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Emotional Consequences of Cross Country Migrations

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There’s a saying, coined by a certain Samuel Langhorne Clemens during a time when animal rights and political correctness were far from the national consciousness: it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

Jeff had never cared much about political correctness, except as a tool he could use to hone his image or to reprimand Pierce. But he’d had a dog once, a Chocolate Lab named Rosie. Rosie had never really had cause to prove or disprove the saying, which was a good thing when you come down to it.

No, it was someone else who had proven to Jeff the truth behind the saying. Not in anything quite so base or brutal as a physical confrontation, although he’d seen her hold her own there as well. It was a different sort of fight in which she excelled: a daily battle known as life, which was every bit a struggle for survival as what Twain’s proverbial dogs faced. A battle which had presented its share of challenges for Jeff over the years, and recently one which he’d found himself losing all too frequently.

Not her, though. Life could knock her down as many times as it wanted, and it didn’t seem to matter. It’s not like it didn’t faze her; sometimes she leaned on friends, sometimes she cried… but it never beat her. She’d climb back up, dust herself off, flash that megawatt smile and throw herself into the next battle with an enthusiasm and optimism that never seemed to wane.

His first impression of her hadn’t been altogether negative, but he’d seen immaturity, naiveté – someone that could be manipulated. Worst of all, she cared. Caring was weakness. Caring could be exploited. That was what gave men like Jeff their power – exploiting the caring of the naïve. After each exploitation, the enthusiasm and optimism would dim ever so slightly, until at last there was barely enough left to light her way through the slog of another battle alongside the other soulless drones that kept up the motions simply because there was nothing else to do. That was the future he’d seen for her. Because that was the future for anyone that made the mistake of caring.

But a funny thing happened on that inescapable road to perdition. Her road didn’t lead there. She wouldn’t let it. There was a fight in her he hadn’t seen at first. A strength that held the cynicism and nihilism at bay. A strength that kept her light shining strong. A strength he didn’t have. That was why he’d been unable to tell her the truth for so long, why he’d held himself back. Her light enthralled him, and he’d never forgive himself if he caused it to dim in the slightest.

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog, and she had more fight in her than anyone he’d ever known.

The fight manifested itself in different and sometimes surprising ways. Currently, it was manifesting itself in her knock.

“What the hell, Annie? My neighbors hate me enough as it is.” She brushed past him and into his apartment without so much as a hello. “For a minute I thought some mobsters were here to collect on a debt I didn’t know I had.”

Annie did an about-face. For a split second, the intensity in her eyes had him wondering if the debt thing was real and Annie had taken up with the Mafia. Then she spoke. “I’m leaving tomorrow.” 

He knew that. She knew that he knew that. But this wasn’t a simple declarative sentence intended to convey information; the tone of her voice made that clear. This was a prompt.

“You must be excited.” Jeff gave her a practiced smile, the same one he’d shown to over a hundred juries.

Annie rolled her eyes and huffed, but the diversion seemed to work. For the moment. “Excited, sure. That’s one word for it. Another one would be terrified.”

“What?” Jeff’s eyebrows rose. “Why terrified?”

Annie shot an incredulous look his way. “Uh, let’s see, I’m moving across the country by myself to a place I’ve never been; aside from my creepy cousin David, the closest person I know will be Shirley in Atlanta; and this is the FBI, not Greendale. Mistakes won’t go unnoticed, and the consequences for them don’t entail bonnets, bibs and talking like a baby.”

That had been one of Frankie’s more imaginative, if petty, punishments. But if he was being honest, it was the type of punishment you’d be more likely to see on one of Abed’s sitcoms than in the real world. “I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

A wan smile spread its way across her lips. “Thanks, but when have I ever been satisfied with ‘fine’?”

“I only meant that you—”

“I know what you meant, Jeff. But it’s okay. I put a lot of pressure on myself, but I’m used to it. I know how to get through it.” It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the— “At any rate, I didn’t come over here for a pep talk.”

Jeff knew he couldn’t deflect her forever. Still, he had to try. “Okay… uh, can I take your jacket?” Annie nodded and began slipping off the dark North Face garment. The back and sleeves were damp from the misting rain falling outside, so as Jeff hung it in the closet he made sure to give it plenty of space away from his most expensive coats. “You want something to drink? I’ve got—water…”

“That’d be great, thank you.”

Annie was still playing it coy, but Jeff could sense the determination simmering just under her skin. He knew this visit was related to their conversation in the study room almost a week ago. What he didn’t know was how to avoid talking about it.

The glass clinked as Jeff dropped a few ice cubes into it and then began filling it with water. Annie had followed him to the kitchen and was leaned against the refrigerator as she accepted the glass of ice water with a thank you and took a sip. 

She was wearing the dark blue dress patterned with a myriad of tiny red and yellow flowers; the bottom part of the dress was a flowing skirt that ended just above the knees and the frilly top dipped low at the neckline to show off her cleavage. As usual, Annie had paired the dress with a sky-blue cardigan that was left unbuttoned. The whole ensemble had always been one of Jeff’s favorites. Not that he noticed that sort of thing.

“What’s with the outfit? I thought you were strictly into pants and dress shirts these days.”

Annie glanced down at her attire. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing, I’m just surprised to see you deviate from the Agent Scully look.”

Annie picked at the hem of the skirt and stared at a GNC flyer stuck to the refrigerator via a magnet and said quietly, “I don’t know, I felt like wearing a skirt today.”

“I like it.”

A small smile touched the edges of her lips as a bit of color crept into her cheeks. “Thanks…” Annie sipped some more water and her eyes focused on him again. The look of determination was back. “So what have you been up to?”

Jeff shrugged. “The usual. I’ve had some extra gym time since there’s still another week before summer classes start. You?”

No matter how many times he’d seen it, Jeff never got tired of the way Annie lit up when she was excited about something. “Oh gosh, this week has been crazy! I’ve been reading everything I can about what I’ll be doing at the FBI. It’s going to be a lot more than just making coffee and getting people lunch, you know. I’ll be helping to catalog and evaluate evidence, which also means…” Annie ran down an exhaustive list of things she would or could be doing during her internship, and Jeff was happy to let her. She hadn’t come over to describe her internship activities any more than she had come over for a pep talk, but an excited Annie was often a distracted Annie, and that’s what Jeff was banking on. He even asked a few questions here and there to encourage her rambling. It was a comfortable topic, so why not stay on it as long as possible? He even found himself smiling at her enthusiasm.

Unfortunately though, all good things must come to an end.

“…and of course Abed and I have been busy packing and figuring out where we’re each going to live. Housing in DC is so expensive! I’m looking at subletting a room from a college student who’ll be home for summer break. It’s the cheapest thing I can find that doesn’t involve living above another marital-aids store.” She took a deep breath and fell silent, and Jeff knew that this distraction had just about run its course. “So, yeah,” she said softly, “busy week.” She met his gaze steadily and without a hint of flinching. Once upon a time, he could’ve made her melt just by giving her a cool, confident look. But this wasn’t the same girl with whom he’d been making googly eyes for years. This was a self-assured young woman who knew what she wanted. “I, um, well… I’ve been hoping you’d stop by.”

“Well, like you said, I figured it would be a crazy week for you guys. I didn’t want to get in the way.”

The corner of Annie’s mouth turned down in a scowl as it became clear that her gentle prompting wasn’t going to work. This was Jeff Winger after all: smart enough to see her prompts for what they were, but also stubborn enough to force a more direct approach. “I was just wondering if you had anything else you wanted to say to me before I leave.”

Jeff grimaced. No way to dodge that one. “What is there to say? You’re leaving.” The words came out a bit sharper than he intended.

“That’s right, I’m leaving.” This time it wasn’t a prompt, it was a warning.

“I’m not sure what you want from me, Annie. I said everything I needed to say in the study room.”

This was Annie at her most formidable. The stern look, the hand planted firmly on her hip, her eyes boring into him… “Oh? Is there anything you wanted to clarify, then?”

“There’s nothing to clarify,” Jeff said flatly. “I’m in love with you and you’re leaving.”

It was amazing how quickly she could soften. “See?” Her voice trembled, as though she was suddenly on the verge of tears. “I knew you had something else to say.”

Jeff huffed out a rueful laugh. “What, that I’m in love with you? I’ve been telling you that for years, you just haven’t heard it.”

Annie’s mouth dropped open. “Excuse me?!”

“I’m not blaming you. We just don’t speak the same language, that’s all.”

He’d only uttered a few sentences, but the full implications of them were too much for Annie to wrap her head around that quickly. So she tackled the easiest part first. “I’m not— God, why do you— You just said you’re in love with me.”

Jeff, on the other hand, had let his frustration get the better of him and had revealed more than he intended, which only served to increase his irritation. “Exactly. I don’t speak that language.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“I’m not that type of guy, Annie,” Jeff said with a shake of his head. “All that love crap isn’t in my vocabulary.” He didn’t mean it. Not really. But backed into an emotional corner, he did the only thing he knew how to do. He evaded.

“You just said—”

“Because I don’t have any options left!” he blurted. “I’m in love with you. You’re leaving. And I can’t fucking stand it.” So much for evasion.

Annie stared at him in stunned silence for several moments. “But…” she began tentatively, “we talked about this. Season seven, remember?”

“Yeah, I remember. It’s out of our hands, too many variables.” Annie’s brow darkened at having the words she had meant as encouragement twisted into something hopeless. “And what happens when the FBI loves you so much they ask you to transfer to a school in DC so you can keep working for them while you finish your degree?”

“That’s not—”

“You’ll be gone,” Jeff barreled on. “Just like Shirley. Just like Troy, and Pierce, and now Abed.”

Annie mouth dropped open in surprise. “Is that what this is all about?” she asked, wariness in her voice. “You’re afraid of everyone leaving you? Is this… is this like when you proposed to Britta last year? Did—did you tell me that you… only because…?”

She couldn’t quite bring herself to give voice to her fears, but she didn’t have to. He understood all too well what she meant. In and of itself, the idea was so patently absurd that Jeff would have laughed out loud, but for the realization that came with it: this is what she thinks of you.

And why wouldn’t she? He’d more than proven his ability to sabotage himself and those around him when faced with an emotional crisis. And to top it off, he’d never been particularly forthcoming or honest with her about his feelings towards her, so why should she believe that he’d start now? The situation was entirely of his own making, and he knew it. But when you’re already full of self-loathing, being honest with yourself about your failings doesn’t tend to improve your outlook.

Unfortunately for him, Annie interpreted his prolonged silence as tacit agreement, as though he’d been caught in the act and wasn’t sure how to escape. “This—this was a mistake…” Her breath was coming quickly now, and she looked to be on the verge of panic. “I… um, I need—I need to go.”

It felt like one of those dreams where the stairs are falling out from under you, but no matter how fast you run you never get any closer to the top. The glass of water had been hastily set on the counter and Annie was already out of the kitchen before Jeff could even turn in her direction. By the time he’d made it out of the kitchen, Annie was already at the door. Why wouldn’t his legs move faster? Why wouldn’t his mouth respond to his brain’s frantic orders to say something—anything?

The door began swinging open. She hadn’t even bothered to grab her jacket out of the closet.

Jeff didn’t believe in psychics or any sort of extrasensory perception. And he had certainly never shown any of those abilities himself. He trusted only what he could see, smell, hear, taste or touch. But in that moment, as the door neared the end of its opening arc, someone or something afforded Jeff a view of his own future, one he knew to be true beyond any shadow of a doubt.

If she walks out that door, your life is over.

The door’s hinges had served their purpose. They had rotated as required such that the large slab of solid wood could reach a point far enough from the frame to allow an individual person to comfortably pass through the gap. All that was left was for Annie to take advantage of the functions the hinge mechanisms had so benignly performed.

SLAM!

It wouldn’t win him any additional points with his neighbors, but desperate times and all that. Jeff stood by the door, panting thanks to a rush of adrenaline, the pain where his shoulder had slammed into the door already dissipating.

For her part, Annie stared blankly at the door for a moment before shifting to stare at Jeff, her expression guarded. “Are you crazy?!”

Jeff met her wide-eyed gaze with his own. “No. Yes. I love you.”

Annie’s eyes flicked downwards for a moment, then returned to meet his gaze. “I thought that wasn’t in your vocabulary.”

“I’m adding it. And I mean it.” She looked slightly skeptical, and still a bit defensive. It was maddening to see, given his sudden resolution to finally be honest with her. Seeing as how this resolution was only a few minutes old, he supposed he couldn’t blame her. But there was something else mingled subtly with the doubt on her face: a glimmer of hope. It would have to be enough.

Annie sighed. “Jeff, I want to believe you. But I gave up trying to figure out what you want a long time ago. I’m not sure you really know what you want, either.”

Well, now, that was just ridiculous. Of course he knew what he wanted. He wanted a bigger paycheck, a fancy car, a nicer condo with super-expensive faucets, perfect hair and abs, ageless skin, some good scotch… As his mind continued to tick off superficial and material things, a realization clicked into place: he’d had all those things at one time or another, yet he’d never been truly happy. Which led him to an inescapable conclusion: maybe he didn’t know what he wanted, except for one thing.

“I want you, Annie.” He meant it as a compliment, but it was also the truth, heartfelt and sincere.

A heavy eye roll from Annie indicated that the line did not have its desired effect. “You want me. Yet you waited until the day before I’m leaving for DC to tell me that. What exactly are you expecting to happen now?”

“I…” Jeff hesitated. He’d never really thought about that part. In fact, he hadn’t intended to tell her about any of his feelings in the first place. 

Most of the past year he had been convinced that she would be leaving. It was the chief reason he’d spent so much time drowning his sorrows. And when she announced the FBI internship, it was just confirmation of what he’d long suspected was coming. What he hadn’t anticipated, however, was how difficult it would be. He thought he’d had it under control, but as soon as the words “I got the internship” had left Annie’s mouth, he could feel himself starting to spiral. By the time Abed had announced his own move to Los Angeles, Jeff was on the verge of panic. His only option had been to bolt.

He’d thought about going back to his condo, but that didn’t feel right. So in the end, he’d gone home

As he’d entered Study Room F, he’d recalled that first time he’d walked in to find his soon-to-be family gathered around the table. How differently would he have done things if he’d known then what he knew now? 

It was a good indicator of his state of mind that he’d begun to fantasize about being married to Annie. He hadn’t lied about being in love with her, but she was right; something about the fear of loss drove him towards thoughts of marriage. On some level, he’d known he was in love with her for a long time, he’d just mostly refused to admit it to himself or anyone else. But after Borchert’s lab, he couldn’t hide from the truth any longer. He couldn’t tell her right away, though, not after the stunt he’d pulled with Britta. But as the year had progressed, he’d felt more and more entrenched in the purgatory that was Greendale while Annie dropped hints about places she’d go and programs she wanted to join, and he’d slowly realized that he couldn’t tell her at all. It could never work, what with them headed in such different directions, and Jeff never wanted to hold Annie back from a future that was blindingly bright with promise, so why go through all that?

Annie had been distant to start the year, and Jeff had allowed it. They still hung out in the context of the Save Greendale Committee and the inescapable shenanigans that always seemed to spring out of that group. But this year those same shenanigans, which in years past had always somehow swept the two of them off onto their own ridiculous little adventures, mostly kept them separate. He’d thought it was for the best, to not have the temptation. And so he’d watched her from a distance, and kept the scotch close at hand.

He hadn’t been sure how she’d known to find him there. But then, he hadn’t been surprised either. On top of her extraordinary empathy, she’d always had an uncomfortably acute talent for reading him.

“You’re gonna be fine, you know.”

He didn’t want to be fine, and he’d said as much. But he’d needed to hear it, nonetheless. And as always, Annie had been there to deliver. As they’d bantered back and forth about the things they wanted and their mutual disdain for Marvel movies, it had just felt so natural. Jeff had realized then just how much he’d missed being close to her. Annie had once told him that she didn’t want to grow up if it meant losing what they had, losing that closeness. But she had grown up. And although her growing up wasn’t the cause, the closeness had still been lost. He’d never imagined it would mean that much to him. Something in his heart told him that it meant the same to her, and in that moment he’d felt the irresistible urge to tell her why the closeness was gone.

“I let you go, Annie. From my hands, and my head. The heart? Which cynics say is code for penis… wants what it wants. But I let you go.”

It was the best he’d been able to come up with on short notice. How else to convey what she meant to him, whilst simultaneously letting her know why he’d been distant and had never made a move, all while maintaining an appropriate level of Winger sarcasm? Well certainly there were other ways, but he hadn’t had the time to tell her everything. He also had no idea how she’d react, and he couldn’t drop the L word without at least some inkling that she might be receptive to it. He knew that at one point she’d been romantically interested in him, but if that was no longer the case, he hadn’t wanted to put any undue pressure on her to return an “I love you.” So instead he’d tried to make it clear (for once) that yes, he had feelings for her, those feelings, but he’d screwed it all up. And if she didn’t feel the same way, that was ok. He’d blown it, not her.

By rights, she should’ve told him to go to hell. But that wasn’t her style. As she’d looked down at her buzzing phone, he’d been momentarily convinced that it was a convenient diversion to give her a couple seconds to think of a way to let him down easily. But somehow when she’d spoken, her words conveyed something other than rejection.

“I think… you should kiss me goodbye or you might regret it for the rest of your life.”

He would’ve just done it, but her response surprised him so much that he had to ask whether she’d regret kissing him. She’d blown it off easier than he blew off classes, and before he knew it he’d been leaning towards her, his hand on her shoulder as her eyes drifted closed…

Annie was right. He would’ve regretted it for the rest of his life had he not kissed her. He had plenty left to regret, but at least not that. When he’d pulled back from her, he had the fleeting fear that he would see actual regret over the kiss reflected on her face. But as her eyes gradually opened again, all he’d seen was contentment. If the rest of the group had been just a few seconds later, he would have told her then that he loved her. In the week in between then and now, he’d spent his time much as he had throughout the year: trying unsuccessfully to deal with her impending departure. He wanted nothing more than to spend every last moment with her, but that only would’ve made the leaving harder on both of them. So he’d kept his distance, and the scotch close at hand.

But it turned out Annie wasn’t as comfortable living with regret as he was. So here she was, asking simple questions for which he had nothing but complicated answers. What did he expect her to do? He expected her to go to her internship and kick ass the entire time she was at the FBI. Why was he telling her that he loved her and wanted her when she was about to head across the country?

“…I don’t know.”

Annie let out a tired sigh. “Well at least I’m not the only one, then. You’re not making this very easy on me, you know?”

When had he ever? “I know, Annie, and I’m sorry. This isn’t how I wanted things to go.”

“How did you want things to go?”

“I don’t know…” He could sense the eye roll and frustrated huff coming, so he added quickly, “I meant what I said in the study room.” 

The eye roll and huff temporarily averted, Annie eyed him questioningly.

“I let you go. Or at least I tried to. But you were always around, and you were always you, and I just couldn’t…”

Annie was staring at him in much the same way she had in the study room that night when he’d told her what his heart wanted. “You let me go…” she paused, as though processing how she was supposed to feel about that. “Why?”

Jeff sighed. “Look at my circumstances, Annie. I’m a wreck. If we got together… it’s virtually guaranteed not to work, and I had to protect you from—”

“Protect me?!” Annie sputtered in disbelief. “It was cute when I was eighteen and you felt like you had to protect me. But those days are long gone, Jeff. I don’t need your protection. You love me, but you wouldn’t date me because you thought we’d break up? I can handle a breakup, thank you very much.” She fixed him with a challenging look. “Can you?”

Jeff froze, his mouth refusing to cooperate and say the answer that had immediately come to mind: “Not a breakup with you.” He’d had plenty of relationships end before, though most people probably wouldn’t call them that. Alan and some of the other lawyers he used to work with were about the only ones he knew that considered a one-night stand to be a relationship. Dating Slater was the closest thing he’d had to something serious. He’d cried on Pierce’s shoulder after that ended. He didn’t want to know what a breakup with Annie would do to him. As her look softened, it became apparent that his eyes had taken up the slack for his uncooperative mouth, and conveyed the message far better than words ever could.

“I see,” she said softly. “It wasn’t me you were protecting, was it?”

Shame washed over him, overwhelming and unrelenting. Deep down he’d always known the truth, but his mental gymnastics had allowed him to pretend he was being honorable and saving Annie from future pain. Not only was that pretense now stripped away from him, but he was laid bare before her, exposed as the coward that he was. His eyes fled from hers. But there was no retreat from this… no escape.

“Don’t be afraid.” Her voice was soft, comforting—even the cynical part of his brain couldn’t find it patronizing—and its proximity indicated that she had moved closer. He felt her hand cup his chin, gently urging it up until his eyes again met hers, wide and such a deep blue. The depth of understanding and compassion in them had always astounded him, and this time was no exception. “I…” she swallowed nervously. “I love you too,” she said with a tremulous smile.

It was truly amazing. Jeff had worked himself into a spiral of panic, shame and desperation, but all it took was four little words from Annie to make it all go away. 

His eyes searched hers, but there was no trace of guile to be found; no pity, no indication that her words were anything other than genuine.

So that was it, then. Annie loved him. His fondest hope and greatest fear realized simultaneously. Of course, there was still the issue of her leaving the next day, but as she stood there smiling at him, that didn’t seem to matter. Jeff couldn’t think of anything else to say, so he reached out and pulled Annie into a hug, wrapping his arms around her shoulders. She melted into him just as she always had, arms wrapped around his waist, her eyes closed and her cheek pressed against his chest. He shut his eyes and held her close, savoring the gentle rise and fall of her chest.

He wasn’t sure how long they stood there, but however long it was, it could never be enough. 

Eventually she pulled back and he looked down at her, his eyes silently asking the question, what now?

Annie gave him no prompts or warnings this time, and there was a resigned sadness in her voice when she spoke. “I’m leaving tomorrow. There’s so little time. I just wish…” her eyes broke away from his and her voice dropped to a whisper. “I wish you had given us a chance sooner…”

There was nothing Jeff could really say. He wished the same thing. But there was no going back.

Annie’s eyes had drifted closed, but after a few moments of silence they suddenly opened again and locked onto his. There was something in her gaze that he couldn’t quite read…

A smile crept across her lips, and she took a slow step forward. Jeff recognized that look now. It was the same one he’d seen after the Tranny Dance, only this time there was no reason for her to be hesitant. This time, she knew the truth: try as he might, Jeff Winger could not resist Annie Edison.

He stumbled back a half step, trying to form some sort of protest, but it was all happening too fast, and he only delayed the inevitable. Annie was already up on her toes, her eyes focused on his lips as her own rushed in to meet them. And then it was too late. Their lips met and they desperately sought to find the perfect angle, opening their mouths and deepening the kiss. He slid one arm around her waist and pulled her tight against him while his other hand cradled the back of her head and Annie’s hands clutched his sides.

Their kiss in the study room had been fairly chaste—loving, but reserved. Chaste was about the last word that could be used to describe this. He’d thought he’d wanted the hug to go on forever, but it turned out there was something even better. For a time, nothing existed in Jeff’s world other than Annie.

He was so absorbed with the feeling of Annie’s mouth moving against his that he hadn’t been keeping track of what her hands were doing. But then something happened that immediately grabbed his attention: he felt her unbuckling his belt.

Jeff pulled back in surprise. “Wha–” he stammered, “what are you d-doing?” 

Annie didn’t answer, she just gave him a seductive look full of heat and promise. The sweater on the floor indicated that her hands had been busy with more than just his belt. One of the straps of her dress had been dislodged as well, and now hung loosely around her upper arm.

“Are you sure about this?” he asked breathlessly as Annie slowly tugged his belt free from the final loop. “You’re leaving tomorrow…”

Annie let the belt clatter to the floor. “And we don’t know what will happen?” she finished for him.

He nodded.

Annie peered at him through eyes that could only be described as annoyed. “That’s just another excuse, Jeff. Just like all the others we’ve been making for years. All they’ve ever led to is regret. I’m done with excuses. I’m done with regret. Even if we never see each other again after tonight, just this once, I’m going to know what it’s like to love you.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Jeff lay on his back, still breathing heavily as Annie traced a finger up and down his sweaty chest, a giddy smile plastered on her face.

To his eternal embarrassment, he hadn’t lasted very long the first time; though to be fair, neither had Annie. But they’d each found the zone on the next try.

“Jeff, I want you to promise me something.”

Jeff glanced down at her out of the corner of his eye. “What’s that?”

“Whatever happens after this, I don’t want you to have any regrets about what we did tonight. I don’t regret it, and neither should you.”

Jeff smirked at her. “You think I’d regret sleeping with a hot girl?”

If not the humor, he thought he’d at least get her with the compliment, but Annie’s solemn expression didn’t waver. “You know what I mean.”

Jeff closed his eyes and inhaled deeply before letting the breath out at a slow, deliberate pace. Finally, he opened his eyes again to meet her earnest gaze with his own and nodded.

“Good.” The seriousness quickly fled from Annie’s demeanor and a crafty smile made its way onto her face. “But speaking of regrets about what we just did, I suppose I do have one.” Jeff looked at her expectantly, but instead of speaking, Annie pushed herself up and swung a leg over him so that she was astride his waist. “That we didn’t do it sooner.” The smile was now downright devious. “You know what they say, ‘third time’s the charm.’ So in the spirit of not having any more regrets, I think we need to test that theory out. Especially since, as you put it, I’m so hot.”

Annie produced a small foil wrapper and tore it open with her teeth. As her hands began to go to work on him, he found that the same held true now as it had seemingly always been: Jeff Winger could not resist Annie Edison.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Jeff grimaced at the morning sunlight that was peeking through the slats of his blinds. As he unconsciously repositioned himself to find some shade, his movements drew a deep sigh from the form lying next to him. The events of the previous night came rushing back, and he cracked one eye open.

It hadn’t been a dream. Annie lay on her side, her face mere inches from his own, still breathing delicately in a peaceful sleep. Little flecks of dust in the air caught the sunlight coming in the window and twinkled softly, creating a glow around her.

Jeff had never seen anything quite so beautiful in all his life. That is, until she opened her eyes and smiled at him.

“I love you,” he whispered. It had taken him six years to get up the courage to finally tell her, but now that it was out, it seemed like he couldn’t say it enough.

Annie’s smile widened immediately. “I love you more,” she whispered back.

“Not possible.”

Annie huffed out a small laugh and her eyes slid closed again. “I’m happy, Jeff,” she murmured. “If this is a dream, don’t wake me up.”

He wouldn’t have thought it possible, but somehow she kept finding new ways to make him love her even more. He leaned in and kissed her gently on the lips. Annie kissed him back, lazily at first, but soon he found himself on his back with Annie draped over him.

He started to wonder if they were headed for another round, but then Annie pulled back and laid her head on his chest, snuggling into his side. “Jeff?”

“Yeah?”

“There’s something I need to know…” her voice was quietly determined, but he detected a hint of reluctance as well.

“What’s that?”

“What did you mean when you said that you’ve been telling me you love me for years, but I haven’t heard it?”

Well crap. He should’ve known she wouldn’t let that one slip by. “I… was just being stupid. That’s all.”

“You’re good at that much,” Annie agreed, laughing softly. “But you obviously meant something by it.”

Among his favorite things about Annie were that she was smart and persistent, but at the moment those traits were sort of a pain in his ass. “Alright,” he sighed. “Do you want the long version or the short version?”

“Um… let’s start with the short version.”

Jeff tried to hide a sigh of relief. “Ok, well, I don’t think I need to tell you that my feelings for you have been… complicated.”

Annie snorted. “You don’t say?”

Jeff chuckled lightly. “The short version is that I’ve had pretty strong feelings for you for a while. But I didn’t feel like I could, or should, act on them. That’s why I tried to let you go.” At the mention of letting her go, he instinctively wrapped his arm more tightly around her. “But no matter what I did, I just couldn’t bury them. So I ended up doing things to try to show you what you meant to me without actually making a move. Things I wouldn’t have done for anyone else. I guess part of me was hoping that you’d figure it out and do something. Then that way I could justify it to myself by saying that you were the one that initiated things.”

Annie remained silent for several moments. “There were a few times I thought about it, ” she began hesitantly, “but you know why I couldn’t, right?”

He knew. He could still see the look on her face that day in the study room. “What’s been going on with us all year?” The question had been perfectly justified. He’d known that even then. But he’d never expected her to come out and ask it so directly, least of all in front of the entire group. And what had he done? Lied, disavowed everything, and embarrassed her in front of everyone. She’d even tried in private a few times, and each time he’d evaded her or made more denials. If she had tried again, why should she think he’d react any differently?

“Yeah, I know.” he mumbled. “I’m sorry Annie. You… deserved better.”

Annie lifted her head and gazed into his eyes. He would’ve shifted uncomfortably had she not been lying on top of him. Not even Abed had ever scrutinized him this intensely.

“So tell me,” she said at last. “If I come back next year, are you ready to finally give us a chance?

And there it was, the million-dollar question. He didn’t know if he was truly ready; he wasn’t sure he’d ever know. But he wanted to be ready. A part of him still worried that his best wouldn’t be good enough, but if this was what she wanted, then he was determined to come as close as he could to being the man that she deserved.

“Yes.” His voice was quiet, but resolute.

She’d been skeptical the night before, with good reason, when he told her that he loved her and wanted her. Not much time had passed since then, but so much had changed. And this time he could detect no trace of doubt in her face. He made a silent vow not to betray that trust ever again.

“Good.” A smirk formed on her lips. “I’ll keep that in mind. If I come back.” She leaned in and kissed him deeply, her passion giving the lie to her teasing words. For the second time Jeff began to wonder if things were headed in the direction they’d taken last night, but just when they seemed to be at the tipping point Annie pulled back and rolled to the side.

She hopped off the bed and stretched, and for once Jeff didn’t feel guilty about admiring her amazing body. “Is it alright if I use your shower?” she asked casually. “Oh, and do you have a toothbrush I can use?”

“Um, sure.” He tried to hide his disappointment at the lack of morning sex, but probably wasn’t very successful. “Towels are in the cabinet in the hall and I’ll get you a toothbrush. I guess I’ll make some breakfast while you shower. What are you in the mood for?”

Annie blinked at him innocently. “But Jeff, I don’t know how your shower works.”

“Huh?” he crinkled his forehead in confusion. “It’s a faucet, you just turn it on.”

“But can you show me?” she asked sweetly. “You know how to set it for the best temperature. And what if I can’t find the shampoo? Plus there’s a spot on my back that’s hard to reach, I could really use your help.” Annie batted her eyes at him and bit her lower lip. “Please?”

She extended her hand and waited patiently until he reached out so that she could clasp his hand in hers. He allowed himself to be pulled gently off the bed and led towards the bathroom, Annie practically skipping as she went.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

After their shower (and some pretty amazing shower sex), Jeff followed through on his promise to cook breakfast. They chatted and joked together over egg-white omelets, orange slices and coffee. Annie hadn’t brought a change of clothes, so Jeff tossed her dress and underwear in with a load of his laundry while she lounged in one of his t-shirts and an old pair of sweatpants. Not that Annie really needed freshly-laundered clothes to wear for the ten-minute drive back to her apartment, but it made for a convenient excuse to prolong her stay.

While they waited for the laundry to finish, Annie got on Jeff’s laptop and showed him pictures of the neighborhood where she’d be living, and a few places she had already picked out to visit. The pictures served as a reminder that she was about to leave, which led to another makeout session. He wanted to kiss her as much as possible while he could, and she seemed to share the sentiment.

When the laundry had finally finished it was almost lunchtime. Jeff would’ve felt like a bad host sending her off hungry, so he invited her to stay for lunch. Not wanting to be rude, Annie accepted. Over lunch they got to talking about Jeff’s condo and how he was thinking of repainting it. So after lunch they got back on the laptop and Annie helped him research and select some colors (with the obligatory breaks for kissing).

It was mid-afternoon when Annie began to fret over whether she’d have enough time to finish everything she needed to do before her flight, despite the fact that she’d been organized and packed and ready to go for days. They both knew she had to leave, but facing up to the reality was proving more difficult than either of them had anticipated. 

At long last, however, Annie was back in her own clothes and they found themselves hovering near the door. “I’ve got to go get my stuff together, and make sure Abed is ready to go,” Annie said reluctantly. “Our flights leave around the same time, and the Uber will be there in a couple hours.”

“Okay, yeah…” Jeff’s mind was racing as Annie slowly pulled the door open. There had to be something else he could say or do. “Uh, why don’t I drive you guys to the airport instead?” It wasn’t perfect, but at least it would mean this wasn’t their final goodbye.

Annie paused, one hand on the door and directed a soft smile his way. “That’s sweet of you. We’d love that, thank you.”

Jeff gave her a lopsided smile and shrugged.

Annie hesitated for a moment, then let go of the door and quickly moved closer to him. Her big blue eyes gazed up at him hopefully and she reached out to clasp his left hand between hers. “Hey… come visit me, okay? Just you.”

Jeff swallowed thickly and wetted his lips, but found himself unable to form words. In the end, all he could do was nod.

Her resulting smile took away what little breath he had left, and before he knew it, she’d placed a quick peck on his cheek and disappeared out the door.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The glasses clinked together, and Jeff took a sip of his drink.

“This is the show,” Britta said as Frankie, Craig, and Chang all drank from their own beverages.

Jeff set his drink down and pulled out his phone. Britta gave him a sidelong glance, and he knew what she was thinking. But this wasn’t his typical retreat into aloofness; there was a very specific task he needed to complete before he could enjoy the rest of the night.

He tapped away on his phone for a few moments, then hit the button to submit the form he’d filled out. An automated message appeared on the screen almost instantly.

Thank you for your purchase. Here are some helpful tips for your upcoming trip to Washington DC…

Jeff stuffed his phone into his pocket, and smiled.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~