Chapter 1: They say what happens here, stays here (there's just one little problem)
"Okay, so somewhere midway between Greendale, LA, and Atlanta." Troy pulls up Google Maps, and clicks somewhere in the middle. "That would be... Dickens County, Texas?" Half a dozen voices are immediately raised in dissent. "Okay, okay, not there! So where do you guys want to hold the reunion?"
"Greendale," suggests Jeff, and is immediately shouted down.
"God, you really are unbelievably lazy," says Britta, disgruntled. "I know, we could have a road trip! Abed and Troy could drive up from LA and meet us here, and then the five of us could drive out to Shirley!"
"No," says Jeff. "No way. Not another road trip." Everyone ignores him.
"Oh, so I don't get to hang out with you all until the end of the trip," says Shirley, dangerously.
"No, it's not like that – I just thought you'd want to stay put, because of the boys!"
"We're not going on a road trip. Has everyone lost their memories of the last one – or the one before that?"
"I don't see why I can't take part in a road trip as well, it's not as if—"
"I'm sure I could set up an itinerary so we all get to have an equal amount of time on the road with each other," Annie chimes in, grabbing a pen and pencil. "If we start by—"
"If I have to Jack Kerouac back and forth across the whole of North America with you guys, I'm gonna need everyone to sign a waiver absolving me of their horrible murder."
"How about Vegas?" suggests Abed. "I've always wanted to go there. It's a long way for Shirley to travel, but it's pretty much halfway between Greendale and LA – and Troy will fly us all there," he adds as a sweetener.
"I can do that, because I'm rich now," agrees Troy, leaning into shot on Abed's laptop.
Which is how the Greendale Six end up on a four-night trip to Vegas.
Really, they ought to have known better.
Waking up with a hangover is not exactly a new phenomenon to Jeff, but this one is a doozy. He turns his head slightly, which results in a sharp pain stabbing into the back of his skull. He groans, and the sound makes his head swim, and moving his hands to stop it makes the whole world start to pitch.
He makes it to the bathroom just in time.
Once he's thrown up all his internal organs, he feels lucid again, and surprisingly much better – although he's familiar enough with the routine to know this is a temporary state. So he takes the opportunity to blink at his surroundings, and it's when he sees the marble wash basin that it all comes flooding back.
Annie, beautiful in a slinky satin dress, looking happier than he'd seen her in months...
He glances down at his left hand with the desperate hope that the rest was a dream. But there it is. On his third finger. A ring.
He washes his face and brushes his teeth, lingering in the bathroom for ten minutes before he gets up the courage to stumble back into the bedroom. And there she is, on her stomach, face buried in the pillows and snoring gently: the new Mrs. Winger.
At least they're both still fully dressed. He remembers kissing – a lot of kissing – but he's pretty sure that they both passed out before it got anywhere interesting. He's not sure whether or not he feels grateful about this – on the one hand, they can get an annulment with a clear conscience (it'll matter to Annie, he's pretty sure), but on the other hand… he wonders if he missed his one opportunity.
Not wanting to wake her, he sneaks quietly around the room, opening things to find out a) whose room this is, and b) where the fuck they've hidden the fridge. It turns out to be his room (or suite, actually – Troy really went to town), and he pauses, and then shrugs and changes into a T-shirt and clean boxers before grabbing a bottle of water and heading back to the bed. He sits down gently, and indulges himself for a moment, letting his eyes travel down her smooth back, to the dip of her waist and the lush curve of her ass. All he wants to do right now is to lie down next to her, wrap his arms around her, and go back to sleep. But, if he has any scrap of honor left, he should wake her up and tell her the bad news.
He downs half the bottle of water, which makes him feel nauseated and shivery, so he lies down on his side and pulls the cover over him, watching her and trying to work up a plan of what to say – but his brain is fuzzing over again, and he can't string two thoughts together. He doesn't actually have to wake her up, he reasons. The more she can sleep off the inevitable hangover, the better she'll be able to cope with… however she chooses to react to this. He can't imagine it will be well.
God, he's so tired. But he needs to stay awake, so he can talk to her as soon as she wakes up, try to keep her from freaking out.
He lets his hand stray to her waist – but it's okay, it's nothing he hasn’t touched before, over clothing, purely platonically. He can feel her warmth through the fabric of her dress, and it's inexpressibly soothing.
He doesn't even notice himself falling asleep again.
The first thing she notices is the heat. She feels surrounded, and at first it's nice, comforting, but as she begins to feel other things – the pressure of her bladder, the dryness of her throat, the swimmy feeling in her head that she's pretty sure is a lurking hangover waiting to pounce, the uncomfortable press of the zipper of her dress and the underwire of her bra – she starts to feel too hot, smothered even. Except for her feet, which feel like blocks of ice. She stirs restlessly – and behind her, there's a masculine grumbling noise, and a hand tightens on her waist.
Annie's eyes shoot open.
For a moment, she has no idea where she is, she recognizes nothing – but she forces her brain into a cold start (What happened, where am I?) and it all begins to tumble back in fits and starts. Troy's homecoming, she remembers. The trip to Vegas. The others wandering off to go to Cirque du Soleil, but Annie had always been terrified of clowns, and Jeff wasn't interested. Playing the slots, and then the roulette wheel, and then craps. She'd been on a winning streak – nothing to frighten the casino, but enough to cover a decent chunk of her school tuition, and halfway through the evening she'd sensibly cashed in most of it and had it sent to her room. The rest, she'd allowed herself to play with, and she remembered the giddiness as her winning streak continued, and they drank more, and it felt like everything was going right. Flirting with Jeff, getting him to blow on her hand. The teasing rumble of his voice in her ear as she leaned over the table and put it all on one roll of the dice: "If you win this one, I'm totally going to marry you for your money."
Annie gives a quiet, panicked squeak as the rest of the night slides into place, and she wiggles her hand – currently trapped under her body – and feels the hard press of an unfamiliar band around her finger. "Oh god," she moans under her breath. "Oh god, oh god, oh god…"
Now that she knows who's in bed with her, wrapped around her like a particularly muscular blanket, she recognizes all those other little signs – his cologne, his suitcase over there, the shirt and pants strewn carelessly on the floor…
She looks down at herself in a panic, but no, she's still dressed, and she barely remembers coming back to the room, so she's pretty sure she passed out as soon as she reached a horizontal surface. There had been kissing, though. Oh boy, had there been kissing. She feels her whole body flush hot and cold.
Jeff chooses that moment to make a sleepy noise and pull her more tightly back against him, his arm banding tightly around her chest, just beneath her breasts. He nuzzles into the back of her neck, and Annie closes her eyes and whines quietly. Oh god, this is all kinds of fucked up, because she wants this more than anything, but they've jumped a step – several steps, in fact. Several very important steps, such as, oh, actually admitting how they feel about each other, and then dating, and sex, and all the stuff that comes before getting freaking married.
A wave of nausea sweeps over her, and she jerks quickly out of his arms, and stumbles on wobbly legs for the bathroom, getting there just in time.
She HATES throwing up – not only is it vile, but it always triggers a wave of emotions in her that are beyond all reasonable proportion or control. She can't stop retching, and it's so awful and she just wants to stop, but it keeps coming and all she can do is suffer through it. Within moments, she's hanging over the toilet bowl, sobbing uncontrollably. A few seconds later there's the sound of hasty footsteps, and the tap running. She has enough presence of mind to press the flush, but then slumps against the bowl, past caring about her dignity. A damp washcloth is thrust into her hand, and she takes it gratefully, and sobs into it. Her teeth rattle against the glass of water he hands her to rinse her mouth.
When it becomes clear that she's done throwing up but not done crying, Jeff hauls her into his lap, rubbing her back helplessly. "Shhh, it'll be okay, baby, I swear, everything will be okay," he says, sounding panicky and entirely unreassuring. She clutches his T-shirt through a fresh wave of tears – but thankfully that seems to be the last of it, and at last she quietens down into hiccupping breaths.
"I hate getting sick," she explains croakily, when she's able to speak again.
"Yeah, no shit," he says, but gently. He's wrapped himself around her – one knee propped up behind her, arms around her, chin resting on her head – and it's really comforting.
"No, I mean – that's why I'm crying – it's not about..." She trails off, tears threatening. Okay, maybe it was a little about that, too.
The hand on her back pauses, and then resumes. "Right," he says. "That."
They sit in silence for a moment, contemplating the new world order. "Oh god," says Annie, panic threatening to overwhelm her again. "What are we going to do? We got married!" Her voice drops automatically on the last word, like it's an obscenity.
"Yeah, I was there too, remember? So is it living up to the fantasy?"
"Jeff, this isn't a joke!"
"I know, I know," he sighs. "I just – look, I'm too hungover to deal with this right now, okay? Can we just go back to bed and sleep it off?"
She pulls herself upright and glares at him. "No. No, we can't sleep this off, Jeff. I have to get back to my room before someone finds me here!"
"And says what? We're married – it literally couldn't be more respectable. Hell, we haven't even had sex."
"Oh, so, what, you want to – to claim your marital rights now, is that it?"
"Well, I'm up for it if you are!"
She makes an exasperated noise. "You're such a pig. This is all your fault!"
"My fault? How d'you figure that?"
"Well, there's only one person in this room who's nearly gotten married three times in the last five years, and it's not me," she says, tartly.
He gapes at her for a moment. "I… Those were different!"
"Oh, really? In what way?" She waits, but he can't seem to find an answer to that. "I can't believe I married you!"
"Amazing, married less than a day and we already sound like my parents," he says. And then the fight leaves him, abruptly. "Annie, I didn't mean that—"
"I am going," she says, pushing herself off of him and up to standing, "back to my room."
"We should talk—"
"I don't think that's a good idea," she says tightly. "We might both say something else we'll regret."
He nods. "Okay. If that's what you want."
She pauses at the bathroom door, and looks back, unwillingly still drawn to him, no matter how much he pisses her off. He's still sitting on the floor, arms outstretched and propped on his knees, staring at his hands. He looks weary – defeated.
He looks up.
"I'll… I'll see you at breakfast, all right?"
He nods, and his brow clears a little. "All right," he agrees.
Chapter 2: You can't fight the undertow (how long 'til you let go?)
Jeff has been staring at the ring on his finger for twenty minutes now, trying to convince himself to take it off. He has to do it – logically he knows this – because otherwise it will become immediately obvious to that band of idiots he calls friends what has happened. Annie will have taken hers off, of course; she might seem sentimental, but she's ruthless when push comes to shove, and she knows what they have to do to keep this little mistake a secret.
So why can't he do it?
It's all his father's fault. No matter how many times he tells himself that the situation is completely different, he can't help but feel that removing the ring is a betrayal of something that ought to be sacred – a commitment that his father hadn't bothered to keep. He always vowed he'd be different. He might have been a player, but he's never been unfaithful to a woman. Of course, that was easy when they were mostly one-night stands, but it's still a tenet he's never broken.
But this is stupid. It's a stupid mistake – and not even an original one. Hell, every former-child-actor-turned-wannabe-pop-star and B-lister has a Vegas wedding under their belt; TMZ hardly even bothers reporting them any more. They'll just get an annulment, which probably happens every day in this town, and move on with their lives.
He takes hold of the ring firmly – and lets it go again, swearing under his breath.
Because it's not just a stupid mistake with a random woman, is it? It's Annie. It's the woman he's wanted and cared about and obsessed over for longer than he's prepared to admit.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck."
Okay. If he doesn't take it off, what are the possible consequences? Well, the others could see it, and they could tar and feather him, and Annie could never speak to him again. That would be bad. On the other hand, what is the likelihood of them seeing it? After all, he's been able to fool them before – and they'll be hungover too, he's willing to bet. All he needs to do is keep that hand out of sight.
Shit, is he really thinking of doing this? Is he really this stupid? It's just a symbol – just a simple band that represents his eternal commitment to one person for the rest of his life. He doesn't even believe that's possible, that two human beings could manage to stay together forever and still feel the same way that caused them to make the vow in the first place. Really, people change so much – he's changed so much, over the last five years, how can he possibly think that in another five years he'll still feel the things that drove him to do what he did last night, to make the promises he made?
And really, if he cares at all about Annie, he ought to consider her views. She's made it clear already that she thinks this is a mistake, that she doesn't want their friends to know. He needs to respect that. And if it turns out he really wants this, if he really does, he needs to do it right – ask her out, date her for a decent amount of time… All the stuff that normal people somehow manage to do, all the time, without massively screwing it up.
Resolved, he grabs hold of the ring again. He can do this.
Downstairs, he heads cautiously into the restaurant where they'd all agreed to meet. He's immediately spotted by Shirley, who gives him a wave. He waves back, and makes his way over to the sheltered nook she's chosen.
"Others not down yet?" he asks, grabbing a seat. Shirley is picking at a plate full of fresh fruit, and it looks absolutely delicious.
"I think Britta's going to be late," she says sagely. "I'm not sure about those boys – you can never tell whether they're going to spend all night turning their hotel room into a recreation of Fear and Loathing, or just go straight to sleep and be up and bouncing around again at the crack of dawn." She smiles fondly. "It's like being back home. How was your evening?"
"Great. Annie won big," says Jeff, scanning the menu. "She was smart, too, and saved most of it. She'll probably use it to pay her tuition next year."
"Oh, that's nice!"
"Yeah," he agrees, smiling, because this is uncomplicated, he's happy for Annie about this.
Troy's hands slam down on his shoulders, making him jump, at the same time as Abed drops into the chair opposite. "Jeff. Is there anything you want to tell us about last night?"
Jeff tries to keep the panic from his face and voice. "What? No."
Abed continues to stare, while Troy's hands attempt what is presumably supposed to be a scary grip, but is in fact quite a nice shoulder massage. "Okay," says Abed, finally, and nods to Troy. "This is Vegas, after all, so I had to ask."
Jeff wills his heart to stop thumping. It's just Troy and Abed being Troy-and-Abed, thank god. "Ah. Of course."
Troy sits down next to Abed, and they put their heads down over the menu.
"Steel-cut oatmeal always sounds so manly, but then it just turns out to be oatmeal," says Troy. "Morning, Shirley."
"Good morning, Troy, Abed."
Jeff, still trying to convince himself there’s no reason to panic, jumps when the waiter appears at his elbow in the next moment. "Uh, yeah, I'll have the omelet, spa-style, please, and black coffee."
The boys order waffles, and the food arrives a few minutes later, at the same time as Annie. Jeff tries to use the confusion to give her a reassuring smile, but she looks pale and worried, and can't quite seem to return it.
"So, Annie," says Abed, in the same tone he'd used on Jeff. "Is there anything you want to tell us about last night?"
Troy, in place of the shoulder treatment, does the Forest Whitaker squint at her.
"Abed, give it a rest," tries Jeff, but Abed holds up a hand.
"Uh, no – what are you – pssh, no, I don't – what?" says Annie, flashing him a look of panic. She has a horrible poker face.
"Abed's just messing with you," says Jeff, trying to sound bored.
"What about it, Annie?" Abed lets his eyebrows do that bizarre dancing thing. "Vegas, the city of sin?"
Annie laughs, and her shoulders relax. "Oh! Oh, sure – yes, it was me against the system, you should have seen me," she says, and begins to improvise a complicated story about how she and Jeff managed to con the casino out of millions of dollars. Jeff sits back and listens, and smirks at her when she reaches the part where she saves him from being kneecapped by a mob boss.
But he notices that her usual animation doesn't extend to lifting her left hand above the table. His suspicions are further raised when she gets up to visit the bathroom, and the hand is tucked firmly in the broad pocket of her skirt. Jeff watches her go, and a minute later he excuses himself. When she comes out, he's waiting in the outer room, and grabs her wrist quickly, holding it up. "What the hell, Annie? I thought you wanted to be discreet!"
She's still wearing his ring.
"I do, I do! I just – I don't know..." She pulls her hand away, and fiddles with the item in question. "It felt wrong to just take it off, you know? As if it was just disposable." Her eyes go to his hand, which is still tucked in his jeans pocket – and in a flash, she's tugging at his arm. He lets her pull the hand out of his pocket to reveal the ring that, in the end, he simply wasn't able to remove. "Jeff, you hypocrite!"
He groans. "I tried! I just... couldn't do it," he admits. "It felt wrong." And then they're back to staring at one another. The moment stretches, and a voice in his head begins to chant 'kiss her, kiss her... you married her, you idiot, you're at least due a kiss...' And she must feel the same, because she's leaning up towards him...
Someone walks past the entryway, and they pull apart guiltily. "Okay, this is ridiculous," says Annie, firmly. "I have an idea. Give me your hand."
He holds it out, and she tugs off the ring. His hand feels oddly bare without it. Then she pulls off her own, and undoes her necklace, pulling off the little gold pendant and threading the two rings onto it instead. She refastens the necklace and drops it down inside the neck of her dress, where it is totally hidden.
"Voilà. How's that? Discreet, but not dishonoring it. Them. The whole thing."
He pictures the two rings, nestled warmly next to her heart (and just above her cleavage). "Uh... yeah," he says, swallowing. "That'll do."
And then – because fuck discretion, seriously, he needs this – he kisses her anyway.
Annie can feel the blush on her face when they return to the table, her fair skin betraying her, but luckily Britta arrives and provides the perfect distraction when she collapses dramatically into a chair, groaning about her hangover.
Jeff – drat the man – looks perfectly composed, even though he had his hands all over her and his tongue down her throat not two minutes ago, and she knows there was some emotion involved there, even if he won't own up to it. She almost couldn't believe it when she'd realized he was still wearing his wedding ring (and after criticizing her for wearing hers, too!), and for a moment, she'd let herself get caught up in the silly fantasy... but she's not doing that again. She is not. She knows better than to pin her hopes on Jeff Winger, and even if she didn't, a Vegas wedding is hardly a promising start. If it were anyone else, she knows she'd expect the divorce to follow just as quickly. She's generally an optimist, but even she can see the difference between 'sweeping romantic gesture' and 'drunken mistake'.
At least they didn't have sex, she thinks (a little wistfully). Somehow that gives it less substance, so that if – when, when! – they get this reversed, it will be like it never really happened. It'll be easier to redraw the lines between them, to pretend that all they've ever been is good friends.
To take her mind off it, she throws herself into planning the day. Troy and Abed want to take a drive through the desert for "important research reasons", which ties in nicely with Annie's desire to drive out to Lake Mead. Britta is willing to go along with anything so long as she doesn't have to make any major decisions, and Shirley is happy just to be with her friends again (although she does insist they get a couple of coolers, and reminds them all to apply sunscreen and wear hats). She's half expecting Jeff to make some kind of protest, to try to persuade them to spend the day by the pool or something, but he says nothing, and just silently tags along when they all get up to go. For a moment, she feels the pressure of his hand on her back as they leave the restaurant, but when she glances at him, the hand is gone and he's checking his phone.
They rent an SUV, and no one objects when Jeff snags the keys as if he really is the dad of the group. Shirley calls shotgun, and Annie curls up in the middle seats with Britta, feeling very weird about the whole thing, because it's eerily reminding her of road trips with her parents, and that's just WRONG. Jeff sets up Google Maps on his phone, and they head off.
They make it to Lake Mead in a mere thirty minutes, and pile out of the car. "Holy crap!" says Britta, reeling back when the heat hits her. She starts to climb back into the world of air conditioning and shade, but Annie deftly grabs the back of her shorts.
"Come on, you'll feel better if you have a swim," she says determinedly.
"Noooo!" says Britta, scrabbling to keep hold of the seats, but Annie tugs, and they tumble out, cannoning into – of course – Jeff. He sets Annie back on her feet, lingering to ensure she's steady. Her shoulders are bare, and his palms are warm against her cool skin. She can feel herself getting a little breathless.
"Sorry," she says, flustered.
"It's no problem."
"Aren't we formal?" says Britta, grumpily, and Jeff quickly lets go.
The beach is narrow, quiet, and kind of rocky, but there are patches of clay-colored sand that reach down into the blue water, and they end up in a loose knot in the sandiest part they can find, close to where a short wooden dock sticks out into the water. The deserted skeleton of a beach umbrella is lying against some nearby rocks, and Annie appropriates it and sets it up, draping it with a wrap that she pins against the mild breeze with safety pins from her first aid kit. She, Shirley and Britta take the shade, and Troy and Abed – inspired – head off to look for more beach treasures. Annie is about to strip down to her bikini when she realizes: she has no idea how to conceal the rings. She presses her hand over the fabric of her dress, where she can feel them hanging, and glances at Jeff, who seems to get her meaning.
"Annie, did you leave your sunglasses in the car?" he asks, pointedly. "Maybe in the glove compartment?
"Oh! Yes. Good... remembering. I'll be right back."
She catches the keys he throws, and dashes – with her bag, which actually holds her sunglasses – to the car. She wraps the necklace and rings in her lens cloth and tucks them into her sunglasses case, just to be safe, and leaves it in the glove compartment. Yes, there's a chance that one of the others could find them there, but that's probably less likely than Britta deciding she needs something out of Annie's bag and going through it without permission. Then she wanders back down to the beach to change and slather herself in SPF 50. She's aware that Jeff is watching her from behind his Ray-Bans, but chooses to ignore it – because she fully intends to enjoy this opportunity to ogle his long, lean, half-naked body, too. Britta, however, throws him a disapproving glance as she does Annie's back. "Perv," she mutters. Jeff gives her the tiniest of shameless smirks.
They swim and sun themselves for the next couple of hours, and, as she promised, their hangovers have mostly lifted by the time they gather for lunch. Afterwards, Jeff – who spent the morning lying in the sun, like a giant cat – decides he's going to go for a swim at last. Shirley and Troy settle down for a nap in the shade, but everyone else goes with him. They shove one another off the end of the dock, hold races, and generally have fun splashing about. Despite his laziness, Jeff is by far the strongest swimmer amongst them, and he wins every race. Finally, Britta and Abed haul themselves onto the end of the dock and collapse in the sun, and Jeff and Annie are left alone in the water, out of earshot of everyone else. Annie rolls onto her back in the water and keeps herself afloat so she can absorb the sun.
"So, you managed to spend an entire morning without even talking about school," remarks Jeff. "I guess congratulations are in order."
Annie hums, too content to rise to his provocation. "I love this kind of day," she says. "Just hanging out with friends, by the beach... I wish we had a beach near us in Greendale, I'd do this all the time."
Jeff grunts. "Good way to spend our wedding day, then?" he says, after a moment. His tone is light, so she knows he's trying to take the pressure off, but it still makes something in her stomach clench, and she lets her feet sink so her body is underwater again and she doesn't feel so exposed.
"Technically, yesterday was the wedding day," she points out.
"Ah," he says. His eyes are dark and watchful. "So I guess that makes this the honeymoon."
She closes her eyes briefly, unable to take the weight of his gaze. "Jeff," she says, but can't think what to say after that. She risks a glance at him, and he's drifted closer, his eyes on their friends. From this distance, she knows they'll be visible as two little bobbing heads, and they can't risk it, if he's thinking what she thinks he's thinking. He looks at her again.
"Take a deep breath," he advises – and ducks under the water.
She barely has time to comply before his hands are on her waist, pulling her under, and he's sealing his mouth over hers. It's like she's drowning and she doesn't know which way is up – and it's too much, too overwhelming. Jeff tastes of cool water, and the minerals in the lake, and she can feel her hair swirling in a cloud around them, and this is either the most romantic thing to ever happen to her, or the biggest mistake she's ever made.
Or possibly it's both.
It's fresh water, so it's easy for them to sink downwards, tangled around each other, and for a long moment she forgets everything – their friends, the impossibility of this, even the need to breathe. But then her lungs are bursting and she almost draws in a breath but stops herself just in time. She pushes back from him, and looks around for the light in a panic. In a couple of kicks she breaks the surface of the lake again, followed shortly by Jeff, and he catches her waist as they both gasp for breath. She treads water and pushes her hair back from her face to stare at him, wide-eyed, trying to read his expression. He looks as clueless as she feels.
She kicks away from him in the water, and his hands trail after her for a moment, but then he has to catch himself before he sinks.
"Annie," he begins.
She shakes her head, glancing back at their friends. She can see Shirley moving around on the beach, and it looks like Britta and Abed are beginning to stir. "We should get back," she says.
Chapter 3: The only heaven I'll be sent to (is when I'm alone with you)
They spend the evening in the safe company of their friends, and he's simultaneously contented and irked by their presence. He's missed this desperately, and he's so grateful he can spend time with the people he considers his family (more so than some of the people with whom he actually shares DNA), but at the same time he's frustrated because what he really wants to do is get Annie alone and...
...And do what? That's the question.
Because, after a morning spent watching her frolicking in that damned red polka-dot bikini like a 1950s pin-up, the moment he had anything resembling 'alone time' with her, he'd been all over her. If they are ever truly alone (in his hotel suite, his fevered imagination suggests, putting forth several possibilities – the king-size bed, the whirlpool bath, the steam shower, that over-the-top chaise longue...), it might just result in him tackling her to the nearest horizontal surface. And that's bad for several reasons, the main one being that he's not sure she even wants that. Sure, she married him, but they had been drunk off their asses. And even if she does want that as badly as he does – and maybe it makes him a prick, but he thinks she does – it would just make everything even more complicated.
So he gives in to the madness that is all his friends together in one place for the first time in forever, and tries not to focus on one of them in particular.
He's starting to think that maybe the stress of studying and then teaching at Greendale, coupled with the long years of self-restraint when it came to Annie, have finally made him lose it, and he's enjoying a nice little break from reality. Maybe he isn't even really here. Really, a ritzy suite at the Bellagio, all his friends together again, Annie's improbable luck in the casino, suddenly being married to her, Annie prancing around in skimpy swimwear... surely it's all too good to be true? Okay, there was the moment he'd woken up to throw up, and the other moment he'd woken up to hear Annie throw up and then burst into heart-wrenching sobs; that hadn't been so great. That had been pretty much the worst, in fact. He'd been terrified that he'd broken her, somehow. That sounds more like his life – so maybe this is reality, after all.
In which case, they have to decide how they are going to deal with this. He Googled 'divorce laws Nevada' this morning before breakfast (oh god, that really does sound like his life), and found a page – with illustrations, natch – that quickly made him realize that it wasn't going to be as simple as getting married. The rules for annulment are actually pretty restrictive and don't cover unconsummated marriage, so that's out unless one of them wants to pretend they're insane or a con artist (they could probably carry it off, given their history, but he'd rather not go down that road), and to get a divorce, at least one of them would have to be a Nevada resident. They're going to have to file back in Colorado – a more complex system, but it has the advantage of being the one he knows. The paperwork is endlessly tedious, and it will involve swapping all their financial information for the last three years, which is more than a little humiliating – but at least it's Annie and she already knows how broke he is. It takes 90 days to go through, so for at least the next three months, he'll be a married man.
He's pretty sure she won't hold him to it.
And after that, they can both go back to normal and pretend that this never happened. God, that sounds bleak – but it's not like they can stay married, right? That would be ridiculous. Even though he does care for her a lot more than he's prepared to verbalize, even in his own head, it's not like being married to her is any kind of realistic prospect at this point. What are they going to do, get a home together and pretend this is a happy ending? Maybe they can have two pretend kids and a dog, and he can pretend to come home every night to a family, a real one, with toys in the yard and drawings on the fridge, and Little League commitments and barbecues on Sunday, and arguments followed by spectacular make-up sex, and arguments not followed by spectacular make-up sex but by talking it out because pretend marriages take work sometimes, but they always come back together in the end because they're bound by more than just friendship—
Someone knocks over a glass, startling Jeff out of his hazy fantasy. His eyes automatically go to Annie, who is giving him a curious look. "You were miles away," she remarks.
"Yes, what has you so daydreamy?" asks Shirley, in her sweetest voice. "Is it a lady friend?" She smiles encouragingly, the perennial matchmaker.
Jeff clears his throat and sits up. "Yeah, you got me. I was dreaming about the little woman, and our 2.4 kids, and our white picket fence," he says. "The whole happily-ever-after scene." He pulls a face to show he's joking.
Shirley shakes her head reprovingly. "There's no need to mock, Jeffrey," she says. "It's not such a terrible fate, you know. Even someone as cynical as you might find comfort in such ordinary things."
Jeff meets Annie's eyes briefly. "Sorry Shirley," he says. "Don't get your hopes up. I'm not the marrying kind." Annie's mouth twists wryly, and she looks down at her drink (some kind of fruity cocktail – heavy on the fruit, light on the alcohol).
"Oh, who d'you think you're fooling, Jeff?" snaps Shirley, turning suddenly. "Honestly, do you think we can't all see it?"
Jeff whips his eyes to her, mind going blank with dread. "What?" Out of the corner of his eye he sees Annie's hand straying to where the rings lie hidden.
"You! You've changed," says Shirley. "All this nonsense about you not being the marrying kind – that's bull. I don't know if it was the second or the third time you got yourself halfway to the altar, but we all finally clued in to the fact that, deep down, you're dreaming of the quiet life."
"I was drunk!" he yelps. "And panicking! And..." he tries to remember the first time, "...playing the world's stupidest game of chicken?"
"I know that," says Shirley, dismissively. "And I've given up hope that you're ever going to make an honest woman of Britta, that horse ain't gonna run. But that doesn't change the fact that you keep reaching for that golden ring, all the same – and someday you'll catch it. Or it'll catch you," she adds. "Better watch out some woman doesn't decide to make you into her own personal rehabilitation project, someday."
There's a pregnant pause, and then Annie gives a fake, high-pitched little laugh. "Actually, it's the funniest thing," she begins, and Jeff leaps to his feet.
"Let's get everyone some shots!" he says, and grabs her by the arm, practically dragging her away from the table. "What the hell, Annie?" he hisses, once they're out of earshot. "I thought you wanted to be discreet!"
"I did – I do," she defends herself. "But you know what will happen – you know they'll find out eventually! And the longer we wait, the worse it will be!"
"They'll only find out if you tell them," he says through his teeth. "There's no earthly way they could know, otherwise."
"Oh, please – as if you didn't nearly give it away half a dozen times already," she retorts.
"No. NO. You know how Shirley feels about divorce. She would firebomb my apartment, Annie." Their voices are dropping as the argument heats up.
"You don't think she'll hold me responsible, too?" demands Annie. Jeff gives her the hairy eyeball. "Okay, maybe not," she concedes. "But that's just sexism, it is half my fault, no matter what Shirley thinks! You were just as drunk as me – and you weren't exactly holding a gun to my head to get me to say 'I do'."
"No, you were right to blame me. Like Shirley said, I keep almost getting married – this was practically inevitable."
"But you didn't get married the previous three times," she argues. "So that must mean it's my fault that it actually stuck this time!"
"Well yes, but only because I l—" He cuts off the word on the tip of his tongue, and stares at her, wide-eyed. She's staring back, shocked, and for a crazy second he thinks he's going to say it, right there, in front of Shirley and God and everyone.
"Jeff?" asks Annie, waveringly.
He pulls his hand away from her, and runs it through his hair, sighing. "We should talk," he says, reluctantly. "But not now – not..." He gives a minute tip of his head towards the others. "Later?"
Annie swallows, and nods. "I'll come to your room," she whispers.
His room. Where they can be alone together... to talk.
Yeah, there's no way this could go horribly, horribly wrong.
But only because I lost my mind.
It's become a crossword puzzle in her head. What word begins with L?
But only because I, like, felt sorry for you.
She's trying to think of the thousand and one possible ways he might have intended to finish that sentence, to convince her foolish heart that he hadn't been about to say that, so it won't be disappointed (again).
But only because I like you.
But only because I love Britta.
She shivers, and knocks on his door.
It opens almost immediately, like he's been standing there waiting for her. He's undone the top buttons of his shirt, his five o'clock shadow is now around eleven o'clock, his hair is doing that thing it does – like he's stuck his finger in an electrical socket, but, like, really sexily? – and he's holding a glass of scotch by the tips of his fingers. It's seriously, seriously unfair how attractive he is. She'd be able to get through this intact, she thinks, if he weren't so stupidly attractive.
"Come in," he says, somehow managing to make that sound sexy, too. Stupid, sexy Jeff.
She walks in, rubbing her hands together nervously, and he closes the door behind her. The note of finality in the sound is probably only her imagination. She's not sure what he wants to say to her, but she's pretty sure it's not going to involve continuing this charade, no matter what he may or may not feel for her. And that's right, she thinks; it's ridiculous to pretend that they could make this work. It's just… is she really going to have a divorce under her belt before she reaches 25? Her life is starting to sound like an episode of Oprah.
His eyes run over her, head to foot. While she was waiting in her room, to be sure the others had gone to sleep, she'd changed out of her dress and into some PJs. She'd debated for a moment about whether it would be appropriate – whether it would be suggestive of bed, and the getting into thereof – but in the end she decided that he'd already seen her in a bikini today, and the cami and shorts covered far more, so he ought to be able to cope. Besides, they were cute, not sexy.
From his pained expression, she's not sure she made the right choice. Oh well, they're both just going to have to act like responsible adults for once.
"Would you like a drink?" he offers.
She shakes her head. "No, thanks."
He nods, and then points at the couch in the suite's living room (which is the same as hers, except in a different color scheme). "Sit." She raises her eyebrows at him, and he rolls his eyes and holds up a hand. "Please?"
It's clear that he's not going to sit with her, so she curls up cross-legged in the center of the couch, facing him as he paces the room. It looks like he's working up to a Winger speech, and it's sort of comforting – both the familiarity of it as a crisis response, and the idea that he might have come up with some solution, however bullshit, to make this all better.
Finally, after pacing back and forth for a minute, he pivots to a halt in front of her. "Okay, so… here's the thing. I've made mistakes in my life – many, many times. Faking my degree is only the most famous; there have been millions of others – big ones, little ones... What I've had to come to terms with over the last few years is that they all have consequences. No matter how small the mistake, there seems to be an equal and opposite reaction. The bigger the mistake, the worse the payback. And I hope you won't take offense when I say that this was a HUGE mistake." She knows it, of course – agrees with the assessment, even – but it still hurts to hear him say it out loud. "Huge," he repeats, for emphasis.
"Okay, I get it," she snaps. "It was a huge mistake. Thanks, Jeff, you're making me feel lots better."
Jeff eyes her, and apparently decides not to press the matter. "But the thing I've found is that you can't just call for a do-over," he continues. "Acknowledging that you've made a mistake is nice and all, but you still have to pay for it. Life is a bitch like that. Life doesn't care that you're sorry, or that you were drunk, or that you thought it was a good idea at the time. Life wants you to pay and pay, publicly and humiliatingly, until it's had its pound of flesh."
"If this is your idea of a pep talk—"
But Jeff is on a roll, gesticulating as he talks. "But what if we could choose how we pay? What if we could choose the method of our execution? What if… we had the power to take that negative consequence and turn it into something positive?" He leans closer. "I know this may sound like a crazy plan, but hear me out: what if we decided to stay married?"
Annie gapes at him, utterly at a loss for words.
"Think about it for a second," he continues, persuasively. "Okay, so our friends will freak out, but that's going to happen no matter what. And okay, this wasn't what either of us intended to do on our trip to Vegas. But is it really so terrible? Is it world-ending? Is it a disaster of epic proportions – an apocalypse? No." He shakes his head. "Consider the mistakes we've both made in our lives, and what happened as a result. I faked my degree, you got addicted to Adderall, and we both ended up at Greendale. And as a result, we grew into better people. We found friends. We found meaning and direction in our lives. We found joy and happiness. Maybe this is another lesson that we need to embrace – maybe this is a chance for us to grow and develop as human beings."
"Are you nuts?" She's found her voice at last. "Jeff, we can't go through with this! And for what - some kind of learning experience? Are you even listening to yourself?"
"Why not? What exactly is wrong with it? People have based marriages on far worse reasons – for example, my parents based their marriage on my dad wanting to get laid, and look how that turned out. At least we're friends, Annie. Yes, it's unplanned and badly-timed and the last thing we wanted, but maybe the lesson we both need to learn is to let go of control sometimes and see where life takes us."
She can't sit still any longer – she has to get up and pace. "Jeff, no. No. Why are you even suggesting this? Are you freaking out about something again? Is this because you're scared of how Shirley and Britta are going to react?"
"I'm not scared, and I'm not freaking out about anything." And, in fact, he does look remarkably calm. "I just took a step back and thought about it logically. I mean, we care about each other, right?"
Annie gives a laugh that she knows sounds a little crazed, and turns to look at him, putting her hands on her hips. If that's where he wants to go with this, she's going to have it out with him, once and for all. "At the risk of asking a stupid question: do we? Because I've asked you that before, Jeff, and as I recall, you wouldn't give me a straight answer. Are you seriously suggesting we do this because we're friends, or is there something more to it?" He drops his head, and breathes out a long sigh. "You have to be honest with me about this." She means to sound resolute, but she has a feeling it comes out as pleading. "Otherwise I'm filing for divorce as soon as we get home."
"Annie… you know I'm not comfortable with—"
She makes an exasperated noise, and turns away, heading for the door.
"Wait!" He catches up to her in three long strides, grabbing her arms and holding her in place. "You know I… like you, right?"
"I know we're friends, Jeff." She doesn't try to turn around. "But I don't want to be married to a friend. I need – no, I deserve more than that."
He draws in a breath, and his fingers tighten their grip. "Do you remember Borchert's lab?" he asks, unexpectedly. "When I hooked myself up to the machine?" She nods. "I had to think of something that would make me feel strongly enough to open the door."
"A blast of passion," she recalls, her voice dropping to a whisper. She feels him nod.
"It was you," he says, his voice as quiet as hers. "When I thought about you, it opened the door and saved us."
She still can't turn around, but that's more because she's frozen in place now. Her heart is pounding. "It could've been a glitch – just a coincidence…"
"No. I thought about the others first – I went down the line before I got to you, Annie. I didn't want to believe it was… that you could make me feel like that. But it was you. And even if the machine was bullshit, and it was all a stupid coincidence, I felt it. I thought about you, and it wasn't the same."
She closes her eyes, a powerful shiver going through her.
He pulls her back against him, pressing his cheek to her hair and speaking with quiet intensity. "I'm a selfish man, Annie, and I've used up most of my chances already. I'm not worthy of someone who shines as brightly as you do. You're destined for great things, you know? But I've been given this chance to be with you, and I'd be the world's biggest idiot if I didn't try to grab it with both hands. If you'll have me."
"Jeff," she breathes, and turns at last to wrap her arms around his neck. Up close, he looks solemn, scared, wanting. She pulls him down towards her, but he hesitates, their noses brushing.
"We've talked a lot about me," he says. "What about you? How do you feel?"
Annie looks him in the eye and smiles. It's possibly the easiest question she's ever been asked. "I love you," she says, simply.
With a desperate groan, he leans forward to kiss her at last.
Chapter 4: Still I'm feeling pretty good about the future (everything is peaches but the cream)
They've been making out for twenty minutes or so, and Jeff's suite is beginning to look chock full of suitable horizontal surfaces. The floor, the table, the couch... There's a three-legged, glass-topped end table in the foyer that he's fully prepared to risk, if she asks.
Annie leans her head back against the wall, breathing hard. "Maybe we should…" she says, looking dazed.
Then she licks her lips, and he loses track of what she was saying because he has to kiss her again.
"Maybe," she tries again, a few minutes later, "we should..."
"Yeah," breathes Jeff. "Maybe we should."
"...take it slowly."
Jeff groans, having visions of laying her out on the king-size bed and taking it very slowly indeed. "Oh yeah," he agrees.
"No, I mean – oh – Jeff. Jeff."
"I'm listening," he assures her, nibbling his way down her neck.
"I mean... because everything happened so fast... maybe we... oh god... maybe we should... wait."
At last, it dawns on him that she's not talking about taking this to the bedroom. Quite the opposite, in fact. He lifts his head. "What? Why?" Okay, that was a little more horny-teenaged-boy than he'd intended.
Annie sighs. "Well, I'm just a little bit worried that if we go charging ahead now, this could all crash and burn," she says. "We should probably have a cooling-off period, after such a major decision. You know?" She gives him the eyes. He can never argue with those eyes. "I want to be sure we're doing it for the right reasons, Jeff. After all, you haven't even managed to verbalize how you feel about me, yet." She might have a point. "And we have to tell the others while we're still in Vegas."
"What?" Jeff yelps. "No! Why? I mean, eventually, yes," he says, when she frowns at him. "But... now?"
"If we tell them now, when we've got them all together, they can get it all over with at once instead of dragging it out for weeks and weeks," she says. "Imagine how it would be if we had to talk to them all separately, Jeff. They'd all raise the same issues, and we'd have to go through it again and again and again... This way, it's clean, and we can stop worrying about messing up." It's a persuasive argument.
"Okay. Okay. But if this is all an elaborate plan to inherit my money after Britta and Shirley kill me and Troy and Abed dump my body in the desert, I should warn you now that teaching at Greendale is not as lucrative as you might think." She swats his chest. "Do me a favor? Can we tell them on the last day? Let's just enjoy ourselves until then."
Annie nods. "I think that's a good idea," she agrees. "I don't want to spend the rest of my vacation arguing with my friends."
"Okay. Good," he says, relieved. "And then we can start wearing the rings again." She stares at him, and he shrugs. "It feels weird without it. Like I just imagined the whole thing."
Okay, somewhere in there was the magic phrase to make her kiss him again. He'll figure it out when he's not busy kissing her back.
Slowly, slowly, he walks her to the door – and then they spend twenty minutes making out against it, until he's ready to promise her anything if he can take her to bed right now. When he pulls back, her eyes are wide and dark, and sparkling with hunger, and he finds once again that the words are on the tip of his tongue. But he wants to do this one thing right – he doesn't want it to seem like he's saying it to get what he wants, or because he feels he ought to. He wants her to know that he means it. So he holds them back, and kisses the end of her nose. "See you in the morning," he says instead.
She pouts – which is completely adorable, and his resolve weakens – and sighs, "Yeah."
"Hey, this was your idea."
"I know, I know." She has to shuffle closer to let him open the door, so of course he has to kiss her again. "Okay, going!" she gasps, dragging her lips away.
When the door finally closes behind her, he lasts about half a second before throwing himself up against the peephole to watch her walking away.
The next morning, he goes down to the restaurant to find her already there, along with Troy and Abed. He nods a greeting to the boys, and then sits as close to Annie as he thinks he can get away with – so, practically on top of her. She gives him a look that's half amused, half reproving, but can't really say anything because of the others. When the waiter brings her fresh fruit and waffles, he orders ham and eggs, minus the hash browns. He steals one of her strawberries while he waits for his breakfast to arrive, and then Annie gets out her tablet and they both look for places they could visit today. Her perfume is delicate and floral, drawing him in, but he manages to behave and not to lean in too much or smell her hair or do anything that will get them noticed – or so he thinks, until he looks up to find Troy and Abed watching them.
"No, this is new," says Abed, apparently in response to something Troy asked. Jeff had missed the question because he was too busy trying to find the best angle to ogle Annie's cleavage without it being obvious.
"Huh," says Troy. He eyeballs Jeff. "So are you two... doing it?"
It's involuntary, but Jeff looks to Annie, who looks back at him. They hadn't talked about what to say if directly questioned – it hadn't really occurred to either of them that their friends would catch on this quickly. This, of course, is enough to give the game away entirely.
"Huh," says Troy again. "Since when?"
"No, it's not like that," says Annie, trying to explain. Jeff puts a hand on her shoulder to silence her. He looks around, but neither Shirley nor Britta is in sight.
"Can we keep this between us for now?" he asks, opting for damage control over further obfuscation. It was never really Troy and Abed he was worried about, anyway. "We're going to tell Shirley and Britta, but not yet. We didn't want to ruin the vacation."
"What's in it for us?" asks Abed. "If they find out, and then find out that we knew, we'll be in trouble too."
Jeff exchanges a look with Annie. "If you promise to keep it on the down low," says Annie, "we'll tell you a really important secret. But you have to promise you won't do anything to give it away."
Troy and Abed both lean in. "Secrets and lies in the City of Sin? Count me in," says Abed, straight away.
"Yeah, me too!" says Troy. "Are you pregnant?"
"No!" gasps Annie. "Troy!"
He shrugs. "Hey, you're the ones being all secretive. Ooh, did you really take the casino for a million bucks? Did Jeff really get kidnapped by the Mob? Did you really use your feminine wiles to distract the guard, and then – wham! – uppercut to the jaw with a stapler?"
"No, I got that from Agent Carter," Annie says, impatiently. "Look, Jeff and I aren't... you know…"
"Hooking up," supplies Troy, helpfully.
"That," says Annie. "We just... we accidentally..."
"We got married," says Jeff, baldly.
Troy sits back as if he's seen a spider. "Whoa! That's HUGE! Are you sure you're not pregnant?"
"Yes, Troy," says Annie, through her teeth.
"Vegas wedding?" asks Abed, hungrily. "Please tell me it was a Vegas wedding."
"It was," confirms Annie.
Abed's eyes light up, and he pumps his fist. "Yes! Was Elvis there?"
"No. Or not that I recall," amends Jeff. "There was a lot of alcohol involved."
"Ah. So that's why you got so shifty when I asked about that first night," says Abed, cocking his head shrewdly. "You weren't concealing a drunken night of debauchery, you were concealing a drunken exchange of vows and rings."
"Oh! Are there rings?" demands Troy. Annie rolls her eyes, and tugs out the necklace. Troy squeaks, and bites his knuckles. "You guys," he breathes.
Abed grabs the rings and examines them. "Classic," he pronounces. "Tasteful. Good choice. Annie should have something with a bit more bling later on, though." His eyes narrow on Jeff. "I'm assuming you mean to do the honorable thing," he says, in what is no doubt the combined stentorian tones of a dozen father figure characters. Against his will, it does something unpleasant to Jeff's backbone.
"I thought we'd done the honorable thing," he objects. "Isn't that kind of the point?"
Abed shakes his head. "As a stereotypical movie father, I'd be satisfied with marriage as shorthand for a happy ending. But as Annie's friend, I'm going to have to say it depends on how you follow it up."
"Yes, Jeff. What are your intentions towards Annie?" asks Troy sternly, somewhat ruining the effect by puffing on an imaginary pipe.
"Hey," says Annie, annoyed. "What about my intentions? Aren't you worried about that?"
Troy and Abed exchange a look. "Pandering to unrealistic notions in a misguided attempt to be politically correct," says Abed.
Troy points his imaginary pipe. "Subverting the narrative as part of the zeitgeist." A beat, and then they both turn on Annie. "What are your intentions towards Jeff?" asks Troy.
"Guys, it's cute, but I really don't need you defending my honor," protests Jeff. He glances around, paranoid that either Shirley or Britta is suddenly going to appear. "Particularly not right now."
"We've talked it over, and we've decided to give it a shot," says Annie, apparently getting into it. "But we're taking it slowly."
She takes the opportunity to slip her hand into his, and Jeff is momentarily distracted because it feels amazingly good. He weaves his fingers through hers, and wishes they were alone so they could go back to the kissing.
"Ah," says Troy, getting back to what Jeff privately agrees is the main point. "So that's why you're not doing it."
"Pretty much," he says. "But you can't tell Britta or Shirley, okay?"
"You are going to tell them yourselves, though? Because, although neither genre is my personal favorite, I prefer rom-coms to reality TV."
"We're going to tell them," sighs Jeff. "I swear."
Abed holds his gaze, and then nods decisively. "Then I will keep your secret, kemo sabe," he says – and then grimaces. "Actually, strike that last bit, that movie seriously had no idea how racist it was being."
"Yeah, I won't say anything," agrees Troy. "It should be your secret to tell. Plus it's kinda cool. It's like Parent Trap!"
Jeff points at him. "Don't get a notion, Lindsey Lohan."
Then Annie jumps like she's been goosed. "Death Valley!" she yelps, tugging her hand from Jeff's and quickly tucking the rings away.
Abed catches on first. "I want to go find that place where they put all the used-up lights from the Strip," he says, turning back to the remains of his breakfast.
"Oh, are you talking about what we should do today?" asks Shirley, floating up. "Because there's something I'd love to do, if anyone's interested. Did you know they do a tour of all the little wedding chapels where pop stars get those disgraceful marriages? We should do that!"
There is a pregnant pause, but Shirley is occupied with settling herself at the table. Jeff looks around. Troy looks like he's about to explode, and Abed is watching and waiting, a slice of toast halfway to his mouth. Annie looks at him. "That sounds great," says Jeff, weakly. Annie's eyes widen, and he gives her a tiny shrug to indicate that she hadn't exactly come up with any brilliant reasons against it, either, and someone had to say something before Shirley got suspicious or Troy blurted everything out.
"I believe I would enjoy that," says Abed, and Jeff isn't sure whether to thank him or glare at him. Abed crunches his toast, and looks serenely at Jeff.
Jeff sighs. It's going to be a long day.
The tour is thankfully on a bus, so there's no opportunity to run into people who might recognize them. Every time they pull up to a new chapel, Troy nudges Annie and asks surreptitiously, "Is it this one?" She's already seen so many by the time they pull up to a familiar-looking building that it takes her a moment to recognize the place. Then her eyes go wide, and when Troy nudges her, she nods quickly. Troy turns and nudges Abed, and they both start snapping away.
What the hell. Annie pulls out her own camera, and takes a few photos. When she glances over at Jeff, he has his phone out – as he has for the last half-hour – but it's at a funny angle for playing Fruit Ninja. He presses a button, and then gives her a look and a sideways smile, and the knowledge that he's taken a photo of their wedding chapel too warms her from the inside out, despite the chill of the A/C.
So as not to arouse suspicion, she also takes photos of all the chapels after that, and kind of gets into the sheer kitschiness, so when Abed again suggests a trip to the Neon Boneyard, she chimes in enthusiastically. They stop for lunch at a diner, and then make the short drive to the museum, where they take a tour with a few other groups, including a pair of newlyweds. It occurs to Annie, suddenly, that she and Jeff technically also hold that title. It makes her insides flutter with nerves and excitement, and she wishes she could walk around holding his hand, like the other couple.
Abed – who is showing a totally unsurprising genius for this kind of caper – gets everyone to pose in various places and groupings, including one with Jeff and Annie standing underneath a giant white horseshoe. "Put your arms around her, Jeff," he calls. Jeff does as instructed, glancing nervously at the rest of the tour, who have wandered on a little. As the camera clicks, he presses a quick kiss to her temple. She smiles up at him in response, and the camera clicks again.
Abed gives them a thumbs up, and then hurries to catch up with the others, who are rounding a corner. Annie starts to follow, but Jeff catches her hand, and she pauses to look back in inquiry. He watches Abed disappear, and then his eyes go to Annie's, and her heart skips a beat at the fierce heat of his gaze. They may only have moments. He backs her against the inside curve of the horseshoe and kisses her until she's breathless and dizzy.
"Hey!" says a voice, and they leap apart guiltily – but it's one of the curators. "No touching the museum pieces," he says.
"Sorry, uh, we were just…" Jeff doesn't bother to finish – it's pretty obvious what they were just.
The man smiles. "You folks newlyweds?" he asks kindly.
Jeff puts his arm around Annie, pulling her close and kissing the top of her head. "Yeah. We are." She ducks her head into his chest, feeling giddy and on the edge of some kind of explosion of joy – like she's going to burst into song or something equally ridiculous.
"Well, that's nice for sure, but try to keep it contained. Some of these pieces can be dangerous."
"Yessir," says Jeff.
"Sorry," adds Annie, and they hurry after the tour.
Behind them, the man calls: "Congratulations!"
The rest of the day is sweet torture. She bounces between reckless happiness, fear that they're about to be caught, and a desperate need to touch him. It's making her a little manic, and that evening she sticks firmly to fruit juice and water, concerned that her judgement is being impaired through sheer proximity to Jeff.
He's not much better, it has to be said. He seems to like playing with fire, because after the Neon Boneyard, he stops to kiss her in the elevator at the Bellagio, just outside the bathrooms of the Elvis-themed restaurant they all go to that evening, in the restaurant's parking lot, behind a pillar in the hotel lobby, and in Shirley's bathroom when they all go back to her room to hang out. The only reason they don't get caught that time is because… well, they do, but it's by Troy, so it doesn't count.
"You guys have to stop acting like this, or Shirley and Britta are going to find out," Troy scolds them in a whisper. They hang their heads, but Jeff's pinkie finger sneaks around hers. "And stop holding hands!" They whip their hands apart again.
"Maybe we ought to behave," says Annie.
Jeff nods thoughtfully. "At least when we're in the same room as them," he says, fairly.
"No sitting next to me," lists Annie, ticking each item off on her fingers. "No holding hands. No making veiled suggestive remarks. What else? Oh! No making eyes at me across the room."
"I don't do that. Do I?" Troy nods emphatically. "Oops," says Jeff, unrepentantly. Annie smiles at him, and he smiles back. Annie begins to lose herself in his gaze…
"Argh! You're doing it right now! You two are the worst! I wish I was still lost at sea!" Troy throws his hands in the air and stalks away.
Through some miracle, they manage to make it through the evening without incident, and later, Annie walks arm-in-arm with Britta to their adjacent rooms.
"It's been amazing, having everyone together again," says Britta, dreamily. Annie is suddenly full of affection for her friend, and impulsively hugs her with one arm around her shoulders. "What's that for?"
"I never wanted a sister, growing up," says Annie. "I don't know, I think I was afraid it would be too much competition or something? But I was wrong. It's the best. You're the best sister I never had, Britta, and I love you."
"Aww!" says Britta, and they stop in the hallway to hug properly. "I love you, too, Annie."
Back in her room, Annie changes into PJs, takes off her makeup, and brushes out her hair in the bathroom. She's left most of the lights off, not wanting to break the peaceful, happy mood she's in, and in the mirror, her dimly-lit reflection looks lost in a dream. She winks conspiratorially at herself.
When there's a tap at the door, the feeling that jolts through her isn't surprise. She knows who it is, but she pauses to look through the peephole anyway, a habit from years of living alone in a bad neighborhood. Jeff seems to sense when she's looking, and smiles directly at the little glass eye, and Annie has to close her eyes and lean her forehead against the cool door for a couple of seconds, willing herself to remain sane.
She opens the door. "Hi," she says, smiling involuntarily.
"Hi. Uh, can I come in?" She steps back to let him in, and his eyes wander over her, less fleetingly than before, as she closes the door behind him.
"Jeff Winger. What brings you here?" She tilts her head inquiringly, trying to look cool and unaffected.
He gives her his most charming smile, and steps closer. "I just wanted to kiss my wife goodnight."
The squeak she just gave? Probably not helping her image.
She holds her ground as he moves closer, so he doesn't have far to go. He reaches out to cup her cheek gently. "Is this okay?" he asks in a whisper.
She nods rapidly. "Uh-huh."
He steps in closer. The warm, slightly peppery scent of his cologne sends a powerful wave of desire through her, and she sways towards him. The shy earnestness of his expression reminds her of something, and she smiles when she remembers. "Us, kissing," she says. "Ridiculous."
He smiles in recognition. "Ridiculous," he echoes softly. He moves closer. It's been hours since their last kiss, right? Possibly days, even. An eternity. When his nose brushes hers, she actually whimpers. Is he dragging this out on purpose, just to mess with her? She leans up, but he moves back, keeping the tiniest, electricity-filled space between them.
"Je-eeff…" she moans – and he's laughing softly when she closes the gap.
What begins as a soft press of lips escalates rapidly, and within moments they're spiraling out of control – but she's wanted him all day, and for almost six years before that. "We were going to behave," she reminds him, working with trembling fingers on the buttons of his shirt.
He walks her backwards into the main room. "Around the others," he reminds her, hands dipping under her top and sliding up her bare back.
She gives a soft moan, and shoves his half-unbuttoned shirt off his shoulders, desperate to feel more of his skin against hers. "Oh god… naked, you need to be more naked."
"Annie," he hisses, pulling her tightly up against him. Through his jeans, she can feel his erection pressing hard against her stomach – and it's the last straw. She breaks away, and grabs his hand, towing him towards the bedroom, but he drags her to a stop, and she turns to glare at him. "Annie, are you sure about this?" he asks, sounding impressively sober for someone whose eyes can't seem to move above her breasts.
"What do you think?" Well if he's not going to do it… It takes her two seconds to fling off her cami and shimmy out of her shorts, flinging them away. She stands in front of him with her hands on her hips, wearing nothing but a challenging expression.
In one swift move, he picks her up, and she wraps her arms around his neck and legs around his waist as he walks them into the bedroom. They fall together onto the bed, but he sits up and begins to finish the work she began on his shirt.
"One wedding night, coming right up," he promises.
Chapter 5: Our time is short, this is our fate (I'm yours)
Featuring high in the top ten of Jeff's least favorite ways to wake up is hungover, with Annie throwing up and crying in the bathroom.
At the other end of the scale – so far in the other direction, in fact, that it's on another scale entirely – is this.
The light filters in gently through the curtains, and everything is softness and warmth. The bed linens are silky smooth, and he wouldn't be ashamed to have them on his bed at home. He doesn't generally go for crisp white sheets, but he has to admit that it does great things for Annie. With her vivid coloring, she looks like a fairytale princess – not in a tacky Halloween-costume way, but in a classy, arthouse-version-of-the-Brothers-Grimm way. Something about her dark hair and rosy lips suggests romance and enchantment, like she ought to be kissed awake by a handsome prince. Well, he thinks wryly, at least he's got the first part down.
She's snuggled against him with her head on his shoulder and their legs tangled together. The toes of her left foot are moving softly against his shin. The crown of her head is just under his chin, so he inhales the fragrance of her hair with every breath he takes. Her arm is over his chest, and her fingers are curled around his bicep, as though even in her sleep she doesn't want to let him go. His arm is tucked underneath her, holding her close against his side, and when he moves his hand, all he can feel is her soft, naked flesh – which brings back vivid sense-memories of the night before.
Take away the facts that his arm has gone to sleep, he needs to pee, and he's got morning breath, and it would be perfect.
He scoots down a bit further into the bed, sliding her head further onto his chest, so he can flex the pins and needles from his hand with a silent wince.
"Mmm," Annie hums sleepily, turning her face into him and taking a deep breath, letting it go in a long sigh.
Jeff presses a kiss to her head. "Shh, sleep," he whispers.
She's silent, and he thinks she's fallen back asleep, but finally she responds. "’Mawake," she mumbles.
"Yeah, but you don't need to be," he reasons.
She grunts. "Timezit?"
He glances over, but his watch is on the nightstand, and getting it would involve moving away from her. "Early," he hazards. "Much too early to wake up."
"Yerwake," she points out.
"No, look – I’m going back to sleep, right now." He gives a fake snore.
Her fingers slap at his chest, and then spread out to explore when they discover bare flesh. "Mmm," she hums, not so sleepily now, running her hand through his sparse chest hairs and then down to his abs, her thumb snagging a nipple as it passes. His breath catches as her index finger circles his navel. "Good morning."
"I've had worse," he agrees, closing his eyes, more than pleased to discover that morning!Annie is sleepy and sensuous and very handsy. "Oh, Jesus." He grabs her wandering hand and rolls her onto her back, pinning her against the pillows. God, she looks delectable, all heavy-eyed and sleep-warmed. "Hold that thought," he begs, and bounds quickly out of bed.
When he comes back, she's not there, and for a second he panics before he hears a flush and remembers that this place has two bathrooms. He could get used to this, he thinks, and then she emerges wearing nothing but a terrycloth robe, and he thinks he could really get used to this.
"Have you tried the whirlpool bath?" she asks, slyly.
Jeff sits on the edge of the bed, leans back on his hands, and smirks. "No, actually. I haven't found the right occasion yet."
She toys with the belt of her robe. "Oh? And what sort of occasion would it need to be, to persuade Jeff Winger to take a whirlpool bath?" She slinks forward, and it's a deadly combination of adorable and sexy. "Are we talking bad days, when you need to relax and unwind?" She runs her hands over his shoulders, digging her fingers into the muscles slightly, and he groans approvingly. "Or are we talking good days, when you have a reason to celebrate?"
He sits up, so he can trace a finger down the lapel of her robe, fingers just brushing her skin, down to where it closes. "You know, I've always suspected you're the kind of woman who doesn't particularly need a reason to celebrate," he says, watching his hands. "You just do it sometimes, don't you – treat yourself." He palms her breast through the robe. The fabric is really too thick to give him much more than a vague impression, but that's okay, he's committed them to memory already. "Indulge yourself, just because you deserve it."
Annie shrugs, moving forward until she's kneeling on the bed, astride his lap, and his hands go to her hips. "If there's one thing I've learned, it's that life is hard," she says. "If I waited until everything was perfect before I did something, I'd never do anything."
He looks up at her, and is amazed anew at her beauty and grace. "I forget, sometimes," he murmurs. "All the stuff you've been through. You never let it show."
She gives a little sigh. "Oh yes I do. You've seen me at my crazy, neurotic worst," she reminds him.
He grins. "Yeah, but I figure you'd be like that anyway – it's part of your charm."
She smiles, dropping her eyes and blushing slightly. Another thing he's always loved about her is that she takes compliments so well. She really believes them, listens to them and takes them to heart. He was used to using compliments as currency, but around Annie he's learned to give them more value. "You can be really sweet when you want to be, you know?"
"I know," he says, shamelessly. "But you make it easy to want to be sweet to you." He hooks his arms around her, and she settles more comfortably in his lap. It's an odd mix of comforting familiarity and exciting newness, and he's not sure what to make of it. He's never felt like this with a lover before, and the sheer ease with which they've settled into this relationship sets his nerves jangling a little. "We're going to have to be careful," he says, "to not take for granted that it's going to stay this simple."
Annie gives him a half-smile, and strokes a hand through his hair. "You remember that we're both seriously high-maintenance, right? I think we can safely assume that it won't stay this simple." She shifts forwards, rubbing up against him. "How about," she whispers, nibbling his ear and rotating her hips, "we just enjoy it while we can?"
"Hmm, sounds good." He closes his eyes and tilts his head back to give her access. "If you ever want to talk me into doing something, this is a great way to do it."
"Jeff," she purrs, "if you think I need to use sex to get you to do what I want, then you obviously haven’t been paying attention."
Jeff opens his mouth, thinks for a second, and closes it again. Yeah, he lost this argument a long time ago. Instead, he hitches her closer, hands on her terrycloth-covered thighs, and presses upwards, watching as her eyelids flutter closed and her mouth drops open. "Maybe it's the other way around – maybe I should be using this as a way to talk you into stuff," he muses, smirking when it takes her a moment to open her eyes again. Yeah, he can definitely work with this. His long fingers stray inward. "Hey, Annie, wouldn't you rather tell Britta and Shirley on your own?"
She gives him a glare, but it's a little hazy. "You're an ass," she grumbles. "Do you really think I'm that easyohgodohgodyes..."
Afterwards, he's pleased to note that she looks less like a sleeping princess and more like a thoroughly satisfied woman. She's a little sweaty, a lot flushed, and there's a smile on her lips that won't go away. She shifts her shoulders until she's lying more comfortably, and gives a happy groan. "I'm still not telling Shirley and Britta on my own," she says, with her eyes closed.
"Nah, that's okay," he says, propping himself on one elbow so he can lean over and kiss her. "I'm kind of looking forward to it." She squints one eye open and gives him a look of disbelief. "How often do you get to spring something like this on people?"
"Jeff! I can't believe you – you can't seriously want to use this whole situation to punk our friends!" But she's finding it hard to fight back a wicked grin, so he makes no attempt to tone down his own.
"Aw, come on – can't you just see their faces?" he wheedles. She laughs delightedly, looking so beautiful and happy that he's helpless to stop it, it just comes bubbling right out. "I love you."
It's probably comical, how they both freeze.
"Uh... wow," says Annie. She's not laughing any more, but she is blushing and smiling and starry-eyed, so he figures he can't have gone too far wrong.
"Um, yeah." He runs a hand through his hair, not really sure how to follow up that little non sequitur. "That just came out."
"You mean it?" she asks shyly, and he could kick himself for the insecurity he hears in her voice. "You're not just saying it because you're all, you know, post-coital?"
Only Annie would use such a phrase right now. "That probably helps," he admits, "I am super relaxed right now. But I really mean it. I felt it pre-coitally, too."
"Aw!" She wriggles, and then throws her arms around his neck, pulling him down for a passionate kiss. "Let's tell them this morning," she says impulsively. "I don't want to pretend anymore." She shoots him a sultry look. "I want to be able to kiss you any time I like."
"Okay." Man, he's so gone, he can't even be bothered to feign reluctance. But he too has kissing needs that the current arrangement is just not going to meet, so really, it's the only rational choice.
They're the last ones down to breakfast, for which her undue interest in his steam shower is probably to blame (they agreed that whirlpool baths were more of an evening thing). Britta gives them both a suspicious look, but Annie lets Jeff pull her chair out for her anyway, like the gentleman his mother raised, because it's their last full day in Vegas and the others won't be in the dark for much longer.
Troy gives them one look, and then holds up his menu and leans into Jeff, close enough that Annie only just hears his question. "You totally did it, didn't you?" Jeff gives him a blissful, toothy grin, and Troy rolls his eyes. "You two disgust me. I hope you know that."
Annie orders the Bananas Foster waffle, which she had on the first day but it was just. so. good. that she really has to have it again, and Jeff orders one of the specials, a surprisingly calorific variation on Eggs Benedict (he must figure he's earned it – and he's not wrong, she thinks, with a secret smirk). He also orders a round of mimosas for the table. "It's our last day," he tells the waiter, who smiles and nods.
"Oh Jeff, that's nice," says Shirley, an interrogative tone to her voice, but Jeff just smiles and says nothing.
Annie feels a little sick with nerves and excitement. She kind of wants to leap up and blurt out the news, but a glance at Jeff steadies her. He looks cool and collected, leaning back in his chair at the same old angle (she could never understand how that was comfortable). He's even playing with his phone, and she feels an odd pang of nostalgia as she looks around the table and wonders how long it will be before they're all together like this again.
"I wish Pierce were here," she says wistfully. Everyone looks at her. Britta reaches across the table to take her hand, and she clasps it gratefully.
"He would give this gathering a certain something," says Abed, diplomatically. She knows he never really liked Pierce, which is fair enough, as Pierce probably behaved the worst towards him. "He was the sand in our oyster."
"I'm sure he's looking down over us," says Shirley, sweetly – and then frowns. "Or up," she adds, dubiously. They all glance down, and Annie and Shirley – who are wearing skirts – instinctively cross their legs. "Yeah," says Shirley, softly. "He probably likes the view, the dirty B."
Annie's eyes turn to Jeff, and he gives her one of those small, sweet, sincere smiles that he seems to save for her. She's not sure what Pierce would make of this new thing between her and Jeff, but she hopes, wherever he is, that he's giving them his blessing.
The drinks arrive, breaking the solemn moment, and there's a brief bustle as they're handed out, and then Jeff gives her a look and sits up straight, and Annie mutters a quiet, "Oh god," and knots her fingers tightly in her lap.
Jeff clears his throat, and everyone falls silent. "I'd like to say a few words." He stands casually, one hand in his pocket, looking around the table. "Don't worry, I'll keep this brief, but it wouldn't be a study group get-together without a Winger speech, right? It also wouldn't be a study group get-together without some kind of crisis that turns into a valuable life lesson, leaving us all better, happier people. The crisis this time was kept very quiet and on the down-low – the B-plot, if you will," he says, earning an approving nod from Abed. "But nevertheless, it seemed very important to the individuals involved. World-altering, even." He gives a self-conscious smile and drops his eyes, fiddling with the stem of his glass with uncharacteristic nervousness. Then he draws in a breath, and when he lifts his eyes, his gaze slams into Annie, and she feels the force of it all the way down to her toes. "To make a long story short," he says, eyes never leaving hers, "on Tuesday, after the consumption of a lot of alcohol, Annie and I got married." There is a gasp, but Annie couldn't look away from him if she tried. "We've talked it over, and we've decided to give it a shot. Because, well... I can't speak for Annie, but what I feel for her has been a lot more than 'friendship' for a long time. That makes me a huge jerk, for reasons you all know, and I have nothing to offer in my defense." He gives Britta a fleeting glance. "I don't deserve this, but luckily for me, I'm selfish, so I'm going to hang on to Annie for as long as I can. Forever, if possible."
There's a long pause, and it's as if Jeff doesn't quite know how to wrap up his speech, for once. He's talked himself out onto thin ice, realizes Annie, and racks her brain for the perfect dénouement. She comes up empty. Maybe she should have told Britta and Shirley on her own, after all.
When Britta stands, all eyes go to her. She picks up her glass, and Jeff moves back, but Britta holds it aloft in a toast. "To Jeff and Annie," she says. "IT'S ABOUT FUCKING TIME!"
"It's about fucking time!" the others echo, and drink to that.
Annie can't speak, temporarily overcome by the knowledge that these people – these crazy, wonderful people – really do love her and accept her, mistakes and all. Jeff's mouth is hanging open. "What, you thought this was some kind of surprise?" Britta scoffs. "I mean, that you're already married is a twist, I'll grant you, but a person would have to be blind not to see you and Annie being all heart-eyes-emoji about each other." She shrugs. "I was beginning to wonder what was taking so long."
"And you're not..." Jeff delicately doesn't finish the question.
"What, heartbroken?" Britta laughs. "Dude, get over yourself! Wow, if your ego gets any bigger, it'll need its own airplane seat." She looks at Annie, and her face softens into a genuine smile, with no malice or resentment. "Mazel tov, guys."
Annie feels tears prick her eyes, and has to look away. Jeff sits back down heavily, as though his knees have given out, and he blows out a relieved breath. Under the table, his fingers find hers. She feels the unfamiliar press of metal, and it gives her something steady to focus on, in a world that suddenly feels strange and new.
"Shirley?" asks Annie, hearing the nerves in her voice.
There's a long silence, as they all wait for the final reaction. Shirley looks down at the table for a long time. Finally, she shakes her head. "Not the marrying kind," she says, giving Jeff a look. Jeff looks sheepish. "I should have guessed. You think you're so funny. Well, I hope you aren't planning on treating this marriage as some kind of joke. It's a serious commitment, Jeffrey." She sighs. "But at least you're sticking with it, which is more than many men in your situation would do." Shirley turns to Annie, who braces herself - but instead of telling her off, Shirley smiles, gently and tentatively, as though she thinks Annie might need talking down off a ledge somewhere. It's almost worse. "Annie? We haven’t heard from you, yet. How are you feeling?"
Annie gives a watery chuckle, and brushes at her cheeks. "Oh, me? I'm just glad I can do this," she declares roundly, and gets up to slide straight into Jeff's lap, grabbing his face for a full-blown kiss.
There are groans and flung napkins, but she ignores them all, more interested in the sensation of his lips under hers curling into a smile. He mutters something that she thinks is another 'I love you', and she slides her tongue into his mouth.
"Ew, gross, you guys!"
Epilogue: I'm yours and you're mine (and it's brighter than sunshine)
Married life isn't easy.
It starts out well (Troy throws a set of keys to Jeff, who catches them one-handed and returns an enquiring look. "We, uh, rescheduled your flights and booked you into the hotel for the rest of the week," says Troy. "Um, but it's actually still on the same key card that you've already got, those are my car keys, it just looked cooler that way, can I have them back now please?" "Don't come back preggers," warns Britta. Then they spend four days making up for six years of waiting). But when they get back, they have a number difficult negotiations to get through, such as living arrangements (Jeff wants her to move in with him; Annie refuses on various grounds: it's too soon, she already has a home and she doesn't want to leave it just yet, she can't just abandon her housemates to cover her share of the rent, she doesn't want to share a space he's used to occupying on his own), how to tell close relations ("Jeff! I can't just TEXT my MOTHER to tell her I'm MARRIED! She will have a FIT!"), and where and when it's appropriate to have sex ("Not on school property, Jeff... oh... oh god... well, okay, but not again... today... ohhhhhhhhhhh..."). The latter is the only argument that Annie loses, but there's this thing he does where he licks his finger and... anyway, she can't honestly say she's at all sorry.
They do agree pretty easily about names. Annie opts for Edison-Winger, and Jeff offers to pick up the change-of-name form for Greendale. At lunch, he slings it down in front of her, narrowly missing a splotch of salad dressing. She's surprised when he sits down across from her, slides his tray to one side, and starts filling in a form himself. "Jeff?" He looks up. "What are you doing?"
He looks at her like he's worried she hit her head. "Change-of-name form. Remember, we talked about this last night?"
"Yeah, but..." It clicks, and her eyes widen. "Oh," she says. "You're going to be an Edison-Winger too."
Jeff squints at her. "Y...es? And it's going to be a giant pain in my ass? I never thought I'd be grateful that I no longer own my own home, but there you go; life is full of surprises."
After a minute, when she's still at a loss for words, he sighs a little and looks down, doodling figure eights on the top of the form.
"It just... it feels like part of it, you know? The whole same last name thing. That probably sounds stupid, but..." He shrugs. "I don't want to half-ass this," he says, softly. "Is that okay with you?"
"Oh," says Annie. "Jeff, that's... I never expected you to... Yes! Yes, it's absolutely okay with me." She's in danger of getting too emotional for the school cafeteria, so she just smiles, and blinks rapidly, and then closes her hand around his forearm, and ducks her head over the paperwork. Jeff watches her for a few more seconds, then gets back to work on his own form.
Her mother, of course, does have a fit, and all but accuses Annie of ruining her own life. From the way she talks, anyone would think Annie has lurched from disaster to disaster in a decline into moral turpitude akin to that of the Roman Empire, and she (Annie's mother) is fully expecting her (Annie) to end up some combination of pregnant, homeless and hooked on drugs in the very near future.
Jeff listens, grim-faced, as Annie rants about it afterwards, but when he offers all kinds of unholy vengeance, she turns it all down wearily. "What can I do? She's my mother." So he buys her ice cream, and holds her tightly, and when she's through with the crying stage, he makes love to her until she can't remember her own name (either version). It helps.
It also helps when Jeff's mom receives her with hugs and tears, as if she'd saved her beloved son from a fate worse than death. Jeff looks thoroughly embarrassed – and even more so later when his mom brings out the baby photos.
Britta takes point when Shirley starts angling for Study Group: The Next Generation. Annie doesn't hear the conversation, but Shirley stops WhatsApp-ing her pictures of tiny baby booties (they were adorable, but OMG, too soon), and starts talking to Annie like she's more than just an incubator again.
Time moves on. Annie spends a great deal of time and effort coming up with a new signature (she's pleased with what she can do now with the 'W' and the 'g'), and Jeff sharpens his wit on anyone who tries to tease him about changing his name (which, for the record, none of the study group ever do). They go from nearly calling it a day a couple of times a week to just after the more serious arguments. After one particularly bad one, they spend a month apart, by the end of which Jeff is a barely-functional alcoholic and Annie has driven her housemates up the wall from her constant, manic need to be doing something; but the reconciliation almost makes all the pain worthwhile. Then they drive her housemates up the wall by being insufferable.
The following year, they spend three months apart when she gets an internship with the FBI. When she gets back, she and Jeff lock themselves in his apartment for nearly a week, and the others hold their collective breath, waiting for some kind of announcement. When it comes, it's neither a divorce nor a baby, but a renewal of vows. Their long-suffering friends are almost disappointed.
The renewal ceremony gives Annie the chance to get out her enormous wedding scrapbook, and she throws herself into planning with gusto, along with Shirley (via FaceBook) and Britta (in person). Abed is initially allowed to help, but at some point is banned – none of them will say exactly why, but Annie gets this distant, scary look in her eyes whenever the subject is raised. Jeff has nightmares about flower arrangements and giant dresses, and they both have nightmares about their families, but in the end it goes off with only minimal hijinks, after which they both finally wrap up their separate rental agreements and move in together.
Things mostly settle down after that. Annie gets her Masters and starts work with the Bureau, where she rapidly climbs the ladder, so when the baby comes along a few years later, she's far too valuable for them to lose, and pretty much gets to pick her assignments as long as she comes back.
Fifteen years after their spontaneous Vegas wedding, Jeff takes Sebastian (nine, loves all things Marvel) and Etta (six, wants to be a dragon princess when she grows up) to a jewelry store to help him pick out an eternity ring for Annie.