a. (regalish) wrote in michaelandjan,
a.
regalish
michaelandjan

FF: A Lot Like Denial

So, guess what, guys? dollsome and I were just toying around with this basic fic idea for Michael obsessing over Jan while he's with Carol, and before we knew it... we were co-writing a fic.

This has taken us a good few weeks to finish, and we don't think it's all that bad ;) Dare we say, you'll enjoy the heck out of it.

And we debated over splitting it or not splitting it because it's very, very long (that's what she said). We finally decided that it works best as a super-long oneshot.

So, enjoy! And please, pretty please, leave a review and let us know what you think -- we totally worked our butts off on this fic, staying up 'til all hours of the night and such. Feedback would make our day.

And thanks!


TITLE: A Lot Like Denial
AUTHORS: Hannah and Caroline (dollsome and regalish, respectively)
SPOILERS: Series through "Initiation"
RATING: PG
SUMMARY: Michael babbles about Jan nonstop, Carol gets tired of listening, and the meaning of 'never ever ever' is put to the test as some unlikely sparks fly. Again.




*****

"So then yesterday morning she calls me and she's all, 'Michael, what are you going to accomplish today?' which is like, 'uh, good morning to you too, Jan!' I mean, come on."

Carol's facial expression did nothing to hide her boredom. "Uh-huh."

Michael, predictably, didn’t notice. "So then she starts going on and on about how I don't manage my time wisely. I mean, hi, how do you know? She doesn't know what's going on! She's not there watching my every move! Well, uh, except for last Tuesday, actually. She drove over from New York -- can you believe that? She cancelled some meeting or something just to watch me fill out paperwork. Like, wow, Jan. Wow. That's a really professional attitude. Very responsible."

Carol blinked. ". . . she drove all the way from New York?"

"I know, right?" Michael let out a scoff of disgust.

"Isn't that like a two hour drive?"

"Two and a half," Michael scowled.

Carol pondered this a moment – it didn’t seem quite necessary, somehow, to drive two and a half hours just to watch someone fill out paperwork. And whatever Michael might have told her – or neglected to – regarding Jan, she couldn’t quite bring herself to believe that they didn’t have some sort of history. Michael’s apparent need to talk about her every fifteen minutes didn’t do much to weaken the suspicion.

She sighed, coming back to reality to find Michael in the middle of yet another complaint about Jan. Surprise, surprise.

"I mean, it was Varsity Blues! You'd think she'd at least be able to appreciate that. But noooooo. She's all, 'How on earth does that increase productivity, Michael? How does it do that? Nyeah nyeah nyeah!' and so I'm all, 'People work faster' -- they totally do, by the way -- and she's all, 'Magically?' and then she just starts ranting like crazy and . . . saying weird things about fourteen year old girls and I just . . .” Michael leaned forward and let out a heavy sigh. “You know, Carol, I'm worried about her. I'm really worried. I think she needs a break. I think she needs to find the fun. I need to figure out how to get Jan to just . . . loosen up." He sighed again. "You're a woman, Carol."

She was very, very sure she didn’t like where this was going. "Yeah . . . "

"So you tell me,” he requested. “You probably get what's going on in that pretty little head of hers way better than I do. How do I help her out?"

She’d been suspecting this would happen since the third date, when he’d told her in great detail all about Jan’s divorce and what an idiot her ex-husband was, but now it seemed downright inevitable.

"You know what, Michael?” she said delicately. “This isn't working."

Michael snorted. "I know, right? Because I'm just trying to do my job to best of my ability and she's all, like, hovering all over me all the time, which kinda sucks because then when I go home my suit jacket kinda stinks like her perfume. Well, it's actually kinda nice perfume - Dwight says it's Ralph Lauren Blue - but still. It's like, 'Jeez, back off, Jan!' I mean, I know she misses what we used to have but this is getting kind of ridiculous, right?"

"It really is," Carol said wryly.

"Yes! Thank you.” He reached across the table for her hand, bringing it to his mouth and kissing it enthusiastically. “I knew you'd see it how I see it. That's why we click, Carol."

Oh, God. "No Michael, this is exactly why we don't click."

"What?” He dropped her hand immediately. “Oh, don't tell me you're taking her side in this, now! God, what is it with that whole 'sisterhood' thing? I don't get it."

"Michael."

"No, here's the thing,” Michael said solemnly, holding up a hand to stop her from interrupting him. “Jan's great. She can be really nice when she's not being a total bitch, and she's got this insanely beautiful smile even though she never smiles because she's kind of this corporate android..."

She really wasn’t in the mood for this. "Michael--"

"But she's not you, Carol,” Michael finished with flourish. “She doesn't laugh at my jokes and then tell me in that cute way that she doesn't get it -- she doesn't even really laugh at all. I've heard her laugh, like, twice. Maybe. And she doesn't tell me that she's happy to see me. She actually tells me about twice a day that she'd prefer it if she never had to see me, because she says it would just make things easier on her or some stupid thing like that--"

He was obsessed. Completely obsessed. She was fairly certain that the only person in the coffeeshop who hadn’t figured it out yet was him.

"--Michael, I really don't think you're understanding what I'm saying--"

"It's like she's just never really let go of that time when we –“ He seemed to realize all at once that he’d said something horribly wrong, and immediately let out a terse, “Never mind."

The idea that he had no idea she’d figured it out on her own was almost sweet, in a pathetic way. "What?"

"No, never mind,” he said, shaking his head. “I'm sure you'd rather not hear about it."

She forced a smile. "I promise you, Michael, I really don't mind."

"No, I can't, Carol,” Michael insisted, his eyes wide and serious. “Because I am a gentleman, and I know it would just be really awkward for you, and it would create all these insecurities in our relationship, and I don't want that, you know? Because I feel like we've really got a great thing goin'."

He reached out to touch her arm, and Carol gently moved his hand away. "Michael, I'm not sure--"

"Nope.” He crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Not telling you."

"I just don't think--"

"Oh, fine!” He threw his hands up into the air. “We got to second base. There. Are you happy now?"

. . . that was it?

". . . second base?" she repeated quizzically.

"Yeah,” Michael said, looking as though he was bearing the burden of having just crushed her soul. “All right? There it is. The awful truth. But you asked,” he reminded her, pointing at her. “And I don't want us to start lying to each other. Because lies . . . lies blacken all that is . . . white. And good.” He frowned thoughtfully. “Not that you have to be white to be good, because that -- that would just be closed-minded. And I'm just . . . not that way. Not at all. I've seen Boyz in Da Hood -- in fact, I know a few guys from the hood. We're tight. Dinkin' flicka. That kind of thing."

". . . Oh."

Sometimes, with Michael, that was just the only thing you could say.

His expression immediately shifted into one of devoted concern. "I'm sorry. Is this uncomfortable for you?"

"No, I'm just trying to . . .” She sighed and sipped her mocha. “Never mind."

He stared at her with utmost sympathy. "Okay. Okay. Let's get off this subject. I know it's a sensitive subject, it's not the kinda thing you want to be discussing over coffee. So, anyway, back to the good stuff.” He rubbed his hands together. “Yeah, me and Jan. We have a history, Carol. I won't lie to you. Things were pretty intense there for awhile. Pretty hot and heavy, if you know what I'm saying."

". . . second base?"

It was just so sad.

"Oh, God, you're upset.” He leaned forward again, practically diving for her hand. “You're not too upset, are you? Because seriously, you don't have to worry. That whole thing with Jan is totally, completely, ninety-five percent over."

She smiled a little in spite of herself and squeezed his hand lightly. "It's not that, Michael. I just . . . the way you talked about her, it just really sounded like . . ."

"Huh? Like what? Go ahead. Hit me. You can say it. You can just come straight out and say it. Nooo censors here. It's like Cinemax."

She sighed and pulled her hand back; physical contact didn’t seem appropriate for this particular conversation topic. "Well, I suppose the way you talked about her, I always just kind of assumed that you slept together."

For a good five seconds, he just stared. And then, finally--

". . . what?"

He really was heartbreakingly oblivious.

"The way you talk about her, Michael,” Carol prodded as kindly as she could. “Do you not realize that you talk about her constantly?"

"Well,” Michael said, struggling admirably for composure, “be-because she bugs me. Constantly. She's like... always there."

"Exactly," Carol said gently.

He frowned at her, clearly lost. God help him. "What do you mean?"

Carol sighed exasperatedly. "Michael... since our first date, you haven't stopped talking about Jan. Half the time you mention how much she irritates you and how she's making your life a living hell, and then the other half of the time you're numerating what's so wonderful about her. And... with those kind of polar extremes, I kind of assumed you two had a, uh... sexual history."

He chuffed. "Yeah. She wishes."

Oh, really. This was getting nowhere.

"Michael, let me ask you something."

He nodded. "Sure. Anything."

"You mentioned to her at that Casino thing that you invited me when she said no."

"That's not really a question,” he pointed out affectionately, and beamed at her. “You're adorable, Carol."

"Um, thank... you. I think.” She forced a strained smile. “Anyway, if she hadn't said no--"

"Well, then you and I wouldn't be together." He reached for her hand.

She smiled, pulling away. "Exactly. If she'd originally said yes, you would have gone on a date with her, right?"

His brows furrowed. "I . . . I guess so."

"Okay,” she said as patiently as she could. “Doesn't that tell you something, Michael?"

He raised his brows now. "That... fate works in mysterious ways? It brings people together that normally would never work, Carol. Look at us."

"Oh, I know." She nodded with certainty. "I know. Michael, do you realize that even though she said no to start out, she still drove two-and-a-half hours to see you that night?"

"Uh--"

"That doesn't tell you anything?"

He blew a puff of air through his lips. "You know, this is just typical Jan, Carol. Wanting what she can't have. I mean, it was great to start out -- all kissing and talking and like, 'oh Michael, you're so wonderful, let me cry all over you and spill all my deepest, darkest fears and insecurities' -- and then it becomes all like, 'don't smell me, Michael' or 'stop telling me how hot I am, Michael' and 'it's never going to happen, Michael.' So this is her fault. She pushed me away. And then, in typical Jan fashion, she turns around and is suddenly all like, 'oh it's Valentine's day, Michael. Let me kiss you in the elevator even though I've told you a million times it's over'." He shook his head. "Now she's turned you against me. My own girlfriend. Typical Jan."

Carol suddenly felt very tired.

"Michael. Do you . . . do you even understand what I'm telling you?"

"See, now you're even starting to sound like her! Jeez.” He rolled his eyes impatiently. “Yes, I understand what you're telling me! You're telling me that . . . uh. Carol?"

She struggled to maintain her composure. "Yes?"

"What is it you're trying to say here, exactly?"

Oh, there was no point in subtlety.

"That I think you have feelings for Jan, Michael."

Michael stared at her for a moment, then let out a loud, incredulous laugh. The couple sitting next to them eyed him with varying degrees of alarm, and Carol gave them a faint apologetic smile.

". . . what? Feelings? Me? Feelings for Jan? Well, now you're just -- that just settles it. Now you're just completely . . . crazy."

"I don't think so, Michael," Carol said steadily.

"What?” Michael demanded. “No! You're crazy, Carol! It's just . . . God, it's so sad that you can't see it! Have you been talking to her?"

"What?" she asked, caught off-guard.

"Have you been talking to Jan? Because you're sounding a lot like her. Very irrational. Very . . . just . . . completely off-base.” He shook his head in disgust. “Feelings for Jan! That's just . . . crazy talk."

"No, I haven't been talking to Jan,” Carol said as levelly as she could. “I only met her once. You know that."

"I don't know-know that!” Michael protested. “For all I know, you two could be conspiring against me! And right now, you know what, Carol? It really feels like it! Feelings! For Jan! I mean, come on."

"Michael, this is sounding a lot like denial," she pointed out.

"Oh, pfft! Why would I be in denial? She's hot. Denial is not the issue here, Carol. The issue is that you're my girlfriend and therefore you are the one that I'm feeling. Or, uh, having feelings. For. Or, well, both, really--"

"Maybe you should tell her," Carol cut in.

"Tell her? Oh, right, like that works.” He laughed shortly. “Believe me, I've tried that one before. She just got all . . . weird."

"Why?" She thought she might have some idea.

"How am I supposed to know?? All of a sudden, it was just, 'stop calling me, Michael!', 'we should only see other people, Michael.' And so that,” he announced stoically, “is what I am doing."

Carol arched an eyebrow. "So you're seeing me because she told you to?"

"No!” Michael exclaimed. “Where would you get that idea?"

"You just said--"

"The point is,” Michael said matter-of-factly, “that it could never work, Jan and me. Not ever. We're too different. I'm fun and . . . ya know, cool, and she's just . . . none of those things."

"But you like her anyway," Carol reminded him.

"Well, yeah," he agreed, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world.

"Why?"

Michael shrugged and blew another puff of air through his lips, unable to come up with anything but, "Because she's Jan."

"Exactly."

"Exactly what?"

"This is exactly why this -- you and me, Michael -- this is why it won't work.” She met his eyes and stared at him earnestly. “Because she's Jan, and because I'm not."

"I swear to God you two have been talking, because you're making absolutely no sense at all!" He chuckled. "Maybe I should start calling you Jan!"

She shook her head. "Please don't, Michael."

"See? You even say my name a lot, like she does. Except... not in the same tone. When she says it, she either sounds really angry like she'd enjoy killing me and hiding my body... or really exasperated, like... maybe she'd just like to strangle me and leave me for dead, and then after I'm dead she'd hide my body."

She decided after a moment’s silence that there were simply some things that couldn’t be met with any kind of adequate response. Instead, she stared.

"What?” Michael demanded. “It's the truth."

"Somehow I really doubt she wants to kill you,” Carol said, although she wasn’t entirely certain how truthful that was. “Especially if everything you've been saying about her -- nonstop -- is true."

"I wouldn't lie to you, Carol," Michael said sincerely, green eyes shining.

She couldn’t help liking him, even after she’d had to endure what might have been the most bewildering conversation she’d ever taken part in. He deserved to be happy, even – especially if it wasn’t with her. Now, if only communicating that fact to him seemed remotely possible . . .

"Then I'd say that she doesn't want to kill you,” she said solemnly. “Michael, I'd even say that Jan has feelings for you, too. And I think you should talk to her about it.” She bit her lip. This was it. “I also think that we shouldn't be together anymore."

Michael stared at her in helpless confusion. "But... you get me, Carol."

Carol chuckled just a little. "I actually, fortunately, don't. Not really.” She rose and reached for her purse. “Jan does. She gets you. She's got you, Michael,” she reiterated, smiling wistfully at him. “And you've got her. So... call her and see if you guys can maybe work something out."

Michael looked nothing short of dazed. "But--"

"I've really gotta go. I have to pick up the kids." Feeling strangely relieved, she leaned down to brush a brief kiss against his cheek. She murmured a quiet “goodbye, Michael” against his skin, pulled back, and walked away.

Michael sat numbly and stared after Carol as she slipped out of the coffee shop and into the parking lot. "Well," he muttered under his breath after a moment of dazed silence, "this is just . . . not cool."

His cell phone rang -- a couple sitting at the table next to his eyed him strangely (they looked a little too old and stodgy to appreciate the Black Eyed Peas; losers). Sighing gravely, he fished it out of his pocket. "Michael Scott."

"Michael. It's Jan. I'm calling to determine what it is you plan on accomplishing toda--"

"Can this wait?" he cut in tersely.

She was silent for a few seconds. "Excuse me?"

"This . . . thing. With the planning. Can it wait? 'Cause I'm having a pretty crappy morning, and it's already your fault."

"What?"

"Yeah, you heard me. So if you'd just . . . not right now, I would really appreciate it."

"Wait. Michael, how can your crappy morning be my fault? This is the first time I've spoken to you today."

"Yeah, well, apparently now you don't even have to talk to me to bring me down, Jan! Interesting, huh? Although I bet you had it planned somehow."

"Michael, what are you talking about?"

"You know, let's just not go there. I don't feel comfortable discussing it with you."

"Then why did you bring it up?"

"Just to let you know how much you're making my life suck right now."

"Why would I possibly want to know that?"

"You wouldn't. But you do. And you're probably feeling pretty guilty right now, huh? Well, I'm sorry, but you totally deserve it. Completely."

"Michael, are you going to tell me what the hell is bothering you?"

"You, Jan. You are bothering me. I just . . . God, I really don't want to talk about it."

"Fine. I'll call you back later."

"Carol dumped me."

The silence lasted so long he almost started to wonder if she hung up. And then-- ". . . what?"

"Yeah, that's right, Jan. She dumped me. For you."

"What??"

"I think you heard me the first time."

"What I heard, Michael, is that your girlfriend dumped you for me."

"I know! Stupid, right? God, I don't know what she's thinking."

". . . and by 'for me,' you mean . . . ?"

"So I could go out with you, Jan! Duh! What else would it mean?"

"Well, traditionally it would mean that she dumped you so she could go out with me."

"Psh. Oh, right, Jan. Carol is a lesbian. Nice."

"You have no grasp whatsoever on the English language."

"At least I'm not a lesbian."

"Michael, what does that even have to do with anything?"

"You tell me."

"I . . . couldn't begin to. I swear, Michael, one of these days you're going to drive me out of my mind."

"Look who's talking, Jan! You just got me dumped!"

"I did not 'get you dumped,' Michael!"

"I really think ya did."

"In what conceivable way is Carol's breaking up with you my fault, Michael? How could that be?"

"Well, for one thing--"

"You know what? No. I'm very, very sure that I don't want to hear this. I just . . . don't want to know, Michael. You have no right to blame the less-than-perfect aspects of your life on me. In fact, your relationship with Carol is something I'd really rather not hear about, ever. If you don't mind. So let's just -- what are you planning on accomplishing today?"

"I don't know, Jan! Maybe . . . not killing myself! Maybe I'll work on that!"

"Oh, Michael, what is that supposed to mean?"

"It means that I'm feeling pretty low right now, Jan! My girlfriend -- the woman who very well could have been the love of my life -- just dumped me. Forever. We're in Splitsville. And this isn't even just about me and her! Think of her kids, Jan! I don't suppose that ever even crossed your mind. I'll have you know that I got very, very attached to them! And suddenly, I'm facing the prospect of a life without Tommy and . . . Tommy's sister in it, and that's not something that makes me want to live, quite frankly."

". . . Michael?"

"Yes?"

"What's Tommy's sister's name?"

". . . That is not the issue right now."

"You don't even know the names of both children."

"What are you talking about? I so do--"

"Michael, how often did you and Carol even see each other?"

". . . I thought you didn't want to talk about Carol."

"Well, now I do."

"I think your exact words were that you didn't want to talk about Carol ever."

"I changed my mind."

"I thought that with you, never always meant never ever ever."

". . ."

"Jan? You still there?"

"I said 'ever.' Not 'never.' There's a difference."

"One letter."

"Still a difference."

"Nnnnn. That's it. That's all. Pretty much the same thing."

"Michael, this is completely ridiculous--"

"So why is it that you want to talk about Carol all of a sudden, Jan?"

"Michael--"

"Why is that?"

"Because you, Michael, have a habit of fixating on things until you have succeeded in driving everyone around you completely crazy, and I figured it would be best to just get it talked about, and -- and over, and done with. And then we could talk about business. So. I think it's best now, in the interest of Dunder Mifflin, for you to tell me about Carol."

". . . That doesn't even make any sense."

"Yes it does."

"No, it really doesn't."

"Michael, who are you to judge if something makes sense?"

"I make sense, Jan. You just don't get me."

"Oh, for God's sake--"

"That's why we would never work. Carol didn't know what she was talking about."

". . . Carol was talking about us?"

"Yeah! I told you that like an hour ago."

"We've only been on the phone for three minutes, Michael."

"Whatever. The point is, yes. Carol broke up with me because she thinks you're in love with me."

". . . excuse me??"

"More or less."

"Well, I'm sorry, but you can tell her that that's absolutely ridiculous."

"I would, except we broke up. Or maybe you missed that part, Jan."

"I am n-- not in love with you, Michael."

"Yeah, wow, thanks, that's really great to know. I'm feeling really appreciated now."

"I kissed you. Once. That's it."

"Three times."

"What?"

"Actually, it'd be three times. If we're counting the Chili's parking lot, the hotel, and the elevator. Of course, there were actually two kisses in the parking lot, and the hotel? That was definitely more than one--"

"That's enough, Michael."

"A lot more than one--"

"I remember, Michael. I was there."

"And I think it should totally count for more than one if you're horizontal while you're doing it--"

"Michael."

"Sheesh. What?"

"We had a fling. A drunken fling. That's it. I am certainly, undeniably, absolutely not in love with you."

". . . really?"

"Really."

". . . yeah, well, I knew that! Pfft. You should be telling Carol this, not me."

"I can't tell Carol this. I'm talking to you."

"Right. Well, the point is, she's crazy. In fact, I'm probably better off without her. I can tell already she's gonna turn into one of those psycho exes. Crazy Carol! Told me I should get together with my boss. Weeeeeirdoooo."

"Why on earth would she tell you that, Michael?"

"Oh, I dunno. Something about me talking about you all the time, and the fact that we were supposed to go on a date, and you've got me and I've got you and blah blah blah."

". . . you haven't got me."

"Well, right back atcha, Miss Nice Guy. Jeez."

"This conversation is completely irrelevant to the matter at hand."

"You're the one who asked about Carol."

"Well, forget I asked. I don't want to know."

"What? Is this because of the whole got me/got you thing?"

"I couldn't care less about the got me/got you, thing, Michael, because it's not true. We have not got each other, and it's as simple as that. We are colleagues, and right now, I think that we really should be discussing business--"

"Maybe a little bit true."

"What?"

"Maybe you've got me a little."

". . . what?"

"Oh, grow up, Jan. You don't have to go all crazy about it. I just -- you know, this is totally your fault. If you'd said yes when I asked you to Casino Night in the first place, we could've avoided the whole Carol thing altogether, and I bet by now we'd be--"

"Michael, please don't talk like that."

"Like what?"

"Like something could legitimately happen here! It couldn't. Not ever."

"Why not?"

"Oh, God, where to even start? There are a million reasons."

"I will settle for a thousand."

"Michael--"

"Heh, just kidding."

"This really isn't a time to--"

"How about one? One will work."

"One what?"

"One reason. Why this couldn't happen."

". . ."

"Why, you're sure awful quiet, Jan. Having trouble coming up with a reason?"

"No, Michael, I'm having trouble trying to pick just one."

"Hey, Jan. You know what're really overrated?"

"What?"

"Reasons."

"You would say that, Michael."

"And I would be right."

"No."

"Ya know, even when I was with Carol, I guess I was still sort of--"

"Michael. Stop it."

"She and I didn't really have that same -- spark. You know, the spark?"

"There is no spark."

"Gah! Jan! There is no spark?? Come on. Even you can do better than that."

"It's true. I feel no spark, Michael. For me, there is no spark."

"Please! There's been sparks flyin' since the day we met. And that's back when you were married."

"Michael, when I was with my husband I certainly did not--"

"You think maybe part of why your marriage didn't work out was--"

"No, Michael."

"You sure?"

"Very."

"Hmm. Okay, fine. But after you got divorced, definitely."

"Michael."

"Like when we landed the deal at Chili's, and I looked over at you, and you smiled at me? God. That was the most amazing smile."

"Michael, please--"

"No, I mean it."

"This really isn't--"

"Ya know, that might have been the first time I ever actually saw you smile."

"Michael--"

"You should smile more."

"This conversation is--"

"Why don't you smile more?"

"Because I don't feel like smiling very often, Michael."

"Huh. I wish you did."

"Don't do that, please. I hate it when you do that."

"Do what?"

"Act like a human being. It just . . . it makes things very difficult."

"Sorry."

"Don't be. I . . . Michael?"

"Yeah, Jan?"

". . . Nothing."

". . . are you sure about that?"

"Yeah. Just -- never mind."

"Oookay."

"Michael?"

"Yes?"

"Something's just occurred to me, and -- I think I'll be driving to Scranton today. There's something I'd like to check up on."

". . . really?"

"Yeah. So I'll -- I'll see you in a couple hours, all right?"

"Um. Okay."

"And then we can discuss business."

"Business."

"Yes."

"Uh . . . all right. Sounds good to me. And you're sure we'll be discussing . . . business?"

"What else would we discuss?"

"Oh, I dunno. Maybe . . . some of the stuff that Carol said."

"I don't think so, Michael."

"Like that part where maybe you're in love with me."

"Michael, I am not--"

"Or maybe I'm in love with you."

". . ."

"Jan?"

click.


*****

Michael glanced up from toying with his napkin to see Jan pulling into the tiny parking lot of the coffee shop, where he'd been sitting for the last three hours. He'd left her a voicemail not to meet him at Dunder Mifflin -- their conversations never seemed to go well there, anyway -- and instead instructed her to meet him here.

And now here she was, climbing out of that little silver car looking adorably flustered and sexy, those spiky heels of hers clicking on the sidewalk as she headed straight for him. Michael, accordingly, straightened in his seat, her mere presence commanding every nerve ending's full attention.

She slid easily into the bistro chair across the small round table from him and met his eyes. "You are not in love with me, Michael."

Michael just peered at her over the rim of his cappuccino, taking a long sip and smacking his lips slightly when he was done. "Yes I am," he countered, and nudged the coffee he'd ordered for her in her direction.

She looked down into the glass, asking redundantly, "What's this?"

"Umm, coffee? Two cream, two sugars."

For just a moment, stoic and cold Jan Levinson faltered, ebbed to the side as just... Jan... twitched the slightest of smiles, the look on her face easily read by Michael. It was ordered just the way she liked it. "Thank you."

Then, cold Jan Levinson was back. "Michael, listen--"

"Don't, Jan. Just don't. I've had a crappy enough morning, and I don't need you lying to me to make it worse."

"I'm not lying to you, Michael, when I tell you that I'm not in love with you. I'm not. And you're not in love with me."

"Yes, I am. I've had two-and-a-half hours to think about it, and I've decided that I am."

She raised her eyebrows. "You've decided that you are. You can't just decide that you're in love with me, Michael."

He took another sip of his cappuccino. "You can't just decide that I'm not, Jan."

Jan clenched her teeth and raised her hands, mimicking a strangling gesture -- she so desperately wanted to strangle him right now -- and told him, "This isn't how this works."

"What?"

Quietly, she replied, "Falling in love."

"How would you know? You're divorced."

"Nice, Michael."

"I... didn't mean it like that. I'm sorry. I just mean... who are you to say how falling in love works? Like there's just one way it can happen?"

"I'm just saying, Michael, that falling in love isn't something you just... decide to do. It's something that happens."

"And it did happen. I happened to decide that I was in love with you today. Well... with Carol's help, but still." He chuckled to himself. "That crazy Carol."

"Michael..."

"No, wait," he instructed, raising a hand to shush her. "Just hear me out here."

"No," Jan returned evenly.

"Like, think about it for a second, here, Jan," he said, and leaned forward, "We're pretty much living parallel lives."

Jan stared blankly at him.

He'd figured she would need a minute or two to process it. It was pretty profound stuff.

"How are we doing that, Michael?" she finally managed faintly.

"Well, for one thing, we're both pretty damn impressive professionally," he said. "I'm a boss, you're a boss--"

"I'm your boss," she cut in pointedly.

"And I'm Pam's boss!" Michael finished with flourish.

Jan frowned. "What does Pam have to do with anything?"

"Well, I'm someone, and Pam's someone, which effectively both makes us the boss of someone. See?"

He decided to take her blank stare for a 'yes.' It was, after all, a lot to take in all at once.

"Then," he proceeded, "there's the fact that we've both suffered the pitfalls of doomed love. 'Cause, you know, you and Gould, me and Carol--"

"Michael--"

"I know!" He let out a short laugh of amazement. "It's spooky how alike we are, isn't it?"

"Michael," Jan said; her tone was even, but he couldn't help noticing that her hands were clutching her coffee cup more and more tightly. "My husband and I were married for eight years. You and Carol dated for, what? Three months?"

"And God, did it feel like eight years," Michael finished with a grave sigh.

"Michael, a marriage and a three-month relationship aren't remotely similar--"

"And then there's the part where you want kids," Michael went on nonchalantly. "And, well, honestly, I wouldn't mind them myself."

"Michael!" Jan barked, squeezing her coffee cup so violently that one side of it threatened to crumple. "We are not having this conversation."

Michael blinked. "Why not?"

"Because! We just... we..." Jan was losing grip quickly and knew that Michael could see it. So, she did the first thing she could think of. She practically jumped to her feet, grabbed her purse, and started to storm off. "We just are NOT having this conversation."

Michael didn't even need a second to ponder her behavior before he, too, was on his feet and trailing after her. He followed her around the building and to the back, watching as she began to dig through her purse. When she pulled out a pack of cigarettes, he grabbed her wrist. "Jan, come on!"

She wrenched her arm from his grasp and whirled on her spiky heels, blue eyes blazing. "Don't touch me, Michael. Not now."

His brain didn't really register the 'no touch' warning, but rather focused on the latter portion. "Not now? Sooo, later?"

Jan threw her head back briefly, rolling her eyes skyward and pulling out a cigarette. She lit it with one flick of her fingers on her lighter and brought it to her lips. Michael snatched it away from her and stamped it into the pavement with his shoe, and Jan could have literally killed him for that move.

"Michael," she ground out.

"Jan, you're just being stubborn, and that's okay. It took me two-and-a-half hours to reach this point, so I can't even begin to imagine how long it's going to take you."

She narrowed her eyes and wasn't sure whether or not to be insulted by that remark.

"We are living parallel lives, Jan. We both want kids, we're both all alone, with only each other to--"

"For the last time, Michael, we do NOT have each other. My GOD, you are just so..." She made that strangling motion again and thought for a moment about going through with it. "So OBTUSE! And arrogant! And SO unable to let this go!"

Michael would have argued with that. He really would have... he'd thought up the perfect line and everything. He would've argued and won the argument, if Jan hadn't grabbed him and kissed him. For a second, he didn't move. His eyes were wide, and he was wondering just what in the hell was going on. But that was only for a second. After that second, he realized that Jan was freaking kissing him, and who in their right mind wouldn't kiss Jan back?

So he started to kiss her back. His eyes closed. His hands closed around her waist, and that was when she shoved him away, that firm Jan glare back in place. "You need to let this go, Michael. It's never going to happen."

He stared blankly at her. "But you just--"

"I know. I know." She exhaled sharply, one hand flying up to cover her face. Never in his life had he known anyone else who got so upset over really great kissing.

Well, except maybe Oscar.

"That was an accident," she said matter-of-factly, in that same voice she used to talk about health care plans and day-to-day productivity.

Which so wasn't going to cut it this time.

"An accident?" he repeated skeptically, and let out a short laugh. "Jan, come on--"

"Yes, Michael, an accident," she snapped, and began fumbling through her purse for her cigarettes again. "I really don't know what came over me, but I promise you, it's never going to happen again."

"Yeah, well, uh, you said that before, and we've kissed, what, twice since then?" He fixed her with a pointed stare. "So I'm sorry, Jan, but I don't know if I can trust you on this particular subject."

"Michael!"

"What??"

For a second, she looked a whole lot like she actually might kill him. He hadn't had the chance yet to determine whether he was freaked out, turned on, or both when she spoke again, clearly struggling for composure.

"Just . . . go back inside, okay? And I am going to get in the car and drive back to New York."

"You just got here," he pointed out.

"And already I can tell that this was a completely terrible idea."

The look on her face made one thing perfectly clear: it was time to break out the big guns.

"Oh, wait. You know, I see what's going on here."

"What?" she sighed, not looking at him as she raised a new cigarette to her lips.

He allowed a few seconds of silence to pass before informing her, "You're scared."

She lowered the cigarette. "What?"

"That's right," he said smoothly. "You're scared of this. Of us. Of what you're feeling."

For a moment, she just stared at him, her expression completely indecipherable. He wasn't sure whether even she knew what she was thinking.

And then, very abruptly, she took a few steps forward."I may be scared of you, Michael, but that certainly has nothing to do with us." She laughed shortly under her breath. "There is no us."

"Oh, there is so an us," he scoffed.

"There is not, Michael," she insisted, narrowing her eyes dangerously at him as she brushed past him.

He caught her forearm. "You sure about that?"

The look in her eyes almost burned straight through him, and he was about to drop her arm out of fear of bodily harm before he found himself pushed against the brick wall of the building... and Jan was kissing him yet again. And this was, by far, just about the hottest kiss he'd ever experienced. Not just with Jan, but with all women. Put together.

Jan was alternately pushing him away (but he was already against the building, so didn't she understand he couldn't go anyplace else?) and pulling him closer, stuffing her hands through his hair. Michael, for the most part, just remained stationary and let his lips respond -- the last time he'd touched her waist, after all, was when the spell had been broken -- but after what felt like three hours he couldn't take it anymore. Michael had to touch her.

So he grabbed her waist. He fought back when she moved to push him away, and reversed their positions so it was she that was pinned to the building. She seemed to enjoy that -- the gasping and the way she deepened the kiss helped him figure that out. Not to mention... was that her leg winding around his?

But then she did what made her so wonderfully, perfectly, his Jan and she shoved him off of her, their lips breaking harshly. "Get off me, Michael."

"I don't think you even know what you want, Jan," he observed boldly, no longer afraid of her irrational anger. After all, they had some really hot kisses when she was pissed off.

"I know what I want," she managed, and Michael almost crumpled to his knees when he noticed the lust in her voice, "And it sure as hell is not you."

"I think it is." Her anger, and desire-wrought confusion emboldened him, brought him closer to her in just two steps.

"I can't stand you, Michael."

He raised his eyebrows. "You can't stand me but you'll make out with me? Hardcore? Yeah, because that makes sense, Jan. Jeez. And I thought Carol was a nutcase."

"You're obnoxious and obtuse and - and... obsessive!"

"Yeah. I know. You said that right before you started mackin' on me... remember?"

"And this could never work, Michael! All the fighting, and... you drive me insane!"

"Oh God, you drive me insane, too." He reached for her waist again and touched his lips to her neck, mumbling against her skin, "In the best possible way."

Her hands pushed at him feebly, though her neck tilted to offer more skin for him to kiss. "You drive me insane in the worst possible way, Michael."

"Good." He continued kissing up her neck and across her jawline, making his way toward her lips. "Because I plan on continuing to do that until we are very," kiss, "very," kiss, "old."

"Michael." This time, when she pushed it away, her touch was gentle. There was a slight smile on her face, and Michael could have sworn that, for a fleeting moment, she played with his tie.

So then he just had to ask. Quietly, though, in case she felt like attacking him again. "What do you have to be afraid of, Jan?"

"Michael..."

"You said you were afraid of me." And yes, that still smarted just a little. Jan had told him before that it wasn't his looks, so what the hell else was there to be afraid of? "I'd never intentionally hurt you."

And what broke Jan's heart the most was not the softness of his voice, but the knowledge that he meant it... bone-deep. "I know," she admitted, not quite meeting his eyes as she spoke. "You've always been very sweet to me, Michael. I just . . ."

"What?" he prompted, raising his hand to brush his thumb lightly across her cheek. Automatically, she lifted her own hand to push his away, but somehow in the process their fingers entwined. He was looking at her with such aching sincerity that she couldn't quite bring herself to say the things she knew she had to; that it could never work out between them, that the very idea was laughable, that professionally and personally it was nothing short of suicidal.

"It would be crazy," she finished weakly.

He raised his eyebrows. "Crazy-awesome."

She laughed despite herself. It wasn't remotely romantic, and yet so endearingly fitting of him. Suddenly, resisting didn't seem so very imperative.

"Come on, Jan," he urged, squeezing her hand lightly. "You can't just make a guy wait around forever -- is it a yes, is it a no?"

"It's been twenty seconds, Michael," she reminded him, knowing very well that this was one of those moments where she should have been completely maddened by him -- and would have, under normal circumstances. But these weren't exactly what you would call normal circumstances. Things were very seldom normal where Michael was concerned, and she suddenly found herself harboring the sneaking suspicion that perhaps that wasn't necessarily such a bad thing.

"Twenty seconds and I'm still in love with you," Michael returned smoothly. "So, yes or no?"

She struggled to ignore the giddy, fluttering feeling his words stirred in her. "Michael, I'm going to need more ti--"

"Thirty seconds? Okay, I guess I can live with thirty seconds. Of course," he added, a sly smile making its way onto his face as he leaned in closer, "I just might have to find something to do to make the time pass."

Before Jan could properly respond, she found Michael's lips against hers, dusting across them in a sweet kiss. Her hands were on his chest (and one was actually still twined with one of his -- how had she forgotten to let go?) and she was fully prepared to push him away... but then her traitorous mouth kissed back. Her head tilted to change the angle. And her free hand, obviously too weak now to do any kind of pushing, instead grasped the lapel of his suit jacket to pull him closer.

This was obviously some sort of sneak attack that Michael had orchestrated, his intent to wear down her defenses until she had no choice but to give in. Trouble was, it was working. Her heart and stomach were fluttering with every 'in love with you' comment, and her body and soul were responding to every touch and kiss.

Her own words to him just several minutes earlier came back to her: this isn't how this works... falling in love. It happens spontaneously and it's not something one can be pushed toward. They can't be forced to be in love if they don't want to be, right?

Jan would not be forced into loving Michael Scott. It had to be what she wanted as well, and... actually, what she wanted more than anything was never to have kissed him in the first place. She wanted to have never set foot on this rollercoaster ride he'd taken her on since Chili's.

She wanted to erase every memory of the two of them on her hotel bed together, kissing fervently like two teenagers out after curfew. She wanted to erase the memory of how his fingers had caught each tear that fell as she told him about her divorce. And she wanted more than anything to erase the feeling of sleeping in his arms... she wanted to erase how oddly 'right' it had felt at the time.

But erasing Michael was impossible. He'd etched a permanent place in her life; he'd chipped away at every wall she'd so carefully built around herself and just burst right in, claiming her heart as if he had a right to it. Damn him.

"Damn you," she whispered when he finally pulled back, and her traitorous heart was still fluttering from his hands touching her waist and her lips were still tingling from his kiss.

"I know," he responded quietly; a lazy, content smile had spread across his face, betraying some unfamiliar emotion. And then she realized: he was happy. Purely, ecstatically happy. Because of her. "I get that all the time. That Michael Scott. So damn irresistible."

"That isn't what I meant," she protested feebly. Her objection was promptly contradicted when he leaned in again and her mouth met his all too willingly.

After perhaps thirty seconds in which talking was no longer a priority, he pulled away slightly. Foreheads brushing, he beamed at her, and it dawned on her after a moment that there was a smile playing around the corners of her own lips.

"See, this?" he said, his voice barely louder than a whisper. "This is good."

"Yes," she agreed weakly.

"And not the kinda thing you should just ignore," he proceeded, "because that would be stupid."

There were countless things wrong with what he had just said. They were all in the back of her mind somewhere, shrieking dimly in protest, but with his hands on her waist and her lips still tingling, they all suddenly seemed terribly unimportant.

"Michael," she murmured, at a complete loss as to what else she could possibly say.

"Jan," he returned affectionately; the warmth in his voice was enough to melt months' worth of carefully constructed barriers and icy refusals.

"I . . ." Her brain refused to respond any more adequately than that.

"Love you?" Michael offered easily.

"No," she replied automatically, and the sudden, sharp wrongness of the word was enough to make her cringe.

This wasn't enough to dissuade him, however; she supposed she should have expected as much. Instead, he kissed her neck again, mumbling a cajoling "You sure?" against her skin.

"No," she said again, helplessly, and realized all at once that her default response had just betrayed her spectacularly.

"Mmm," she felt his mouth curve into a smile before pressing another kiss to her neck and she really didn't understand why or appreciate that he was so good at this, "that's what I like to hear."

Well, maybe she appreciated it.

"Michael," she protested feebly, grasping at his coat lapels in order to push him away and somehow only succeeding in pulling him closer, "we need to talk about this."

He pulled back to stare at her with mingling desire and irritation. Her heart was torn between beating much faster and stopping entirely. "Can it wait?"

"Okay," she agreed immediately, and as she leaned in to kiss him, she decided that maybe she deserved this. Since the divorce, she'd spent far too many nights at home alone with Chinese takeout and the dim glow of the television for company, her loneliness overpowered by only her stubborn refusal to acknowledge its existence. She was tired of feeling hollow and waking up alone and having no one to talk to, and as much as this thing with Michael didn't make sense, it also felt eerily, irresistibly perfect. And quite frankly, she'd gotten tired of sense.

And then, abruptly, it was Michael who was pulling away.

"Hold on a second," he said, one of his hands leaving her hip to point accusatorily at her. "You're not gonna do the thing again, are you?"

"What?" she asked, her head spinning.

"You know," he said, a slight frown hardening his features. "Where you say this didn't actually happen and then you act all cold and disgusted whenever you see me and get all upset when I call you at home or know what store your blouse happens to be from. That thing."

"Oh," she said weakly. Her first instinct was to promise she wouldn't - to throw caution to the wind and decide that this time she wouldn't let her reputation or her doubts come in between them again. But the grim reality was that she was his boss and this was completely unprofessional and could -- would mean a world of trouble for both of them. "I . . . I don't know, Michael."

"Because I really . . ." He let out a short, frustrated sigh and crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Okay," he said, staring at her gravely, and all she could think was that she really wished he hadn't taken his hands off her waist. "You know I'm crazy about you."

"Yes," she answered.

"In fact, I kinda love you," he went on matter-of-factly, a touch of irritation lighting his words. "You're pretty much the most amazing woman I could ever imagine -- including Catherine Zeta Jones -- and if it were up to me, I'd just give up the whole playing-the-field deal and settle down with you in about two seconds."

Blinking, she bit her lower lip; the impact his words had on her was so sudden and overwhelming that a lump had formed in the back of her throat, but he didn't seem to notice.

"But if you're gonna . . . do that thing again, it'd probably be a good idea for me to just get back to work now." He met her eyes. "Because I might be a pretty tough guy, Jan, but even I can only take that so many times."

If someone had told her a year ago that she would be standing opposite Michael Scott blinking back tears and wanting more than anything to kiss him, she would have . . . well, she certainly wouldn't have believed it, for one. And after everything that had happened in the Chili's parking lot and the hotel room, she'd devoted herself whole-heartedly to making sure it would never happen again - and assuring as many people as she could that it had never happened in the first place. She'd been so caught up in her own horror and regret that she'd never quite taken the time to consider what Michael might be feeling: he was just there, calling her and showering her in compliments and ardently refusing to just accept that there was nothing between them.

He was just as lonely as she was, and somehow she'd never allowed herself to see it until this very moment.

Just as she'd begun to cast around for something, anything to say that might make him feel better, he apparently chose to take her silence as an answer.

"Um, okay, then," he said, sticking his hands into his pockets and looking as though his dog had just died. "Not really what I was hoping for, but - um, valid answer, so I'm just gonna go-"

As he turned away from her, she mustered enough sense to reach out and catch his arm. "Michael, wait."

He turned back, and his eyes were so alight with hope that she wanted to throw her arms around him then and there. "Yeah?"

"I . . ." Oh, God. She was really going to say this. "I might." She took a steadying breath. "In fact, I think I-"

"You might what?" Michael interjected, his brow furrowing in confusion. "Do the thing?"

Damn it.

"Um, no," she said, running a nervous hand through her hair. "I meant in relation to the other-"

"Pretend none of this ever happened??"

"No," she said impatiently, raising a hand against his words. "Michael, I-"

"Because seriously, Jan, that's getting old-"

"Michael, what I meant was-"

"And in fact, it's kinda mean! 'Cause here I am, standing here telling you all this nice, true stuff about you being hotter than Catherine Zeta-frickin'-Jones and you're just gonna-"

"Michael, if you'd just be quiet for two seconds, I'd-"

"-start giving me that whole restraining order lecture again-"

"-be able to tell you that I think I-"

"-which, by the way, totally invalid, 'cause you were definitely initiating some of that action-"

"-misjudged things and I really think you should know I-"

"-and maybe I'm the one who needs the restraining order-"

"-might love you."

He abruptly fell silent.

"Possibly," she finished awkwardly.

He stared at her. The frustration on his face disappeared immediately, leaving way for a blankness that was slightly unsettling. She didn't have the slightest clue what he was thinking, and that was unsettling, particularly with Michael.

"Michael?" she ventured timidly after ten seconds of very unnerving silence. "Did you hear me?"

Nothing.

For a moment she was struck with the horrifying idea that she had done something terribly wrong, but that was ridiculous - he wanted this. He'd always made that very, very clear.

Finally, very slowly, he nodded.

"And . . . ?" she prompted, feeling a faint glint of frustration.

Whatever trance he seemed to be in, he snapped out of it and took one giant step toward her, infiltrating her personal bubble like no other could. "Say it again."

"What?" She felt the heat off his body and the heat radiating from her own flushed face, and for a moment she registered that his hands were close to her hips again.

Like he could read her thoughts, his hands closed over her hips and he took one more step forward. His deep, soulful green eyes seduced her into a wonderful sort of haze, and he leaned close, so his lips hovered just a tantalizing few inches away from touching her own. "Say it again."

How could she possibly manage so much as a word with him so close? "Michael... I said I might--"

"No." He captured her lips and released them... over and over again until he'd stolen all her breath. "Not 'might,' Jan."

"I do," she corrected, feeling a G-force in her stomach so unmistakable in its meaning -- this really was oddly, incomprehensibly right. "I do--"

"There you go." He dusted her lips with a kiss again,

"--love you," she finished when he'd pulled back.

He simply stared at her for a moment, a lazy, sweet silence enveloping them. His eyes were bright and warm, and the unconscious traces of a smile lit up his whole face. He was terribly handsome, she decided.

He raised a hand and affectionately tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear, then solemnly pronounced, "Now, that's what I'm talkin' about."

She laughed. It felt strange to let herself do so - and wonderful, too. "Oh, Michael."

"So," he said briskly, and pulled her closer. "What next?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you're in New York and I'm here and that's not gonna work," he said matter-of-factly. "It'd probably be easiest for you to just move in with me."

"What?"

"Or I guess I could move in with you," he proceeded thoughtfully, "although a two-and-a-half hour drive to Scranton every morning doesn't exactly sound like a picnic, I gotta say."

"Michael, I think you're jumping ahead of yourself here-"

"My condo's nice," he assured her. "Fantastic neighborhood. Quiet. Gay friendly."

"Michael-"

"Maybe we should just get married," he concluded. "That'd be sort of nice."

"Michael-"

"I think Jan Scott has a nice ring to it."

"Michael-"

"Sorry - Jan Levinson-Scott?"

"Michael," she said as gently as she could. "I don't know if I'm comfortable looking that far into the future right now."

"Oh," he said, looking slightly crestfallen. "Right. Okay. That's good."

"That's good," she agreed, and decided it would probably be best to kiss away his disappointment.

Their mouths were centimeters apart when he abruptly pulled back to ask, "So, how far are you willing to look?"

"Mmm." She feigned nonchalant contemplation. "How long does it take to drive to your condo?"

"Fifteen minutes?" Michael exclaimed incredulously. "Jan, are you serious? You're gonna have to commit longer than that - you could at least look into the future an hour-"

There really was no hope for him. At present, though, it seemed nothing short of entirely endearing.

"Then how long does it take to get from your front door to your bedroom?" she prompted.

"I dunno, twenty seconds," he said distractedly, clearly fixated on the matter at hand. "Jan, I'm really concerned about the well-being of our relationship if you're not even willing to . . ."

And then it hit him.

He just stared at her for a moment, irritation ebbing away in favour of something charmingly reminiscent of awe.

"Oh," he said dimly.

"Yes," she agreed as composedly as she could.

"Well, that's - that's an okay commitment for now, then," he nodded slowly. "That's definitely doable."

Jan couldn't help herself. "That's what she said."

An awed, but devilish grin took over his face before he proclaimed, "God, I love you."

She laughed and reluctantly pulled away from him. "What do you say we get out of here?"

Michael didn't need so much as a split-second of consideration. "I say hell yes."

"Okay, then," she said, smiling; she started walking and his footsteps easily fell in time with hers. After a few seconds, he reached out and wrapped an arm casually around her waist, pulling her close; feeling strangely giddy, she leaned into him.

"You know," he said thoughtfully, and turned to press a light kiss in her hair, "maybe we should send Carol something. Thank you note. Fruit basket. I dunno. What says 'thanks for setting me up with my totally hot boss even though you're my girlfriend?'"

She rolled her eyes. "Michael?"

"Yeah?"

"Shut up," she instructed, not entirely without affection.

"Make me," he retorted, with all the maturity of a sixth grader; she looked over at him to find that his eyes were twinkling rather mischievously.

She leveled him with a stern glare.

"Oh, come on, you can do better than tha-"

And so, without further ado, she leaned in and silenced his mouth with hers. After all, she was hardly one to back down from a challenge.


FIN



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