Dunder-Mifflin is Michael's first job. His first real, adult job. He doesn't count the fast food job, or the summer he worked at the fairgrounds, dressed as a piece of pizza while he handed out leaflets. Or the weekends he spent mowing lawns for his Uncle Frank's landscape business while he was in high school. Or the three hours he once spent as a telemarketer before he decided he'd rather survive on ramen for a month than cold call anyone at dinner ever again.
He's up two hours early on his first day. He makes himself an omelet, checks the contents of his briefcase – pocket calculator, notebook, resumes, a copy of "Who Moved My Cheese?" – polishes his shoes, and changes his tie four times, unsure if he should go with a power tie or something more approachable. He'd rehearsed the drive the Sunday before. The office is still dark when he arrives, so he drives around the block until he spots a few cars in the lot. He doesn't want to seem overeager.
It's quiet when he walks in. Only a few people have arrived; they're loitering in the kitchen or idly checking messages. The receptionist greets him perkily and ushers him towards the back of the office, to a nondescript cubicle. He would have assumed it was empty except for the rubber band ball next to the monitor and a lone snapshot of a dog with a frisbee in its mouth tacked to the bulletin board. The man in the cubicle is almost as nondescript as his surroundings – monochromatic, unassuming.
"Michael, this is Toby Flenderson. He's the new HR rep here in Scranton now that Marie is on maternity leave and he'll be showing you the ropes. Toby, Michael Scott." She holds her hand out, palm up, in Toby's direction as she introduces them. "Michael is our new recruit," she says. Michael reaches out to shake Toby's proffered hand. Firm grip, eye contact, at least four shakes, he recites to himself in his head. Toby's hand is dry and slightly cool and he laughs a little when he tries to pull his hand away and Michael holds on a little too long. But he claps Michael's shoulder with that hand and warmly says, "Welcome to Dunder-Mifflin," so Michael isn't too embarrassed.
Funny thing, he finds out that he's good at selling paper. He'd never expected that. His father always liked to tell him he wasn't good for much of anything. But selling paper – that he can do. So he spends most of his nights at home alone, practicing with his Karaoke machine and playing Legend of Zelda. Big deal. He beats the regional sales record his second month with the company, so what if he's got no life?
Sometimes he goes out with Todd Packer. He likes Packer and all, and he always has good stories to tell the morning after. But he's not all that great with girls, is the problem. He tries all the same tricks Packer uses. He studies him like that lady with the chimps, noticing how he leans his shoulders in when he talks to a girl, how he lays his hand at the small of her back and orders her drink for her. It works so well for Packer. It never works quite so well for Michael, though. Once it even gets him slapped. Nights with Packer usually end up with Michael sitting in the corner of the booth, nursing a vodka tonic and trying not to notice that Packer has his hands down some sorority girl's pants in public.
He talks to Toby a lot in the beginning. Toby's pretty new to HR; he's still figuring everything out. Michael stops by his desk, asks questions, and Toby says "Well, let's see," and pulls out binder after binder full of human resources crap.
"Make something up," Toby tells him one day when Michael's killing time before a conference call. "Test me, keep my HR mind limber."
"Okaaaaay," Michael squints, making an exaggerated "thinking" face. "Got it. My boss grabbed my ass and I'm offended, but I also liked it. What do I do?" Toby regards him thoughtfully.
"You think Ed Truck would grab your ass?"
"I'm role-playing," Michael answers impatiently. "Pretend I'm Bonnie."
"I think he'd rather grab your ass than Bonnie's," Toby shrugs. Bonnie's what Michael's mother would charitably call "interesting looking." But Toby dutifully pulls out the sexual harassment binder and flips through the pages. "Do you think that'd be under 'Ass' or 'Grab'?" he asks idly.
It keeps both of them sane, really.
The refrigerator is still empty after Michael closes the door and opens it again; there's only a bottle of ketchup, half a six pack, and a Chinese take-out container holding an egg roll so ossified you could use it to hammer nails. He closes the fridge and tugs open the freezer. A stack of Hungry Mans. Just like last night. He sighs and stares gloomily at the blue and yellow boxes until the phone rings.
"Hey Michael, it's Toby." Toby's voice sounds tinny through the phone but still somehow comforting, reassuring.
"Toby, hey. Hi." Michael pauses. "How did you get my number?" Toby laughs.
"I'm HR. I have everyone's number."
"Oh. Right. Am…I in trouble?"
"No, of course not," Toby assures him hastily. "I was just calling to see if you wanted to hang out at my place tonight. I've got some meat I was going to grill, some vegetables, but it's too much for me to eat. We could grill, watch TV. Have some beer. What do you think?" Michael pulls open the freezer door again, stares at the TV dinners. Opens the fridge door and stares at the ketchup.
"Do you think ketchup counts as a vegetable?" he asks Toby.
"I'll be over in 15 minutes."
It starts because of Janet. Toby's been dating her for a few months now. He's spending his nights and weekends with her. Sometimes she calls Toby when Michael's there and Toby disappears into his bedroom for an hour with the phone, leaving Michael to flip through cable channels and thumb through old copies of Newsweek. He tries not to act resentful when Toby emerges and he succeeds more often than not.
Toby never talks about her when they hang out, but it's the kind of not-talking you do when someone owns you, not the kind you do when you don't really care. It doesn't bother Michael; really it doesn't, even though he tells Toby all sorts of things: about how bad he is with girls, how they always go home with Packer, how he took one girl on a date and she ended up leaving with her ex-boyfriend after running into him at the bar. He should be embarrassed to say those sorts of things to Toby, but Toby's so calm and unflappable it's easy to forget to be embarrassed or nervous when he's around. He's like the human equivalent of a Zen rock garden or a cup of tea or something. Michael told him that once and Toby just smiled.
But he's been gloomy all week. He was busy whenever Michael stopped by to quiz him, something he doesn't really need to do anymore, since Toby's pretty good at his job by now. Marie never came back so he's permanent, with his title on his business cards and everything. But Michael likes to keep testing him anyway. Today, though. Today Toby grumbles and waves his hand distractedly when Michael tries to ask him if corporate still considers it indecent exposure if it's for religious purposes.
He's surprised when Toby calls to ask if they're still on for TV tonight. They always watch TV on Thursdays. Toby likes Seinfeld. Michael does too, but he secretly thinks Friends is better. When Michael gets there Toby's already halfway through a six-pack. He's starting on his second before it even hits 9:00.
Now they're sitting on the couch, staring blankly at the television, not saying anything. Toby hasn't laughed once. Michael's starting to feel bad for being the only one laughing, so whenever Joey says something funny he thinks of road kill and people starving in Africa and his diabetic uncle. ER starts, which both of them hate, but neither makes a move to turn it off for at least 20 minutes. When Toby leans forward abruptly to grab the remote, Michael jumps.
"Do you want me to go?" he asks after the room falls silent.
"Janet dumped me," is Toby's answer.
"Janet. Dumped me."
"Oh." Then, "Toby…"
"She said I was dull."
"You're not dull," Michael tells him automatically.
"Best conversation I've had all month."
"Predictable," Toby continues.
"I thought you were going to say something else!" Michael offers, somewhat desperately.
"Staid," Toby carries on doggedly.
"Who even uses the word staid anymore?" Michael asks, grateful when it makes Toby pause.
"My grandmother uses the word staid," he muses, before shaking his head and chucking the remote across the room. He turns to Michael.
"Let's go get hammered." He doesn't wait for Michael to answer, just pushes unsteadily to his feet and grabs his jacket. He can't seem to find the sleeves and he awkwardly pushes his hands at the fabric like a frustrated toddler.
"I think one of us already is," Michael mutters under his breath, but he helps Toby into his jacket and pockets his keys just in case.
"I don't know why I even care," Toby slurs. He's slumped over his arm at the table, the heel of his hand squashing his cheek up and making him look lopsided. "She's kind of a bitch."
"Toby," Michael scolds. "You don't mean that."
"Yes I do," Toby assures him. "It's just that I really like bitches." Michael is saved from answering by the waitress delivering a round of shots. Toby does both his and Michael's.
"No sense wasting it," he says, just like he did the last round.
Toby's heavier than he looks. His arm is like a lead weight on Michael's shoulders. The bar is only three blocks away but it seems like he's been hauling Toby for three miles. He can barely open the door with Toby leaning on him, listing dangerously to the right with every move Michael makes towards the keys in his pocket. He finally snags them and manages to open the door. They stagger in together; he barely has time to kick the door shut with his foot before Toby's tipping and his weight is bearing them inexorably towards his bedroom.
It's kind of like navigating a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. They steer and grapple and float, Toby's limbs slithering away from Michael's grip until he corrals them again. When their calves collide with the bed, Toby topples, dragging Michael with him onto the unmade mattress.
"Sorry," Toby breathes. He's half on top of Michael, his shoulder pinning Michael's arm, his thigh uncomfortably close to Michael's crotch. At least that's what he's telling himself – uncomfortably. It's the couple of drinks he had that make him inch a little closer, that's all. He turns his head a bit to the right. The stubble on Toby's chin is rough against his temple. This is crazy, he thinks.
"This is crazy," he says out loud. Toby looks mildly surprised.
"Is it?" he asks, looking at Michael with curious, unfocused eyes. "Wait, what 'it' do you mean?"
"This. Us. This…thing we…" His voice fades.
"We have a thing?" Toby asks, his voice deep and faintly amused. Michael opens his mouth to speak, to backtrack and save himself, but then Toby's lips are there, just hovering at the corner of Michael's mouth, and the words dry up in his throat.
They stay like that for a second – maybe a minute, maybe an hour, Michael can't tell anymore. He also can't tell who turns first, but someone does and then Toby's mouth is on his, and his lips are parting and Michael can taste tequila and lemon on his tongue.
Toby's breath is hot and sour. His hands are rough. He pins Michael firmly to the bed and Michael feels like he's discovering something dangerous and thrilling and completely unknown. Like he's Magellan, sailing around the world or slaughtering Incas or whatever Magellan did. Except he doesn't think Magellan made out with the first mate. His brain gets hung up on that, wondering if being an explorer on a ship full of men was kind of like the Navy with "don't ask, don't tell," but then Toby's hands are unbuckling his belt and sliding under his briefs to wrap around his dick and his mind is wiped completely clean.
He makes a choked noise in his throat, bucks into Toby's hands. Easy, Toby says. His whole body is tight, hot. He feels like he's on a roller coaster that's just started to plummet. It isn't like he's got all that much experience with girls, but at least with them he knows where everything goes and how everything works. This is all new and all scary and if he had any sense he'd want to stop. But he lets Toby push him down, lets his face press against the sheets, lets Toby moves his legs apart with his knees and test his shoulder blade with his teeth. He lets Toby do whatever he wants.
He sneaks out before Toby wakes up the next morning. If Toby's going to regret this – or worse, not remember a bit of it – Michael doesn't want to be there to witness it. So he carefully eases out from beneath Toby's arm while it's still dark, feeling his way along the floor for his clothes. He pulls on his underwear and his shirt, leaving the buttons unfastened, and carries the rest of his clothes with him as he slips out of the room. He doesn't turn on any lights until he gets to the kitchen. Somehow he manages to only stub his toe once. In the kitchen he pulls on his pants and shoes, stuffing his socks into his pockets. Then he finds a glass and fills it with water before heading to the bathroom for aspirin.
Toby's snoring when he comes back to the bedroom. He's sprawled across the mattress like a kid, one foot poking out from beneath the covers and dangling off the edge. Michael leaves the glass of water and the aspirin on the nightstand, right next to Toby's hand but far enough away that he won't accidentally knock it over. Suddenly Toby stirs, stretching his hand across the pillow Michael recently occupied, searching. He frowns when his hand finds nothing, his brow furrowing, and for a moment Michael thinks that he'll wake, that he'll look up and order Michael back in to bed. But he just rolls over, burrowing his face into his pillow and Michael lets out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding.
Stars still wink dimly in the lightening sky as he drives home. As he waits at a stoplight he stretches to inspect himself in the rearview mirror. He doesn't look any different, is the crazy part.
He manages an hour or so of sleep when he gets home, before the alarm buzzes insistently and he stumbles into the shower. Maybe he falls asleep in there, maybe his head is so muddled he can't keep track of time, but by the time he gets out it's almost time to leave, so he throws on the clothes he dropped on the floor an hour ago and rushes out the door. He expects that he'll beat Toby to the office, considering the hangover Toby was in for. But he's already there when Michael pulls in to the parking lot. He kills the engine and sits gripping the steering wheel, taking a deep breath before he grabs his briefcase and heads up to the office.
He busies himself for an hour or so, returning calls, deleting old messages, arranging his pens by color. Finally he can't stand another second without coffee, so he heads into the break room. When he sees Toby standing over the toaster through the glass panel in the door he almost turns around and runs, but he steels himself and pushes open the door. Toby looks up for just a moment.
"Hi." Michael doesn't trust himself to say anything else. He grabs a mug and fills it from the coffee pot, biting his tongue every time he wants to say something like how are you feeling? or what happened last night? or do you do that with all your friends or am I just special?
"Hey, you wanna go see a movie tonight?" Toby asks. Michael freezes. He doesn't remember, he thinks, and his heart drops like a rock into his stomach.
"I don't know. I'm kind of tired today." He doesn't turn around. He just stares at the creamer making milky clouds in the surface of his coffee. He sees Toby shrug out of the corner of his eye.
"Well, call me if you feel like it." He pushes away from the counter.
"You're wearing my shirt, by the way," he mentions casually. Michael looks down, surprised, and realizes that his shirt last night was blue. Fuck.
"Do you want it back?" Michael asks dumbly. Toby laughs.
"Not right this second, no." He walks towards the door, pausing with his hand against it.
"You can give it back when you come over next time," he says, and looks back at Michael over his shoulder. Smiles. The door swings shut behind him.
It takes a second, but suddenly Michael feels lighter than he can remember feeling in a long time. He feels fizzy and about to burst, like a soda someone just shook up.
"You're in a good mood today," Phyllis comments as he passes her on his way back to his desk, and he realizes he's smiling like a lunatic.
He knows it's not real, deep down. He's not stupid. He acts like he's stupid sometimes, but that's just because it puts people at ease and they buy more paper if they think they're smarter than you are. He's done it so much that lately he's been forgetting that it's not an act, but still. He's not dumb. Toby's just a thing. Just this temporary thing, and it's nothing and it's not forever. Michael knows that.
Janet's still in the picture, too. The first breakup didn't really stick, but she's getting better with practice. They're up to a couple of weeks now before she calls him and tells him she thinks she made a mistake. Michael can tell every time she's dumped him. Toby drinks too much and laughs too loud and calls him at midnight to come over. He's rough and grim and Michael finds bruises from his hands the next morning.
But then Toby will do things. He'll grin at Michael in that way he has, like his face might break into pieces. He'll bump his knee against Michael's during a boring meeting or write notes to him in the margins of his notepad, the two of them scribbling back and forth like high school freshmen. He'll buy them matching "Virginia is for Lovers" coffee mugs when he's on vacation and Michael's chest will squeeze every time the whole office can see them both drinking from them.
"Why do you hang out with that loser douchebag?" Todd Packer wants to know.
"He's not a douchebag," Michael mutters, and declines when Todd asks if he wants to go birddog the ladies tonight.
When Michael gets promoted – "Assistant Regional Manager!" he crows – the first person he tells is Toby.
"I think the title is 'Assistant to the Regional Manager,'" Toby notes, but he's grinning.
"Same difference," Michael decides. "Let's get dinner tonight, we'll celebrate. Go someplace expensive." Toby's smile falters. "What? You don't want to get dinner?"
"No, I do, it's just…" He looks down at his feet, scuffs at the floor with his toe. Suddenly Michael realizes.
"Janet," he says flatly.
"She wants to have dinner tonight. She wants to talk."
"She wants to yank your chain."
"Fine," he says, clapping his hands together for emphasis. "Fine, I'll celebrate alone." He gives Toby a hard look. "I probably shouldn't be spending so much time with you anyway. I'm your superior now."
Toby levels his eyes at Michael. "You know you're not."
"Whatever," Michael snaps. "I've got celebrating to do. See you around." The door to the break room swings violently as he storms through.
He stops at a liquor store on his way home. He'd planned on springing for a bottle of Dom Perignon, or maybe Cristal, but he hadn't realized how expensive they were. Instead he gets two bottles of something called Brut which he thought was an aftershave.
Somehow when he pulls up to his apartment, he doesn't feel much like celebrating anymore. The engine clicks as he sits there, under the yellow light of the street lamps. Finally he makes a noise of disgust and grabs the bag of champagne to head into the house. Halfway up the walk he slows. Someone's sitting on his front stoop, his forearms resting on his knees. When he hears Michael's footsteps he raises his head.
"Hey," Toby says, the right side of his mouth quirking up hesitantly.
"Hi," Michael responds warily.
"One of those for me?" Toby asks, gesturing at the sack in Michael's hand.
"What?" Michael glances down at the bag, remembers the champagne. "Oh. Sure." Toby stands to allow him to open the door, then follows him inside. He takes the bag from Michael's hand and withdraws both bottles. He prizes the cork out of one with his thumbs, laughing as it makes a resounding pop, and hands it to Michael. The second bottle gets the same treatment and they clink their bottles together and drink.
It isn't until they're sitting on the couch watching TV, shoulders pressed together, knees bumping companionably, that Michael thinks to ask.
"What happened to Janet?"
"Ahh, screw her." Toby waves his hand dismissively. "This was more important." Michael flushes happily. The champagne bubbles up in him all at once and he giggles like a kid as he whacks Toby's bottle a little too hard with his own in a toast.
"Is it like beer?" he wonders aloud, and brings the base of his bottle down on the neck of Toby's, hoping the champagne will fizz up and overflow.
"Hey!" Toby cries and twists away, holding his bottle out of reach. They wrestle and grapple breathlessly, Toby taking the time to set the bottles on the table out of reach when their hands change and gentle. Over the sound of the evening news Michael hears Toby's breathing, hears him groan when Michael's palm moves against the zipper of his slacks. His head buzzes with questions – what are we doing, what is this, what does this mean? – but Toby's hips are surging up into his hand and his neck is salty under Michael's tongue and he's too afraid of ruining this so he doesn't say anything at all, not even when they're lying tangled together on top of Michael's sheets, staring at the ceiling in silence.
He doesn't say anything the next morning or the next night or the next time Toby gets back together with Janet. And pretty soon it's too late to say anything even if he wanted to.
"So what's on for tonight?" Michael asks as he leans into Toby's cubicle. "You coming over?" Since they're in the back, Michael dares to reach out, rubbing Toby's shoulder with his knuckles. They're always careful in the office, they never touch each other, they barely even speak. But no one's around and he hasn't seen Toby for the last three days – busy with family stuff, he said – and he misses him. Toby catches his hand, stills its movement. His mouth is tense. He doesn't meet Michael's eyes.
"I can't," he says quietly, releasing Michael's hand. His tone doesn't invite questions.
"Okay, how about tomorrow then?" In a dim recess of his mind, Michael realizes how pathetic he sounds, how sad it is that he's willing to forego questions, that he doesn't care as long as he gets something, some scrap of Toby's time. Toby shakes his head mutely.
"Is…is something wrong? Is it your family? You know you can-"
"We can't keep doing this, Michael." Michael doesn't make the connection. He's not sure what Toby's talking about, and he says so.
"This," Toby answers. "Us."
"We can, it's fine. I told you I wouldn't say anything about-"
"No, Michael…" Toby fixes his eyes on a postcard tacked to his bulletin board. Greetings From Myrtle Beach, it says. Michael sent it to him after a weekend conference. "Michael, I-"
"Janet and I are back together."
"Oh big deal, I've heard that before."
"I asked her to marry me."
Michael stops talking, stops doing anything. A buzzing fills his ears and he stares at the wall just past Toby's shoulder blankly. He stands and stares at that wall, at the paint that's flaking off and the tiny scrap of scotch tape clinging to surface. Out of the corner of his eye he can see Toby's mouth move, he hears the sound of his voice as if from underwater – like a trombone or one of the adults in Peanuts cartoons. He doesn't remember leaving, walking through the break room and into the main office, but he hears himself telling the receptionist he'll be back, he sees his finger hitting the elevator call button. He sees Toby's concerned face appear in the hall just as the elevator doors slide shut. He could hit the door open button, but he doesn't.
They never talk about it. Except for once. Once in the break room while they wait for the coffee pot to fill, a week after Toby told him.
"She'll make you miserable," Michael says, not looking up. He stares at the coffee pot, watching the brown droplets drip steadily. When he'd opened the cupboard his hand had instinctively reached for his Virginia mug and now it's too late to grab another one.
"Probably," Toby agrees, sadly. Wearily.
"She'll probably divorce you and I won't be here waiting." His voice cracks a little and he stops speaking. He can feel Toby looking at his back. If he said anything Michael would apologize, but Toby's silent. His resignation is like a third person in the room with them, eyeing the clock, waiting for coffee.
Michael turns and leaves, without his coffee, without looking at Toby once. He gets a headache from the lack of caffeine but the mug sits empty on his desk all day until he drops it in the trash on his way out the door.
The invitation comes on a Wednesday. It's on top of the pile heaped under the mail slot. The envelope is thick and heavy, the color of cream. There's no return address. He pries open the flap with his thumb and pulls out the gold-edged card inside. You are cordially invited to the wedding of Toby Flenderson and Janet Richards.
He flips the card over a few times, fingers the edge. Then he slides it into his briefcase. He'll have the receptionist shred it tomorrow at the office. It'll probably get back to Toby, but that's the whole point.
Everyone is gathered in the break room when he comes in one morning. Toby is in the thick of it, beaming, shaking hands, giving out cigars. He sees Michael and his eyes dim a little, his smile slips a fraction.
"Toby's a dad," Phyllis tells him, looking at Toby fondly. Toby pushes away from the counter he's leaning against. He proffers a cigar as he nears Michael. Michael takes it automatically and then wishes he hadn't. A pink sleeve is wrapped around it. Congratulations! it says. It's a girl!
"Last night," Toby tells him, his voice low and even, like he's trying to coax a stray animal. "We named her Sasha."
Michael wants to say congratulations, he wants to clap Toby on the back, tell him he knew how important this was to him. Instead his mouth opens and someone else speaks, someone mean and resentful.
"Well, good luck. 98% of children from broken homes go on to commit felonies." He doesn't even know where that came from; it's patently untrue, but he can't take it back now.
"Michael," Phyllis chastises softly, under her breath. Everyone has fallen silent, the smiles gone from their faces. They look at the floor, at their fingernails, at anything but him.
"Okay, Michael," Toby sighs.
"Everybody get back to work," Michael barks, and they shuffle out amid mutterings of sheesh and yes, boss. Toby won't take the cigar back when Michael blindly thrusts it towards him, so he pockets it as he leaves the break room. When he hangs up his coat later that night, he finds it in the pocket and he stares at it for a long moment before putting it in the bottom drawer of his desk, shoved way towards the back.
Toby's house is dark when he pulls up. If Toby's car weren't in the driveway and he hadn't hung up with him just 5 minutes ago, he'd think no one was home. He walks down the front path, tripping a little on a plastic roller skate in the path. No one answers when he knocks.
"Hello," he calls, knocking more firmly. "Toby?" He presses his ear to the cold painted door. It feels clammy and slick against his ear. When he hears nothing he tests the doorknob and finds it open. He was surprised when he heard Toby's voice on the other end of the line. They're not exactly on a friendly-phone call basis, haven't been for years. The only thing that kept Michael from hanging up immediately – besides the familiar tug in his abdomen he still feels when he hears Toby's voice – was the sound of Toby's voice, like he was trying not to cry.
"Toby?" he calls tentatively as he enters. "I'm here." He wishes his voice sounded harsh or impatient. He wishes his voice held all the hate he pretends he feels towards Toby instead of concern. He shrugs out of his overcoat and heads towards the living room, cursing as he walks straight into the corner of a side table. He's never been here before. Toby bought this house the second year he and Janet were married. Toby had submitted a change of address form when they bought it, which is the only reason Michael knows where it is. That and the fact that he used to drive by at least twice a week. He doesn't anymore, though. Not that often.
Toby's on the couch. He's slouched down low, knees apart with hands dangling between. Michael stops short. Toby sounded upset on the phone but he didn't expect this. He doesn't know what to say so he moves to the couch and sits. His weight makes the cushions dip and Toby's shoulder jostles against his. Toby's warm against him, almost hot. Michael clears his throat.
"What happened?" he asks, quietly, almost afraid of what the answer will be. Afraid of what could make Toby call him after all this time, after Michael's been so horrible and hateful.
"Janet," Toby says. His voice isn't rough or teary, as Michael expected, but it's small and quiet which is almost worse. He doesn't continue. Michael waits for a moment. He can feel Toby's shoulder moving against his with every breath, deep breaths that seem tired and defeated.
"Janet…" he prompts.
"She left." Toby's shoulders jerk when he says it, as if it's hitting him anew. "She left and she took Sasha." Now his voice finally crumbles.
"Ah, man," Michael says and it's hopelessly inadequate. He knew this would happen – sometimes he hoped it would happen so he could say I told you so, so he could turn Toby away, a fact of which he's mostly ashamed – but he still doesn't know what he could possibly say now that he's faced with it. He grips Toby's shoulder roughly. With a pathetic mewling sound, Toby turns and fists his hands in the front of Michael's sweater. His forehead thumps against Michael's collarbone and it would hurt if it wasn't really what he wanted.
When Toby's mouth finds his, Michael realizes that's what he wants too, even though he's been convincing himself that it's not. It's why he answered when Toby called, why he came over when Toby asked. He still remembers the way Toby tastes, the way he touches his tongue to the roof of Michael's mouth, the way he breathes Michael's name. Except it isn't Michael's name this time, it's her name. He ignores that, pushes it away to gnaw over later.
This time he's the one who's rough, he's the one pushing Toby – against the wall, down onto the mattress – and gripping his arms until the outline of his fingers show white on his skin when he lets go. It isn't sweet or soft or even comfortable, but he gets a savage pleasure out of it, out of knowing that Toby will be sporting the same bruises tomorrow that Michael did so long ago. He comes with a hoarse shout, Toby groaning and stiffening beneath him.
They don't fall asleep but they lie together a long time, long enough for them to grow cold. Toby shivers and turns his face into his pillow. His voice is muffled when he speaks and he has to repeat himself for Michael to hear.
"I said, that was a mistake. That shouldn't have happened, Michael. We can't…we're not…" Michaels face grows hot, the chill in the room forgotten. His chest swells and he's angry all of a sudden, furious, and he's lost control of his tongue entirely. He flies off the bed, searching for his clothes on the floor, careful this time to grab his own. He becomes aware that he's speaking, that a torrent of words is flooding from his mouth.
"I didn't, you called, like you always call when she leaves…" He stops, clamps his mouth shut. It takes a minute to reign in his anger, but he does, and when he faces Toby he's calm and cold.
"Don't call again," he tells him. Toby looks away. Michael waits for a second, waits to see if he'll say anything, if he'll take it all back. But he doesn't. Michael walks stiffly from the room, hopping awkwardly into his pants as he heads towards the front door, and he thinks about slamming the front door but he closes it quietly instead. Once in his car he catches sight of himself in the rearview mirror. His eyes look wild, his hair is standing out from his head like he's gotten an electric shock.
He wrenches the car into gear and heads home to his empty apartment.
Toby's not at work the next day. Called in sick is what Pam says after she leans in his doorway and informs him that Jan called and corporate needs the budget projections for the month.
"Faker," Michael declares, his voice hard and bright and completely foreign.
"Michael," Pam says. "His wife left him, you know. And took their daughter with her." Her eyes reproach him, but she doesn't come in the room, doesn't step closer to see the bags under his eyes and the tension bracketing his mouth. She doesn't ask are you okay? which is what he wants, so he only challenges her with a sullen, "So?"
"So maybe you could be a little human and cut him some slack for once," she says gently. "I don't know why you hate him so much."
"I just do," he bites off, and for the first time he doesn't feel like he's pretending.