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As exclamations go, it’s one she’s probably heard before from Jeff. It’s not exactly a night of firsts; many evenings this semester have found them sitting on the lumpy study room couches, her bent over her Save Greendale binder, him with the textbook for his class and a handful of post-it notes he’ll scribble notes on and slap onto the pages. They’ve ended up doing this several times now with occasional conversation, but mostly it’s just been working with the benefit of another breathing human sharing the space.

Jeff’s looking a little wild-eyed when she startles and looks over at him at his exclamation - sitting there with a post-it on the tip of his left index finger and another on the back of his hand - but then he’s surging forward, one hand sliding around the back of her neck to pull her in, and kissing her.

It’s late and she’s tired and surprised and - oh she’s tired of excuses for why she always kisses him back.

She’s spent years now making excuses; for nursing her crush on him; for why they kept tangling and setting each other off; for why, as Abed put it, she couldn’t quit him. It wasn’t exactly the same as Brokeback Mountain but the assessment hit her in a tender place under her ribs nonetheless. The thing was, when it came down to it, that the longer she lived with that feeling of nervous flittering panic in her belly whenever his eyes caught hers and he smiled or winked or anything, the more it just became part of being around him. The attraction - and the sparks when they clashed - just became part of them and part of the group, and nothing. ever. changed. It didn’t matter who they dated or slept with or whether they had more than one class together or none together at all. It, frustratingly, didn’t matter if he was dating that awful (objectively, honestly, no one liked her, she’d checked) professor, or casually sleeping with Britta, or curiously close-lipped about his love life. It depressingly didn’t matter if she was considering skipping town with Vaughn or somewhat desperately courting Rich, or spending her nights with Netflix and homework to keep her company. None of it mattered. None of it changed the twitch of his fingers in her hair when they hugged or the way she knew exactly the eyelash flutter that would get him on board with whatever she was proposing, from a favor to an apology to a self-examination.

It didn’t make a difference and she hated for a long time that it didn’t make a difference, because wasn’t that what relationships were? Weren’t they a progression, a joint movement forward through the milestones of commitment, til death do us part? Not out of order patchworks of intimacy made up of more stops than starts. Not dancing and kissing and evil and eyes and honesty and more kissing ad-infinitum. Infinity. Infinity-plus-one. Infinity-times-infinity. It was all so exhausting and weirdly dependable.

She can’t remember how Jeff’s mouth tasted last time this happened, because it’s been years, literal years, and it still feels strange that she’s so far beyond childhood and high school that it’s possible for it to have been years between kisses with the same person.

But she’s kissed him (twice) and now he’s kissed her (twice) and she’s been keeping track all this time, analyzed it carefully and decided that her two initiated kisses and his one were in fact separate. She had stepped back after the first one outside the library at the Transfer Dance and then he had stepped in, he had trapped her waist in his hands and pulled her in and - oh

It’s the same and a little bit not. He feels younger now, somehow. It’s been four years.

“Oh fuck,” he says again in a small voice. He sounds terrified, the kind of terror that sits behind his eyes when he’s been caught cuddling Ben to his chest and breathing in with his nose pressed to the top of the baby’s head.

He sits there leaned too far forward, palms curved around the soft corners of her jaw, staring wide-eyed.

“What was that for?” she asks quietly, with a little more breath in her tone than normal, but just a little.

“Um.” He pulls his hands away and sits back with a huff, reaching up to scrub a hand through his hair as he stares blankly at their books spread out over the table in front of the couch. “I think I just figured out like two years’ worth of . . . stuff.”

“Two years?”

“Yeah. Maybe two and half. Can I kiss you again?”


“Because I want to keep kissing you. Exclusively. For the foreseeable future.”

“Is that what you figured out?”

“Oh . . . well.”

“Probably could have said something more like that instead of fuck.”

Annie shrugs and smiles a little. “I’ve heard better opening statements, but it ended strong.”