Spoilers: Set during the end of Boys and Girls; references to The Client and Performance Review
Word Count: 4,455
Summary: The phone calls. The fact that her blouse smelled like his cheap, tasteless cologne. The e-card with the dancing teddy bears. The horrible, entirely un-Michael-esque sincerity with which he threw “I miss you” into every one of the thirty-seven messages he left her. Part of her had felt terrible about regretting every second of that stupid, stupid night; it was so painfully clear that he thought this was the start of something real.
Jan knows – very, very well – that Michael drives her out of her mind. The idea of a relationship with him is so flawed that she can’t even begin to contemplate the number of reasons it wouldn’t work. For one thing, they would never be able to go out in public; she knows from work functions alone that being around other people with Michael is sure to result in embarrassment, miscommunication, and, if it’s a particularly special outing, a potential restraining order or two.
For another, they have absolutely nothing in common: they would never agree what radio station to listen to in the car, and seeing movies together would be completely out of the question. He probably doesn’t read at all – which is admittedly more inviting than the idea of him trying to sing the virtues of Michael Crichton to her, like her ex-husband had attempted on numerous occasions, but not by much. She imagines their respective bedside tables, Milan Kundera (whom she would very much like to appreciate; if only she had more time to read) on hers; his sporting Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader. Michael is undoubtedly the sort of man who would leave Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader next to his bed, and the only thing more depressing than that is the fact that she is actually contemplating a horrific reality in which they might share a living space. And a bed. It is a testament in itself to Michael’s madness-inducing abilities, that he has the power to turn her own mind against her like this. Because Jan does not want to share a bed with Michael. Not at all, not ever. The notion horrifies her.
Although, truthfully, the one instance in which she had shared a bed with him, it certainly hadn’t been her most painful Michael-related experience. On the contrary, it had probably been by far the least agonizing. She doesn’t think about that, however; she’s very, very determined to ban that particular memory from her mind for the rest of her life. It’s the only practical way to approach the situation. Otherwise, she would be left with a number of unwanted recollections: his hands (far less fumbling than she’d have ever anticipated) and his mouth (more welcome than she will ever admit) and the rather alarming, completely uncharacteristic ease with which he’d managed to undo half the buttons of her blouse before her senses had kicked in somewhere underneath the haze of giddiness and alcohol. And all right, at the time, her hesitation hadn’t been so much inspired by the fact that this was Michael – the horrifying truth of that hadn’t dawned on her until much later – as that she wasn’t even remotely ready for it, not now. It had been so disorientingly sudden – her husband’s attention had waned long before they’d decided to end things, and although they’d agreed that the disintegration of their marriage was the product of entirely different goals, she’d caught lingering traces of unfamiliar perfumes on his clothes. And suddenly, there had been Michael, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum – as unabashedly eager as a sixteen year old boy in the backseat of a car. He'd been completely taken with her, and although she hates the weakness in admitting it, she had missed that. Very much.
And so she’d pulled back, stared at him, brushed a finger fleetingly over his lips (she hates that she recalls every detail so vividly; as far as drunken stupors go, this one had been hugely ineffective) and burst into tears.
She can still recall the look on his face, the one that seems universally ingrained in every man, even the ones as hopeless with women as Michael Scott – the pure, unadulterated, completely bemused horror at the sight of a woman crying.
She’d half-expected him to turn around and walk out of the hotel room right then – and honestly, she wouldn’t have held it against him. That, in essence, was Michael Scott: shirking responsibility at every turn, constantly boasting his people skills and undeniable charisma and never succeeding in doing anything but making everything infinitely worse. She’d never thought to expect anything more from him.
And then instead of leaving – she still recalls her own confusion so distinctly – he’d come forward very abruptly, sat her down onto the bed, sunk down next to her, murmured, “Hey, c’mere,” and wrapped his arms around her. And so she’d buried her face in his chest and cried, and not a poignantly feminine glistening tear or two, the sort she’d used against her husband when she wanted to illicit some sort of guilt from him. Oh, no. This had been purely graceless unadulterated sobbing, complete with uneven, gasping breaths and incoherent mumbling and a considerable amount of whimpering. At one point, she’s quite certain that she’d fallen prey to a fit of hiccups, as well. And yet Michael had stayed there all the while, one hand rubbing her back, offering whispers along the lines of “shh, it’s okay” and “that’s right – you just let it all out. You just . . . cry. Yep. You keep on cryin’.”
Finally, after what she estimates must have been twenty to thirty minutes but what had felt at the time like forever, she’d regained enough composure to mumble against his chest, with as much dignity as she could muster, “Michael, please get off of me.” He’d shifted rather awkwardly and lifted his hand from her back. “Actually, um, hate to break it to you, Jan, but – you’re sort of on me.”
“That’s what she said,” she’d retorted thoughtlessly, and looked up to find him staring at her with something that could very easily be labeled reverence.
“What?” she’d sniffled.
“You,” he’d responded, with positively aching conviction, “are seriously, without a doubt, the most amazing woman ever. Seriously. In the history of women.”
Hardly sweet nothings, but at the time, it had seemed more than sufficient. “My husband certainly didn’t think so,” she’d pointed out, and valiantly attempted to swallow the lump in her throat.
“Ex-husband,” Michael had reminded her.
“Right. Yes. Thank you. I need to start remembering to do that. Ex-husband.”
And then he’d uttered the five most profoundly surprising words she thinks she’s ever heard from anyone in her life. “You wanna talk about it?”
And she’d found herself struck with the realization that she did – badly. And so the next many, many hours had consisted of her relaying every detail of her marriage, from their first date to their honeymoon (Michael had cleared his throat rather uncomfortably at this part) to the exact moment she’d realized how terribly she wanted children to the night she’d broken his collection of shot glasses and blamed it on the neighbors’ cat. By the time she’d gotten to extensively lamenting the fact that he’d gotten to keep her favourite set of china, they’d been lying next to one another face-to-face for hours, and Michael’s eyes were so intent and sympathetic that she’d felt almost like crying all over again, this time over a different man entirely, for an utterly different reason.
How, she remembers thinking, could I have been so wrong about him?
“You want to know what I think?” he’d finally volunteered, after she’d fallen into silence.
“What do you think, Michael?”
“Gould,” he’d said, very simply, “is an idiot.”
She’d laughed a little, just because it was the most ludicrous thing to say about her husba – ex-husband, of all people. “No, he was really very intelligent.”
“Yeah— you see, I’m not so sure about that.” And then he’d brought her hand to his mouth and kissed it and at that moment, he’d seemed terribly, terribly sweet – certainly much kinder than any other man she’d ever been involved with. She’d drifted off to sleep with his arm around her shoulders, and for the first time, everything had seemed so simply, wonderfully right.
And then she had woken up to the ugly reality that she was in a cheap hotel room harboring a vehement hangover and laying on Michael Scott’s arm.
And then it all went, quite spectacularly, to hell.
The phone calls. The fact that her blouse smelled like his cheap, tasteless cologne. The e-card with the dancing teddy bears. The horrible, entirely un-Michael-esque sincerity with which he threw “I miss you” into every one of the thirty-seven messages he left her. Part of her had felt terrible about regretting every second of that stupid, stupid night; it was so painfully clear that he thought this was the start of something real.
And then she had come for the performance review, and the only thing she’d felt terrible about was that murder was punishable by law. Not only had he told everyone – and invented more than a few lurid details of his own in the process – but the entire spectacle had been captured by that damned camera crew. Eventually, the whole nation would be laughing at the painful antics of this ridiculous man, and she would be the woman with judgment so irrevocably skewed that she’d actually fallen for him. She’d hoped to God the cameras hadn’t documented their first kiss.
And now here she is again, trying to exercise some sort of authority around here only to be met by snickering and disrespect and Michael hanging around like a lost puppy desperate for affection at every turn. She doesn’t know why she’d thought that doing a workshop would be the slightest bit helpful; everyone here is almost as maddening as Michael is, and every single one of them looks at her with their eyes filled with silent laughter, nursing disgusted amusement at something they can’t even begin to understand.
Not that she and Michael share anything notable enough to be understood. It had been one mistake – one stupid, drunken mistake, and the fact that it’s succeeded in taking over the majority of her life when she can’t even stand the man in question is enough to make her want to fling herself from the next tall building she happens to encounter.
She needs a cigarette.
Officially, she quit three years ago. Where Michael is concerned, however, she’s decided that whatever relapses she might suffer certainly don’t count. In fact, after having put a stop to his little impromptu union he’d claimed to support just to get the other men to like him (how is it possible that anyone his age can still be so juvenile??), she figures she’s damn well earned it.
She strides outside as efficiently as she can and keeps her expression perfectly neutral, figuring the cameras probably want a reaction shot. Well, this is all she’s going to give them. She climbs into her car and turns the ignition, intent upon waiting them out. As soon as the car starts, Patsy Cline’s melancholy velvet voice accompanies the low, sure hum of the engine; she only breaks out this particular album in the direst circumstances, when in desperate need of the reassurance that someone is (well, was) more miserable than she is.
She lets out a short, dark laugh at the appropriateness of I Fall to Pieces and begins fishing through her purse for her cigarettes. She finds them far too soon and is left to stare blankly at the pack as she waits. She will not – will not smoke in the car. She will not allow Michael Scott to drive her to that. She’s had this car for two years and undeniable traces of new car smell still reside; she refuses to relinquish that just because the most annoying man on the face of the planet has succeeded in turning her into a maddened, frustrated mess.
She sits and stares at the pack of cigarettes through I Fall to Pieces, Walking After Midnight, and She’s Got You. Halfway through Crazy, she decides she can’t take it anymore.
She turns off the car and gets out, glancing uneasily around the parking lot. There’s no visible trace of the cameramen, but she knows that they certainly aren’t above hiding somewhere. In all likelihood, they’re sitting in the building across the street, prepared to zoom in without the slightest hint of mercy just so they can capture her much-needed moment of weakness.
For a fleeting instant, she is overwhelmed with the urge to flip off the window, just in case, and promptly realizes that she has, in fact, completely lost her mind.
She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and goes over to the side of the building, abandoning her ritual grace to slump a little helplessly against it. Her feet are killing her in these heels – she’d selected her most torturous pair that morning, full aware of the fact that they were also the most motivational (there are few things more empowering than a truly painful pair of shoes) – and now she’s wondering what the hell she’d been thinking. As if a trip to Scranton didn’t provide enough torture already. She retrieves her cigarettes and her lighter from her purse, and as she brings the cigarette to her lips the first time and inhales, her nerves all come together to voice an ardent ‘thank you’ in relief.
This will be okay. She’ll just have this cigarette and go home and not think about Michael and everything will be fine. Just . . . fine.
And then she hears footsteps approaching her.
“You know, smoking’s bad for you,” offers the one voice she never, ever wants to hear again as long as she lives, let alone right now. For a moment, she hopes that she has lost her mind and she’s just imagining it, and Michael Scott isn’t actually standing to her left, sounding so chipper she wants to strangle him with his own tie.
Filled with dread, she glances in the direction his voice came from. And sure enough—
There he is, with that infuriatingly oblivious amiable smile, as though they’re just a couple of friends who happen to be standing out here in the freezing cold trading pleasantries. He’s not even wearing a tie anymore, which provides an extra surge of annoyance.
She closes her eyes against her own homicidal urges. “You are bad for me, Michael.”
He lets out an incredulous laugh, as though he can’t conceive of such a notion. “Oh, come on!”
“What?” She takes a rather desperate drag on her cigarette.
“I’m so not!”
She is going to kill him. “Michael—”
“A little Michael Scott lovin’ never hurt anybody!” he announces jovially.
“Michael, you make me want to . . .” She pauses and exhales sharply. “You know what? No. There are not words in this language to convey what I want to do to you.”
He chuckles appreciatively. “That’s what she sai—”
The sharpness of her voice startles even her; it seems to echo menacingly through the parking lot. To her satisfaction, he winces.
The worst part of it is that he does sound sincerely ashamed.
She takes another drag on her cigarette, slower this time, and lets her breath out in a discontent sigh. “How do you do it, Michael?” He eyes her questioningly. “No, really – I want to know. How is it that you can be so . . .”
There are no words, she decides.
Not surprisingly, he takes it upon himself to fill in his own.
“No,” she says bluntly. “Decidedly not.”
“Ah,” he says, and takes a few steps away from her, like her foul mood is some sort of utterly incomprehensible and contagious disease. “Someone’s a little cranky.”
“Someone,” she returns through slightly clenched teeth, “just had to spend the day enduring not only you, Michael, but the knowing glances and juvenile insinuations of a room full of women who quite simply don’t seem to be in a position to judge anyone.” She narrows her eyes at him. “And dare I bring up that charming little union incident?”
“It’s probably best that you don’t,” he admits, shuffling his feet slightly.
“Well, fantastic,” she declares, and laughs shortly. “We agree on something.”
“Alert the media,” he concurs, a bit too goofily for an effective deadpan, but he doesn’t say anything else after that. She is profoundly grateful.
For a very welcome moment, it’s quiet, just the sound of her breathing and the distant roar of the forklift in the warehouse. She doesn’t even want to imagine the kind of mess he must have left down there, and can’t help feeling thankful that at least in that circumstance, she’s not responsible for cleaning it up.
“I heard Angela being interviewed during our lunch break,” she says suddenly with a blank sort of resignation. She’s not even sure why she’s telling him this. “She said I dressed like a whore.”
“Oh.” Michael sounds as though he doesn’t know quite what to say. “Well, that’s . . . no good. She’s going to get a talking-to as soon as I go back upstairs, believe you me. You know . . . a little lecture. About respecting her superiors.” Jan manages a small, wry smile. It’s the easiest response to his misguided attempts at chivalry.
“You don’t, by the way,” he throws in unnecessarily. “Totally don’t. I mean – okay, maybe. If you undid another button or two, and the slit on your skirt went up a liiittle higher, and you got a little more extreme with the makeup—”
“That’s enough, thank you, Michael,” she interjects pointedly.
“Oh. Right. Okay.”
She almost laughs. Sometimes, there’s not much else you can do. “Okay.”
“Not right now, Michael.”
“No, no, it’s totally professional. I swear.”
She sighs. “What?”
“How the hell do you walk in those things?” She looks over to see that he’s staring at her feet in bewilderment.
She frowns. “How is that professional?”
“Well, it’s not about our relationship,” he responds, as though it’s the most obvious thing on earth.
She feels the faint compulsion to remind him of the nonexistence of their “relationship,” but it’s so much more tempting to just let it go. She certainly doesn’t feel like having that conversation again. Not right now.
“You get used to it, I suppose,” she responds, after a moment’s consideration.
“Ugh, really? I didn’t. Couldn’t,” he amends quickly, at her questioning gaze. “I mean. Don’t think I could. If I were to try. Which I never will, because I . . . am a man.”
She decides not to ask.
“But seriously, though,” he says, his eyes drifting back to her feet (and taking the time to appreciate her legs on the way down, she notes), “those babies look killer.”
“I suppose they are, yes,” she agrees.
He fixes her with a quizzical stare. “Then why the hell did you wear them?”
“Pain can be motivational.”
“Eeesh. Okay, Maggie Gyllenhaal.”
She raises an eyebrow at him.
“Like in Secretary?” he elaborates, as though she’s moronic for not instantly understanding the reference. “Weird, weird movie. Not . . . what I was expecting. ‘Cause, you know, I was figuring I’d be able to relate, since secretary – office – hi, and the cover was sort of interesting, but then it turns out to be this whole –” At her pointed glance, he clears his throat. “Anyhow. Continue.”
She takes another slow drag on her cigarette, considering. Explaining anything to Michael, especially something as fundamentally foolish as this, will doubtlessly prove to be more trouble than it’s worth. But he’s looking at her with a genuine sort of interest – he honestly cares what she says.
Oh, what the hell.
“Well, when things are hard, it’s strangely comforting,” she begins hesitantly. “There’s something to be said for consistently knowing that no matter how disastrous things get, you’re a capable enough individual to endure excruciating pain and still walk without letting it show. It helps,” she decides, trying to keep her tone light, “with not letting other things show.” She doesn’t elaborate on ‘other things,’ and thankfully, he doesn’t ask.
“And that is why,” she concludes, “I have made it a habit to wear my most painful shoes on trips to Scranton.”
For a moment, there’s nothing but silence. And then—
Oh, the exquisite irony. “I’m strange.”
“Well, don’t feel bad about it or anything,” he instructs, reaching out to touch her elbow briefly. “In fact, I won’t lie to you, Jan— I think it’s kinda hot.”
She laughs despite herself. “Thank you, Michael.”
He looks a little confused as to what she’s thanking him for; honestly, she’s not entirely sure herself. Still, he bounces back with an entirely fitting, “No problemo.”
She shakes her head, and the slight smile on her face doesn’t seem intent upon going away anytime soon. Turning slightly, she lets her eyes meet his; he smiles back almost hopefully, like part of him has never been able to imagine that anything this fantastic could ever transpire between them.
“You know,” she says casually, “You’re much more tolerable when there aren’t any cameras around.”
His brow furrows slightly, as though he doesn’t quite believe her – as though being quiet and something approaching sweet clearly can’t even begin to match the glory of the failed wisecracks and cheesy grins that have come to command his day-to-day existence.
She supposes it would have been foolish to expect anything else. Relatively endurable as he happens to be at the moment, he’s still unfailingly Michael.
She brings her cigarette to her lips one last time and inhales, then lets it slip from her fingers and grinds it concisely into the pavement with her right heel.
“You know,” he says, his tone far too deliberately casual to bode well for her, “I’ve been told I give an amazing foot rub.”
“Oh, really?” she repeats skeptically. “By who?”
Clearly, he hadn’t anticipated that question. “People,” he responds vaguely. “Ladies.”
“Well, I’m afraid I’ll have to pass,” she informs him, the businesslike brusqueness infiltrating her tone instinctively. “I have to get going; I’ve got a two and a half hour drive—”
“I’m sure you could find somewhere to spend the night here,” Michael volunteers with all the subtlety of a Mel Brooks film.
“No, I really couldn’t,” she assures him pointedly.
“Are you su—”
“I really, really couldn’t, Michael,” she says bluntly.
He stares at her for a moment, the wounded puppy dog look back with a vengeance, and she wishes that his eyes weren’t so unrelentingly expressive.
“Right,” he says after a moment’s pause, making a mediocre attempt at playing it cool. “Okey dokey. All righty, then!”
“Yes,” she agrees shortly, and turns abruptly to head back to her car. Thanks to this stupid conversation, each step is acutely painful, and to be frank, a foot rub certainly doesn’t sound unwelcome.
In theory, that is. Not from Michael.
He’s following her. She supposes she shouldn’t be surprised.
She doesn’t slow down, but he speeds up, and in a second he’s strolling along next to her. His arm brushes hers and she really, really wants to be home in her nice, impersonal apartment where everything is beige or ivory and pristinely untouched and nothing, nothing reminds her of him.
“I guess I’ll see you later,” he ventures.
“Eventually,” she agrees as indifferently as she can. “You’ll probably get a phone call from me within a few days.”
“Well, I will look forward to that!”
She quickens her pace.
“Professionally,” he throws in, and somehow manages to beat her to the car and pull open the door for her. She takes a moment to compose herself, offers him a terse “thank you,” and then slips inside. Her left side brushes briefly against his chest as she does so, and she makes a point of not looking at him.
“So,” she says once she’s sitting down and he’s in the middle of pushing the door shut, “I will see you on Valentine’s Day.”
His eyes widen, and he pulls the door back open again. “You will?”
Oh, for God’s sake.
“In New York,” she presses.
He shrugs. “Well, I suppose if you don’t feel like driving all the way out here, I could manage to—”
“At the meeting, Michael,” she nearly snarls.
“Oh! Righto. I had . . . forgotten about that.”
“I’ll be sure to call and remind you a few days in advance, then,” she says as calmly as she can.
“That would be excellent,” he agrees.
“All right,” she says. “Goodbye, Michael.”
“Goodbye, Jan.” He mimics her professional tone. It sounds ridiculous.
He’s still clutching onto the car door with something that looks a bit like desperation. She clears her throat pointedly, and he lets go with an awkward “oh!” and a sheepish smile. After a moment’s examination of her unwaveringly stern gaze, he obediently slams the door shut.
She forces a polite(ish) smile at him and twists the key into the ignition. Patsy Cline greets her, right in the middle of Crazy. Forcing herself to take a few even breaths, she places her hands on the steering wheel – ten and two. As a rule, she is an impeccable driver.
And then suddenly there is a rapping on her window and she turns to see that Michael’s still standing there, grinning at her. He offers her a thumbs up sign.
“Patsy!” he calls, his voice muffled through the glass. “Niiice.”
This is enough to prompt her to roll down the window.
“You like Patsy Cline,” she says blankly.
“Well, yeah!” he says, as though she’s just questioned whether he likes Mrs. Doubtfire. “Who doesn’t?”
She decides that perhaps there’s just no point in trying anymore. Clearly, someone or something has it out for her, and at this point, she’s very sorely tempted to stop fighting.
“I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Michael,” she says, a little more softly than is necessary.
“I thought you said in a few days,” he tests, beginning to look immensely pleased with himself.
“I’m sure you’ll need checking up on tomorrow,” she says loftily. “You always do.”
“It’s a date,” he says, beaming, and she knows that any attempts at protesting would be entirely futile. “Later, Jan.”
“Bye, Michael,” she responds, and rolls the window up. He raps once more on the car window as she pulls out of her parking place, a strangely affectionate gesture, and just stands there watching until she’s out of the parking lot and onto the road. She sees him wave in the rearview mirror; she rolls her eyes and ignores the odd fluttering in her stomach and focuses on the song instead. And I’m crazy for loving you.
Or maybe she won’t focus on the song.
She kicks off her shoes at the first red light and drives home in her stocking feet.