The stars seemed slightly brighter than usual as Jeff walked across the quad toward the parking lot, trailing behind the rest of his friends.
Spirits were high, despite tonight being a goodbye of sorts. He couldn’t help but smile as Britta rolled her eyes at the dean, who turned away from her with a flourish, like he was flipping long locks of hair over his shoulder. Frankie shook her head at them, then waved goodbye and headed toward her car.
Jeff lifted his hand in a daze, distracted by a peal of giggles coming from Annie, who was doubled over and clutching Abed’s elbow. His smile widened and he scrubbed a hand down his face in an attempt to wipe the goofy look away, ignoring the way his fingers lingered briefly on his lips.
It almost didn’t seem real -- that he’d finally, finally, told her, that he’d kissed her -- that she’d asked him to. After the mess he’d made of everything, all the self-sabotage and self-loathing and other self-inflicted pain, the solution boiled down to something as simple as coming clean to her.
It didn’t fix all of his problems -- none of them, actually -- but it was like he had a grasp on them now and all he had to do was pull the thread and his troubles would begin to unwind. Because she believed he would be okay, and he believed in her.
Jeff was shaken from his thoughts when the dean said goodnight and got into his car. It was just the four of them left, apparently heading toward Britta’s beat-up sedan. Somewhere in the back of his mind Jeff registered that he’d parked in the opposite direction, but that didn’t stop him from following in their wake.
Then Annie turned, peering over her shoulder at him with a small smile. She raised her eyebrows and it was ridiculous, really, how she could look hopeful and tentative and sultry in one single glance.
It was such a small movement, but it stopped him in his tracks. Jeff smirked, shoving his hands in his pockets, and nodded toward his car. She ducked her head and even in the flickering glow of the parking lot lights he could see the blush spread across her cheeks. She said something to Britta and Abed, who exchanged meaningful looks, and walked back to Jeff.
It was embarrassing, the way his heart sped up with each step she took. He looked past her to distract himself, only to find Britta’s face plastered with a knowing grin and Abed giving him a not-so-subtle thumbs up. Ugh. Even now that he was a professor, Greendale still felt a lot like high school.
He attempted to scowl at them, but it couldn’t have had much effect based on the laughter and wolf whistle that followed. Groaning, he spun around and stalked off toward his car, relaxing when he heard her heels pick up speed beside him.
“So mature, right?”
She smiled up at him, eyes hesitant as she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Hah, yeah,” he said, fishing his keys out of his pocket as the car came into view. “Right.”
They stayed quiet as Jeff drove out of the parking lot, both deep in their own thoughts. At a red light he glanced over at her, mesmerized by the glow of headlights streaking across her face. She squinted at him, lips quirking in amusement, and he fought the urge to kiss the corner of her smile.
“So,” he said instead. “Do you want to grab a drink, or…”
“Nah. Too loud.” She scrunched up her nose, fiddling with the hem of her blazer. “I mean, we should probably talk, right?”
Jeff nodded. “Sure. Yeah.”
She’s right, he thought, as he navigated to his apartment. They should talk, but here they were, silence stretching between them. And he didn’t know what there was left to say, really -- he’d laid it all out back in the study room during the most terrifying and exhilarating 90 seconds of his life.
But she hadn’t talked much, other to suggest that he kiss her -- the best combination of words ever strung together in the history of the English language, as far as he was concerned -- so maybe there were things she wanted to say, too.
His hands tightened on the steering wheel as he pulled up to his building. He hoped he wasn’t out of scotch.
Jeff kept his eyes on the drink in his hands, swirling the amber liquid around and coating the inside of the glass. He was sitting on the couch hunched over, elbows resting on his knees, and through his peripheral vision he could see her picking at her cuticles.
“Tonight was weird,” she said, laughing a bit. “Like, weirder than usual.”
“Yeah, sorry about that. I made it weird.” He groaned as the realization hit him. “Oh god -- I’m Abed now.”
“Come on, no you’re not. And Abed’s not weird. He’s… unique.”
“Unique is just a euphemism for weird.”
“Jeff!” She swatted at his knee and it shook him out of the gloomy state of mind he’d been in. He glanced at her and felt more fortified by the bemused look on her face than he did by his drink. After placing the glass on the coffee table, he leaned back against the cushions.
“Sorry. I just--” He shrugged. “I don’t know how to do this.”
“This.” He gestured between them. “Talk.”
“But... we’re talking right now.”
“You know what I mean. Like, talking talking.”
Annie sighed and leaned back against the couch, too, kicking off her heels and tucking one leg beneath her.
“For someone who puts on such a blasé, carefree persona, you’re really great at making things more complicated than they need to be, you know that?”
He rolled his eyes. “Sorry, Annie, not everyone has their own personal color-coded how-to manual for social interaction.”
“And the implication is that I do?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised.”
She scoffed and shifted on the couch so that her knee pressed into his thigh. And maybe it was the scotch, or the warmth of her touch, but he couldn’t stop himself from resting his hand on her leg. Her eyes drifted down, to where his thumb was smoothing along her trousers, and when she met his gaze again she looked, well, he wasn’t sure, but she seemed less annoyed.
“I meant it, you know. You’re gonna be fine.” She smiled and nudged his arm with her elbow. “If you stop getting in your own way, that is.”
Jeff sighed. “I don’t think I know how to do that.”
Biting her lip, she looked up at him through her lashes. “I can help,” she said, softly. “I mean, if you want.”
“That depends -- does that help come in the form of an annotated report in three-ring binder?” He flashed a grin at her as she laughed and punched his shoulder.
“Jerk. Just for that, it might.”
Chuckling, he propped his feet on the coffee table and rested his arm on the cushion behind her. Maybe she was right about the whole talking thing. This, whatever they were doing right now, was easy and he already felt a little better. But then he remembered.
“Well, the offer to help is all well and good, but you’re leaving.”
“Oh god, not this again.”
He frowned. “What?”
“You’re acting like I’m running off to join Troy and Levar Burton on a schooner somewhere halfway around the world.” She threw her hands up in exasperation. “It’s just for the summer and I’ll only be two time zones away. And it’s 2015, Jeff -- there’s, like, texting and Skype and stuff.”
“It’s not the same.”
“Well, tough,” she said, voice somehow both stern and teasing. “Things change. I shouldn’t have to tell you that. And… not all change is bad, right?”
She smiled, apparently resting her case, and reached behind her to pull his arm around her shoulders. Jeff grinned, too, shifting closer as he ran his fingers up and down her arm.
“Hmm…” He pretended to mull it over, fixing her with a playful smirk. “I dunno, can you give me an example of a not-bad change?”
Annie shook her head and laid her hand on his chest for a moment before her restless fingers began tracing patterns on his sweater. He pulled her closer and she gasped a little, belying the taunting look in her eye.
“Jeff…” Her eyes flitted down to his lips. “Don’t make me ask twice in one night.”
He slipped his hand beneath her blazer and squeezed her waist, leaning in so close her features blurred.
“Well, you didn’t ask so much as tell me what to do,” he said, wondering why he was still talking instead of just kissing her. His heart hammered in his chest as she licked her lips. “You were kinda bossy, actually.”
Annie huffed, breath puffing against his cheek, and slid her hand up from his chest to curl her fingers around his neck.
“Shut up. You know you like it when I tell you what to do.”
“Pfft, no I don’t . But you do have the occasional good idea, I’ll give you that.”
She shook her head again, or tried to anyway -- they were so close together that she basically just nuzzled his nose.
“Ugh, Jeff. For once can you just--”
She squeaked a bit as he pressed his lips to hers, fingers ghosting up her jaw while he kissed her as tenderly as he had back in the study room.
It was funny, the way touching her made all other sounds dissipate -- the whoosh of cars driving by outside and the muffled bass of his neighbor’s music and the hum of the refrigerator faded away, and all he could hear was his own pulse in his ears, the quiet gasps she made as he moved his mouth over hers.
He had never kissed someone so gently before. He’d never wanted to -- Jeff Winger had no use for chaste PG-13 closed-mouth pecks. But with her all the rules had changed, and his stomach actually fluttered when he felt her tongue slide along his bottom lip.
As Jeff tilted his head to deepen the kiss he was hit with a powerful sense of deja-vu, taking him back to the last time she’d slipped her tongue into his mouth that night nearly six years back. Only then he’d kissed her because she was staying. Now, well.
He grew more frantic after that, pushing her blazer off her shoulders and then wrapping his arms around her waist, pulling her against him and groaning when she moaned into his mouth. Their position was awkward, with her leg still tucked beneath her and her knee digging into his hip, so when Annie broke away and laid back on the couch he grinned because, for all her wit and intellect, this was the best fucking idea she’d ever had.
Jeff took his time crawling over her, letting his gaze drag over the rapid rise and fall of her chest, the rosy flush spread across her cheeks. She sort of rolled her eyes at him and tugged on his belt loops to bring him closer. He fell onto her and, when she parted her legs to make room for his hips, he couldn’t help but rut against her and, shit, she felt amazing.
“God, Annie,” he said, kissing the side of her neck.
“Shh, come here.”
There was need in her voice and he wanted to draw more out of her, so he kissed his way across her collarbone and up the side of her jaw. She grasped at his sweater, making these little sounds at the back of her throat, and, fuck, they weren’t really even kissing and this topped the list of the best makeout moments of his entire life.
When he finally met her lips again the kiss was sloppy and hungry, all nipping teeth and teasing tongues. Annie arched against him just as he snaked a hand between them to squeeze her breast and it felt so, so, fucking good that he had to pull back to look at her, to see if she felt it too.
He almost wished he hadn’t, though, because her mouth was swollen and her eyes were dark and all he wanted was to get lost in her forever. But she was leaving next week.
It was an out of body experience, moving away from her. But it felt like a necessity -- a last-ditch attempt at self-preservation -- as they untangled their arms and legs until they were once again sitting side by side on the couch.
“Sorry,” Annie said, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Got a little carried away there.”
“Me too.” He nudged her with his elbow and smiled. “I just-- well, like you said, it’s been a weird day.”
“Yeah,” she said, resting her head on his shoulder. “It really has. Good weird, though.”
“Right.” He put his arm around her. “Good weird.”
They stayed like that for a while, leaning against each other in contented silence, until Annie stifled a long yawn. Jeff glanced at his watch.
“Oh shit, it’s late,” he said. “Do you want me to drive you home?”
“I dunno…” Annie peered up at him, biting her bottom lip. “You’ve been drinking.”
He frowned, eyeing his barely touched scotch before finally catching on.
“You’re right,” he said, fixing her with the most serious look he could muster. “I have been drinking. So, you should probably stay.”
“Yeah, guess so.” She nodded, eyes gleaming. “Safety first.”
Annie Edison standing before him in nothing but his white t-shirt had long been one of Jeff’s more pervasive fantasies, but somehow the reality of it surpassed even his best daydreams.
She almost looked sheepish as she walked into his bedroom with her neatly folded clothes in hand. Jeff watched as she placed them on his dresser and stood on her tiptoes to see herself in the mirror above it.
“Does your mirror really have to be this high?” She jumped a little, making the oversized shirt swish against her thighs. “I can barely see my face.”
“It’s not high, you’re just freakishly tiny.”
He took off his sweater and let it fall to the floor, next to his crumpled jeans. Then he pulled back the covers and sat on the bed, watching her as she inspected his lotions and hair products.
Jeff leaned against the pillows and clasped his hands behind his head, thinking how it was crazy that most of her dresses showed much more skin than was on display now, but -- hand to god -- she had never looked hotter.
Maybe this whole sleepover thing wasn’t such a good idea after all.
“Be honest,” she said, turning to him with a bottle of La Mer in her hands. She paused, eyes drifting down to his boxer briefs for an instant before she blushed and looked away. “How much do you spend on skincare a month?”
“I don’t keep track.” He grinned at her as she raised an eyebrow. “Hey, you can’t put a price on looking this good.”
“Ugh, you’re obnoxious.”
“She said while wearing my t-shirt.”
Annie rolled her eyes and put the lotion down, then walked around to the other side of the bed and climbed under the duvet. Jeff slouched against the pillows as she raised her arms to put her hair in a ponytail, pulling the shirt taut across her chest, white fabric dimpling around her nipples.
He cleared his throat and made a mental note to tell his cardiologist he could cancel the routine stress test -- his heart has got to be in great shape to survive a braless Annie Edison in his bed.
“What time do you have to get up tomorrow?” she asked, tightening her ponytail and lying down.
“Um.” Jeff shook his head as he tried to remember how to form words. He usually woke up early on Saturdays to jog before meeting his trainer at the gym, but suddenly adding muscle mass has slipped down a rung on his priority list. “Whenever. I don’t have any solid plans.”
“Me neither.” She smiled and turned onto her side as Jeff switched off the lamp and laid on his back. “Well, I told Abed we’d go shopping for travel stuff, but we didn’t set a time or anything.”
“Good,” he said. “No alarms, then.”
Silence descended around them along with the darkness, and Jeff got this heated, restless feeling, like he wanted to pull her to him and pick up where they left off in the living room. But her words from earlier stopped him -- the ones about regret -- and while he knew he would never regret something happening between them, he needed to make sure she wouldn’t either.
She said she’d only regret their kiss for a week, but he knew her better than that. Sure, she was just as culpable for their sofa escapades as he was, but he didn’t want to add a misguided pity-fueled fling to the countless woes that kept her up at night.
After everything she’d been through -- pills and parents and bullies -- she’d fought against the current and carved out this brilliant, bright future for herself. She deserved to go to D.C. with a clean slate. And, though he’d hate to lose her, he’d hate her losing sight of her dreams even more.
“Jeff,” Annie whispered. “You still awake?”
He rolled onto his side to face her.
“You were that kid who kept everyone up all night during sleepovers, weren’t you?”
“I’m choosing to ignore that comment.”
“I’ll take that as confirmation.”
He caught her hand just before it reached his shoulder and they playfully struggled against each other for a moment before she dropped her arm to the bed. Their hands stayed joined.
“I was just gonna say that you changed all our lives too -- for the better. I can’t imagine what these last few years would’ve been like without you guys.” She laughed, and in the dim light he could just make out the smile on her face. “And to think we only met because you wanted to get into Britta’s pants.”
He chuckled. “Well, it’s not the first time a man’s horny intentions resulted in something great. They say Buzz Aldrin became an astronaut because he thought it’d increase his chances of getting laid.”
“Ew, gross.” She wrinkled her nose, then raised an intrigued eyebrow. “Wait, really?”
“I have no idea.”
“And the lies keep on coming.”
“Not lies. I like to think of them as tall tales.”
“Now who’s using euphemisms?”
With his free hand he poked her ribs, making her giggle and squirm, and he used the opportunity to inch closer.
“I wasn’t lying earlier, you know,” he said when her laughter had died down. “What I said in the study room. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.”
Annie dropped her gaze to their clasped hands, brow knit. When she spoke he could hardly hear her.
“Why did it take me going away for you to tell me?”
There was hurt there, written out across her features, and it struck him that he’d do anything not to make her feel that way again.
“I don’t know. Because I’m an idiot.” He shrugged and ran his thumb over her knuckles. “Because… I was scared.”
She met his eyes again, face full of something that looked an awful lot like hope. He wanted to tell her that now he was still scared -- terrified, even -- of losing her, of being with her, of holding her back, of letting her go. But, for whatever reason, he swallowed those words down.
“Now it’s nearly 3 a.m. and my slumber party guest is keeping me up.”
“Jeff.” She sighed. “What am I going to do with you?”
He flashed her a wide grin and closed his eyes. “Sleep, hopefully.”
She laughed and then was quiet for a while, but he could still feel the weight of her gaze on him.
“You didn’t let me go, you know,” she whispered, threading their fingers together. “Well, maybe you thought you did, but I never went anywhere.” She squeezed his hand. “I’m still here.”
Jeff opened his eyes and the look on her face made a heavy weariness settle over him that wouldn’t be helped by sleep.
With his free hand he reached out to graze his fingers along her cheekbone, then leaned in and gave her a gentle kiss.
“I’m glad,” he breathed against her lips.
Annie nestled closer to him, tucking her head under his chin as he curled an arm around her back. He waited to hear her breathing grow slow and steady before he drifted off to sleep.