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He's on his way back from the bathroom, absently scrolling through e-mails on his phone, when he glances up for a minute and spots her sitting on the steps outside.

The rest of the group is still in the study room, sipping from plastic wine glasses, laughing over cake, and dancing to a bad house music playlist that he would bet big money is from the Dean's iPod, so he hesitates for a minute. Her body language doesn't suggest any turmoil or crisis, but the fact that she's sitting out there without a coat in her little sleeveless dress doesn't exactly seem like one of Annie's usually level-headed decisions.

But she's grown up on the likes of "Gossip Girl," so it could be an orchestrated move, separating herself from the group where she hoped he'd find her so they could play out some sort of melodramatic moment that does no one any favors. The air between them may be still at the moment, but he knows full well that it certainly isn't clear – he's just not sure that this is the right time to open that can of worms. But then she tilts her head just a bit, so he can see her profile in the frosty light, the determined, little lift of her chin, and he's headed toward her just like that.

He refuses to analyze the why of it.

"What are you doing out here all by yourself?" he says as the door shuts behind him. "It's freaking freezing."

She nearly jumps at the sound of his voice, and her eyes are wide when she looks up at him, so she seems genuinely startled that he's come out after her.

"Just getting a little air," she says breezily. "And the sky is so clear! Look at all those stars."

He glances upward, where the sky is so full of pinprick stars that it looks like a bottle of her glitter paint has exploded above them. She leans back against the steps, stretching out with one leg crossed over the other, almost like she's at the beach catching rays instead of sitting on dirty stone step on a chilly night. One of her little black heels with the bow in the front dangles from her toes and he watches it swing back and forth for a second, mesmerized. It isn't until he's sitting down beside her that he spots the champagne at her side, and when she follows his gaze, she offers the bottle to him.

He takes a sip because it's his damn graduation after all. He should be celebrating.

"I love champagne," Annie says, out of nowhere. There's a wistful smile ghosting her lips. "The first time I ever got drunk, it was on really flat champagne."

"Oooh. That sounds juicy," he chuckles. "Let's hear it."

"I was about thirteen, and my parents were having this stupid cocktail party for some reason or another, and, predictably, they got into this massive screaming match before they could clean up. So I was able to snag three or four half-empty bottles that were scattered around the house and sneak them up to my room without them seeing me." She laughs, shaking her head as she takes the champagne back from him. "But then I guess they would have had to notice I was there in the first place to catch me so…"

She does this casual little shrug, her eyes darkening just a bit as she takes a sip of the bubbly, and he catches a glimpse of the world weariness that lurks beneath her perky optimism, careful planning, and purple pen addiction.

"I'd think with that association, you wouldn't like champagne all that much," he says, trying to sound neutral. He doesn't want to go poking around in her painful childhood if he's not wanted – he's not Britta, for God's sake.

She grins, though, in a sly, secret way that reminds him once again just how sexy she is. He really doesn't have much hope for the collective intelligence of Greendale's student body, not if the straight male population is any indication - because somewhere on this campus, there has to be a halfway decent, semi good-looking guy, right around Annie's age, who sees how beautiful and passionate she is and could catch her eye, take her on dates, bring her home to meet his mother. Why hasn't some lucky bastard snatched her up yet?

"But it made me feel so much better, Jeff," she practically purrs. "All light and fuzzy and sparkly."

He laughs, taking the bottle when she passes it back to him.

"I better take it easy then. I'm sparkly enough as is."

She sighs, and turns to watch him take a sip, her chin resting on her forearm. Her smile isn't so much adoring as it is soft and calm, but he still has to look away, staring at the pavement in front of him instead. He's not old enough for a mid-life crisis, he reminds himself – because mid-life crises are things that happen to married guys in their mid 40s with a couple of rugrats at home and a boring desk job as an accountant or a claims adjuster. He's nowhere near that hell yet – and the only excuse for looking at this pretty, little girl and thinking that he's in love with her is a mid-life crisis.

Of course, he loves her. Like he loves Shirley and Abed and Troy and Britta, and maybe, deep down, even Pierce. In a completely safe, completely platonic, brotherly way that isn't the least bit creepy. He would do things for her that he'd never dream of doing for another woman, but that's because she needs someone to look out for her and there's no one else around for the job.

And yeah, sure, he's also ridiculously attracted to her. He's jerked off to fantasies of her enough times to feel just a little bit guilty about it, and he could sketch every curve of her hot, little body, from her soft cheek to her perfect breasts to her tiny waist and firm ass, from memory alone. If her necklines get any lower, he's decided that he's just going to set up camp in her cleavage and never leave.

But the love and the lust don't have anything to do with each other. They're two very separate feelings that he can compartmentalize to keep everything clean.

Sometimes, though, when she looks at him in just the right way, he feels blown apart inside, like there's barely anything holding him together, and for a moment, it seems like being in love with her is the only reasonable explanation.

"You're quiet," she says, nudging his thigh with her elbow.

He shrugs and takes another gulp of champagne.

"I'm a little tired. Must be all the excitement."

"Tired?" she repeats, with a skeptical, amused little smile. "Not thinking, maybe?"

For a minute, he wonders if she's somehow read his mind, followed his dirty train of thought. It's nothing that would totally shock her, he thinks, but it's enough to make everything between them complicated and messy again.

"Because I've been thinking," she declares. "I was just thinking about how we've only known each other for four years. Just four years."

"So?" he says with a smirk. "Isn't that like an entire third of your life?"

Teasing her about her age is his default move whenever things get a little dicey, and she predictably bumps her shoulder against his in a scolding way. The rasp of her bare skin against his jacket makes him he wonder again how she can stand to sit out here in that sleeveless little number.

"On one hand, it seems like so much longer than that," she continues. "And on the other, it feels like we just met yesterday. Like there's still so much…"

She trails off, her voice fading into a sigh, and there's something almost bemused about her expression.

"That's some heavy duty thinking," he says after a moment. "Getting a little air, my ass."

She laughs and bites at her lip, like she's been caught doing something naughty.

"Well, this is the kind of occasion that calls for introspection and reflection, right? I mean, that's what Abed would say."

"He'd also say that someone should be declaring their love for someone else or having a baby in an elevator or some cliched crap like that, so I'm not sure we should totally trust his judgment."

She tilts her head like she's trying to get a better look at him, and her serious, steady gaze makes him feel like he's being studied - until she gifts him with a smart, little grin that would take a lesser man out at the knees.

"You already had two women publicly declare their love for you. I think it'd be greedy to ask for anything more."

There's nothing challenging in her tone, but the reference alone is enough to conjure up memories of their ill-fated kiss outside that ridiculous dance and he wonders if she's throwing down some type of gauntlet.
If so, he's choosing to ignore it – that's the safest option.

"Have you met me, Annie? I'm walking, talking greed in a $3000 suit." He straightens the lapels of his jacket to emphasize his point. "Besides, I don't think it really counts if they only say it in some weird game of one upsmanship."

She lifts her shoulders thoughtfully, like she's seriously contemplating the in's and out's of public declarations.

"I guess not. Though my expertise in this area is admittedly limited."

He snorts.

"Please. You drove some poor guy to serenade you in the cheesiest way possible right there in that very spot." He gestures to the street in front of them with the champagne bottle. "I think you know plenty about grand romantic gestures."

She lowers her head, blushing slightly, but he can tell she's secretly pleased at the notion that she can inspire some sort of feverish devotion. He offers her the champagne again, though the bottle's nearly empty now. Her fingers brush his on the exchange, and her skin feels as cool and smooth as silk. He watches as she tips the bottle back and drains the rest of it in one long sip. When she leans in then to huddle against him and steal some of his warmth, her lips are wet and he can smell the sharp, sweet scent of the champagne on her breath. He hunches over just a bit, moving even closer, and feels himself gliding down on that slippery slope into something dark and dangerous.

Subject change, he thinks. Something light and frothy to pull him back from the edge.

"But you know, with my luck, if someone did declare their undying love for me tonight, it would be the Dean."

He exaggerates a grimace, and Annie giggles, vibrating against his side in a seriously distracting way.

"You can't really blame him, though, can you? You are irresistible."

He bobs his head in agreement.

"I'm glad people are finally starting to acknowledge that."

She taps a finger on his knee, and he looks down at the gray fabric of his pants, which seems to make her skin look even paler.

"Can I tell you a secret?" she whispers, sounding a little flirty and a little earnest. He wonders exactly how much she's had to drink. "You're my favorite. But don't tell Troy and Abed. It might break their hearts."

He smiles because really, there's no way he can make himself feel bad about that.

"Your secret's safe with me," he whispers conspiratorially. "As long as you don't tell anyone that you can bend me to your will just by fluttering those baby blues. I've got a reputation to protect."

She huffs out a little laugh and loops her arm through his. He can feel her breast against his elbow, but he tries his best to ignore it.

"This isn't the last time we'll see you, right?" she says. "You're not going to disappear on us?"

"Come on. You can't get rid of me that easy."

He wraps his hand around her wrist, her pulse twanging against his thumb. She nods absently, but he doesn't think that she's really convinced. He wonders if she can honestly imagine that kind of future, one where he drifts out of their world like he'd never been there at all.

"Annie," he says, almost embarrassed at how tender his voice sounds. "I meant what I said earlier. I love you guys."

She looks up at him with her unbelievably wide eyes all bright and wet, and nods again, more firm and serious this time.

"When I came here," she whispers. "I never, ever thought I'd meet someone like you."

He doesn't know exactly what she means – what it is that she thinks he's like – but he knows that her telling him is important.

"Me either. You are …"

He trails off because, honestly, he doesn't know how to capture her in a single, stupid sentence. He's a guy who can always find the precise words to fit any occasion, sway any audience, achieve any goal, but there's something about her that he can't quite wrap his head around. Annie seems to understand what that means, and she smiles at him in a misty, yearning sort of way. He feels her warm breath on his cheek, which prompts him to pull her in for a twisted, awkward half-hug that leaves her small knees crushed between his. She shivers in his arms because, really, she must be frozen by now, but when she starts to pull away, he cups her cheek before she can get too far from him.

They seem to make the decision in the same moment, so they lean in and meet in the middle.

She sighs into his mouth, jumpstarting something needy and desperate inside him. She tastes even sweeter than the champagne, and he can't stop himself from pulling her body flush against his. She claws at his shoulders frantically, like some kind of wild animal, and he loses any semblance of control right then, pushing her back against the library steps like their fucking plane is going down and it's now or never. Her head bumps against the stone pillar behind them, but she doesn't seem to care, hooking a leg over his thigh to pull him even closer. Their frantic fumbling knocks over the empty champagne bottle, and it rolls off the steps, landing in the bushes with a thud.

It is pure fucking insanity.

He slides his mouth over her cheek and down to her neck, and she pants against his ear like she's just finished a marathon. Her skin is wonderfully cool against his burning face, and he flashes his teeth against side of neck, wanting just a taste of everything that she is. Annie's hands slip under his jacket so they're separated from his skin by nothing but the thin fabric of his shirt and her fingers dig into his back like she's afraid he might vanish into thin air.

"We can't…" she moans quietly, and though he doesn't stop licking and sucking at her throat, his first thought is, Thank God. Thank fucking God that she has the strength to stop this because he can't control himself enough to do it after nearly four full years of wanting to fuck this girl senseless. He's been a good, decent guy the whole time, keeping his hands to himself and pretending she's just a cute, kid sister type, and now he wants his Goddamn reward. Sure, he got the diploma for his trouble earlier, but he thinks he deserves a little something more.

He needs Annie to save him from that selfish, horny part of himself that is ready to literally fuck up everything that's good and right between them. He needs her to do the sensible thing.

Except she doesn't.

"…do this here," she finishes in a halting, breathless voice – and the emphasis is most certainly on "here," meaning she thinks that there is a place where it's perfectly fine to do it. He kisses her again, she grabs hold of his belt in a death grip, and spontaneous human combustion becomes a real possibility all of a sudden.

"Where's your car?" she demands, her teeth clicking against his, and he honestly can't remember where he parked the fucking thing. It was hours ago, when touching Annie hadn't crossed his mind yet.

(Well, that's not entirely true. In his delusional daydream, his evil alter ego seemed to be getting plenty from bad girl Annie so it's not like he can say the thought honestly didn't cross his mind today. But not in any kind of real world way. That distinction is important – he can't be responsible for his twisted, dirty subconscious.)

But she pushes him back and he tugs her to her feet and somehow, they're stumbling blindly toward his car. There's still plenty of time for one of them to come to their damn senses, but he's charging toward the parking lot pretty much on auto-pilot and Annie scurries behind him, clutching his hand as she tries to keep up with his quick pace. Her heels click against the pavement in a syncopated rhythm, and it's a fucking sexy sound that's right in time with the throbbing of his hard-on.

This is exactly what he wanted to do three years ago when he found himself unexpectedly kissing her outside that dance – fortunately, he'd had enough restraint to realize what a ridiculously bad idea it was then. Something's different now, though. Sure, his lust has been simmering on the back burner for years now as opposed to mere months, which definitely makes it harder to control, but there's something else at play too. He may not be saying goodbye, nothing may actually be coming to end with them, but his graduation makes the night feel like some kind of magic moment.

Jesus, he's been listening to Abed for too damn long.

His car comes into sight, and somehow he manages to thumb open the locks without dropping his keys. Annie practically shoves him into the backseat and his head thuds against the far window as he stumbles in, but it barely registers. He doesn't really fit in this kind of confined space, but he finds a way to make it work so she can close the door behind them. She's in his lap less than a second later, straddling his thighs so her dress rides up and he can see the silky shadow of her panties. He clutches at her hip with one hand and snakes the other through her hair to pull her down to his mouth again. She rocks against his erection with the kind of single-minded focus and determination that she usually reserves for all-night cram sessions and diorama-building, and he seriously cannot believe that this is sweet, innocent little Annie Edison in his arms, tugging at his tie and digging her nails into his shoulder like she's going to ride him until he can't walk straight for a week.

She pulls back, flinging his tie over his shoulder and plucking at the buttons in the middle of his shirt. Her hair falls in a dark curtain around her face, but he can see her biting her lip as she works, like this is the most important thing she's ever done. Her hips are still moving, and he's got very limited mobility but he pushes back against her and the friction between them is the greatest fucking tease in the world. Her hands slip into the opening between the halves of his shirt, her fingernails scratching against his ribs. It doesn't seem fair that she's under his clothes when he's still grabbing fistfuls of her dress, so he tries to tug the top of it down. It gets stuck somewhere near her armpits and she has to shimmy a little to help him get it down to her waist. Her lacy, little black strapless bra has plenty of appeal, particularly in the way it does little to actually contain her breasts, but it winds up tangled at her waist with the top of her dress all the same.

The sound she makes when he finally gets his hands on the rack he's been trying not to drool over for four years is somewhere between a breathy sigh and an agonized moan. Her hands cover his, like he might actually be stupid enough to take them away, and when she meets his gaze, the look in them is so hazy and dark that he would seriously think she was drunk if he didn't know any better. Just a few minutes ago outside, her skin felt like ice and now she's burning like a fever against him. She ducks down to kiss him again, and he feels her hands at his belt, blindly undoing the buckle, her wrist resting against his erection with just the smallest hint of pressure.

"Condom," he mutters against her mouth. "We need a…"

It's the first words that have been said since they got to car, and his voice sounds loud and hoarse in the small space. Her hands still, and he anchors an arm around her waist to keep her pressed to him while he scrambles toward the center console in the front seat for a condom. She's still kissing him as he gropes through the mess of pens, wrinkled napkins, spare sunglasses, breath mints and protein bar wrappers for the all-important strip of foil packets, which definitely complicates the search, but his fingers finally settle on the condoms and he nearly pumps a fist in victory.

Annie goes back to work on his pants, undoing the belt, button and fly in what feels like record time. Her hand slips inside his boxer briefs to take him out, and she runs her fingers along the length of him from root to tip almost experimentally. He clenches his jaw and wishes there was time for a good old-fashioned hand job and the main event, but they're pushing their luck as is, so he tears open one of the condoms with his teeth and slips it on. She rises to her knees above him to try to get her panties off, but there's not enough room for her to maneuver.

"It's okay," he says, brushing her hands away. "Just …"

He hooks a finger in the crotch of her underwear to move it aside, and then she sinks down on him and they groan together so loudly that the group must hear them all the way back in the damn study room. She wraps her arms around his neck and he clutches at her waist, but they stay still for a long second.

There's no going back now.

She shifts just a bit, wringing a moan out of him, and then starts to move in earnest, circling her hips like she was fucking born to do this. She balances herself on his shoulders and leans back just a bit, tossing her head back. Her breasts are bouncing in his face and she is so fucking tight around him, so he thinks that this must be another really vivid daydream, that he'll come back to himself to find that he's still sitting at the table in the study room, with Annie all prim and proper in her seat beside him.

The part of him that knows just how wrong this is doesn't have any clout anymore because this is no sweet, little girl in the back seat of his car. It is a woman that's rising and falling in his lap like a tidal wave, ready to blow his fucking mind. He's willing to go to hell if that's the price he has to pay in the end – it'd be worth it.

Her pace gets a little more frantic and he doesn't think he can hold back much longer, so he slips a hand inside her panties. She gasps when he finds the right spot and he keeps going until she rattles around him like a live wire and he's coming just a second later with an embarrassing grunt that he tries to muffle against her shoulder.

When he rouses a minute or so later, he's slumped back against the door, the arm rest digging into his back, and Annie is slumped against him, a boneless, breathless heap. He has no fucking clue what to say – he's pretty sure that he wouldn't be able to spell his own damn name at the moment – so he stays silent, trying to catch his breath. She lifts her head from his chest and she's never looked sexier, with her glassy eyes, flushed cheeks and a piece of sweaty hair plastered along her jaw.

"Wow," she says, sounding a little surprised. He's almost offended – didn't she imagine that they'd have fantastic, brain-melting sex? Every ridiculous, frantic fight they've ever had certainly indicated that there'd be fireworks if they ever got each other's clothes off. "Um… wow," she repeats again, laughing this time.

"That's kind of an understatement."

He reaches up to brush the hair away from her jaw, and she turns into his hand, nuzzling his fingers. Then she's sliding off of him, onto the seat between his legs, and pulling her bra back into place. He grabs a crumpled napkin from the floor to get rid of the condom and clean himself up. The windows are all foggy, and he leaves a hand print in the condensation when he braces himself against the glass to sit up straighter. He watches Annie right her clothing as he buttons himself back up, and she seems strangely calm. He is a pile of jangly nerves, even if every muscle in his body feels as if he's just had the most amazing massage ever.

She senses him watching after a minute and looks up at him with those big, unflinching eyes of hers.

"I didn't plan this," she declares, almost defiantly. "If you're thinking that—"

He shakes his head.

"I'm not thinking anything, actually. My mind's kind of blown at the moment."

She grins, looking as pleased as if he just handed her a shiny, little gold star for her collection.

Yes, Annie, he thinks. You get an A+ for this. No grade grubbing necessary.

She crawls back over him and kisses him, softer than their earlier kisses but just as determined. He loves the sultry look in her eyes and her messy hair when she pulls back. He rubs his thumb over her lips and she brushes her tongue against it, and just like that, he's thinking about round two.

But that's just craziness, so he nods in the general direction of the library.

"We should probably get back before… you know."

Outside the car, Annie straightens her dress and runs her hands through her hair to smooth it.

"Okay?" she asks.

It is impossible to look at her now and not think that she looks well and thoroughly fucked, but that's probably more in his own head than anything else so he nods and offers an encouraging smile. They fall into step together and start back toward the library. On a whim, he throws an arm around her shoulders and she winds hers around his waist.

It's fine, he tells himself, because it's something they would have done before she rode him like bucking bronco in the backseat of his car and none of their friends would think anything of seeing them walk together like this.

Back in the study room, the party's still in full swing and a karaoke machine has somehow found its way into the mix. Shirley is belting out "Respect," while Britta dances in the background and Abed films it all with his phone.

"Where have you guys been?" Troy asks as they slink in. "We saw you sitting outside and then when we went to get you for karaoke, you were gone."

Annie drops her eyes to the floor, like her shoes have suddenly become the most fascinating objects in the room. Fortunately, he knows how to play it cool.

"I wanted to take a walk around campus," he lies comfortably. "For old time's sake."

Troy nods, looking very somber. The Dean flutters over and clutches at Jeff's arm.

"Jeffrey! I thought we'd lost you. Now, tell me… what would it take to get you to sing another little duet with me?"

He grits his teeth, shaking his head slowly.

"There isn't enough champagne in the world."

The Dean pouts in a frightening way, and Jeff looks over at Annie, who somehow has become even tempting now that he's satisfied nearly four years of sexual curiosity. It doesn't make any sense, but she smiles at him in a secret, naughty little way and he wants to throw her down on the nearest flat surface and go to town.

Later, when she's giggling her way through "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" with Abed, he angles his chair at the table toward the scene so he can watch her. He doesn't know what the hell to do about any of this – his fantasies never quite make it to the morning-after stage – and there is the very real potential that this is going to blow up in his face big time.

But then, Annie does a little twirl across the room, her dress fluttering around her, and he thinks that there's more than enough time to worry about the fallout later. Britta comes over, boosting herself up onto the table beside him.

"You okay?" she asks, squinting. "You look a little…"

She gestures with her hand like she's trying to pull the right word out of the air. He panics for a minute because she knows well enough what his post-coital face looks like and for all he knows, there's a trace of it still in his expression. He lifts his plastic champagne glass from the table and hoists it in her direction.

"Been hitting the good stuff," he says, and Britta nods sagely.

They both look across the room, where Abed is fighting a losing battle to convince Annie to reenact Johnny and Baby's climatic lift and the Dean is trying to dirty dance all by himself. Jeff and Britta look at one another and laugh.

"I'm going to go out on a limb here," she says smartly. "But I bet this is not how you ever imagined you'd be celebrating your graduation when you first showed up at Greendale."

He looks over at Annie, who's kicking off her shoes so she can dance without stumbling. Their eyes meet suddenly, like she senses his gaze, and the smile that she gives him is equal parts nervous, sexy, and giddy.

"No," he says. "I never imagined this."

Chapter Text

He knows that he’s hit rock bottom when he starts to look at his phone, a once trusted ally, like it’s somehow betrayed him.

It’s been two days since he and Annie defiled the backseat of his car in the hottest and dirtiest of ways, and they still haven’t spoken a single word to one another. He knows that he should call her, text her, email her, *something* her, but he keeps hoping that she’ll do the dirty work for him. And every minute that passes without his phone ringing or chirping with an incoming message drives him a little closer to the edge. 

Of course, he still doesn’t know what to say to her either.

He could apologize for taking advantage of the situation, all the warm nostalgia that his graduation stirred up, the free-flowing champagne, and the impeccable cut of the suit he wore likely tipped the scales in his favor. He probably needs to explain that he’s not really a dating kind of guy and definitely not boyfriend material, especially for someone like her, so if anything more is going to happen between them, she should keep her expectations low. Really, though, all he wants to do is invite her over to try out the new 1500 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets that are currently decorating his bed.

None of those options seem like exactly the right answer, and it’s all starting to make the space behind his eyes ache just a bit.

If he’s honest, he thought he’d hear from her pretty much the minute he got home from his graduation party. He expected a text where she declared her undying love for him, full of ridiculous emojis of hearts and flowers, stars and rainbows, and he drove home terrified of the prospect, the thought that he’d have to talk her down from some romantic comedy ledge because he’d opened the door for her in the most reckless and thoughtless of ways.

But he went to sleep that night without a word from her, and now, two days later, he’s almost disappointed that she hasn’t gone crazy over him. The sex was seriously hot and she’s been half in love with him for years – shouldn’t she be dying to see him?

Now that he’s finished with Greendale, there isn’t even the study group to force them into close quarters where they have no choice but to confront the sex-having elephant in the room. He’s starting to wonder if he should just man up and call her – or clear his head with yet another 5-mile run -- when, just like that, his luck seems to change and his phone beeps with an incoming message.

He grabs for it with embarrassing desperation, nearly knocking it off the table. It might only be a text from Abed – Potluck tonight @7. Beer? – but it means that he and Annie will be in the same room, which is a start.

So he puts on his favorite cadet blue shirt, heads to the liquor store for a case of Blue Moon, and drives to her apartment for what will either be a nightmare of an evening with tears, screaming, and the rest of the group finding out that he screwed sweet, little Annie in his car while they were celebrating his graduation just a few hundred feet away or an absolute fantasy of a night in her bed when he gets the chance to show Annie that if she thought the other night was hot, she has no idea what he’s capable of when he actually has some room to work.

He can’t see it being anything in between, really.

When he buzzes the apartment, he expects Troy or Abed to come down to let him in so she catches him totally off-guard by sauntering down the stairs. She’s wearing a tight navy sweater that shows off enough cleavage to give him flashbacks to the perfect weight of her breasts in his hands the other night and a tiny polka dot skirt that leaves him wondering how long it would take to get her underwear off with his teeth, so he’s rooting for the fantasy scenario big time.

“Hey,” she says, as cheerful as ever -- but she’s a little flushed and her eyes seem especially bright so it seems like he’s not the only one with unfulfilled fantasies from the other night. “Long time no see.”

“What’d I tell you? You can’t get rid of me that easy.”

She smiles and he smiles back, and they stand there in the foyer of her apartment building like a couple of idiots. He wishes he could tell her that nothing is different between them just because they’ve seen each other naked, but Fuck, everything is different and all he wants to do is map every inch of her body with his tongue.

This is exactly why he wasn’t ever supposed to give in –- Annie Edison is like the freaking Bermuda Triangle and he might never pull himself out of this alive.

“Do you need help with that?” she asks, gesturing toward the case of beer.

It’s a ridiculous question, but he resists the urge to point that out.

“I think I can manage.”

She nods and starts up the stairs. He’s right behind her, and he becomes painfully aware that it’s so much worse to actually know what she looks and feels like under her clothing than to be stuck imagining it – because right now, it’s cruel and unusual punishment to watch her hips and ass sway right there in front of his face and not be able to touch her.

“There’s the graduate,” Shirley nearly sing-songs as he and Annie come through the door.

He smiles obligingly. “In the flesh.”

Everyone except Pierce has arrived, and they’re gathered around a table like a hundred memories he has of them – except somehow the thing with Annie has changed the dynamic, like he’s navigating a mine field just by entering the apartment.

“Annie, the kitchen timer just went off,” Abed says. “But I followed your instructions and didn’t touch anything.”

“Thank you, Abed,” she says, just a touch condescendingly, though it’s mostly lost on Abed.

She takes the beer from Jeff and heads for the kitchen. For a moment, he just stands there, listening absently to Britta argue with Shirley about the moral implications of vegetarianism. He can see Annie through the kitchen cut-out, busy at the stove, so he follows after her. She’s left the case of beer on the counter beside the oven and he makes a beeline for it – but just at the last minute, she moves over to grab a potholder and then she’s right between him and the counter as he reaches for a bottle. His chest bumps against her back, and he’s not sure who it is that lets out a little moan but it rattles through both of them like thunder.

“Oh, sorry,” she says, sounding a little breathless. “I’m in the way…”

She takes a step toward the stove and he takes a step backward to the other side of the room.

“No problem.”

He cracks open his beer and leans back against the counter to watch as she pulls a baking dish out of the oven.

“Smells good,” he offers.

She smiles at him over her shoulder.

“Chicken enchiladas,” she says, placing the dish on the stovetop. “We probably should have coordinated, though. Shirley brought spaghetti and meatballs, Troy made frozen French fries with cheese sauce and Britta brought tofu steaks … it doesn’t exactly all go together. “

He grimaces. “It sounds terrible, actually.”

She laughs, tilting her head in what he’s starting to think of as a very sexy way.

“Well, it’s really about the company, right?”

Her smile is soft and just a little bit sly, and he lifts his beer bottle in her direction.

“And the booze,” he teases. “Sorry there’s no champagne, though.”

She’s still smiling, but she lowers her head a little shyly and tucks her hair behind her ear. He wants to taste the exposed curve of her neck so damn badly that he has to bite his tongue to keep it in his mouth.

“Turns out you were right,” she says. “You’re plenty sparkly on your own.”

If she’s trying to turn him on, a good old fashioned ego stroking is probably the best place to start when they’re in a crowded apartment. He grins and takes a step toward her because, fuck it, he’s just going to kiss her for a minute while everyone is busy in the other room and get it out of his system. She tilts her head back, anticipating his every move, and he’s just about to lean down and –

“Annie! Pierce is here,” Abed calls from the entryway. “We can eat.”

Jeff groans out his frustration, and she looks up at him apologetically, but she’s biting a lip in a way that suggests that maybe she’s just as frustrated as he is. He helps her carry the rest of the food to the table, and he winds up sitting directly across from her -- which means he’s forced to look at her every time he glances up from his plate. They keep catching one another’s eyes too, and it’s like she knows that he’s mentally removing her clothing one piece at a time and he knows that she’s doing the same with him and it’s the hottest staring contest that he’s ever had in his life. He accepts that there’s something seriously wrong with him because he’s more turned on than he’s been in a long time, with their friends yammering on all around them and a plate of mushy tofu congealing between them.

“Did you find a job yet?” Abed asks suddenly, and he somehow manages to look away from Annie for a minute.

“It’s been two days, Abed. I’ve kind of just been taking it easy.”

“Isn’t that what you’ve been doing for the past few years?” Britta teases.

Jeff shrugs, unashamed. “I have made it into an art form.”

“I’m with, Jeff,” Pierce declares. “We deserve a little time off. I’m thinking of spending a couple of weeks at one of those nudist resorts… you know, just *hanging* out.”

The collective groan of disgust signals an end to dinner, and Annie starts clearing the table. When she leans over to grab his plate, he can feel her breasts press against his back, smell the warm vanilla scent of her perfume and he clenches his jaw so tightly that it almost hurts. He wonders if she’s doing this on purpose, torturing him with some kind of intention in mind. If she’s trying to wear him down or coax him into committing some atrocity or another, she’s doing a bang-up job – hell, he’d even agree to help her fucking move if she asked him right now.

He’s starting to feel a little too much like a caged animal for his tastes, so he gets up and takes a lap around the table. He tries to listen to Abed and Shirley’s conversation about a circus or magic act, and then there’s a fight about whether they should play a game or watch a movie, but the voices all turn into droning white noise.

He’s seriously got to get this thing with Annie settled if he ever wants to get control of his damn head again.

He’s lost track of her for the past few minutes, but then she’s sidling up to him all discretely where he’s leaning back against one of the bar stools and offering him a fresh beer.

“We should talk at some point,” she says quietly. “Right?”

He bobs his head, feeling just a bit uneasy. “That’s probably a good idea.”

Of course, he has no clue how they’re going to disappear from the group without setting off warning bells and they can’t exactly have this kind of conversation in front of their friends (Well, maybe they could, seeing as how many awkward, uncomfortable, inappropriate conversations members of this group has had in front of the others over the years, but he definitely doesn’t want to. The situation is complicated enough without everyone and their mother throwing their damn two cents in). He’s not sure what possible excuse he can come up with to get her alone that doesn’t make it totally obvious that there are some serious sparks arcing between them at the moment.

Fortunately, Annie thinks well on her feet.

“Hey, Jeff,” she says, loud enough so that everyone in the room can hear. “My bedroom window got stuck so it’s open a crack and all the cold air is getting in. Troy and Abed haven’t had any luck, and our super is this really gross guy with a foot fetish, so would you mind…”

She smiles and flutters her lashes in a ridiculously cartoonish way, so he sighs, acting properly put upon.

“I guess.”

He follows her across the room, and just like that, without any pain or fuss, they’re alone in her bedroom. He’s only been in here once or twice, but it’s exactly as he remembers, with all its bright colors and girly floral prints. He sits gingerly on the edge of her bed, watching as she closes the door behind them. When she turns to face him, there’s something so open and vulnerable in her expression that it makes him a little uncomfortable.

“You think it was a mistake,” she says, with a surprising lack of accusation in her voice. “That’s what you’re going to say.”

He shakes his head automatically – he was about to kiss in her in the damn kitchen an hour ago. How much of a mistake could he really pretend it was?

“No. That’s not what I was going to say.” He lifts his shoulders helplessly. “Honestly, I don’t know what to say.”

She sits beside him, tucking her knee up under her, and he forces himself to stop staring at the creamy vanilla skin at the inside of her thighs.

“But the thing is, I’m pretty sure that I’m no good for you, Annie.” He turns a bit so he can look her in the eye – he owes her that. “I mean, if some other guy just like me got mixed up with you, I’d be leading everyone with torches and pitchforks to drive him off. I know that.”

“Jeff,” she sighs, and her hand lands on his knee. “You’re not the same guy that you were when we first met… you’ve changed. And whether you want to admit it or not, deep down, you’re a good guy.”

He laughs, dropping his hand on top of hers.

“Deep, deep, deep down, maybe.” He looks at her, and her eyes are so wide and bright that it would be nearly impossible to lie to her. “It’s not like I haven’t thought about it, you know. I have. For longer than I’ll ever admit but… I just keep running through all these scenarios in my head where I wind up hurting you, not because I want to, but just because I’m me. And when I hurt you, then everything between us is ruined, Annie, probably for good, and that risk seems way too high.”

She nods, and her chin’s trembling just a bit so he thinks she might cry. This is it, he thinks. It’s already started.

“But then,” he says carefully. “I think about the other night and never touching you again and I could seriously lose my mind.” She turns her hand over on his knee and winds her fingers through his, which feels way more erotic than it really should. “And you’re right, Annie. I have changed because four years ago I would have fallen into bed with you and never given it a second thought. But I can’t do that now. I can’t just do what I want and say to hell with the consequences. Not when there’s the potential that they could seriously suck.”

She bobs her head slowly like she understands. Her hair falls all around her face, and he can’t stop himself from reaching out and tucking it behind her ear. Her smile is the soft, sad kind that always seems to get him, and he leans in so he can finally kiss like he wanted to when he first saw her tonight. She wraps her arms around his neck and melts into his body in a way that makes him want to say, Screw it, and throw her back on the bed with their friends just on the other side of the door. She pulls away, her face pressed to the side of his neck so he can feel her breath down the collar of his shirt.

“Why can’t we just act like regular people?” she whispers, her lips tickling against his skin. “People who haven’t spent four years in a really confusing, really complicated, incestuous kind of friendship? I mean, don’t people just like one another and see where it goes? They don’t make promises or guarantees. They don’t worry about the risks.”

“I don’t know what—"

“We don’t have to decide anything. Do we? I mean, can’t we just …” She shrugs, and her shirt shifts on her shoulder so he can see the lacy, pale blue strap of her bra. “See what happens?”

He smirks. “By see what happens, you mean have more sex, right?”

She laughs, lifting her face from his neck.

“Maybe,” she teases coyly, and she is surprisingly good at playing the vixen. “If that’s what happens.”

He knows that he should tell her no, that this is a disaster waiting to happen, and that tracing his finger along the neckline of sweater isn’t sending the right message at all, but he can’t help himself.

“It took me two days to come up with this ‘see what happens’ plan,” she says lightly. “But it was the best I could do.”

He smiles – his ego seriously appreciates the fact that she’s spent the past two days trying to figure out a way to convince him to sleep with her again. Admittedly, she probably wasted the effort since the sight of her breasts straining against her sweater and the knowing little gleam in her eye all night are all the persuasion he really needs.

“Really?”

She nods. “Actually, I didn’t come up it with until I saw you tonight. I was kind of desperate.”

“See what happens?” he repeats. “Well, Abed’s not here to provide the spoiler alert so allow me… any situation with the two of us alone together in the foreseeable future is going to end with sex. Lots of it.”

She blushes, but the hungry look in her eyes tells him that she doesn’t disagree. She swoops in and kisses him so deeply and slowly that it only proves how right he is. He reaches for her hips, trying to drag her into his lap, but she pulls away abruptly. He watches in a daze as she stands in front of him and smooths her hands over her skirt.

“This one’s not,” she says pointedly.

She cocks her head in a way that says she’s way too pleased with herself, and while he’s seriously frustrated and annoyed, he has to admire how well she’s played him.

“You little—"

“What are you guys doing in here?” Britta pushes open the door and pokes her head in. “You’ve been gone for like ten minutes.”

There’s nothing suspicious about the scene that she’s stumbled upon – he’s sitting on the bed and Annie is standing at least four feet away. Of course, if Britta looked closely enough, she might see the flush in Annie’s cheeks and the fact that his pants are substantially tighter in the crotch than they were when he came in here and put it all together.

Fortunately, her powers of observation suck on a good day and she’s been drinking tonight so it’s likely that she wouldn’t have even noticed if she walked in on them and Annie had her hand down his pants.

“Jeff’s trying to get out of fixing my window,” Annie says, crossing her arms over her chest. “He’s a terrible friend.”

She’s on a serious roll tonight, though he thinks he’d appreciate it a little more if he wasn’t on the receiving end of it.

“Fine, fine,” he huffs, standing stiffly. He’s still half-hard, but he doesn’t care if everyone can see – it’s Annie’s fault anyway. “If you’re gonna be such a nag about it…”

He brushes past her, bumping her a little more than is necessary. The window is legitimately stuck – did she purposely jam it so they’d have a ready excuse to be alone? – so he has to fight with it for a minute before it finally slides closed the last inch or two.

“There you go, Princess.”

“Thank you,” Annie says sweetly. Her smile is sly and sexy, so he knows it’s just for him. “Now I won’t freeze to death in my sleep tonight.”

“That’s a relief.”

“Okay, okay,” Britta says, from her spot slumped against the wall. “Now that the stupid window’s taken care of, get out here and play Pictionary. You can’t leave me with alone with the rest of them -- they’re taking it way too seriously.”

Jeff groans, because he seriously cannot think of anything he’d rather do less than play fucking Pictionary, but Annie grabs his hand and leads him back to the rest of the group. He has to sit on an uncomfortable wooden chair and make halfhearted guesses about Pierce’s terrible drawings, while Annie’s across the room, gamely sketching artwork that even Britta can figure out without too much trouble. His tolerance for this kind of crap is even lower than usual, and he can’t help blaming Annie and the fact that he wants to be inside her again so badly that he’s actually started to wonder how difficult it would be to murder all of his friends just to get some one-on-one time with her.

At the end of the night, he doesn’t even get a minute alone with her to say goodbye. Troy, Abed and Pierce are all breathing down his damn neck, so he gets a perfectly platonic hug and a barely flirty smile. He gets stuck driving Britta home too, which means he has to keep a tight rein on his frustration for an extra ten minutes while she babbles on and on about how Pierce obviously suffers from false consensus bias and she might be able to help him if he was just willing to sit down and have an honest session with her.

Back at his place, he undresses in the dark, leaving his clothes scattered around his bedroom. In bed, he tosses and turns, kicking at his new sheets like it’s somehow their fault that he’s alone. He grabs his phone from the nightstand and sends out a petulant message.

When you said we’d see what happens, I assumed something would actually happen.

Less than a minute later, his phone chimes with an incoming message.

Maybe next time. We’ll see. ;)

Tonight, he doesn’t feel the least bit guilty when he pictures her doing ungodly things to him so he can get himself off and finally get some sleep.

Chapter Text

When he wakes up and sees cold, icy rain pouring down, he is seriously tempted to blow off his therapy appointment.

But the weather is really just an excuse.

The fact that it’s his first session since his graduation is the real issue because Dr. Strome is going to want to spend the entire hour discussing it in excruciating detail -- how he feels about it and what he plans to do next and whether the past three and a half years have been worth it.

None of that is exactly high on his conversational to-do list.

But he navigates the rain-slicked streets to her cozy, little office anyway for reasons that he doesn’t want to examine too closely. Maybe it’s a sign of his fledgling maturity that he’s willing to do things that make him uncomfortable and edgy. Or maybe the sad fact is that he doesn’t really have anyone else that he can talk to about certain parts of his life and there are a few pesky details that he needs to get off his chest.

The six people that he’s closest to in the world aren’t viable candidates because they’re either (1) directly involved, (2) likely to kill him with their bare hands, (3) fanatically concerned with the fate of his mortal soul, (4) too interested in pervy, pornographic details, (5) unable to keep a secret, or (6) incapable of making it through a single conversation without comparing real life to a movie or television show.

If he wants to talk, there’s really only one option.

As predicted, Dr. Strome spends most of the session poking and prodding his every thought about what it means to be done with Greendale, to have finally earned a degree honestly (or, at least, more honestly than before), to have cleared the biggest hurdle of his adult life. She is in her mid-fifties, with a sleek, silver bob and perfectly tailored suits. There’s something equally motherly and sexy about her, so he’s seriously creeped out when he sometimes finds himself attracted to her. Plus, he also kind of hates her because she’s one of those rare women that his charm has literally no effect on.

Which is probably why she’s such a good therapist.

“We have a few minutes left,” she tells him, tapping a pen against the pad in her lap. “Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?”

He hesitates, playing with one of the pillows on her plush sofa. No one’s forcing him to go to therapy, so the only person that he’s screwing over if he lies or holds back is himself. The fact that sometimes, he still does it anyway probably speaks to just how much he needs therapy in the first place.

But why did he bother keeping this damn appointment if, deep down, he didn’t want to discuss the biggest thing that’s happened in his life recently?

And it sure as hell isn’t his graduation.

“Something happened, actually,” he says, and Dr. Strome raises an eyebrow. “With Annie.”

He doesn’t have to explain who Annie is, of course. He’s spent more time than he’s comfortable with trying to explain the complicated mess of his feelings for her to Dr. Strome – and for all the time that they’ve spent discussing the issue, there haven’t exactly been any breakthroughs.

Unless Dr. Strome counts what happened in the backseat of his car as some kind of epiphany.

“What happened exactly?” she asks.

He shrugs, like it’s not a big deal – which, of course, is the biggest lie of all.

“We had sex,” he says simply. “Actually, we’re probably going to have it again, so maybe it’s more accurate to say that we’re having sex. I don’t know.”

Dr. Strome bobs her head, jotting something down on her yellow legal pad. “I see.”

She spends her day dealing with all manner of sociopathic, delusional nutcases, so she never seems phased by anything that he tells her and she always manages to keep her tone entirely devoid of judgment. That doesn’t stop him from feeling the need to explain himself, though.

“It happened the night of my graduation,” he tells her, toying with the fringe on the sofa’s pillow. “At the party afterward.”

Dr. Strome nods again, cocking her head a bit. “In the past, you said that Annie was off limits because of her age. You thought that she was too young, inexperienced. Why did you change your mind?”

He smirks, trying for his most roguish, charming look. “Because I was horny?”

Dr. Strome’s expression doesn’t change in the slightest; she’s like a fucking brick wall.

“I imagine you felt amorous on other occasions too, Jeff. But you never acted on those feelings. Why this time?”

He clasps his hands together in his lap and studies them, like he might find an explanation in his perfectly manicured fingernails. He’s not entirely sure why he gave in this particular time when he probably could have had Annie a hundred times in the past and somehow always managed to hold back. Like everything with Annie, it’s complicated.

“I don’t know,” he admits. “Maybe because I graduated and it felt like the end of one chapter and the start of something else? I don’t really know.”

“And how do you feel now?”

He barks out a humorless laugh and shakes his head. He should tell her about his crazy darkest timeline fantasy so she can understand exactly how his fucked-up subconscious feels about the whole thing, that there’s some part of him that sees sleeping with Annie as about as evil and twisted as it gets.

But that is a can of worms he definitely doesn’t want to open up at the moment.

“It’s safe to say I’m a little conflicted,” he finally says. “The last thing I want to do is hurt her and I don’t really see this ending any way but bad. But you know, I’m selfish too, and I’ve wanted to sleep with her for years. And it was pretty fucking spectacular, so you can see my dilemma.”

“Is her age still an issue?”

“Well, she’s only 22 and I’m 35. We’re not exactly on equal footing, are we? “

Dr. Strome purses her lips, like she’s thinking very carefully.

“Is that how *you* really feel, Jeff?” she asks. “Or is it how you think other people will feel?”

It’s a valid question, for sure -- because he can’t deny that he’s thought long and hard about how the other people in his life would react if they knew what was going on between him and Annie. He isn’t the only one who’s changed in the last four years – his friends have too. In his past life, the guys at the firm would have thought him a hero for banging a sweet, young, impressionable co-ed. Now, his friends might flay him alive – well, Shirley and Britta anyway. The guys probably won’t care.

He lifts his shoulders tiredly.

“It doesn’t really matter,” he says. “Annie could be 32. She’s just different. From me, from other women. I actually care about what happens to her and I know I can’t really be what she wants in the long run. ”

Dr. Strome nods slowly.

“But you’re going to continue sleeping with her?”

He sighs, laughing a little.

“I don’t have any choice, Doc,” he says. “It’s like I got a taste and now I can’t stop.”

“Jeff,” Dr. Strome says, in an irritatingly calm voice. “There’s always a choice. And it’s important to recognize that because it can help you understand what it is you really want.”

He considers her words in the elevator on his way down to the lobby and as he walks to his car and even as he sits behind the wheel with the engine running. What the hell does he want, he wonders. Sex is the easy answer, but if that’s all he’s after, he’s better off finding some random woman whose disappointment won’t sting and burn the way that Annie’s does. That would be easier for everyone, right?

Maybe.

He’s not sure anymore.

Abed calls just as he’s about to pull out of the lot, but he answers the phone anyway because whatever the kid may want, at least he’ll get right to the point.

“Troy and I are going to see ‘Top Gun’ in IMAX tonight. 8 o’clock. Wanna come?”

“Huh?”

“Annie said we should invite you. She says you’re a big Tom Cruise fan. I can’t believe I never knew that about you, Jeff.”

He’s about to protest, defend his good name against such libelous slander, when it hits him – this is Annie’s ridiculous, roundabout way of letting him know that she’s going to be all alone in her apartment tonight.

“I appreciate the invite,” he says. “But I’ve got plans.”

“A date?” Abed asks, sounding more than a little curious.

“Something like that.”

“Okay. Maybe this weekend, we can watch Risky Business at our place. It’s a classic.”

Jeff laughs. “Sure, maybe.”

There’s a part of him that wants to make Annie squirm, let her think that her plan didn’t work, but really, he’s only punishing himself too if he waits too long to show up. Still, he manages to make it until a quarter after eight before he drives over to her building. He doesn’t call because he likes the element of surprise, and it’s just his luck that the front door is propped open with that damn brick that Annie hates so much, so he’s able to make it all the way up to her apartment without alerting her to his presence.

She opens the door almost immediately after he knocks, like she’s just been pacing in front of the entryway, waiting for him to show up. She’s wearing a simple purple camisole and flowery skirt that he’s probably seen a hundred times before, but her feet are bare and her nails are painted a bright cherry red, which drives him crazy for some reason.

“If you wanted to see me,” he says cockily, leaning against the door jamb. “You could have just called and invited me over.”

She’s blushing and fidgeting with the hem of her skirt, but she tries her hardest to play it cool.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she says primly. “I was planning on spending a nice, relaxing evening by myself.”

He steps inside, crowding her against the wall just for fun.

“Sorry, but if you’re going to go around disparaging my good name by claiming I enjoy the films of Tom Cruise, you’re obligated to make it worth my while.”

She closes the door behind him, looking even more flushed. He’s seen this wild, hungry look in her eyes before, probably when she was desperate for an A or some other academic honor, but it’s so much sexier when he knows that it’s directed at him.

“Do you know how rare it is that I get three uninterrupted hours alone in this apartment?” she asks. “I had to seize the opportunity. And don’t even try to pretend that you weren’t seriously disappointed that we weren’t alone here the other night. Because I have a text message that proves otherwise. ”

He shrugs, like he doesn’t quite know what she’s talking about. He is the king of playing it cool after all.

“Next time, just call.”

She grins, and he’s seriously starting to wonder how he managed to keep his hands off her for so long.

“I thought it was funny. Having Abed invite you.”

“I bet you did.”

They stand in the middle of her apartment just staring at one another for a moment. They both know exactly what’s going to happen tonight, but there’s something seriously hot about drawing it out, letting the anticipation simmer a little longer. He slips out of his jacket and hangs it on the back of a chair.

“Are you hungry?” she asks, heading toward the kitchen. “There’s some leftover Thai in the fridge.”

“I’m good.”

She comes out of the kitchen with a bottle. “Beer?”

He takes it from her, and though there’s plenty of room, she brushes up against him as she walks past him toward her bedroom. Her body is warm and so fucking soft, so he follows right on her heels. Just like the other night, he finds himself sitting on the edge of her bed, sipping a beer. But this time, she closes the door behind them all the way and latches a little hook and eye lock near the top.

She catches him watching and shrugs.

“I installed it after I woke up to Abed and Troy filming me sleep for the third time,” she says. “I don’t even want to know what they’re doing with the footage.”

“You don’t happen to sleep naked, do you?” he asks. “Because if that’s the case, I can think of a hell of a lot they could be doing with the footage.”

She glares at him, flipping her hair over her shoulder almost indignantly. But then she’s turning off the overhead light so there’s just a small lamp on the bedside table glowing in the room and he’s in no mood to joke anymore. Annie fidgets a few feet in front of him, her fingers playing with the hem of her skirt again, like she isn’t quite sure what to do next.

“I wasn’t nervous at all the first time,” she says softly. “Why am I so nervous now?”

He smiles as encouragingly as he can manage.

“We didn’t really have much time to think the first time around. But we don’t have to do anything now, Annie. We’re just seeing what happens, right?”

The idea that he might leave here without touching her is seriously enough to make him cry like a little girl, but he has to give her an out. She tilts her head, like she’s considering his words very carefully, and then gifts him with a soft, serious smile. He watches, nearly mesmerized, as she comes to stand right between his legs and takes the beer out of his hand to set it on the nightstand. His hand slides up the outside of her thigh like it has a mind of its own, his fingers just teasing below the hem of her skirt, and his skin must be cold from the bottle because she shivers as he tries to hold her steady. She traces her fingers along either side of his jaw, tilting his head back and crouching down so she can kiss him.

She may not taste like champagne tonight, but the sensation of her mouth over his, her tongue sliding slowly against his, goes straight to his head, where it fuzzies his brain and makes his skin feel prickly and hot. He clutches a fistful of her skirt, dragging it up the back of her thighs to keep her close, and she leans into him, letting him hold her up.

“I want this to happen,” she whispers against his lips. “I’ve been thinking about it ever since we got out of your car.”

He nods incoherently, not sure if he’s agreeing or approving, and grabs her hips to drag her down on top of him. They fall back against her pretty pink sheets and he blindly kicks his shoes off as she continues her slow, deep assault on his mouth. He loves the weight of her on him, all soft where he’s hard, and when she starts grinding her hips against his, the feeling is almost too good to stand. He groans into her mouth and he feels her smile and fuck, she’s enjoying this so much, which isn’t a surprise but somehow manages to turn him on even more.

She rises above him to straddle his lap, and her hair falls around her face in a tangled mess so he reaches up to push it back. Her mouth has the smudged, rubbed-raw look of someone who’s been thoroughly kissed, which only makes him want to kiss her more. But her hands slip under his shirt, easing the fabric up and trailing fire everywhere her fingertips graze over his skin. She tugs the shirt all the way off, shoving it into the pillows beneath his head, and rocks her hips against his again until she has him cursing under his breath, digging his hands into her waist to keep her anchored in just the right spot.

There are plenty of things to admire about Annie Edison – her intellect, her drive, her passion, her competitiveness --but right now, he’s profoundly grateful for how thorough she is, how meticulous and methodical. There isn’t an inch of his chest and stomach that her fingers don’t trace over, and when she’s done, she blazes the same trail with her lips and tongue, the blunt ends of her hair brushing over his skin to make the whole thing even better. He makes embarrassing, whiny noises deep his throat that he hopes she can’t hear, but just when he thinks he can’t take much more, her fingers are at his fly, undoing the button and tugging down the zipper.

He forces his eyes open so he can watch her pull off his jeans and scoot to the edge of the bed to get rid of his socks too. She crawls back over him, diving in for another kiss, and there’s something so damn hot about the fact that he’s down to his underwear while she’s still fully dressed. Her soft clothing rasps against his skin, setting every one of his nerve endings on edge. Eventually, his impatience gets the better of him and he rolls her under him because she’s more than had her turn. It is ridiculous how good she feels beneath him, wrapping her entire body around his so there’s barely a single spot where they aren’t pressed together.

He’s had a hard time coming up with a solid profile of Annie as a lover based on their first encounter in his car – it just happened, without any planning or real thought, so there wasn’t any time for self-consciousness or doubt. But now, when it’s all premeditated, sure, she might be a little nervous, but she isn’t the least bit shy or timid like he might have, maybe, imagined she would be when he let his mind ponder the possibilities of sex with sweet, little Annie.

She wants him and she doesn’t seem the least bit embarrassed about it.

So she helps him get rid of her camisole, throwing it behind her where she banished his shirt. Her bra is white with purple polka dots and lacy trim, and God, it makes her breasts look fantastic, so he leaves it in place for now, tracing his tongue along the scalloped edge of the cups until she bucks her hips and moans at the ceiling. She sounds even more winded when he moves his mouth down her flat stomach, where her skin is so pale and smooth that his stubble immediately leaves it pink and flushed. He shoves her skirt down and she aids the effort by kicking it off the end of the bed.

He’s seriously starting to wonder why he didn’t sleep with her the first damn day he met her.

He flashes his teeth against her hip bone, just above the lacy purple trim of her panties, and she winds her fingers through his hair and starts tugging so hard that it kind of hurts -- but in the best possible way. He’d object to the way she’s pulling at it, chide her for possible follicle damage, if it wasn’t such an enthusiastic endorsement of everything that he’s doing to her. And then he’s sliding her underwear off, and she’s sitting up to undo her bra, and she’s completely naked in front of him, spread out across the bed like an all-you-can-eat buffet, and all he can think is, There are a million fucking things I want to do to you.

“Yes,” she moans, grabbing at shoulders to pull him against her like she’s read his damn mind. “Please.”

He kisses her again, and Dr. Strome has to be wrong – there’s no choice in this. He has to have her or he will lose his mind. And maybe he finally understand some parts of his ridiculous darkest timeline fantasy too because right now, he’d cut off his own damn arm to be inside her and it would be worth it.

Sure, it has something to do with this particular woman – because he can’t remember feeling this crazed about sex with anyone in a long, long time – but he tells himself that it’s mostly because he waited nearly four years for it. The pent-up sexual tension has been like a powder keg ready to go off, and every time Annie moans, circles her hips, or bites at his shoulder, it’s like she’s lit the damn match.

Somehow, she manages to slide his briefs off with her feet, so they’re skin on skin from head to toe, which immediately makes it so much hotter than the other night in his car when they couldn’t get all their clothes off. He’s licking his way across her breasts when he feels her reach out toward her nightstand frantically. At first, he tries to bat her arm away, but then he realizes that she’s opening the drawer to pull out a box of condoms – which she very nearly throws at his head. His brain has pretty much short-circuited, but he still gets the hint and sits up to put on a condom.

Since everything the first time seemed to happen in hyper-speed, he’s determined to do this slowly, but as he holds himself over her, she wraps her legs around his hips and pulls him inside her with some kind of super human strength – and she might seriously kill him because he can’t catch his damn breath with how tight she is and she’s moaning so loudly that if Troy and Abed were in the other room, they might actually be deaf.

Hell, the guy downstairs probably is.

“Jeff,” she whines, kicking her feet against his ass, and he’d be insulted that she’s treating him like a fucking horse if there wasn’t something so needy and frantic in her voice. “Please…”

There is no way that he can ever look at her again without hearing her voice call out his name in that desperate, frenzied way. They could run into each other in the frozen food section of the grocery store 20 years from now and he’d still remember the sound perfectly.

He starts to move, and God, she’s right there with him, like she’s anticipating every shift of hips and knows just how to give it right back. It’s fan-fucking-tastic -- though part of him almost wishes it wasn’t because then, maybe, they could walk away from all of this without much drama.

But it’s just as hot as last week in the backseat of his car -- hell, even hotter.

He buries his face in the curve of her neck, where her skin is warm and damp, and he’s desperate to come but he’d also kind of like to stay inside her forever. She digs her nails into his shoulders and whimpers his name again right beside his ear, so he knows that she’s close. He slides his hand between her legs, and he can’t remember exactly what it took to get her off the other night so he just wings it, stroking her until she gasps and tightens around him like a vise.

He tries to give her a minute before he starts moving again, trailing his mouth along her shoulder and throat. When he looks up and sees her gazing back at him with a dazed, blissed-out expression, though, he pretty much loses it and he’s driving into her with no finesse or rhythm at all. She’s making these amazing moaning sounds and squeezing his hips with her knees and he comes with a groan of his own that rattles all the way through his bones.

It takes him a couple of seconds to summon the energy required to get Annie to relax her death grip on him so he can roll off her. They lie side by side for a minute, panting breathlessly in her quiet bedroom. His vision feels a little blurry, and he rubs at his eyes to clear away the haze.

“Wow,” Annie says, just like the last time. She giggles again too, and he seriously loves the sound. “I don’t even… my legs feel like jelly.”

He turns his head and grins at her.

“And I thought the last time was hot,” he says. “I’m going to have to seriously reevaluate my scale.”

She bobs her head eagerly, like she’s willing to make a chart for him or something. But her glance darts away then and she twists a corner of the sheet between fingers almost nervously.

“Were you…” she starts, lowering her voice even though they’re the only people in the room. “I mean… did you think it would be this good?”

“Yeah,” he answers automatically. “Well, maybe I didn’t think it would this ridiculously hot, but I knew it’d be good.”

She smiles, looking extremely pleased, which makes sense because Annie eats up praise the way other women react to diamond bracelets or a pair of Louboutins. She flutters her lashes at him a little, and it’s embarrassing how much he likes the feeling that it gives him.

Until out of nowhere, her eyes narrow, her expression hardens, and she smacks his chest – once, twice, and a third time for good measure.

“Hey,” he laughs, holding her hand against his chest so she can’t continue her assault. “What the hell is that for? The way you were carrying on a couple of minutes ago, you should be throwing me a ticker tape parade right about now.”

Her fingers tap against his chest almost impatiently.

“That’s for holding out on me,” she huffs. “Making me wait so long.”

“Don’t blame me. If I had my way, we would have done this at the potluck the other night and –"

“I don’t mean just since the last time. Four years, Jeff. Four long years.”

He laughs at her melodramatic tone. “So it was all my fault?”

“Ah, yeah,” she says slowly, like she’s talking to a very small, slow child. “I wasn’t the one playing hard to get, Jeff.”

If he’s honest, it’s all true. If he’d made any sort of move, she likely would have responded just as eagerly as she did on the library steps the night of his graduation. That’s what made it so hard to resist – she’d been ready and willing for who knows how long.

“So you would have slept with me a year ago?” he teases, and she bobs her head emphatically. “Two years ago?”

She nods again.

“Three years?”

She sighs with all that trademark Annie exasperation.

“I probably would have slept with you a couple of weeks after we met,” she declares. “If you’d approached me the right way.”

He smiles, lifting up on an elbow to get a better look at her. “Yeah? And what’s the right way to approach you?”

She turns on her side too, so they’re face to face again and tilts her head coyly.

“Well… you’d talk in that low, serious voice that you save for really important conversations.” She reaches up to run her fingers along his jaw. “And you probably wouldn’t have shaved for a couple of days and … you’d just take charge.”

He leans in to nuzzle along her jaw.

“That doesn’t sound too hard,” he murmurs against her ear. “I’ll have to keep that in mind. You know, for the next time I want to talk you into something…”

He’s grinning as he kisses her and she is too, so they wind up laughing into one another’s mouths. She starts to pull away and somehow manages to slip out of her grasp, scooting to the far side of the bed.

“I’ll be right back,” she announces.

He watches as she slips on a little pink and purple plaid robe, unlatches the door, and disappears into the dark apartment. Even though he played hero the other night and fixed her window, Annie’s bedroom is a little cool so he pulls the sheets over him. Somehow, there’s something even more surreal about lying naked in her bed, under her bright floral bedspread, than there is about actually having sex with her, which is obviously ridiculous. He looks around her room, at her army of stuffed animals and ridiculous Zac Efron poster, and wonders again how any of this can possibly work out without it all coming down on their heads like a ton of bricks.

But then she’s bouncing back into the room with his jacket draped over her arm and a bottle of beer in each hand. She hands him one, because his first, neglected bottle has long gone flat and is sweating rings on her nightstand. He takes a sip of his fresh beer, nodding toward his jacket questioningly.

“In case Troy and Abed get back early,” she explains, laying it over the back of her desk chair. “The good news is they should still be gone for…” She grabs her cellphone from the desk to check the time. “A couple more hours. The movie’s almost two hours and it’s a 20 minute drive back and they usually like to stop at this diner on Grand Street for meatloaf sandwiches and strawberry milkshakes after they see a movie, which probably means another hour.”

“What’s the big deal?” he asks, as she stretches out at the foot of the bed with her own beer, her feet pressing into his thigh over the sheet. “Can’t I just get dressed and act like we were hanging out, watching a movie or something?”

“Jeff,” she sighs. “You told Abed you had a date.”

He shrugs, running his thumb along the sole of her foot and making her wriggle a bit. “That’s not exactly what I said. He assumed.”

“He was all curious about it, too,” Annie says. “He wanted me to help him come up with a list of potential romantic interests for you.”

He grins, sliding his hand up her leg to rest at her thigh just beneath the hem of her robe. “Got any good candidates?”

She kicks at his stomach lightly.

“But, you know,” he drawls, shifting forward in the bed and wrapping his hand around her thigh to tug her closer. “As interesting as all that is, the only information that really stands out is that your nosy roommates aren’t going to be home for another couple of hours.”

She nods, smiling coyly and flushing just a bit. He grabs the belt on her robe and pulls it loose, so the halves fall open to reveal her pale, flawless skin.

“So we shouldn’t waste any more time,” he says, crawling over her. “I don’t want be accused of making you wait again.”

Chapter Text

His track record has proven it time and time again, so it’s hardly a surprise at this point, but he still likes it when the fact is confirmed.

He is always right.

This time, though, he actually feels a little bad about it.

Just over a week and a half ago, he told Annie that they wouldn’t be able to spend any time alone together without having sex, and, as expected, he’s been 100 percent right. It’s been physically impossible to keep their hands off each other – every time he looks at her, he’s mentally calculating how long it will take to get her out of her clothes, and every time she looks at him, he’s pretty sure that she’s coming up with new and ingenious ways to make him come in record time.

The only real problem has been finding time alone.

Troy and Abed are always camped out at her apartment, though the hour that it took the guys to wait in line for some DVD release or another certainly didn’t go to waste because Annie spent most of it riding him into oblivion in one of their recliners while a hockey game silently played on the television in front of him. He’s been hesitant to invite her over to his place because they’d have to deal with the whole issue of whether she’d stay over or not, but that didn’t stop him from going down on her against his apartment door the other evening when she stopped by to borrow a book for her Forensic Science and Criminal Law class. And the other night, when he drove her home after they had dinner with Britta, he pulled the car over on a dead end street near her building so they could make a return trip to his backseat.

Fortunately, they’re both pretty opportunistic.

But while the sex has been nothing but phenomenal, there’s this annoying, little part of him (that sounds suspiciously like that fucking cricket from the Disney cartoons) that feels guilty about the whole thing – he doesn’t want to Annie to think that they’re not friends anymore just because they’re having seriously hot sex.

So after he finishes up a job interview right near Greendale, he calls and asks if she wants to meet for coffee.

He offers to come to campus because it’s easier for her, but if he’s honest, he kind of misses the damn place -- or maybe he just misses his friends. His friendship with Annie takes priority because he’s risking it every time they sleep together, but he probably needs to make an effort with the rest of the group too now that school isn’t there to make it easy for them to stay connected anymore.

But God, does he hate making an effort at anything. 

And the whole effort thing doesn’t even take into account how sex with Annie might affect his relationship with the rest of the group. They haven’t had any conversations about keeping the change in their relationship from their friends, but they both seem to agree that it’s best to keep things under wraps – particularly since they don’t even know exactly what it is that they’re doing together. 

Well, he doesn’t anyway.

Maybe Annie does, but he’s kind of afraid to ask.

Right now, he’ll focus on making sure that she doesn’t think their relationship is about nothing but sex and worry about all that complicated, messy stuff later. 

In other words, only when he absolutely has to.

As he parks his car at Greendale, he realizes that he’s making this way too easy on himself – of course, they can’t have sex now. They’re meeting in a very public place where they can’t even touch hands without rousing the suspicions of their friends and countless acquaintances. 

It’s the easy way out for sure. 

Annie’s waiting near the cafeteria entrance when he gets there, with her nose planted firmly in a book so he has the opportunity to check her out unobserved for a minute. She’s wearing a purple dress with a zipper right down the center that’s the only thing keeping him from lots of naked skin and a little black cardigan with flowers embroidered near the shoulders. It’s crazy, but she’s somehow hotter now that he’s sleeping with her – the bloom usually comes off the rose pretty quickly for him once the conquest has been made, but damn, he somehow wants her more every time he sees her these days.

When he’s just a few feet away, she finally looks up, closing her book with a smile.  She gives him and his suit a seriously intense onceover that makes him think it wouldn’t be that hard to convince her to forgo coffee and sneak off to her apartment for a quickie or two before her next class.

“You look very handsome,” she says, toying with the end of his tie – which she drops suddenly, as if she realizes how the gesture might look. “How did the interview go?”

“Pretty well,” he tells her, which is mostly true. The fact is, he still has to retake the bar exam and since he missed the application deadline for the February test, he’s stuck waiting until July. There are plenty of licensed attorneys out there in the job market to make his resume seem a little less than impressive, so job hunting hasn’t been quite as easy as he expected. “I am staggeringly charming, you know.” 

She tilts her head like she’s appraising him carefully.

“You can talk your way into a lot,” she agrees.

“Can I talk you into letting me buy you some coffee?”

“How about an herbal tea?” she says.  “I’m trying to cut back on caffeine.”

He laughs as they head toward the coffee line. “Good luck with that.  You study about 20 hours out of the day. How do you expect to keep up that pace without an IV drip of caffeine coursing through your veins?”

“In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m naturally energetic,” she says haughtily.

He grins down at her. “You don’t say?”

“I think maybe it’s a good thing if I cut back on caffeine so I’m not quite so…” She makes circles with her hand as she searches for the right word.

“High strung?” he supplies helpfully.

She smacks his arm, but she’s smiling as she does it.  Of course, she makes him order her Country Peach Passion tea, though, which he assumes is supposed to be some kind of punishment. But the joke’s on her because he loves the way that her eyes go all hooded and sultry when he draws out the word ‘passion.’ They find a table in an empty section of the cafeteria and sit with their steaming paper cups between them. Annie seems to have gotten shy all of a sudden, her gaze darting around the room like she can’t quite look him in the eye.  For his part, he can’t stop staring at her smart, tempting mouth. 

This was a really bad idea, he thinks. He’s going to snap any second and leap across the table to kiss her senseless if he doesn’t find some way to get this thing back into friendly territory in a hurry. Annie looks up at him, and her soft, tenative smile is enough to get him in gear.

“So have you--”

“Did you—"

They blink in unison, like they’re both hopelessly confused, and then share a nervous laugh.  Okay, so neither of them has quite adjusted to the shift in their relationship – at least, they’re together in that. 

 “Sorry,” Annie says after a moment.  “Go ahead.”

“I was just gonna ask how your classes are going,” he says, feeling like an ass.

He’s starting to realize that trying to separate their relationship into a friend part and a sex part isn’t going to work. They can’t make small talk over coffee and pretend that they didn’t have sex the night before – it’s ridiculous.

Annie lifts her shoulders in a carefree shrug. “Fine. Good.”

He nods, fiddling with the lid on his coffee cup.

“Is it strange for you?” she asks, and he looks at her, panicked. She can’t seriously think they’re going to talk about their relationship here, can she? “Being back, I mean?”

He lets out a strangled laugh – owning up to missing Greendale is much easier that confessing that this girl has completely knocked him off his game.

 “I guess,” he admits. “But it’s only been a few weeks. I don’t think it’s really sunken in that I’m done with this place yet.”

She nods thoughtfully, and he doesn’t think that he’s ever had a woman listen to him the way that Annie does – which unnerves him a little. He isn’t ready for anyone to know him quite as well as she seems to want to.

“It’s so strange to sit at the table in the study room without you there,” she whispers, leaning in so he can hear her better. “I keep expecting you to walk through the door any minute.”

He grins, bobbing his head knowingly.

“I had you pegged as the one who’d miss me the most,” he teases in a low, deep voice.

She flushes, and he knows now that when she does, it goes all the way down to the tops of her breasts – which only makes the look work for her even more. She raises her eyes after a moment, though, meeting his gaze almost challengingly.

“You really went out on a limb with that guess.”

He shrugs. 

“Yeah, I guess it’s not really fair.  I mean, you did tell me that I’m your favorite.”  He taps his foot against the toe of her shoe beneath the table. “And that was before I ever made you come.”

She gasps, looking around to see if anyone’s overheard. “Jeff!”

“Annie!” he parrots back.

She has a decidedly scandalized look, with her wide eyes and the perfect, round “O” shape of her mouth, but there’s something almost pleased about her expression too. She cocks her head, like she’s thinking very carefully, and he starts to feel a little warm.

“This doesn’t have to be hard,” she tells him, like it’s something she’s just decided on.  “It doesn’t have to feel weird or anything. I mean, we’re still us, right?  Except now we just know each other a little better.”

She smiles as she says the last part, and he can’t help but laugh.

“I’ll say.”

He feels the tip of her shoe nudge against his leg just below the hem of his pants – it’s the most she can get away with here without causing a scene so he sinks down a little in the booth to let her get a little further because some touching is better than no touching at all.

“So this is why you’ve been ignoring my texts...”

They look up together to find Shirley smiling down at them.  He hurriedly straightens himself in his seat, and Annie follows suit, sitting so ramrod straight that her entire body radiates stiffness.

“Jeff!” Shirley is sing-songing now.  “It’s so good to see you!”

They haven’t seen one another since the potluck so he stands to let her hug him. Annie fiddles with her tea, tapping it against the table like she can’t quite keep her hands still. 

“So what are you doing here?” Shirley asks as she slides into the booth beside Annie. 

“I was in the neighborhood,” he says, as casually as he can manage.  “So I called Annie to see if she wanted to grab a coffee.  It was a spur of the moment thing.”

“That’s nice,” Shirley says, with an animated smile.  “But you could have called me too. We all miss you, you know.”

“I have a book I have to return to him,” Annie says quickly. “That’s the only reason he wanted to see me.”

He shrugs. “It's a good book.”

Annie offers up a tight smile, while Shirley nods absently.  Annie’s eyes fly around the room then, like she’s searching for an escape route, and she couldn’t look any guiltier if she tried. He’d laugh if that wouldn’t blow their cover any more.

“All right,” Shirley says, after a minute of awkward silence.  “What’s wrong? What’re you two fighting about now?”

Their eyes find one another across the table, and in an instant, he’s just as panicked as Annie is.  He struggles to come up with some way to diffuse the situation, but it’s like his mouth can’t catch up with his brain.

“We’re not fighting about anything,” Annie declares emphatically.  “Why would you say that?”

Shirley raises an eyebrow, wearing her ‘don’t bullshit me’ expression with pride. “Because the tension at this table is so thick, I could cut it up and serve it on one of my sandwiches.”

Annie let out a high-pitched laugh, sounding almost hysterical. “That’s just… I mean, why would… we’re not--”

“It’s probably just me,” Jeff says, finally getting control of himself.  “It’s a little weird being back here, you know?”

Shirley’s expression softens in an instant, and she reaches out to pat his hand. “Oh, of course.  No need to say any more.”

“I have to get to a meeting with my English professor,” Annie says, gathering up her books.  “If you want to come with me to my locker, Jeff, I can get your book.”

“Yeah.  Sure.  Great.”  He follows her out of the booth.  “It was good to see you, Shirley.”

“You too.  Next time, don’t forget to invite me to your coffee clutch. I wanna catch up with you too.”

When he and Annie are out of Shirley’s sight, he reaches out and squeezes her neck in a half-hearted massage.

“You need to get less tense,” he teases. “The whole point of having sex is to get rid of the sexual tension.”

She blushes again, staring up at him accusingly. “It’s not my fault!  You’re the one who’s supposed to be an expert at lying and secret sex and talking your way out of things.”

“And isn’t that what I did?  Talked our way out of it?” he asks.  “I had Shirley eating out of the palm of my hand.”

She frowns, like she can’t quite disagree but still isn’t happy with him.  He bumps his shoulder against hers.

“I’ve got it,” he says, snapping his fingers. “Let’s go do it in my car right now. That’ll get rid of any lingering tension that anyone else might pick up on if we happen to run into them.”

She smacks his arm, wearing a haughty, outraged expression.

“Don’t act like you’re so above it,” he says with a smile. “It’s been twice now.  That’s practically a pattern of behavior right there.”

She glares at him again, but there’s something hungry and wanton in her eyes.

“It wouldn’t help anyway,” she sighs. “Every time we do it, it only seems to make the tension worse.”

He grins, and even he can admit that he’s way too smug for his own good right now.

“It does, doesn’t it?” He shrugs casually. “So I guess we’ll just be caught in an endless cycle of having sex and then immediately needing to have it again. So… your place or mine?”

He’s teasing, but she’s looking up at him with a calculating smile that sends all the blood rushing straight to his dick. 

“Actually, Abed and Troy have a late class tonight,” she nearly purrs. “They won’t be home until 8.”

“Really?” he says, playing it as cool as it can.  “And what time do you get home?

“Around 4.”

“Okay.  So I’ll see you at 4:01 then?”

The blinding smile that she gives him makes admitting how desperate he is to touch her again more than worth it. 

“Bring food,” she tells him.  “I haven’t had time to go shopping and I’ll be starving by then.”

“You are so freaking bossy,” he says, as she starts to walk backward toward her locker.  “You’re lucky you’re so good in bed.”

She giggles and gives him a little wave just as she turns the corner. 

He checks his watch as he heads back toward the parking lot. They spent 22 minutes together without having sex.

Even if it was in a noisy cafeteria, with Shirley breathing down their necks.

That’s got to count for something.

Chapter Text

He barely has a chance to knock before Troy throws the door open in a huff.

The kid’s wearing a pretty pissed off frown and a loose tie around his neck, so there’s definitely a sense of something ominous in the air.

“Sorry,” he practically shouts, sounding more than a little defensive. “We’re running a little late.”

He stomps off into the apartment, leaving Jeff to close the door behind himself. He has no idea what little drama he’s stumbled upon, but he can feel a nagging headache already working its way up from the base of his skull.

As usual, Abed is front of the TV, dressed in a jacket and khakis, but slouched so comfortably in the recliner that he doesn’t look like he’s anywhere near ready to leave. Annie is nowhere to be found, but Jeff can hear water running in the bathroom so he assumes that she’s in the shower.

“Running late?” he repeats because he’s going to need a better explanation than that.

Abed nods absently. “Troy took apart all the pipes in the shower, so when Annie got back from her run and wanted a shower, she had to stand around for almost an hour, all sweaty and gross – her words, not mine – while he fixed it.  She only got in there a few minutes ago.”

“I was just curious,” Troy yells from the kitchen.  “You know, to see if I could do it and everything.”

Jeff sighs, shaking his head in annoyance. “See, this is why I wanted to meet at the restaurant. It would have been so much easier.”

He leaves the “for me” unspoken because that goes without saying.

“I like it better when we ride together,” says Abed. “More opportunities for wacky hijinks.”

“Abed, I think making it to Shirley’s birthday dinner on time is more important than wacky hijinks.”

They all know how much she’s been looking forward tonight, dinner at nice restaurant with (sort of) adults – “God knows I love my kids, but I’m sick to death of eating in places with plastic menus and crayons on the table. I need a grown up evening out!” – so showing up late seems pretty crappy. 

But Abed just shrugs, looking unaffected.

“Shirley’s always late,” he points out. “We’ll probably all make it there at the same time.”

Jeff shakes his head as the faucet turns on in the kitchen and Troy starts humming some unrecognizable tune. He’s not sure why he’s so concerned about making it to the restaurant on time when no one else seems to be, so he leans back against one of the bar stools to sit out the wait.

But there’s a shrill shriek from the bathroom then, something that sounds like a cross between someone suffering a mortal wound and a cat having its tail stepped on, and the door bangs open with a loud thud. Annie peeks around the hallway wall, dripping hair falling across her red face. He can see the edge of a pink towel just above her breasts and he finds himself fervently wishing for telekinetic powers so he could send the towel flying across the room.  He hasn’t seen Annie in a couple of days and he’s more than a little horny – sue me, he thinks to himself.

 “Who turned on the water?” she demands, sounding pretty damn formidable. “It’s freezing in here!”

“Sorry!  Sorry!” Troy yells from the kitchen, and the water snaps off instantly.  “I totally forgot you were in there.”

“You forgot I was in here?  After I had to wait an entire hour, you forgot that…" She spots Jeff then, and her expression softens just a bit. “Hi,” she says, sounding a little shy.

“Running later, I hear.”

She makes a pouty, outraged face, and there’s something seriously wrong with him because he desperately wants to kiss her.

“It’s not my fault. I swear.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Troy grouses, coming in from the kitchen. “It’s all my fault. I heard you the first hundred times.”

Somewhere in the background, a phone chirps and Abed springs up in his recliner, but Jeff’s too busy tracking a drop of water that’s slowly easing its way across Annie’s collarbone to pay much attention – until Abed stands and taps his phone emphatically.

“Britta’s car broke down near campus,” he says. “Gotta go pick her up.”

“Shouldn’t we just wait for Annie and all go together?” Jeff asks.

She’s still standing in the hallway in front of the bathroom, half hidden by the wall, and now that Abed and Troy are both looking right at him, he’s trying his hardest not to stare at the tempting glimpse of her bare, glistening shoulders every time she fidgets.

“We’ll save time if Troy and I go get Britta while Annie finishes getting ready,” Abed says. “And time is of the essence, right?”

 “Fine,” Annie agrees, turning back toward the bathroom. “I’ll try to hurry.”

Troy grabs his jacket from the back of a chair and follows after Abed. “Road trip!”

When the guys are gone, Jeff turns around the empty apartment, wondering what the hell he’s supposed to do to kill time. If someone had just picked up the phone and told him that they were running late, he could have taken his time getting ready. He paces for a minute, making it all the way to the entryway before he notices that the bathroom door is slightly ajar.  He stares at it, like it’s some kind of puzzle to be figured out.  It’s got to be an invitation, but still he hesitates. He tries to calculate how long the guys will be gone – if they wait with Britta for a tow truck to show up, that probably means at least 30 minutes. 

What the hell, he thinks.

He’s greeted with a wall of steam when he pushes the door open all the way – apparently, Annie likes her showers just shy of boiling. The shower curtain is a flimsy blue sheet, so while he can’t actually see her, the shadow of her body through it is enough to get him going.

“Jeff?”

He laughs as he closes the door behind him.

“Were you expecting someone else?” he teases. “Do Troy and Abed make a habit of visiting you while you’re in the shower?”

“No,” she says, and he can hear the smile in her voice. “But I don’t leave the door open for them.”

He sits down on the closed toilet lid, and she pokes her head out from behind the curtain, clutching the plastic to her chest. Her face and chest are pink from the heat, and he’d like nothing more than to lick every droplet of water from her body.

“I’m really sorry,” she tells him. “I planned everything so I’d be ready on time, but I didn’t account for roommate-related insanity.”

He shrugs. 

“No big deal.” He glances at his reflection in the mirror over the vanity. “But I probably would have spent an extra five minutes on my hair if I’d known I had the time.”

She grins, her grip loosening on the curtain so he can see the tempting curve of her breast.

“It’s perfect,” she says.

“It could have been more perfect, though.”

She cocks her head, looking dubious, and ducks back behind the curtain.

“Oh!” she says suddenly. “I got good news today. Someone dropped out of that criminology class that I’ve been dying to get into so I got the last spot.  Isn’t that awesome?”

He makes a humming noise of agreement, not sure what else to do. She’s trying to have a normal conversation with him while she’s on the other side of a thin sheet of plastic, all naked and wet – speech is a little beyond his capabilities at the moment. He sees her reach beside the shower faucet for a blue mesh sponge and then her toes appear on the edge of the tub and he knows that she’s running it up her leg, over all her creamy, vanilla skin.

She’s going to be the fucking death of him.

That fact is more and more certain with every passing day.

He watches through the curtain as she steps under the shower’s spray again, tilting her head back so the water falls over her, and he almost wishes that he offered to go get Britta because this is fucking torture. The water turns off then, and her head reappears from behind the curtain.

“Could you hand me my towel?” she asks sweetly, gesturing toward the plush pink cotton thrown across the vanity.

It would be fun to make her get out of the shower and get it herself, but that’s not the game that she seems to want to play.  So he stands and passes her the towel with a polite smile. It’s large, so when she steps out of the tub, she’s covered from her chest to past her knees in all the pink. Still, there’s no getting around the fact that she’s naked under it, and when she looks up at him from beneath lowered lashes, it certainly doesn’t seem all that innocent.

“Why exactly did you invite me in here?” he asks, amused.

She smiles slyly. “I don’t remember inviting you.”

He smirks, crossing his arms over his chest. “So you left the door open because…?”

She lifts her shoulders casually, like none of this is a big deal.

“I wanted to see what would happen,” she purrs.

He pushes away from the vanity, and she takes a step toward him, and he’s kissing her like he’s wanted to since he first saw her dripping wet in the hallway. She wraps her arms around his neck and he easily lifts her off her feet so they’re crushed together in the humid bathroom. Her towel comes loose between them and drops to the floor like an afterthought, so when he grabs at her ass to help her wrap her legs around his waist, he gets a handful of bare skin. He kisses his way down her throat, shifting her higher in his arms so he can reach her breasts.

“Oh, God,” he moans against her skin. “Why do you smell like a fucking Hershey Bar?”

“It’s my body wash,” she says breathlessly. “Cocoa butter.”

“You only have yourself to blame if I take a bite.”

To prove his point, he nips at her shoulder and she moans, her head lolling to the side to give him better access. He spins around, so he can sit her on the edge of the vanity, which doesn’t really put them at the right height but he’ll crouch down if he has to – the incentive is too strong not to make this work.

“Told you so,” he whispers against her lips. “Any scenario with you and I alone together these days… sex.”

She giggles, her hands slipping beneath his jacket to knead the muscles in his back. “Is there time?”

“That sounds like a challenge,” he growls.

But there really isn’t much time, so he doesn’t bother trying to take off his clothes. He lets her undo his fly while he keeps on kissing her and palming her breasts. Her skin is still damp so he bends to lick some of the water away -- she smells like chocolate and he’s starving so he can’t be blamed for devouring her.  He dips his fingers between her thighs, and she’s already so wet that he finds himself thrusting into her hand with embarrassing urgency when she takes him out of his pants.  

 “Condom?” he groans. 

“My drawer’s the bottom one,” she tells him distractedly as she pumps her hand over him a few times -- which feels so good that he has to press his face to the curve of her neck and just enjoy it for a second.

She tries to stretch and open the drawer with her foot when she realizes that he’s not moving, but she’s too short and can’t quite maneuver. He moves her hand away from his erection and kneels down to find the condoms. She taps her toes impatiently against his shoulders and he knows that his suit is going to be a rumpled mess by the time they actually make it to the restaurant. He snags a condom among the mess of face masks, body creams, and cotton balls, but on his way back up, he’s distracted by the velvety whiteness of her spread thighs and he stops to run his tongue along the soft, smooth skin. She smells amazing too, and he has to have a taste so he licks at her until she’s squirming against the sink.

“No,” she moans, tugging at his hair to pull him back up. “We don’t have time for that…”

He’d like to argue, but she’s probably right so he puts the condom on and slides into her as quickly as he can manage. She makes the sexy, little gasping sound that she always does when he’s all the way inside and he waits for a second, trying to get his breathing back under control.

“Don’t be fancy,” she commands, her hands grabbing at his hips to try to get him to move.  “Just…”

“Fuck you?” he says with a grin.

Her eyes slip shut and her head falls back against the mirror. “Oh, God.  Yes.”

He winds one arm around her waist and braces the other against the wall to give himself some leverage. Because he’s otherwise occupied, Annie moves one of her hands from his hips to between her thighs, which is so fucking sexy because he’s always liked a woman who can take care of herself -- and every time he slides in and out, her fingertips brush against his dick so he sees nothing but white-hot stars when his eyes slip shut. The fingers on her other hand dig into his hip almost painfully and then she tightens around him, knocking a tube of toothpaste and bottle of hand soap off the vanity as she trembles through an orgasm that catches them both little off-guard.

He wants to draw it out a bit, but he figures they’ve only got 15 minutes before Tory, Abed and Britta are back and Annie still has to get dressed, so he doesn’t have the luxury. She squeezes her knees around his hips to urge him on and he comes, moaning against her throat.

He makes a mental note to not go two days without seeing her again.

“Was that no-frills enough for you?” he jokes as they separate. 

She smiles, smacking at his chest as she hops down from the vanity. “You have to be a show-off even when we have no time.”

“That wasn’t me showing off,” he asserts as he cleans himself up. “You know I can do much better than that.”

She grabs his arm to tug him down to her mouth so she can kiss him.

“You don’t hear me complaining, do you?” she whispers against his lips.

He doesn’t think he should tell her that she’s easier to please than most women – and not just sexually. Knowing Annie, she’d see some kind of insult in that -- like she’s just so simple and easy-going that any little thing makes her happy -- when that’s not how he intends it at all. Because truth be told, she is annoyingly complicated and high-strung and demanding in virtually every aspect of her life. There’s just something about her lately, when they’re together anyway, that seems so carefree and relaxed. 

He’s actually afraid to mention it for fear that it might break the spell.

She darts away from him and busies herself picking up the toiletries that litter the floor, while he tries to smooth the wrinkles out of his jacket and tie. He spots a damp, roundish splotch on the pale blue cotton of his shirt just beside the buttons and taps Annie’s shoulder to show her.

“This is totally your boob print,” he laughs.

She opens her mouth in outrage, batting his tie out of the way to get a better look. “It’s just a blob, Jeff.”

“I’ll bet you a hundred bucks Troy knows exactly what this is when he comes through the door.  Maybe Abed too.”

She crosses her arms over her bare breasts like she’s trying to protect them against false accusations.

“Then it’s a good thing you keep a spare shirt in our hall closet,” she says primly.

She picks her towel up from the floor and wraps it around herself again as she heads for the door.

“Now you’re modest?” he needles as he follows after her.

“If they get back and I’m naked, I think they’ll know what we did while they were gone.”

“If they get back and find us leaving the bathroom together with your boob print on my shirt, they’ll know too.”

She stops in the hallway to turn and glare at him.

“Stop saying ‘boob print,’” she hisses.

He laughs and toys with the knot that’s holding her towel closed. “Don’t you have a robe?  Seems pretty cruel to Troy and Abed if you’re constantly parading to and from the bathroom in just a towel.”

Annie shoves at his shoulder so he bumps into the wall. “I was in a hurry, Jeff. Stop being a jerk.”

He laughs again, but she huffs indignantly before hurrying off to her room. He makes a detour to the hall closet, removing his tie and unbuttoning his wet shirt as he goes.  The spare in the closet is a deep cobalt shade and as he holds it up against his gray suit and tie, he thinks maybe it’s a better match that the pale blue he started with anyway. He’s tugging the wet shirt out of his waistband when he looks down at the front of his pants and sees a few more watermarks.

Sorry, Shirley, he thinks ruefully. I really wanted to look GQ-worthy for your birthday, but sex takes precedence.

Annie’s slipped into a lacy black bra and matching panties and is moving hangers around in her closet when he get to her room.

“Where’s your blow dryer?” he asks, showing off the crotch and thighs of his pants.  “You dripped on me.”

She gapes at him in horror. “Is that…?”

He smiles as he lays his fresh shirt on her bed and finishes undoing the old one. “Relax. It’s just water.”

She digs her dryer out of a drawer and plugs it in for him at her desk. He dumps his jacket, tie and wet shirt on the bed too and sits down to dry his pants. It occurs to him that if their friends were to return at this minute, they’d find them in a pretty compromising position -- not quite as compromising as the position they were in five minutes ago, but pretty damn close. He’s shirtless, Annie’s in her lacy underwear, and neither of them is the least bit uncomfortable.

Clearly, some funny business is going on here.

Annie comes over to grab a bottle of her perfume, and he watches as she spritzes some into the air in front of her and walks into the mist. As she's twirling around in the haze of perfume, he notices an angry, red mark on her lower back, just above the waistband of her panties, probably from where the faucet dug into her skin while he pounded her against the sink.

“Did a number on your back,” he says, over the whirring of the dryer. 

He reaches out to stroke the skin softly, and she cranes her head over her shoulder to try to catch a glimpse.

“Really?” she says. “I don’t … It doesn’t hurt.”

She shrugs and heads back toward the closet. He’s struck then by how small she is in her bare feet and skimpy underwear. Everything about her, from her ridiculous energy to the sheer force of her will, makes her seem larger than life most of the time, so he forgets how fragile and breakable she actually is. It would be so easy to hurt, he thinks. 

Correction -- it is easy to hurt her.

He forces his attention back to the task at hand and finishes up with his pants, flipping off the noisy dryer.  As he’s changing his shirt, he turns to watch Annie as she steps into a little blue dress – there is something seriously erotic about watching her dress, which seems crazy because he had her completely naked on the bathroom counter just a little while ago.

When she turns to look at him over her shoulder with her impossibly wide, blue eyes, he gets an uncomfortably tight feeling in his stomach.

“Zip me?” she says with a smile.

He steps up behind her, placing one hand flat on her back to hold the zipper in place and using the other to slowly tug it up from the base of her spine. At the restaurant, while they’re eating expensive steak and toasting Shirley’s birthday, he’s going to be thinking of nothing but her smooth skin beneath the gauzy material of this dress.  He knows that.

She still has to dry her hair and do her makeup, so he makes himself comfortable on her bed and plays around on his phone. Annie hums as she does all her girly stuff, so he keeps looking up at her, catching  glimpses of her as she sprays something into her damp hair, coats her fluttery lashes in mascara, and slicks some rosy gloss on her lips, which totally fucks up his Gem Miner score.  

She’s almost done when they hear the outer door open and their friends chatter loudly about something inevitably stupid. He grins at her across the room because they’re about to get away with having a hell of quickie while their friends played taxi. There’s a knock at her door and Abed sticks his head inside, looking first at Jeff sprawled out on the bed and then at Annie in her chair, combing her hair.

“You guys ready?” he asks.

“Am I ready? I’ve been ready the entire time,” Jeff says briskly as he stands up and jerks his thumb toward Annie. “You know how bored I’ve been waiting for this one to get ready?”

She makes a mewling sound of outrage, and he winks at her behind Abed’s back.

“I’m ready,” she says emphatically, grabbing her purse from the desk.

When she comes to stand beside Jeff, Abed looks at them curiously. He can feel Annie panicking next to him, her posture way too rigid to look natural, and he gets a little nervous himself – Abed has eagle eyes after all.

They wait for him to blow them right out of the water.

“You guys match,” is all he says, though, gesturing between Jeff’s cobalt shirt and Annie’s blue dress.

They let out a nervous laugh.

“Would you look at that?”

“And we didn’t even plan it!”

Abed eyes them suspiciously for a moment, like he’s trying to figure out exactly what’s going on.  But he seems to lose interest, shrugging and nodding toward the door.

“We should go,” he says. “Shirley’s all alone with Pierce at the restaurant.”

When they’re following their friends down the stairs, Annie elbows him in the ribs.

“Bored?” she whispers through clenched teeth. “Really, Jeff?”

“I had to throw Abed off,” he says with a smile.

She huffs, adjusting the collar of her coat as they reach the street.

“Oh, don’t be mad,” he cajoles. “You know you had my undivided attention.”

Annie smiles now, tilting her head coyly. “I still think you should make it up to me.”

“Agreed,” he tells her. “The first chance we get alone, I’ll—"

“What are you two whispering about back here?” Britta asks, coming to step between them just as Jeff’s car comes into sight.

“Jeff’s just apologizing for rushing me while I was getting ready,” Annie declares. “He’s always in such a hurry.”

She smirks up at him and loops her arm through Britta’s as they head for the car.

He shakes his head as he thumbs open the locks, but all he’s really thinking is that she’s more fun than he ever imagined.

Chapter Text

He doesn’t do self-pity or suffer crises of self-confidence.

He never doubts himself.

Even when he got caught with a fake Bachelor’s degree and was disbarred.

Even when he wound up at Greendale with all the other misfits.

He never doubted that he’d come out on the other side just as bright and shiny as before.

That’s probably why he feels so out of his depth right now.

This sense of defeat, of depression and hopelessness, is so foreign to him that he doesn’t know what to do with himself.

Booze seemed like the obvious answer, but he probably should have gone to the trouble of hitting up a bar where contact with other people would've kept him from sinking too deep into his mood  -- because sitting alone in his dark apartment with a half empty bottle of scotch, listening to Warren Zevon singing about being an accidental martyr on repeat, is a level of pathetic that he’s not comfortable with at all.

Over the past month, he’s gone on no less than 20 interviews at law firms both large and small, and no matter how well the interviews seem to go – and they always seem to go well because let’s face it, he is as good at selling himself as he is at anything in his life – they’re always followed up by a polite voicemail, letter, or e-mail, explaining that it was a pleasure to meet him but at this point in time, they’ve decided to go in a different direction.

Probably toward someone who didn’t fake a degree, has legitimately passed the Bar, and isn’t surrounded by a cloud of scandal and disgrace that lingers like cheap cologne.

He is seriously starting to consider the possibility that he might never get his old life back, and that thought leaves him feeling terrified, shaky, totally fucked.

Which is probably why he winds up doing something as embarrassing and stupid as calling Annie up at nearly 11 pm on a Thursday to invite her over.

It’s the first time that he’s extending an invitation like this – as much as he loves sleeping with her, he’s liked having his apartment as a safe haven, where he doesn’t have to deal with questions about whether she’ll stay over and if they should cuddle and all the crap that usually comes with a full-fledged relationship – and he kind of hates himself for doing it under circumstances like this.

But he’s feeling so fucking bad about himself that he can’t really stand being alone anymore, and he doesn’t want to think about the shambles that his career is in for another minute, and since the night of his graduation, Annie has proven that she’s seriously good at distracting him -- so a night with her likely means that he gets to forget everything that’s crappy in his life for a few hours at least.

She agrees to come without any real coaxing, which he isn’t expecting, but then he remembers that she doesn’t have classes on Friday so it’s not like he’s luring her out on a school night – which sounds just as pervy in his head as if he’d said it out loud.

He cleans up the scotch and his dirty glass and turns off his iPod while he’s waiting for her because he doesn’t want her to think that he’s about to fly off the deep end. She may not realize it, but Annie can be just as protective as he can when she thinks he’s in trouble and he’d like to avoid unintentionally sending her off on some kind of mission on his behalf if he can help it.

Unfortunately, he gets the feeling that she knows something is off because she’s got a particularly brave face on when she shows up on his doorstep, all bright eyes and big smile. She’s wearing navy yoga pants and a purple hoodie under her coat, and her hair’s in a swingy ponytail so she was probably about to go to sleep when he called.

“I told Troy and Abed that I was sneaking into the library to do some research for a paper,” she says as he takes her coat. “Next time, I should just shimmy down the fire escape, though, because I’m terrible at coming up with cover stories. And Abed looks right through you like he knows every terrible thing you’ve ever done in your entire life. I mean, I don’t think he assumed I was running off to have sex dressed like this, but…”

“What’s wrong with the way you’re dressed?” he asks, stepping close so he can pull down the zipper on her hoodie. Underneath, she’s wearing a thin, white tank top and he can tell immediately that there’s no bra beneath it. “I like it.”

She flushes, and there’s a hint of disbelief and pleasure in her breathy sigh. Her hands curl over his shoulders as he leans down to kiss her, and as pathetic as it may have been to call her, it’s also a brilliant idea because the heat of her mouth on his and the lush curves of her body against his palms make it impossible to think of anything else. 

She pulls back after a moment, stroking her fingers along his jaw, but he keeps his eyes closed because he’s afraid of what he might see in her expression. Her thumb traces along his lower lip, and his tongue darts out to taste her warm skin.

“Bad day?” she asks softly, and he figures that she must taste the scotch on him – or he’s just so far gone that everything about him radiates a kind of desperateness that makes it impossible not to guess at his mood. 

“Bad week,” he mutters, pushing the hoodie off her shoulders.  “Bad month even.”

He cups her shoulders in his hands, rubbing his thumbs over her collarbones. Her eyes flutter closed for a minute, her head tilting back and her mouth parting around a shaky breath. There’s something so hot about being with a woman as unguarded as Annie is – he always knows exactly how good he’s making her feel and how much she wants to be with him – but when she opens her eyes now, he sees all her worry and fear shimmering there like tears.

It’s hardly a surprise – because Annie is a fixer. Unlike him, she cares enough to always make an effort, to always reach out to the people who matter to her. He told her once that she was just as selfish as he is, and he still thinks that there are parts of her that are, but there’s a generosity at the heart of her that awes and terrifies him.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she asks, running her hands up and down his back slowly so her fingers can knead every tight muscle.

He laughs darkly and shakes his head.  When has he, in all the time that she’s known him, ever wanted to talk about his feelings?  But she’s looking up at him with her wide, steady eyes and honesty spills out of him, even if it’s not about his shitty mood.

“I want *you*,” he whispers, leaning in to kiss her again.

She moans into his mouth and wraps her arms around his neck so she can boost herself up against him, her legs wrapping around his waist – and fuck, if this is wrong, if this was ever wrong, why does she react to him the way she does, like no one has ever touched her in quite the same way, like no one ever will? 

He hasn’t had her in his bed yet (because he’s pretty sure that once he does, he won’t ever be able to lie there and not think of her tangled up in his sheets) -- actually, he doesn’t know if she’s ever even been in his bedroom at all, but he carries her there blindly, refusing to tear his mouth from her skin. He slams into the door jamb as they stumble in, and his shoulder throbs with pain as he sets her on the mattress. She toes off her tennis shoes and scoots backward until she’s lying back against the pillows.  He hasn’t turned on the lights so the room is full of shadows, but he already knows that she looks better than any dream he’s ever had of her.

She watches as he strips off his shirt and jeans, just waiting for him to come to her, and he realizes that she’s going to let him completely run the show tonight. And as badly as he wants to forget the mess that is his life at the moment, as badly as he wants her, he wants to take his time more. She wraps herself around him as soon as he crawls over her, hugging him with her entire body in a fierce, determined way that only she can. He trails soft kisses along her jaw and down her throat, and she pushes up against him, her breasts rubbing against his chest through the thin cotton of her shirt.

His heart is pounding against his rib cage so hard and fast that he’s convinced for a minute that she must hear it – or at the very least, feel it. He tries to slow down, so she doesn’t know quite how frantic he feels at the moment. He eases her tank top up over her stomach, kissing his way over every new inch of skin that’s exposed. Annie’s hands skip heatedly over his back, shoulders, neck, and hair like she’s not quite sure what to do with herself. He tugs the shirt over her head and tosses it to the floor, and her skin is pale and smooth as ivory in the moonlight from his bedroom window. When he rasps his tongue over her breast, she arches her back, squeezing his hips with her bent knees as if she’s afraid that he might suddenly stop.

Sometimes, it seems impossible that they haven’t always known each other this way -- because they’ve fallen into each other’s rhythms without needing any learning curve at all. It’s all instinctual, maybe even primal, and sleeping with someone who makes him feel like he can do no wrong is the kind of ego boost that he can seriously use give the fucked up state of affairs in life at the moment.

When his fingertips slip beneath the elastic waistband of her pants, she immediately lifts her hips so he can slide them and her panties off. From the foot of the bed, he looks up at her, and she’s smiling softly, her eyes wide and bright in the dark. She stretches out her leg to brush her toes against his hip and he curls his hand around her foot, digging his thumb into the arch until she squirms and giggles.

“You’re such a tease tonight,” she says.

He smirks, raising her foot to press a kiss to her big toe. “Am I?”

She nods her head against the pillow.

“Maybe you’re just really impatient,” he tells her, crawling back on the bed. “You do have a problem with that sometimes.”

She laughs again, but the sound turns into a moan as he licks his way from her knee to her inner thigh. He’s found that this is a surefire way to shut her up and he probably could have ended plenty of their past arguments a lot more quickly if he’d just dropped to his knees and pushed up her skirt – not that he’s about to tell her that, because, yeah, he knows how it sounds.  He’d be lucky if she only stomped on his foot instead of kneeing him in the groin.

Now, though, her thighs fall open as soon as he settles himself between them. She tenses with the first swipe of his tongue even though she’s expecting it, and he massages her thigh until she relaxes into his touch. Her fingers wind through his hair, but he doesn’t need her to guide him because he knows exactly how she likes it – soft and teasing at first, hard and fast when she’s ready to come. Tonight, though, because he wants it to make it last, he backs off every time she’s close to the edge, licking slow and easy to keep her hanging.  She whines in frustration and somehow manages to grit out “Tease” again, so he laughs against her warm skin. He curls a couple of fingers inside her then, and that seems to be all she needs because she squeezes her knees around his head, lifting her hips off the bed, and keening low in her throat.

She is a ridiculously beautiful woman all the time, but there’s something about the way that she looks just after she comes that really does it for him.  He crawls up to lie beside so he can watch her as she comes down from the high -- she’s all flushed and sweaty, and her hair is falling loose from her ponytail around her face, and she has a hand pressed to her chest like the pressure can slow her heart and calm her breathing somehow.  While she’s recovering, he takes off his boxer briefs and grabs a condom from the bedside table. She reaches out to pull him on top of her, but he scoots back to sit up against the pillows and pulls her into his lap.

It doesn’t take her long to get with the program, and when she sinks down over him, he can’t remember for the life of him why he was in such a crappy mood earlier.

Annie’s still for a moment, which isn’t out of the ordinary – she always likes to take a minute to get used to the feeling of him inside her -- but when she finally moves, it’s only the smallest swivel of her hips and then she’s still again.  His hands squeeze at her hips to try to get her to speed up, but she only rotates in the opposite direction, still barely moving.

“Now who’s the tease?” he groans.

She grins down at him, leaning in to kiss her way along his jaw.

“Isn’t this what you wanted?” she whispers against his ear. “Nice and slow?”

She rises just a bit and sinks back down at a leisurely, almost lazy pace – he hugs her to him so he can bury his face in her shoulder because he’s embarrassed that he’s so damn transparent. Annie’s not deterred, though. She keeps up the slow, languid grind until he’s slamming his eyes shut, throwing his head back against the wall, and moaning nearly non-stop.

She stills completely then, and he feels her trailing her fingertips down his face, tracing over his lips. He opens his eyes reluctantly and she’s looking right at him, her gaze soft but steady. She starts to roll her hips again when she’s sure that she’s got his full attention and then it’s as if he can’t look away. It’s unnerving to have this kind of eye contact during sex, because it feels like he’s giving too much away, but it’s also seriously hot, which is why he can’t tear his eyes away from hers. He squeezes at her hips again, and she finally speeds up until they’re both coming and it’s impossible to tell who’s groaning louder.

They collapse against the mattress, Annie sprawled mostly on top of him as they pant breathlessly in the quiet bedroom. Usually, they find themselves laughing after sex because it’s always just giddy fun. Tonight feels different, and he’s not exactly sure what to do.

She nuzzles against his throat and presses a kiss to his shoulder just before she rolls away from him -- he almost expects to be branded in the spot because her lips seem to sear against his skin.  She turns on her side to face him, her hands tucked beneath the pillow, and he reaches out to brush the hair that’s come loose from her ponytail away from her face.  She yawns suddenly, squinting her eyes in an effort to fight it off.

“Tired?” he asks, amused.

 “A little,” she confesses. “It’s been a long week – two tests and a 15-page paper.”

“No classes tomorrow, though, right?”

She nods.

He’s not going to ask her to stay – he’s not that kind of guy, which is the main reason that he hasn’t invited her over to his place before. When he goes to her apartment, he usually has to hurry off right after they do the deed because Troy and Abed will be back at any moment. Here, there’s no reason for her to rush off – and while he isn’t about to invite her to stay tonight, he realizes that he wouldn’t mind if she did.  He grabs the TV remote from his nightstand and turns it on.

“I’m gonna get a drink,” he tells her, sliding out of bed. “Want something?”

She bobs her head again and he passes her the remote. In the bathroom, he cleans himself up and splashes a little water on his face when he sees how flushed he looks in the unforgiving florescent light. He heads for the kitchen to grab a bottle of water for Annie and fill a glass with a little more scotch for himself. On the way back to the bedroom, he makes a detour to the front door to flip the deadbolt and turn off the living room lights.

He finds Annie lying on her back, with the sheet and comforter pulled up to her chest, so she can see the TV better, where a rerun of ‘Seinfeld’ is playing. She’s laughing quietly, her face soft and pearly in the bluish light.

“This is my favorite episode,” she tells him, as he hands her the water.

He looks back at the TV where Elaine’s boyfriend is painting his face for a hockey game, and nods. “It’s a good one.”

He slides back into bed beside her, joining her under the blankets, and she scoots a little closer to him in the center of the bed. She laughs again when Kramer starts fighting with a monkey, and he ignores the TV to watch her, the way she tips her head back and bites at her lip to rein in her giggles. 

Despite his best efforts, he falls asleep before the episode ends, and when he wakes later, the bedroom is entirely dark. Annie is warm and still beside him, her hand curled lightly around his wrist.

Chapter Text

The one benefit that he can see to being unemployed and completely finished with Greendale is that he’s got plenty of time to work out.

In fact, he may actually be in the best shape of his damn life because he’s managing to get in three sessions at least five days a week these days.

He’s just finishing up a set of crunches when his phone rings – and he’s planning to ignore it until he sees that it’s Annie on the other end of line.

She’s probably got another kind of workout in mind and he’s more than amenable to burning a few more calories with her before the day’s over.

“Troy and Abed want me to invite you over,” is what she says, though, and he can only laugh.

“Oh, really? Troy and Abed are dying to see me, huh?” he asks, amused. “This is like the Tom Cruise thing, isn’t it?”

She lets out an indignant sigh, and somehow, the effect isn’t ruined by the static-y phone connection.

“I don’t know what you’re implying,” she huffs. “I’m making dinner and they’ve got ‘Skyfall’ all cued up. They say you love James Bond movies and they thought you’d want to watch with them. It was all their idea, I swear.”

It’s his turn to sigh now because his evening of hot sex has gone up in a puff of smoke. 

“Listen, I appreciate the invite, but I’m not really in the mood for movie night with the guys.  It’d be…”

He doesn’t know what exactly it would be – awkward, uncomfortable, annoying, tempting – but sitting in a room with Troy and Abed between he and Annie doesn’t sound like much fun to him right now.

Annie’s silent for a moment, and he wonders if she’s offended that he doesn’t want to come over because he’s not going to get sex or if she disapproves that he’s blowing off Troy and Abed or if she’s just disappointed that they’re not going to see each other – any of the above, all of the above probably.

“Jeff,” she says finally, and she draws his name out in a way that makes him tighten his grip on his phone just a bit. “Could you… It’s just… I kind of wanted to talk to you about something.”

If he wasn’t already dripping wet from his workout, he’s pretty sure that he’d be breaking out in a cold sweat right about now.

No good ever comes from a woman wanting to talk about something; he knows that from firsthand experience.  He runs through the possibilities in his head – Christ, what if she wants to tell him that she loves him? He’s got absolutely no response for that, and he can already imagine how her face will crumble when he just stares back blank-faced at her declaration. Or Jesus, what if she’s pregnant? They’ve been sleeping together for over four weeks now, so if it happened right away, she could know by now.

But we’ve used condoms every time, he reminds himself, and she’s on the damn pill.

It’s probably something else. 

It’s got to be something else.

“So talk,” he says kindly, hoping he doesn’t sound as crazed as he feels.

“No,” she insists.  “Not over the phone.”

Which is how he finds himself hurrying through a shower, throwing on fresh clothes, and racing to her apartment when the absolute last thing that he wants to do is watch James Bond with the guys. 

Annie can be a drama queen sometimes, he tells himself as he drives to her place. So maybe she just wants his help with a paper – okay, that’s ridiculous; she's never needed his help with anything scholastic and she never will. Maybe she’s gotten herself into some kind of legal jam and she wants to put his expertise to good use. 

It could be anything.

It’s probably nothing.

Abed opens the apartment door with a bowl in his hand.

“Annie made rigatoni with vodka sauce,” he announces, forgoing a greeting all together. 

He tilts the bowl, so Jeff can see the steaming contents.

“Looks great,” he says non-committally.

“It’s whole wheat rigatoni,” Annie calls from the kitchen.  “So, you know, less carbs.”

Jeff actually laughs, which may be because she knows him so well, but is probably the result of nerves more than anything else. Abed settles back in his recliner beside Troy, who takes a break from shoveling pasta into his face to spare Jeff a half-hearted wave. 

“Can we start the movie now?” he asks. “We’ve already been waiting for-ever…”

“Just a second,” Annie says, breezing into the room with a couple of bowls that she sets on the table. “I need to get drinks.”

Jeff sits down, and Abed leans over the edge of the recliner to look back at him at the table.

“Find a job yet?”

There’s no ill will or even judgment in his tone, but Jeff still feels his hackles rise.

“Weighing some options,” he lies smoothly.

Abed nods, willing to let the topic go, and Annie returns with a bottle of beer and a bottle of water, holding them out for him to choose -- he goes for the beer because he’s pretty sure that he’ll need at least a little booze to get through this night.  She sits beside him, so she can see the TV and Troy quickly hits the play button on the remote to start the movie before anyone can object.

It’s kind of ridiculous – Troy and Abed eating their dinner in front of the television like kids, while he and Annie eat at the table like actual adults. He watches her out of the corner of his eye to try to get some sense of her mood – she’s watching the movie pretty intently, looking away only long enough to spear a piece of rigatoni on her fork every so often, so it doesn’t seem like she’s too upset. She realizes that he’s watching her after a few minutes and turns to smile at him.

“It’s really good,” he tells her lamely, gesturing at the pasta with his fork. 

“Thanks. I’ve been watching the Food Network a lot lately. This is one of Giada—"

“Shhhh!”

Troy and Abed turn in unison to shush them, fingers raised to their lips like annoying school marms. Jeff glares at the back of their heads because he couldn’t care less about this damn movie, not when he just wants to talk to Annie so he can figure out exactly how much trouble he’s in.

But they watch the rest of the movie – more than two damn hours to be exact – in silence.

He must be acting pretty antsy too because Annie lays her hand on his knee beneath the table at one point, squeezing gently, like she’s trying to settle him down. He stops bouncing his knee then, and tries to focus on the warm weight of her hand for the rest of the movie.

As soon as it’s over, Abed and Troy start arguing about what to watch next – Abed wants to go old school with ‘Goldfinger’, but Troy’s pushing hard to go the parody route with ‘Austin Powers.’ Jeff is as sneaky and crafty as a son of a bitch can be, but he can’t figure out a way to get rid of these two. He’s ready to kick himself for not insisting that Annie just come to his place where privacy isn’t at a premium.

Until she stands suddenly, smiling big and bright.

“You know what I have a craving for?” she asks.

Troy and Abed look at her in confusion, while Jeff starts to sweat all over again -- he may not know much about pregnant women, but like Abed, he’s seen enough sitcoms and romantic comedies to know about the food cravings.

“Mint chocolate chip ice cream,” she declares after a moment, when it’s clear no one is going to guess. “And I think since I cooked dinner, the least you guys could do is go pick up a carton.”

“Why can’t Jeff?” Troy whines. “We’re trying to figure out what to watch next.”

“He’s our guest,” Annie says primly.  “We can’t make him run errands.”

Jeff bobs his head in emphatic agreement.

“Fine.  We’ll go get your damn ice cream,” Troy pouts, standing up. “But I’m getting Chunky Monkey and you can’t have any.”

Abed’s more good-natured about getting stuck with ice cream duty and smiles as he follows Troy to the door. “Any requests, Jeff?”

“Mint chocolate chip is fine,” he says, wanting them gone yesterday.

When the door closes behind them, Annie sinks into one of the abandoned recliners so he sits in the other one, angling himself so he can see her face.

“You wanted to talk,” he says as gently as he can manage.  “Is everything okay?”

She twists her hands together in her lap anxiously, and he goes from uneasy to terrified in three seconds flat.

Maybe she’s having fucking twins.

“My mother called this morning,” she says. “Well, she left a message actually. I didn’t answer.”

He cocks his head, trying his best to follow along. “Okay. And that’s a big deal because?”

She looks up at him, like she’s debating exactly how much to tell him. “It’s the first contact we’ve had in almost four months.”

He’s surprised, though he tries his best not to show it. He knows that there’s some sort of dysfunction in her family tree and that she’s lived on her own as long as he’s known her, but he's pretty sure she spent holidays with her mother in the past so he assumed that it was the kind of passive-aggressive tension that simmered just below the surface. He never figured that things were this rocky.

“Really?” he says inanely. 

She nods. “We had another really big fight back in the fall when I decided to switch from healthcare administration to forensics. It’s not like she’s ever been particularly proud of anything I’ve done at Greendale because, you know, it’s just community college, but apparently this was the last straw or something. I’m too much of a disappointment now to even call on my birthday.”

He thinks back over the past few months, trying to see if he can find any hint that she was carrying all of this around with her. It seems impossible that he wouldn’t have picked up on it, but then he was so caught up in his own baggage that he probably wasn’t paying much attention to anyone else.

“I know she’s your mother,” he says. “But you understand that’s all bullshit, right? You’d be kicking ass wherever you were because that’s who you are, Annie. Everyone else at Greendale may be out of options, but that doesn’t mean you are.”

She shakes her head almost defiantly. “That’s not… I didn’t ask you to come over here because I wanted you to compliment me or make me feel better about myself.”

“Okay. Then why did you?”

Annie tilts her head, and her eyes are all liquid-y and soft like she might cry at any moment, and God, he’d never hit a woman but if he ever found himself face to face with Annie’s mother, he’d be seriously tempted.

“I was wondering…” she says hesitantly. “I just wanted to know how you got up the nerve to see your father. I know it’s not the same thing because he left you when you were just a little kid and this stuff with my mother is only a few years old, but …”

He knows that’s not the truth – she’s got decades’ worth of issues with her mother that he’s willing to bet would have Dr. Strome filling up legal pad after legal pad with insightful notes.

“Annie, I don’t—:

“I’m not trying to pry or anything,” she says. “I don’t want to intrude. I just mean, generally. How did you do it?”

He sighs, feeling very tired all of a sudden.

“The thing is, it wasn’t really about him. Yeah, I was curious about what he was like, but really, I went to see him because there were things that I needed to say to him if I was ever going to get over it.”  He shrugs, like it was honestly that simple. “So I did it.”

She nods, taking each and every word to heart. “And it made you feel better?”

“I don’t know if better’s the right word,” he says. “But I didn’t feel as bad anymore.”

“There are probably a lot of things I need to say to my mother. But the thought of actually doing it is just so exhausting.”

“No one says you have to do it now,” he tells her.  “On your mother’s timetable. You do it when you want to. She’s your mom … she’s always going to have to listen to you.”

Annie bobs her head, like she might honestly believe him. He’s not known for giving this kind of touchy-feely advice, so he’s just glad that he didn’t blow it completely.

“She put a lot of pressure on you, huh?” he asks.  “Your mom?”

She laughs humorlessly. “I became addicted to pills at 17, Jeff. That doesn’t happen because your parents are all warm and fuzzy.”

“I guess not. What about your dad? Do you talk to him?”

“Not really,” she sighs.  “I mean, every now and then. And every few months, I get a check in the mail for like $400 or $500. But I haven’t cashed any of them -- there are like 12 or 13 sitting in my desk drawer right now.”

He smiles, reaching out to snag her hand and slide his fingers through hers. “Let’s cash ‘em,” he jokes.  “Then hop a plane to Vegas and let it all ride on black.”

She huffs out a sad, little laugh.

“It’s nice that he’s still trying to look out for you, though,” Jeff points out.  “Right?”

“I guess. But it’s just so typical. Whenever my mom would yell at me when I was little, my dad would sneak out and buy me something like a teddy bear or earrings. He wouldn’t ever stand up for me or tell her to lay off, but he could rack up credit card bills with the best of them.”

Jeff lowers his head, not knowing what to say. He rubs his thumb across the palm of her hand, and she curls her fingers around his.

“Com’ere,” he whispers, tugging on her hand to pull her toward him.

She giggles, but falls into his lap easily, wrapping her arms around his shoulders.

“I’m sorry,” she says.  “You probably thought I asked you to come over because I wanted to…” She cocks her head back and forth.

“Honestly?  I was terrified you were going to tell me that you were pregnant or something equally horrifying.”

She laughs, smacking at his chest. “You’re off the hook. I’m actually PMS-ing big time as we speak. It’s probably why my mother’s message got me so worked up.”

“Ah, I see,” he says, nodding thoughtfully. “Can I get you anything? Godiva? Midol? Abed’s copy of ‘The Notebook’?”

She smiles, toying with the open buttons at the collar of his shirt.

“Is it weird that I talked to you about this?” she asks.

“About your period? Come on, Annie. I’m a real man – I can say the word uterus without even flinching.”

She giggles again, vibrating against him in a way that is seriously distracting. “Not about that. About my mother. Did I make you uncomfortable?”

He frowns because he’s not quite sure what she’s getting out at. “Why would I be uncomfortable?”

She shrugs, and goes back to playing with the buttons on his shirt to avoid eye contact. “You know, because we’re sleeping together now and this is kind of personal…”

“Annie,” he says, sliding his fingers under her chin to tilt her head up so she meets his eyes. “We’re friends, right? You can talk to me about whatever you want. That hasn’t changed just because we found out that we’re seriously sexually compatible.”

She smiles, but it’s tight and forced. He can feel the tension in her body against his too, like she’s trying to keep herself in check.

“I just don’t want you to think that I expect anything because things are different between us now.”

If she were talking about her relationship with any other guy, he’d tell her that she has every damn right to expect something, that she shouldn’t settle for anything less than everything. But he knows himself and he knows what he’s capable of and she’s right to be so hesitant – and he also remembers how he downplayed every single moment that ever happened between them when she finally had the guts to call him on his crap. She’s not about to put herself out there, so he can shoot her down again – and he understands why.

He can’t tell her any of that, though.

“You’ve made me feel kind of guilty,” he finds himself saying.

 She lifts her head from his shoulder to meet his eyes. “About what?”

“My mom calls me all the time,” he tells her. “I send her to straight to voicemail like nine times out of ten.”

Annie frowns, tapping her fingers against his bicep. “Why?”

There’s no story of pressure or disappointment to share, no childhood of neglect or inattention to explain any of it away.  It’s a lot simpler and a lot more complex than all that.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed this about me,” he says lightly, sliding his hand along her thigh. “But I’m much more comfortable arms-lengthing people.”

“Even your mom?”

“Especially my mom.” He twists the hem of her skirt between his fingers. “Or, you know, anyone who actually means something to me.”

She shakes her head, almost sadly, and runs her fingers along his jaw.

“That’s really silly,” she whispers.

She leans in to kiss him, and he fists a hand through her hair to keep her close as he changes the angle. She kisses him breathless and senseless, so he has to drop his head back against the recliner’s cushion and get himself together. Annie lays her cheek against his shoulder, her fingers tracing small circles over his chest. 

They stay tangled together like that in the recliner until they hear Troy beat boxing in the hallway and Abed’s keys in the lock. 

Chapter Text

He doesn’t even make it out from behind the wheel before he strips off his tie.

Another day, another interview that led absolutely nowhere, and the thought of making it all the way from the parking lot up to his apartment exhausts him -- so he sits in his car  and tries to resist the urge to bang his head against the steering wheel.

And maybe he doesn’t really want to go upstairs to his empty apartment where he’ll be left alone with nothing but his thoughts. His mind is a dark, dark place these days, and the less time he spends inside it, the better.

There’s also the possibility, however remote, that he just doesn’t want to be alone right now. And it turns out that Dr. Strome is right too – he does have a choice where Annie is concerned because now that they no longer spend all day on the same rinky-dink campus, he has to actively seek her out or wait for her to seek him out if he’s going to see her. She’s got things to occupy her time too, like classes and clubs and the study group, so her schedule is just a little bit fuller than his.

Which probably means that the only reason that he’ll see her tonight is because he just plain wants to and chooses to pick up the phone and reach out.

He can admit that to himself.

Well, sort of.

The fact that she was the last one to call and arrange a meeting makes him feel a little less uncomfortable about the whole thing.

Not that he’s keeping score or anything.

It’s barely 4:30, which means she’s probably still at Greendale, but he texts her anyway.

Where are you?

She texts back faster than anyone else he knows, so he barely has to wait a minute for her response.

Just leaving campus.

Stop by for a minute?

Be there in 10. :)

His car is starting to feel a little stuffy, but he still doesn’t want to go up to his apartment so he slides up onto the hood to sit and wait for Annie. It’s just about dusk, which means the sky is a weird grayish-purple that has a look of impending doom and there’s still an annoying chill in the air, but at least the world feels a little bigger out here, like maybe it doesn’t have him quite so hemmed in.

 A week or so ago, when he called Annie and invited her over, he wasn’t looking for someone to talk to – he was looking for someone to make him forget.  Now, he thinks that he might actually need someone to talk to, and sure, he could call Britta, who’s listened in the past and would probably cream herself at the thought of getting to play therapist again, and confiding in Annie inevitably means that she’s going to try her damnedest to fix everything for him and that usually brings a headache with it the size of California, but right now, he thinks that that might actually be what he wants – someone to do the thinking for him and straighten things out and just take care of him.

It’s pathetic and embarrassing, but he’s got little shame these days.

He hears a car door slam behind him, and there Annie is, walking across the parking lot, almost exactly ten minutes after she sent her last text just like she said she would. She already looks like she’s on a mission, with her purposeful gait and determined expression.

“Is everything okay?” she asks.

Finding him on the hood of his car like this is probably enough to raise her concern.  She boosts herself up beside him, but he has to grab her arm and pull her all the way because she keeps sliding to the edge.

“Depends on your definition of okay,” he says. “If okay means that I haven’t gone on 19 plus interviews over the past five or six weeks and haven’t received exactly 19 rejections, then no.  I’m not okay.”

Annie’s eyes widen and her brow furrows like she’s trying to figure out a foreign language. “I don’t understand.  Every time I ask about your interviews, you say they’ve gone well.  Why wouldn’t--"

“Here’s the thing, Annie. I can ace every single interview – and I do because I am seriously that charming – but as soon as they look at my resume, as soon as they realize that I was disbarred, that my degree’s from Greendale, and that I still haven’t retaken the Bar, my charm seems to lose a little of its luster.”

She shakes her head emphatically, almost defiantly, because that’s Annie – so dedicated to her world view that she can’t fathom other people not accepting it.

In this case, her world view being that he’s a serious catch in the job market.

“Okay, fine,” she says. “So you’ve gone on interviews with a few close-minded law firms… that doesn’t mean that there’s not someone out there willing to give you a second chance. I mean, you just graduated a little over a month ago. I read an article the other day that said it takes recent college graduates an average of three to nine months to find a job. Maybe you thought it would be a little easier, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen eventually.” 

She is looking at him so earnestly, with her wide, blue eyes and sad, little frown, and he knows that she believes every word that she’s saying. At a time when his confidence has hit an all-time low, it is surprisingly comforting to know that she still sees him as capable of anything. She loops her arms through his, so they’re leaning into one another and he wishes that she wasn’t quite so hard to lie to.

“I hate admitting this,” he says quietly. “But maybe I have to face facts and accept that it’s just not going to happen. I made it through three and a half years at Greendale telling myself that I’d get that old life back, but now I’m done and I’ve still got nothing to show for it.”

“Jeff, don’t—"

“And it’s not just a matter of pride at this point,” he says. “It’s a matter of money. You know, to pay for the roof over my head and put some food on the table.”

She bumps her shoulder against his. “And those new Salvatore Ferragamo boots,” she teases.

He smiles, grateful for the shift in mood. “Hey, you agreed – those bad boys are hot. They’re just as much a necessity as three square meals a day.”

She rests her chin on his shoulder, looking up at him through the fluttery fringe of her lashes, and he seriously thinks that she could conquer the world with nothing but her ridiculous, beautiful, soulful eyes.

“Okay,” she says. “So then you find a job, any job, that can pay the bills and let the rest of it take care of itself.”

He laughs. “Let the rest of it take of itself? You live to control and plan everything in your life, and you want me to just wing it?”

Annie shrugs, smiling softly. “I’m trying to get better about that.”

“Fine. So what the hell kind of job can I get with a degree from Greendale? Luis Guzman aside, our alumni aren’t exactly setting the world on fire.”

She cocks her head, giving the question serious thought.

“You got your degree in Education,” she says. “Maybe you could—"

“Jeffrey!  Annie!  What a nice surprise!”

They turn to see the Dean bouncing right toward them, his face contorted with unabashed glee. Jeff’s done such a good job at avoiding his would-be stalker over the past month that he’d practically forgotten the Dean lived in his building. Annie slowly slides her arm free of his, presumably to avoid suspicion, but she doesn’t move away from him otherwise. She watches the Dean approach with what looks like apprehension – until some light bulb seems to go off in her head and her eyes widen and she smiles slyly.

She leans in conspiratorially, and he is absolutely in love with the bloom of color across her cheeks. 

“It goes against everything in me,” she whispers.  “But I’m not going to actively meddle.”

She pushes herself to the edge and jumps off the hood in a decidedly lady-like way that only she can pull off. 

“I left my bag in my car,” she announces breezily. “I’m just going to run and get it.  Jeff, maybe you and the Dean could catch up.  You know, about *work* and stuff…”

The Dean starts chattering away about the latest goings-on at Greendale, which actually seem pretty tame by Greendale standards, until he lowers his voice and launches into a story about how several of the faculty where caught in masterminding some kind of dog or cock fighting ring– “I’m a little fuzzy on all the details,” the Dean explains. “The poor animals, either way.”  --  in the cafeteria after hours and he’s had to let them go, which means he’s scrambling to find replacements when they’re already four weeks into the semester.

“It’s a nightmare, Jeffrey. An honest-to-goodness nightmare. PETA sent me this really, really nasty letter.”

The fact that one of this disgraced faculty members was teaching a few law classes doesn’t escape Jeff’s attention, and suddenly it all make sense.

Not actively meddle, my ass, he thinks as he looks over his shoulder to watch Annie make a show of fiddling with something in the backseat of her car.

He knows what she’s thinking – he often does, he realizes, because as different as they are, they seem to follow the same wavelength most of the time – and she has to be certifiably insane because that’s the only reasonable explanation for this kind of brainstorm.

He put his damn time in at Greendale – choosing to go back would be masochistic in the extreme. Like doing a dime at the State Pen and then deciding to take a job as guard.

Sheer lunacy.

But as the Dean starts to go on and on about how much he’s missed at Greendale, he does a few mental calculations – and yeah, he’s not sure how many more months he can get away with choosing between paying his electric and phone bills. 

All it would take is one word from him, he knows, and the Dean would be drawing up a contract on the back of subscription card in the US Weekly he’s clutching to his chest.

Jeff freezes.

Holy fuck, is seriously contemplating this?

Apparently, he is, because less than an hour later, he’s in a noisy Asian fusion restaurant, tucked into a circular booth with Annie and the Dean on either side of him, to celebrate his new position at Greendale.

Annie is uncharacteristically quiet – she didn’t even squeal or clap or make that ridiculous ‘Awww’-ing sound when the Dean practically jumped up and down to share the “good” news – but she’s got his pleased, little smile playing around the corners of her mouth. He’d be annoyed that she’s so happy about this when he is considerably less so if she didn’t have her hand on his thigh, practically in his lap, under the table.

If he could figure out some way to get rid of the Dean, he thinks that he could actually get her to give new meaning to the phrase PDA.

She looks at him over the rim of her champagne glass – the bubbly was the Dean’s idea, but considering Annie’s fondness for it, Jeff didn’t see any reason to object – and her gaze is so hot and intense that he feels a little feverish.

Or maybe it’s just the reality of what he’s done hitting in the face and making him feel delirious.

It’s a definite possibility.

Somehow, they manage to the ditch the Dean back at the apartment complex when Jeff insists on walking Annie to her car because, you know, it’s dark now.  She’s entirely too happy about his new career path and it pisses him off a little bit, but how can he seriously be mad at her when she didn’t even push him into this? When he sat here earlier and practically wished that she would clean up his messy life? When this might actually keep him from having to live out of his car again?

He can’t. 

“So…” she says, swinging her purse through the air as they stroll across the parking lot. “What other problems can I solve for you tonight?”

He frowns. “Annie, you didn’t really solve my problem so much as replace it with about 100 more. So, really, I think you’ve done more than enough for one night.”

Her mouth drops open, like she genuinely has a right to be outraged. “Jeff! You seriously don’t have any gratitude?”

“First of all,” he declares. “What should I be grateful to you?  You didn’t *actively* meddle, right?”

“I didn’t, but that’s not—"

“Second of all, this is absolutely pathetic,” he insists. “And I’m going to wind up seriously regretting it. You realize that, right?”

She stops dead still, right in the middle of the parking lot, and sighs, sounding long-suffering and put upon.

“It’s just a job, Jeff. You’re not signing the rest of your life away or anything.” She cocks her head, her eyes trailing over him from head to toe. “Besides, I think you could be really good at it.”

He laughs, crossing his arms over his chest. “Oh, really? Is it my stellar track record as a no-nonsense, dedicated student that leads you to believe that?”

Annie curls her hand around his elbow and leans in close.

“You have a way with words, right?” she says. “And you love working to an audience. That’s mostly what teaching is.”

He shakes his head, still feeling dubious. He lowers his arms and rests a hand on her lower back to guide her toward her car again.

“Oh, come on,” she sighs after a moment. “It won’t be that bad.”

“It’s Greendale, Annie. It will be probably be worse than either one of us can possibly imagine.”

She tilts her head, considering this, and shrugs like she can’t really argue.

“But you’ll get to see me every day,” she points out.

She leans back against her car, looking up at him with those blue, blue eyes that somehow manage to look entirely innocent and seriously wanton at the same time. He rests his palms against the metal on either side of her, so she’s trapped between the cold car and his warm body.

“You’re definitely one of the few things Greendale has going for it,” he tells her, leaning in to press his mouth against the wildly fluttering pulse point at the side of her throat. “And maybe, if you promise to spend all of your lunch breaks in the backseat of my car, I could get really excited about this…”

She groans his name, trying to sound disapproving, but she’s stretching up on her toes to kiss him so it’s hard to take her seriously. He slips his hands inside her jacket and clutches at her hips, his fingers just skirting beneath the soft fabric of her sweater to tease the skin at her lower back. It would be so easy to take her upstairs, lose himself in her again, and hide away from reality once more -- you know, the reality where he’s honestly agreed to teach at Greendale.

Fuck.

He starts to pull away, and she sighs her disappointment in such a sexy way that he finds himself grinding against her stomach almost against his will.

“Listen,” he says, knowing he sounds breathless and strained, like he’s about to go into cardiac arrest. “I’d ask you upstairs, but it’s been a really weird day and I—"

“It’s okay,” she says, smoothing a hand over her hair. “I have a test tomorrow. I’m actually two hours off my study schedule as is.”

He laughs, rubbing his thumb along her cheekbone.

“Wow. I’m seriously flattered that you’d blow off studying for me.” He moves his mouth to ear, worrying it between his teeth for a second. “Especially when I didn’t even make it worth your while.”

She giggles, winding her arms around his waist. “Rain check?”

He nods. “Definitely.”

Her mouth curves up in a sweet smile, and it’s so damn tempting that he has to lean in to steal another kiss. She slides her tongue against his and curls her hand over his hip to tug him closer, and he’s thinking that maybe flinging her over his shoulder and carrying her upstairs is the only thing to do right now.

Annie presses a hand to his chest then, though, pushing him back.

“I better go,” she pants. “Or we’ll be committing lewd and lascivious acts in a parking lot.”

He traces his thumb along her glistening lower lip.

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” he reminds her. “I kind of think of parking lots as our special place.”

She raises an eyebrow, but there’s a pretty blush across her checks. “Wouldn’t cars be more accurate?”

He shrugs and presses a kiss to her throat. “Cars…” Another kiss. “Parking lots.” And another kiss. “The back stairwell at your building.” One more kiss for good measure. “We’ve got a few special places.”

“That’s what we can use the rain check for,” she says, nuzzling his temple. “Finding a new special place…”

“There are a lot of new possibilities to consider now. You know, at Greendale.”

“Jeff,” she says warningly. “We’re not going to—“

“Don’t be so close-minded,” he teases. “I bet you never imagined we’d have sex for the first time in a car and look what happened.”

“That was in the heat of the moment!”

“Well, lots of things can happen in the heat of the moment. Even at Greendale.”

She leans up and kisses him once more soundly on the lips before shoving him away.

“We’ll see,” she says haughtily, so it really comes across as “No chance.” 

He stands back and watches as she gets into her car and starts the engine. She waves through the window just before she pulls out, and like a fucking idiot, he finds himself waving back.

What the hell is wrong with him?

And that’s not even the lamest thing he’s done tonight.

He took a job at Greendale.

Fucking Greendale.

What the hell is wrong with him?

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

There’s a vaguely sick feeling in his stomach as he walks up to his apartment, kind of like the night at the Tranny Dance when Britta and Slater played emotional tug-of-war with him in the most public of venues.

That’s what he’s headed back to, he thinks – a place where that kind of insanity and some much, much worse happen so regularly and spectacularly that people hardly notice anymore.

But at least he’ll be able to afford electricity, running water, and the unlimited data plan for his phone this month.

And there’s also all the potential Annie run-ins – that takes a little of the sting out of it.

Still, he’s totally ordering those Salvatore Ferragamo boots as a ‘Sorry You’ve Taken the Worst Job in the World’ gift for himself tonight.

He totally deserves them.

Chapter Text

He only makes it until noon on the first day of his new career before he barricades himself in his office.

Hiding out is probably not the most mature response to his situation, but Jeff is always willing to cut himself a little slack – he didn’t track down Britta to see if she still carries that emergency flask in her bag so that’s got to count for something.

So what if he wants to stay locked inside a tiny room where he can pretend that he’s somewhere else instead of actually interacting with students, other faculty members, and anyone or thing else that might remind him that he’s employed at an institution at the absolute bottom of the academic food chain?

Whatever gets him through the day, right?

His office is nothing more than a tiny broom closet, with ugly concrete walls and an ancient metal desk and pair of rickety wooden chairs shoved inside to sell the illusion. It’s definitely not high on ambiance, but it’s a place where he can escape from the insanity that is Greendale, prop his feet up on his desk, and catch a few Z’s. Finding the silver lining in the cloud that is teaching at this nuthouse is no small feat, so he’s proud of himself for at least making the effort.

Because, yeah, the transition to life as a member of Greendale’s not so illustrious faculty has been just as bizarre as he expected.

He refused to prepare himself for it precisely because he knew there was no preparation that would really help. That didn’t stop Annie from spending most of the weekend trying to convince him to let her help him come up with some type of lesson plan, which, of course, required just a bit more effort than he was willing to put in.

“I’ll just use the last guy’s syllabus,” he told her.

“Jeff,” she sighed in exasperation. “Bernier was let go because he organizing cock fights. *Cock* fights.” She made a disgusted face, but he got a cheap thrill out of hearing her say ‘cock’ even in that context. “I think his grasp of the legal system is tenuous at best.”

Jeff shrugged. “Fine.  So I’ll wing it.”

Annie flushed, her cheeks nearly turning purple with suppressed rage – the idea that he wasn’t going to take a class any more seriously as a professor than he had as a student was probably enough to make her blood boil.  Fortunately, he had ways to distract her now that weren’t available him just a few months ago, so he was able to change the subject eventually.

And he wound up winging it pretty well if does say so himself.

He spent his first class explaining why he prefers “Law and Order: SVU” to the original recipe – he thinks his graph detailing how Mariska Hargarity’s shirts get progressively tighter as the seasons go on was pretty convincing – and why he never wastes his time on the “Criminial Intent” version – because yeah, Vincent D’Onofrio is that off-putting. He wasn’t aware that he had 50 minutes worth of thoughts on the subject, but the time pretty much flew so all’s well that ends well.

He’s contemplating filling up the rest of the week’s classes with viewings of his favorite SVU episodes when there’s a knock at his door. Technically, he’s supposed to have office hours, but he hasn’t posted them and he can’t imagine anyone actually having questions about today’s lecture. 

Annie peeks her head in then, and he perks up instantly.

“I finally found you,” she says, shutting the door behind her. She has a potted plant in her hands and a bright smile on her lips, and the view in his cinder block office has just improved vastly. “None of these offices are marked.”

“That’s because they’re not really offices, Annie.” He nods toward the mop and bucket in the corner. “This was a janitor’s closet in its not-so former life.”

“But it’s still all yours,” she says, and holds the terra cotta pot in her hands out to him. “And maybe this will make it feel a little homier.”

He takes the plant from her with a smirk. “My thumb isn’t the least bit green. This thing’s going to die a slow, painful death.”

She grins knowingly, like that’s exactly what she expected him to say. “That’s why I picked a cactus. It’s actually worse to water it too much than to not water it at all.”

He regards the prickly plant dubiously, but places it on the corner of his nearly empty desk beside his can of Diet Coke and the latest issue of “GQ”.

“See,” Annie says. “This place looks better already.”

He looks her up and down slowly – she’s wearing a navy dress with a nice, deep V-neckline that her yellow cardigan doesn’t do much to hide and a tight, straight skirt that ends just enough above her knees to remind him how soft and milky-white the inside of her thighs are.

“I’m not sure the plant can take the credit,” he says, toying with her hem. “This dress has me forgetting we’re even at Greendale.”

She flushes and tilts her head coyly.

“You like it?” she practically purrs.

“I do. Very much.”

He reaches for her hand and pulls her into his lap, where she squirms and giggles in surprise.

“Jeff!  We can’t—“

“Hey, I’m on the faculty now,” he reminds her. “If I say we can do it, we can do it.”

“We talked about this,” she sighs, but she’s winding her arms around his neck and not doing a thing about the hand that he’s sliding beneath the hem of her dress. “I don’t think we should fool around here. It’s just too…”

She exhales shakily as he kisses his way along her jaw and traces circles on the inside of her thigh with his fingertips.

“Were you serious about that? I thought you were just saying it so I’d try to convince you otherwise. And believe me, I’m more than willing to convince you…”

“I have class in 45 minutes,” she says breathlessly, just as his fingers reach the lacy edge of her underwear and she arches into the touch.

He smiles against her neck. “That’s plenty of time.”

She shakes her head even as she lets out a quiet moan. “But I have to give a presentation. I can’t go all…”

She trails off her when he presses his thumb against her over her panties.

“Sexed up?” he offers, trying to keep the laughter out of his voice.

Annie hears it all the same, though, and seems to sober up, smacking at his chest. “Yes, jerk. Have you seen the things you do to my hair? You run your hands through it and it looks like I stuck my finger in an electrical outlet.”

He laughs, bouncing his knee to jiggle her a little in his lap. “Are you actually complaining about my enthusiasm? That’s a first for--”

She cups a hand around his jaw and pulls him in for a kiss, her tongue stealing away whatever words he was going to say. He feels her hands in his hair then, messing it up on purpose, but he really doesn’t care because he’s got one hand on her breast and the other curled around her hip, sliding promisingly toward her ass, so he can’t complain about anything in good conscience.

“It *was* a big day for you today,” she half whispers, half moans, when he kisses that sweet spot just behind her ear. “Your first day teaching and all.”

He hums his agreement, gently pushing her hair out of the way to avoid being reprimanded.

“And it went well?”

“Yeah,” he says distractedly. “Sure.”

And it did go well – she doesn’t need to know that he spent ten entire minutes explaining why Alex Cabot is a better D.A. than Casey Novak and that Kim Greylek is just the worst.  Every relationship needs a little mystery.

“Then just because I can’t have any fun right now doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.”

“Huh?” he says, utterly confused when she starts to pull away from him.

But then she’s sliding to her knees on the floor between his legs and reaching for his belt and he gets the picture loud and clear. It’s too fucking good to be true, he thinks, just before she takes him out of his pants and slowly runs her tongue along the entire length of his erection.

Because yeah, he’s had this fantasy before.

Well, usually it’s at the table in the study room, or maybe in a booth at the cafeteria, or in the biology lab, and yeah, sometimes, even the Dean’s office.

If he’d known that one day he would have a cramped dump of an office on the Greendale's campus, though, he would have imagined it here too.

Because now she’s got him all the way in her mouth and she’s humming just like he likes and he can hear voices and footsteps in the hallway on the other side of his pseudo-office’s unlocked door. His hand falls to her head, just resting it there, but she reaches up, sliding him out of her mouth in the process, and pushes it off almost immediately.

“Watch my hair,” she says.

“You’re starting to sound like me,” he laughs, but his voice dissolves into a strangled sob as she skates her mouth over him again.

She’s laughing too and the vibration around his dick is seriously too much to handle. He slumps a little in the chair because he’s feeling kind of boneless at the moment. He lets the hard wood of the seat back support his head and his eyes fall shut and he clutches his hands around the armrests to avoid the temptation of playing with Annie’s hair again.

But while he can keep his hands under control, he can’t seem to stop his hips from thrusting forward and he’s fucking her smart, pretty mouth and what’s so terrible about his life again?

Because right now, it seems pretty much perfect.

When he comes, he twists a lock of her hair between his fingers, without even realizing that he’s done it, and he really hopes he hasn’t messed it up too much because he seriously wants a repeat performance in the not too distant future.

It takes him a minute to get himself together, and when he finally opens his eyes, Annie’s wiping her mouth with one of the napkins from his lunch and her hair looks just fine. He tucks himself back in his pants and zips up, seeing nothing but the silver lining of his cloudy existence at the moment. Apparently, all it takes to make the world a little brighter is a blow job from Annie – he files that information away for future reference. It’s bound to come in handy at some point. 

“This place definitely feels like home now,” he says, with a lazy grin. “You didn’t even have to bring the plant.”

She stands, smoothing her dress back in place. There’s a slight blush to her cheeks, but she’s smiling too. “I really didn’t mean to do that.”

“You didn’t?” he laughs. “Well, it’s an even more impressive effort if that’s the case.”

She huffs out an annoyed breath and smacks at his arm.

“You know what I mean,” she declares. “It wasn’t my intention when I came to see you. That’s what I’m saying.”

He tugs on the hem of her dress, so she stumbles back between his legs. “Well, it looks like I’m in your debt now. If you want to stop back after your class, I’d be happy to pay up.”

He offers her his most winning smile, though he doesn’t actually expect her to accept the invitation -- but to his surprise, she tilts her head thoughtfully, like she’s seriously considering the possibility.

“I would deserve it after giving a flawless presentation,” she muses.

He bobs his head in emphatic agreement. “Yes. I’ll give you my version of a gold star.”

She laughs, bumping her knee against his in what he assumes is supposed to be a scolding manner but actually just seems teasing and affectionate. “Jeff, that’s awful. Seriously.”

He shrugs and folds his arms behind his head as he leans back in his chair. Annie heads for the door, but stops just as her hands closes around the knob.

“We really shouldn’t make a habit of this, though,” she tells him.

He nods solemnly.

“I agree,” he says, and she looks impressed that he’s actually being mature and responsible for once.  “Starting tomorrow, only once a day on a school grounds like respectable people.”

He expects her to smack or kick him again, but she just smiles, shaking her head and regarding him with such a warm look in her eyes that he gets that uncomfortably tight feeling in his gut again that being with her sometimes inspires.

“Good luck on your presentation,” he remembers to call only after she’s stepped into the hallway.

She smiles again and nods before disappearing behind the closed door. Alone in his office once again, he props his feet up on his desk and makes himself as comfortable as he can in his wobbly wooden chair, waiting for her to return.

Chapter Text

Somehow, despite her five minute head start and uncharacteristic speeding, he manages to make it to her building just as she’s parking her car in front.

He credits luck and the fact that while she was willing to gun it to almost 55 in a 30-mph zone, she wasn’t so forgone that she’d actually blow through red lights.

Even in anger, Annie has her limits.

Unfortunately, those limits don’t seem to extend to slamming doors in his face.

She tries first with the lobby door, but he manages to wedge his foot inside before she gets it closed.  Upstairs, she attempts it again, though she should know by now that his reflexes are razor-sharp – he slams a hand against the plywood before she can shut it and muscles his way inside right behind her. Annie huffs in outrage, flinging her purse to the floor just inside the entryway, and stomps off toward the kitchen. 

“Okay,” he says, trying to keep his cool as he follows her. “Is there a chance you’re going to tell me why you’re pissed any time soon? I’m not sure how many more times I can ask before I start banging my head against the wall in a crude attempt to lobotomize myself.”

He leans against the kitchen bar and watches as she pulls a bottle of tequila from one of the cabinets and dribbles a little into one of Abed’s Scooby Doo glasses. She seems determined to ignore him, her gaze fixed on a spot just above his shoulder as she throws back the shot.

It’s not like her bad mood has come entirely out of nowhere – she’d been annoyed with him earlier, before they met up with their friends at the bar, because she'd found the stack of DVDs that he’d borrowed from Abed on his office desk. 

“’The Client,’ ‘My Cousin Vinny,’ ‘The Firm,’ ‘Erin Brockovich,’ ‘Runaway Jury,’ ‘The Devil’s Advocate,’” she read off the titles as she flipped through the cases. “Are these for your class?”

“Maybe,” he hedged. “I’m evaluating them as possible curriculum materials.”

“Jeff,” she sighed heavily – she could express more disappointment in a single word than anyone he’d ever known. “This isn’t a high school English class. You can’t show a movie because you’re nursing a hangover and need a little me time.”

He smiled. “Man, I wish I had your English teacher.”

“I’m serious, Jeff. What you’re doing is important. You’re shaping young minds.”

He laughed -- because the idea of anything important happening at Greendale was utterly hilarious.

“Young minds? There’s a guy in my class that’s got a few years on Leonard. I think his mind’s actually losing shape as we speak.”

Annie frowned, crossing her arms over her chest.

“You know what I mean.  Everyone’s not like you – too lazy and cool to care. You can’t treat your class like they’re all a bunch of Jeff Wingers.”

He felt a muscle in his jaw twitch and narrowed his eyes. “Well, they’re not all perfect, little Annie Edisons either who take everything in the world so seriously that it all becomes a matter of life and freaking death.”

She glared at him and her nostrils flared slightly, but she didn’t throw the tantrum that he was expecting.

“You know what?” she said calmly. “You’re right. Maybe you and I are extremes. So think about all the people that fall in the middle. They’re not expecting Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society.” They just want to learn something remotely useful. Is that really too much to ask?”

She left his office without another word, which meant he had to sit there and feel like jerk all by himself for the rest of the afternoon.

Now, she pours more tequila into her glass and downs another shot. He can’t really blame her – she was barely at the bar long enough to finish a drink – but he’s getting seriously tired of the silent treatment.

“Are you really going to ignore me all night?”

“I’m not mad,” she insists. “I’ve told you at least a half dozen times that I’m fine.”

“Yes, Annie. You have. But women like to say things are fine when they’re anything but. And don’t act like I should magically know why you’re mad either. I’m not a damn mind reader.”

She slams her empty glass down on the counter, nearly knocking it over. But then she’s reaching for the bottle again and refilling the glass.

“I don’t even know why you followed me back here,” she says.  “I’m not going to sleep with you tonight, so you’re just wasting your time.”

He laughs darkly. “I hate to break it to you, but sex is the last thing on my mind right now.”

It’s only a half-lie – he can’t help it if she’s seriously hot when she works herself up into a lather like this. She drops her hands to her hips and pins him with her fierce, unflinching gaze.

“So why are you here then, Jeff?”

He gives her an exaggerated shrug because, seriously, it should be obvious at this point. “Because you’ve been acting like you wanted to take my head off for most of the night and I’d like to know why.”

“You are such an egomaniac,” she growls. “Everything isn’t about you, okay?”

She storms out of the kitchen with her glass half full of tequila, trying to bulldoze right past him, but he wraps a hand around her elbow to halt her progress. When she looks up at him, her eyes are so dark with fury that they’re nearly black.

“I would argue that point,” he says cockily. “But even if *everything* isn’t about me, I’m pretty sure you acting like a two-year old tonight had a little something to do with me.”

She goes almost eerily still for a moment, like she’s barely even breathing, but then she takes a step toward him so they’re practically pressed together and points a finger in his face.

“If you make one more crack about my age, I swear to God I’m going to punch you right in your perfect, smug face.”

He laughs, which is really kind of a stupid move because she’s punched him before so it’s not exactly an empty threat. She cocks her head, like she’s deciding exactly how she’s going to eviscerate him, and the glass of amber liquid in her hand catches his eye – she’s tossed a drink in his face before too, he remembers, so she’s pretty dangerous at the moment.

“Okay, listen,” he says, trying to project an air of calm that he doesn’t feel. “Let’s both take a deep breath and just relax.”

She sighs angrily, clearly wanting to protest, but she looks down, swirling the tequila in her glass and refusing to meet his eyes. He’s not going to be ignored anymore, so he grabs the glass from her and drains it in a single gulp. As expected, she watches the entire time and the weight of her stare on him is equal parts unnerving and erotic.

But when he lowers the glass and really looks at her, he sees what he hasn’t wanted to all night – behind the very real fury and rage, there’s genuine hurt in her eyes and it’s all because of him.

“You’re obviously upset, Annie,” he says. “Why won’t you just tell me why?”

Her expression hardens and he has to resist the urge to back away from her.

“Because you already know why,” she grits out. “You just want to make me say it out loud, so you can gloat about it.”

He meets her eyes for as long as he can, but eventually, he has to lower his head to escape the raw, wounded look on her face, which hits him just like a swift kick to the solar plexus.

“It’s about that woman,” he says.  “Back at the bar.”

Annie exhales sharply, like the mere mention of the incident out loud has the power to undo her. He knows that she’s probably right – he wanted to make her admit it because he’s still annoyed with her from their earlier disagreement and he wanted to punish her a little.

It’s sick and wrong – he knows that too – but that’s what happens when you get involved with someone whose opinions actually matter to you. You lash out and do shitty things just to get a reaction because you’re hurt and you want to dish a little out in return. What makes it worse is that you can find all the right buttons to push because you actually know the person and know how to hurt them back.

This is exactly the kind of stuff that he was dreading when they started up.

“I’m not naïve, Jeff,” she says softly but firmly. “I know that you’re with a lot of women and that’s fine. I’m not asking to go steady. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask that you don’t pick up some floozy when I have a front row seat right behind you with all of our friends.”

 “Floozy?” he teases, but the joke doesn’t land and she just stares back at him blankly. “Look, Annie, I went to the bar to get another round, and this woman started talking to me and offered to buy me a drink. I accepted. That’s it. Okay? I didn’t ask for her number.”

“But she gave it to you, didn’t she?”

He looks away again, because, yes, there’s a napkin with a phone number and the name Tricia written in red pen in his jacket pocket -- though he hasn’t looked at it since he shoved it there and has no real intention of using it. That hardly seems to matter when Annie’s looking at him like she is, her blue eyes so liquid-y and soft that it seems like she could cry at any minute.

“If you think I don’t know that you can have any woman you want, Jeff, I do,” she says plainly. “You don’t need to prove anything to me.”

He shakes his head, because now he feels guilty and annoyed and a whole slew of other emotions that he doesn’t want to examine too closely. He can admit that he’s been a jerk, but that’s not exactly the whole story. 

“Let me get this straight,” he says. “It’s okay when some hunky bartender checks you out and waxes poetic about how beautiful your eyes are while I’m standing right next to you, but I have a polite conversation with a woman and I’m the bad guy? Is that how it works?”

She snorts in derision. “Oh, come on, Jeff! He’s a bartender. He’d say anything to get a bigger tip – it was totally innocent.”

“Innocent?” he repeats. “Do you seriously not realize the way guys look at you?”

 “Sure,” she says dismissively. “I’m beating them off with a stick all the time.”

“I’m a guy, Annie. I know what we look like when we’re blatantly undressing a woman with our eyes – and when you enter a room, that’s definitely what’s going on. Believe me.”

“Why are we even talking about this?” she cries, throwing her hands up. “Even if every guy in the place fell head over heels in love with me on the spot, I’m not the one who came home with someone else’s number. Am I?”

“What was I supposed to do, Annie?” he demands. “Everyone was right there and if I acted like I wasn’t interested, you know damn well what would have happened. They would’ve started interrogating me about why I wasn’t all over the easy pickings at the bar. And I couldn’t exactly tell them that you’re my sure thing these days, could I?”

Her mouth falls open in obvious disgust, and there’s a stung look in her eyes that makes him feel like utter shit.

“I’m sorry,” he says immediately. “I shouldn’t have said that. You know I don’t mean it like that.”

“Jeff, it’s not—"

“And I’m sorry I made you feel bad back at the bar. Really. I am.”

She shrugs, like it’s not a really big deal despite everything that’s happened tonight, but she can’t pull it off because she’s got those ridiculously expressive eyes that still look shattered. So he does the only thing he can – he pulls the offending napkin out of his pocket and holds it up so she can see the loopy handwriting herself just before he tears it to pieces and throws it up in the air like confetti.

“Jeff! I didn’t say you had to—"

“It doesn’t matter,” he says, reaching out to take her hand in his – as angry and hurt as she may be, her fingers still tangle with his automatically. “Some random woman in a bar doesn’t matter. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Okay? So let’s just…”

His face feels hot and kind of tight, but he tries to ignore the awkwardness he feels. It’s harder to do when Annie’s expression softens as she steps closer to him. She bobs her head and he’s pretty sure that she sees right through him. He rubs his thumb against the inside of her wrist, and when she looks up at him from under heavy lashes, the tightness in his chest makes him a little dizzy. She stretches up on tip toe then and presses her mouth to his in what has to be the softest, gentlest kiss that he’s ever felt in his life. He wraps his arms around her waist, holding her close even after she pulls back.

“I’m still not sleeping with you tonight,” she says, trying to sound serious, but he can see that she’s fighting off a smile.

“That’s fine,” he tells her. “Because I’m not sleeping with you either. Even if you beg.”

She gapes at him in amused outrage and smacks his shoulder.

“I would never beg,” she declares. “But if I did, you would give in in a second.”

He shrugs.

“I guess we’ll never know.”  He slides his hands over her hips. “Because you’d never beg.”

She tosses her hair over her shoulder haughtily. “That’s right.”

He takes a step away from her, jerking his thumb toward the door. “Then I guess I should be heading out. Have a good night.”

She grabs his hand and tugs him toward her bedroom.

“Get in here before Troy and Abed come home, dummy,” she laughs.

In her room, no one begs because they’re on the same page for the first time all night. Maybe he could be with anyone that he wants, but that’s exactly where he is right now – with her, in her ridiculous pink and floral bedroom, with her noisy roommates about to come home at any minute.

On the bed, she rises in his lap, curling her hand around the back of his neck to pull him in for a kiss.

“I’m still a little mad,” she whispers against his lips.

“I’m still a lot sorry,” he whispers back. 

Chapter Text

He should probably worry when he finds himself watching ‘Mean Girls’ without complaining.

It would be one thing if he were doing it to get sex – that’s a valid reason that no guy in the world could bust his balls over – but he’s already spent more than two hours in bed with Annie, doing absolutely wicked things that have left him more than sated.

Now, they’re waiting for their Chinese food to show up so they need to find something to watch on TV to pass the time and the Avalanche game doesn’t start for another hour. He’s not inclined to complain, though, because he’s stretched lazily across the sofa with his feet in Annie’s lap and she’s doing a pretty amazing job of massaging them. He may have guilted her into it by whining about how he was on his feet all day teaching – which may have been a slight exaggeration, but he thinks that he deserves the massage based solely on the fact that he had to set foot on Greendale’s campus at all today – but she’s taking the job pretty seriously anyway.

Annie’s attire could also be why he’s feeling magnanimous about the whole movie thing – she’s wearing nothing but one of his Hermes t-shirt, and it’s so big and loose that it’s slipping off her shoulder to show off lots of bare skin, and he can also see the shadow of her nipples through the white cotton if he strains hard enough.

It’s pretty fucking fantastic.

“I forget that Lindsay Lohan was actually cute once upon a time,” he says, as the redhead starts to belt out ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ onscreen.

“Drugs,” Annie says sagely.

He smiles as she presses her thumb into the arch of his foot, tickling him a bit. “Well, even pre-drugs, she doesn’t look as half as hot as you did in your Santa costume.”

Annie groans. “Let’s not revisit that fiasco, please.”

She scrapes a nail along the sole of his foot until he squirms and knocks a pillow off the sofa.

“Let’s be honest,” he says.  “How much of fiasco could it really have been if I agreed to sing afterward?”

Annie tilts her head, considering this for a moment, and a small, sly smile blossoms across her mouth. They stare at one another from opposite ends of the couch, and he finds himself falling under the spell of her wide blue eyes yet again.

Since the beginning, he always figured that the thing between them was wrong because of the inequality of it all – she’s a sweet, idealistic kid and he’s a cynical, manipulative guy, so clearly he’d hold all the cards in a relationship. But that’s the not really the truth – because Annie goes toe-to-toe with him more than anyone he’s ever known and the power that she’s always had over him more than levels the playing field. Yeah, maybe some of it has to do with the magnetic pull of lust, but really, it’s just that her feelings matter to him, always have, and he’s almost physically incapable of not doing what he can to make sure that she’s happy – or just less unhappy.

Jesus, that’s just embarrassing.

But it’s not like he’s going to cop to that anytime soon – he can live with the embarrassment if he’s the only one who knows about it.

Annie tugs on his big toe playfully. “Don’t you ever have any papers or tests to grade for your classes?”

“I don’t really give out written assignments.”

She squints in confusion. “So how do you grade your students then?”

“It’s pretty much class participation,” he says. “You know, I say some stuff, they hang on my every word, sometimes they contribute a little to the conversation, and in the end, I’ll grade them based on how much I like them.”

“Jeff!” she cries in absolute horror. “That’s terrible. You can’t fail someone just because you don’t like them!”

“I don’t think I’m actually going to fail anyone.  Well, maybe that one guy who’s always snapping his gum and wearing Ed Hardy T-shirts, but he’s just asking for it.”  Jeff taps his chin thoughtfully. “But see, then there’s Alex, who brings me coffee before every class, so he’ll be at the top of the curve with an A.  Oh, and that blonde who’s always wearing these tiny tank tops even though it’s February. She gets an A too.”

“Jeff!”

Annie shoves his feet out of her lap and crawls toward him so she can smack his chest in outrage. He’s pretty sure that it’s the idea that grades would be based on anything other than hard work and diligence that has her so riled up and not jealousy, but he teases her anyway.

“Relax, Annie. If you were in my class, you’d totally get an A-plus.” He smirks, running a hand down her back. “Depending on how this evening ends, maybe even an elusive A-plus-*plus*.”

She groans and pushes herself up off the sofa, towering over him for once.

“I would never take a class with you,” she declares. “Because I actually want to learn something. And earn my grade.”

He opens his mouth to reply, but she holds up a hand to cut him off.

“And don’t make some stupid joke about how I would earn it with sexual favors because that’s just gross.”

She turns, with a final disgusted shake of her head, and heads for the bathroom.

“It’s funny,” he calls after her. “You know, if you actually have a sense of humor.”

Her only response is to slam the bathroom door, and he laughs, pushing himself up to a sitting position on the sofa. On the TV, Lindsay Lohan’s pretending to be bad at math to get some dopey guy to like her, and he could grab the remote and change the channel now that Annie’s out of the room, but it’s all the way on the other side of the coffee table and he can’t be bothered to reach for it.

There’s a knock at the door then, anyway, which means that their food is finally here. No one buzzed up from downstairs, but the delivery guy probably came in behind someone from the building. Jeff grabs his wallet from the console table and heads for the door, remembering just how hungry he is -- but then they did work up quite an appetite earlier, so it only stands to reason.

When he opens the door, though, he isn’t greeted with the tempting smell of Kung Pao chicken and pot stickers.

Instead, he finds himself face to face with Dean Pelton, who’s sporting a wide smile and a too-big hooded sweatshirt with Greendale’s ridiculous logo across the chest.

“Jeffrey!  What good luck to find you at home!  Usually all my knocking goes for naught.”

Jeff sighs in annoyance. “I thought you were my dinner.”

“Yum,” the Dean says, patting his stomach. “What are we having?”

Before Jeff even realizes what’s happening, he’s pushing his way inside the apartment – and Jeff’s got to give it to him because he’s surprisingly strong for such a little guy.

“Sorry, Dean. I didn’t really order enough for...”

He suddenly remembers that Annie’s in the other room.

Shit.

Half-naked Annie – well, she’s completely covered up, but she’s not wearing any underwear. He knows that for sure – in his bathroom and two wines glasses on his coffee table and a girly movie on his TV.

Could the scene be any more incriminating?

And just like that, his annoyance gives way to panic in a big way.

“Oh, that’s fine,” the Dean says. “I actually stopped by to ask you for a little favor. We’re having an open house for prospective students next week, and I usually like to have a faculty member stop by and say a few words. I can’t think of anyone who would make a better impression on potential students that you, Jeffrey. Particularly if you wear one of your suits. You know, maybe the navy pinstripe one. With the burgundy tie.”

Jeff sneaks a look at the bathroom, where everything seems to be quiet. Maybe Annie heard the Dean come in and is planning to stay put until he leaves. That’s a pretty good plan, so long as Jeff can actually manage to get rid of him. 

“Let me sleep on it, okay? I’ll talk to you about it tomorrow.  At school.”

The Dean crosses his arms over his chest, looking as serious as he ever gets. “This is very important, Jeffrey.  Greendale’s enrollment has fallen off a little in recent years, and we really need a strong incoming class next semester. You’re the ideal person to represent the school since you’ve seen both sides of the coin as a student and a faculty member. We’re counting on you.”

“I understand.  Really. I’m just trying—"

“Jeff, do you have any more of that sandalwood body lotion? I love the way it…”

Jeff’s back is to her, but he can pinpoint the exact moment that Annie spots the Dean by the way her voice dies its slow, agonizing death. When he turns to face her, her eyes are comically wide and she’s frozen in place like she might be able to disappear into her surroundings if she just stays still long enough. The Dean is staring at her like she’s a train wreck celebrity who’s just had a particularly embarrassing wardrobe malfunction on the red carpet – there’s shock, titillation, and intrigue in his expression. 

And Jeff has to admit that she makes a pretty compelling sight, what with the way his T-shirt is slipping off her shoulder to just hint at the perfect curve of her breast and her bare legs seem to go on for miles.

She’s not wearing any panties either…

The Dean clears his throat and looks over at Jeff, who doesn’t know exactly what to say. There’s nothing to defend or explain – the Dean isn’t like their friends who have an emotional investment in whatever’s going on between he and Annie because it has the potential to affect them personally, but there is still damage control that needs to be done.

Jeff just isn’t sure where to start.

“Annie,” the Dean finally says.  “I didn’t realize you were here.”

She fidgets, pulling on the hem of the T-shirt to try to coax a few extra inches out of it – she’s stretching it out, he thinks ruefully. Hell, she should just keep it at this point. He’ll put it aside for her to wear whenever she’s over – and shifting her weight from foot to foot like she needs to make a return trip to the bathroom.

“I’m just…. I was only… We were… You know…” 

She looks at Jeff almost pleadingly, like she wants him to dig her out of this mess, but honestly he’s curious about how she possibly thinks her presence and appearance here can be explained away innocently. He can’t think of a single explanation except the truth, and he’s a consummate liar.

Annie opens her mouth a few times without making a sound before finally going for it.

“Jeff and I are sleeping together,” she blurts out, sounding vaguely hysterical. “We’re having sex.”

He’s amused – and actually, maybe a little bit charmed – at her blunt, unadorned telling of the truth, so he finds himself smirking and bobbing his head in agreement.

“Well, now,” the Dean says, a hand pressed over his heart. “I always knew there was a little *something* between you two. I just didn’t realize that it was, you know, an actual *thing.*”

“That’s kind of the point,” Jeff says. “No one really knows. We’re trying to keep this private.”

“I see, I see.” The Dean cocks his head then, like something has suddenly occurred to him. “Well, then, it seems like you might be grateful to someone who was willing to keep his mouth shut about what he saw here today. Maybe you’d want to do him a *favor* to show your gratitude.”

Jeff groans. “You’re going to force me to do the stupid open house thing.”

“Oh, Jeffrey!  Thank you so much for volunteering.”

“He’s happy to do it,” Annie says brightly – though she obviously knows that’s a lie. Right now, Jeff’s pretty sure that she would say anything to get the Dean out of here as fast as possible. “Really, really happy.”

Somehow, she manages not to flinch when the Dean comes over and lays a hand on her shoulder – at least it’s the one where the T-shirt hasn’t fallen aside.

“As exciting as all this is, I bet it takes its toll after a while.  You know, not being able to tell anyone,” he says. “So if you ever need someone to talk to, share stories with… I’m here for you, Annie. No detail is too small…” He smiles at Jeff over his shoulder “Or big, as the case may be. And who knows? Maybe you can even help improve your boyfriend’s attitude about—"

“Oh, no,” Annie declares, shaking her head insistently.  “No. He’s not my boyfriend. He’s just, you know…”

She looks at Jeff again, but there’s nothing pleading in her expression this time. There’s confusion and hesitance, which he recognizes immediately because he feels a lot of the same. He doesn’t know any better than she does what he is to her, what they are to each other.

“Well, sure,” the Dean says. “You guys are progressive. You don’t need such juvenile labels. So let me rephrase that – Annie, see if you can help improve your *lover’s* attitude about the open house. Please.”  He claps his hands and grins. “My work here is done… and never let it be said that Craig Pelton is a third wheel. Well, there was that one time, but I was misled about the—"

“Thanks so much for stopping by, Dean,” Jeff says, putting a hand on the man’s shoulder and guiding him toward the door. “It’s been a treat as always.”

It only takes two shoves to actually get him out of the apartment, which seems like an accomplishment to Jeff.  He closes the door and turns to find Annie in the same exact spot that she’s been frozen in since she stumbled out of the bathroom into a minefield.

“Well, that wasn’t at all awkward,” he says lightly.

She meets his eyes reluctantly, and the tension in the room is about as awkward and uncomfortable as it gets. The word ‘boyfriend’ seems to be hanging in the air between them and they’re both terrified of getting smacked with it. He doesn’t know what to tell her because he doesn’t know if he can be her boyfriend or partner or significant other. He can be her lover – he’s played that role to rave reviews so far -- and he can be her friend – they’ve mastered that over the past four years --  but the rest of it is a murky mess that he just doesn’t want to sort through right now.

“He’s going to tell someone,” Annie says. “He won’t set out to do it, but he’ll get himself into some kind of trouble and he’ll throw us under the bus to deflect. I know it.”

Jeff tries to conjure up a reassuring smile.

“It’ll be fine,” he tells her, only half-believing it. “He likes you a lot and he loves me. He doesn’t want to piss us off.”

She sighs, shaking her head, and he decides that it’s past time to change the mood around here.

“Whatever you do, though,” he says, stepping closer so he right the T-shirt on her shoulder. “Don’t even think about feeding that man’s fantasies with any personal details about me, okay? There needs to be clear and strong boundaries.”

She huffs out a little laugh.

“He has made me aware of the blackmail potential here,” she teases. “I have that photo of you in a towel after you got out of the shower the other day. I bet the Dean would just *love* a copy.  So if you don’t want me to share, you may have to do a little something for me…”

He laughs, winding his arms around her waist and tugging her against his body. "Yeah? Like what? Need I remind you that I’ve been watching a Lindsay Lohan movie for the past half hour without being coerced?”

She tilts her head, smiling coyly.

“Well, I’ve always kind of had this fantasy,” she whispers.

He perks up – some parts of him more than others. “Really?  And why am I just hearing about it now?”

“Because as much as you’ll like the end result, I don’t think you’re going to like the lead-up much.”

He frowns, suddenly a little unnerved – Annie’s been much more uninhibited in bed than he ever expected, but he doesn’t have her pegged as someone with any really serious kinks.

“Oh, stop,” she says, swatting at his shoulder. “It’s nothing gross.  It’s just that… well, it might involve the destruction of part of your wardrobe.”

“I really don’t like the sound of this now.”

She reaches up and toys with one of the buttons on his shirt – he only fastened a few when he threw it back on after they left the bedroom so it’s mostly hanging open around him.

“You look so good in button-down shirts like this,” she says softly. “And I’ve just always sort of fantasized about tearing one off you … you know, so all the buttons go flying and everything.”

He grins, grinding his hips against her just bit.

“First of all, this shirt cost almost $200,” he says. “And second of all, I have serious doubts about whether you’re actually strong enough to rip it off. What do you weigh? 100 pounds soaking wet?”

She plucks at one of his buttons with determination. “Are you giving me permission to try?”

He shrugs. “Go for it.”

She smiles victoriously and reaches up to do a few more buttons on the shirt. He raises an eyebrow, but her grin doesn’t falter.

“I don’t want it to be too easy,” she says.

Of course not.

Annie Edison doesn’t want anything just handed to her.

He watches in amusement as she finishes and smooths the shirt down against his chest. She looks up at him with such hunger in her eyes that he’s practically twitching with the need to touch her.

“Ready?”

He nods, unable to wipe the smirk off his face. She grabs his shirt on either side, just above the last closed button, and tugs once lightly, almost experimentally. Then she bites her lip, looking up at him once more, and pulls for all she’s worth.

It doesn’t exactly go quite as dramatically as she wants – the shirt withstands her first tug and when she grips it a little tighter and tugs it a little harder only two buttons actually pop off, striking the wall just behind him. She’s undeterred, though, because she gives one more try, pulling the two halves of his shirt in opposite directions, and it finally gives way completely, the rest of the buttons pinging against the floor at their feet.

They look at one another and laugh because everything about this is a little ridiculous – until Annie pushes the shirt off his shoulders and he lifts up against him so she can wrap her legs around his waist and kiss him thoroughly, her hands in his hair.

It becomes pretty serious then.

He staggers to the bedroom, somehow making it all the way to his bed without banging into any walls. In record time, they manage to get his pants off and a condom from the nightstand. There’s no need to take Annie’s T-shirt off because it’s so baggy that it’s easy to push it up and out of the way.

He waits until he’s inside her and she’s staring up at him with hazy, heavy-lidded eyes before he asks.

“Did it live up to the fantasy?”

She squeezes his hips with her knees and nods.

“Reality’s always better than fantasy,” she tells him.

He’s not sure that’s really true, but right now, with her hot and tight all around him, it’s difficult to argue the point.

Afterward, he lies beside her, trying to catch his breath, as she straightens her shirt, pulling it back down to cover herself. She looks radiant, with her flushed cheeks and bright eyes, and he tugs on a corner of the shirt.

“You can keep this,” he tells her.

She looks at him in confusion. “Keep what?”

“The shirt. It can be yours whenever you come over and need something to put on.” He grins, giving the cotton another tug. “Which, for the record, I don’t think is necessary. You should feel free to walk around au natural whenever the mood strikes.”

Annie smiles, smoothing the cotton over her thighs and looking pleased. He won’t call himself her boyfriend, but he lets her destroy his clothing – that’s got to count for something. She looks up at him after minute, her grin turning astute.

“It’s because I stretched it out. Isn’t it?”

He nods reluctantly.

“You did,” he says. “You stretched it out.”

She laughs, sliding her foot along his calf. “It’s still a nice gesture.  I appreciate it.”

Her smile is genuine, but it hollows out some part of him, that nagging, little piece of him that knows he isn’t anywhere near good enough for her. He rolls onto his side, so he can kiss her, just another in a long line of inadequate gestures on his part. 

Still, he doesn’t stop for a good, long while, not until the buzzer sounds in the other room to signal that their dinner has finally arrived.

Chapter Text

As pathetic as being a faculty member at Greendale may be, he has discovered a few upsides.

When he was a student, he usually had three or four classes a day – and that one black semester, five classes every Tuesday. The kind of schedule didn’t allow for nearly enough down time for his tastes.

As a teacher, he has two classes a day at most, which means there’s plenty of free time to work with.

He’s also discovered that for some reason, the cafeteria is nearly deserted between 10:30 and 11, which means that he can get some peace and quiet there when he’s tired of staring at the blank concrete walls of his so-called office.

Today, he’s even putting the time to good use – instead of playing Temple Run or browsing Barney’s website, he’s reading an actual law book in preparation for his class this afternoon. He’s not about to tell her, but Annie’s not so subtle digs at his teaching style – or lack thereof - have started to irk him just a bit and it’s started to seem like the only real solution is to, you know, actually teach.

Besides, she wasn’t entirely wrong when she suggested that he might be good at it.

If anyone can make learning remotely entertaining, it’s Jeff Winger.

He’s jotting down a few notes, feeling very pleased with himself, when Britta unexpectedly blows into the cafeteria and collapses in the booth across from him. If her stressed expression didn’t clue him in to the fact that something is wrong, the fact that she’s not greeting him with the usual theatrical “Pro-fes-sore” that’s been her habit since he started teaching would do the trick.

“Something’s up with Annie,” she declares, drumming her fingers against the table.

He blinks in confusion – he spent most of last night with Annie and when he left her, just before Troy and Abed came home from their bowling league, she was more than fine.

Of course, he can’t exactly say that. 

So he plays it cool instead.

“Oh yeah?  What’s up?”

They’re entering dicey waters here because Britta clearly stills sees them in some kind of parental role in Annie’s life, and given the current state of his relationship with her, that’s just beyond creepy.  If he’s going to keep it from feeling wrong and inappropriate and just plain gross, he has to respect Annie enough to not meddle in her life unless she actually asks for his help. He kind of just wants to tell Britta that Annie’s a grown woman who can take care of her own shit - but that seems pretty self-serving, like he’s trying to justify his involvement with her by asserting that Annie can take care of herself when he’s never really acted like that before.

He’s screwed.

“Her neck is freaking covered in hickeys,” Britta says. “It looks like she’s been fooling around with a freaking octopus… or a 14-year old in a really vicious game of Seven Minutes in Heaven.”

He clenches his jaw to try to keep from reacting – because seriously, all he wants at the moment is to clear his good name and explain to Britta that he did it on purpose. He hasn’t accidentally left a hickey on anyone since he got out of junior high, thank you very much.

“Okay,” he says slowly. “So Annie’s getting some. Good for her, right?” He shrugs indifferently. “I mean, she’s 22 and having some fun. Aren’t you always going on and on about how women should take control of their sexuality?”

Britta bobs her head. “Yeah, sure, of course. But when I asked her about the guy, she wouldn’t give anything up – almost to the point where she was denying that there was even a guy in the first place.”

He’s seriously uncomfortable now and he gazes longingly at the door on the opposite side of the cafeteria, fantasizing about an escape. 

“Well, she’s entitled to her privacy, right?” he says lamely.

Britta gapes at him like he’s an idiot. “This isn’t about her damn privacy, Jeff. You know her as well as I do – when she’s into a guy, it’s impossible for her to hide it. It’s all Taylor Swift lyrics and hearts doodled in her notebook. If she’s reigning herself in like this, there’s only one logical explanation.”

He panics for a minute – Britta couldn’t possibly know, could she?

Maybe Annie was right and the Dean went and blabbed all over the place about what he saw in Jeff’s apartment last week.

But subtlety isn’t really Britta’s thing, so if she suspected for a second that he was the one responsible for Annie’s love bites, she would have charged in here and just started accusing him. She wouldn’t play games like this.

Unless she can’t resist watching him squirm...

He’s overthinking this, he tells himself. Britta doesn’t know a damned thing.

“And that would be?” he asks, trying to act like this entire conversation is about to bore him to tears.

“There’s something seriously wrong with this guy and she knows that we won’t approve.”

It’s official, he thinks. The universe has a seriously sick sense of humor.

“That’s one theory,” he says. “But even if it’s true, what are we supposed to do about it? Remember when we interfered with her and Vaughn once upon a time? We didn’t wind up feeling too good about that in the end.”

Britta frowns, looking pretty contrite.

“I know.  I’m not suggesting we hatch any schemes. I wanted to be mature about this and just talk to her. So I reminded her that she can tell me anything without fear of judgment because, you know, I’m training to be a therapist…” He tries very hard not to roll his eyes. “But she’s locked up tighter than Fort Knox. She wouldn’t even tell me where she met him.”

“Okay,” Jeff says. “So what do you want me to do about it?”

“You should try talking to her,” Britta tells him. “You know how much weight you carry with her. If anyone can get her to open up, it’s you.”

He rubs at the bridge of his nose to try to massage away the ache that’s starting to overtake his head. “So let me get this straight—you want me to corner Annie and demand that she tell me who she’s sleeping with?”

“Not demand,” Britta hisses. “Just express your concern and see if she’ll give up any details so we can figure out exactly how much trouble she’s in.”

He tips his head backward, sighing in absolute frustration. Even if he wasn’t the guy in question, this entire conversation would be the definition of uncomfortable and inappropriate.

“Britta, I think it’s time we stop meddling in Annie’s life. She’s not a kid anymore.” He hopes that doesn’t sounds as creepy as it feels to say. “Don’t we have to trust her?  I mean, when you sleep with some no-good douchebag, I don’t butt my nose in. As your friend, I make hilarious jokes at your expense and trust that in time, you’ll wise up and dump the loser.”

She frowns and makes a big show of giving him the finger. “This is Annie we’re talking about, Jeff.”

He shrugs, like that doesn’t really mean anything to him.

Big mistake.

“What is with you?” Britta demands. “Usually, all it takes is the slightest hint that some guy’s sniffing around her and you’re ready to draw blood. Now, some jerk is mauling her and you couldn’t care less. What the hell, Jeff?”

She’s right, of course – he’s going to give everything away if he keeps acting like he doesn’t want anything at all to do with Annie’s life. 

“Fine,” he says. “I’ll talk to Annie the next time I see her. Happy now?”

“Yes,” Britta chirps happily, pushing herself out of the booth. “Just don’t be your usual douche-y self. She won’t tell you anything if you’re acting all jealous and territorial. You know, like you own her or something.”

He nods, biting his tongue for all he’s worth.

It isn’t until later in the afternoon that he’s finally able to track Annie down. He finds her all alone at the table in the study room, head bent over a textbook. She’s got a big, floral print scarf looped around her neck over her sweater that's impossible to ignore – of course, she raised Britta’s suspicions with that thing. He really needs to have a little chat with her about subtlety.

“So I’m supposed to grill you about the jerk that you’re sleeping with,” he announces as he strolls in.

Annie looks up in surprise. “Excuse me?”

“Apparently, Britta thinks the guy in your life is bad news and she sent me here to get the dirt.”

Annie slams her textbook shut.

“Damn it!” she cries. “I told her to leave it alone. She’s the worst!”

Jeff smiles, leaning against the edge of the table just beside her books.

“Well, that’s the true but…” He nudges her hand with his knee. “Do I need to do something about this guy, Annie? You know I’m more of a lover than a fighter so I won’t offer to kick his ass, but I could send him a strongly worded e-mail about how he’ll get what-for if he doesn’t treat you right.”

She smiles, flushing just a bit.

“It’s awful, Jeff,” she says. “The other day, he used up the last of my mousse without telling me. That’s why my hair’s so flat today.”

She fluffs it in an exaggerated fashion, and he smirks.

“I’m sure that he was having some kind of hair emergency that made it absolutely necessary.”

Annie pulls down her scarf to expose her neck. “He also left these ridiculous hickeys all over the place where any snoopy busybody could see them.”

“And I’m sure those aren’t retaliation for gouges that you might have left down his back the other day when you got a little too enthusiastic. You know, the kind of scratches that sting in the shower every day for a week?”

She tosses her hair over her shoulder primly, pretending that she hasn’t heard him. “He hogs the covers too.”

“But I bet you never rub your icy cold feet all over his nice warm legs when you get cold, huh?” Jeff says. “You know, after hearing all this, I’m actually starting to feel for the guy. Clearly, he’s got his hands full with you.”

She swats at his knee, but she’s smiling in that soft, wistful way of hers that always stops him dead.

“I think he makes out okay,” she says, lowering her voice just a bit. “I mean, I did make him low-carb pancakes and an egg white omelet the other day and brought it to him in bed.”

Jeff nods thoughtfully. “I bet it was delicious. Even if he had to do 50 extra crunches afterward.”

“And let’s not forget all the back and foot rubs,” she says.

“Well, sure, he must appreciate that, what with the amazingly stressful job that he has.”

Annie giggles, shaking her head and tapping her fingers against the back of his hand.

“So where did we land on the e-mail?” he teases. “Am I sending it or not?”

She tilts her head, like she’s considering the offer very seriously. “I think I’d like to see what that e-mail might say.”

He leans in close, so she has to back away slightly to maintain eye contact.

“I’ll probably tell him that when he really wants to shut you up, there’s this spot just above your—"

“Jeff!” She clamps a hand over his mouth and he can’t resist nibbling at her fingers. “Stop it! Someone could walk in any minute.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he grumbles, straightening up.

Annie lowers her head and traces a finger long the seam at the inside of his thigh – he’s pretty sure that this would look just as suspicious as him leaning into her personal space if someone were to walk in, but he’s not about to point that out.

“Seriously, though,” she says. “What are we going to do about Britta?”

He blows out a frustrated breath and rubs at his eyes.

“I’ll stall her,” he says. “I’ll tell her that you guys just started up and you want a little more time to get to know each other before you start telling people.”

Annie nods.

“I guess that sounds plausible,” she sighs. “It’s becoming so complicated. I mean, the Dean knows now and Britta’s getting suspicious. It’s all kind of a mess, isn’t it?”

He takes her hand and gives it a squeeze. “It’ll be fine. You’ve only got a couple more months here, and once we’re not in daily contact with everyone, it’ll be easier to keep under wraps.”

She bobs her head in agreement. “Yeah.  Sure. You’re right.”  She looks up at him, her expression stunningly soft. “I’m not embarrassed about this or anything. I don’t want you to think that.”

“No,” he says, automatically. “Of course not. Me either.”

“It’s just that we both know what will happen when they find out,” she says. “They’ll make this big deal out of it and ask all sorts of questions and we’ll get all self-conscious and annoyed and that’ll lead to all kinds of fights… so I’d just like to put that off for as long as possible.”

He smiles, sliding his fingers through hers again. “We’re in total agreement.”

He’s not lying – the shit will hit the proverbial fan when their friends find out and he’s just as reluctant as she is to deal with that mess. But whether she wants to admit it or not, there’s only so long that they can keep their friends in the dark. Sooner or later, they’re going to have to own up to what’s happening between them. His experience with Britta definitely taught him that. Not that he’s about to bring that up now – because actually, he wonders if Annie’s hesitance to let anyone know about them has something to do with the fact that everything between he and Britta came crashing to halt when the group found out.

He should tell her that she’s nothing like Britta, that there’s nothing about this thing between them that’s even remotely similar to his relationship with Britta, but somehow, he can’t bring himself to do it.

Annie rubs her thumb against his palm, and he has to hide the shiver that run through him.

“I should go,” he tells her. “I’ve got a very important e-mail to write.”

She smiles so sweetly, and he wishes like hell that he could kiss her right now, but he has to settle for squeezing her hand as he backs away.

“Don’t forget to CC me,” she calls after him.

It’s ridiculous, but as he walks back to his office, he’s actually thinking about writing that e-mail to himself.

Someone needs to remind him exactly what’s at stake here.

Chapter Text

She isn’t hard to find.

When he steps out of the study room, she’s barely 50 feet away, in the hallway between the study area and the stacks, where she’s pacing and shaking her head and very possibly mumbling to herself.

It’s hard to tell from a distance.

Still, her body language makes it pretty clear that she’s agitated, and while he has more than a sneaking suspicion about why she’s so worked up, the whole thing strikes him as funny more than anything else.

Well, not that seeing her so upset is amusing, but the fact that she’s whipped herself up into such a frenzy over something so small is kind of humorous.

Because it all started innocently enough.

He’d been in his office late, grading the very first written assignment for his Fundamentals of Law class, thank you very much, but by the second hour, he’d started to get the urge to gouge his eyes out with a mechanical pencil rather than read another damn essay. That’s when he remembered that Annie mentioned the study group had a test in their philosophy class in the morning and they were meeting for a second time tonight to cram.

It seemed perfect – he’d ditch the grading for a while and coax them into a study break. If he knew his friends as well as he thought, they’d all – with the possible exception of Annie – be desperate for a little respite from all their studying too so it wouldn’t take much convincing to get them to goof off for a while.

So he breezed into the study room, took his usual seat at the table, and it was just like old times – the same stupid jokes, petty disagreements, and general nonsense. As predicted, they were all happy to see him – save Annie, who seemed to get super twitchy and unfocused as soon as he showed up. 

And then he made the – apparently - colossal mistake of glancing over at her a time or two, and suddenly, all hell seemed to break loose, culminating with her fleeing from the room like she feared for her life.

To a certain extent, he gets it.

She’s been a little edgy ever since the Dean barged his way into Jeff’s apartment and found out that they’ve gotten to know one another in the biblical sense, but Britta launching her misguided investigation into the new guy in Annie’s life seemed to be the final straw.

Instead of making her act more covertly, though, the whole thing has her behaving in ways that are only going to rouse suspicion – steadfastly avoiding conversation with him whenever the group is together, pretending that she doesn’t see him if they pass one another in the hallway, parking lot, or cafeteria when anyone that they know is in the general vicinity, refusing to pass through doors that he’s holding open for her like the gentleman that his mother raised.

She’s kind of gone nuts.

He’s chosen to ignore it for as long as he could – because let’s face, there’s little point in arguing with Annie when she’s made her mind up about something and he figured that she’d realize on her own how ridiculous it all was – but he heads toward her now with a smile because it’s becoming clear that she’s not going to have an epiphany any time soon and he probably needs to stage an intervention if she’s going to calm down before she blows their cover.

“If you go running from the room every time I look at you,” he says as he walks over to her. “Someone’s going to catch on.”

She looks up at him in surprise and outrage. “It’s your fault, Jeff!” She points an accusing finger his way. “You have to stop looking at me like that!”

“Like what?” he asks innocently.

She crosses her arms over her chest and levels him with a cool stare.

“Like you’ve seen me naked,” she hisses.

He gives her a slow, purposeful once-over - from her dark, shiny hair to her sultry eyes and smart, lush mouth to her breasts straining against her tight purple sweater to her firm legs in smoky gray tights. It might be his ego-fueled imagination, but he’s pretty sure that she trembles under the weight of his intense stare.

“I can’t help it,” he tells her. “Before, I had to imagine all the details. Now I’ve got a concrete picture in my head and sometimes it just comes to me at the most inopportune times.”

“Well, too bad,” she declares. “You can’t look at me like I’m a four course meal at a five star restaurant and you’ve been eating nothing but ramen for weeks, okay? It’s … distracting.  And you kept it up forever! You may as well have taken a picture or something.”

He cocks his head. “Is that really on the table? Because you know, sometimes you’re busy studying or do-gooding and a guy has needs.  A photo would come in pretty handy.” He grins, probably more pleased with himself than the situation warrants. “That pun was totally unintentional, I swear.”

She smacks at his arm and glares, though he’s a little too distracted by her heaving breasts to focus much on her expression.

“I’m serious, Jeff. We talked about this. If we don’t want everyone and their mother to know, you have to be a little more … discreet.”

There’s a strange gleam in her eye as she says the last word, and it annoys him for some reason.

“What about you?” he asks. “You ran out of the room like it was on fire. Don’t you think they’re all speculating about why that might be right now?”

She glances back toward the study room, frowning. “And you came after me… they’re totally going to know something’s up! What is wrong with you?”

She throws her hands up in the air, like he’s a little kid who’s somehow too stupid to grasp the basics of coloring inside the lines.

“Here, I thought I was being a nice guy, coming to see if you were okay. I’ll try to resist that impulse in the future.”

“Oh, please,” she huffs. “You didn’t come out here to be nice. You came to see if you’d gotten me worked up enough to convince me to go fool around in your office.”

“Yeah, you’ve got me all figured out.” He smirks and steps closer to her. “But news flash – it doesn’t take all that much convincing to get you to fool around.”

She narrows her eyes and reaches out to swat at his arm again, but he catches her hand against his chest before she can do any damage and walks her into one of the shelf-lined library alcoves until he has her backed up against a row of books. He curls his hands around her hips, tugging her against him. She looks up in surprise, but she’s flushed and breathing hard so he doesn’t think that she minds the way their bodies are pressed together. 

He certainly doesn’t.

“Isn’t this what you’ve always wanted?” he asks, in a low, serious voice. “Me out of my damn mind for you?”

He tightens his grip on her hips, and she makes a sound that’s somewhere between a sigh and a moan. She stares up at him, her dark eyes strangely calm, and nods.

“Well, then, mission accomplished,” he says, just before he seals his mouth over hers.

She clutches at his shoulders, pulling at his shirt in a desperate attempt to get better leverage, and his hand slips beneath her sweater, zeroing in on that sweet spot at the small of her back. He crushes her to him so she’s almost bent backward against the books and starts to kiss his way down her neck, and she steps up on the bottom shelf to erase some of their height difference.

It’s impossible to tell who makes the first move, but suddenly she’s undoing his belt buckle and he’s pushing her skirt up and dragging her tights down to her knees. Annie kicks a couple of books off the shelf as she pulls him back to her mouth, sliding her tongue against his in that serious way of hers that steals his breath every time.  Blindly, his fingers find the lacy edge of her panties, and he traces it slowly until she moans into his mouth and curls a hand around his hip to slide his clothed erection teasingly against the front of her silky underwear.

Suddenly, a door is flung open on the other side of the stacks, and they both freeze, his hand in her panties and hers clutching the elastic waistband of his briefs.

“If Annie’s taking a break, so can I!” they hear Troy yell over Shirley and Britta’s disapproving clucking. “I want Mike & Ike’s and damn it, I’m gonna get ‘em.”

They stay absolutely still, holding their breath, until the door to the library opens and closes and the voices die down. When they look at one another again, they’re both panting and a little dazed. Annie shakes her head, like she’s trying her damnedest to come back to her senses.

“This is crazy,” she whispers, slowly disengaging from him. “We almost had sex in a public place with our friends less than 50 feet away! We’re deviants.”

He’d probably be amused by the notion if there was enough blood flow to his brain to process it properly. He zips his pants and straightens his belt, still lost in the lusty fog.

“We just got a little carried away,” he says distractedly.

But, of course, she has a point.

This is insanity.

Reckless, thoughtless, careless insanity.

“Well, we have to stop,” Annie insists. “There’s a lot that might go over their heads, but finding us with our hands down each other’s pants definitely won’t.”

He watches as she tugs her tights up and smooths her skirt back into place. She tries to finger comb her hair into place too, but she has a tousled, rumpled look that makes her look ridiculously sexy. It’s her face that concerns him, though – it has a pinched, worried look that makes him want to kiss away every tiny furrow from forehead. Because he knows that he’s responsible for that face, coming out here like he did and confirming every fear that she had when he was just making eyes at her from across the table.

“I’m sorry,” he says quietly. “I didn’t mean to—“

She shakes her head, cutting him off. “No.  Don’t. It’s as much my fault as yours. This…” She gestures to the space between them, which is still barely a couple of feet wide, like it’s a living, breathing thing. “It’s just really intense sometimes.”

“I know,” he whispers – and it is. It’s kind of terrifying how uncontrollable it is feels sometimes, like they’re both just swept up in something much bigger than either of them.

She lowers her head again, studying the threadbare carpeting at her feet, and her hair falls across her face.  He reaches out to tuck it back behind her ear, and she looks up at him, her face so open and vulnerable that all he wants to do is make her smile.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves, though,” he says, grinning. “I mean, look at us. We’re both seriously hot – how could we resist?”

She laughs softly, shaking her head. Her hands come to rest at his waist again and he rubs at her back gently, gathering her in a little closer.

“But just to be safe, no more funny business when our friends are within shouting distance,” he suggests. “Okay?”

She starts to nod, but then hesitates, tilting her head. “That means that whenever you get stranded in my room because Troy and Abed come home early, we wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

He cocks his head, mimicking her pose.

“That doesn’t count,” he says. “It’s your bedroom - anything goes there. And they always listen to the TV so loud that they wouldn’t hear anything.”

She smiles and bobs her head in agreement. 

“And you know, maybe we both need to consider making up stories about going out of town for spring break. We could hold up at my apartment and have sex for straight seven days. That might take the edge off for a little while.”

She smacks his hip, but she’s still grinning. “You’re insane,” she says.

“Don’t you think you’re safer with me than down in Cancun where you might overindulge in tequila and wind up in a ‘Girls Gone Wild’ video?”

Her smile turns wry, and she taps her thumbs against his stomach, just above his belt. “Isn’t that exactly what will happen if I stay with you?”

He shrugs. “Well, we don’t necessarily have to record it.”

She giggles, and he stoops down to kiss her once more, just a quick peck before he can get himself into too much trouble.

“Are you going to be here all night?” he asks. “I really want to see you later.”

She flushes and pinches a piece of his shirt between her fingers to tug on it playfully. “We should probably be done by 10 or 10:30. And I will need to relax after spending all night keeping them on track...”

“I gladly offer up my services then,” he tells her. “I’ll be waiting at my place with a glass of wine and the sterling company you’ve grown to know and love.”

She gets that soft, adoring look that always makes him a little uncomfortable, and tugs him down for another kiss. She doesn’t keep hers as chaste as his, her tongue sliding against his teasingly, but still it ends sooner than he’d like.

“That sounds really nice, actually,” she says, pulling back to smooth some of the wrinkles from his shirt. “I should get back … though I don’t know how I’m going to explain why I ran out like I did.”

“Just tell them we had a fight this morning and you’re still a little ticked. They’ll buy that.”

“They’ll want to know what we’re fighting about, though.”

“Tell Britta it’s her fault,” he says, with a smile. “You know, for making me talk to you about your mystery guy.”

“Oh, that’s kind of mean,” Annie laughs.

He lifts his shoulders unapologetically. “Serves her right for butting into your private business.”

She steps out of the alcove into the aisle, heading back toward the study room.

“Technically,” she enunciates carefully. “*Our* private business.”

He smiles. “So that’s a hard no on the spring break video then?”

She spins back to face him and swats at his arm. “Dream on.”

They’re closer to the study room now, so he stays a respectable distance from her in case anyone should wander out. She is definitely in a better mood than when he found her out here, which seems like a victory.  She gives him this ridiculous, little wave that he assumes she means to be discreet, but he’s not entirely sure how a wave could ever really be suspicious in the first place.

“I’ll see you later,” she whispers. 

He watches as she heads back into the study room – she’s barely inside for ten seconds before the barrage starts.

“Annie! There you are! Is everything okay?”

“Where’d you go for so long?”

“Did Jeff leave?”

That’s his cue, he thinks.

He turns and slinks back in the direction that he came from so he can sneak out the side exit. 

Chapter Text

He’s used to being the center of attention – when you look the way he does, have the impeccable sense of style that he does, and possess the sheer animal magnetism that he does, it only stands to reason that people are going to take notice – but usually it’s not for such a lame reason.

Lame as it may be, though, the larger population of Greendale can’t seem to make sense of the fact that he, as a faculty member, eats lunch every day with a group of students.

He doesn’t get what the big deal is – none of them are actually his students, and he’s been friends with them for years – but that doesn’t stop random passersby from staring at their booth like they’re animals in a zoo or Chang from making snide comments about how he’s fraternizing with the enemy.

It’s easy to ignore, though, because, let’s face it, he’s used to being special and it’s such a relief that Annie’s gotten her paranoia about their friends finding out about them under control that he can put up with almost anything.

After they had a little chat the other night about her relaxing just a bit, she’s now able to sit across a table from him and make polite conversation even with the rest of the group clustered around them. She doesn’t flinch when he reaches onto her tray to grab a packet of pepper for his baked sweet potato or grins at her announcement that she’s thinking of taking a yoga class either, which seems like significant progress.

Britta is just about to launch into a story about how she studied transcendental meditation one summer when she was traveling through India when Abed strides up to the table purposefully and slides into the booth beside Annie. Jeff is pretty grateful that he’s saved them from one of Britta’s inevitably rambling, pointless tales, but the determined look on his face is a little scary.

“I need to conduct a focus group,” he announces. “You’ll be a small sampling, but I figure I can always ask the cafeteria ladies if your feedback isn’t helpful enough.”

“What feedback?” Jeff makes the mistake of asking.

“I need each of you to tell me what your favorite movie love scene is.”

Shirley makes a gasping sound, looking scandalized.

“What?” says Britta. “Why?”

“For my final project in my film class, I’m working on a romantic thriller and it needs at least one memorable love scene to really sell the main pairing. I need to know what tropes I should hit on to really make it work, and I’m not the best judge. Usually in a love scene, I’m too distracted by the cheesy music and gauzy lighting to really evaluate whether it’s working or not.” He throws open his marble notebook and readies his pencil. “Okay, Annie, what would you say is your favorite?”

He looks at her expectantly, and she cocks her head like she’s thinking very carefully about her answer.

“And don’t say ‘The Notebook,’” Abed tells her. “I’ve already analyzed that one enough.”

Her face falls a bit, so she looks a little pout-y. It’s a surprisingly sexy look for her, and Jeff pushes his fork through the remains of his potato to distract himself.

“I guess I’ve always liked the one in ‘Dirty Dancing,’” she finally says, and Abed starts scribbling down notes. “You know, because they’re just dancing one minute and then he’s taking off her shirt and dipping her and …” Her voice has a husky, wistful sound as she trails off and absently traces her fingers down her neck. “It’s very sexy.”

Her eyes find his across the table then, almost like she can’t control herself, and he can’t help smiling.  She looks away almost instantly, trying to smooth out the crumpled napkin on her tray like it’s her life’s work.

“Okay, good,” Abed says. “Who’s next?”

“Oooh,” Troy declares, nearly bouncing in his seat. “What about that movie about the ballerinas where Mila Kunis gets it on with Natalie Portman? That’s seriously hot. Or when Jason Statham bangs that chick in public in ‘Crank?’”

“Troy!” Shirley chides.

“What? It’s for research, Shirley!”

She shakes her head, clucking her tongue disapprovingly. “Well, I’m a good Christian woman who will not answer such a filthy question.” She bobs her head self-righteously. “Besides, everybody knows the food scene in ‘9 ½ Weeks’ is more than enough to give even the most pious women impure thoughts.”

Abed nods, writing frantically in his notebook. “Britta?” he prods.

She shrugs non-committally.

“‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’, maybe?” she says.  “I mean, Brad and Angelina hooked up for real afterward, so you know it had to be pretty good, right? And it’s not the usual sexist garbage where the woman swoons for some big, strong man. She’s a kick-ass assassin in her own right and you know he values her as an equal and not just a sex object so it’s a more-”

She’s cut off by a chorus of resounding groans that prompt her to throw a wadded up napkin in Troy’s general vicinity. Abed jots down a few more notes, and Jeff glances over at Annie, who’s toying with the tab of her soda can absently. There’s some color in her cheeks and she keeps wetting her lips, so he suspects that she’s nearly as uncomfortable with the conversation as Shirley – though for entirely different reasons. But she’s pretty cute when she’s paranoid and she’s looking back at him with pretty avid interest so he finds himself smiling instead of worrying.

Until someone clears a throat in a prolonged, theatrical way, and he realizes that it’s not just Annie watching him intently – the entire table is looking at him expectantly.

“Your turn, Jeff,” Abed declares.

He lifts his shoulders tiredly, hoping he looks disinterested and not guilty. “I don’t really have a favorite, Abed. I have my own sex life, so I don’t need to live vicariously through characters in a movie.”

There’s another round of groans, and Britta lobs a ketchup packet his way that he’s able to duck. Beneath the table, though, Annie kicks him right in the shin – with enough force that he wouldn’t be surprised if it left a mark – and glares at him in a way that is both impassive and insistent.

“Come on, Jeff,” Abed cajoles. “I need a larger male demographic to pull from if I’m going to get this right.”

“This is so stupid,” he says under his breath, and he can feel Annie glaring at him even though he’s not looking at her. “Fine.  I don’t know… ‘Bull Durham’ maybe. When Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon finally do it. It’s pretty hot.”

Abed jots this down, and Jeff looks over at Annie again, whose expression he can’t exactly read.

“I’ve never seen that,” she says - as breezily as she can manage so he assumes that she’s trying to sell nothing but casual interest in the subject matter.

“You probably wouldn’t like it,” he tells her. “It’s a baseball movie.”

She frowns, but once again, the look is dangerously close to a pout.

 “I like baseball,” she protests.

“Yeah?” He smirks in amusement. “Name one player on the Rockies then.”

She sits up a little straighter in the both, holding her head up proudly.

 “Troy Tulowitski,” she announces triumphantly.

He shakes his head. “Everybody knows Tulo. Name another.”

She squints, like she’s just knows that the information she needs is lurking somewhere in her brain if she can just ferret it out. But then he catches her trying to discreetly look Troy’s way in the hopes that he’ll help her out, so Jeff shakes his head disapprovingly.

“No cheating,” he admonishes.

She scowls at him, because being accused of cheating is as big an insult as you can level at Annie Edison.  But then her entire expression morphs, lighting up with the pleasure of besting him.

“The old guy,” she says happily. “The one who’s retiring at the end of the year! I saw a thing about him on the news the other day.”

“Annie,” he sighs. “Have some respect. Todd Helton has played his entire career for the Rockies, holds pretty much every club record, and you don’t even know his name? And you say you like baseball…”

He shakes his head in disappointment, and Troy mimics him.

“Dude hit 49 homeruns one year. He’s no joke.”

“I pretty much knew who he was,” Annie says defensively. “I bet Britta and Shirley can’t even name a single player on the Rockies…”

From there, lunch dissolves into a half-hearted shouting match, with Britta accusing Annie of being sexist and reluctantly admitting that she didn’t even know the Rockies were a baseball team (“I thought they played basketball … don’t you call a basketball the rock?”), Abed trying convince the group to join him this weekend for a showing of ‘Gigli’ and ‘Showgirls’ so he can take notes on how not to stage a love scene, and Troy bemoaning the fact that the cafeteria never serves corn dogs, his favorite baseball stadium food, even though he’s left plenty of notes about it in the suggestion box.

Annie manages to escape the insanity by claiming she’s got a meeting with her academic advisor.  Jeff isn’t as lucky – he’s forced to mediate a vigorous disagreement between Britta and Troy regarding the nutritional value of the hot dog versus the ethical questions behind its manufacture. He’s only able to get away by mentioning that his office hours were supposed to start 15 minutes ago, which is a lie but the lily white kind so he doesn’t feel particularly bad about it.

In the privacy of his office, he makes an effort to skim through the chapter for his afternoon class, but he has a hard time concentrating. He glances at his phone, sitting innocently on the corner of his desk, and his fingers start to feel a little itchy.  Before he can stop himself, he’s opening up the YouTube app and typing ‘Dirty Dancing’ into the search box – because, you know, he’s probably seen the movie once or twice, but it’s been years and his memory’s a little foggy.

And yeah, it’s official – he’s a totally fucking pussy.

But he hits play on the scene that put that hot, little blush on Annie’s cheeks anyway and tries not to laugh at Swayze’s hair. 

It’s just getting to the good part – and he’s just, sort of, admitting to himself that it’s kind of hot. Well, at least, he can imagine that a woman would find it sexy anyway – when the door to his office bangs open and Ian Duncan stumbles in, looking as rumpled and disheveled as ever.

As surprised as he is, Jeff manages to pause the video on his phone – the last thing that he needs is news spreading around campus that he’s watching chick flicks alone in his office.

“I had to see it with my own eyes,” Duncan declares. “They told me you’d joined our illustrious faculty, but I simply could not believe it.”

“I have trouble with it most days myself,” Jeff says dryly.

“And you’ve been here for more than a month! Why didn’t you come to me? I could have served as your guide to the dark and twisted fraternity that is life as a Greendale faculty member.”

Duncan heaves himself into the rickety wooden chair on the other side of Jeff’s desk, props his feet up on the edge, and rests his hands comfortably behind his head.

“Somehow I’ve managed to muddle through without your help, buddy.”

“Well, at the very least, you must allow me to take you out to celebrate,” Duncan says, hesitating. “Perhaps celebrate is not the right word. Allow me to take you out to commiserate.”

“That’s really not—"

“I know this lovely, little pub just down the road where I haven’t worn out my welcome with the busty, redheaded barmaid yet. I’ve been tipping at nearly 40 percent to stay in her good graces, but trust me, it’s well worth it.”

Jeff laughs. “Yeah. I bet.”

“Oh, and the good news is there’s a brunette with a very alluring tattoo just above the waistband of her knickers who usually works with my redhead – she can be all yours.” Duncan takes his phone out of his pocket, scrolling through something. “And if my record-keeping is accurate, they should both be on tonight so…”

He looks at Jeff expectantly. 

“I’m gonna have to take a rain check.”

Duncan sits up, his brows raised to a ridiculous degree. “Big plans?”

Jeff shakes his head. “No. I just have some stuff to take care of around here. Grading and all-"

“Bullocks,” Duncan chuckles. “You expect me to believe that you don’t have time to tie one on because of your teaching responsibilities? This is Greendale, Jeffrey.”

Jeff shrugs. “Fine, so I was trying to be a pal and not admit that watching you drunkenly paw and make unwanted advances on some poor bartender for half the night is not exactly my idea of fun. In fact, sitting in this office all night grading papers might actually be more enjoyable.”

Duncan shakes his head, eyeing Jeff shrewdly. “No, that’s not it either.” He wags his finger at him.  “No, it’s something else. Something…”

He cocks his head, studying him carefully, but Jeff’s only response is to smirk.

Until Duncan snaps his fingers and grins.

“I get it now,” he announces. “It’s a woman. You’ve got some little hottie stashed somewhere and you want to keep her all to yourself in the event that she finds a British accent devastatingly charming and seductive.”

Jeff gets a good laugh out of that one – he’s pretty sure that Annie’s only feelings for Duncan, despite his accent, are repulsion and derision.

“You’re way off—"

“Is it Britta again?” Duncan asks. “Because I’ve detected more than a little heat between the two of us lately, and I’d hate to think I might be stepping on your toes.”

“Britta and I are just friends,” Jeff assures him. “And I actually wish you luck on that front because the idea of the two of you together is pure comedy gold.”

Duncan bobs his head, seeming unoffended. “Okay, well, if it’s not Britta, who then? The only other women I see you with on the regular are Shirley and –"

“It’s no one you know,” Jeff insists.

“But there *is* someone,” Duncan says, tenting his fingers like a James Bond villain.

“There isn’t any *one.* You know me, I’m not a one-woman kind of guy.”

“You just said it’s no one I know. So clearly there’s someone that you’re thinking of.” Duncan bobs his head emphatically, looking very pleased with himself. “The question is… how long have you been shacking up with this mystery woman?”

“Just a couple of months,” Jeff sighs. “And it’s not even really a thing. It’s just, you know, someone I spend time with. Sometimes. When I don’t have anything better to do.”

Duncan smiles knowingly. “The lady doth protest too much.” 

“Excuse me?”

“I’m a psychologist, Jeffrey. I am well-acquainted with rationalization and denial, and you, my friend, are showing big signs of both.”

Jeff crosses his arms over his chest, feeling more than a little defensive. “I already have a therapist and she’s a little more familiar with my issues than you are, so excuse me if I’m not going to put much stock in your analysis.”

The Englishman perks up. “Oooh! Is that who it is? Are you shagging your therapist?”

Jeff doesn’t actually throw Duncan out of his office – he just strongly encourages the guy to leave, and after a few minutes of hemming and hawing, Duncan agrees, mentioning that Britta is usually in the clinical research lab room by this time of the afternoon and he might pop by to say hello.

The run-in with Duncan leaves him annoyed enough to decide that it’s a good idea to take a walk before his class and blow off some steam. As fate would have it, though, he doesn’t make all that far when he spots Annie at the far end of a deserted hallway just on the other side of his office.  She’s standing in front of a bulletin board, jotting down something from a flier on her notepad, and she’s so focused on the task at hand that she doesn’t notice him sneaking up behind her.

Until he plants his hands on the bulletin board around her to cage her in place.

“Nobody puts Baby in the corner,” he whispers, trying hard not to laugh.

She whirls around in surprise, nearly dropping her pad to the floor. “Jeff!  Someone could see.”

“Does that do it for you?” he teases.

She flushes slightly, and her mouth curves up in the smallest hint of a smile.

“That depends,” she says. “Can you dance?”

“I don’t know how to merengue, but I think I remember parts of the Macarena. Is that hot enough for you?”

She laughs, shaking her head.

“You’re an idiot,” she says warmly.

And he is - she kind of turns him into an idiot.  It’s pathetic and embarrassing, but there it is – but she lets him kiss her anyway.  She presses a hand to his chest after a minute, though, to push him away so she can look both ways down the hallway to make sure that they’re still alone.

“We should watch ‘Bull Durham,’” she tells him, tapping her finger against one of the buttons on his shirt. “You’ve got me curious.”

He grins. “I own a copy. Let’s do it tonight.”

She nods and steps just a little closer to him.

“What’s so sexy about it?” she asks, her voice barely above a whisper.

“There’s this thing with Susan Sarandon’s garters, but it’s kind of hard to describe without explaining a whole earlier part of the movie. And then they do it in a tub, which is pretty hot.”

Annie tilts her head, pondering this.

“I don’t think you’d fit in our tub,” she says sadly. “And you only have a shower.”

“Well, they also get down on the kitchen table… oh, and he paints her toenails at one point.”

She furrows her brow, looking confused.

“That sounds kind of romantic,” she says. “But it doesn’t strike me as something you’d find all that sexy.”

He shrugs, fighting off a smirk. “She’s tied to the bed while he does it.”

Annie blushes, but she lets out a little sigh, just before biting her lip. “Oh, well. That’s interesting.”

“Interesting?” he prods. “See, that’s one of the things I like best about you. You’re so open-minded.”

She smiles. “You’re just a bad influence.”

“We must have different definitions of ‘bad,’” he says, leaning in to kiss her again.

When she finally pushes him away, all of her lip gloss is long gone and her mouth has a soft, smudged look that he loves.

“I’ll come over after Troy and Abed leave for bowling,” she says. “Maybe around 7?”

He nods and she starts to step away from him, her notepad clutched almost protectively against her chest.

“What color are you thinking?” he asks, just as she’s about to turn the corner.

She looks back in confusion.

“For the nail polish,” he clarifies. “My vote is for red, but we can do a girly pink if that’s what you prefer.”

Annie blushes slightly, but she still shoots him a smart, little grin. “I think I’ll surprise you.”

And she does – he definitely doesn’t see the glittery cobalt blue coming, but as he’s painting it across her toes and she tries not to squirm against his sheets, he has to admit that it really works with her pale vanilla skin.

Chapter Text

It’s a seriously lazy Saturday afternoon and he’s stretched out on the sofa, just about to drift off into an epic nap, when Troy calls.

“Abed’s out on a date,” he says, without much preamble. “And it must be serious because he took her to a Steven Spielberg film festival. He doesn’t watch those movies with just anybody. I mean, it took six months before he’d let me watch ‘E.T.’ with him.”

“Really?” Jeff says, only half-interested. “Good for him.”

“Good for us,” Troy corrects. “Because with him out of the apartment, I’ve got control of the TV. Now, don’t get me wrong – I wind up loving like 99 percent of the movies and TV shows Abed makes me watch, but sometimes, a guy needs a little sports to get the blood pumpin’.”

“Sure,” Jeff agrees. “But what does that have to do with me?”

“March Madness, Jeff! The Elite Eight starts this afternoon. We can catch the Duke/Michigan State game and probably most of Kansas/Michigan before Abed gets home.”

He’d completely forgotten about the NCAA tournament – which is pretty stupid, because his bracket is still completely intact and he’s totally going to win the study group’s pool – and he was literally moments away from sleep, so getting up and driving over to Troy’s requires an amount of effort that he’s not sure he’s willing to expend in the name of male bonding. But watching the game with someone else is always a little more interesting than watching it alone and while he’s pretty sure that Annie had school stuff to do today, it’s safe to assume that she’ll put in an appearance at some point, which means it’s not the worst idea in the world.

When he shows up, Troy opens the door with a ring of hot sauce around his lips and a chicken wing hanging out of his mouth. The entire apartment smells like a sports bar, actually – greasy and spicy. 

“I ordered a platter of inferno wings from D.J.’s,” Troy announces happily. “They’re so hot that I think they burned off all the skin inside my mouth so now I don’t feel anything.”

“Maybe this will help,” Jeff says, handing over the beer he picked up.

“Oh, definitely! I’ll get the bottle opener.”

Jeff follows Troy into the apartment, and as he steps further inside, he realizes that underneath the heavy scent of hot wings, there’s something sweet in the air too.

“Annie made cookies,” Troy announces, almost like he’s read Jeff’s mind. “And I didn’t even have to ask her!”

Jeff sees her through the kitchen cut-out, standing in front of the oven. She’s wearing a white T-shirt and gray sweatpants that say ‘Greendale’ across the ass in big blue letters, which is ridiculous but kind of hot too. Her iPod is docked on the counter, playing music that she’s shimmying to as she transfers cookies from a baking sheet to a cooling rack.

“Stevie Nicks?” he says in amusement when he realizes that it’s “Edge of Seventeen” coming from her speakers. “Not One Direction or Taylor Swift?”

She turns in surprise, nearly dropping a cookie on the floor. “Jeff!  What are you doing here?”

“March Madness, Annie,” Troy explains, rooting around in a drawer presumably to find the bottle opener. “Besides the Super Bowl, this is probably the pinnacle of male bonding right here.”

She tucks a piece of hair that’s come loose from her messy bun behind her ear.

“You didn’t tell me Jeff was coming over,” she says.

Troy shrugs, cracking open a beer and handing it to Jeff.

“I forgot.”  He opens another bottle for himself and takes a sip. “You said I could have the TV all day … we agreed this morning,” he says defensively.

“I know,” she says. “I’m not ... It’s just… Whatever.”

Troy bobs his head emphatically, and then snatches a cookie from one of the racks before Annie can stop him.

“That’s still hot, Troy!”

“But that’s how I like ‘em! When the chips are all warm and melty.”  He bumps Jeff’s arm as he heads toward the TV. “You gotta try Annie’s cookies. These are seriously the best freaking chocolate chip cookies in the history of the world. No joke.”

Annie smiles, but shakes her head.  Jeff takes a cookie off the cooling rack, and while she’s watching the whole time, she doesn’t reprimand him like she did Troy.

And hell, he actually agrees with Troy for once.

“Wow,” he says. “Troy wasn’t kidding. These are worth an extra five-mile run. What’s your secret?”

“There’s a packet of instant vanilla pudding in them,” she tells him. “It makes them really creamy.” She moves a couple of cookies around on the racks. “I made them for Troy because I think there’s a little separation anxiety going on with Abed out on his date.”

Jeff nods, leaning against the wall as he finishes his cookie. Annie looks up at him, her eyes soft and tentative.

“He really didn’t tell me you were coming,” she whispers.

“Is this a problem?”

“No.  Of course not.”  She smiles, shrugging. “I’m glad you here.  It’s just…”

He grins and pushes away from the wall to take a step toward her.

“You’re worried that you won’t be able to keep your hands off me,” he says cockily. “You know, after what happened in the library a couple of weeks ago.”

She flushes and swats at his chest with a dish towel. “Oh, please!  Like you can do any better.”

“I have plenty of self-control,” he tells her.  “Made you wait four years, remember?”

She sighs, sounding entirely unimpressed, and for a moment, they just stare one another down silently. Annie’s iPod is now playing ‘Stand Back,’ and he laughs.

“Seriously,” he says. “What’s with the Stevie Nicks?”

She shrugs. “I like Stevie Nicks. My aunt’s a big fan and when I was little, she’d always play it when I was at her apartment. She took me to my first concert ever – Stevie Nicks when I was 11.”

“Wow,” he says. “That’s surprising. I would have guessed Destiny’s Child or Jessica Simpson.”

She glares at him, but she’s got a couple of chocolate chip cookies in her hands so the effect is ruined. “Well, maybe you don’t know me as well as you think. I’m a very complex woman.”

He grins. “You know, I’ve always thought—"

“Jeff!” Troy shouts from his recliner. “You’re gonna miss tip-off!”

He grabs his beer from the counter and steps toward the other room.

“Are you joining us?” he asks Annie as he goes.

She shakes her head. “I have a paper due Monday that I really need to get started on. But I’ll see you later.”

He’s a little disappointed, but he hides it well, as always, and joins Troy in front of the TV.  The game is a good one and distracts him easily enough. It’s easy to forget, what with all the craziness that goes on with Abed and other things, but Troy can be a regular guy sometimes and sometimes, that’s what Jeff needs, just someone to watch a game with, no talking about feelings or deeper things, no pissing contests or crap like that.

Just as halftime rolls around, though, Troy turns to him, looking strangely serious, and Jeff wonders why anything can’t ever be simple – he’s got no idea what Troy wants to talk about, but somehow he doesn’t think it has anything to do with Michigan State’s chances in the second half.

“Hey,” Troy says, lowering his voice and glancing back in the direction of Annie’s closed bedroom door. “Can I talk to you about something?”

“Sure,” Jeff says, trying to sound amiable. “But I’ve already explained that gremlins don’t actually exist so I think you’re better off looking at dogs or—"

“No, no. It’s not about pets.” Troy looks behind him again, and then leans over the arm of his recliner so he’s closer to Jeff. “It’s about Annie,” he whispers.

Jeff tries not to react – if this is another conversation like the one he had with Britta, he’s going to bang his head against a wall. 

“What about her?”

Troy squints, like he’s thinking very hard. “Has she seemed…” He cocks his head back and forth a few times. “Different lately?”

“Different how?” Jeff asks.

“I don’t know. Calmer or something? More relaxed?”

Jeff looks back at her room now, willing her to emerge and save him from this conversation. “I don’t really—"

“Abed wondered if maybe she was hooked on pills again,” Troy says. “But I told him that when she was on them the last time, she was seriously hyper. And paranoid. I mean, you don’t run through a plate glass window when you’re all chill, right?”

Jeff bobs his head, trying to follow along.

“Take today for example,” Troy continues. “She spent two hours making those cookies when she could have been working on her paper. That’s not like her at all.”

“Well, she does have all of tonight and tomorrow to finish it, so maybe she just thought –"

“I’ve lived with her for almost two years now, Jeff. If she doesn’t have a first draft done at least three days before the thing’s due, she kind of loses it. Like pulling-out-her-own-hair crazy. Well, usually anyway. Not today, like I said.”

As unlikely as it might seem, Troy may be on to something. Jeff hadn’t really considered it because unlike Troy, he hasn’t spent a whole lot of time with Annie outside of Greendale until recently.

But last week, while he hadn’t been able to get her to spend all seven days of spring break at his place, she wound up staying for five and a half – and as far as he knows, she didn’t crack a single book or write so much as a sentence for any of her classes.

Just as he’d suggested, they’d had lots of sex, but they also drove into Denver, where they weren’t likely to run into anyone they knew, a couple of nights for dinner and drinks. She conned him into a Trivial Pursuit tournament one afternoon by suggesting that the winner of each game could make the loser do whatever s/he wanted for the next hour. They played six games and he only won two – and he only managed to win those because Annie had a tough time with Sports and Leisure questions. She made him watch four excruciating episodes of ‘Gilmore Girls,’ which he only managed to endure because they were broken up by his two hours where he requested sex in the shower and on the kitchen counter and with hot fudge and the fur-lined hand cuffs that she’d given him as a spring break “gag” gift.  She tried to teach him how to make risotto one night too, but he kept getting distracted by the view he had down her shirt and forgetting to stir it so they wound up with a runny but still somehow burnt mess.

When she finally went home on Thursday evening, she insisted that she had to do laundry – which he didn’t really understand because she hadn’t worn that much clothing at his place – and catch up on her reading. That was her first mention of school work all week, now that he thinks about it.

“Maybe she’s just relieved that you guys are almost finished with Greendale,” he says, keeping his eyes fixed on the basketball to avoid giving anything away. “That definitely helped me relax.”

Troy cocks his head, considering this. “I guess that makes sense. I mean, senioritis is like a real thing, right? Maybe Annie’s caught it.”

Jeff nods in agreement, and just like that, the conversation is over. They go back to watching the basketball game in silence, speaking only to gripe about a bad call or wax poetic about a particularly impressive slam dunk. Michigan State manages to keep the game interesting, but Duke’s clearly going to run away with this one.

Jeff’s just about to brag about how his bracket is still fully intact when he glances over at Troy and realizes the kid has fallen into a dead sleep. His cheek is smashed against the side of the recliner and his mouth is hanging open unattractively and every so often, he lets out a low, wheezing snore.

He was probably up to the wee hours of the night, though not out drinking or hooking up or doing any of the other stuff that most college kids are up. No, he and Abed were probably caught up in some wacky hijinks or another, the kind that drive Annie to call Jeff at two in the morning and ask him how hard it would be for him to get her off if she murdered her roommates in a fit of rage for waking her up five times a night.

Speaking of Annie, Jeff thinks with a smile.

It’s been a couple of hours since she cloistered herself away in her room and he figures that she’s earned a break. He eases his way out of the recliner, trying to make as little noise as possible to avoid waking Troy. He raps his knuckles against her door lightly, but somehow she hears him and calls, “Come in,” before he has to do it again.

He glances behind him as he opens the door, checking to make sure that Troy is still fast asleep. Inside, Annie sits at her desk, her laptop open in front of her. She smiles when she sees that it’s him, but raises an eyebrow when he closes the door behind him.

“Troy fell asleep,” he explains. “I don’t want to disturb his nap.”

She bobs her head, watching him as he sits down on her bed.  She goes back to typing after a minute, though, and he’s kind of amazed how fast she can do it – he’s known court reporters who weren’t as quick.

“How’s the paper coming?” he asks.

She strikes one last key with conviction and turns to grin at him. “I am officially done. Well, I still need to proofread and edit it. And check my references. But I can do all that tomorrow, piece of cake.”

She is so pleased with herself, preening as she closes her laptop, and he can only laugh in response. She doesn’t take offense, though, just quirks her mouth in an near smirk and gets up to join him on the bed.

“How’s your game? Is it over?”

“Pretty much,” he tells her. “And my bracket is still dead on. I’m going to be rolling in cash in a week or so.”

“Big deal,” she huffs. “You’re in a pool with a bunch of people who don’t know anything about college basketball. I mean, I filled my bracket in based on which team’s colors I like better. Is beating me really that much of an accomplishment?”

He shakes his head. “And here I was, thinking about buying you something pretty with my winnings,” he teases. “Now, I’m just going to treat myself to those Ray-Bans I want.”

She shoves at his shoulder, but her fingers curl around him in soft caress, making the gesture seem more tender than punishing.

“So…” he says, sliding his hand over her knee up toward her thigh. “I had a pretty interesting conversation with Troy.”

Annie nods knowingly. “Is he still convinced that he can find a real, live gremlin if he hunts around Chinatown?”

“No,” Jeff laughs. “It was about you actually.”

Her eyes widen.

“About me?” she practically gasps. “What could you two possibly have to say about me? He’s not getting suspicious like Britta, is he?”

“Not exactly. Troy just thinks that you’ve been a lot more relaxed lately.” He tilts his head, smirking cockily. “I wonder why that might be.”

She flushes, color blooming all the way from her cheeks to the low neckline of her T-shirt, but she doesn’t look away, meeting his gaze almost challengingly.

“I did start that yoga class,” she says, trying not to grin.

He nods, and curls his hand around her thigh, sliding his thumb against the inside seam of her pants in a way that makes her shiver just a bit.

“You have been extra bendy lately,” he muses.

“Jeff!”

He grins.

“But see, I thought that maybe I might have something to do with it,” he says. “You know, because I’m about as relaxed as it gets and I’ve been rubbing off on you…”

She bites her lips, trying hard not to laugh, and scoots closer to him.

“I suppose in that regard you may be a good influence,” she says. She slides her hands over his chest to his shoulders. “And I am feeling a little tense right now…”

His hands find their way to her hips in an effort to close the distance between them and he drags her forward until she’s practically in his lap.

“And you don’t want to try child’s pose or something?” he asks. “Isn’t that nice and calming?”

She shakes her head and leans in to press her lips to his jaw. It tickles a little as she moves her mouth toward his ear, but she’s straddling his thighs now so he manages not to giggle like a little girl.

“Oh, I get it,” he nearly moans. “You want me to rub off on you again.”

She does giggle, right against his ear, and somehow, she rotates her hips in just the right way to send his surging towards her without tumbling off his lap.  He doesn’t want to take any chances, though, so he rolls her under him in the middle of the bed and kisses her laughing mouth. Her hands are already under his shirt, scraping across his back, and he manages to get one of his under her T-shirt, where he pulls her bra out of the way and palms her breast until she arches up against him and moans into his mouth like she’s been waiting for the last two hours for this.

“Shhh,” he whispers. “You’ll wake Troy.”

She nods against the pillow, but her eyes are hazy and unfocused so he’s not sure that she really understands what he’s saying.

Of course, she manages to shove her sweats and panties down to her ankles in a hurry, like she suddenly realizes how little time they have, so he follows suit and tries to undo his jeans with one hand while pawing through the drawer in her bedside table to find the condoms that she stashes there.

It’s all about teamwork, though, because she pushes his hands away from his fly and takes care of it for him. She wraps her hot, little hand around his dick and he sees fucking stars when she strokes him a couple of times, which makes tearing open the condom wrapper more difficult than it should be. He finally gets it done and rolls it on just as she plants her feet flat on the bed, knees bent, which is all the incentive he needs to slip inside her.

She squeezes his hips with her knees, her hands clutching at his shoulders, and she looks anything but relaxed right now.

“Sure you don’t want to try a yoga pose?” he jokes before he starts moving. “Downward dog maybe?”

She laughs, and the vibrations pass from her body directly to his dick in a way that makes it nearly impossible to stay still.

“I know that’s your favorite, but time is of the essence so…”

Her hands drop to his waist, sliding beneath the gaping waist of his jeans and the elastic of his boxer briefs to grab at his ass and urge him forward. She buries her face in his neck and he presses his to the pillow in an effort to muffle the moans and grunts that are becoming harder and harder to fight.

Because she’s meeting him thrust for thrust and he’s wanted her since he saw her ass in those ridiculous Greendale sweatpants and it’s always seriously hot when there’s something on the other side of the wall who might hear them.

Annie bites his shoulder through his shirt suddenly, and yeah, it hurts a little, but it also lets him know that he’s hitting the perfect spot so he keeps going until she whines, low and breathless, in his ear and he feels that hot rush of pleasure start at the base of his spine and he’s coming with his hand fisted around her messy bun.

He likes taking his time, but there’s something about these partially-clothed quickies that he’s learned to love.

She’s smiling as she straightens her clothes and he brushes his fingers across her cheek, overwhelmed by the wave of tenderness that seems to surge through him suddenly.

“You look pretty relaxed right now,” he tells her.

She beams up at him, her blue eyes soft and dreamy. “I feel pretty relaxed. You’re almost as good as a nice, hot bath.”

He frowns. “I’m not sure I like that comparison.”

She throws her arms around his neck and kisses him.

“I can’t admit that nothing feels as good as you do,” she whispers. “I don’t want to be responsible for feeding your titanic ego.”

He nods sagely. “I know how that goes. You’d never let me hear the end of it if I admitted it either.”

She smiles, smoothing the collar of his shirt down so it lays flat. He knows that she’s trying to act casual, all nonchalant, and he appreciates it because they both know that his admission probably means a little more than hers and he doesn’t want to dwell on it any longer than he has to.

“How about some cookies?” she says.  “I think we’ve probably worked off at least a couple.”

Troy’s still asleep in the recliner when they pad into the kitchen, but he wakes up when Jeff and Annie get into a heated argument about whether dunking a cookie in milk makes it more delicious or less. Troy sides with Jeff – definitely more delicious – and they coerce Annie into eating a dunked cookie, but she remains adamant.

“It’s all mushy and gross,” she says, around a grimace.

Abed comes home while they’re all still bickering, and their focus shifts from cookies to his date.  He refuses to give up too many details, though he does admit that there was a pretty nice kiss when he dropped her back at her apartment.

“I didn’t push to go inside, though,” he says. “From every romantic comedy I’ve ever seen, sex is best left to Act Two.”

Annie nods.

 “It’ll let her know your gentleman,” she says.

“And that’s what women want?” Abed asks. “I was under the impression that the bad boy type was more appealing. Isn’t that why Jeff does so well with women, Annie?”

She giggles nervously, looking torn between amusement and fear.

“I think it has more to go with my rugged good looks,” Jeff cuts in, trying to defuse the situation. “My sparkling wit and legendary charm don’t hurt either.”

Abed nods thoughtfully, while Annie just smiles.

“Plus, you fit the traditional bad boy trope anyway," says Abed. "You know, bad boy with a heart of gold.”

Jeff laughs, shaking his head. “I know you’ve got a good track record with character judgments and all that, but you’re way off on this one, buddy.”

He glances at Annie, who’s picking at the peeling paint on the cabinet beside her and studiously avoiding his eyes.

“Okay,” Abed concedes. “Maybe not gold. But a heart of bronze at least.”

“You shouldn’t wait more than the fifth date to do her, though,” Troy interrupts, like he hasn’t heard any of the rest of the conversation. “Or she may friend-zone you for good.”

Abed starts rattling off the names of movies where a guy and a girl who’ve been friends for years wind up falling in love in the end, while Troy refutes him with the names of girls who’ve permanently friend-zoned him despite his best efforts.

Annie’s barely paying attention to them - Jeff meets her eyes as she takes another cookie. He watches as she breaks it in half and dunks part of it in his milk. She taps it against the edge of the glass so it’s not dripping and offers it to him.

She takes a bite of the undunked piece, smiling softly. 

Chapter Text

Outside of Annie, the only person that has a snowball’s chance in hell of getting him to do something that he doesn’t really want to do is Shirley.

It makes sense, he thinks – she’s a mother and a Christian, so she knows how to work the whole guilt angle like nobody’s business.

That’s why all it takes is one disapproving, disappointed look and he’s agreeing to go to her house on a rainy Friday night with the rest of the group to sample some new sandwiches and salads that she’s thinking about adding to her menu.

It’s not that he’s averse to eating free food or hanging out with the group. He’s just exhausted from a week of actual teaching and a few too many late nights with Annie – it really isn’t fair because while he’s dead on his feet, she’s running around like the damn Energizer bunny even though she’s still laying off caffeine. But that’s because she’s young and he’s old. Not old, he corrects himself. Just older. – and all day he’s been fantasizing about crashing into bed and sleeping for a solid 15 or 16 hours straight.

That’s probably why he winds up falling asleep on Shirley’s couch about five minutes after they’ve finished taste-testing – which is plenty embarrassing. Usually, it’s Pierce who pulls the drunken grandpa routine on a couch or floor at these group get-togethers. He’s still off on his trip to Turks and Caicos, though, so it’s like Jeff’s picking up the slack. When he wakes after a half hour or so of pretty deep sleep, he’s even groggy and disoriented like Pierce usually is, unable to remember for a second where he is.

But then Troy and Abed hoot and holler beside him because apparently they’re beating Shirley’s boys in some video game or another, and it all comes back to him.

Troy sees that he’s awake and grins. “You gonna play winner, Jeff? Because that’s gonna be us!”

Jeff rubs at his eyes and stifles a yawn.

“I’m gonna head home,” he says. “That’s what I’m gonna do.”

He pushes himself to his feet and looks around the room. The ladies are missing, he realizes, and he figures that he should at least let Shirley know he’s leaving and maybe try to send telepathic messages to Annie that she should feel free to serve as his wakeup call in a few hours or so. He hears water running and dishes being stacked in the kitchen, so he assumes that’s where they must be.

He heads down the hallway that leads that way and is about about to turn into the kitchen when Britta’s voice stops him.

“It was *awful*,” she says emphatically. “I know there’s a learning curve when you’re with someone new, but this was so bad, it’s like we destroyed the curve beyond recognition.”

“Andre and I were young when we first got together,” Shirley chimes in. “So we learned together. That made things easier, I think. This was after we married, of course. So it was less sinful too.”

Britta laughs. “Well, Dylan and I must have completely different learning styles then because … I mean, there isn’t a single good thing I can think of to build off of. I was actually outlining my philosophy paper in my head for most of it. And I think it was just as bad for him – he could barely make eye contact with me afterwards.”

“Britta,” Jeff hears Annie say then. “You guys only met two weeks ago. And it was one time. Maybe after you know each other a little longer, things will get better.”

Britta chuckles again, but this time, it’s so dark and humorless that it almost makes Jeff uncomfortable.

“Trust me. That’s not going to happen. There’s zero hope here.”

“I just think sex is always better when you’re comfortable with the person,” Annie says.

His curiosity is fully piqued now – because let’s face it, how often is he going to get the chance to hear Annie talk about sex when she doesn’t know he’s listening? – so he flattens himself against the wall outside the kitchen to make sure that they won’t be able to see so much as his shadow inside.

“Annie,” Britta says, and the condescension in her tone makes him wince a little. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but your experience is pretty limited. I mean, how many guys have you actually slept with?”

He perks up even more – because it’s a question that he’s had for a while but would never actually ask.

“Four,” Annie says defensively – he can picture her crossing her arms over her chest and glaring in that sexy way she has.

“Four?” Britta and Shirley repeat, sounding alternately surprised and scandalized.

There’s a long moment of silence, and in it, Jeff can’t help but wonder if she’s included him in that number or not. He’s thought about this a little more than he probably should – God knows he’s got more than enough former partners in his past to not really want to go around comparing scorecards with her – but all he knows is that the first year he knew her, she couldn’t say the word ‘penis’ without lowering her voice to a whisper and turning five shades of red. And then, just a year later – after Vaughn, he thinks testily – she was perfectly comfortable with the kind of pornographic details that were almost enough to make him blush during their game of Dungeons and Dragons. It was a pretty dramatic turnaround, and he figures that something transformative had to have spurred it on.

“Okay,” Britta says, finally breaking the silence. “There was the closeted high school boyfriend and Vaughn… who are the other two?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Annie sighs.  “The point is that—"

“No, it does matter,” Shirley insists.  “You’re a good girl, Annie. You shouldn’t be giving it up to just any pretty boy who smiles at you right way.”

Britta snorts in absolute derision. “Shirley, it’s a good thing that Annie’s owning her sexuality. She shouldn’t be ashamed that she has a healthy, active sex life. One of the four is the new guy, right? The one you won’t tell us about?”

“Britta, let’s get back to—"

“Is he someone you’re comfortable with?” Britta teases.  “Is the sex really hot?”

“Britta!” Shirley and Annie gasp in unison.

All right, he thinks with a smirk. Now we’re getting to the really good stuff.

“Oh, it is! It is. You wouldn’t be blushing like that if he was lame in the sack.”

He wishes that he could see Annie’s face, but it’s probably not worth outing himself as an eavesdropper to catch a peek.

“Britta, please,” Shirley sighs.  “This isn’t polite conversation.”

Shirley can protest all she wants, but Jeff could swear that he hears more than a little curiosity in her voice. 

“Come on, Annie. You have to tell us who the guy is now.  Maybe he can chat with Dylan and give him a few pointers.”

“Britta, I’m really not comfortable-”

“Here I am, telling you all the shameful details about the terrible sex I had and you won’t even let me live vicariously through you? What kind of friend are you, Annie?”

There’s another minute of silence, punctuated only by a few annoyed sighs and a couple of disapproving clucks.

“Okay, fine. Fine.” Annie sounds resigned, but not entirely uncomfortable. “I may not have much to compare it to,” she says pointedly. “But I think by any standards, he’s amazing.”

Jeff grins – he’d take amazing any day, but the way she says it, the dreamy, seriously satisfied way her voice wraps around the word, makes it even better.

“I thought your skin looked extra glow-y lately,” Shirley muses.

“Amazing how?” Britta demands. “Explain in full, graphic detail.”

“Britta, I’m not going to—"

“What are you doing?”

Jeff nearly jumps when he hears Abed’s curious voice and realizes that his friend is standing right behind him, trying to peer over his shoulder into the kitchen.  The truth seems like the easiest explanation, so he goes with it.

“Eavesdropping,” he says, lowering his voice to a whisper.

They’re both silent for a minute, listening just in time to hear the word ‘stallion’ and Shirley melodramatically declare, “My ears! My pure Christian ears!”

“What are they talking about?” Abed asks.

“Sex,” Jeff tells him. “Apparently, Annie’s new guy is a real stud.”

He tries to rein in his grin because there’s no way that he’d be so gleeful about this if he wasn’t the guy in question, but Abed’s already cocking his head, studying Jeff like he’s just a little confused.

“Huh,” is all he says, though.

“What?”

“I thought you were Annie’s new guy.”

He’s not sure if it’s shock or desperation, but Jeff nearly slams Abed against the wall in an attempt to slap a hand over his mouth.

“What... why… I don’t know what…” Jeff stutters stupidly.

“I figured you guys didn’t want anyone to know,” Abed says. “That’s why I haven’t said anything.”

“But how did you know?”

“Haven’t we already established that I am an astute observer of human nature?” Abed shrugs. “Besides, you’ve been in our apartment in the middle of the night in your underwear like eight times in the last month alone, Jeff. You’re not as quiet or stealthy as you might think.”

He frowns, because it’s probably true.

The other night, after falling asleep with Annie, he’d gotten up sometime near three to use the bathroom. He’d almost made it there and back home-free, when Troy stumbled out of his room, all bleary-eyed and foggy, and gave Jeff and his unbuttoned jeans a confused once-over.

“Jeff? What are you doing here?”

There weren’t that many plausible explanations for why he might be in their apartment in the middle of the night, half-dressed, so he struggled for excuse, however lame, that might work.

“Ah, my apartment’s being fumigated,” he lied. “So Annie said it was okay if I stayed here.”

Troy furrowed his brow, looking dopey and tired. “But where are you sleeping?”

“In the chair over there.”

Jeff pointed at the recliner, where he pretended to sleep until Troy had finished his own trip to the bathroom and was back in his room for a solid ten minutes before sneaking back to Annie’s room. It was ridiculous, and if Troy hadn’t been so tired, he probably would have seen right through the rouse. As it is, though, he hasn’t mentioned it since, so maybe he just thinks that the entire thing was a dream.

Jeff looks at Abed now, and shakes his head.

“I never saw you,” he says.

“That’s because I am as quiet and stealthy as I think.”

Jeff considers this and knows that his friend is right – he probably has more dirt on the people around him than the collective staffs of TMZ and The Star could ever hope to dig up on a single celebrity. The thing about Abed, though, is that he can keep things to himself, so Jeff’s not really worried about him spilling the beans.

But fuck, Annie will.

She’ll go into another of her crazed episodes where she’ll refuses to even speak his name for fear that someone might detect the faintest hint of affection in the way she says it.

“Do me a favor,” Jeff says. “Don’t say anything to Annie.”

 “Why?”

“I think it’ll freak her out a little if she knows you know.”

“Ah, I see,” Abed says. “This kind of thing happens on sitcoms fairly regularly, so I should be able to—"

“That’s great, buddy,” Jeff says, clapping him on the arm. “Just remember – subtlety sells everything a little better.”

Abed nods thoughtfully.

“That’s probably true,” he agrees. “Can I give you a little advice, though?”

Jeff blows out a frustrated breath, but eventually nods.

“You should let everyone know sooner rather than later,” Abed says. “I mean, look at what happened when the group found out about you and Britta. There were a lot of hurt feelings.”

Jeff lowers his head, not needing the reminder. “You’re right. I know. It’s just…”

He shrugs because he’s not sure how to explain how complicated the whole thing feels.

“I understand,” Abed tells him. “You’re just feeling protective. It’s Annie, and we all know how you feel about her.”

The easiest thing to do is ignore what Abed’s said, so that’s precisely what Jeff does.  He pats his friend on the back and smiles.

“Let’s go see how Troy’s faring against the boys all by himself.”

As tired as he is, he watches the guys play video games for nearly a half hour, waiting for an opportunity to get Annie alone. Finally, when he’s just about to give up, he’s able to corner her in the hallway just outside the bathroom.

“Hey,” he says quietly, glancing around to make sure they’re alone. “Okay, so Abed knows.”

Her eyes widen in alarm, and she clutches at his forearms like she might be feeling weak.

“About us?” she asks, gesturing to the space between them. “How?”

Jeff lowers his head a little sheepishly. “He may have seen me in my underwear at your apartment in the middle of the night once or twice.”

Annie’s mouth tightens into a frown and she swats at his chest hard.

“Haven’t I been telling you that I should walk you to the bathroom as a cover?” she demands. “Haven’t I said that like a hundred times?”

He smirks. “Yeah, because he wouldn’t have been at all suspicious if he saw the two of us half-naked in the middle of the night.”

She grumbles a little under her breath, but doesn’t otherwise argue.

“Well, great,” she sighs. “Now Abed knows and the Dean … and Britta’s still asking about my new guy. Pretty soon, everyone’s going to know and they’re going to screw it all up.”

She throws her hands up and slumps against the wall, looking utterly defeated. It’s dim in the hallway, so he can’t really tell but he thinks her eyes might be a little teary too, which totally kills him. He leans in and tugs on the hem of her cardigan to get her attention.

“Come on,” he says, in that low, soft voice he’s starting to realize he saves only for her. “The only people who can screw this up are you and me. And I don’t know about you, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far. You know, of not screwing it up.”

When she looks up at him, under the heavy fringe of her lashes, her eyes are so soft and tender that he finds himself leaning in a little closer and smiling as he traces his fingers down her cheek.

“Yeah,” she whispers. “We kind of have.”

“So let’s not worry about everyone else. They know, they don’t know. It doesn’t really matter.”

She nods, but her mouth pulls down in a slight grimace.

“But I have to live with Abed,” she says. “And… oh God, do you think he told Troy?”

“No. He didn’t. You know Abed – he sees everything but keeps most of it to himself.”

She sighs, visibly relaxing. “I still wish I could pretend he didn’t know. It would be so much easier that way.”

Jeff nods. “That’s why I told him not to say anything to you. So as far as he’s concerned, you don’t know that he does. Nothing has to change.”

She smiles in relief and curls her hand around one of his hips, tugging him just a little closer.

“How did you find out he knew?” she asks. “Did he just blurt it out?”

Jeff grins.

“I may or may not have been eavesdropping on your conversation with Britta and Shirley in the kitchen.” He shrugs, feigning innocence. “And Abed may or may not have caught me.”

Annie cocks her head, thinking.

“My conversation with Britta and Shirley…” Her eyes widen and the blush on her cheeks practically glows in the dark hallway. “Oh my God,” she groans, covering her face with her hands. “What exactly did you hear?”

“Just all the good stuff,” he teases. “You know, I should probably feel objectified but really, I’m not offended in the least. Feel free to go around telling everyone how I’m such a … what was the word you used? Stallion?”

She steps closer, burying her face in his chest.

“I’m so embarrassed,” she sighs into his shirt.

“Why? I already knew that you think sex with me is the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

She lifts her head and regards him skeptically.

“Since sliced bread?” she repeats. “What’s so great about bread?”

“Okay. Fine. Since purple pens with a gel grip?”

She laughs and nods in agreement.

“And if you want to even the score, maybe you should hang around in the hallway outside my office the next time I get together with Duncan to talk about what hellcat you are in bed. It’s usually Wednesday afternoons, by the way.”

She squeezes his hip threateningly. “You better be joking!”

“I am,” he says. “But let me see if I have this straight – it’s okay for you to play ‘Sex in the City’ in there with Britta and Shirley, but if I wanted to discuss our sex life with my friends, that’s out of line?”

“Yes,” she says simply. “I’m glad you understand.”

She pats his hip, ducks under his arm, and heads back down the hall toward the living room.

He laughs to himself for a minute before turning and following her.

A second wind has hit him, so he sits beside Annie on the sofa, scooting just a little closer that is probably appropriate just to make her squirm. She holds it together well, though, not even flinching when his pinky brushes against her bare knee.

Jeff can feel Abed watching them, but he doesn’t say a word, even when they hug one another good night and linger a little longer than usual.

No one else notices.

Chapter Text

It’s nine o’clock on a Friday night – he could be at a bar, enjoying a scotch and catching the end of the Nuggets’ game, or he could be at home, stretched out across the sofa, catching up on a week’s worth of DVR recordings, or he could be tangled up in Annie’s sheets, mapping his way across her porcelain skin with his tongue, without worrying about how loud they are because her roommates aren’t home.

But he’s not doing any of those things.

Instead, he’s standing in the middle of Greendale’s cafeteria, where every inch of the walls and ceiling are covered in garish neon crepe paper and balloons – well, the spots that aren’t already adorned with Pac Man cutouts, vintage MTV logos, and posters for movies like ‘Back to the Future,’ ‘Ghostbusters,’ and ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ anyway.

When Leonard strolls by in a red mesh tank top and acid wash jeans, Jeff figures the collapse of western civilization can’t be too far behind.

But then he spots Annie, standing off in a corner by herself, and he starts to feel a little more hopeful about humanity’s fate.

She’s wearing a cropped gray sweatshirt that’s falling off one shoulder, a black mini skirt that doesn’t leave much to the imagination, and hot pink leg warmers as she sways to ‘Billie Jean.’ Her hair’s in a side ponytail too, tied off with a bright purple scrunchie – she looks ridiculous, but also kind of hot, which only makes him realize how far gone he actually is.

 “That’s some outfit,” he says as he comes to stand beside her.

She smiles brightly, and it’s obvious that she’s both happy and surprised to see him. They’d had a little disagreement early, mainly because she insisted on coming to this ridiculous dance marathon when all he wanted was a night alone with her. She was adamant, though, and he wouldn’t commit to coming because he was feeling pretty pissy.

“It’s ‘Flashdance’ inspired,” she says. “Have you seen that?”

He laughs. “Yeah, I have. Because I was actually alive when it came out. Have you seen it?”

“But you were only like six or seven, right?” She shrugs, unimpressed. “I’ve seen some of it with Abed. Like the part where she’s dancing and the water falls on her.”

“That’s the only worthwhile part of the whole movie,” he teases.

Annie swats at his arm, but she laughs.  He nods toward the dance floor.

“Why aren’t you marathon-ing?” he asks. “I mean, you made such a big deal about how you couldn’t miss this so I figured you’d be tearing it up.”

“I’m just here for moral support,” she says, pointing toward Troy and Abed, who are jitterbugging or cabbage patching together in the middle of the floor with their cheeks practically pressed together.

“Should we be worried about them?” he asks, with a smirk.

Annie smiles indulgently. “They’re fine.”

Garret spins to a stop just in front of them, wheezing his way through a feeble attempt at the Running Man. He throws a leg backward with particular enthusiasm and the back of his parachute pants tear like tissue paper, giving Jeff and Annie a prime view of his tighty whities. 

“My back!” he cries out as if he's been mortally wounded. “My back!”

Jeff shakes his head in disgust as Garret limps off into the crowd.

“What the hell am I doing here?” he groans.

His eyes meet Annie’s, and for a heated moment, they just stare at one another in silence. She’s smiling softly, like she’s trying to rein it in, and he knows then that it’s obvious to both of them why he’s suffering through the likes of Culture Club and Duran Duran in the stuffy Greendale cafeteria.

Because it’s where she is.

It’s really that simple.

He watches her hand twitch for a second, like she wants to touch him but can’t do it because they’re in a crowded room. He takes a step toward her, so his arm is pressed against hers and he can see her grin out of the corner of his eye.

Of course, the Dean chooses that precise moment to flutter over, dressed as Madonna from the ‘Like a Virgin’ video, complete with fingerless lace gloves, and Jeff is back to wishing that he’d never set foot at this stupid dance in an instant.

“Jeff, Annie! What a surprise… seeing you two together.”

The Dean winks in what he probably thinks is a conspiratorial way but only comes across as theatrical and obvious.

“Hello, Dean,” Jeff says. “Keeping a low profile as usual, I see.”

He smooths his hands over his white lace bustier. “Not everyone could pull this off, I know.”  He leans in toward them, glancing around to see if anyone’s listening. “So… how are things going?  You know, between you two?”

Annie looks away, obviously uncomfortable, so Jeff forces a tight smile.

“Dean,” he says, as gravely as he can manage. “I heard some rumblings that you’re running low on Tab. You might want to go—"

“Oh, my! That’s just … Can we keep this between us? No need to start a panic.” He takes a step back toward the packed dance floor. “Please excuse me for just a minute. We can finish catching up later…”

He’s barely gone for 15 seconds before Annie turns to Jeff and sighs.

“Want to take a walk?” she asks. “I could use a little break from all this.”

It’s like music to his ears, because the actual music playing right now – ‘Take On Me’ by A- Ha – kind of makes him want to bang his head against the wall. He follows Annie as she weaves her way in and out of the crowd of dancers and outside to fresh air. Now that April’s finally rolled in, it’s starting to warm up a bit, but it’s still crisp enough to feel refreshing after the muggy cafeteria.

He lets her take the lead on where to walk, and she seems to be headed toward the library. He’d take her hand or put an arm around her shoulder, but there are people milling about, probably taking a break from the heated marathon just like them, so it’s not the best idea. Annie’s walking at a leisurely pace, like they have all the time in the world and no real destination in mind, and he easily falls into step beside her. He sneaks a few sideways glances at her, and she looks beautiful in the cool moonlight, even with that ridiculous side ponytail and those obnoxious legwarmers.

“There’s something I’ve always wanted to ask you,” she says suddenly, looking at him nervously.

He panics too, feeling his palms go a little clammy. He has no clue what she might want to ask – maybe something about why he obsessively keeps track of everything he eats in My Fitness Pal, where his relationship with Britta went wrong, why he can’t call himself her boyfriend, where he seems himself in five years, why he hates cats, what his mother’s like, whether he loves her or not.

The possibilities are endless, and none of them are particularly appealing at the moment.

“Shoot,” he says, trying to sound casual.

“How did you think you’d get away with it?” She stops right in front of the Luis Guzman statue and gazes up at him. “The whole no degree thing.”

He laughs in surprise – it’s definitely not what he was expecting and he’s relieved.

“Well, you have may have caught on to the fact that I have a staggering amount of confidence. And I usually think I’m smarter than 99.9 percent of the people around me.”

She nods thoughtfully. “I guess that would do it.”

“And the fact is,” he says, shrugging his shoulders. “I did get away with it for almost seven years so…”

She bobs her head again, like it all finally makes sense. But her mouth is fixed in a tight line and her brow is furrowed, so it seems like there’s something that she wants to say and is holding back.

“Let’s hear the lecture you have prepared about how awful it was,” he says lightly.  “You must have been waiting four years to lay it on me.”

Annie lowers her eyes and kicks at a crack in the pavement with the toe of her bright white tennis shoe. “We both know that under the right circumstances, I could do something just as crazy or morally questionable. I’d just be too afraid to get away with it for long.”

He grins.

“Yeah,” he agrees. “That’s probably why I like you so much.”

“But it makes me a big hypocrite, doesn’t it?” Her eyes find his and they’re as dark and fierce as he’s ever seen them. “I mean, here I am always lecturing you about how you should be trying harder or doing more or that you should stop being so selfish, and I’ve done or thought about doing stuff that’s just as bad as—"

“That’s why I tolerate lectures from you when I don’t with anyone else,” he says, laying a hand on her shoulder. “I know that the standards you have for yourself are just as high, probably even higher, as the ones you have for everyone else. I also know that sometimes you don’t live up to them, so you know how hard it can be. You don’t judge, Annie. You just want everyone to live up to their potential. That’s not the worst thing in the world.”

She tilts her head, smiling tentatively. “I’m surprised you can be so generous. You bear the brunt of my non-judgments more than anyone.”

He shrugs.

“We all need someone to keep us honest from time to time.” He laughs at her shocked look. “And yeah, I can’t believe I just said that either.”

She stares up at him, and her mouth seems to tremble for a moment, like she’s about to speak. But she stays silent, and loops her arm through his to guide him toward the library once more. They walk in silence, leaning into one another until they reach the front steps. The area is completely deserted, so they sit down on the cool stone and huddle together without anyone around to get suspicious.

“Back to where it all started,” Annie says softly.

She leans her chin on his shoulder and looks up at him with those wide, blue eyes that lure him in every damn time. He smiles, rubbing his thumb against the fingers that she has curled around his arm.

“You know, I actually thought about not coming out here when I saw you that night,” he admits.

She lifts her head in surprise. “Really? Why?”

He shrugs and lets out a deep breath. “I think I was afraid of what might happen if we were alone together.”

She giggles, sliding her hand down his arm so her fingers can weave through his.

“We can get into a lot of trouble,” she says.

He bobs his head, grinning.

“Well, I wasn’t expecting us to wind up in the backseat of my car, but I was worried things might get heavy.”

Annie cocks her head, regarding him with such tenderness and affection that he has to look away.

“But you came out anyway,” she whispers.

He looks over at her again, nodding.

“You looked so beautiful,” he tells her. “And I … I couldn’t stay away.”

Her bare shoulder where the sweatshirt hangs low tempts him, just as she did that night months ago, and he presses his lips to her soft skin. Her eyes flutter closed and she nuzzles at his temple for a long, lingering moment.

“I’m glad you didn’t,” she murmurs into his hair.

“Yeah,” he agrees. “It was a pretty good decision.”

Annie’s fingers curl around his jaw and tug him toward her so she can kiss him.

It’s much softer and slower than the kiss on his graduation night, with no frantic fumbling or desperate groping - but there’s still the same ragged breathing and dizzy feeling in his head, and he’s got his hand on her bare knee and she’s got her fingers tangled in the hair at the nape of his neck, so somehow, he likes this one even better.

Chapter Text

He sneaks up on her in the cafeteria when she’s standing in front of the fruit cup selection, trying to decide between the two plastic containers in her hands. She holds the cups up, turning them this way and that in appraisal, as she narrows her eyes in full concentration.

He knows exactly what she’s doing too – she’s on the hunt for the cup that has the most strawberries, her favorite fruit.

He sidles up next to her just as she makes the final decision and places one of the cups on her tray.

“You don’t have any tests or papers that you have to obsess over tonight, do you?” he asks, forgoing a greeting.

She eyes him suspiciously. “Why?”

“I did a favor for Professor Alfredsson in Classics, so he gave—"

“What kind of favor?” she asks warily, eye narrowed.

She’s probably imagining something dirty and underhanded, and while it kind of was, it pales in comparison to virtually everything that he did in his former life as a lawyer. So he shrugs, just to emphasize what a minor deal the whole thing was.

“I pretended to be his cutthroat divorce lawyer on a phone call with his soon-to-be ex-wife, so she’d agree to give up custody of their bulldog.”

Annie tilts her head in confusion. “They’re fighting over a dog?”

“I’ve seen people fight over much less,” he tells her. “Alfredsson says she was keeping the mutt out of spite anyway. It was his dog to start with, but the wife caught him cheating with their dental hygienist and wanted a little revenge.”

She wrinkles her nose and twists her mouth into a frown.

“Does he really deserve this dog?” she asks.

“That’s beside the point. The point is that he gave me a couple of tickets to the Rockies’ game to express his gratitude.” He smirks and bumps her shoulder with his. “And because you like baseball so much, I thought you might want to come.”

He doesn’t know how much she really likes baseball, but she definitely liked ‘Bull Durham’ – he knows that for sure after they found a little inspiration in some of its more interesting scenes.

She grins – and he knows that she’s remembering the same exact evening that he is – and nods. He snags a piece of pineapple from her fruit cup before she can scold him and promises to text her with the details.

When he gets to her apartment later that afternoon, she’s already waiting on the sidewalk in front. She is wearing a tight, little Rockies T-shirt that’s pink and white – he doesn’t think that she had time to run out and buy it today, so maybe she wasn’t totally lying about her interest in America’s pastime – and a pair of jeans, with a gray hoodie throw over her arm.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in jeans,” he tells her as she opens the car door.

She pauses then, stepping back onto the sidewalk to do a little turn so she can model the jeans for him – they hug her ass in a pretty impressive way so there’s no doubt about how well they fit.

“Nice. You should wear them more often.”

She grins and settles in the passenger seat beside him.

“Because I was dressed like this, I had to tell Troy and Abed the truth about where I was going,” she says as they pull away from the curb. “Abed looked like he was dying to say something about it, and Troy got really mad. He wanted to know why you were taking me and not him. You know, because I couldn’t remember Ted Helton’s name that day.”

Jeff laughs. “Todd.”

She looks at him blankly.

“His name is *Todd Helton*. Not Ted.  Maybe Troy has a point…”

She gasps in outrage.

“Oh, just wait and see,” she declares. “You’re going to have more fun at this baseball game than you’ve ever had before. That’s the Annie Edison guarantee.”

She crosses her arms against her chest and bobs her head emphatically.

He doesn’t want to tell her that he always has more fun with her than he’s ever had with anyone else because that just sounds pathetic, so he lets her babble on about school and last night’s episode of ‘Once Upon a Time’ and how instead of breaking up with the guy she’s been seeing, Britta’s just stopped returning his calls but he still hasn’t taken the hint instead.

When they get to Coors Field, Annie drags him straight to the concession stand. He only gets a beer and some peanuts, but when she sees that there’s something called a Helton Burger for sale, she insists on getting one, along with onion rings and – paradoxically, he thinks – a light beer.

Alfredsson’s seats aren’t the best – the first row in one of the left field sections – but they’re not terrible either. Annie’s disappointed that they’re so far from home plate, though, and gestures out across the field.

“The first game that my dad ever took me to, we sat over there, right behind the Rockies’ dugout, and almost caught a foul ball,” she says. “His company had a box there or something, so we used to come to games kind of often. I remember thinking he would have been much happier if I’d been a boy.” She tilts her head, hesitating. “I mean, not that girls can’t like baseball. But you know.”

Jeff smiles over the rim of his beer bottle. “Britta’s not here. You don’t have to worry about being so PC.”

“I’m not. But I’m a girl who likes baseball so…”

“Baseball?” he asks. “Or just sexy baseball movies?”

Somehow, she manages to elbow him in the vicinity of the ribs without dropping a single pickle from her enormous, dripping burger.

“Are you a big baseball fan?” she asks.  “I don’t hear you talking about it all that much.”

He pauses, pretending like he’s too busy filling out the scorecard in his program to answer such a simple question. She nudges him with her arm after a minute and shoots him at expectant look.

“I have a complicated relationship with baseball,” he finally says.

“Oh?” Annie dips one of her onion rings into the puddle of ketchup in her little cardboard tray, looking very innocent. “Did you make out with it and then try to pretend that it never happened? And did you run off all the other guys that it was interested in, but still try to act like there was nothing between you but wholesome friendship? Is it that kind of complicated?”

She’s trying hard not to smile, but he can tell that she’s extremely pleased with herself. He shakes his head and takes another sip of his beer.

“It’s good to know you don’t hold a grudge or anything,” he says dryly.

She finally allows herself a grin, shrugging happily.

“Seriously, though,” she says. “What’s so complicated about baseball?”

He lets out a long, weary sigh, because this is supposed to be a nice, little evening where they get away from the crazy that is Greendale and their friends and just have fun. This kind of conversation is going to take them down an entirely different road, and he almost wants to lie to her just to keep things light and easy.

But Annie looks at him, with her wide, earnest eyes, which somehow seem bluer under the bright stadium lights and purple twilight sky, and he’s speaking almost despite himself.

“I played when I was a kid,” he says. You know, Little League… and I really liked it. I was a good at it too. Well, as good as a six year old can be anyway.”

She shoots him a dreamy smile. “I bet you looked cute in your little uniform.”

“But the thing was, it was kind of the only memory I ever had of my dad,” he tells her. “He didn’t come to any of the games or anything, but I have these really clear memories of a few times when we had a catch. It was the one thing he’d do with me, I guess, because he loved baseball. Loved the Dodgers, actually. He’d always have the game on when he was around.”

Annie must sense where this is going because she wraps her hand around his bicep and leans in so he feels all of her weight and warmth against him.

“After he left, I didn’t want anything to do with baseball anymore,” he says. “I quit Little League. I stopped watching Dodger games - I wasn’t about to root for the same team that my father did. I’d get so pissed every time I saw that they’d won because I knew it was something that would make him happy and I just wanted him to be miserable.” He takes a breath and shrugs. “But then, you know, when I was older, we got the Rockies and it seemed stupid to ignore baseball just because of some asshole I barely knew. So now I try to enjoy it when I can.”

She shakes her head, looking a little glassy-eyed. She sets her cardboard tray on the empty seat beside her and slides her arm through his, rubbing her chin against his shoulder.

“So stupid,” she whispers.

He tenses, frowning down at her. “Excuse me? I pour my heart out and—"

“Not you,” she says. “Your father. What he missed out on.”

He still feels uncomfortable, a prickly heat creeping over his face, so he tries to avoid her eyes.

“That’s debatable. I mean, he missed out on a son who faked his degree and cheated on the LSATs, lost his job in disgrace, only managed a BA from a community college where he was forced to take eventually take a job because no one else would hire him.”  He shrugs. “I think you’re a little biased.”

She bobs her head. “Of course, I am,” she admits. “Because I *know* you’re amazing.”

He chuckles because her soft, wide-eyed expression is so serious and earnest that it’s almost impossible to look at her. “Is this the part where I say it takes one to know one?”

She smiles.

“You could,” she says. “Or you could just kiss me. Your choice.”

He curls his hand around the back of her neck and tugs her to him.

“It takes one to know one,” he says, just before he kisses her.

She giggles into his mouth, and he doesn’t even care that she tastes like pickles and special sauce.

In the sixth inning, Todd Helton hits a homerun that lands only 20 or 30 feet to their left, and the Rockies wind up beating the Mets 9 to 8. It’s early enough in the season that it doesn’t really mean much, but a win’s a win. On their way out, he buys her a ridiculous black and purple sequined Rockies tank top, even though she insists that she’ll never have any place to wear it.

“The next game we come to,” he tells her.

She picks up one of the pocket schedules that they have on the counter at the ticket windows outside the stadium, so they can pick out a date on the ride home. 

Chapter Text

They’re standing in line at Walgreen’s, waiting to pay for Annie’s bottle of vitamin C and his deodorant, when both of their phones chime with incoming texts.

The timing isn’t coincidental – they have the same message from Britta, inviting them out for drinks with the group that evening. It’s only nine in the morning, but he’s already tired and isn’t really in the mood to bar hop after he’s done with classes for the day.

But Annie looks up at him with those obscenely persuasive blue eyes and he knows that he’s going to agree to go.

“Maybe Britta’s lonely because the thing with Dylan didn’t work out,” she says. “We should be good friends and support her.”

He grunts in annoyance.

“Just one drink, Jeff,” she needles. “And then you can go.”

“Will you go too?” he asks hopefully.

She shoots him an apologetic smile.

“I fell asleep at your place last night,” she says. “I can’t do it two nights in a row. I mean, as it is, someone is probably going to notice that this is a men’s T-shirt and I’m wearing the same skirt as yesterday.”

It’s true, he thinks. Or someone might notice if her car is left abandoned in the Greendale parking lot two nights in a row. They’ve been pretty careless lately.

So he begrudgingly agrees to meet her and the rest of the group at Britta’s chosen bar for happy hour as requested. At least a half a dozen times over the course of the day, though, he considers just going straight home and pretending that he forgot all about it, but at ten to six, he’s in his Lexus, headed for the bar like a schmuck.

To add insult to injury, Annie calls when he’s stopped at a light to tell him that she’s running late.

“I’ve got this group project from my English class,” she says. “And my group… well, let’s just say they’re not exactly motivated. But I should be able to leave in fifteen or twenty minutes. Tell Britta, okay?”

He signs his frustration, but she’s already hung up so it doesn’t exactly have the effect that he wants.

When he makes it to the bar, only Britta and Shirley are there, sitting side by side at a small table in the far corner of the room. He heads over, trying to think of some contrived but supportive things that he can say to Britta with a straight face if she’s genuinely upset about some douche bag or another. He’s not really the kind of guy who can talk friends through breakups, though, so he’ll just have to bullshit his way through it. Britta is frowning and sitting stiffly in her chair, looking pretty damn bitter, so maybe Annie’s instincts are right about her needing to blow off a little steam.

“Hey,” he says, pulling out a chair for himself. “Annie says she’s going to be a little late, but where’s everybody else?”

Britta cocks her head and squints as she looks at him, almost like he’s something green and slimy on a microscope slide that she’s being forced to study, and Shirley’s mouth is puckered in a tight scowl as she practically stares him down.

Is there something in the water, he wonders.

“You spoke to Annie?” asks Britta.

He nods, signaling to a waitress so he can order a drink.

“That’s interesting.”

“If that’s what passes for interesting these days,” he says. “The bar’s set pretty low for tonight’s conversation.”

Britta shrugs, her movements oddly jerky.

“Well, it’s just interesting that you’re the one Annie chose to get in touch with,” she tells him, and Shirley hums in agreement. “I’m the one who organized this whole get-together. Why didn’t she call me?”

He’s picking up a decidedly weird vibe here, and if Shirley wasn’t shooting him the evil eye, he’d just chalk it up to Britta’s guy troubles. Maybe Shirley and Andre have hit a rough patch too.  Maybe she and Britta have been sitting here, commiserating about what selfish, stupid pricks men are and Googling how to make voodoo dolls.

Well, no – Shirley definitely wouldn’t go in for voodoo.

Still, it’s best to tread lightly, he thinks.

“I’m sorry if you’re offended,” he says. “But I’m pretty sure Annie wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings.”

“Maybe it was a matter of convenience,” Britta muses, and he really doesn’t understand why she can’t let this go. Whoever this jerk is that has her so turned around certainly can’t be worth all this.“I mean, were you talking about something else and she just threw in that she was running late?”

“No. It was literally a 30-second call where she said I’m running late, let Britta know.  End of story.”

Britta nods, toying with the straw in her drink. “So you weren’t making any other plans?” She looks up and pins him with a steely gaze. “Maybe just the two of you?”

The sick feeling in his stomach goes from mild nausea to a full-blown pit in a matter of seconds because suddenly it all makes sense. No one else is coming tonight, because only he and Annie were invited.

And the only thing on the agenda is a really uncomfortable, judgmental confrontation.

As usual, his first instinct is to deny everything.

“Okay, look,” he says slowly. “I don’t know what you think, but Annie and I aren’t –"

“Jeffrey!” Shirley cries – it’s the first actual word that she’s said since he arrived and it’s full of all the suppressed rage that she must be feeling. “I saw you! With your hands all over that sweet, little girl in the parking lot next to the gym last night. We know damn well what you’ve been up to, mister.”

“And now all the pieces fall into place,” Britta declares, jabbing at the air with a finger. “Why Annie wouldn’t tell us anything about her new guy, why you haven’t been crowing about your usual flavors of the week, why you two have been showing up and leaving everywhere together, why you were suddenly so reluctant to meddle in her love life – it’s because you’re playing the freaking starring role!”

The waitress chooses the perfect moment to deposit his scotch on the table, and he gulps it down in one breathless slurp, like he used to do with cough syrup as a kid. It burns his throat and chest as it goes down, but he’s grateful for the momentary distraction. He wishes that he could let Annie know that this is a fucking ambush and she should stay far, far away, but from the glares that are being shot his way, he doubts that he’d get further than thumbing on his phone before his “friends” broke his fingers.

“Jeffrey,” Shirley says, and it’s clear that she’s changing tactics because her tone becomes soft, almost motherly. “You have to know that this is just craziness. That poor, little girl has had a crush on you since practically day one, and you’re taking serious advantage of the—"

“Hey,” he snaps, feeling more than a little annoyed now. “Wait a second. I’m not taking advantage of anything. Because Annie’s not some poor, little girl. She’s a grown woman who can—"

“Of course you say that now!” Britta yells. “Because you’re sleeping with her and you have to find some way to justify it.”

“No, Britta. Because, just like the rest of us, Annie’s grown up a lot in the past few years and she’s not a kid anymore. I mean, she’s basically Troy’s age and you’re not that much younger than me. And apparently, it was all right for you to hook up with him for as long as you did.”

Britta frowns, shaking her head. “That’s different and you know it. Troy’s a guy. It’s not—"

“Careful now,” Jeff prods. “That sounds pretty sexist coming from such a dyed-in-the-wool feminist.”

 “Oh, stop it. You’re not championing feminism just because you’re trying to rationalize screwing around with a girl who’s young enough to be your… I don’t know… niece.”

“Maybe not. But I don’t really see how it’s any of your business.”

“You don’t see how it’s our business?” Shirley repeats, sounding incredulous. “Are you for real? You’re saying there’s no reason that we should be concerned about this?”

“Yes,” he says. “That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

Britta shakes her head in disgust.

“So what?” she demands. “You’re in love with her or something? You two are going to go prancing off into the sunset to live happily ever after? Because I’m sure she thinks you are. That’s just how her mind works and when you can’t—"

“Hey, guys!”

They all look up as Annie flops down in the empty seat next to Jeff, looking a little frazzled but smiling brightly.

“Sorry, I’m late. The group for my English project is a bunch of dummies and I didn’t …” She trails off, looking around the table. Whether she’s noticing that the guest list is smaller than she assumed or senses the tension, it’s hard to tell.  “Where are the guys?”

Jeff rests his arm on the back of her chair and catches her eye.

“I don’t think they’re coming,” he tells her. “Apparently, Britta and Shirley wanted a private meeting with us.”

Annie tilts her head, looking adorably confused. “Oh?  Why?”

Shirley reaches out and pats her hand in a way that strikes Jeff as more than a little condescending.

“I saw you two last night, sweetie,” she says. “You know, when Jeff was getting all handsy with you in the athletic center parking lot.”

Annie’s eyes widen in panic and she glances over at him, like she’s looking for confirmation. He nods, so she knows that there’s no point in lying. He expects her to crumble, maybe blurt it all out plainly like she did that evening with the Dean, which means he’s going to have to find some way to save the day.

He’s already used all his best stuff, though – just leave us alone; it’s none of your damn business.

“Okay,” Annie says after a minute, and she sounds calmer than he ever would have expected. “But for the record, I was just as handsy as he was. Maybe even more so.”

She juts her chin out almost proudly, and that’s exactly what he feels at the moment too – pride.

Well, he’s a little turned on too, but that’s neither here nor there.

“Annie,” Britta sighs. “We’re your friends.  We’re both of your friends, actually, and we just don’t want to see anybody get hurt.  That’s all.”

“Well, nobody is,” Annie insists. “I mean, I don’t feel hurt.  Do you feel hurt, Jeff?”

She looks at him expectantly, and he can’t help but smile.

“I’m just peachy.”

Annie nods. “See? We’re fine.”

“Annie, come on,” Britta sighs. “Doesn’t the fact that you thought you had to hide this from us tell you something?”

“We hid it from you because we didn’t want you to make a federal case out of it,” Annie says, sounding exasperated, and he should probably feel bad about just sitting here, letting her do all the talking, but she’s doing a pretty kick-ass job and he suspects that he’d only screw things up at this point. “Which is exactly what you’re doing, so I think our fears were justified!”

Shirley smiles, but it’s tight and forced, like someone’s holding a gun to her head to get her to do it.

“Annie, sweetie. Just think about this from our point of view for a second. Jeffrey isn’t exactly—"

“Listen,” Annie says, in a low, serious voice that brokers absolutely zero disagreement. “I appreciate your concern. I really do. But Jeff and I don’t need an intervention or well-meaning advice or couples’ counseling. We’re fine. Really. And if tomorrow, for some reason, we’re not fine, then that’s between us.”

She looks over at him, as determined and resolute as he’s ever seen her, and he can only nod in agreement. When he glances back at Britta and Shirley, he suspects that they’re as impressed as he is – they’re sporting the same awestruck expression that he knows he must be wearing.

“So I’ll stay and have a drink with you guys,” Annie continues. “I’ll talk about how our days went or how good the script for Abed’s final film project is or even the stupid weather. But I’m not going to listen to you lecture Jeff or lecture me about Jeff, okay?”

Britta and Shirley both lower their eyes, looking properly chastised. And he’s so fucking turned on that he wonders if he could lure Annie to the bathroom for a quickie without their friends being the wiser – it’s probably best not to push his luck on that front tonight. She orders a margarita from the waitress and starts a story about a run-in that she had with Chang, which involves a bottle of maple syrup and copious amounts of glitter. She is herself as she tells the story – animated, engaged, sharp – and it’s a relief to see that she’s not self-conscious, that she’s not unraveling in the face of the news that their friends all know about them.

(Because someone apparently spilled the beans to Troy too. Jeff gets a text message from him at the bar that reads, Your apartment wasn’t really being fumigated, was it?)

And within fifteen or twenty minutes, Britta and Shirley seem to loosen up as well. Maybe they just needed to be reassured that he wouldn’t start pawing at Annie or she wouldn’t start calling him some cutesy pet name in front of them now that they know. Whatever the reason, it all starts to feel normal at some point, like any group of friends having a casual drink, so it looks like the world isn’t about to end just because he and Annie are officially a thing.

That’s why he doesn’t freak out when Annie gets up to go to the bathroom with Shirley and leaves him alone with Britta. Silence reigns for a minute as Britta swirls the vodka around in her glass absently and shakes her head.

“You couldn’t have just told me?” she says finally. “A month and a half ago when I came to you about Annie seeing someone?”

“Yeah, cause it would have gone over really well then. You were pretty worked up about the whole thing if you recall.”

She snorts in derision.“But Shirley catching you two making out in the middle of a parking lot made it go over so much better?”

Jeff can only shrug – because maybe the truth is that they wanted to get caught. How else to explain doing something so stupid as fooling around in plain sight on a campus where everyone and their mother knows who they are? If Shirley hadn’t seen them, any number of people could have and gossip has a way of traveling through Greendale’s grapevine pretty damn fast. 

“How were you planning on telling us?” Britta wonders. “Or did you think you’d never have to?”

“No,” he says, shaking his head. “I knew we’d have to come clean eventually. I just thought… I don’t know. I guess I wasn’t really thinking much.”

Britta takes the damp cocktail napkin from beneath her glass and starts tearing it to shreds. She’s doing it absently, almost like she doesn’t realize, so when she glances up at him, the fierce look in her eyes catches him by surprise.

“How long?”

“Since about mid-January,” he admits. “The night of my graduation.”

Britta nods slowly, like she’s fitting a bunch of puzzle pieces together that have been frustrating her for months. “I gotta say, I’m actually surprised that you were about to control yourself for this long. You’ve wanted her forever.”

He’s just going to ignore that last comment, because he doesn’t really like the implication of it. His relationship – if it could even be called that - with Britta was doomed from the start, but their friendship is one of the good things in his life and he doesn’t like to think that he might have hurt her, however unintentionally or unknowingly.

“I was a pillar of restraint for years,” he says lightly. “I deserve some kind of medal. Or maybe a monument. They could put it next to Luis Guzman on the quad.”

Britta kicks him under the table, but she’s fighting off a smile.

“I always figured it would happen at some point,” she tells him. “I mean, you’ve had a soft spot for her the size of Texas since the beginning. And she thinks you hung the damn moon or something.”

He shakes his head.

“No.  She doesn’t,” he insists. “She just knows that I could have if I really wanted to.”

He shoots Britta his most charming smile, but she isn’t buying what he’s selling for a second.

“Joke all you want, Jeff, but you two have been circling one another for years. And it wasn’t just because you’re both hot.”

He tilts his glass on its edge, watching the amber liquid surge toward the rim. He doesn’t know what it is about the truth that makes it so damn uncomfortable.

“Just…” Britta whispers after a minute, and he looks up to find her regarding him with concern and affection. “Just be careful, okay? I love you both and I don’t want…”

She shakes her head sadly.

“Yeah. Of course.” He smiles. “We kind of like you too, you know.”

Britta smiles in return, and then Shirley and Annie are back from the bathroom and the conversation turns to Abed’s new girlfriend and the Dean’s latest scheme to generate revenue for the school – auctioning off the contents of abandoned lockers ala ‘Storage Wars.’

He doesn’t get a minute alone with Annie until he walks her to her car at the end of the evening.

“You were amazing tonight,” he tells her. “I’m actually thinking of letting you become my full-time spokesperson.”

She shrugs like it’s no big deal, but the corners of her mouth are curved in an almost smile.

“I meant everything I said,” she declares, and her tone is almost challenging, like she’s daring him to disagree.

He knows that it bugs her that Britta and Shirley think her so fragile that she couldn’t handle a tumble with him – no one felt the need to protect Britta from big, bad Jeff Winger, after all – and he’s probably been the worst when it comes to that kind of thinking. It’s one of the reasons why he put off starting something up with her for so long - the mistaken notion that she wouldn’t be able to handle it if things fell apart and they’d lose everything between them.

It’s stupid and unfair because Annie is plenty strong, but there’s that optimism and hope at the heart of her that they all want to protect, keep intact.

“I know,” he assures her.

She nods, like that’s exactly what she expected him to say. But then she lowers her eyes to the ground, seeming a little embarrassed.

“I actually practiced,” she admits reluctantly. “What I’d say when we finally had to tell them. I stuck mostly to the script, but I ad-libbed a little here and there.”

He grins. “It was a masterful performance.  And you know, it’s not so bad that they know. I mean, now I can do this …” He grabs her around the waist and pulls her against him. She meets him halfway, stretching up on her toes to wind her arms around his neck. “Anywhere I want and not worry about who sees.”

She’s laughing when he kisses her, vibrating in his arms in a way that doesn’t feel very funny.

When they take a breath, Annie grins up at him.

“Shirley threatened me in the bathroom.” 

“What?” he laughs.

“I mean, she was just joking, but she said, ‘If you hurt that boy, I’ll hurt you.’” Annie shakes her head. “Crazy, right?” 

She giggles, like it’s the most ridiculous thing that she’s ever heard. He conjures up a grin, because he really doesn’t want to think too much about what Shirley meant, and presses a kiss just beneath her ear.

“What’s really crazy is calling me a boy,” he says. “As you well know, I’m all man.”

Annie laughs again, but she’s bobbing her head pretty enthusiastically. “I definitely do. I wish I had time for another demonstration of that fact, actually, but I’ve got two classes worth of studying and a load of laundry to do tonight.”

“Wow. Shut down for textbooks and fabric softener. You’re gonna make me think I’m losing my touch.”

“I just told off our friends back there,” Annie declares. “Because I’m that big a fan of your touch. You’ve got nothing to worry about.”

“If you say so,” he says, leaning in to kiss her again.

She moans into his mouth, rubbing up against him like she can’t keep still with his hands all over her, and it’s pretty clear that he mostly definitely still has the touch.

“You know,” he drawls. “I just realized that I could actually come back to your place. Because everyone knows about us now. I could help you study, separate your whites and colors for you. Whatever you need.”

Annie’s expression is dubious. “I’m pretty sure that I won’t get anything done if you come home with me.”

“I actually have some papers to grade,” he says. “I could do that while you do your thing… and then when we’re done, we could reward each other.”

He slides his hands over her hips, and she sighs, shaking her head.

“Jeff…”

“Shouldn’t we take advantage of the fact that everyone knows now?” he cajoles. “And you can supervise my grading. Make sure I take it seriously and all that crap.”

She tilts her head, and he knows then that he’s got her.  

“Okay,” she says, drawing the word out. “But you have to be on your best behavior until I’m done studying. Agreed?”

He holds a hand up and nods solemnly. “Scout’s honor.”

She turns to open her car door, eyeing him suspiciously. “Were you really a Boy Scout?”

He shrugs enigmatically and heads for his own car.

Later, at her apartment, he proves to be a little less than honorable, but Annie’s gotten at least 75 percent of her studying done, plus her ever important laundry, so he figures that she won’t hold it against him.

Chapter Text

When she rolls off him, they’re both gasping for air like they’ve just sprinted up ten flights of stairs.

Annie is splayed out on her stomach, her cheek smashed into the sole pillow that didn’t get shoved off the bed or tangled up in the sheets at the edge of the mattress. He stares up at the ceiling with bleary eyes, pretty sure that he couldn’t move at the moment even if his life depended on it.

“You’re going to kill me one of these days,” he rasps. “And I’ve come to terms with that because, really, is there a better way to go?”

She raises her head a couple of inches and smiles. “I think I’d like to keep you around for a little while longer.”

“You’ll have to go easy on me then,” he says, and his voice has a wheezy quality that’s pretty damn embarrassing.

Fortunately, Annie doesn’t seem to notice. She props herself up on an elbow, gazing down at him intently. She’s a little sweaty, so her skin has a soft glow that makes him want to lick her from head to toe despite his exhaustion. Then she shakes her head and gifts him with a wicked grin, which only makes matters worse – or better, depending on the point of view.

“What?” he asks.

“You,” she answers automatically. “Your face. Your body. Even your hair. You’re just unbelievably hot.”

His smile is probably insufferably smug, but he can’t help himself. “I’ve been saying that for years, Annie.”

Her smile deepens and she shrugs. “Well, now that I’ve gotten to experience it up close and personal, I guess I have a new-found appreciation.”

He turns on his side and reaches out to run a hand over her bare hip.

“You ain’t so bad yourself,” he says. “I could write a million dirty limericks about your body. Maybe I’ll add them to that stall in the men’s room outside the study room. There’s already a wall there covered with some pretty graphic graffiti about how your body is a wonderland.”

She makes a sound that’s close to a laugh, but her mouth falls open in outrage and she smacks at his arm.

“Hey, now,” he chuckles, holding his hands up defensively. “I didn’t write any of it. I just happen to agree with its very explicit sentiments.”

She giggles outright now and slides closer to him so she can trace her fingers over his bicep slowly, almost like she’s cataloging each and every muscle – knowing Annie, she can probably identify all of them from memory alone. The look on her face is equal parts concentration, tenderness, and good, old-fashioned lust. For some reason, it triggers that uncomfortably warm feeling in his stomach – or chest, he’s not really sure exactly where it originates – that usually leads him to do stupid, embarrassing things.

Like this.

“Hey,” he says, hoping his voice doesn’t sound as tentative as he fears. “Remember that crazy darkest timeline stuff that Abed was going on and on about for a while?”

Annie smiles, her gaze still focused on his arm. “You mean the stuff about a universe where Pierce was dead and I was in a metal institution? How could I possibly forget that?”

“And I lost an arm,” he reminds her.

“Right. You were a bitter, one-armed man too.” She cocks her head, considering this. “Abed was right. That’s pretty dark.”

She’s running her fingertips over his chest now, down toward his stomach, though she’s careful to avoid that spot near his ribs that’s so fucking ticklish that it could be used as a means of torture or a very persuasive interrogation technique in the wrong hands.

“What if I lost an arm?” he asks, carefully avoiding her eyes.

“What?” Her hand stills, and she sounds genuinely confused.

“If I lost my arm,” he repeats, and he seriously wants to kick himself for going down this road. What the fuck is wrong with him? “Would I still be unbelievably hot?”

Annie’s silent for a moment, and when he finally chances a look at her, she’s smiling in amusement.

“Are you serious?” she asks, and when he doesn’t respond, she must assume that he is. She curls a hand around his hip and shifts closer to him. “We both know that you’d still be insanely sexy. You would make the whole tragic, wounded soul thing work for you big time.”

He nods, because that’s probably true. He can work an angle better than anyone that he’s ever known.

“Okay.  What if it was a peg leg?”

“A peg leg?” she laughs. “Like a pirate?”

“Yeah,” he says, and now he’s just going all in because he’s already embarrassed himself big time and how much lower can he really sink? “And an eye patch too.”

“Why not throw in a hook hand to complete the look?” Annie teases.

“And a hook for a hand too,” he agrees. “Why not?”

She laughs, shaking her head in disbelief so her hair tickles against his chest. He knows that she’s not laughing at him. She thinks that this all a joke or a game, and he can’t blame her because who would take any of this seriously? Besides, it’s not like he’s known for his earnestness – he’s usually sarcastic, flippant, glib - so Annie reacts the way that any normal person who knows Jeff Winger fairly well would.

Which means that there’s no reason to feel even the least bit vulnerable.

That’s what he tells himself anyway.

“Well,” she says, smiling. “My first question would be, what kind of life are you envisioning where you lose a leg, an eye, and a hand? I think you’d have to make a serious effort for all of that to happen.”

“That’s not the point. What if I did? In some terrible accident. Or the zombie apocalypse that Troy and Abed are always so worried about.”

She laughs again, a soft, lilting sound. “Would you still be hot? That’s what you want to know?”

He nods solemnly.

“This may be the most ridiculous conversation we’ve ever had,” she declares. “And we’ve had plenty of stupid conversations.”

It becomes official then – it’s possible that he’s felt more pathetic than he does at the moment, but if so, he can’t remember it. He is literally naked – and figuratively too, though he doesn’t really want to go there – and she’s laughing at him and the whole thing feels like a bad dream he had once. What makes the whole thing worse is that it’s his own damn fault – he’s the one who started this fucking conversation.

After a minute, Annie realizes that he’s not laughing along with her and she looks up at him, her eyes squinted in confusion. He doesn’t know exactly what she sees in his face, but apparently it’s enough to help her decipher his mood and just like that, he has to look away.

“Jeff,” she says softly. “What are you...”

She strokes his arm gently, trying to get his attention, but he still can’t look at her. She hooks her leg over his to press herself even closer to him and sighs. When her fingertips graze along his stomach, the touch isn’t teasing or seductive – it’s tender, almost soothing. 

“Do you know what the sexiest part of you is?” she asks.

Her voice is low and gentle – careful, he thinks ruefully – which makes him more than a little self-conscious, but the topic definitely perks him up. Because this is definitely the kind of superficial, ego-stroking conversation that he can get behind. So he looks up at her finally, cocking his head and pretending to think carefully.

“You seem like the kind of girl who thinks she should say the eyes or the smile but …”

He glances down at his crotch pointedly, thrusting his hips just a bit, and Annie makes a sound that’s a cross between a gasp and a laugh, smacking at his arm.

“Jeff!  I’m serious.”

He laughs, holding his hands up in surrender.

“Sorry, sorry,” he says. “I don’t know. What’s the sexiest part of me?”

She reaches over and taps a finger against his temple. He frowns immediately – he can feel that he’s furrowing his brow and reaches up to rub at the wrinkles self-consciously, trying to smooth them away.

“My forehead?” Seriously?”

“No, dummy,” Annie laughs. “Your intelligence.”

He regards her skeptically. “My intelligence? Really?”  He shakes his head. “I’ve got this face and this body, and my brain is what you come up with?”

She nods, sure and firm.

“Smart is sexy,” she declares.

She tilts her head, smiling sweetly, and a few strands of dark hair fall across her cheek. She is one of the smartest people that he knows, and at least half of the attraction that he feels for her is the fact that she’s sharp enough to go head to head with him, to not let him get away with anything.

Of course, she’s gorgeous too, which definitely doesn’t hurt.

He grins and brushes the hair out of her face. 

“I can’t really argue,” he says.

“Good.” She taps her fingers against the center of his chest. “Though, you know, your heart probably comes in a close second on the sexiness scale.”

He groans, rolling to his back and throwing an arm over his face. “Oh, God, Annie. Please don’t get all sappy on me. I can deal with anything but—"

“That speech you gave after your graduation?” she sing-songs. “Aw-"

He springs up, covering her mouth with his hand. “No ‘aww-ing’ in bed,” he insists. “That’s a rule.”

He can feel her grin against his palm, so he slides his hand away.  Her eyes have that soft, hazy look to them that they always do when she’s really serious about something, which kind of belies the giddiness of her smile. He knows exactly what she’s trying to tell him, and he also knows that she’s trying not to make a big deal out of it because she understands that not what he wants.

He’s never really realized before how good it could feel to have someone else really know and accept him, but that’s probably just one of the many things that Annie’s taught him.

“Aren’t you going to ask me?” he says, squeezing her knee when she slings it back over his thigh again.

“Ask you what?”

“What the sexiest part of you is?”

She shrugs, looking thoroughly uninterested. “I think it’s pretty obvious.” She gestures at her chest. “Boobs, right?”

He laughs, because yeah, they definitely rank right up there – after all, they’re impressive enough that even when completely covered up, they inspired Troy to name a monkey after them so it’s hard to argue their appeal.

“Well, they are pretty perfect,” he agrees, sliding down a bit to press a kiss to the curve of one breast.

Annie squirms against the sheets.

“Your stubble tickles,” she giggles breathlessly.

“But actually,” he says, scooting further down her body until he’s lying between her legs, his feet hanging off the edge of the mattress. “It’s this freckle right here.”

He slides his tongue over the birthmark on her right inner thigh, and her hips surge upward so her knee almost clips the side of his head.

“You’re crazy,” she moans. “Seriously, seriously, seriously…”

He nips at the freckle now, and the bite of his teeth is all it takes to get her to grip fistfuls of his hair - to hold him in place or guide him a little higher, he’s not exactly sure.

“Crazy?” he supplies helpfully. “But I thought I was so smart and sexy… make up your mind, woman.”

He grabs her by the hips to pull her closer, and she gasps as he licks at her, long and slow.

“Oh... you … God,” she moans.

He chuckles, lifting his mouth and sliding a couple of fingers inside her instead. “I usually just go by Jeff. But God works too – just don’t let Shirley hear you. She’ll give you that speech about blasphemy again.”

Annie closes her eyes and concentrates on matching the rotation of her hips with rhythm of his fingers. “You are… oh… such a… right there… jerk.”

He stills his hand and smirks up at her. “Is that any way to talk to the guy who’s about to make you come?”

She lifts her hips impatiently, making a fretting noise deep in her throat.

“You’re the worst,” she says, through clenched teeth.

He shifts forward so he’s hovering over her and starts to move his fingers again.

“Let’s see if you’re still saying that in a couple of minutes…”

He kisses her and she curls one hand around the back of his neck and the other around the wrist that he has between her legs – he could move if he really wanted to, but she’s holding on pretty fiercely, moaning into his mouth as she circles her hips against his hand, so he doesn’t tease her. She breaks away from his mouth with a gasp and bites at her lip like she usually does when she’s about to come.

And she does, with her nails biting into the tender skin at the nape of his neck and inside of his wrist, her head thrown back against the mattress, and her eyelids fluttering.

At that moment, he realizes that every very single part of her is sexy so he doesn’t really want to choose a favorite.

She loosens her grip on him just a bit, and he slides his fingers out of her and along the inside of her thigh. He grins down at her smugly.

“Admit it,” he says.

She takes a deep breath and shakes her head. “Admit what?”

He presses a kiss to the side of her neck. “You know…”

She frowns, looking pretty annoyed.

“You’re the best,” she says robotically.

“Hey, come on. Like you mean it.”

Annie laughs now, and before he realizes what’s happening, she’s shoving on his shoulder, hooking a leg around the back of his thigh, and rolling them over so she’s on top, grinning down at him like the proverbial canary-eating cat. He’s half hard again, and his dick winds up trapped against her firm stomach, where the friction is pretty fucking fantastic every time she moves against him.

“You’re the best,” she says again, but this time, her voice is all sultry and soft.  “And sexy and smart…”

She kisses her way along his jaw, down his throat, and over his chest, and he reaches up to wind a hand through her hair.

“And very sweet,” she adds. “When you want to be.”

She presses her mouth to the center of his chest in the general vicinity of his heart.

“Let’s keep that just between us,” he says. “I’ve got a—"

“Reputation to protect,” Annie finishes for him. She rests her chin on her hands, looking up at him from his chest. “I’ve heard that before. But I like that I know the real you. It makes me feel special.”

He smirks, cocking his head just a bit. “It really should.”

She smiles enigmatically, and he’s about to ask what exactly her expression means, but then she starts to slide down his body, her hair tickling against his stomach and thighs, and she takes him in her mouth, and he doesn’t really care about anything else. 

Chapter Text

It’s nearly noon on a Saturday, and he’s trying to decide whether he wants to go for a run at the park or hit the gym when Annie shows up on his doorstep unannounced.

Immediately, he can tell that she’s worked up about something because she’s jumpy and fidgety. She’s wearing clothes that are a little out of the norm for her too  – a crisp, white button-down blouse and slim black pencil skirt that hug her curves like she was poured into them and pointy toed black heels that probably give her an extra four or five inches of height easy – which add to the intrigue of her sudden appearance.

“I’m a grown woman,” she announces as she pushes past him into the apartment.

“Yeah,” he agrees immediately, because there’s no way to mistake her for anything else in that outfit.

“I am an adult,” she continues, pacing in the narrow space between his sofa and coffee table. “A mature, responsible adult.”

“Yes,” he confirms again, but, from the way that she barely reacts, he’s starting to get the distinct impression that she’s not really talking to him – she’s trying to convince herself instead.

“I’ve lived all on my own for four years now,” she declares. “I don’t need anyone’s approval.”

He approaches her a little tentatively because he’s starting to think she’s so keyed up that sudden movements might scare her off.

“Annie,” he says gently. “I’m trying really hard to follow along, but I’m lost. What’s going on?”

She looks over at him, a little wide-eyed, and it’s almost like it’s the first time that she’s realized that he’s there, standing stupidly in the middle of his apartment. She blushes a little and shakes her head. “I’m sorry, Jeff. I’m just …”

She waves her hands in aimless circles, like she’s trying calm herself down or gather her thoughts. He tries to imagine what could have her this unraveled, and school is all he can come up with – but it’s the weekend so she hasn’t been to class, which leaves him at a total loss.

Fortunately, she isn’t like him – she wants to share.

“I called my mother yesterday,” she tells him. “I just… I’ve felt really good lately, happy even, and that made me think that maybe I was ready to talk to her. So we’re meeting for coffee in…” She checks her watch. “Thirty-eight minutes. And I’m starting to get a little freaked out.”

He nods, smiling softly. “Yeah. I kind of got that.”

“I can do this, right?” she asks, looking at him with desperate, frantic eyes. “I can handle it?”

“Annie, it’s just—"

“I need a pep talk,” she says, coming to stand directly in front of him.  She curls her hands around his wrists and slides them down so their fingers tangle together. “Like I’m a boxer and I’m about to head into the ring. Tell me I can do it. Tell me to go the distance or give her the bum’s rush or something.”

He grins, giving her hands a squeeze – they did a ‘Rocky’ marathon with Abed the other day, so she’s all full of boxing clichés.

“Annie, relax. She’s not Ivan Drago. She’s just your mother.”

She bobs her head, but it doesn’t seem like she takes much comfort from that fact.

“Exactly,” she declares. “That’s exactly why I’m so freaked out.”

He looks down at their joined hands, trying to come up with the right thing to say. He is the king of meaningless speeches, but this is a time when something meaningful is actually called for and he’s got nothing. Annie looks even paler than usual, like she could be sick at any moment, and that helps spur him into action.

“Okay, listen,” he says. “How about I drive you? I’ll stay in the car, but I can be there for moral support.”

They may not be words of wisdom that magically relieve all of her anxiety, but he figures showing solidarity has to count for something. She must agree because she looks up at him with a mixture of disbelief, gratitude, and awe, like he’s a damn hero or something. 

“You wouldn’t mind?”

He won’t tell her that the warm, kind of tingly feeling in his chest right now is more than enough reason to do it, that anything that makes her feel better makes him feel better too – he likes to think some of this stuff goes without saying.

“I owe you,” he tells her. “For the thousand and one times you saved me from failing one class or another.”

She practically launches herself at him, wrapping her arms around his waist and burying her face in his chest. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank—"

“I got it,” he laughs. “You’re full of thanks.”

She’s quiet on the drive to the coffee house, her gaze fixed firmly out the window on the scenery that they pass. She doesn’t scold him about how fast he’s driving or bug him about letting her listen to the damn love songs channel on his satellite radio like she usually does. She doesn’t even comment on the big black Lab hanging out the window in the car that’s stopped next to them at a light, a dog that even he’d begrudgingly admit is pretty cute, and dogs are a definitely weakness for her. But he’s not going to force her to talk and he doesn’t really do small talk himself, so he just lets silence reign. It’s surprisingly comfortable, especially when she reaches over and slides her hand into his on the center console.

His usual parking luck holds up, and he finds a spot on the street in front of the FedEx store next to the coffee house. Annie’s still sitting motionless in the passenger seat when he cuts the engine, and for a moment, he wonders if she’s going to back out, just tell him to floor it and get her the hell out of here.

But then she’s smoothing her skirt, picking imaginary lint off her shirt, and fluffing her hair.

“Do I look all right?” she asks him. “I bought these clothes for job interviews, but I figured they would work for this too. I want her to take me seriously and somehow, a cutesy little sundress didn’t seem like such a great idea.”

“You look great,” he says, and it’s true - though he’s not about to tell her that she looks seriously hot, like something from a fantasy he’s had once or twice.

“Okay.” She reaches for the door handle. “Wish me luck.”

She steps out onto the curb. 

“Hey,” he calls after her. “Go the distance, Rocky.”

Annie bends down to look at him through the open door and smiles. She nods her head once, firmly, and then slams the door and heads for the coffee shop, striding purposefully toward the entrance.

He’s always thought that one of his best qualities is his ability to amuse himself, so he doesn’t really mind having to waste time alone in the car. He plays around on his phone, playing Temple Run and responding to a text from Abed, and when he realizes that fifteen minutes have passed, he figures that things must be going well because she would have flown out in a huff of tears and anger by now if her mother was being cruel or unreasonable or unreceptive.

When they reach the half hour mark, though, he decides that it can’t be anything but a success – and then he sees Annie headed toward the car with a faint smile. She’s carrying a plastic coffee cup and a small paper bag in her hand, and maybe it’s just his imagination but it looks like she’s walking a little taller, a little straighter.

“Here,” she says, handing the cup and bag to him once she’s settled in the passenger seat again.  “I thought you’d earned an iced coffee and a chocolate croissant for waiting so long. And don’t even talk about the carbs, okay?” 

He smiles and takes a sip of the coffee – it’s black with two Splendas, just the way he likes it.

“So… how’d it go?” he asks.

She lets out a long, slow breath, staring straight ahead. “It went…” She hesitates, and turns to meet his eyes. “I don’t feel as bad anymore.”

He nods, understanding completely. Because he’s not Britta, he won’t push for any more details, though. She doesn’t have to tell him everything.

“And she said she’d like to get together for dinner in a couple of weeks,” Annie continues. “So I guess that’s some kind of progress.”

“See?” he says. “Piece of cake.”

She tilts her head, her eyes soft and hazy, and reaches for his hand. 

“Thank you,” she murmurs. “For sitting out here like some kind of safety blanket. It’s silly that I needed you to do it, but I—"

“It’s not silly.”

She shrugs, like she doesn’t quite believe him. Her body language is entirely different from when she showed up on his doorstep, as if she’s just shrugged off the heavy weight that she’s been dragging behind her for a long time, but there’s still a little unease in her expression.

And he really wants to see her smile.

“I think that’s enough of being a responsible adult for one day,” he says, starting the car. “Let’s do something fun.” 

She grins, just like he wanted, and angles her body toward him. “Like what?”

“I don’t know. What do you like to do for fun?”

She raises an eyebrow pointedly and he chuckles.

“Well, yeah, of course. But I was thinking more along the lines of something we could do in public without getting arrested.”

They wind up at the laser tag place where they celebrated Abed’s last birthday, surrounded by shrieking kids on sugar highs and nerdy teens who are dead serious about the game. Annie’s giggling nearly non-stop as she ducks behind the half-walls and shoots blindly around her, so he thinks that are spirits are officially lifted. They wind up hiding in a dark, cramped corner while a pack of pretty aggressive frat boys storm past just on the other side of the wall. She bends down to slip off her shoes, presumably to make it easier to run around, but he curls a hand around her arm to stop her.

“Don’t.”

She looks up at him with a sexy, little smirk. “I’d like to see you try sprinting around in the dark in a pair of 4-inch stilettos.”

He shrugs unrepentantly.

“I like not having to stoop so far to kiss you,” he says. “Sue me.”

To prove his point, he bends and covers her mouth with his. In an instant, he finds himself wedged between Annie’s hot, little body and the mirrored wall behind them as she tugs at his hair.  She kisses him fiercely, like their lives are legitimately on the line if their laser vests get lit up by one of these kids.

When she pulls away, he runs a hand over her hip, the textured material of her skirt tickling against his palm.

 “I really, really like this outfit,” he whispers.

He can feel as much as see her grin in the faint neon blue light that falls over them. “Yeah?”

He bobs his head and licks at her throat, her pulse thumping against his tongue. “I kind of want to pretend that you’re my secretary and I need you to take dictation.”

She laughs, toying with the collar of his shirt.

“Britta would read you the riot act for that,” she says. “Probably go on and on about men and their offensive, demeaning fantasies…”

He lifts his head from the curve of her neck and grins. “Good thing she’s not here then. Unless it offends you too...” 

Annie cocks her head, like she’s thinking very carefully. Then she bats her eyelashes and offers him a sultry smile.

“Do you need any help with your briefs, Mr. Winger?” she says in a low, breathy voice.

“Oh, God, that’s terrible,” he laughs.  “But yes. Yes, I do.”

He kisses her again, their lasers vest thudding against one another as they press against one another. She giggles against his lips, but her laugh has a frustrated edge to it.

“Let’s go back to your place,” she says. “And do that other fun thing.”

He’s already clawing at his vest to get the damn thing off so they can get out of here as soon as possible when one of the frat boys comes around the corner and manages to light up the panel before Jeff even realizes what’s going on.

“Got you, dude!” the douchebag crows.

But his jubilation doesn’t last long – because he apparently doesn’t see Annie further back in the corner and she whips her gun out and blows the dumbass away before he’s even stopped laughing.

“And now you’re dead,” Annie says coolly.

The kid looks at her in utter confusion, not quite able to make sense of the fact that a hot chick has just ruined all his fun. They leave him sputtering there like an idiot, though Jeff kind of wants to wait and see how he explains what went down to his frat bros.

Annie is still smiling as they head to the counter to turn in their equipment.

“You’re a real badass, you know that?” Jeff says.

She tilts her head coyly and shrugs. “And a mature adult totally capable of standing up to her mother.”

He nods, grinning. “That too.”

As they head toward the parking lot, he stays a couple of steps behind her so he can get a good view of her ass in her skirt and her legs through the back slit, with those heels making them look even longer and more tempting. She seems to catch on at some point because she looks at him over her shoulder with the kind of knowing smile that always leaves him wondering how she hasn’t already left a long line of devastated men in her wake.

“What?” she asks.

He juts his chin toward her feet. “I’m just wondering how hard it’s going to be to convince you to keep those shoes on when we get back to my place.”

She turns to face him, gracefully walking backwards on those skyscraper heels like some kind of magic trick.

“Not hard at all,” she tells him. “Not after you sat in a hot car for me today. I kind of owe you.”

He shakes his head, grinning. “I think I actually owe you. You did avenge my death back there, after all.”

Her smile grows wider and warmer.

“Then maybe we’re even.”  She stops walking abruptly, so he nearly bumps into her. She curls her hand around the back of his neck and tugs him down for a hard, fast kiss. “But I’ll still keep the shoes on if you want,” she says.

She slides her hand into his and leads him toward the car again.

“On one condition, though,” she says, and he laughs because of course, there’s a catch. “As much as I love the way these shoes look, they pinch like nobody’s business. I’m going to need a foot rub later. That’s non-negotiable.”

He grins. “You drive a hard bargain. But I can accept those terms.”

On the ride home, she yells at him twice about obeying the speed limit and blatantly ignores his protests when she fiddles with the radio station. He smiles for nearly all of the trip.

Chapter Text

In her office, Dr. Strome has a framed print of a Monet painting on the wall opposite the sofa.

It’s not one of those water lily ones that seem to be everywhere, though. It’s a simple landscape of a river or a lake with trees along the edges and a slice of the sky above, and the whole thing probably only features a handful of colors – blue, green, white purple and maybe a hint of yellow – so it’s pretty understated.

He’s always preferred stark modern art to the soft, subdued look of Impressionism, but there’s something about the print that he digs. He thinks that it might be all the blue, which seems to have a calming effect on him. Whenever Dr. Strome decides to poke at any of the messy, complicated feelings that he’s got shoved down, deep inside, he focuses on Monet’s landscape and tries to imagine that he’s someplace else.

That’s what he’s currently doing as Dr. Strome successfully gets him to admit that he doesn’t exactly hate teaching.

It’s been nearly three weeks since his last session – he cancelled two appointments in that time, telling the receptionist that he was just so busy with work to squeeze in a visit. He didn’t really need to explain himself to her, but he felt defensive about the whole thing and figured it was better to have an excuse all ready – because the simple truth is that he’s been trying like hell to hide from all the difficult questions that Dr. Strome has been throwing his way lately.

Of course, when Dr. Strome called him personally after he cancelled his second appointment and told him that she was than happy to come in early or stay late in order to accommodate his oh-so busy schedule, he found himself backed into a corner and finally agreed to come in.

He’s really starting to regret that decision now.

“Are you considering teaching another semester?” Dr. Strome asks.

“I haven’t really thought about it,” he lies – just the other day, the Dean asked him if he would be willing to do two sections of Fundamentals of Law for both semesters next year, a semester of Criminal Law, a semester of  Law, Ethics, and Society, and two semesters of Law and Evidence. It would be a full-time gig, and if he’s really honest, he’s been thinking about little else since their conversation. “Maybe.”

“You’re open to the idea, though?”

He shrugs, avoiding her eyes. “Well, it’s not like anyone else is beating down my door with job offers. And I’ve got bills to pay.”

Dr. Strome nods slowly.

“Money is certainly a consideration,” she says. “But I wonder how you feel about the job in terms of personal satisfaction. Do you enjoy teaching?”

He sighs sharply, lifting his shoulders again. “Okay, honestly? It isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Some days, I think I might even like it a little bit.”

“That’s encouraging to hear. You’ll let me know when you’ve made a decision about next semester?”

He nods – he only hopes that he gives himself the heads up when he makes decision.

“What about your personal life?” Dr. Strome presses. “How’s Annie?”

“Good,” he answers automatically. “She’s good.”

He studies his hands, clasped together in his lap – the cuticle around his thumb is looking a little ragged, he thinks. It's probably time for another manicure. Dr. Strome taps her pen against her pad and draws his attention.

“And you’re still happy with how things are going?”

“Yeah,” he says. “It’s still… well, actually, things have been a little differently lately. Because our friends finally found about us.  So now, we don’t really need to sneak around anymore.”

Dr. Strome is staring down at her pad, scribbling her little notes, but he can see that her brow raise in interest.

“Really? Let’s discuss that for a minute.” She looks up at him expectantly. “Have you found that the novelty has worn off now that your relationship with Annie isn’t quite so clandestine?”

He has to laugh at her choice of words – she speaks like no one else that he knows – but he stops to consider the question for a moment. Is the thrill gone now that their friends know, he wonders.

If last night at his place is any indication, not by a long shot.

“Not really,” he says. “It’s actually kind of a relief. We don’t have to think so much about how we act around one another anymore, so it makes things easier.”

Dr. Strome jots down on her note on her legal pad and nods.

“And how did your friends react to the news?” she asks. “Were they as disapproving as you imagined?”

“At first, yeah.  But Annie set them straight. She wouldn’t take any of their crap. It was actually pretty impressive.”

“What were their objections exactly?”

He sighs, feeling pretty tired all of a sudden.

“Exactly what I thought they’d be,” he says. “Annie’s so young and sweet and innocent, and I’m old and bitter and jaded.  You know, the usual.”

Dr. Strome nods thoughtfully. “Those are some of the same things you’ve said yourself, actually.”

“I guess,” he mutters begrudgingly. “Let’s be honest, though, Doc. I’m kind of a cliché, aren’t I? The older guy getting all worked up over a pretty, little co-ed. If Annie wasn’t Annie, it would be pretty pathetic.”

She taps her pen against her pad again and smiles, looking almost amused. “You think you’re going through a mid-life crisis?”

“No,” he snaps immediately. “I’m only 35 and I definitely plan on living past 70 so…”

She holds her hands up in surrender, a grin still playing around her lips. “Okay, fine. Fine. But you still seem a little hung up on the age difference. Is that still an issue for you?”

He lifts his shoulders uselessly and keeps his gaze fixed straight ahead, the Monet print coming into view once again.

“Sometimes,” Dr. Strome says carefully. “You develop feelings for someone that you wouldn’t necessarily choose for yourself in a perfect world. You don’t share the same religion or culture or political beliefs. Or maybe there’s an age difference. That doesn’t mean that it can’t work. It just means maybe you have to work a little harder at it.”

Jeff laughs humorlessly. “Is that what you’d tell a child molester who came in here?”

Dr. Strome cracks another smile. “Of course not. But you’re not seriously comparing yourself to a pedophile, are you?”

He slumps down on the sofa, letting his head loll back against the cushions like a petulant kid.

“No. Obviously not,” he says. “But let’s say some 30-something guy came in here and told you that he’s been fantasizing about screwing his kid’s 20-year old nanny, you’d encourage him to go for it? I mean, as long as he’s willing to put in a little extra work?”

For once, Dr. Strome seems annoyed – she drops her pen with a frown and her brow furrows in frustration.

“Jeff,” she sighs, sounding as close to exasperated as she ever gets. “I would never advise any patient to take a specific course of action - you know that. But what I would do in your hypothetical scenario is encourage the man to acknowledge both his fears and desires and try to face them in order to achieve a little clarity. The goal for all of us is to lead a full, happy, and healthy life, right?”

He nods reluctantly.

“You’re not married, Jeff. You don’t have a child. The only person who’s affected by your decision to be with one person or another is you.”

He taps his fingers against his thigh, refusing to meet her eyes because he suspects that she’s building to something that he really doesn’t want to get into. Dr. Strome clears her throat, a strangely authoritative sound, but he still doesn’t budge.

“Jeff,” she says carefully. “Have you considered the possibility that Annie’s age is an issue for you not because it makes her vulnerable but because it makes you vulnerable?”

That’s certainly enough to get his attention, and he jerks his head up to glare at her.

“How do you figure?” he demands. 

“I’m wondering if maybe this whole thing is about you getting hurt, not Annie.”

He clenches his jaw, trying hard not to give away how pissed he is.

“The last thing in the world I’d worry about,” he grits out slowly. “Is Annie hurting me intentionally.”

Dr. Strome tilts her head, sympathy etched in every feature of her face. “I didn’t say anything about it happening intentionally, Jeff.”

He shakes his head in a huff. “I’m not following you.”

Which is pretty much a lie – because he thinks that he knows exactly where she’s going with this.

“We’ve spent quite a bit of time discussing your abandonment issues, Jeff,” she says, in the soft, gentle tone that always makes him think of his mother. “Maybe you’re afraid that if you open yourself up to something real here, you’re the one who’s going to be left behind. Annie’s young, with her whole life ahead of her. Maybe you’re worried that she’s going to change her mind about you.”

It takes everything in him not to tell her that she’s crazy, that she’s completely off-base, that she should go fuck herself and mind her own damn business. Admitting things out loud is what makes them real – he can carry all the fucking baggage in the world around inside of him, but if he never talks about it, it’s easy to pretend that it doesn’t really exist.

Sure, that kind of thinking is totally at odds with the purpose of therapy, but it never seems to matter much when they’re just talking about his career, his relationship with his father, why he doesn’t see his mother more often.

This stuff with Annie is different – it isn’t the same old crap that he’s been lugging around with him for years. It’s new and fresh, and the prickly parts of it always leave him feeling rubbed raw.

He meets Dr. Strome’s unrelenting gaze, but doesn’t say a word.

“By your own admission, you’re not someone who allows himself to develop attachments easily,” she continues. “If there are real feelings there with Annie, it might be good for you to explore that, see where it goes.”

He snorts in derision. “And if I wind up getting my ass kicked, metaphorically speaking, you think it’ll be worth it?”

Dr. Strome sighs, a sound so full of compassion that he feels himself squirming.

“In any relationship, whether it’s romantic or friendly, there’s the potential for hurt,” she says. “Because it requires opening yourself up to another person. That *is* scary. And not just for you, Jeff. For everyone. But if you don’t take that chance at some point, you don’t allow yourself the possibility of real happiness. For however long it lasts.”

He groans, throwing his head back against the sofa.

“Jesus,” he sighs. “I feel like I’m in a fucking Lifetime movie of the week.”

Dr. Strome nods, jotting down a few more notes on her yellow pad.

“I know you’re not comfortable with these kinds of feelings,” she tells him, capping her pen. “And that’s okay. But not being comfortable with them doesn’t make them go away. And you might wind up causing more hurt by pretending they’re not there than by just acknowledging them.”

He runs a hand through his hair and as he scans the room in an effort to avoid Dr. Strome’s questioning stare, his eyes land on Monet’s simple landscape once more. It occurs to him then that it’s a painting he could see Annie liking, though they’ve never really had a conversation about her taste in art. Maybe it’s just something about it, all the blue and shimmering light, that reminds him of her.

“You know, there are all these stupid romantic movies where some asshole guy meets the right woman and she makes him want to be a better person and all that bullshit,” he says. “And it is total bullshit because you can’t change for somebody else. You can only do it for yourself. And sure, a lot of the time, Annie’s urging me to be better or more or whatever, but the thing is, sometimes she looks at me, when I’ve done the most insignificant, stupid thing, and it’s like she already sees that better person. In me, just as I am right now, and I…”

He trails off, shaking his head.

“And what, Jeff?” Dr. Strome prods gently.

He shrugs. “And I kind of like the way that feels.”

The doctor nods thoughtfully.

“Have you talked to Annie about this?” she asks.

He gapes at Dr. Strome like she’s lost her damn mind – she’s been his therapist for more than a year now; she should know how he operates.

“I’m talking to you about it,” he tells her.

She nods again.

“And that’s good,” she declares. “It’s really good. But it might mean a little more if you shared it with Annie. It might even make you feel better.”

He doesn’t quite believe her, but when he leaves her office and sees a text from Annie waiting for him, he wonders if it’s some kind of sign.

It’s just a quick note to let him know that she’s going to have to bail on their plans  to go to the Thai place near his apartment tonight because her allergies have been awful all day and she still has a sinus headache and sore throat, which means she’ll be terrible company.

So maybe it’s actually a sign that Dr. Strome’s wrong.

Of course, he’s not quite sure what it means that he goes out of his way to stop at the Chinese restaurant near Greendale to pick up Annie’s favorite hot and sour soup and two different grocery stores to find a pint of the Ben and Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Cookie ice cream that she loves.

It probably means that he’s a fucking idiot and Dr. Strome is right.

Annie answers the door in a pink tank top and fleece pajama bottoms with tiny Hello Kitty heads all over them. She looks pale and tired, but when he hands her the bags with the soup and ice cream, she beams up at him, her hand pressed to the center of her chest.

“Jeff,” she coos. “This is so… You didn’t have to go to all this trouble.”

He shrugs, somehow managing not to smile. “It wasn’t a big deal. I was on my way home from my therapist anyway.”

She’s still grinning, looking down at the food like it’s a Valentine or love letter. “Do you want to stay and eat with me?”

“No. I didn’t want to bother you. I just wanted to drop off—"

“Stay,” she insists. “I just took some Benadryl, so I’ll probably pass out within an hour, but I’d really like it if you kept me company until I fall asleep.”

The apartment is deserted, but he doesn’t ask where Troy and Abed are. She splits the soup between two bowls and they sit in the recliners, watching an episode of “Bones.” He rinses the dishes when they’re done, and then they pass the ice cream back and forth between them as they try to guess who the killer is.  Annie falls asleep before the end, and he manages to lift her out of the chair without waking her. She does stir as he carries her to her bed, mumbling something about peaches and his blue sweater.

When he tucks her under the blankets and leans in to kiss to her cheek, though, she reaches up and curls a hand around his elbow.

“Jeff,” she sighs sleepily. “You’re the best.”

“I know,” he tells her, smiling as he presses his mouth to her soft skin again.

Before he heads home, he leaves her a note, letting her know that she guessed the killer right. He knows that it’ll bug her in the morning if she doesn’t know. 

Chapter Text

Annie may be a bright, driven, composed, mature young woman most of the time, but she can still throw a tantrum with the best of them.

When she storms out of the job fair, though, it’s certainly not for effect.

She’s not desperate for attention. She’s not angling for some heartfelt apology. She’s not hoping that someone will chase after.

She’s genuinely angry and maybe even hurt, and it’s not really in her nature to hide what she’s feeling.

“I didn’t know she’d get so offended,” Britta insists, as they watch Annie stomp out the cafeteria doors. “I didn’t really mean anything by it.”

“I just wanna know what’s so bad about being a wife and mother,” Shirley says, shooting Britta a stern look. “It’s one of the most satisfying things that you can do in this world.”

“Shirley, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with getting married and starting a family. I just think that there’s more than a woman can do with her life than…”

Jeff sneaks out as they continue their debate on the feminist implications of marriage and motherhood. They’re so caught up in their argument that he doubts that they’ll even notice that he’s gone. He heads outside, trying to figure out where Annie might go. When she needs to cool off, she usually prefers solitude so he considers the study room for a moment – everyone else is at the job fair, so the place should be deserted.

But just as he’s about to head toward the library, he spots her sitting on a bench on the quad, her head tilted back and her eyes closed as she soaks up the sun.

“I hope you’ve got your sunscreen on,” he says, as he sits beside her.

She shoots him a sideways glance, but keeps her head tipped back.

“SPF 50 every day,” she tells him.

He nods, even though she’s not looking at him. She definitely seems calmer than she did five minutes earlier when she ran off, but he knows her well enough to understand that she can keep plenty of rage and hurt feelings bubbling just below the surface.

“You okay?” he asks, trying hard not to sound the least bit patronizing – that would definitely set her off, he knows.

Her head turns toward him sharply and she lets out a long, stuttering sigh. For a moment, he’s pretty sure that he’s blown it completely.

“I just don’t know why everyone thinks I’m dying to get married,” she says. “That’s all.”

He shrugs. “I don’t think that’s what Britta really meant.”

“She implied that I shouldn’t worry so much about what job I end up with after graduation because I’m – and I quote - going to be married with children in a few years. What else did she mean?”

Jeff winces because, yeah, it doesn’t really sound all that good when laid out plainly like that.

“Okay, maybe that’s why she was implying,” he admits. “But I really don’t think she was trying to hurt your feelings or insult you. Most people get married and have kids, right? And that’s probably part of your future so she just--”

“See?” Annie cries, shaking her head. “You all think I’m desperate to get married! I just want to know why.”

She’s twisting his words, which is probably an indication of how worked up she is – and honestly, he doesn’t get it. Britta was definitely a little condescending and insensitive, but she makes comments like that pretty regularly and Annie is usually able to shrug them off with an outraged gasp and a stern frown.

“I can’t speak for everyone else,” he tells her. “But crazy me, I was under the impression that you were pro-marriage because you have a 40-pound scrapbook of wedding ideas and you played my wife to much critical acclaim at that hotel last year.”

She glares at him, and he starts to think that having this conversation with her is a big mistake. Their relationship is still largely undefined, and even a hypothetical conversation about lifelong commitment is enough to make him uncomfortable – particularly when Annie is as clearly worked up about the topic as she is.

“I’m not saying that I never want to get married,” she huffs. “Of course, I do. But the book and the pretending, they’re just daydreams about something that might happen someday. They’re not plans that I have for myself in the next three or four years. I’m only 22 years old. Who gets married that young anymore? I mean, if you don’t have to.”

He bobs his head in agreement, and she throws her hands up in exasperation as if he’s arguing her point.

“Honestly, the most persuasive reason I can come up with to get married right now is to get on someone else’s health insurance plan. And that’s definitely not the foundation for a lifetime of happiness.”

That probably gets him off the hook, he thinks. His health insurance policy through Greendale is pretty bare bones.

“And I think I want to have children someday,” she continues. “But my parents weren’t exactly the best role models, so who’s to say I should even be a mother? I might screw a kid up for life.”

He has nothing to say to that because he knows the feeling too well, the idea that bad parenting is wired into your DNA. He’s never been able to honestly consider the idea of whether he would actually want kids because he’s pretty sure that he’d be doomed to follow in his father’s footsteps and it’s the last thing on earth that he’d ever allow himself to do.

“So you can all think whatever you want,” Annie declares, clearly on a roll. “But getting married and settling down is not part of my 5-year plan. In fact…” She looks over at him, eyeing him carefully. “In fact, I would argue that you’re more likely to get married in the next five years than I am.”

He laughs, a deep, almost painful belly laugh that leaves him breathless for a minute – because there just isn’t a more absurd idea in the universe as far as he’s concerned.

“I’m disappointed in you, Annie. After all these years, you don’t know me any better than that?”

Her steely glare doesn’t falter in the slightest. “I’m not saying you *will* get married, Jeff. I’m just saying that it’s more likely to happen for you than for me.”

He smirks and shakes his head. “We’ll have to agree to disagree.”

She’s silent for a moment, and he wonders if maybe that’s the end of it. She’s expressed her frustration and annoyance, and now she can let it go.

But then she turns to him, her eyes suspiciously damp, and it seems like she’s still holding on pretty tight.

“So that’s what you think of me too?” she asks, in a small, low voice that makes her seem incredibly young. “That I’m going to be married with two kids by the time I’m what? 25? That’s all you think I’m going to do with my life?”

As usual, she’s caught him completely off-guard and he can only stare at her stupidly for a second while he waits for his brain to kick itself into gear.

“No, Annie. Of course not,” he says. “I have no doubt that you’ll go on to do great, important things. Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if you became President of the United States someday. I just … I know that other things are important to you too. You want a full life, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

She shakes her head sadly, her eyes focused somewhere in the distance.

“Sometimes,” she nearly whispers. “Sometimes, I think you’re all just going to keep thinking of me as that silly, little girl that you met freshman year. That you don’t realize that I’ve grown up and I know what I want.”

He turns, angling himself on the bench so he’s facing her and can get a better at her expression, which is looking more and more crushed and defeated by the minute.

“Annie,” he says softly. “If you think we don’t take you seriously, that couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re all pretty much in awe of you, okay?”

She lowers her head, so her dark hair falls around her face in a thick curtain. He may not be able to see her eyes anymore, but the way her shoulders are shaking is a clear giveaway that she’s crying. Sure enough, when he reaches out to push her hair back behind her ear, her cheeks are damp and her lashes are spiky with tears.

“Hey,” he whispers, laying a hand on her knee. “What’s wrong? What’s—"

“I’m sorry,” she says.  “For being so… I don’t know.”

“It’s okay. Just tell me why you’re so upset.”

She keeps her gaze focused completely on the floral pattern of her skirt, like she can’t bear to look him in the eye.

“I had another meeting with my academic adviser this morning,” she tells him. “And it turns out that while I have enough credits to graduate with a BA in Healthcare Administration, I don’t have enough for a degree in Forensics. My adviser thought that maybe she could get a few exceptions made, so some of my non-Forensics credits could count toward it, but Dr. Alexander, the head of the department, refused. Even the Dean tried to convince him, but he won’t budge. Isn’t that ridiculous? This place is such a joke and I always try to pretend that it isn’t, but the one time I need it to be, that I need just a little flexibility, I can’t catch a break.”

He rubs her back, feeling every bit of her pain. “So what exactly does that mean?”

“Well, if I really want to go into Forensics, I need to get certified and you can’t get certified without a B.A. or B.S.  So if I want it, I’m going to have to do at least another couple of semesters.” She huffs out a dark, bitter laugh. “Which is just pathetic. I mean, I’m at community college and I can’t even finish on time.”

He thinks that he knows exactly how she feels – after all, he graduated free and clear in January, and here is four months later, still darkening Greendale’s doorstep. It’s hard not to take that as some kind of setback, failure.

But then again, it’s not the past four month have exactly been torture for him so maybe it’s just a matter of point of view.

“Would staying here a little longer really be the worst thing in the world?” he asks her, and really, when he thinks about it, he may as well be asking himself the same question.

Of course, Annie gawks at him like he’s lost his damn mind, which means it’s going to take a little more to persuade her.

“I haven’t said anything,” he tells her. “But the Dean offered me a full-time position for next year, and I’m seriously thinking about taking it. So it looks like I might be sticking around here a little longer than I planned too.”

She looks up at him in surprise, but there’s a faint smile playing at her lips.

“Really?” She reaches for his hand, tangling her fingers with his. “That’s great, Jeff. Really.”

“Yeah,” he says, and though he’s not really convinced, he can fake it for her. “Which means we can keep each other company for another year.”

He grins and bumps his shoulder against hers conspiratorially because they’ve both always liked the whole ‘us against the world’ thing, and sure enough, her smile widens just a bit as she bobs her head. But there’s still a weariness in her eyes and she plucks at the hem of her dress in obvious frustration.

“I just hate that I’m not going to finish on time,” she says. “It was important to me to prove that I could do it. That the mistakes I made didn’t hold me back.”

“And they didn’t, Annie,” he assures her. “You can still graduate with the rest of the study group next month. There’s no shame in having to take a few more classes because you’re brave enough to want to do something with your life that you feel passionately about and not just find some random job.”

She gives him a tight smile that he doesn’t buy for a second and conjures up an uncomfortable, hollow feeling in his chest. He’s not used to channeling someone else’s hurt and disappointment, and honestly, it’s one of the crappiest feelings that he can remember. He wishes that he was a different kind of guy, the kind who knows how to fix these things like this and can actually take action.

He’s got nothing but his clever speeches and pretty words.

But that’s got to be better than nothing, especially when he actually means them.

“Hey,” he says, nudging her with his elbow. “You know what’s important to me?”

She tilts her head to look up at him, the sun bleaching her face as pale as ivory as she grins smartly. “Alexander McQueen suits and 16-year old single malt scotch?”

He laughs and nods slowly “Well, yeah. That too.  But that’s not what I was going to say.”

Her eyes widen in feigned surprise, and she shrugs.

“I don’t know then,” she says. “What’s important to you?”

He glances around covertly just to make sure that no one that they know is around to overhear – this isn’t the kind of news that he wants getting around.

“You.”

It’s his turn to catch her off-guard – she looks at him with wide, dreamy eyes, and her cheeks go red, and she makes this soft, delighted sighing sound that his simple, honest response really doesn’t seem to warrant. Then she smiles, and it’s one of those tender, adoring numbers that always makes him feel a little warm in the face.

“The feeling’s mutual,” she says softly.

He thinks that Dr. Strome would be proud of him as he nods and reaches for Annie’s hand again, knotting their fingers together on his thigh. Sure, maybe he hasn’t exactly opened his heart and spilled out all of its messy, jumbled contents, but even the good doctor would admit that this is a start.

He knows, though, that at some point, he’s going to have to admit even more – to himself, to Annie. Because lately, he’s been having all sorts of disturbing fantasies about her -– and not the sexual kind; that’s why they’re so damn disturbing. It’s simple, innocuous stuff like lying beside her on a beach, sweeping her in another Trivial Pursuit tournament, teaching her to play pool, finally seeing their aborted ski trip through, cooking risotto with her that doesn’t burn – but he knows what they mean.

It all points to the fact that he’s starting to imagine some sort of future with her, which is insane and terrifying on every level.

So he chooses not to dwell on it.

He loops his arm around her shoulders and she curls into his side, her hand warm on thigh. 

“Just so you know, when you become President,” he drawls. “I fully expect an ambassadorship to a really cool country. Like Fiji or Malta.”

She laughs, patting at his leg. “Please. You’d sleep with the Prime Minister’s hot wife and cause an international incident your first day on the job.  I think we need to keep you closer to home.”

He grins, winking at her. “I can’t help it if my charm plays big on an international stage.”

Annie giggles again, sliding her arm through his and resting her head on bicep. “So we’ll really keep each other company for another year?”

He leans in so he can press his lips against the top of her hair.

“Why? You think you’re gonna get a better offer?” he teases.

She lifts her head, and her expression is warm and strangely serious.

“It wouldn’t matter,” she tells him. “How many offers I had. Yours is always the one I’d pick.”

He clears his throat uncomfortably, his fingers flexing around her shoulder.

“Yeah, well,” he says. “The feeling’s mutual.”

Annie smiles and places both her hands on his thigh to boost herself up enough to press her mouth to his. It’s pretty chaste as far as their kisses go, but someone passing by – he suspects Leonard, though, he’s otherwise occupied so he can’t really be sure -- sings, “Bow chicka wow wow” pretty loudly, and she breaks away from him with a giggle, burying her face in his shoulder in embarrassment.

He just smiles.

Chapter Text

He always figured that once their friends knew, it would that much easier for them to find time to spend together because they wouldn’t have to sneak around and make excuses all the time.

But now that their friends actually know, they seem to keep track of all the time that Jeff and Annie spend alone and if they decide that it’s too much – “She’s our roommate, Jeff, and we’ve only seen her two nights this week,” Troy whined just the other day. “Quit hogging her!” – they insist on rectifying it.

That was supposedly the reason that Britta cornered Annie just this morning and complained about the lack of quality girl time they’ve spent together lately – which he happens to think is a crock because they’ve never spent a ton of time one-on-one together in the past as far as he knows. Of course, Annie refused to listen to reason and folded in the face of Britta’s guilt like a cheap suit from Sear’s -- so Troy and Abed wind up banished from their apartment for the evening, along with Jeff, to allow the girls to do whatever it is they do when guys aren’t around.

“Pillow fights,” Troy suggests as they head for a bar. “And Cosmo quizzes.”

Jeff is annoyed all the way around, so he doesn’t indulge Troy’s stupidity. He practically shouts his order for a double from the doorway of the bar and as the bartender’s pouring, he decides that copious amounts of booze are the only way to get through an evening of Troy and Abed’s ridiculous conversations given the mood that he’s in.

“On second thought,” he tells the bartender. “Just leave the bottle.”

It’s a stupid idea right from the start because all he’s eaten all day is a protein bar for breakfast and an overpriced spinach and cranberry salad from the bistro near Front Street, where the Dean insisted on taking him for lunch to make his agreement to return to Greendale’s faculty in the fall “official.” As Troy and Abed nurse their beers and debate the merits of the ‘Sleepaway Camp’ movie franchise, he drinks more scotch than anyone really should in a half hour period and the room starts spinning just a little bit.

 Oddly enough, instead of sending him into a dark, brooding mood like too much booze usually does, it leaves him feeling pretty fucking great.

So every stupid, inane topic that Troy and Abed discuss actually becomes endlessly amusing.

Even their 25-minute discussion on whether they’re more like Mario or Luigi strikes him as pretty entertaining, though they don’t seem to appreciate his joke about how maybe one of them is actually Princess Peach. Well, it’s probably not the joke itself, but the fact that he keeps repeating it every few minutes that has them so pissed.

“I know you think you’re insulting us,” Troy says. “But Princess Peach is hot. There are much worse things than being a hot chick.”

“Yeah,” Abed agrees. “Like a kidnapping dino-turtle with a nasty misogynistic streak and --”

“Hang on a second,” Troy drawls. “I think Bowser’s pretty cool. I mean, sure, he’s a jerk but he’s got those cool--

“You know who’s really hot?” Jeff practically slurs, as he tries to turn himself on his stool without falling so he can face his friends. “Annie.”

Beside him, Troy rolls his eyes and groans.

“Yeah, Jeff. We know. The walls in our apartment are super thin, so we heard you loud and clear the other night when you were telling her everything you loved about her body. In graphic detail.”

Jeff laughs, tapping his nearly empty glass against the bar.

“Yeah?”

“Yes,” Abed confirms. “We turned up the volume on ‘The Arrow’ all the way, but you were still really loud.”

“I’m sorry, guys,” he says, though he’s still laughing a little so he probably doesn’t sound as sincere as he’d like. “I keep telling her that she should just come to my place because you know, no roommates, but I think she’s worried you guys might burn down the apartment if she’s away for too long.”

They both nod their heads.

“It’s a valid concern,” Abed admits. “There was an incident once with a bag of microwave popcorn, crepe paper and ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ that got pretty dicey.”

“That’s why Annie bought a fire extinguisher. Though she keeps it hidden, which sort of defeats the whole purpose,” Troy points. “But we did kind of play around with the first one, trying to build a jet pack, and used it all up before an actual fire started so I guess that’s why…”

Jeff bobs his head like he’s following the story, but he’s kind of lost interest. He refills his glass, emptying the remainder of the bottle, and takes a deep sip – he knows that he’s drunk because he doesn’t feel the burn as the alcohol slides down his throat anymore. All that’s left is the smooth, delicious taste.

“You know, Jeff, it occurs to me that Troy and I are the closest thing that Annie has to brothers,” Abed says then, and Jeff lowers his glass to meet his friend’s steady gaze. “So it probably falls to us to ask what exactly your intentions are. I mean, I know Shirley and Britta were probably pretty forceful when they found out about you two, but I think a man-to-man –“

“To man,” Troy interjects.

Abed nods.

“Yeah. A man-to-man-to-man conversation is in probably in order here.”

Jeff shrugs, because right now he feels pretty fucking fantastic – and chatty too.

“Sure,” he says. “Let’s do it.”

“Are you two exclusive?” Abed wastes no time asking.

It’s not really the question that he’s expecting, so Jeff finds himself furrowing his brow and frowning.

“Why?” he demands. “Is Annie seeing other guys or something?” 

“I don’t think Annie’s the one who’d be stepping out,” Troy says, lowering his voice as if it might lessen the weight of the accusation. “I’m just sayin.”

“I’m not seeing anybody else,” Jeff barks. “I haven’t slept with anybody else since…”

He tries to think, to reach back in his memory and figure out the last time he slept with someone who wasn’t Annie. Back near the holidays, he thinks. Before the thing with Annie even started. The girl had long, dark hair and wore earrings that were shaped like little candy canes, but he couldn’t remember her name now if his life depended on it.

That was nearly five months ago.

“It’s been a long time,” he mumbles.

“So it’s serious then?” Abed prods.

Jeff sighs, scrubbing his hand down his face. His jovial mood is evaporating pretty quickly, and he wonders why he ever thought talking about this was a good idea.

“I’m gonna need another bottle here,” he calls to the bartender.

“No, he really doesn’t,” Troy says, leaning across the bar. “We’re already gonna have enough trouble lugging his ass to the car.”

Abed bobs his head in agreement, and then taps the bar between him and Jeff.

“You didn’t answer the question, Jeff.”

“Look,” Jeff says. “I just… it’s complicated.” He pauses, and instantly reconsiders. “Shit. Don’t tell Annie I used that word. She’ll be pissed. Complex. It’s complex. Or something.”

“That’s not really an answer,” Abed insists.

“Abed, come on. You know I’m not… I don’t know what…” He tips his head back slightly, wondering if he could get out of answering by puking his guts out across the bar – he might actually be willing to suffer the indignity if that’s the case.  “Yeah,” he says finally. “It’s kind of serious.”

There’s silence for a minute, and he can’t quite bring himself to look at his friends, afraid of their reaction. But then Troy’s muttering, “Finally,” under his breath and Abed’s patting him on the back and it seems like it’s all just that simple. Troy even waves his arm to get the bartender’s attention.

“One more over here,” he says, pointing at Jeff. “He earned it.”

Jeff smiles, but he’s still feeling a little uneasy.

“You guys aren’t going to tell Annie what I said, are you?” he asks. “I mean, that would be a pretty serious violation of the bro code.”

Troy and Abed look at one another, having one of their eerie silent conversations. They nod in unison, and turn to Jeff.

“We won’t say anything,” Abed says. “But we won’t lie either. So if she asks us directly, ‘Did Jeff say we were serious?’ we’ll have to tell her.”

“But only if she asks directly?” Jeff clarifies.

Abed bobs his head.

“Only if she asks directly.”

He can live with that, Jeff thinks – because really, what are the odds of Annie ever thinking to ask her roommates that question? The bartender ambles over with his fresh glass of scotch, and he’s got to admit that he feels kind of unburdened, even more than he usually does after a session with Dr. Strome.

And in the time that it takes him to finish his drink, his good mood is back and he’s managed to convince Troy and Abed that the girls really won’t mind if they head back to the apartment early because this bar’s dead and Annie and Britta probably aren’t having any fun without them anyway.

Troy’s fears are totally unfounded too – Jeff makes it to his Lexus under his own power without any real trouble (he doesn’t think bumping into that one parking meter really counts). Of course, once he’s in the car, he collapses across the backseat, staring up at the ceiling, and as Troy navigates toward the apartment, he’s not sure that he’s going to be able to move once they actually get there.

Which strikes him as funny for some reason and he starts laughing and then can’t stop, even as he gets all wheezy and warm.

Abed peers at him from the front seat.

“Are you okay?”

He can only laugh again – and he’s still laughing when Troy and Abed tug him out of the car, when they try to sandwich him between them and keep him upright as they head up the stairs, when Abed pushes him against Troy so he can knock on the apartment door.

He’s drunk, but that still confuses him.

“Don’t you have keys?” he asks.

“We don’t take our keys when we know Annie’s going to be home,” Abed says. “Troy had a bad experience with keys in his back pocket during a game of Ultimate Frisbee.”

It takes a few minutes, but then the door is flung open and a bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked Annie is beaming at them.

“Hey!” she says brightly. Her lips are stained an interesting shade of red, and Jeff finds himself licking his own in response. “What are you guys doing back so soon?”

“Some of us got stupid-drunk stupid-fast,” Troy grumbles. “And by ‘some,’ I mean him.”

He shoves Jeff inside the apartment with a groan. The room’s spinning ever so slightly, so Jeff has to brace himself against the wall as he stumbles in.

“Hi,” he says, bumping into Annie. “I may have a little too much to drink.”

She giggles, her hand wrapping around his bicep.

“Me too! Britta made the most amazing sangria.”

She drags him by the arm toward the table where there’s a big glass pitcher half full of rosy red wine and a ton of floating fruit.

“Want some?” she asks.

He isn’t really a fan of sangria, but he lets her pour him a glass – even though he’s pretty sure that he shouldn’t be drinking anything else tonight. He glances over at the TV as he sips his glass. Britta is slumped in a recliner, her legs hanging over one of the arms, and in front of her, the television’s paused on what looks like a giant close-up of Farrah Fawcett’s face.

He may be drunk, but he’d recognize that hair anywhere. 

“What the hell are you guys watching?” he asks.

“It’s the first season of ‘Charlie’s Angels,” Annie says.

He laughs, nearly choking on his fruity wine.

“Doesn’t this upset all your feminist principles, Britta? They’re always batting their eyelashes and running around without bras to take down the bad guys.”

“They are?” Troy asks excitedly, flopping down in the recliner next to Britta and tapping the remote to bring the picture back to life.

“But it’s their choice not to wear bras as liberated 70’s women,” Britta asserts. “And look, they never need a man for anything. Well, except Bosley, but he’s really only there to do their paperwork.”

“What about Charlie?” Jeff says. “He’s running the whole damn thing. Telling them where to go, pimping them out...”

“Are they hookers?” Troy frowns in confusion. “I thought they were detectives.”

“They are detectives,” Abed clarifies. “But sometimes they use their feminine wiles to crack a case.”

“It’s fun,” Annie says breezily. She wraps an arm around Jeff’s waist and tucks herself into his side. “It’s a fun show. And they do subvert some gender stereotypes. I mean, we just watched this one episode where the bad guy’s muscle was actually a woman. She was a big Swedish masseuse and she killed someone underwater.”

“See!” Britta says, pointing a finger at Jeff.  “That’s empowering!”

Jeff laughs again, and when he looks down at Annie, she’s bobbing her head in what seems like pretty adamant agreement. She’s all flushed and her lips are dark red from the sangria and he can’t think of a single good reason not to kiss her. He bends slightly and she lifts up on her bare toes to meet him in the middle. Then she’s sighing into his mouth and he feels a little dizzy, which is probably a combination of all the booze he’s had and how hot she feels against him.

“Oh, God! Come on!”

“Could you *please* not do that in front of us?  It’s bad enough we have to hear it all night.”

He and Annie drift apart to find their friends all displaying various degrees of disgust – well, not Abed. He just looks mildly interested. Britta, on the other hand, is wrinkling her nose and sticking her tongue out like she’s about to gag. Troy just has a hand clamped over his eyes.

It is, Jeff realizes, their first real public display of affection in front of their friends.

“Sorry,” Annie says, lowering her head. Her cheeks are even redder now that she’s blushing, but she doesn’t step away from him. “I’m drunk.”

“Me too,” he says defensively.

“Well, so am I,” scoffs Britta. “But you don’t see me tonguing Troy or Abed in front of you two.”

“But if you were,” Jeff insists. “We certainly wouldn’t spoil your fun.”

He fakes a smile and Britta scowls at him – from the way her hand twitches, he knows that she’s itching to give him the finger too. He feels Annie’s hand slip under his shirt then, kneading the muscles at the base of his spine in that way he loves, and looks down to see her pleading expression so he tries to relax.

“We apologize,” he manages to grit out. “We didn’t mean to make anyone uncomfortable.”

Annie nods emphatically.

“I’m not uncomfortable,” Abed says amiably. “In fact, I’m fascinated by your height difference. Jeff, have you noticed an increased incidence of stiff necks since you and Annie got together?”

Jeff stares back at him blankly.

“I bet he’s had an increased incidence of a stiff something else,” Troy half-heartedly leers.  When he’s met with three pretty disgusted expressions, he shrugs. “Sorry. It’s what Pierce would say if he were here. Sometimes I feel like someone needs to fill the gap.”

“That’s a gap that can just stay empty,” Britta declares.

“Are we going to watch ‘Charlie’s Angels?’” Abed asks. “Or should we switch to something more gender-neutral?”

Annie huffs a little petulantly, though she stops short of actually stomping her foot.

“We’re always watching stuff that you guys want to watch,” she says. “And this was supposed to be a girls’ night anyway.”

“That’s fine,” Abed says. “I like ‘Charlie’s Angels.’ Though I prefer Cheryl Ladd to Farrah Fawcett so I’ll be happier when we get to the second season.”

“Are we really going to watch two full season of this?” Jeff whispers to Annie. “Tonight? For real?”

She shrugs, taking another sip of her sangria.

“No. We’ll probably only make to the end of the first season. That’s just another seven or eight episodes.”

“I’m gonna need more sangria,” he whines. “Or scotch. Scotch would really be better.”

She squeezes his hip affectionately.

“You’re gonna have fun,” she says, slurring the words just a bit. “And you know it.”

He wants to kiss her again because her breath is warm and smells like blackberries but he keeps himself in check. Abed manages to squeeze himself into the recliner with Britta, so Jeff and Annie are relegated to a couple of chairs from the dining table.

“Is this okay with you?” he snarks at Britta as he places the chairs side by side. “I mean, is it okay if I sit next to Annie?”

She throws a handful of popcorn at him, though it misses the mark and scatters just in front of his feet. His laugh turns into a groan, though, when he heaves himself into the wooden seat beside Annie and remembers exactly how uncomfortable these damn things are.

“You guys seriously need to get a couch.”

Britta hangs over the side of the recliner to smirk at him.

“You should buy Annie one,” she tells him. “You must have an anniversary or something coming up…”

He’s tired and drunk, so he has to resist the urge to stick his tongue out at her pretty badly.

“Oooh!” Troy claps his hands in excitement. “Get her one of those ones that have recliners built in and a refrigerator under the arm to keep soda and beer cold!”

“A sofa bed might be nice,” Abed suggests. “In case, we want to stay up all night watching movies and need to really stretch out.”

“But what about—“

“Guys!” Annie yells. “Jeff is not buying us a couch.” She bobs her head emphatically. “Because we don’t have room for one.”

“How about some bean bag chairs then?” Troy asks. “We can fit those in here easy.”

“Would those be any more comfortable than these?” Jeff wonders.

“Duh,” Troy says. “It’s big pile of beans that automatically conform to the shape of your butt. How could it not be comfortable?”

Annie gets up suddenly and disappears into her bedroom, somehow willing to miss this scintillating conversation.

“They aren’t really beans inside,” Britta asserts, and then hesitates for a second. “Wait… are there really beans inside?”

“I think it’s usually Styrofoam beads,” Abed says. “But you could probably use dried beans too. In a pinch.”

Annie returns from her bedroom with an armful of throw pillows, all the colorful, floral ones that usually cover her bed. She dumps one on her seat and hands another to Jeff.

“Sit on this,” she tells him.  “It’ll be more comfortable.”

She’s probably stuck in one of these chairs most nights that she watches TV with her roommates, so she would know.  He puts the pillow under him and leans forward when she wedges another behind his back. Then she drags a third chair over in front of them so he can prop his feet up on it. He’s got to hand it to her – the seating arrangements suddenly seem a whole lot better.

But not to everyone apparently.

“Jeeze, Annie,” Britta says. “Are you going to wait on him hand and foot now or something?”

Annie frowns as she settles herself in her chair and rests her feet on one of Jeff’s shins because she can’t reach the other chair.

“I’m not waiting on him hand and foot. He’s a guest and I brought him some pillows. Big deal. I would have done it before we …”

She trails off, not sure how to finish.

Her roommates aren’t as unsure.

“Started doing it?” Troy supplies helpfully.

“Knocked boots?” counters Abed.

“Bumped uglies?”

“Made the beast with two backs?”

“Did the horizontal mambo?”

“Played bury the bone?”

“Guys,” Annie yells over Britta’s giggles. “Enough.”

“Though your knowledge of euphemisms for sex is kind of impressive,” Jeff says.

Annie tries swats at his arm, but her aim’s off from all the sangria and she winds up batting at the air.

“Don’t encourage them.” She turns to the rest of the group. “Can we just get back to watching ‘Charlie’s Angels’ now? Please?”

“Let’s order Chinese first,” Troy says. “I could totally go for some egg rolls. And duck sauce. We’ve got to ask for extra duck sauce.”

“Can we do pizza instead?” Britta asks. “No one ever wants to split a vegetarian dish with me from the Chinese restaurant.”

“I’m up for pizza,” Abed says. “But at least one of them has to have pepperoni. And onions.”

“That’s just gross!”

“It sounds gross, Britta, but it’s really not.”

“Pepperoni is meat, you know.”

“It is? What animal does it come from?”

Their friends seem pretty caught in their discussion about the finer points of cured meats, so Jeff nudges Annie’s arm.

“Think they’d notice if we made out?” he jokes.

She giggles, wrapping her hand around his wrist.

“We probably have a better chance if we wait until Abed decides we need to turn out the lights.”

He smiles, bobbing his head slowly.

 “Does it bother you?” he asks. “All the jokes and stupid comments about us?”

“Nope,” she answers immediately. “I mean, we’re going to have to get used to it, right?” She tilts her head, studying him carefully -- possibly trying to gauge his mood or maybe just because she’s seeing two or three of him at the moment. “Does it bother *you*?”

“Not really,” he tells her. “But I’m pretty drunk right now so you may need to ask again in the morning.”

She grins, rubbing her thumb over his palm.

“Fair enough.”

“Guys!” Britta yells, just as whistling sharply. “I know you two are in your own little world over there, but did you hear a word we just said?”

“About what?” Annie says, color rising in her cheeks like she’s just been caught cheating during a test.

Troy clucks his tongue in disappointment.

“The pizza, obviously One cheese, one pepperoni and one veggie – sound good?”

“Do we really need three?” Annie asks. “There’s only five of us.”

“Yeah, but I’m starving,” Troy declares theatrically. “And Jeff better eat half of one himself or he’s gonna be massively hung over tomorrow. You should have seen how much scotch he was putting away at the bar. It was like—“

“The pizza sounds great,” Jeff says.

He snatches the glass out of Annie’s hand and drains the rest of her sangria -- despite her rather high-pitched protests.

“Hey! That’s mine!”

“Britta,” he says, offering up a charming smile. “Do you think you could make Annie some more sangria? She’s gone through all of hers.”

Annie shoots him a glare and kicks at his shin with her bare foot.

“Well, technically, the fruit’s supposed to soak in the wine for at least a few hours so…”

“Maybe just bring her the bottle of wine then. I bet she’s not feeling too picky right about now.”

With some help from Abed, Britta’s able to push her way out of the recliner, smirking at Jeff as she heads for the kitchen.

“She’s with you, isn’t she?” Britta teases. “I’d say that means she’s not picky at all.”

Annie giggles, covering her mouth with a hand to try to stifle the sound, and Britta struts to the counter, looking very pleased with herself. His alcohol-muddle brain is too slow to come up with a retort that won’t get him smacked – the only thing that comes to mind is reminding Britta that once upon a time, she wasn’t all that picky either – so he keeps quiet, forcing a tight smile.

Annie leans in, rubbing her chin against his arm.

“You’re the one who said it was a good thing that our friends knew,” she reminds him cheerfully.

“Occasionally, I’m wrong,” he grouses.

“You’re not wrong about this,” she whispers, just before leaning in to kiss him, unhurried and lazy, like they’re the only ones in the room.

If their friends object, he doesn’t hear them. 

Chapter Text

When he storms out of the library, he takes his anger out on the first thing that he sees – the garbage can.

Kicking it gives him little satisfaction, though.

Because not only does it leave him with a stubbed toe, it makes him look like a bratty kid too, which he knows is a look that even he can’t pull off.

When the door opens behind him just a few minutes after his big, dramatic exit, he knows immediately who’s followed him.

(And he’s seriously grateful that she took her time getting out here because at least she missed the embarrassing garbage can kicking thing. He still has some pride.)

“I can’t deal with a fucking lecture right now, Annie,” he barks. “Not now.”

He sits down on one of the steps and tries to get a handle on his anger.  She drops down beside him, her knees pressed together and angled toward him. When he glances over at her, she looks thoroughly unfazed by his fury.

“I’ll try very hard not to lecture you then,” she says calmly. “But you were pretty awful to Britta. You know that, though. You wouldn’t be out here, brooding like this, if you didn’t.”

He shakes his head in annoyance.

“So I’m awful, but it’s okay for her to keep trying to shrink my head?” he asks rhetorically. “To keep pushing when I make it pretty damn clear that I don’t want her to? Look what she did with my dad, for Chrissakes. I know she’s about to graduate with a degree in Psychology, but I’m not some research subject that she can keep poking at until she gets the answers that she wants. I already have a therapist, you know.”

Annie sighs, scooting a little closer to him on the steps.

“You have every right to be angry, Jeff,” she says. “You have every right to tell her to back off.”

He laughs without an ounce of humor. “Well, gee, thanks for giving me permission.”

She lowers her head, looking more than a little weary. It amazes him sometimes that he hasn’t driven her off by now with his snarky attitude and quick temper. But then maybe it’s because she understands it – they aren’t exactly the same, but there are plenty of parts of them that are more similar than they’d either probably admit. Annie curls her hand around his wrist, her thumb sliding against his pulse point.

“But you didn’t need to be so harsh, Jeff.  You know how hard Britta is on herself. You know how insecure she can be. She’s probably told herself a hundred times that she’s going to be a terrible therapist, so she really doesn’t need her friend saying the same exact things, confirming all her worst fears about herself.”

He hangs his head because everything that Annie is saying is true and he knows it. He kind of hates how often it happens like this.

“If I’m such a jerk,” he says. “Why did you defend me back there?”

She tilts her head, smiling at him in an almost unbearably tender way, and runs her hand back and forth over his forearm. “Because even when you’re a jerk, someone should have your back.”

For a minute, all he can do is stare at her. She is beautiful and bright and strong and compassionate and so damn sweet, and for some unknown reason, she actually wants him to be a part of her life. He doesn’t get it, really – because besides a pretty face, hot sex, an impeccable sense of style, and a biting sense of humor, what is he really bringing to the table?

He leans in and kisses her on pure impulse, but it doesn’t seem to catch her off-guard. She melts into him and her mouth opens under his and he feels her fingers in the hair at the nape of his neck.

“Let’s get out of here,” he whispers against her jaw. “Let’s just go back to my place and forget all about this crap.”

She rubs her thumb against his lower lip and smiles. "I’ll go to your place and do anything you want if –"

“Anything I want?” he repeats with wicked grin.

“Anything you want,” she confirms. “*If* you back inside and apologize to Britta.”

He tips his head back and groans – there are few things that he hates more than admitting he’s wrong and actually apologizing, and she knows that.

“Annie,” he sighs. “Come on…”

“If you don’t, then I guess I’ll just go home.” She cocks her head, pretending to be deep in thought. “Maybe wash my hair tonight...”

He laughs, tugging on a strand of her hair. “The joke’s on you because we both know you like my Alterna Ten Shampoo better than your usual Pantene.”

Her mouth quirks up in a half grin. “It’s probably a marketing ploy, but just knowing that there’s caviar and white truffle in it makes my hair feel more luxurious.”

He bobs his head in satisfaction – because he’s pretty sure now that he’s got her –but then she leans in, resting her chin on his shoulder, so he knows she’s pulling out the big guns.

“Just tell her you’re sorry,” she whispers. “And when she apologizes to you, be gracious about it. Keep the wisecracks to a minimum… and then we’ll go home.”

He looks at her and shakes his head in a combination of awe and annoyance. He understands what she’s doing then – they both know that even if she hadn’t put sex on the table, he would eventually wind up apologizing to Britta. But Annie’s making it easier it on him, letting him tell himself that he’s doing it just because he’s going to get laid and not because he’s actually a decent human being who cares about other people’s feelings.

“You’re getting really good at this whole blackmail thing,” he tells her. “I’m not sure how much I like it.”

She shrugs.

“I only use my powers for good,” she insists.

“That’s debatable,” he says, pushing himself up and off the stairs.

Inside, Britta is still at the study room table, in the same slumped position with her head pillowed on arms that he left her in, so apparently she hasn’t moved at all since he stomped out. He takes a deep breath and tries to unclench his jaw.

“It’s come to my attention that I may have been an asshole earlier,” he mutters.

Britta lifts her head and frowns. “You think?”

“I’m sorry, Britta. Really.” He lifts his shoulders tiredly. “I didn’t mean the stuff I said. It’s just… I already have a therapist, and maybe I haven’t made any real breakthroughs and probably still qualify for at least a handful of disorders in the DSM, but she’s doing a pretty decent job. I don’t need you poking around in my head to get me to reveal how I feel about my father or working at Greendale or anything. We’re friends, Britta. Stop trying to fix me.”

She nods slowly, looking genuinely contrite.

“I may have overstepped my bounds,” she admits. “And I’m sorry about that. I just… if I really want to do this, I’m going to have to get my Masters and probably a doctorate, and grad school isn’t going to be anything like this place. It’s going to be real and hard and I don’t know if I can pull it off. I think I keep trying to prove to myself that I’ve got some sort of innate gift for shrinking heads so I’ll start to believe it.”

He pulls out his old chair and sits down beside her. She won’t look him now, probably because she feels like she’s given too much away. He gets that – because he’s got the same damn fears.

“Well, you can quit worrying then,” he tells her. “Because you really care about this. It means something to you. And when you care about something, you’ll do anything that you have to to make it happen.”

She glances at him, still looking defeated. “I’m not sure how far caring gets you when you have to write a dissertation and conduct research trials and all that other hardcore academic stuff. I mean, let’s face - I’m not exactly Annie, am I?”

He blows out a frustrated breath – Annie hasn’t told the rest of the group about her own academic situation, that she’s going to be hanging around Greendale for another year. She’s told him that she doesn’t want the news to spoil graduation, but really, he suspects that it feels like too much of a failure for her (which is ridiculous because when she’s done she’ll have a B.A. and a B.S., and that seems like a pretty major accomplishment to him) and she doesn’t want the others to know. He’s certainly not about to spill the beans, but it’s strikes him as funny that they’re all so damn insecure about something or another and still think that they need to hide it from each other because of pride or fear or some other dark, twisted emotion.

“Who is?” he says lightly. “But that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t do our own thing and be pretty good at it.”

Britta cracks an actual smile. “Like teaching?”

He grits his teeth, but manages to nod. “Yeah. Like teaching.”

She shakes her head then, and her smile softens even further.

“I can’t believe it,” she says, sounding almost amused.

“What?”

“That you actually listen to Annie.”

And just like that, his jaw is clenched good and hard once again.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Oh, like it was your idea to come back in here and talk to me? Come on, Jeff. I wasn’t born yesterday.”

“I don’t know what you’re implying exactly, but I don’t like—"

“I’m implying that it’s almost like you’re in a full-fledged, adult relationship. You know, where you actually know the woman that you’re sleeping with well enough to value her opinions just as much as her rack.”

“Don’t get crazy now,” he says, trying to keep his tone light. “We’re just having some fun.”

In that moment, he realizes how much harder it is to admit to Britta what exactly is going on between him and Annie than it was with Troy and Abed. Part of it is probably the fact that once upon a time, he was sleeping with her and it doesn’t exactly seem cool to admit that the reason that they didn’t work out wasn’t because he was incapable of feeling something real and serious for another person – he didn't feel that with her.

But it’s also that Britta knows how truly fucked up he is. She may be worried about her abilities to hack it as a psychologist, but she’s done a bang-up job of analyzing him, even if it's completely unsolicited. Admitting how he feels about Annie, how she makes him feel, to Britta is like admitting it to Dr. Strome – it makes it real in a way that he’s not ready for.

“Jeff,” Britta says. “Who are you kidding? You really care about her.”

“So do you,” he shoots back defensively.

She laughs, because, yeah, it’s the equivalent of a playground comeback, and that only makes him feel worse.

“Not the way you do.”

“You know I only came in here and apologized because she blackmailed me with sex,” he says.

Britta’s face contorts in disgust, and he can’t help smirking. “Oh, God. You’re a pig!”

“What?” He smiles innocently. “I’m just being honest.”

Britta crosses her arms against her chest and shakes her head.

“You can deflect all you want, Jeff. But I know exactly what’s going on here,” she declares. “In fact, you’re not fooling anybody. You wouldn’t still be with her after all this time if you didn’t really care about her. Because whether you admit it or not, the last thing you’d ever let yourself do is hurt her.”

“Well, yeah,” he says. “Because she’s always been my friend and I-"

“Come on. She’s your friend?” Britta laughs and nudges his foot with hers beneath the table. “You haven’t treated her like the rest of us in a long time, Jeff. We both know that.”

“This sounds suspiciously like you’re trying to shrink my head again,” he says.

She shakes her head without missing a beat. “No. This is me talking to you as an actual friend. It’s no different than what Shirley would tell you.  Or Abed. Or …” She hesitates for a minute. “Well, maybe not Troy. But you get the picture.”

He shrugs, having to concede the point. “Well, this group does love to butt their noses in where they don’t belong.”

“You’re our friend, Jeff,” she declares. “And so is Annie. Our noses belong all up in this.”

There’s a definite ring of truth to what she’s saying, so he figures that’s his cue to get the hell out of here. He just needs a good distraction before he can beat a tactical retreat.

“Hey,” he says, pushing his chair away from the table and standing up. “I guess this means that I should feel free to butt my nose in your love life too, huh?”

Britta tilts her head, looking suspicious.

“Because I hear that you’ve got a pretty ardent secret admirer.”

Her expression goes blank as she tries to puzzle out what he’s telling her.

“Well, maybe not so secret, actually,” he amends.

Britta continues to look at him in confusion, so he’s pretty satisfied that his attempt at diversion is an unqualified success.

“Duncan has the hots for you,” he says gleefully. “Have a good night.”

He can hear her cursing behind him as he walks out, but he doesn’t feel the least bit bad. Outside, Annie’s still sitting on the steps, fiddling with her phone. She looks up as he trots down the stairs.

“All done?” she asks.

He nods. “I was a good boy and said I was sorry. But for the record, I only did it because you said you’d do *anything*.”

She smiles as he holds his hand out to tug her up.

“I did say that,” she agrees.

“Well, you should know, then, that means the handcuffs are making a reappearance.”

They fall into step together, heading toward his car in the faculty lot. She purses his lips, and her expression is an interesting mix of stern and turned on.

“Fine,” she says. “But you should know that if you pretend to lose the key like last time, chances are slim that you’ll ever see me naked again.”

“Hey! That was an honest mistake. Silly me, forgetting I’d left it right there on the nightstand.”

She elbows him in the side, but there’s a hint of smile playing at the corners of her mouth.

“We could always forget the handcuffs,” he muses. “You know, you still haven’t modeled your old cheerleading uniform for me yet.”

She cocks her head, considering this.

“You know, I couldn’t actually do a spilt back during my cheerleading days,” she remarks almost casually. “But since I started yoga, I’ve kind of mastered it. Front *and* side.”

He laughs, though the idea really isn’t the least bit funny.

“It’s pretty damn selfish to keep skills like that to yourself, Annie. I would *love* to see a demonstration.”

She grins up at him, her eyes twinkling mischievously.

“So what’s your *anything* going to be then?” she asks. “The cuffs, the cheerleading fashion show, or a demonstration of my newfound flexibility?”

He smirks – because it’s pretty ridiculous question.

“Why do I have to choose? I think we’ve got time for all three.”

Annie laughs, sliding her arm through his.

“You’re so greedy, Jeff.”

“I was pretty upfront about that, though,” he says with smirk. “So you can’t really be surprised.”

She shakes her head in amusement as she heads for the passenger side of his car.

He’s just getting ready to pull out when she shifts in her seat to angle herself toward him and sighs softly. When he glances at her, she has a tentative, almost nervous look to her, with her fingers twisting in the hem of her skirt and her lower lip caught against her teeth.

“What?” he asks.

“I just … I didn’t ask earlier because you were so mad but why did you get so angry with Britta?” She waves him off when he’s about to respond. “No, I know she was definitely pushy and wouldn’t take no for an answer, but from the minute she started asking you about teaching and why you were coming back next year, you seemed like you were ready to lose it.  Is it really such a bad thing that maybe you like teaching?”

He blows out a frustrated breath and shifts the car back into park. She’s watching him intently as he taps his thumbs against the steering wheel in pathetic attempt at stalling.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” he finally admits. “Not anymore, anyway. But I still have a hard time admitting it, I guess. Because for so long, my life was about being something else and even if I can admit to myself that things have changed, it’s different when other people acknowledge it. I guess. I don’t know. I’m not making any sense...”

Annie reaches out to lay her hand on his forearm.

“No. You are,” she says, smiling softly. “I get it.”

He eyes her skeptically, because he’s not really sure that he gets it himself so it seems unlikely that she’d be able to. But then she is smarter than he is, so maybe she’s just that perceptive. Either way, he’s glad to be done with the conversation.

“So…” he says as he finally pulls out of the lot. “You ready for anything?”

She grins at him, with just the slightest blush coloring her cheeks.

“If you are.”

Chapter Text

There are times when he looks at the world around him and pretty much loses his will to live.

Slouched across from Duncan in the Greendale cafeteria, drinking lukewarm coffee and listening to his colleague (will he ever get used to the idea that that’s what they are these days?) ramble on about why he’s certain that the new library technician is easy pickings, Jeff realizes that it’s most certainly one of those times.

“Does this story have a point?” he asks finally, trying to end the prolonged torture.

Duncan frowns at him. “Have you been paying attention at all? I heard her telling the librarian that she just got out of a very long-term relationship that ended under acrimonious circumstances. She’s going to be looking for a rebound big-time, and in some circles, I’m known as the Rebound King. Besides, it’s not like…”

His words sort of drift off into the ether then, because Jeff gets distracted by a blur of blue and yellow near the cafeteria entrance. He thinks that he recognizes the floral print, and when he sees the flash of dark hair swinging behind it, he knows for sure that it’s Annie. He sits up, watching as she scans the room for someone or something. She’s a little flushed and her movements are hurried, so she definitely seems a little frantic. When she spots him, she lets out a deep breath and heads in his direction.

Which is right about the point that Duncan seems to realize that he’s being ignored and obnoxiously snaps his fingers in Jeff’s face to get his attention back.

“What’s so interesting that you’d ignore my riveting tale?”

Duncan turns to look over his shoulder just in time to see Annie hurrying toward them with a decidedly worried expression.

“Oooh,” he laughs.  He makes what Jeff assumes are supposed to be whipping sounds, but actually sound more like a sneeze. “I get it.”

Annie skids to a stop beside their table and clutches Jeff’s bicep. “Jeff! Have you seen Abed?”

He glances around the room automatically and shakes his head. “No. Not since yesterday.”

“Okay,” she says, taking another deep breath. “Good. But if you do, tell him you don’t know anything about the TV remote. Okay?”

He laughs, utterly lost. "What are you talking about? I don’t know anything about the TV remote.”

“Exactly! That’s perfect. Say it just like that.”

“I’m really confused right now,” he tells her.

“It’s okay … I’ll fill you in later.”  She starts to bounce away, but stops after a couple of steps and turns back to him. “Oh, and I…” She glances at Duncan, who’s following their exchange with pretty blatant interest.  “I got that thing.”

He furrows his brow, not having a clue what she’s talking about again. He wonders if it has something to do with Abed and the remote control or if she’s onto a totally different topic now.

“What thing?” he asks.

“You know,” she says, drawing out the words pointedly. “The *thing* that you sent me. After we had that disagreement the other day. It came this morning just before I left for school.”

When he finally realizes what she’s talking about, he laughs – because he’s kind of surprised that she’d bring this up when they aren’t alone.

And especially with Duncan sitting right across from him.

Of course, it’s really just an innocent joke anyway – he’d caught her leafing through a Victoria’s Secret catalog the other day and made an offhanded comment about how Victoria was a marketing genius, conning women into buying all this lacy, barely there lingerie when all it really did was make men happy.

“What about lesbians?” Annie asked pointedly. “They probably like it too.”

“Okay. Men and lesbians,” he conceded. “My point is that they’ve made a whole industry out of making women spend a ton of money on stuff that’s solely for the benefit of someone else. It’s genius, actually. I admire it. I mean, a guy can actually give lingerie as a gift, and really the only person he’s thinking of when he buys it is himself.”

She shrugged. “Well, he might only be thinking of himself, but that doesn’t mean that a woman can’t enjoy it too. I always feel a little more confident when I’m wearing… you know.”

He grinned. “Trashy underwear?”

“Not trashy,” she said, swatting his arm. “*Sexy* underwear.”

“So you’re telling me, if I buy you a lacy g-string, you’re going to think it’s a thoughtful, considerate gift?”

She lifted a shoulder, offering him a grin that was equal parts shy, amused, and wicked. “Depends on whether you have good taste or not.”

He grabbed her around the waist and she laughed in surprise as he pressed a kiss to her jaw.

“Well, now you’re just talking crazy,” he said against her skin. “Because we both know that my taste is impeccable.”

He decided to have a little fun and prove his point by picking out something for her and seeing how she’d really react. In the end, Victoria’s secrets seemed a little too tame to get the job done, so he went with the big guns. Agent Provocateur didn’t disappoint either – he was really tempted by one option that was nothing more than a few scraps of lace and satin and sequined pasties. It would have made his case in a big way, but being right wasn’t really his only goal – he liked the idea that she’d enjoy wearing whatever he picked out as much as he’d enjoy seeing her in it – so he compromised and sent her a tiny lacy black slip that was completely sheer from top to bottom.

For the gift message, he typed ‘There’s no way you’ll enjoy this as much as me.’

Simple and to the point.

He looks at her now, already imagining her in the almost non-existent black lace, and smiles.

“Oh, right. The *thing.*” He glances over at Duncan, who’s still listening intently. “And what did you think?”

“I think it’s very nice,” she says casually, and he knows that she’s trying very hard to be discrete, keep her tone neutral. “And I maintain my position. I will enjoy it as much as you.”

“Sometimes, I think you go out of your way to disagree with me, Annie.”

Her smile is devious – and sexy as hell. “I plead the fifth.”

“Well, I hope you’re right. I hope we both enjoy it.”

She nods briskly, like there’s little doubt. Duncan clears his throat then, sounding like a smoker with a pack a day habit.

“I know you two think you’re being all clever, talking in code,” he says. “But I’m well aware that this all about sex.”

Annie blushes, ducking her head so her hair hides her face.

“I have to go,” she says. “I’ve got to find Troy.”

She gives Jeff a soft smile and a quick wave and disappears in the direction that she came from. Duncan shakes his head with a laugh.

“That girlfriend of yours is seriously high-strung,” he says. “But I bet that means she’s a tiger between the sheets, huh? All that nervous energy that she’s just got to get rid of…”

Jeff frowns. “There’s no universe in which I’m willing to discuss my sex life with you, all right?”

Duncan heaves out a prolonged sigh. “You know, I have to say, it’s positively shameful to see exactly how whipped you are. I didn’t—"

“Because I talked to her when she was running through the cafeteria? How exactly does that make me whipped?”

“The Jeff Winger I used to know was never shy about describing a conquest,” Duncan explains. “Now, apparently, you’re too afraid of upsetting the little woman to share all the wonderfully dirty details.”

“The little woman?” repeats Jeff incredulously.

“But at least, you’re actually getting some now. Before that little minx had you wrapped around her finger and she wasn’t even putting out. That was just embarrassing for you, my friend.”

Jeff shakes his head in frustration, feeling whatever remaining will to live he had fading fast. “Your understanding of my relationship with Annie is limited at best.”

It’s even more frustrating when Duncan throws his head back and cackles like a damn witch.

“Let me tell you what I understand. When you told me about the woman you were seeing that day in your office, you said you’d been together for a couple of months. That was two months ago, Jeffrey.” He pauses, counting it out the time on his fingers like a barely coherent toddler. “That means we’re coming up on nearly five months. As long as I’ve known you, you’ve never had a relationship last that long. I think I understand your relationship perfectly well.”

“Yeah, because I always share every detail of my life with you,” Jeff scoffs.

But Duncan’s not really wrong – there was Carrie, back when he first started at the firm; he thinks that they made it almost seven months. But that was almost eight years ago. He and Michelle made it three, maybe three and a half months, which, when it looks back at it now, actually felt like eternity. So there’s not much way around it – Annie is a special case. He bought lingerie for her for Crissakes. He’s never done that before – and he didn’t even have to ask her size.

He knows her body well enough to navigate sizing charts all on his own.

This is unchartered territory for sure.

“I don’t really understand why you’re embarrassed about the whole thing, though,” Duncan says amiably. “High-strung though she may be, the girl is *stacked*. There’s no shame in losing your head over her. None at all.”

He shakes his head almost wistfully, and Jeff’s pretty sure that he’s imagining Annie naked. He snaps out of his daze, though, and pushes himself out of the booth.

“Well, as fun as this conversation has been, I have a class to get to. Give my regards to the missus.”

Jeff shakes his head in disgust as he watches Duncan leave.

Why he is embarrassed, he wonders. He thinks back to what he told Annie when she was worried about their friends finding out about them and screwing things up – they’re the only ones who matter in all of this. And she’s never made him feel self-conscious about how he feels. Because she just accepts it, without having to make a big deal about it.

Which is very un-Annie-like, now that he considers it.

But it works regardless.

He’s just about to push himself out of the booth and head for his office, when someone suddenly holds a cellphone out over his shoulder so he can see the display. He looks behind him in confusion and finds Abed sitting in the booth on the other side, blank-faced as usual.

“I know you probably don’t take Duncan all that seriously,” he says. “So here.”

He hands over his phone, and Jeff sees that there’s a photo of himself on the display, looking a little slack-jawed and goofy.

“What the hell is this?”

“That was you. About ten minutes ago when you were talking to Annie.”

Jeff looks at him confusion. “What... how? You were here?”

Abed nods. “I have a bone to pick with Annie.  I’m waiting for the right moment to confront her, so I was doing a little surveillance.”

“You were spying on her? And then stayed to eavesdrop on me and Duncan?”

“Annie has a lot to answer for,” Abed declares. “Do you know what happened to the TV remote?”

Jeff sighs in annoyance. “No, Abed. I can honestly say I don’t.”

Abed cocks his head, studying Jeff carefully.

“You and Annie are an item now, so I’m not sure I can trust you. You might lie to cover for her.”

“Abed,” Jeff grits out, feeling more than a little fed up. "I don’t know anything about the remote. I don’t want to know anything about the remote. Okay?”

Abed considers this for a moment, and then nods again solemnly. “I believe you.”

“Great. Here.” Jeff shoves the phone at him. “You can take this back.”

“You don’t want to look at it a little more?”

“No. It’s just a terrible picture of me. Why would I want to look at it?”

“Because Duncan thinks you’re whipped, and I thought you might want to see some visual evidence before you decided whether he was right or not.”

Jeff frowns and glances at the dopey look on his face in the somewhat blurry photo again. It’s one thing when an idiot like Duncan accuses him of this kind of shit. It’s another thing entirely when it’s coming from a real friend, someone who’s actually seen him with Annie for more than five minutes at a time.

“Wait. So you’re saying that you think he’s right? I’m whipped?”

Abed shakes his head without hesitation. “No. I don’t think you’re whipped at all.”

Jeff sighs in relief – Abed has zero censor, so he would never just tell a guy what he wanted to hear. Which means that’s the truth as Abed sees it.

And why did he even doubt it for a second? Jeff Winger doesn’t do whipped.

Not even for Annie.

Abed smiles at him and shrugs.

“You’re in love,” he says plainly, like he’s just making an innocuous comment about the weather. “That’s all.”

In the space of two seconds, Jeff feels his entire face go hot and his chest tighten kind of painfully and he wonders if he’s still breathing. Maybe this is what a panic attack feels like, he thinks. He glances around the booth to see if anyone’s close enough to overhear, but no one seems to be paying particular attention to the two of them.

“Oh,” he says darkly. “Is that all? Thanks for clarifying.”

Of course, Abed doesn’t pick up on the sarcasm.

“I kind of object to the whole ‘whipped’ idea actually,” he continues. “It’s stupid. I mean, because you love someone and want to do things that make her happy that makes you weak? I don’t get it. Besides, it’s not like Annie is domineering or anything. You two are pretty evenly matched so I don’t-” 

“Abed.” Jeff hopes that his voice doesn’t sound as squeaky as he thinks it does. “Can we go back to the thing you just said for a second?”

Finally, Abed seems to realize that he’s looking a little pale and sweaty. 

“Are you okay, Jeff? You look a little sick.”

“Why would you say that I … that I’m … you know. The thing you said before?”

“In love?”

Jeff groans, covering his face with hands.

“Do you have to keep saying it?” he sighs.

“I don’t understand the issue. You’re the one who said that you and Annie were serious.”

“Yeah, but while my memory of that conversation is hazy at best, I’m pretty damn sure the L-word never came up.”

Abed shrugs. “It was definitely implied.”

Jeff tugs at his hair in frustration – until it occurs to him that it’s probably not the best thing for his hairline and starts carefully smoothing it back into place. Abed shoves the phone at him again, practically forcing it into his hands.

“Here. Look at this.”

“Are you seriously going to make me look at that photo again? I get it. I’m a-"

Abed shakes his head. “It’s not a picture of you, Jeff.”

He looks down at the screen and it’s a photo of Annie – her head is tilted and she’s smiling softly and her eyes are all bright and blue - and seriously, how Abed managed such a good picture of her on his phone when he was at least 20 feet away, spying on her. Because she looks absolutely beautiful

“That was Annie when she was talking to you,” Abed says. “So I think it’s safe to say that it goes both ways.”

Jeff studies the photo again before thumbing off the display. “I don’t think you can tell that from a photo, Abed.”

“No. Probably not. But the photo confirms other evidence that I’ve observed. You know, if this were a movie, I feel like we’d be in the middle of a montage of all the small but meaningful moments that make up you and Annie falling in love. There’d be a really sentimental song playing too. Like—"

“But this isn’t a movie,” Jeff says firmly. “So do me a favor and just lay off all the, you know, love stuff. And don’t mention this conversation to anyone, okay? Not even Troy.”

Abed narrows his eyes shrewdly and bobs his head. “I can do that.  If you tell me everything you know about the remote.”

Jeff nearly pounds his fist against the table in frustration, but somehow manages reign in his annoyance. “I told you, Abed. I don’t know anything about the damn remote. And I’m not covering for anyone because I’m whipped or in love or any other lame reason. I honestly and truly do not know what you’re talking about.”

Abed nods, his expression way too serious for this ridiculous conversation.

“I believe you. I won’t say anything to anyone.” He shrugs. “I’m sorry, but I had to be sure. Social convention dictates that you take Annie’s side in all things now, so I-"

“Abed,” Jeff sighs. “If I take Annie’s side in anything, it’ll be for the same reasons that I always have. She’s right. Okay?” He pushes himself out of the booth and to his feet. “I don’t know why everyone thinks I’ve suddenly become a different person just because I’m sleeping with her.”

 “You’re not just sleeping with her. You’re in—"

“Abed,” he barks warningly.

“And that’s not why you’re different, Jeff. You changed a long time before that.”

“Yeah, right,” he laughs. “Now I’m some great wonderful guy with a heart of gold, right?”

“I compromised on bronze to make you feel better, remember?”

“Thanks, buddy. I feel so much better.”

For once, teaching actually serves as a pretty good distraction and he spends the afternoon explaining the finer points of briefing a case to his students. When he’s on his way home, just after four, he gets a text from Annie, asking if it’s okay if she hides out at his place until about 7 when Troy and Abed leave for their bowling league because the remote controversy apparently hasn’t died down. He doesn’t even want to know what that’s all about at this point, but he tells her that she’s welcome – which she apparently assumed would be the case because she’s waiting in her car in the parking lot when he pulls in.

She lugs her ridiculously overstuffed backpack inside, so he figures that she’s hoping to get some studying done – and sure enough, she curls up in a corner of his sofa with a pile of textbooks and a highlighter and she’s lost to the world. He settles himself in the opposite corner and tries to get through the crap that’s piled up on his DVR over the past week or so.

Every so often, he sneaks a glance at her, analyzing each gesture for deeper meaning – the way she pushes her hair out of her face, the way she bites the end of the highlighter between her teeth, the way she folds her legs under her and smooths her skirt over her lap.  He is manufacturing some weird type of tension between them, not because of anything that’s actually happened but because of what other people have said and it’s stupid and self-destructive but he can’t seem to stop himself.

Annie gets up at some point and heads for the bathroom, and he sneaks off to the kitchen to pour himself a little scotch – just half a glass really, a little something to take the edge off.  If he keeps this up, if he keeps letting the stuff with Duncan and Abed get to him, he’s going to wind up blowing this – and for no good reason either. Because when he’s alone with Annie, when he’s just feeling whatever it is he’s feeling and not talking about it and analyzing it, he feels just fine. Good even.

Why is he letting the rest of this crap complicate everything?

He braces his hands against the counter and takes a deep breath, trying to snap out of his funk.

“Jeff?”

He turns and Annie’s standing right there at the entrance to the kitchen, wearing the tiny, lacy, impossibly sheer slip that he picked out for her. She’s barefoot and her hair’s a little tousled, so she looks like she came fresh from bed. The lace of the slip is even darker against her pale skin and clings to every one of her curves like a second skin – and best of all, she’s wearing it with plenty of confidence, like she knows exactly how amazing she looks in it.

Yeah, she’s definitely enjoying it as much as he is, he thinks.

“I told you I had impeccable taste,” he says, with a smile.

She glances down at herself and fingers the hem of the slip. “You did pretty well.”

“So what? You just carry that around with you in case you want to change into something more comfortable?”

She laughs, shaking her head emphatically. “I told you. The UPS guy brought it as I was heading out the door this morning. I actually opened the package in my car. And then I put it in my bag because I didn’t want to leave in my backseat.”

“So you did carry it around with you all day at school? If I’d know that, I probably wouldn’t have gotten much done.”

She flushes and cocks her head coyly. “Well, it’s a good thing I did because that’s why I had it here with me now so I could model it for you… and you definitely need a little cheering up.”

“What makes you say that?” he asks, genuinely curious.

“You’ve been so quiet the past hour. I mean, you didn’t even object to any of Judge Judy’s rulings like you usually do. I figured that you had a bad day at work so …”

She steps toward him finally and curls her hands around his hips, tugging him with her as she walks backward toward the living room. He smiles down at her and lets her guide him, and of course, he’s in love with her. And not because she likes wearing sexy lingerie and having sex with him pretty much all the time – that certainly doesn’t hurt her case, though – but because she understands him and cares about how he feels and always finds a way to make him feel better.

So why can’t he just tell her that? Why can’t he just admit it when Dr. Strome or Britta or Abed or whoever else confronts him about it?

Saying it out loud, acknowledging it, isn’t going to change the way he feels. It won’t change the way that Annie feels either. Maybe it would even make things easier.

Maybe it would even make things better.

She leads him over to the sofa, pushing him down against the cushions, and she’s straddling his thighs and unbuttoning his shirt before he has a chance to think about it anymore. She kisses him, slow and deep, and he runs a hand down her back to her ass, the lace tickling his palm. He helps her rock against his lap, setting a pace that they both enjoy, until she whines against his lips and pulls back to undo his pants.

She reaches for the hem of the slip as he’s shoving his pants the rest of the way off, but he stops her.

“You’ve got to leave it if we want to get the full effect,” he says.

Of course, that doesn’t stop him from tugging the top of it down so he can trace his tongue along the curve of her breasts. She wraps her hand around him, stroking him slowly, and he closes his eyes to concentrate on the feeling for a minute – until it occurs to him that they need a condom and someone’s going to have to go the bedroom or bathroom to get one, both of which may as well be on the other side of town right now.

But then Annie’s reaching onto the coffee table for a shiny little packet – because clearly she planned this entire thing and she’s well-prepared.

Another reason to love her, he thinks stupidly.

He watches as she rolls the condom on him, finding the look of fierce concentration on her face almost unbearably sexy. When she sinks down over him, he makes an embarrassing moaning sound and she smiles down at him in a way that seems oddly sweet considering what they’re doing.

“Maybe you are enjoying this thing more than me,” she teases.

He laughs a little breathlessly. “So what do I get if I’m right? We never discussed—"

She starts to move then, circling her hips and rising at the same time, so he loses his train of thought completely. She balances herself with a hand on his shoulder and tosses her head back as she focuses on getting the rhythm and pace just right.  There are still moments, every now and then, when he catches a glimpse of her like this, in the middle of riding him into oblivion, and the whole thing still seems surreal, like it can’t really be happening, that it’s just one of those really vivid fantasies that he always used to pretend he didn’t have.

He reaches up to trace his finger along her cheek and she smiles dazedly, though her eyes don’t open. She covers his hand with hers and slides it slowly down her neck until it’s pressed over the center of her chest where he can feel her heart pounding. She holds it there as she picks up the pace, her other hand pressed to his thigh so she can lean back and change the angle just a bit.

And that seems to do it for her because her nails dig into his leg and she presses his hand even harder against her chest and she groans his name in that low, sexy way that he loves. She doesn’t stop rotating her hips for a second, though, until he clutches at her hips and grunts into the cushion beside him.

He’s not expecting it when she falls forward on him, like she can’t possibly stay upright for a minute longer. He laughs and runs a hand over the back of her head.

“Okay, maybe you do like lingerie as much as I do.”

She lifts her head to smile at him. “Told you so.”

She taps a finger against his chin – it’s a silly, stupid, thoughtless gesture but something about it uncoils some part of him, deep down inside. He draws his fingers down her back, feeling her relax against him just a little more.

“Annie,” he says, and his voice sounds strangely loud to his own ears. “I…”

He tries his damnedest to finish the sentence, but the words seem stuck in his throat. She looks up at him, head tilted slightly.

“Yeah?”

He clears his throat and changes course.

“I’m pretty happy,” he tells her.

She giggles, bobbing her head knowingly. “I bet. Because even by our standards, that was seriously amazing, right?”

“No. Well, yeah, it was, but that’s not what I meant.” He smiles and feigns nonchalance. “I didn’t mean just right now. I’ve been happy, you know, lately, and that doesn’t usually happen. I’m not really a happy guy so… I just thought you should know that.”

Annie is almost completely still for a long minute, and he starts to panic, wondering if he’s said too much or not enough. But then he sees that her eyes are shining, like maybe she’s fighting tears, and she makes a sound that’s a cross between a sigh and a laugh just before she smiles.

“Oh,” she says, her voice all soft and breathy. “Me too.  I know that I’m kind of perky and I always try to see the bright side of things, but I don’t know that I’ve ever really felt *happy*. You know, for more than a day or two at time. But you … well, I’ve been happy lately too.”

It’s not like he really needed confirmation – because he’s felt whenever he’s with her for a long time now – but Abed is obviously right.

The love thing goes both ways.

But Annie doesn’t seem any more eager to actually say the words than he is, so maybe it’s best to just let it be.

Because he remembers that when he was a kid, his mother’s favorite cliché was “If it ain’t broke, don’t fit it,” and he’s gotten through most of his life on that simple premise.

It usually works.

For a while anyway.

So he pulls her up to him and kisses her, his hands tangling in her hair as she shifts against him.

Right now, it feels like enough.    

Chapter Text

It’s not exactly pride that he feels when teaches his very last class of the semester, but he can, however reluctantly, admit that there is a decided feeling of accomplishment that passes through him as he watches his students gather their books and start to file out of the room.

Because, honestly, there was some part of him that never actually believed he’d see this thing through.

He was pretty damn sure that he’d get so fed up with Greendale and the Dean and having to fill up nearly six hours of class time each week that he would never be able to make it to the end of the semester. But now, three months later, he’s endured all of it – and he didn’t even hate every minute of it.

That’s an accomplishment of sorts.

So it probably calls for some kind of celebration – a two-part celebration, he thinks. First, he’ll hit up Barney’s website and do some serious shopping. Then he’ll move on to something that involves a very naked Annie – he’s not really particular about the specifics of that part of the festivities.

He’s gathering up his phone and books and getting ready to head down to the cafeteria for lunch when he gets the sudden sense that he’s not alone.

Sure enough, when he looks up, there’s someone still seated in the back row, watching him pretty intently.

And not just anyone either – Annie.

Can she read his mind or what?

“Hey,” he says, smiling. “What are you doing here?”

She looks down, seeming almost embarrassed, which he doesn’t really understand – there’s no shame in wanting to walk to lunch with him as far as he’s concerned. It’s when she finally lifts her eyes and meets his questioning gaze that her expression really registers.

Her eyes have that soft, wistful shine to them that practically takes him out at the knees and her mouth trembles as if she’s trying to keep from sighing.

“I was in the library,” she says. “And these guys were talking about your class. They said that it was their favorite, actually, and they were kind of bummed that it was ending and I … I guess I just wanted to see for myself.”

He blinks in confusion. “You were here the entire time?”

She nods. “I didn’t want you to think I was checking up on your or anything, so I hid in the back.” She shrugs self-consciously. “Behind that really tall guy with the red hair who kept asking all those questions and almost blew my cover.”

She sounds so annoyed that he can’t help but laugh.

“So,” he says, dropping his hands to his hips. “What’s the verdict?”

She smiles again and stands to make her way toward him at the desk. 

“Listening to you today made me realize that I was right,” she tells him.

“Right about what?”

“You’re really good at this,” she says. Her eyes are glassy now, and his chest constricts, making him painfully aware of every beat of his heart. “I’m really proud of you… and I don’t mean that in a condescending or patronizing way. Because I knew from the start that you’d be great. I just hope that you’re proud of yourself too.”

She swipes a finger along her lower lashes, like a few tears might have actually escaped, and he shakes his head insistently.

“No. Come on, Annie. Please don’t. You know I don’t do well with sappy, touchy-feely stuff.”

“I’m sorry,” she laughs softly. “I don’t mean to … I think I’m just emotional with classes ending and the group graduating.”

She lowers her head again, her hair falling around her face in a thick curtain, and he comes around the side of the desk so he can touch his fingers just below her chin and force her to look him in the eye once more.

“I am kind of good at this,” he admits. “But we both know that I probably wouldn’t be if I didn’t have you to push me, so really, this is as much your accomplishment as it is mine.”

“Stop it,” she says, flushing – she smacks at his arm too, but it’s half-hearted at best. “You’d do just fine without me.”

He shakes his head again, smiling. “I don’t think so.”

Annie sighs, a sound that is surprised and dreamy and even a bit pained. Her hands find their way to his waist, pulling him toward her, and then she’s pressed against his chest and hugging him for all she’s worth. For someone as small as she is, her touch is as fierce and determined as anyone he’s ever known. He wraps his arms around her and lays his cheek against the top of her head. She smells like she usually does, like warm, rich vanilla, and he honestly can’t imagine how he spent almost four years without touching her when she’s always smelled like this.

He wonders what someone walking in on them right now would think – the two of them wrapped up in each other in an empty classroom like the rest of the world doesn’t exist. It certainly isn’t the most compromising of positions, but it probably says more about how they feel about one another than if he had her bent over the desk.

But he realizes then that he doesn’t really care anymore – despite his best efforts, despite trying to downplay it, everyone already seems to know damn well how he feels about Annie. Maybe they’ve always known. Maybe when he was keeping his distance and trying to pretend that there was nothing between them but harmless friendship, the only person that he was really fooling was himself.

He’s fooled himself about a lot in his life, now that he thinks about it.

Like thinking that he’d ever be able to go back to his old life as a hotshot lawyer after being disgraced and disbarred and stuck at Greendale.

He still isn’t sure how he feels about the unexpected turn that his life has taken in the past few months.

“Hey,” Annie says, tugging on his shirt between a gap in the buttons. “What’s wrong?”

He looks down at her, deciding there’s no point in trying to figure out how she knew to ask or lying to her. Annie reads him better than most.

“I’m man enough to admit that maybe this whole teaching thing didn’t turn out as badly as I expected it to,” he tells her. “But there’s part of me that still feels like a failure because I’m not practicing. And it’s stupid, really, because for all the shiny, superficial perks of my life as a lawyer … and I’m not about to kid myself about that, there were pretty fucking spectacular... but even with all that stuff, I was still pretty miserable underneath it all. So shouldn’t I just be able to let it all go?”

He’s pretty sure that he’s not making any sense, but she bobs her head, so apparently, she doesn’t think that he’s totally insane.

“Six years ago,” she says.  “Just before I got hooked on Adderall, I thought I was going to go to Princeton, graduate pre-med, go to Johns Hopkins Med School, become a neurosurgeon or something equally impressive. Not because I wanted to, really. I mean, I was never really into medicine all that much, but it was just one of those things I grew up hearing from my parents all the time so I just believed that it would make me happy, that it was what I meant to do. And even now, when I know I’d be absolutely miserable stuck in medical school for the next four years, I feel like I messed up. Like I failed somehow.”

She shrugs, like she knows that it doesn’t quite make sense. He gets it, of course, because neither of them particularly likes trying at something and not making it happen. She’s had stress headaches since she was four years old because she’s always felt the pressure to plan for some great future moment, even if it wasn’t one that she’d chosen for herself. Having known her the past four years, he thinks that she’s much better off, much more successful, just blazing her own, unexpected trail in the world. Not some path that her parents picked or that a guidance counselor suggested or that looked good in an overly simplistic TV show or movie. 

She’s so damn good when she goes off book. He hopes that she’s starting to understand that.

“My therapist would tell you that you need to forget about the past and even the future, so you can open yourself up to present happiness,” he tells her. “Or some crap like that.”

She smiles, which is the response that he’s hoping for. “Is that what she tells you?”

“All the damn time.”

Annie nods slowly, like she is actually weighing the words very carefully.

“It’s hard sometimes,” she whispers. “You know, when you just don’t ever feel quite good enough. Like maybe you don’t deserve it.”

He knows that feeling a little too well, but he doesn’t really want to talk about that.

“You’re ridiculous,” is what he says. “Because I can’t think of a single thing that you’re not good enough for.”

She blushes, lowering her eyes and playing with a button on his shirt.

“You have to say that,” she whispers. “Because you like me.”

He smirks – because how he can he argue with that kind of flawless logic.

“I do like you,” he agrees. “But the fact that I like you proves that you’re pretty damn good enough, don’t you think? I’ve got some seriously high standards.”

She grins in amusement. “That's impressive - you take a compliment for me and turn it into ego-stroking for you.”

He shrugs, entirely unapologetic. “It’s a gift.”

She giggles softly, almost under her breath, and he stoops down to kiss her, slowly and deeply. She purrs into his mouth and kneads his chest with her warm fingers – and this, he realizes, is why it took him nearly three years to kiss her again.

Once he started, he wouldn’t be able to stop.

“At the risk of sounding like a selfish jerk,” he says, when they pull apart for a breath. “I’m glad you didn’t go to Princeton or Johns Hopkins.”

She smiles and lifts a shoulder almost coyly. “And I’m glad you got disbarred.”

He laughs, but her grin only widens.

“We’re just a pair of selfish jerks, I guess," he tells her.

She beams up at him like it’s the sweetest, most romantic thing that he could possibly say – which just goes to show what little resemblance she bears to every other woman that he’s ever known.

“Can I buy you lunch?” he asks. “As a thank you for helping me get through the semester?”

He throws his arm around her shoulder and she wraps hers around his waist as they head for the hallway.

“It is pizza day,” she says thoughtfully.

“And you can really put away those slices,” he teases. “How much is this going to cost me?”

She gasps in outrage and swats at his stomach. “Just because you refuse to eat more than one slice and most times, just eat the cheese off anyway, doesn’t mean I’m a pig.”

“There’s less carbs if you only eat the cheese.”

“You know, just once, I’d like to see you go an entire weekend where you just eat food and don’t worry so much about its nutritional content.  When was the last time you did that?”

He cocks his head, trying to remember. “I don’t know.  Maybe when I was around 12?”

“That’s just sad, Jeff.”

“What’s really sad is that apparently your idea of a good time is watching me eat bread and pasta.” He smirks down at her. “But you know, maybe I’ll let you do it. You know, as a graduation gift.”

“Wow,” she says dryly. “You really know how to treat a girl.”

“Be nice. I was going to let you take pictures and everything.”

They reach the cafeteria doors and she spins around and pulls him down for fast, hard kiss.

“You be nice,” she says. “Go get me some pizza. Please.”

She flounces off then, presumably in search of a seat, and he watches her go, captivated by the way her ass looks in her skirt.

Until Leonard stops in front of him, spoiling the view.

“I guess we know who wears the pants in this relationship,” the old man says gleefully.

“Shut up, Leonard,” Jeff says automatically. “Your fly’s down.”

Leonard nearly drops his tray, checking to see if the barn door is really open, and Jeff heads for the pizza line, thinking that Annie definitely owes him a naked celebration now.

Chapter Text

Annie doesn’t wait long to get him to make good on the bread and pasta thing.

She decides that she wants to celebrate the end of the semester at the Italian restaurant a couple of blocks from her apartment, so he winds up eating his gnocchi and some of her lasagna and more bruschetta than he really wants to remember on Friday night, doing a passable impression of carbo-loading for a marathon … or two marathons maybe. She even insists on getting a couple of cannolis to go, and while he’s initially decides that he’s going to draw the line at those, she suggests that they eat them in her bed, and well, then, it’s easy to justify the indulgence because it comes with a workout all its own.

He winds up eating at least half of his cannoli off her stomach, after all, so he’s pretty sure that the calories don’t really count.

It’s still early when they finally pull apart – Annie had been so busy studying for finals earlier that she’d skipped lunch, which means that she dragged him to the restaurant practically in time for the early bird special – so when she gets up to head for the bathroom, he starts gathering his clothes to redress. Nights like this are always tricky – they’ve spent plenty of nights sleeping in the same bed, but it always happens accidentally. Because it’s late and they’ve worn one another out and they just happen to fall asleep where they are, instead of throwing their clothes back on and driving home to their own bed.

But they don’t keep clothes at each other’s apartment (well, he does have a couple of back-up shirts in her hall closet, but they were there long before he started sleeping with her so he doesn’t think that counts) and when they do wind up staying overnight, they just borrow one another’s toiletries instead of stowing the essentials in each other’s bathroom. There’s still some separation between their lives that helps keep things neat and easy.

So nights like this, though, when it’s still relatively early and sex has more of an energizing effect than tiring, he always feels a little self-conscious, like choosing to stay here means something heavy and real. It’s stupid, because they’ve been doing this for four months and he feels the way that he does about her, so it’s not as if making a conscious decision to sleep beside her for the night is going to make their relationship any more serious than it already is. 

He loves her, for Fuck’s sake. It doesn’t get any more serious than that.

So why does he make this shit so complicated, he wonders as he pulls on his underwear. He’s only torturing himself.

Annie breezes back into the room, her hair pulled back in a ponytail and her face scrubbed clean. He’s always a little freaked out when he sees her fresh-faced like this because, while she doesn’t wear a ton of makeup, her bare skin makes her look seriously young, like she’s still taking Driver’s Ed and leading cheers at pep rallies. She stands at her dresser, pulling out pajamas and humming some tune to herself that he doesn’t recognize. He thinks of his empty apartment, where he’ll fall into a cold bed all alone. He watches Annie step into a pair of tiny blue and white checkered cotton shorts and pull a pale blue camisole over her head, and he can’t seem to move.

“Hey,” he starts to say, and she looks at him over her shoulder, seeming a little distracted. He is so nervous that it’s embarrassing. “I was thinking… maybe I’ll just crash here tonight. You know, because it’s pretty late.”

That’s a complete lie – it’s barely ten and he’s left her place later than that on plenty of occasions – but it gets her full attention. Annie turns in surprise, but he can tell that she’s fighting off a smile as she nods.

“You probably should,” she says, and he can tell that she’s trying very hard to keep her tone light, breezy. “You were drinking earlier too.”

“Annie,” he laughs. “It was two drinks about three hours ago. I don’t think I’m about to wrap my car around a tree.”

“Still,” she says, with a shrug. “Better safe than sorry.”

He throws his jeans on and heads for the bathroom – Troy and Abed are out (apparently Abed’s girlfriend has a friend that is just perfect for Troy, so they’re double-dating at the planetarium’s laser show, and Jeff can’t help but think that a reality show that did nothing but send Troy and Abed out on random double dates would be ratings gold) but he figures that it’s still probably unseemly to roam around their apartment in his underwear.

The lighting in the bathroom is the horrible fluorescent kind, but he scans his reflection in the mirror anyway. He tells himself once again that this isn’t a big deal – he’s slept in her bed with her plenty of times, even if it wasn’t premeditated like this. Besides, he already has his own toothbrush in the little holder in the bathroom where Troy, Abed, and Annie keep theirs. Troy and Abed actually presented him with the Spider Man brush right after his relationship with Annie became public record – he assumes that the gift was meant to indicate that he had their blessing. Annie actually got teary-eyed over the whole thing, hugging her roommates like they’d just saved a bunch of babies and puppies from a burning building.

Jeff appreciated the gesture, too, but he didn’t get quite as emotional about it.

He squirts some of Annie’s toothpaste onto said brush, rinses with her mouthwash, and uses some of her face wash. He’s done of all of this before, so it’s not a big deal.

When he goes back to her bedroom, she’s sitting on the edge of the bed with a little purple bottle in her hand. It’s got a medicine dropper in the lid and he watches as she drips some gold-colored liquid into her palm.

“What’s that?” he asks.

“Argan oil,” she says, rubbing it into her face. “It’s really good for your skin. Your hair too actually.”

“If it’s so good, how come I don’t know about it?” He sits beside her on the bed. “As you know, I’m kind of a skin care expert.”

She shrugs, smiling softly. “I guess you missed an e-mail from Sephora.  But it’s loaded with vitamins and antioxidants.  Want some?”

He holds his hand out and she dribbles a few drops into his hand. “Just rub it in?”

She nods, watching as he carefully massages it into his face. It feels strange in a way that he can’t exactly articulate. It’s not the intimacy of the whole thing that sticks with him – they’ve been pretty damn intimate for months now – but maybe the domesticity of it. Sitting beside one another on her bed, taking care of evening rituals, getting ready to fall asleep beside one another.

But then, that’s not exactly what’s strange about it either – it’s that it doesn’t really feel strange at all, that it doesn’t make him want to bolt, that has him so turned around. He watches as Annie straightens the sheets and comforter from their earlier tumble, fluffs the pillows, and then climbs into the right side of the bed, the one that she usually prefers. He’s never really had a side of the bed before – he usually sleeps right in the middle where he has the most space to sprawl out. He barely fits in Annie’s bed as is, but he slides in on the left side and bends his knees so he can squeeze in.

“Do I need to set an alarm for you?” she asks, plugging her cell phone into the charger on her nightstand.

He laughs, adjusting his pillows so they’re just right. “I’m sure you’re getting up at the crack of dawn even though it’s Saturday and the semester’s over, so why would I need an alarm?”

She glares at him. “You think that you’re so smart. Just for that, I’ll set the alarm for 9.”

“Oooh,” he teases. “Now that’s really living.”

Annie snaps off the light, sending the room into darkness. She rolls over, so they’re facing one another in the center of the bed. They both have their hands tucked under the pillows and their knees bent, so their arms and legs press together warmly.

It’s actually pretty comfortable – even if they aren’t naked.

“I was afraid of the dark when I was little,” she whispers, just as he closes his eyes. 

He bobs his head against the pillow, though she probably can’t see him. “Most kids are.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Her fingers trace lightly along his bicep. “Were you?”

“I had this awesome He-Man nightlight so I didn’t really mind the dark.”

She laughs softly.

“That’s cute.” She curls her hand around his arm, and he feels her breath against his face as she scoots even closer. “I outgrew it, you know, being afraid of the dark.  But then, when I was in rehab, my room was really dark at night and I was sharing it with a total stranger and it just started to seem like there had to be something out there in the shadows because they were just everywhere. I told my counselor about it and he tried to turn it into this big metaphor for my addiction. Which was just stupid.”

He doesn’t know what to say. The truth is that he really doesn’t like thinking about that part of her past – not because it makes him think of any less of her. Because actually, it only makes him respect her more, the fact that she was able to pull herself through such a rough time when she was barely more than a kid. He doesn’t like to think about it because he hates thinking of her going through it alone – and most days, it’s honestly easy to forget that it’s something she ever went through.

“But it was one extreme to another,” Annie continues. “Because when I moved into my old apartment, it was so freaking bright every night because of all the neon lights downstairs and I had to sleep with a mask on.  I guess, this is the first place in a while that feels like it's just the right amount of darkness.”

She slides her hand along his arm to his wrist, and he reaches down to tangle his fingers with hers.

“Does that make you Goldilocks then?” he says lightly.

Annie laughs, her nose rubbing against his arm.

“Maybe,” she sighs. “But if I’m completely honest, I still feel better having you here.”

He grins into the darkness. “I promise to protect you from monsters and anything else that might go bump in the night.”

“Is there anything that you’re afraid of?” she asks playfully. “You know, that you need me to protect you from?”

“Well, the Dean’s interest in me can be pretty scary sometimes. If you want to run interference there, we can consider ourselves even.”

She giggles and slides even closer to him, so he can feel her cheek pressed to the inside of his forearm.

“That sounds fair.”

She sighs sleepily, and her warm breath drifts over his chest. There’s something almost soothing about it, so even though Annie’s sheets aren’t nearly as soft as his, he thinks that there’s a pretty solid night of sleep in his future. He closes his eyes and lets his mind drift, though he does kind of get stuck in a loop of thoughts about how he’s idiot for thinking that sleeping here with her like this would be awkward or uncomfortable or just something he isn’t ready for. It’s simple and easy and actually pretty nice.

He’s just about to drift off when Annie slides her fingers down his chest, waking up more than a few nerve endings.

“You know what I do when I can’t sleep?” she whispers.

He responds with a lazy humming noise.

“Recite the Gettysburg Address in my head.”

This elicits an actual laugh, and his hand blindly reaches for her hip, patting it affectionately. He should have seen this coming, he thinks. She did drag him and Abed to see ‘Lincoln’ last year, after all.

“You have that memorized?” he says. “Why am I not surprised?”

“Yes,” she huffs, sounding just a little defensive. “And the beginning of the Declaration of Independence too. I like to switch back and forth.”

His fingers slip beneath her camisole to her warm, smooth back and he strokes the skin there gently. If she’s having trouble sleeping, he’s willing to do his part to help.

“Let’s hear it, then,” he tells her. “The Gettysburg Address.”

“You want me to say it out loud?”

“Yeah. I’m having trouble falling asleep myself. Though that’s probably because my bedmate won’t shut the hell up.”

She gasps out an outraged laugh and taps her fingers against the center of his chest. “Jeff, I don’t think—"

“Come on, now,” he says, squeezing her hip as encouragement. “Don’t hold out on me.”

Annie lets out a long, sleepy-sounding sigh.

“Four score and seven years ago,” she whispers, and he smiles into his pillow at her serious tone. “Our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…”

He falls asleep before she gets much further, and he has a really weird dream where he’s wearing a stove pipe hat at a baseball game with his fourth grade teacher, Mr. Harnett, who taught him about the Civil War. There’s also something about a dog and a disco ball, and when he tells Annie about it in the morning, he blames it all on her.

“Next time, we’ll go with the Declaration of Independence,” she tells him.

Chapter Text

When the final member of the study group – Shirley – finishes her last final – Advanced Strategic Marketing – they decide a celebration is in order so they wind up at a karaoke bar.

Jeff may not be a student any more, but they all started Greendale together and they’ll end it together so he’s goes along to celebrate as well. Even Pierce promises to make an appearance before the night is over – since he returned from his trip, he jumps at pretty much any invitation to show off his ridiculously dark tan.

Jeff leans back against the padded booth, grinning as he watches Shirley, Britta and Annie belt out ‘Wannabe’ by the Spice Girls. It’s the most amusing thing that he’s seen in a long time – not because they’re bad. Shirley and Annie have pretty good voices, and what Britta lacks in on-key singing, she’s able to hide pretty well by layering her voice in with theirs. What makes it so entertaining is how into it they are, singing loud and proud and dancing around the stage like they don’t care whether anyone’s watching.

They get a pretty resounding cheer when they’re done – Jeff, Abed, and Troy go for a standing ovation because they’ve definitely earned it. As usual, Jeff’s eyes are drawn straight to Annie as she bounces off the stage like there’s some kind of magnetic pull. Sure, maybe she’s a little sweaty from dancing under those hot lights, but she just looks absolutely radiant to him in her blue and white daisy-printed sundress. He smiles as she slides into the booth beside him, curling into his side. She’s not really drunk yet, just a little tipsy, but she’s always a little more demonstrative with him in front of their friends when she’s had a little something to drink.

But then Britta and Shirley head for the bathroom, and Troy and Abed make their way to the bar for another round, so there’s really no reason for her to hold back anyway.

“That was fun,” Annie declares, reaching for her nearly empty margarita.

“It looked like fun,” Jeff agrees.

She lays a hand on his thigh and leans in close enough so he can smell the sweet, citrusy scent of her breath. “Are you going to sing something?”

“I’m thinking about it,” he says, swirling the scotch around in his glass. “Karaoke’s all about finding a song with just the right amount of cheese. I’m torn between ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ and ‘Cum On Feel the Noize.’”

She squints, tapping her fingers against his leg. “I know the first song, but not the second one.”

He groans and bounces his knee to jostle her a bit.

“I need you to take my iPod and listen to everything on it, okay?” he says. “When you don’t know a song that I’m talking about, it makes me feel very old… and creepy.”

She giggles, playing with a button on his shirt.

“You are neither of those things,” she whispers. “I promise.”

Both of her hands slide over his thigh now, her fingers pretty damn close to his crotch, and she scoots even closer, so she can nuzzle against his throat. He closes his eyes and winds a hand through her hair to keep her pressed against him. She’s just starting to pepper his jawline with soft, lingering kisses that have his blood thrumming but probably aren’t exactly appropriate for public consumption when Britta and Shirley noisily make their way back from the booth. Annie sighs in disappointment and slowly shifts away from him.

Britta and Shirley seem totally oblivious, cackling loudly as they tumble into the booth.

“So…” Shirley says, sounding pretty giddy. She’s had a little more to drink tonight than usual, so it seems like she’s really letting her hair down. Or maybe it’s just the relief of being done with Greendale. “Are you two lovebirds going to treat us to a duet?”

He glances at Annie, and she’s not freaking out at Shirley’s choice of words or worrying if it’s making him uncomfortable so it seems like he can thank the alcohol for getting rid of all the awkwardness. If anything, she just looks amused, which means that they can both laugh it.

Jeff lifts a shoulder in a casual shrug. “I really don’t think that—"

“Come on, guys,” Britta slurs. “That would make my night… it would make my week actually. Maybe even my year. Because I’ll record it and put it on YouTube for posterity.”

Jeff grins and taps his phone where it sits on the table. “What do you think I’m planning to do with your stunning rendition of ‘I Touch Myself?’”

Britta gives him the finger and Shirley reaches out to slap her hand to the table, laughing all the while. Annie giggles too, even as she noisily slurps the dregs of her margarita through a straw. Troy and Abed return with the fresh round and hand out the glasses and bottles while the girls continue to laugh like they can’t quite stop.

“Okay,” Troy says as he and Abed slide back into the booth. “What did we miss?”

“Oh, nothing,” Britta says breezily. “We’re just trying to get Jeff and Annie to entertain us with a fabulous, amazing, embarrassing duet.”

Abed perks up.

“Yes,” he agrees, turning to Jeff and Annie. “You totally should. It would be a lighthearted moment that’s actually rife with deep emotional significance. Perfect timing given that graduation is just around the corner.”

“It’s a karaoke duet, Abed,” Jeff laughs. “It doesn’t have any deep significance.”

“It’d signify that we’re really, really drunk,” Annie says. “That’s what it would signify.”

He bobs his head, pointing a finger at her. “Yes.  Exactly. That would be its only significance.”

Troy pushes Jeff’s fresh glass of scotch a little closer to him. “Well, drink up then. Because now that the idea’s in my head, I’ve got my heart set on seeing you two up on that stage.”

Britta nods enthusiastically. “See? You’ll ruin the whole night for the rest of us if you don’t do it.”

Shirley, Abed and Troy hum their agreement, but Jeff just shakes his head.

“I think you’ll all live if you don’t hear me and Annie sing ‘You’re the One That I Want’ or ‘I Got You Babe.’”

Annie’s lifts her head from her drink and beams up at him.

“I know both of those!” she declares happily.

She goes back to sipping her margarita through a straw, like the conversation doesn’t really have anything to do with her, and he can only grin because she’s a pretty amazing combination of cute and sexy at the moment that makes it difficult to concentrate on much else.

Until Britta opens her big mouth.

“Annie knows them, Jeff,” she needles. “So you’ve got no excuses.”

They’re all, minus Annie anyway, looking at him expectantly, so he frowns and downs half of his scotch.

“Well, if you’re gonna be a total buzz kill and *not* sing a duet,” Troy says. “Is it okay if Abed and I do ‘I Got You Babe’?”

That only starts an argument between he and Abed about whether that’s really the best song for them to sing, with Britta adding her two cents about how they shouldn’t feel the need to adhere to traditional gender roles by singing a duet meant for two guys. Shirley interrupts to ask if either Abed or Troy is interested in singing ‘Endless Love’ with her, and from there, Jeff loses track of the entire conversation.  He glances over at Annie, who’s still sipping her drink like she doesn’t have a care in the world.

“Hey,” he whispers to her. “Did you really want to sing a duet?”

She shrugs, honestly looking like the whole thing really doesn’t mean much to her.

“It might be fun,” she says. Some of the salt from the edge of her glass has transferred to thumb and she stops to lick it off.  “I just think it’s more fun to sing with other people than by yourself.”

Jeff regards her skeptically. “So you want me to get on stage with you and sing a song from ‘Grease?’ Is that what you’re saying? Because I need to be a whole lot drunker for that. And then I probably won’t be much good to you later tonight.”

She giggles, shaking her head like that’s the last thing she wants.

“We don’t have to sing a duet-duet,” she tells him. “We could sing anything to together…” She wraps both of her hands around his forearm and squeezes lightly. “Oooh! Let’s sing ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me!’ Or the other song about the noise. I don’t know that one, but I bet I can follow along.”

He laughs and lifts his arm to lay it on the top of the booth behind her so his fingers can trace up and down her bare arm. “You want to sing Def Leopard with me?”

“Yes!” She’s practically bouncing in her seat with excitement now. “Yes! Let’s do it!”

She starts to slide to the edge of the booth, tugging on his arm to pull him with her. He could easily fight her, but she’s so excited and giddy at the prospect of singing with him that he figures that it can’t be the worst thing he’ll ever do in his life.

“Where are you guys going?” Britta asks, when she sees them standing beside the table.

The rest of the group looks over at them with interest too.

“To give the people what they want, apparently,” Jeff says wryly.

Britta’s eyes light up and she grins. “You’re seriously going to do a duet? Oh my God! Where’s my phone?”

She dumps her bag on the table and frantically starts rooting through it.  Jeff starts to get a few second thoughts then – it’s one thing to make a fool of himself in public; it’s another thing entirely for there to be video evidence of the embarrassment. He knows that from hard-earned firsthand experience.

But Annie smiles up at him, her arm wrapped around his waist, and he decides that he can be a good sport.

“Not a real duet,” she corrects Britta. “We’re just going to sing something together.”

“What song?” asks Abed.

Jeff opens his mouth to answer, but Annie quickly presses her hand over his mouth.

“It’s a surprise.”

He lets her drag him over to fill out the song request slip, watching as she uses the little golf pencil to scratch out their title in her neat, precise handwriting. They wait their turn at the bar, and he convinces her that they should have a couple of shots of tequila to loosen themselves up. Mostly, he just wants to watch her lick salt off her skin again and suck on that little wedge of lime.

But the shots do help – well, they help him anyway.

Annie doesn’t really need it. 

She belts out Def Leopard lyrics as enthusiastically as she did the Spice Girls’ song, even though he’s willing to bet that she doesn’t know this tune nearly as well. He feels like a fucking idiot for the entire thing, particularly when he sees that it’s not just Britta capturing the moment for posterity, but all of his friends recording the scene  on their phones as they hoot and holler from the booth – he will never, ever hear the end of this, that’s for damn sure.

But he also kind of has fun – because Annie’s enthusiasm is pretty damn infectious and he’s always looked pretty good in a spotlight, if he does say so himself. They don’t get quite as hardy a reception as Annie did with Britta and Shirley, but they get a decent enough hand when they’re done so he’s not as humiliated about the whole thing as he could be.

Especially when Annie grabs him just as they get off the stage and kisses him hard and deep.

“We were awesome,” she declares, laughing against his mouth. “So much better than that dumb couple that sang ‘A Whole New World.’”

Her eyes are blazing with the kind of competitive fire that she usually saves for Model U.N. battles and student government elections, which turns him on almost as fast as the sight of her bare skin.

“Obviously,” he says. “I mean, we’re us.”

She nods, still giggling, and leads him back to the booth. Their friends are all smiles too – particularly Britta who’s got her lighter out and is waving it back and forth in tribute.

“That was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen,” she announces. “Jeff’s air guitar alone is going to get this thing like a billion hits.”

He sinks into the booth behind Annie and smirks. “I’m so glad that we could amuse you.”

“Oh, it was nice,” Shirley assures him, reaching across the table to pat his hand. She’s pretty drunk at this point, though, so he’s having a hard time taking anything that she says seriously. “You two were adorable!”

He frowns and reaches for his nearly empty glass to drain it.

“We weren’t *adorable*,” Annie insists.  “We kicked ass is what we did.”

She holds up her margarita to clink it against his in a pretty emphatic toast – she spills a little of her drink on her hand in the process, but somehow, it doesn’t really spoil the effect.

 “You two definitely have chemistry,” Abed says.

“Ah, they’re doing it,” Troy points out. “So duh.”

“But that doesn’t always mean anything. There are plenty of examples of real life couples who don’t exhibit much chemistry on-screen, so it doesn’t necessarily follow that—"

“We’re not on-screen, though,” Jeff says. “So I don’t think any of this really applies.”

“Yeah,” Annie agrees, curling her hands around his bicep. “We’re both just awesome. That’s all there is to it.”

Britta groans and kicks Jeff under the table. “You’re a terrible influence on her, you know that?”

“I don’t see how encouraging a little confidence is a bad thing.”

Annie snorts and swats at his stomach. “I knew I was awesome before … us.”

He drapes his arm behind her on the booth again and smiles. “Maybe. But you weren’t as comfortable admitting it, were you?”

She tilts her head, thinking it over, and then gives a little shrug of her shoulder. But she grins too, looking so pleased that he really doesn’t care if he’s right or wrong. He rubs his knuckles against her bare shoulder and she flushes, biting at her lip.

“I’m getting the feeling that you two would be seriously insufferable if I wasn’t already drunk,” Britta says, rattling the ice around in her glass.

“Yeah?” Jeff says. “Why don’t you go sing about it?”

Britta just smirks. “Why would I do that? I could never compete with the show you just put on.”

“You might still have fun, though,” Annie says, entirely earnest.

He nods. “Yeah, Britta. Just because you can’t compete with us doesn’t mean you can’t have fun too.”

Britta makes a face like she’s just eaten something sour and flips the soggy cardboard coaster from beneath her drink his way. Annie manages to catch it between her hands before it hits him, totally on a fluke, but she brandishes it proudly, like she’s just saved him from a mortal wound.

“Nice catch,” he tells her, and she grins up at him with a sultry look in her eyes that suggests that she’s willing to remind him exactly what other nice things she can do with her hands before the night’s over.

They wind up sharing a cab with Shirley because his apartment and her house are in the same general direction. Annie konks out against his shoulder before they even make it to Shirley’s, her hand curled into the hem of his shirt. Shirley smiles at him over the top of her bent head.

“You know, sometimes I really do forget she’s not that little girl we first met,” Shirley says, and he braces himself for some kind of lecture or warning, even though he honestly thought that they were past all that. “And it’s really not fair to her. Because she’s a strong, capable young woman who’s probably better able to take care of herself than all the rest of us put together.”

He laughs quietly, nodding. “Probably.”

“I hope you didn’t take Britta seriously earlier. About you two being insufferable.”

He shrugs.

“I rarely take Britta seriously,” he jokes. “So...”

Shirley shakes her head and sighs. “I think it’s just a little strange for us to see you so happy. So maybe it takes a little getting used to, you know?”

He doesn’t know what to say to that, so he just tightens his grip on Annie’s shoulder and studies his lap.

“Come on, Jeff,” Shirley whispers conspiratorially. “It’s just you and me, so you can admit it. It’s nice, isn’t it? To have someone to care about, who cares about you in return? Instead of an endless parade of trollops whose names you barely remember?”

He makes a sound that’s a cross between a sigh and a laugh – because drunk Shirley is just as perceptive and intimidating as sober Shirley.

“It’s not half bad,” he says.

It’s Shirley’s turn to laugh.

“Not half bad?” she repeats. “As long as you know you’re not fooling me for a hot second, I’ll accept that.”

He busts out one of his most charming smiles. “Could I ever fool you, Shirley?”

Her laughter gets a little deeper and she shakes her head.

“Not even a little bit.” She cocks her head toward Annie. “Not where this one was concerned anyway.”

When the cab pulls away from Shirley’s house, Annie rouses a bit. 

“Are we home?” she asks sleepily.

“Not yet,” he tells her. “I’ll wake you when we get there.”

Chapter Text

With graduation just around the corner, there have been plenty of parties and dinners and group outings, so he calls her on a night when there’s nothing planned, and says, “Let’s do something tonight, just you and me.”

She’s at his door less than an hour later, wearing a sleeveless dress with a swingy skirt and deep V-neckline that does amazing things for her cleavage. And the dress’s bright blue color makes her eyes look even wider and sultrier, so it automatically makes it to the top of the list of the best things that he’s ever seen her in.

She has grocery bags with her, ready to make the lemon chicken dish that he likes so much, so he heads to the liquor store to pick up a bottle of champagne. When he gets back, he keeps her company in the kitchen while she cooks. She won’t actually let him help, though – she hasn’t forgotten his ill-fated introduction to risotto and she doesn’t approve of the way that he chops the onions and tomatoes for the salad. So he mostly entertains her with gossip that he’s heard in the teacher’s lounge, which is a big hit until he gets to a topic that involves one of their friends.

“You don’t seriously think Britta should date Duncan, do you?” she asks, her nose wrinkled. “He’s gross, Jeff. And drunk half the time.”

Jeff shrugs, snagging a piece of red pepper from the salad and popping it in his mouth. “All I know is, it would be hilarious to watch. And that’s what I’m mostly concerned with – my own amusement.”

She swats a dish towel in his direction but misses completely. “Britta’s your friend. You should want her to be happy, and I’m willing to bet what little money I have in my bank account that Ian Duncan is not going to help in that regard.”

“You never know,” Jeff says sagely. “Sometimes, the person that you least expect is the best fit for you.”

Annie stills her knife, gazing over at him with a soft smile. “Look at you, getting all philosophical and contemplative about love and romance.”

He smirks. “Who said anything about love or romance? I’m talking about sex.”

Her mouth twists is a disbelieving frown, and there’s a spark of something bright in her eyes. “Sure you were.”

“I’m just sayin’ – who are we to judge? You can never tell what’s going on between two people from the outside. It always looks a lot simpler from that vantage point.”

In the middle of mixing the olive oil and vinegar for the salad dressing, she stops, tilting her head and gazing at him almost wistfully.

“The truth is out there,” she murmurs.

“Huh?”

She giggles, shrugging self-consciously. “Sorry. I’ve been watching ‘The X-Files’ on Netflix. I just finished the fourth season and I’m really into it.”

He bobs his head and smiles. “It’s a good show.”

“It is,” she agrees, carrying the salad to the table. “Scully is awesome – she’s smart and totally kicks butt and doesn’t bat an eye at cutting up dead bodies. And Mulder’s brilliant and tortured and brooding.  He’s, you know, very sexy.”

Jeff grins as he sits down. “So is that what you look for in a guy? A wounded soul, workaholic tendencies, and anger management issues?”

She shrugs, looking amused.

“He’s a character from a television show,” she says. “The things that I’d find attractive in him for dramatic purposes probably wouldn’t be all that appealing in real life. I mean, I think by the fourth or fifth conversation, it’d get pretty annoying to hear him go on and on about aliens. Scully’s obviously a saint.”

“Point taken,” Jeff laughs. He watches as she carefully drizzles the dressing over her salad – she hates when it gets too soggy. “Okay, so what would your real life perfect guy be like then?”

She glances at him across the table, and her eyes narrow warily. “Come on, Jeff. Don’t make fun of me.”

“I’m not,” he says. “I’m genuinely curious.”

She raises a dubious eyebrow. “About my perfect guy?”

He nods as he pours them each a glance of champagne.

“That’s what I said.”

Annie stabs at her salad, spearing a tomato on her fork and pushing it around her plate aimlessly.  Her expression is hard to read, but he’s pretty sure that he sees both annoyance and fear.

“I don’t expect anyone to be perfect, Jeff. I thought you understood that or at least—"

“That’s not what I mean,” he says. “I mean, in a perfect world, what would Mr. Right be like?”

She shakes her head, her eyes focused entirely on the leafy greens on the plate in front of her.

“I don’t know,” she sighs. “He’d be smart, confident… and funny. He probably wouldn’t take everything as seriously as I do, so maybe he could help me loosen up a little bit. He’d be loyal too. And tall… I like-"

He laughs, almost spewing champagne across the table.

“Yeah, because it’s probably really hard to find a guy who’s taller when you’re your size,” he teases.

She glares at him over the rim of her champagne glass.

“And he’d know when to keep his mouth shut too,” she says pointedly.

He loves the feisty look on her face, like she’s entirely too pleased with herself, and he chuckles again as she tosses her hair over her shoulder with a flourish.

“Well, if we ignore that last point,” he says. “It looks like I’m pretty perfect.”

Annie grins, neither agreeing nor disagreeing – it’s easier for her to do inscrutable than he would have imagined. She taps a finger against the stem of her glass and tilts her head.

“What about you?” she asks. “What’s your perfect woman like?”

He shrugs, playing it cool mostly because he knows that it’ll annoy her.

“I don’t know how to describe her exactly,” he tells her. “I just know her when I see her.”

When she laughs, her eyes seem to come alive and he can’t help smiling along.

“That’s so typical,” she declares. “I get specific and you’re all cryptic. Guarded as ever.”

He smirks, because she’s pretty much right. It’s the game that he likes to play. But when he looks at her across the table, with her blue flame eyes and knowing smile, it seems like a pretty good time to try something new.

“I can be more specific,” he insists. “I mean, I’ve started to consider the possibility that you’re my soul mate, so there’s that.” He shoots her an impish grin, and she cocks her head, figuring that there’s obviously some catch because they both know that there isn’t even the smallest part of him that believes in something as trite and corny as soul mates. “Mainly because you’re the only person I’ve ever known whose skincare routine is nearly as long as mine.”

Annie huffs out an outraged laugh and shakes her head with a vengeance.

“Mine is not as bad as yours!” she asserts. “And I have very sensitive, reactive skin so I have to be really careful.” 

“You don’t have to sell me on the importance of a good skincare regime, Annie. And I do have you to thank for introducing me to argan oil. I mean, I’m glowing lately, right? I feel like it’s changed my life.”

She sips at her champagne, smiling over the edge of her glass.

“There’s a lot of that going around,” she says.

He nods – it’s true, of course, and not just because his skin looks better and she actually knows who Todd Helton is since they got together. They’ve both changed in some really small, really significant ways in the past four months, without even trying to, and maybe, just maybe, they’re happier for it.

“I don’t think I can really be your soul mate, though,” Annie says, and it’s her turn to try out a mischievous grin. “Remember when we tried to go for that run together? We were both miserable because you went slower than usual and I went faster… all because my short, little legs just can’t keep up with you.”

He shrugs, smiling back at her.

“That’s what side by side treadmills at the gym are for,” he tells her. “So no one has to change their pace.”

She lets out a quiet sigh of a laugh and shakes her head, a hazy, almost mystified expression in her eyes. It’s probably as strange for her to hear him say things like this as it is for him to say them. Because while he doesn’t believe that there’s any such thing as soul mates, he’s willing to admit that he and Annie fit together in a way that no one probably would have guessed. It doesn’t mean it’ll be easy, that it won’t take work, but he’s starting to realize that he’s always made an effort where she’s concerned, more than he has for anyone in a long time, so nothing really has to change.

Annie stands, gesturing toward the kitchen. “I’m going to get the chicken.”

But he reaches out to curl his hand around wrist to stop her.

“Wait a second,” he says. She gazes down at him expectantly, her smile calm. “Remember when we acted out your fantasy with my shirt?”

Her grin turns sly and she bobs her head. “Are you still mad at me for ruining it? I figured I would have to pay the price for that someday.”

“Nope,” he assures her. “All is forgiven. It’s just… I’m having a little fantasy of mine own right now and I’m hoping you’ll indulge me.”

Color blooms across her cheeks and there’s a slight hitch in her breathing.

“What kind of fantasy?”

Wordlessly, he stands, and with one hand, he sweeps their salad plates, silverware, and glasses to the floor, where they shatter noisily. Annie gasps, her eyes blown wide.

“Jeff! You’re making—"

But he grabs her around the waist before she can finish her thought and hauls her up on the cleared table, her shoes thudding to the floor with the rest of the mess. He steps between her legs and her arms wind around his neck, and then their mouths fuse together as they kiss one another breathless.

Somehow, he manages to find the zipper at the back of her dress blindly and starts tugging it down just as Annie’s hands slide down his chest and start plucking at the buttons of his shirt. The top of her dress comes loose, falling down to her elbows, and she’s wearing a tiny black strapless bra with lots of lace that may actually be the one that she was wearing that first night in the backseat of his car – he doesn’t just push it out of the way like he did then, though. He takes the time to undo the hooks and slowly peels it away from her, dropping it to the floor with the broken dishes and glasses. Annie shoves his shirt in the same general direction, though she’s too busy trailing her mouth along his jaw to really pay attention.

When he bends to close his lips around the tip of her breast, she lets out a shuddering sigh that makes it seem like it’s a lot longer than just this morning since they last did this.

The skirt of her dress bunches up around the tops of her thighs as she shifts restlessly on the table, and he traces his fingers along the soft, milky-white skin at the inside, just below the lace trim of her underwear. Her hands knead his shoulders, holding him in place against her chest but there’s really no need because he doesn’t want to be anywhere else. He licks at the valley between her breasts, where the skin is just the slightest bit salty with a hint of sweat, and she slides closer to him, her legs winding around his hips like she’s clutching him to her for dear life. Her hands glide down his chest too, her fingernails scraping against his nipples, and it’s like an electric current shoots through his body.

All of a sudden, he’s sliding her down so her feet touch the floor and turning her around to bend her over the table. He lifts the back of her dress that still clings loosely around her waist and tugs her panties down. She kicks them away, losing them among the shattered ceramic and glass, her shoes and his shirt. When he slides his fingers between her legs, she’s already so hot and wet, and she tenses against him, curling her hand around his forearm where it rests against her stomach. It takes a couple of tries, but he’s able to undo his pants with his free hand. He’s about to shove his boxer briefs out of the way when he remembers that they need a condom – he curses himself for not having the forethought to bring some out here earlier.

There might be a few on the coffee table from the other day, he thinks, and he tries to glance over his shoulder to see if they’re there – but then he slides himself against her once, just to tide him over until he finds a damn condom and the friction is just too fucking good and he is completely distracted as they groan together. 

Annie’s good at multi-tasking, though, and she slaps her hand against the table so he notices the pale blue plastic wrapper between her fingers – that’s his Annie, ever the planner. He takes the condom from her and is about to tear it open with his teeth when she wraps her hand around the wrists that he’s using to prop himself up on the table and looks at him over her shoulder, her lip caught against her teeth.

“Wait,” she pants. “Jeff, I…”

She shakes her head, trying to catch her breath. 

“Are you okay?  Am I hurting you?”

“No. It’s only… I just want to see you.”

He may be wound up, but that’s all it takes for him to take a step back and gently turn her around. They’re both half naked and breathless, but she looks so vulnerable that he feels something heavy and warm settle in his chest – so he finds himself bending to pick her up, one arm around her waist and the other under her knees. She’s caught off-guard, gasping a little as he balances her against him, but she catches on fast enough, winding an arm around his shoulders and pressing a hand to his cheek so she can angle his face just right for a kiss.

His back is probably going to be tight tomorrow, he thinks as he carries her to the bedroom, but it’ll definitely be worth it.

On his bed, they shed the rest of their clothing and she helps him roll the condom on. Once he’s inside her, the world narrows to all the places where they are connected and he thinks that it’s a place that he never wants to leave. He holds himself above her, careful not to crush her with his weigh, and she trails her fingers down his back and up again. When he starts to pick up speed, she hugs his hips with her knees, stilling him for a moment. 

She gazes up at him with dusty indigo eyes and he brushes the damp hair away from her face.

“Jeff,” she whispers. “I just …”

Her eyes flutter closed and her breath stutters out of her, like she can’t seem to finish. He bobs his head, though, kissing the corner of her mouth.

“I know,” he tells her.

He doesn’t really – well, maybe not exactly – but he gets the point. Like him, she’s surging with emotion that’s threatening to overtake her if she doesn’t share it.  Whatever it is – love, passion, fondness, lust, affection, tenderness, devotion – it is real and crushing, the weight of the world. And it doesn’t matter that it’s still largely undefined or unspoken. They both know that it exists and that it can’t really be ignored for much longer.

Afterward, she lazily kisses his jaw and he presses his lips against her temple. He stays inside her a little longer than usual because neither one of them is eager to separate. When they finally drag themselves out of bed, he throws on a pair of gym shorts and she slips into the Hermes T-shirt that she inherited from him, and they eat the cold chicken at his kitchen counter. She gestures at the debris surrounding his dining table, a spot that pretty much looks like a disaster zone, with her fork.

“Who’s going to clean up that mess?” she asks.

“Well, if you get a French maid costume,” he teases. “We could act out another of my fantasies.”

She laughs, shoving at his shoulder. “Oh, in your dreams, Jeff.”

He smirks. “Just about every night.”

“Maybe Britta’s right about you,” Annie says. “All these sexist fantasies where I’m subservient to you in some way or another…”

She shakes her head ruefully, though she’s smiling.

“Hey, now, I’ve also got a fantasy where you’re a judge and I have to see you in chambers because you’re holding me in contempt of court. Oh, and another where you’re a cop who’s interrogating me. That probably has something to do with freshman year when you cuffed me and banged my head against the study room table.”

She blushes at the memory, and he absolutely loves her shy smile so he nudges her knee with his.

“Come on. You can tell the truth now – how much did you enjoy frisking me then?”

She lifts her head with a determined look in her eye.

“How much did *you* enjoy it?” she challenges.

Jeff grins, reaching out to curl his fingers around hers.

“Touché,” he says. “And you say you’re not my soul mate…”

 She giggles a little under her breath and collects their empty plates for the dishwasher.

“I’ve got an idea,” she announces. “One game of Trivial Pursuit. Loser has to clean up.”

She looks almost giddy at the prospect, standing barefoot in his small kitchen, and he thinks that it’s probably the perfect way to end the night – because really, he can’t think of a better way to celebrate the end of the school year than with sex, cold chicken, a cutthroat game of trivia, and someone getting to gloat over the other getting stuck on the business end of a broom and dustpan.

He’s totally in over his head, though, because Annie knows so many more useless facts than he does and he can’t even cheat because she knows pretty much all of his tricks.

But he really doesn’t mind.

Because when he does lose, Annie is the ultimate in good sports and helps him clean up anyway.

She doesn’t cut him any slack when it comes to gloating about winning, though.

Chapter Text

When graduation day finally rolls around, Annie actually thinks about not participating.

While she’s technically graduating with her Bachelor’s in Healthcare Administration, she’s still got an extra year of work for the degree that she really wants – and she’s not one to use technicalities to skate by.

Hell, she’d even taken her name out of the running for valedictorian because she didn’t think that it was right for her to have the title, even if, technically, her grades had earned her the spot.  (The fact that Shirley got the honor instead, rather than some random stranger, probably softened the blow just a little, but Jeff knows that it had to kill her just a little, to work that hard and not enjoy any recognition for it.)

But he points out that it’s not just about her – the group’s already disappointed that Jeff and Pierce graduated last semester and they won’t be marching to Pomp and Circumstance as a complete unit; if Annie ditches them too, it’ll be even worse. Of course, he adds, she also deserves to put on the stupid cap and gown and have the Dean theatrically thrust a faux diploma into her hands after four years of craziness at Greendale.

She’s silent for a moment, but she eventually smiles and bobs her head. He’s pretty sure that she would have made the same decision all on her own, though – she’s just too hard on herself sometimes.

Under her gown, she wears a simple satin dress in a light purple shade that makes her skin look especially luminous. He wears his favorite suit, gray worsted wool with a subtle woven salt and pepper pattern, and Annie’s favorite tie, rich cobalt silk. When they stand together in front of the full length mirror in his bedroom, he thinks, not for the first time, that they are one seriously good-looking couple.

In an unprecedented move, the Dean has decided to hold the ceremony outdoors on the quad, declaring that too many of Greendale’s “special” events are held in the cafeteria and graduation deserves its own space. He blows what little discretionary budget that he has left for the year on a rented tent and folding chairs, and by any standards, the set-up is actually pretty nice – though Jeff realizes that any venue that doesn’t smell like a week’s worth of tater tots and meatloaf is bound to seem like an improvement.

He’s just parked the car and they’re headed toward the quad when Annie drops the bombshell that both of her parents will be at the ceremony. He is definitely surprised, but suddenly, the past few days, when she’s been quite and preoccupied, make a little more sense. He’d attributed her mood to conflicted feelings about graduating, but not really graduating, but maybe it was all about her family after all.

“I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it,” she says. “Because it’s really not. Showing up for an hour at the end of four years doesn’t really mean all that much, right?”

Jeff shrugs. “An hour’s more than I ever got from my dad, so maybe I’m not the best person to ask.”

Her expression softens, and she steps toward him, balancing on her toes to kiss him softly. She’s wearing those sexy stilettos again so she doesn’t have to stretch too much, but his hands find her waist to steady her anyway.

“I’ll see you after the ceremony,” she says, heading off to where the rest of the graduating class is already gathered.

So her parents are here, he thinks as he goes to find a seat. He scans the crowd for a moment, wondering if he’d be able to pick them out just based on resemblance alone – because let’s face it, you don’t wind up looking like Annie does without a seriously blessed gene pool. She didn’t say anything about him meeting them, so he doesn’t know if that’s on the agenda or not. Honestly, he has no clue what he’d say to her parents – there’s plenty that he’d *like* to tell them, but he doubts that any of it would score him big points for a first impression.

The ceremony is a long, drawn out affair – he assumes that all graduations are like this, but the Dean takes it up a notch with pointless musical tributes and group cheers. At one point, he even reads all of Dr. Suess’ ‘Oh, The Places You’ll Go!,’ which probably isn’t that long but seems interminable when Craig Pelton is showboating his way through it.

Jeff is starting to realize that his low-key, private ceremony was a hell of lot better than this ordeal.

Mercifully, they finally make it to the portion of the event where names are being read off and diplomas handed out. Troy, Shirley and Annie all get theirs pretty early in the proceedings, so his attention holds well enough, what with all the clapping and whistling that he does. But then he checks his watch and realizes that there will be a seriously long gap between Edison and Nadir, and he wonders if it’s totally bad manners to take his phone out and play a little Triple Town while he waits.

He is saved from that moral dilemma by his phone actually vibrating in his pocket in a move that feels very much like divine intervention. He tugs it out and sees a text message from Annie, asking him to meet her on the other side of Luis Guzman.

On auto-pilot, he gets up and heads for the statute. It’s such an un-Annie like move, ditching graduation in the middle of the ceremony when two of her best friends haven’t even received their diplomas yet, that he figures that something big must have happened – he would think that the occasion would call for everyone to be on their best behavior, but a fight with one or both of her parents is all that he can come up with.

She is pacing in front of one of the benches when he makes his way to her, her cap and diploma sitting on the worn wood. Her gown is open, so he can see her dress underneath, and she’s wringing her hands like she doesn’t quite know what to do with them.

Obviously, she’s wound up pretty tight about something.

“I’m sorry,” she says, as soon as she spots him. “Making you come out here in the middle of the ceremony. I just …”

She shakes her head, staring down at the pointy toes of her shoes.

“Is everything all right?” he asks. “Did something happen with your parents?”

When she looks up, her eyes are wet, but she shakes her head again, slow and sure.

“Jeff,” she says, exhaling his name with a deep breath. “There’s something I have to tell you, something I’ve been trying to tell you for the past few days and just couldn’t… But I was sitting there, listening to everyone’s names being called, and I just couldn’t wait anymore. Because I know later, after the ceremony, everyone’s going to be around and I just want to …”

 She takes another breath, and when she lifts her chin now, there’s a calmness in her expression, a certainty and determination that she always wears when she’s absolutely committed to seeing something through.

“I know that this might not be what you want to hear, that it might change things between us,” she continues. “But I have to say it. For me.”

And just like that it, it all makes sense - why she’s been so anxious the past few days, why she walked out on her graduation, why she’s standing here, looking like she’s about to turn herself inside out. He knows exactly what she’s going to tell him because he’s known it for weeks now, maybe even longer than that, and no matter how terrifying the entire idea of it may be, it’s like he’s been waiting for this moment for a long, long time.

He just wishes that she wasn’t quite so sure that he was going to react badly to “news.”

So he does the hard work for her.

“You love me,” he says, and then shakes his head, realizing his mistake. “You’re *in* love with me.”

Annie stares at him, dumbfounded, like he’s mysteriously cracked the combination to her locker. Did she honestly think that he didn’t know? Does she really think that everything that she says and does doesn’t reveal everything about the way that she feels about him?

But then, he reconsiders - since they got together, she’s really done nothing but follow his lead, let him dictate the pace and the terms, careful the entire time to respect his feelings and not push for something that he wasn’t ready for. She held herself back, for sure, so maybe she honestly thinks that he didn’t get the message, that she hasn’t made him feel loved the entire time.

“I don’t want to make you uncomfortable,” she says. “I mean, you obviously know, so I hope I haven’t already made you uncomfortable. But I just think that –"

“It’s okay,” he assures her, cupping his hands around her shoulders. “I’m in love with you too. To an embarrassing degree, actually, but I really don’t want to talk about it too much yet.” He shrugs, trying to avoid the star struck look in her eyes. “Honestly, if you tell anyone that I said this, I’ll probably deny it. Claim you made the whole thing up.”

She sputters out a laugh, looking confused but not surprised.

“So what does all this mean then?” she asks.

Her voice is so soft and tender that it’s almost lost among the echo of the Dean’s voice, still calling out names at the graduation ceremony across the quad. 

“I’m not sure,” he says truthfully – because it’s not as if he has much experience with this kind of thing. “Maybe we can just see what happens.”

It has worked for them before, after all. They’ve made it this far, just letting it all unfold naturally, so it seems stupid to change the game now.

Annie grins, tilting her head coyly. “That was my plan. I should get credit.”

“Sure,” he agrees, with a smile. “It was all you.”

She takes a step forward, pressing her body against his, and kisses him fiercely, her arms wrapped around his neck. His hands slip inside her gown so they can find her hips and keep her locked in place. He feels her smile against his mouth, practically radiating giddiness, and he pulls back to look at her.

“Can you just…” she asks in a whisper. “Will you just say it one more time?”

“I love you,” he murmurs. Her eyes flutter closed, but she’s still smiling. “Like a fucking idiot.”

Her eyes snap open in surprise, and she laughs.

“You’re such a romantic,” she teases.

He shrugs, trying not to grin like a damn fool. “What I lack in romance, I make up for in other, very worthwhile ways.”

She nods, smoothing her hands along the lapels of his jacket. 

“I do too, you know,” she says.

 “What?”

She beams up at him, as lovely as she’s ever looked. “I love you, you know, like a …”

She makes small circles with her hand to complete her thought, and Jeff can’t help but grin.

“Come on,” he urges. “Just say it. It’s liberating.”

For some ridiculous reason, she blushes just a bit - but then she lifts her shoulders and lets out a deep breath, all full of resolve.

“Like a fucking idiot,” she declares emphatically.

He laughs because all of this feels pretty ridiculous and actually pretty amazing and he doesn’t know what else to do.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

Kissing her seems like the obvious thing, so he winds a hand through her hair and tugs her back to his mouth. They kind of sway together, almost like they’re dancing right there at Luis Guzman’s feet. She melts into him, leaving no point where their bodies aren’t in full, heated contact, and he thinks of his own graduation, how all of this started back then because they just couldn’t keep their hands off one another for a minute longer. He knows that there’s no trip to his backseat in their immediate future, but there’s still that same sense of urgency, that same white-hot spark smoldering between them months later – except maybe now it actually it burns a little deeper.

He wants to keep it going for as long as they can.

When he drifts back for a breath, he rubs his thumb along her cheekbone and smiles, hoping that he looks calmer than he feels.

“I just… you’re sure about this?” he asks. “About us? I just really need to know that you are.”

Annie tilts her head, her eyes soft and smoky, and grins back at him.

“Jeff,” she sighs, and it is ridiculous how much he loves the way she says his name, like she’s poured everything that she feels for him into that single word. “Yes. Of course. I’m completely sure. I’ve been sure for a long, long time.”

He nods, making a sound that’s almost a laugh but mostly a sigh that he tries to swallow down.

“Okay.  Good. Because I am too and I just—"

She doesn’t let him finish, tugging him down for another deep, slow kiss. Neither of them can stop smiling when they pull apart, which is pretty damn embarrassing – but he decides that they should cut themselves some slack for the next hour or so while they’re still basking in the fact that the air between is them perfectly clear for maybe the first time ever.

They’ve earned the right to be – as Britta would snark – insufferable for a little while.

Annie nods back toward the tent, where the Dean’s sing-songy voice can still be heard rattling off names.

“We should get back,” she says. “I think we can still make it in time for Abed and Britta.”

She grabs her cap and diploma from the bench and reaches for his hand. He can feel her looking at him as they walk, though her eyes dart away every time that he glances her way. She’s clearly thinking about something, but he can’t imagine what could have her so uneasy when they’ve just laid all their cards out on the table. He catches her looking at him again, and she offers up a sheepish smile.

“I was just …” she says. “Do you want to meet my parents?”

She blurts it out quickly, almost like she hopes he won’t be able to understand her, and he wonders if it’s a trick question – because he doesn’t particularly want to meet them. It’s not like she’s close to them or they play a meaningful role in her life.

But then, they are still her parents, no matter what they’ve done or haven’t done. Unlike his father, they were around for most of her life, and good or bad, in however small a way, they’ve helped shape who she’s become.

So what is the right answer?

He decides to play it safe.

“Do *you* want me to meet them?” he asks.

She sighs, swinging their joined hands through the air.

“I don’t… it’s… No.” She shrugs, and huffs out a strained laugh. “Not really. I’ll probably just wind up really embarrassed.”

He cocks his head, feeling vaguely insulted.

“No,” she declares. “Not embarrassed of you! Embarrassed of *them*. They can barely be in the same room without World War 3 breaking out, and my mother can be seriously judgmental, with all her passive-aggressive snide comments, and my dad will probably just start asking all these questions about whether you have an IRA or a 401K and if you’ve ever thought about diversifying your portfolio. I really don’t want to inflict them on you.”

He nods, because, yeah, that doesn’t exactly sound like his idea of fun. At all.

But the again, it’s going to have to happen sooner or later, he thinks. Maybe a happy occasion like this, with everyone in a relatively good mood and trying to be polite, is the best option.

“I should probably meet them, though,” he says finally. “You know, just get it over with.”

She glances at him, looking a little surprised, but nods.

“I don’t know exactly how to introduce you,” she admits. “Boyfriend just sounds ridiculous. Like you’re taking me to the prom or something.”

He grins. “Just tell them the truth then - I’m your better half.”

She laughs, but elbows him in the ribs playfully. “I am *not* telling them that.”

“I guess you’re stuck with boyfriend then.”

She sneaks a sideways look at him, her expression somewhere between tentative and adoring.

“You’re okay with that?” she asks, her voice just as soft as her eyes.

He offers up his most charming smile and lifts his shoulder. “Well, manfriend just sounds creepy, right?”

Annie rubs her thumb against his knuckle and lets out a quiet laugh.

“I already told them I can’t have dinner with them, though,” she says. “Because I have plans with you guys.”

“With Troy and Abed picking the restaurant, you may wind up regretting that decision,” he tells her. “Just wait - it’s probably going to be one of those places that’s decorated to look like a rain forest or where the wait staff’s shtick is being rude to the customers.”

Annie shrugs, smiling softly. “It doesn’t matter. As long as I’m with you guys.”

“We could always blow it off, though,” he suggests, just as they reach the edge of the tent. “Have a private celebration instead. Emphasis on ‘private.’”

She grins as she sets her cap back on top of her head. “I’ve already got something planned for after dinner.”

He grins right back at her. “Oh yeah? What does-"

“It’s a surprise,” she says.

She turns to head back to her seat.

“See, that’s why I …”

He hesitates for a moment - because is he really just going to go around saying it all the time like this, like some kind of pathetic, lovesick puppy? - and she glances at him over her shoulder, still smiling big and bright.

“That’s why you what?” she asks pointedly.

She turns to face him and it looks like it’s taking everything in her not to bounce up and down with total and utter delight. He lifts his shoulders uselessly, because yeah, he’s apparently a fucking sap and there just doesn’t seem to be a way around it.

“That’s why I love you,” he says simply.

Her smile is that trademark blend of sweet, sexy, surprised, and sure that she always manages when she’s really and truly happy, and he realizes again just how dangerous she really is.

“But I think we’re going to have to institute some rules,” he tells her. “About many times a week you’re allowed to make me say it.”

She shakes her head slowly, her expression becoming more sultry and sly.

“I’m not going to *make* you say it,” she insists. “I want you to say it when you feel it.”

He smirks – leave it to her to make it all seem so simple.

“That’s not gonna work either,” he says.  “Because if I do that, I’m going to wind up breaking my own rule.”

She grins and steps back toward him – she may not actually skip in those skyscraper heels, but she does something that comes pretty damn close. 

“And that’s why I love you,” she whispers.

She grabs his tie and pulls him down for another kiss.

Abed’s name is called a minute later, so they break apart and clap right there on the edge of quad. Annie insists on getting back to her seat before Britta gets her diploma, and he watches her hurry off, the dark blue gown billowing around her like a cape.

Later, he makes polite small talk with her mother and shakes her father’s hand in what might possibly go down as the most awkward meeting-the-parents scenario in history. Annie stares at her feet for most of it, looking like she wishes that she was any other place on earth.

Later still, when they wind up in a prehistoric themed restaurant, with an animatronic dinosaur hanging over their booth and Dean Pelton (who somehow butts his way into their celebration by melodramatically crying “You’re my favorite students ever! Greendale won’t be the same without you!”) crammed in beside them, she gets her wish.

Personally, he thinks another go-around with her parents might actually be preferable to this.

But then he looks at her, hoisting her ridiculously over-sized cotton candy martini – and yeah, he’s embarrassed just to be sitting at a table where there are not one, but two garishly pink, cotton candy flavored martinis, because, of course, the Dean had to order one too – to her lips, and she is beautiful and happy, laughing with their friends, and maybe that makes all of this crap tolerable.

Actually, it makes a lot of crap tolerable.

He wonders if the rest of the table can tell that something has shifted between them, that they’re not exactly the same as they were yesterday. It’s a ridiculous thought, that somehow it would show up in their faces, voices, body language, but he’s having a hard time thinking of anything else and his world view is just ego-centric enough to think that it must be as big a deal to everyone else.

But then again, he kind of likes that they’re the only ones who know – just like the way it all started.

Annie catches him looking at her and smiles, her eyes flickering in the dim, prehistoric mood lighting. She runs her hand over his thigh and leans in close enough for him to smell the sickeningly sweet scent of her breath.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she whispers.

“Yeah,” he says, grinning. “You do.”

 

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the end

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