or that you'd ask me to explain what I'm doing. And, um, please don't."

"You imagined us doing this?" Karen says, trying to sound scandalized but it comes out delighted. "Pamela Beesly."

"Oh, shut up," says Pam, and when Karen looks she's blushing. "I have to pee."

When Pam comes out of the bathroom, Karen tosses her an oversized blue t-shirt she grabbed from the pajama drawer and Pam pulls it on. It's strange, and not-strange at the same time, having Pam standing barefoot and almost-naked in her bedroom. It's dark and she hasn't turned on the lights.

"Come here," Karen says, and tugs Pam down into bed with her.

"Talk to me," Pam says, so Karen tells her about the girls she slept with in college, because she could, and Pam tells her how she's only ever slept with Roy, and she thought that's what she wanted, and now she feels like doesn't know anything about herself anymore. At some point her t-shirt comes off again, and then Karen's.

This is one of the things Karen likes best about sleeping with girls; how it's not all about getting off, how it can ebb and flow like this and just feel good to touch. Pam seems to like it too, and giggles when Karen trails a finger down her spine.

She's half-asleep when Pam nips at her neck and Karen groans without opening her eyes.

"You give me a hickey and you have to deal with Andy all day tomorrow when he won't shut up about it," she says, and Pam laughs against her skin.

"This should feel weirder," she says sleepily. "Right?"

Karen's on the pleasant side of drowsy, warm and worn out. She winds her fingers with Pam's and turns her face into the cool part of the pillow.

"It can feel however you want," she says, and falls asleep listening to Pam breathe.