Annie sighed happily, nudging Jeff's arm with her own. "That was fun. You know, once you actually let yourself relax. You're kind of a stick in the mud."
Normally, he'd argue the point, but he'd left Troy and Abed's new apartment to get the pizza and had come back to an actual party instead of an awkward evening. Speaking of. "Uh, Annie. As we were leaving, I saw something in your purse."
She clutched her purse tighter to her, looking shocked, as if he'd taken a peek at her diary.
He raised his brows at her expectantly. "So...?"
"So," she repeated, looking away with a sigh of resignation. "I haven't used it yet. I'm afraid to."
Jeff frowned at her, worry lining his forehead. "Have you needed to?"
"Of course, I need to," she said.
"You need to get out of that apartment--"
"If I'm pregnant--"
They stared at one another.
"Gun," Jeff said, feeling a pit form in his stomach. "I saw a gun." Crap. Crap. "...are you pregnant?"
Annie drew in a shuddering breath. "I don't know. I mean, we used protection! He-- I don't know."
He. Jeff hadn't even known she was seeing anyone.
Jeff waited for Annie to sit down, before leaning toward her chair, lowering his voice. "Well?"
She stared across at Britta's empty seat and Jeff felt his stomach drop. "The first two were negative," she finally said.
"First two." His lips twitched despite the dread planting itself in his chest; he knew what was coming.
"The third one was positive." A shuddering breath left her as she wrung her hands like an old-time wife from the 60s. "And so was the fourth."
"Jesus, Annie." She was nothing if not an overachiever.
"I'm afraid to do the fifth one," she whispered.
Jeff was good at keeping secrets; being a lawyer, it came with the territory. Except for a short stint as Shirley's gossip buddy, he was pretty good at keeping secrets. This one was both the easiest and the hardest.
He took another swig of beer, thumb playing over his cell phone, willing it to ring.
Closing his eyes, he sighed out Annie's name. It had to be negative. She couldn't be pregnant.
Feeling pain, he opened his fist to find the bottle cap clutched tightly in his palm, blood dotting a ring where it'd pierced his flesh. "Please be negative."
Jeff swallowed past his dry throat again, which didn't help. Nothing would. "Does he--"
"He doesn't want... me. Or a baby." Annie's hands repeatedly wrapped around her backpack straps, adjusting tighter and tighter with each word. "He called me Frannie." Her lips twisted in distaste, trying to mask the hurt.
Jeff saw it anyway. Something inside of him twisted like her expression, tight and distorted. "Do you?"
"I don't know." She opened her mouth and then snapped it shut with a frown. Students milled around the sunny quad as Annie's eyes widened, realization dawning on her. "I don't. No."
Annie looked terrible.
Dark circles rimmed her eyes, her hair was uncombed, and she looked even paler than usual. She sniffed, reddened eyes filling with tears. Then they were gone and she was looking at him curiously, probably wondering why he was standing in her hall with no idea of what to do or say.
"I said I was fine."
As if he'd flipped a switch, her face fell and her lips began to quiver. His name made it past her lips before the first sob. Jeff wrapped his arms around her, shutting the door quietly behind them.
"I can call Britta. She's--"
Jeff fell silent again. Then. "You need to talk to someone."
"I thought I was talking to you."
"I'm not the best person for this."
"Have you ever gotten a woman pregnant?"
Annie hitched in a breath. "I keep thinking I made a mistake."
"Your decision was best for you."
"Why does it feel like a mistake then, Jeff?"
"Because it's in our nature to regret our actions?"
She pressed a hand to her chest. "I hurt."
His chest tightened in response. "I know."
Feeling like one of the people he'd defended and put back on the streets as a lawyer, Jeff scrolled through Annie's phone, one eye on her, one on the numbers flying past.
She slept on while his rage simmered.
He'd rarely felt this furious. Not even when his friends were being threatened or put down by debate asshats from City College. This was a whole new brand of rage, like when he'd let himself hope that Pierce had found his dad.
But it was Annie, and they protected Annie.
She'd made mistakes that'd led to her current state, but the asshole who'd helped her get there should have to suffer too.
Jeff found the number he was looking for, clearly marked with the guy's name. He copied the number to his phone and quickly put hers back in her purse.
If he hadn't spotted the gun that night, would he have known? No one else knew even now, so, she probably wouldn't have told him.
Sitting beside her sleeping form on the couch, he forced himself to relax. Soon, he'd have that little bastard in his hands.
She sighed, a shuddering, whimpering sound that broke his stupid heart.
Jeff waited until the group finished straggling out of the library before reaching out to grab his books.
"That looks painful."
He jerked his hand back, then stood, facing Annie. "I'll live. How're you feeling?"
A half-grateful, half-tender smile curved up her lips. "You asked me that before we came in here, as I got out of my car, when you called me before I left home...."
His lips curved up self-mockingly. "We care about you, Annie. I care about you."
She set her backpack on the table, taking his bruised hand, examining it with a warm smile. "I know."
Jeff inhaled deeply and held it for a second as he snapped awake.
Annie's hand shook him again, body perched primly beside his.
He dropped his arm from his eyes, blinking up at her from her uncomfortable couch.
"You don't have to babysit me, Jeff. It's been a month. I'm fine."
Sitting up, he sighed, rubbing his face. "Fine doesn't look like you look, Annie."
She nodded resignedly then sat beside him. After a second, she grabbed the remote, flipping through channels. "You're right." Settling against his side, she tucked her feet underneath her. "I'll be able to sleep tomorrow."
"Duh-doy, they're sleeping together."
"They do have those secret looks they share. Hey, you slept with him, how come you never shared looks like that?"
"I don't know, Troy. Maybe because I'm not a lovesick teenager?"
"Yeah, that excuse doesn't really work anymore. Annie's almost 21."
"Britta's guarded. But lately, I've seen her share secret looks with--"
"Don't leaving us hanging there, Abed. Who's Britta swapping secret looks with?"
The table fell silent and Jeff sighed from his spot in the hall.
"IDK, my former BFF Troy?"
The group groaned.
"Ugh! Pierce, stay away from commercials on YouTube!"
"Jeff! I gave up on you. I didn't think you were coming over." Annie stood aside, letting him in.
"Don't," he said intently, because it was very, very important that he make her understand. "Don't ever give up on me."
"Are you drunk?"
"I just had a li'l bit to-- Abed drove me." He grinned, rubbing his eyes to clear them. Three Annies. He liked just one. Just her. He laughed as he dropped to her couch. "Isn't that funny?"
"That Abed drove you? Um..."
Had he forgotten to say the funny part about the group thinking they were lovers?
Waking up on Annie's couch wasn't unusual, but this time it was morning.
Had he done anything... unguarded? Said anything?
Swallowing past the skunk in his mouth, he rolled off the couch. He intended to slip out quietly and pretend he hadn't spent all night there, but his feet took him over to her bed, which was filled with Annie.
She looked peaceful for a change.
She deserved this peace of mind. Deserved to stop feeling guilty. Deserved so much better.
Brushing back a lock of hair from her forehead and cheek, he felt her sigh.
Deserved better than him.
Jeff jerked his head up as Annie breezed into her usual seat, wide smile on her face.
"I've been worse," he mumbled, though his brain felt like sandpaper in a blender.
"Good." Her smile grew, which made him slightly apprehensive.
She shrugged, pulling out her books. "You just... woke up last night, is all."
She leaned toward him as if imparting secret information, though her grin belied that. "You were looking for more alcohol, but since I don't have any, you..." Bright eyes grinning at him, she giggled, and he almost felt better just for eliciting that response. "You ate all my ice cream. And garlic bread."
He stared at her, relief pouring through him. Then disgust.
"Not together," she rushed to add.
"I'll be at the gym," he told her, half out the door already. The group was coming in as he was leaving.
Rounds of hellos went up all around him, making his head pound harder.
He turned, seeing Annie's smile slip away. Shirley noticed and nudged Britta who nudged Troy who nodded at Abed. Pierce stared at them all.
Sighing, Jeff sat back down.
Annie looked at him, surprised.
"It can wait."
Feeling like a million pennies, if not bucks, Jeff drooped down in his seat. Britta, the last to leave, tossed Annie a smile and then hurried out.
He glanced at Annie, gauging her reaction to the group's conclusions.
"That was fun," she mumbled, packing away her things.
She smiled absently. "Thanks for not telling them."
"They're your friends... they'd understand."
"Not immediately," he hedged.
"I don't want her to hate me."
"No one could ever hate you." He stood up, smirking. "Except maybe Annie Kim."
She snorted with laughter, which sounded like music to his ears.
Maneuvering carefully, Jeff slid into the parking space in front of Annie's building. His bumper hit the back of her car and he winced.
Peering up at her window through the eerily bright night, he let his breath out.
This was stupid.
Yet, he still got out of his car, huddled against the blowing snow, then made his way through the two inches on the ground to get to her door.
Dildopolus was silent, which was a relief.
Inside the building, he shook the snow from his coat and blew on his hands.
It was now or never.
Annie glanced up from her cake. "You're weirdly quiet." The smell of chocolate and cherries wafted between them.
Wishing she hadn't noticed, Jeff fought for control of his hands again. "Am I?" Why were they shaking? He could blame it on the cold, but her apartment was actually pretty--
The lights went out.
And stayed out.
Taking this as an opportunity to delay, he helped her light candles and place them around her apartment.
Finished, he stopped to admire her in the flickering light; hair over one shoulder, skin glowing like it hadn't in so long. His stomach knotted tight.
"Happy birthday, Annie." Sitting at her kitchen table with moonlight, a dozen or so candles surrounding them, and the bright snow outside the window, Jeff felt like they were the only two people left in the world and he was loath to shatter that illusion.
The candle between them sent up a lone trail of smoke as it sparked and hissed.
A small smile curved her mouth. "Thank you. For everything... for helping me through it all. You're a really good friend."
Taking a chance that he wasn't being stupid, he cupped her cheek, kissing her softly. "Just a friend?"
"Not for a long time."
Jeff halted his exploration of the tastes of Annie's neck. "Hmm?"
"We haven't been 'just friends' for a long time. I've loved you for more than two years."
Pressing his forehead to hers, feeling unbelievable relief, he smiled breathlessly. "The stick in the mud?"
"You can be fun sometimes." She wriggled underneath his sweat-slicked body. "Like now, for instance. This is pretty entertaining."
"You only love me for my body."
She kissed him softly, languidly. "Among other things."
Suddenly needing her to understand, he drew back. "You know I love you, right?"
"I do now."
"Do you want kids?"
Jeff pressed another kiss to Annie's flat stomach before leaning on one arm to watch her. She was beautiful; sex-tousled and sated. "I haven't--" That was a lie. He'd done nothing but think about it since finding out Annie was pregnant. Since she'd made her decision. "I don't know."
That was the truth.
She turned a smile on him. "I bet you'd be a good dad."
"My years of avoiding kids at all costs say differently." Watching her hand settle over her stomach, he gently asked, "Do you?"
"Yeah, I do. Sometime in the future."
Enjoying the warmth from Annie's body, Jeff tightened his arms around her. Her apartment had cooled down to an uncomfortable degree, but they were doing a pretty good job of keeping one another heated. "So. Best birthday ever?"
She half-chuckled, half-yawned, sliding her leg between his. "Top five for sure."
Fingers curling around his hip, she rested her chin on his chest, looking up at him. "Two maybe?" Her warm breath tickled his skin, making him shiver at the disparity in temperature.
His lips curved up. "Liar."
"Only a little," she admitted, pressing her lips to his chest.