The waiting was driving Eleanor crazy. Crazi-er. Janet kept bringing pitchers of margaritas, but they weren't helping.
"How long is it going to take the Judge to make up her forking mind?" Eleanor muttered. "Don't answer that."
She was lounging idly on a brown leatherette couch in an anonymous office in a corridor she was pretty sure hadn't existed ten minutes ago. Michael had taken off his tie and was sprawling in a matching loveseat on the other side of the coffee table. The only décor in the room was an inexplicable bowl of paperclips, which was now in Michael's lap.
"I don't have an answer." Michael was idly dragging a magnet through the paper clips, making weird abstract art or something.
"The waiting is killing me," Eleanor groaned. "Or it would be, if I weren't already dead." She let her head fall back and stared at the ceiling tiles. They looked like cheap styrofoam painted to resemble fake marble. One of them had a painted-on crack running through it.
Crappy ceiling tiles: if she'd noticed those in the beginning, she would've known this was definitely not The Good Place. Crappy ceiling tiles reminded her of the dentist's office. And bad temp gigs.
Ugh, like the two days she'd spent working as a secretary for that jack-ash in the airport office park. On day three she'd walked into his office and found a mostly-naked woman lying on his desk, staring up with a bored expression like she was counting the crappy ceiling tiles.
Her sleazebag boss had invited Eleanor to join them, but she'd quit on the spot. After leaving, though, she'd wondered whether she should've made sure the woman was okay before going to that airport bar at 9am and trying to chat up guys with expensive-looking carry-on bags.
Did the fact that Eleanor had said no to a threesome with her boss make her a good person? Or a better person than he was, anyway?
Did the fact that she'd left the woman there make her a bad person?
What would Chidi say about her moral obligation to ensure the wellbeing of the woman on the desk? On second thought, she didn't want to think about that. Eleanor shook her head as though she could dislodge the train of thought and swigged her margarita again.
Maybe it was that memory bubbling up that brought the Jimmy Buffet lyric to her lips. Or maybe it was remembering the tingly unease of that boss propositioning her, juxtaposed with the tingly unease of feeling vaguely attracted to this boss. (Friend. Demon. Whatever Michael was.) Plus the tingly unease of worrying that humanity was doomed and she hadn't done enough to make things better. When the fork had she become someone who tried so hard to make things better?
When she opened her mouth, what came out was, "Why don't we get drunk and screw?"
Michael raised an eyebrow. "Really?"
"...oops, was that my outside voice?"
"It was," Michael confirmed. "And I can't." He picked up a handful of paperclips and let them cascade back into the bowl.
Eleanor felt like a grade-A ash-hole for even mentioning it. "Is it because you're a seven thousand foot tall fire-squid in a Michael suit?" Wow, what kind of genitalia did giant fire-squid demons even have? That was a question she was not about to ask, though she filed it away for later. Janet had to know.
"It doesn't matter what I drink." Michael put the bowl down. "Vodka, tequila, kumiss -- that's a beverage made out of fermented horse's milk, by the way --"
"Eww," Eleanor said reflexively, and took another gulp of her margarita as though it would wash the idea out of her mouth.
"-- none of it works worth a damn."
"Not even -- don't demons drink, ugh, what was it that guy asked for -- some kind of urine?"
"Eleanor," Michael said gravely, "that's not a getting-drunk kind of drink, that's more like... chamomile tea."
"Chamomile always did kind of taste like urine," she admitted. "Huh. Is it actually--"
"Oh, no, it's actually made from a flower, it's just a flower that tastes terrible. The guy who came up with it went straight to the Bad Place."
"I... can't actually feel sorry for him." Eleanor shrugged. "That shirt is nasty."
"In any event, no getting-drunk for me. Don't let that stop you, though," he said, waving his hand toward her margarita glass, which had somehow become empty again.
"I'm not," Eleanor assured him, and refilled. But something was niggling at her. "Wait," she said. "Haven't I seen you drunk?"
"I can stumble around and act stupid with the best of them, but it's really just for fun. And right now it doesn't sound like much fun."
"Fair," Eleanor agreed.
They sat there in silence for another minute or two. The conversation they'd just had kept replaying itself in Eleanor's mind. She'd offered (and received) enough ill-considered propositions in her life; she knew she probably ought to just let it go. But she couldn't, not until she figured out what felt off about it -- aha! Michael said he "couldn't," but then he only said no to half of her suggestion.
Which suggested that he might still be open to the other half.
The fate of humanity was still hanging in the balance, and there was nothing more she could do about it. The love of her afterlife was in suspended animation and also probably hated her now. What did she have to lose? Eleanor downed the rest of her margarita. Not because it seemed to be actually helping, but because it was insurance. If he turned her down, she could pretend she was smashed and hadn't meant it anyway.
"So you can't get drunk," she said, letting her voice trail off.
"Thanks for rubbing it in."
"'Rubbing it in.'" she repeated, putting a little spin on the words. Then it suddenly occurred to her that maybe Michael had no idea what she meant. "Oh, wait, do I have to explain that -- it's a sex thing --"
Michael raised an eyebrow. "Are you really going to finish that sentence? You're speaking to a demon, Eleanor. I'm familiar with innuendo."
"So can you or can't you?"
"Can I or can't I what?" Michael stood. He was really very tall.
And he was looking at Eleanor very intently. She wanted to squirm under his gaze. Fork, it felt good to be flirting. Were they flirting? She really hoped they were flirting.
"Screw," she said. "Also, why can I say screw if I can't say fork or shirt?" She felt the usual mild flare of annoyance at being thwarted in the attempt to curse.
Michael gave a little laugh. "Because screw is a noun, just like fork. Carpenters use screws. And people who are eating use forks. Unless they really like what they're eating, in which case they just use their mouths and their hands."
Eleanor's nipples were perking up. "Okay, you are familiar with innuendo."
"I am," Michael said, calmly. Two steps with his long legs and he was standing right there in front of her. "And since you seem to be not letting this one go, maybe I should remind you that this," he gestured down at himself, "isn't me. This is a pleasantly non-threatening Michael suit. I'm... not those things. So what, exactly, are you doing, Eleanor?"
Eleanor licked her lips. "Asking if I can suck your -- "
Michael quickly held up his hand to stop her. "That word, you can't say. You really don't want to know what's going to come out of your mouth instead."
Despite herself, Eleanor snorted. "It'd kill the mood, huh."
"Besides. Aren't you in love with Chidi?"
Eleanor sighed. "I mean. Yes. Obviously."
Michael raised an eyebrow.
"Look, humanity's probably forked. Besides, Chidi thinks I'm a demon who's been tormenting him for fun, so I think my chances of getting back to that happily-ever-after are basically nil. And I need something to distract me from waiting for the Judge. Also, your legs go on for miles and I've always had kind of a thing for silver foxes."
"Oh, I know," Michael assured her. "Why do you think I picked this specific Michael suit?"
"Okay, that's actually kind of hot," Eleanor told him.
"If I were human, this is where I would say something about the risk of ruining our friendship, but--"
"But you can't say no to this ash," Eleanor said. She was aiming for flirty, but it was possible she sounded slightly more like desperate.
"But I don't actually think anything we could do would damage this friendship," Michael said, earnest for a moment. "So thank you. That's not something I ever expected." Then he quirked a grin. "And if you're really offering, yes, I'd hit that."
The slang should have sounded stupid. It just made her wet. When had she developed such a thing for earnest dorks? The afterlife was weird.
"I'm really offering," Eleanor confirmed, and slid off the couch onto her knees at Michael's feet. There were butterflies in her chest and her mouth was watering. What body parts did the Michael suit actually have? Only one way to find out.
Of course, that was the precise instant when Janet blinked into existence right beside them, which startled the shirt out of Eleanor, as always. "The Judge isn't ready to see you yet, but she wants all four of you together in a different waiting room."
"Fork," Eleanor cursed, letting her head fall back against the leatherette of the sofa. "How is this my afterlife."
"Come on, Eleanor," Michael said. He reached down and offered her a hand. "We don't want to keep the Judge waiting."
"Fine," Eleanor grumbled, letting him pull her to her feet. "But if we survive this, I want a raincheck."
"If we survive this, we can restore Chidi's memories," Michael pointed out.
Now Eleanor's ribcage felt full of butterflies for an entirely different reason. "Okay, fair point. We may have just missed our window."
Michael's smile was knowing. As though he'd predicted that outcome from the start.
"Window for what," Janet asked. "Am I missing something here? I feel like I'm missing something."
Michael smoothly stepped in before Eleanor could say anything. "Carpentry."
Eleanor stifled a laugh.
"What kind of carpentry," Janet asked. "Because I know everything there is to know about carpentry. Is there something you want me to make for you? Now that I'm no longer sustaining the neighborhood, I have plenty of spare processor time. Of course, it's not a processor," she corrected herself. "I'm not a computer, any more than I'm a girl. But human minds like metaphors."
Eleanor felt a wash of fondness for Janet. And for Jason and Tahani, for that matter. And Michael. And Chidi. Her whole forked-up little afterlife family. "We're all good," Eleanor assured her.
"Yes," Michael agreed, and the thoughtful way he said it made the words take on a bigger meaning. "Yes, I hope we are."