For e, sine qua non.

Disclaimers: Everyone here belongs to NBC.

by Lesa Soja

It started with the vodka - Michael's vodka, left over from the Christmas party. "What is this?" he demanded from the door of the supply room, holding a bottle in each hand. Jim wished he had his camera.

"It's the rest of the vodka," Pam said. "That you bought."

"We didn't finish that?" Pam pressed her lips together and shook her head. "Well, that is unacceptable," Michael said. "I paid a lot of money for this. We are not going to sit here and let it go to waste. No. No. We are going to party! Tonight!"

Pam cut a glance over at Jim, and he raised an eyebrow infinitesimally back at her. "Um, it's Wednesday," she said.

"Party!" Michael said. "Par-tay! Par-tay!"

The strange thing was that almost everyone stayed. Dwight dogged Michael's steps from desk to desk, both of them exhorting the staff to let their hair down and live a little. Meredith, grinning fiercely, poured vodka into the punch bowl with a generous hand. Kelly drank two cups of punch very quickly and twined herself around Ryan's neck. Toby muttered something about groceries and dry cleaning but put his jacket down and picked up a cup. Angela sat grimly at her desk with her hands folded, but even she didn't leave.

Pam came out from behind her desk and leaned on her elbows back against it. Jim went over to stand next to her. "Can I get you some punch?" he asked.

She smiled and shook her head. "Thanks though," she said.

"No punch," he said. "She doesn't like the punch. That's so sad." Pam was grinning now. "Ah!" He lifted his forefinger and shook it at her. "I have an idea. Don't move - wait right there."

She made her skeptical-but-patient face, and Jim went and fetched a fresh bottle from the supply room and three cans of orange juice from the vending machine. "Now," he said, "we can make screwdrivers."

"You are smart," Pam said. "I can tell you're going to go far."

She squeaked a little at the amount of vodka he poured into her cup, and made him take that one instead. He rolled his eyes and took a good swig to show her how harmless it was. Then he had to clear his throat rather emphatically two or three times, which drew the first outright laugh from her. Her face fell into relaxed lines, mouth open and eyes soft. It was nice to see.

Pam was on her second cup and Jim on his third when Kelly and Ryan came over. Kelly hadn't let go of Ryan's arm all evening. His eyes looked a little glassy.

"Oh my god, this is so much fun," Kelly said. "Wasn't it a great idea to hang out tonight? I'm having such a good time, aren't you?"

"Yeah, I am," Pam agreed. Jim glanced down at her, at the curl of her hair across her temple.

"Jim," Ryan said. "Wanna do shots with me?"

Jim pursed his lips. "Sure, why not?"

Ryan poured out two shots from the bottle he was carrying, and they counted off and downed them. Kelly was shaking her head gleefully. Pam's eyebrows had gone up a little. Jim lifted his shoulders in a slight shrug.

"'Nother one," Ryan said.

"You are hardcore, my friend," Jim said. But he took the cup Ryan held out and drank it down.

"Oh, Pam, show us your engagement ring," Kelly said.

Pam's gaze dropped. "Oh no, I'm sure everyone's seen it."

"Ryan hasn't," Kelly insisted. Jim stepped aside as she pushed forward. "Come here, Ryan - look at her hand. Isn't that... did Roy pick that out, Pam?"

"Yes," Pam said.

"When I get my engagement ring, I want to go along to choose it. I already know exactly what I want it to look like. The center stone will be..."

Ryan retreated a few steps to join Jim while Kelly went on with her description. Jim glanced sideways at him, caught his gaze, and smiled sympathetically.

"Do you ever want to just completely change what you're doing?" Ryan said.

"Yes," Jim said.

Ryan nodded thoughtfully. They were silent for a moment. Then Ryan said, "C'mon, then."

"What?" Jim said. Ryan, already walking away, waved the bottle he was holding without looking back. Jim glanced at Pam and Kelly, still ensconced in wedding chatter, and followed.

Ryan led him across the office to the supply room and closed the door behind them. "Listen, Ryan," Jim said, "I know you're having a rough night and all, but don't you think you should take a break from the shots for a while?"

Ryan snorted. "Fuck that," he said, and pushed Jim back against the wall next to the binder clip shelf.

"Uh," Jim said. One of Ryan's hands was on his shoulder, the other at his hip. "Ryan..."

"It's been way too fucking long since I've done this," Ryan said, and his hand slid over to palm Jim's dick through his pants.

Jim made a sound without breath.

Ryan gave him three or four rough strokes and then paused to yank Jim's shirttails loose. "Ryan," Jim said, and he supposed he could have said more, but the thing was, it actually felt kind of good. He thought of Pam's slender fingers wrapped around her paper cup, her ring glinting, and then Ryan had Jim's belt undone and opened his pants and took out his dick. Jim was starting to get a little bit hard.

"Come on," Ryan said. Jim suddenly remembered his own hands hanging at his sides and brought one awkwardly up to Ryan's shoulder. He'd hardly touched the starched fabric of Ryan's shirt, though, when Ryan dropped away from beneath Jim's palm, sinking down to his knees. "Gonna suck you," Ryan announced, somewhat unnecessarily. Then his mouth closed over the head of Jim's cock.

Jim was pretty much hard enough for a blowjob by now, and Ryan was enthusiastic, sucking and swallowing him with abandon. Jim looked down at Ryan's shock of dark hair moving and bobbing, and curled his fingers tight against his thighs whenever a pang of heat went through him.

Ryan got his own pants unzipped and started jacking himself furiously. Jim couldn't really see what Ryan was doing, but every so often he felt Ryan's hand bumping against his shins. Jim's gaze drifted up to rest on the boxes of toner stacked against the opposite wall.

Ryan made a gasping noise, pulled back abruptly, and came, striping across the floor tiles. His eyes fluttered closed for a moment. Then he glanced up, gave Jim a one-cornered grin and bent his head back over Jim's dick.

Half a minute later Jim heard Kelly's voice, very clear and close, saying, "Should be a couple more bottles, at least. I'll get another one out." Then the door opened.

"Ryan!" said Kelly.

"Jim!" said Pam.

"Ryan!" said Michael.

One good thing was that Ryan stood up carefully, so that his back blocked both of their dicks from view until they could get themselves tucked back into their pants. Ryan waited, frowning but calm, until Jim finished zipping up and met his gaze. Then Ryan tilted his head towards the door, and Jim rolled his eyes a little wildly. Ryan turned around and walked out.

Another good thing was that no one said anything to Jim as he walked past all their gawking eyes, pulled his coat from the rack, and left the office.

A third good thing was that Jim's phone was in his coat pocket, and he found the number for a cab that came and picked him up before anyone else came out to the parking lot.

When Jim's alarm went off the next morning, he thought seriously about calling in sick. But he was going to have to go back in sooner or later, and waiting wasn't going to make it better. He put his head back down and closed his eyes for one more minute. Then he rolled out of bed, got in the shower, and reached down to his morning hardon.

He let his mind fill unrepentantly with images of Katy, round ass, narrow thighs, and long, wavy red hair. Or maybe curly hair, that he could tangle his fingers into. Breasts pressing softly against a striped shirt until he opened the buttons, pink nipples peaking as he lifted them out of the encasing bra, sharp wet gasps as his mouth closed down, and that was all it took. He threw his head back, tightened his fingers on all the right spots, he came and came and came.

Mark gave Jim a ride to Dunder Mifflin. "If you get drunk again tonight, give me a call," Mark said, straight-faced, as they pulled up to the building. "I can pick you up, no problem." Then he couldn't help snickering and socked Jim in the arm. Jim laughed.

"I think I can promise you that won't be necessary. But thanks."

Walking across the parking lot, he met Ryan coming from the bus stop. Ryan glanced at him and said nothing. Jim didn't say anything either, but they were heading in the same direction, and it was hard to avoid falling into step.

Several paces later, Ryan cleared his throat. "Look," he said, "that was a one-time thing. Okay?"

"Absolutely," Jim said, with heartfelt sincerity.

"Good," Ryan said. "Just so we're clear." They arrived at the building, and Ryan opened the front door. Jim looked down the hall to the elevator and then stepped back.

"I've gotta get something from my car," he said. "Be up in a minute." Ryan nodded, and Jim turned back to the parking lot.

"I'm sorry I outed you," Ryan said behind him. Jim turned around once more, but the door was already falling shut.

Jim took a deep breath that hunched his shoulders up, and then let them drop. He went over to his car and sat inside it for five minutes before going into the building.

"Morning," he said to Pam as he passed her desk.

She looked up and gave him a muted smile. "Morning, Jim," she said.

He schooled his face into a pleasant expression as he went over to his own desk and turned on his computer.

Dwight sat back in his chair, looking at Jim. Once or twice he rubbed his chin between his forefinger and thumb.

"What's up, Dwight?" Jim said finally.

"Nothing," Dwight said. He picked up a pencil and tapped it against the edge of his binder, eyes still trained on Jim. Jim sighed and looked at his file.

Kevin stopped next to Jim's desk. "Hey Jim," he said, barely contained laughter bubbling under his voice.

"Morning, Kevin," Jim said. "You're looking well today." Kevin frowned and went to his own desk.

"Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam," Pam said. "Oh hey, Kelly. Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Yeah. Yeah, definitely something going around. Sure, I'll let Michael know. Get well soon, okay?"

After hanging up, Pam left her desk and crossed in front of Jim and Dwight to knock on Michael's closed door.

"Go away," Michael said through the door.

"Michael, Kelly just called. She's come down with the flu, so she won't be in today."

"I don't care," Michael said. "Don't bother me today."

"You got it," Pam said. She shot Jim a look he couldn't read as she went back to her desk.

"I mean it. I don't want any interruptions today," Michael said. Dwight stuck a fresh pencil into his electric sharpener. Jim picked up his phone and dialed the next customer on his list. Pam tapped a stack of papers against her desk and punched a neat staple through the corner.

Jim looked up a little later and found Angela glaring at him. When he caught her eye, her lip curled and she turned away.

Jim's phone rang, and it was Toby. "Jim," he said. "Could you stop by when you have a minute?"

"Sure," Jim said.

Toby had circles under his eyes and was leaning heavily on his elbows, fingers pressed into his temples. "As you may know," he said, "Dunder Mifflin has a corporate nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation. However, the company does discourage relationships in the workplace."

"I don't have a relationship with anyone at this company," Jim said.

"Ah," Toby said. "Well. I've spoken with Ryan, and he assured me that there won't be a repeat of yesterday's incident."

"There won't."

"In that case," Toby said, "and since it was hardly the only irregularity last night, I think the best resolution for this is to say no more about it."

"I couldn't agree more," Jim said. Toby nodded, and Jim got up and left.

Oscar came into the breakroom while Jim was standing in front of the vending machine. "Hey, Jim," he said, and he wasn't sneering or smirking or staring at all.

"Hey, Oscar," Jim said.

"So," Oscar said, "you and Ryan, huh?"

Jim looked down at the floor and took a deep breath. "No," he said. "Really, no."

"Good," Oscar said. "You're a good kid, Jim. You can do so much better than a jerk like that."

Jim lifted his head again and looked at Oscar's face. "I - huh?"

Oscar glanced over his shoulder at the closed door and then went on. "You should come to the Silhouette Lounge with Gil and me sometime. We can introduce you to some nice guys."

Jim bit his lip. "Um, wow," he said after a moment. "That's really nice of you, Oscar. I don't - I don't think that's the right scene for me. But I really appreciate it a lot."

"Well, keep it in mind, okay? And don't waste any more time on Ryan."

"I won't," Jim said. "Thanks."

At the end of the day, when everyone else had left, Jim went over to Pam's desk. "Hey, Pam," he said. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"

"Sure," she said. She tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear and gave him the same soft smile. "Go ahead."

"The thing is," he said. "I just don't want you to think - well. See, what happened yesterday was, basically, a total fluke. In so many ways." Pam was nodding. Jim took a breath and went on. "So the first thing is, there's nothing going on between me and Ryan."

"Oh, yeah," Pam said. "He's not interested in you, he just used you to break up with Kelly. That was pretty obvious."

"Right," Jim said. "True. But also, and more importantly for my point, I am not interested in him. In fact - and I'll understand if you're skeptical here, but I promise you this is true - I am actually not gay."

"Yeah, I know," Pam said.

"You do?"

"Yeah." She gave him a real smile then, her mouth curving beautifully. "I know you pretty well, Jim. I think I would've noticed if you were pining for guys all this time."

"Yeah," he said. "Right, yeah, you would have."

Pam grinned and lifted her hand to recapture the same escaped strand of hair. Jim rested one elbow on the reception counter and let himself slump a little, propping his chin on his hand.

"I'm so glad you understand all that," he said. "You wouldn't believe what a shitty day I've had with people leaping to conclusions."

"Oh, I don't know," Pam said. "It could be kind of fun."

"Fun?" Jim raised both eyebrows. "How exactly could this be fun?"

Her gaze slid off to the side. "Oh, well, I can see how it's frustrating, of course."

"Uh huh." He watched her another moment, but she didn't say anything else. "So, how was your day?"

"Pretty quiet," she said. "Especially with Michael holed up in his office like that."

"Yeah, I'm pretty impressed that he didn't cave and come bother somebody."

"I figure he either has a lot of willpower, or a lot of fear," Pam said.

Jim snorted. "Let me think about that one and get back to you."

"Oh, you take as long as you need," she said. Then the office door opened and Roy came in.

"Hey Pam," he said. "Hiya, Jim."

"Uh, hi, Roy," Jim said.

"You ready, Pam?"

"Just about," she said. "I just have to put this stuff away."

Jim started to straighten up, but Roy came over and slapped him hard on the back before leaning in next to him. "So I heard you finally got some action, huh? Why didn't you tell me you were a fag? I never would've worried about you talking to Pam so much."

"Um," Jim said.

"Oh, what?" Roy said. "You think I got a problem with it? I don't care who fucks you." Jim pressed his lips together. "As a matter of fact," Roy went on, "I think Pam could really use a fag friend."

"Oh?" Jim said.

"Yeah. Like - oh, yeah. Like, she wants to go shopping on Saturday while the games are on. Why don't you take her to the mall then?"

"Yeah, Jim, why don't we go together? Don't you think that would be fun?"

Pam leaned her chin on her knuckles and gazed up at him. Roy was watching him expectantly. Jim took his arm off the counter and stood up straight, looking back and forth between them.

"All right," he said finally. "All right, you're on. I will see you on Saturday, Pam."

"And tomorrow," she said.

"And tomorrow," he said.

"Cool," Roy said. "Okay, we should get moving, Pam."

"Sure," she said. Roy waited while she put her coat on and then went into the hallway. "Night, Jim," Pam said.

"Night," Jim said, and she followed Roy out to the elevator.

Jim went back to his desk, turned off his computer, and stared at the darkened monitor for a minute. Then he put his own coat on, went down to his car, and drove home.