Word Count: 3,352
Summary: The Finer Things Club does Sense & Sensibility.
Author's Note: So, wow, I am just out of practice at this! Could not think of a title! Could not think of a summary! The fic itself is stilted and weird and awkward! However, I justify this by the fact that Toby, around Pam? Kind of stilted and weird and awkward. (Oh, Toby.)
Also, it has been a really, really long time since I did Office fic. So, er, all my sins are forgiven? RIGHT.
I don't know much. All I know is that I love Toby. And Pam/Toby. And Oscar. And the flippin' Finer Things Club.
Maybe that's all we really need to know.
(Sidenote: It's weird to write Pam so happy. I'm used to being in season three fanfic-wise!)
Austen’s sort of inevitable.
Initially, there’s some controversy over which book to choose. Pride & Prejudice gets written off right away – “I don’t think it counts as expanding ourselves culturally if it’s something we’ve all read a zillion times,” Pam points out (Toby, for the record, hasn’t, but speaking up seems unnecessary) – which leaves them with five more to choose from. Things get pretty heated.
“Mansfield Park’s underrated,” Oscar pronounces one day when they’re all sitting around in the breakroom.
Pam sneaks a look at Toby – a ‘back me up here’ look. He’s not an expert on Austen, or anything, but he gets ready to do what he can. Because he’s never really heard anything great about Mansfield Park, that is.
“Oscar?” Pam ventures.
“What?” Oscar asks, already defensive.
“I’m pretty sure Mansfield Park’s just boring,” Pam says with a guilty little cringe.
The beginning traces of a scowl show up on Oscar’s face. “Come on, Pam.”
“I don’t think we really need any more boredom in the workplace,” Toby contributes lightly; Pam smiles and nudges him with her elbow. For a second, he thinks he’s going to drop his fork, but he regains his grip on it at the last second.
Oscar, meanwhile, is going into lecture mode. “Just because Fanny isn’t an appealing heroine by contemporary standards doesn’t mean—”
Kevin snickers from over by the vending machine.
“Fanny’s a name, Kevin,” Oscar sighs.
“It’s short for Frances,” Pam contributes helpfully.
Kevin just keeps on snickering until it escalates into a giggle.
“Right,” Oscar says, resigned. “Not Mansfield Park, then.”
They decide against Northanger Abbey, because Toby suggests everyone might appreciate it more if they try an actual Gothic novel or two first; Pam says Persuasion’s too depressing to follow up Brideshead Revisited (last month had been kind of a downer, and that’s not even counting Michael’s reaction to Toby holding a teddy bear); this leaves Emma and Sense & Sensibility.
“Emma’s got a great plot twist,” Oscar says.
“Sense & Sensibility has Colonel Brandon,” Pam counters.
Sense & Sensibility it is.
Toby has always liked Austen – he’s not a devout fan or anything, and he’s never gotten around to Persuasion or Northanger Abbey or Mansfield Park, but he likes the scathing wit, and Dunder Mifflin has instilled in him a certain appreciation for the premise of a few sane people surrounded by a whole bunch of crazy ones. Unconsciously, his coworkers’ faces keep popping up on the bodies of the more obnoxious characters in his head. Fanny Dashwood bears a mysterious resemblance to Angela. The likelihood of Mr. Palmer being a heavyset black man is, okay, a little slim, but still, there’s Stanley. Anne Steel becomes high-voiced, petite, and Indian. And Mr. Willoughby looks a whole hell of a lot like …
Well. It’s not like it’s important.
“I’m pretty sure you want me there,” Jim declares, once the meeting day actually comes around. He’s leaning over the front desk like usual, grinning down at Pam. Toby pauses on his way over to talk to her; she probably doesn’t want to be interrupted.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure we don’t,” Pam retorts. Her expression is steely for the most part, but her eyes are bright and her mouth keeps twitching.
“Beesly, I’ll fit right in,” Jim insists. “I’ll be totally amiable.”
Pam almost lets a laugh slip. “How do you know the word ‘amiable’?”
“Why wouldn’t I know the word ‘amiable’?”
“I don’t know. Since when are you a fan of nineteenth century literature?”
“Since always, Pam,” Jim answers with utmost graveness. “Since always. And, to be honest, I’m pretty insulted that you’re doubting my literary tastes. I’m an Austen aficionado.”
Pam’s merciless. “What’s Mr. Darcy’s first name?”
Jim’s quiet for five seconds.
“George,” he says then.
Pam finally breaks and starts laughing.
“It’s, uh, Fitzwilliam actually, I think,” Toby says awkwardly, taking this as permission to actually come over.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Pam says through her laughter. Toby tries not to think that she’s smiling at him specifically, because – well. She’s laughing already. At Jim. With Jim. Whatever.
“Toby, man,” Jim chastises good-naturedly. “Making me look bad.”
“Sorry,” Toby replies. It doesn’t really sound very sincere. Strangely enough, it’s hard to care. “Pam, you ready?”
“Yeah, I’ll be right there,” Pam promises, still radiant with laughter. Once she gets up and out from behind her desk, though, she pauses next to Jim, her hand resting with absent affection on his arm. “George.”
“Shut up,” Jim orders laughingly, turning and leaning down a little so their faces are really close to touching. Toby feels the fleeting, powerful urge to send out another No P.D.A. In The Workplace memo.
Pam keeps on giggling. “George.”
Toby finally just leaves them to it, figuring Pam knows where the breakroom is.
“Pam’s, um, coming,” he reports to Oscar when he steps inside.
“Jim, huh?” Oscar asks, looking up from straightening the tablecloth.
“Yep,” Toby says, putting as little expression into the word as possible.
For a second, Oscar gives him this look that makes Toby nervous – and, somewhere deep down, a little mad, because doesn’t this stuff stop being other peoples’ business once you graduate high school? – but then Pam comes in and they can get started.
It’s a nice meeting, especially compared to last month’s. (The pluses and minuses of Catholicism, tragic descents into alcoholism, and World War II aren’t exactly uplifting lunchtime topics. They’d finally had to turn the topic exclusively to the joys of homoerotic subtext, and had finished off with Pam making the teddy bear do a little dance.) There’s a lot of talk about romantic mix-ups and impressive characterization – both Pam and Oscar heartily appreciate Toby’s coworkers-as-Austen-characters observations (which Mr. Willoughby gets left out of) – and then, as per tradition, comes the fawning over the male characters.
“I get the merits of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightley and everybody,” Pam says, “but if I had to choose one Austen guy to, ya know, settle down and have really proper babies with, I think I’d go for Colonel Brandon.”
“You would?” Toby asks, surprised.
“He’s just … sweet, and sad,” Pam reflects; she’s got a small, thoughtful smile on her face. “And he loves Marianne so much even though she barely gives him the time of day, and ...” She sighs dreamily. “I dunno, it just gets me.”
Oscar’s giving him that look again. Toby ignores it as best he can, and takes a quick sip of tea.
“And Alan Rickman has nothing to do with this,” Oscar says then. It seems a little like an act of mercy. Toby’s torn between wanting to thank him and just feeling pathetic. Well, more than usual.
“Maybe a little,” Pam admits with a sly little smile.
“Or a lot! Okay, you got me!”
This spirals off into a discussion about film adaptations, which Toby’s happy just to listen to.
“I think it’s a mistake,” Oscar says obstinately, when the subject of a BBC remake comes up. “There’s no beating the Thompson film, period.”
“But it is Andrew Davies,” Pam argues. “And, I dunno, I think it’d be interesting to see the characters played closer to their intended ages in the novel. Toby, what do you think?”
“I’ve actually—” He pauses, preparing himself for the fallout, “—never seen the movie.”
Predictably, this isn’t received well.
By the time that the break room’s been cleaned up, they’ve got plans to watch the movie at Oscar’s on Friday night. It’s the first time that Finer Things Club stuff has branched out into real life stuff, which is … new, and not exactly unwelcome. There’s the whole Poor-Richard’s-on-Tuesday-nights tradition, but that’s usually a bunch of people from the office, as opposed to just him and Pam and Oscar. So this is different. (There’s a part of him that wants to say progress, but that doesn’t really seem like the right thing to think when she’s got a boyfriend she’s completely and entirely happy with.)
Toby doesn’t remember until later that he’s going to be carless on Friday, because his ex-wife’s borrowing his to drive up to New York.
“Oh, no problem, I can give you a ride,” Pam says when he brings it up to her at the end of the day.
“You sure?” he asks, feeling stupidly pleased.
“Of course,” Pam says, beaming at him as she stands up. She reaches over the desk and touches his arm briefly. “Anything for a Finer Things Club comrade, right?”
“Right,” Toby says, smiling back.
When he climbs into Pam’s car on Friday night at 6:45, the first thing she says is, “Okay, you can never tell Jim.”
Which is a little disorienting.
“Um,” is all he can manage at first. Fortunately, he follows it up a couple seconds later with a far more articulate, “What?”
Pam gives a little nod in the direction of the stereo. Toby stares at it for a minute, uncomprehending – track five, one minute and twenty-nine seconds in, and the voice is female and mellow and floaty.
“It’s Dido,” Pam expounds then, apparently sensing his bewilderment. “And, okay, I know it’s completely lame. But I like her, and … sadly? Not even in a funny, ironic way.”
“Dido’s okay,” Toby says, because it’s not like there’s really an option. He strains to remember whether Kelly’s ever had anything to say on the subject.
“Exactly! A little sappiness is good for the soul, right?”
“But Jim would never let me hear the end of it. Like, ever. I even have to hide it in a Strokes CD case.” She points at the case as evidence.
“That’s pretty taxing,” Toby remarks.
“You gotta do what you gotta do,” Pam answers with playful solemnity. “So I’m swearing you to secrecy.”
“It’s a secret,” promises Toby.
She smiles at him. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he replies; the words come out a little jumbled. As she pulls out onto the street, he stares out the window – a smarter choice, probably, than staring in the other direction, which is … at her – and tries not to think this matters.
At Oscar’s, they settle down in the living room and get started on the movie right away. Gil says at first that he isn’t going to watch it with them because he’s got work to do, but by the time Hugh Grant’s shown up and he still hasn’t gone anywhere, that claim seems to have been pretty much forgotten. Pam winds up relinquishing her spot for him so he doesn’t have to keep sitting on the arm of the couch. When she sinks down onto the floor, both Oscar and Gil start protesting, and Toby contributes a little, “I can sit on the floor” that he doesn’t think anybody winds up hearing.
Pam insists, though. “No, no, I’m good. Seriously.”
“At least sit on the armchair,” Oscar implores.
“You guys, it’s fine!” Pam insists. Her shoulder brushes against Toby’s leg a little when she turns to get a better look at Oscar. “You know, it’s customary on a good movie night for someone to sit on the floor.”
“It’s like we’re committing some form of guest abuse,” Gil declares, shaking his head. “Look at her down there.”
“I’m fine,” Pam declares. She shoots this little mock-exasperated look at Toby, and that’s all it takes. For some reason, before he even quite registers what he’s doing, he’s clambering off the couch and onto the floor next to her. His knee bangs pretty bad against the coffeetable in the process, but Pam smiles and it suddenly doesn’t seem like a very pressing concern at all.
“See,” she says triumphantly to Oscar and Gil, “all the cool kids are doing it.”
She knocks her shoulder fondly against Toby’s and then settles back to watch the movie. He tries not to smile too much.
When the movie’s over, they make some friendly chitchat as Gil and Oscar show them out that somehow culminates in Gil saying, “You guys should definitely come over for dinner sometime.”
Which makes things awkward.
“Um, yeah, that would be great,” Pam says, her smile a little forced but mostly valiant as she puts her coat on. “But, um…” She throws a glance at Toby.
“We’re not together,” he finishes, putting his hands into his pockets as he says it. He can’t not bail her out.
“Oh,” Gil says, frowning slightly.
“Pam’s dating Jim,” Oscar reminds him. “Remember?” He turns to them apologetically. Toby tries not to notice the pity on his face. “He never listens to anything I say.”
“Sorry,” Gil says, seeming untroubled – but to be fair, he doesn’t really have any reason to be. “You seemed cozy.” Smirking, he adds, “Maybe Jim should keep an eye out.”
“’Night, you two,” Oscar says loudly.
“’Night,” Pam says, all smiles again. “Thanks for having us over.”
The door shuts and there’s the dim sound of Oscar and Gil talking. Toby tries not to theorize about what might be being said: otherwise, he’d be forced to suspect it was something about poor Toby reaching improbable new levels of pathetic by falling for someone completely unavailable. That kind of thing.
None of the awkwardness of the moment seems to have stuck with Pam, though. She shivers a little bit and pulls her coat closer around her, then looks at him, corners of her mouth quirking up. “You and me, huh?”
“Yeah,” he replies, thankful that at least it’s dark enough she won’t see it if he turns red. “Who knew?”
“I bet Amy wouldn’t be too happy about that,” Pam continues cheerfully.
For a few seconds, he has no idea what she’s talking about. “What?”
“Amy?” Pam prompts, laughing a little. “Your girlfriend? You know, the one you brought in that time and, um … introduced us to?”
“Yeah, well, we’re not actually – yeah. I bet she wouldn’t. Jim too,” he adds, out of a sense of obligation.
Pam doesn’t really say anything to that – just laughs a little, this soft private little sound that he feels stupidly lucky to be entitled to. Then it’s quiet.
They get back into the car, and Dido greets them along with the ding-ding-ding until the doors are shut and the seatbelts are on.
“You can change it if you want,” Pam tells him, gesturing towards the stereo.
“No, that’s okay,” he replies, figuring the least he can give her (or, well, the most) is the opportunity to listen to Dido in the presence of another human being without being mocked for it.
They drive in peaceful silence for a little while. Pam hums along to the music; it’s so quiet he can tell she doesn’t know she’s doing it, just random light sounds every so often.
“Did you like the movie?” she asks when the song ends.
“Yeah,” Toby replies earnestly. Part of the reason he likes her so much is that it’s nice to just talk about stuff like this. “It was well-done. Did the book justice.”
“I’m glad you liked it,” Pam replies, in this way that makes him believe that she is, that it’s not something she’s just saying for the sake of conversation. “You know, that’s what I love about this. The whole Finer Things Club thing. Besides getting to kick Andy out of the breakroom.” They both laugh. “I hadn’t really thought about that book for ages.”
“I think it might be my favourite by her, actually.” She pauses thoughtfully. “I like that it’s sad. Is that weird?”
“I don’t think so,” Toby replies, watching her. The streetlights catch in her hair as they drive past them, making it look gold.
“Good,” she says, and laughs a little. “I just … I dunno, it feels so much like life. Stuff can suck so bad for so long, and then eventually, it gets good again.” She smiles a little, and he can tell she’s thinking about Jim. Then she glances at him. “You know?”
“Yeah,” Toby says. There’s not a whole lot else he can say.
“This was fun,” Pam declares. “We should hang out more outside of work.”
“Yeah,” Toby says, “absolutely.”
“Maybe you could double date with me and Jim sometime,” she suggests. It’s one of those moments that reaffirms that she really does have no idea. “Bring Amy along. We could see a movie. Or continue on the whole Austen theme. Watch the Colin Firth Pride & Prejudice.” She says the last part sort of mischievously, which Toby is grateful for. He can’t think of anything more miserable than being trapped in a room for however many hours with Pam, Jim, and the woman he’s not really seeing anymore. (Not that there was ever any official end to it; just a dwindling-off type of thing, which Toby is good at.)
“Amy’s not much of a miniseries fan,” he says, although of course he has no idea.
“Jim either,” Pam replies laughingly.
“You don’t say.”
They sink into that silence that happens after laughter’s dying down. Then Pam turns to him and says, smiling, “Us sometime, then.”
It takes him a second, and then he says, “Yeah” – and then “Yeah” again. He’s not sure any other female has turned him quite so pitiful in his whole life. He was better at this when he was thirteen.
“We’ll have to pitch it to Oscar on Monday,” she continues, and he feels stupid that he hadn’t realized sooner, about Oscar being implicitly invited. “Maybe we can do it at his house again. It’s way nicer than my apartment.”
“Sounds good,” Toby says, trying not to sound too disappointed.
Pam doesn’t seem to notice. “I wonder if Oscar thinks Colin Firth is cute,” she muses a little deviously.
“Who doesn’t?” Toby says. It makes her laugh.
Her phone rings when they’re a couple of minutes from Toby’s house: he reaches for it, meaning to hand it to her, but she just waves him off and says she’ll call back later. He sets the phone back down where it was, resting in the cup holder in between their seats. It’s Jim.
“Thanks for doing this,” she says warmly once they’ve pulled up in front of his house. “I had a really great time tonight.”
“Yeah,” he says, and can’t help smiling. “Me too.”
For a second, he wonders what would happen if he kissed her.
Then he decides he doesn’t want to know, and so he climbs out of the car before she can maybe kiss him on the cheek or something. It’s not that he thinks she’s going to, but it wouldn’t exactly surprise him either – they’re friends – and somehow, he’d just rather not deal with it.
“See you Monday,” she calls just as he’s shutting the door.
“See you Monday,” he echoes, even though she can’t hear it.
He walks across the driveway and to the front door. When he turns back to give her one last wave, she’s on the phone. There’s a big smile on her face – she laughs and shakes her head. He means to just head on inside, then, but she looks back over at him at the last minute. She mouths the word ‘’Night!’ and waves. She even waves in a way that’s beautiful. He really needs to get over this.
He lifts his hand awkwardly – awkward being his specialty – and then steps inside. It’s all dark inside the house, and there’s this part of him that’s still not used to coming home to no one. He turns the lights on as he walks through the house, then the TV too, for good measure.
Pam’s car is still parked out front when he looks out the living room window; he guesses she and Jim must be having a good conversation. He closes the blinds and sits down on the couch, and tries not to think about her out there. When he checks back ten minutes later, once Letterman’s done with his monologue and the commercials are on, she’s gone.
He returns to the couch and starts flipping through the channels. Maybe there’ll be something good on.