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guess what we'll discover (9b/10)

Pairing: Jeff/Annie
Spoilers: None
Word Count: 6784/12,609
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Description: Jeff gets a new roommate

Previous chapters

~*~*~



Jeff is staring at the door.

His hands are pressed to his thighs, clenching and unclenching as his knee bounces up and down with nervous anticipation. He glances down at the two omelets on the counter, then back up at the door, his cheeks puffing out with one long exhale through pursed lips. A momentary calm spreads through his body, shoulders relaxing as he leans forward slightly and stares hard at the floor with a furrowed brow. The corners of his mouth barely twitch up before he catches himself and coughs, pressing a fist to his lips and jumping up to start pacing back and forth along the length of the couch.

He’s lost track of how long she’s been gone and he’s half dreading the moment she walks back in the door. Speeches are his thing; his best closing statements had always been off the cuff, but now after weeks, months, years of this, he has no idea what to say to her, no idea how to say it and his mind is skittering around from thought to thought in an overwhelming whirr that makes him twitchy.

His pacing edges him closer to the window and he peers down into the parking lot, freezing when he sees that her car is gone from its normal spot. He swivels his head toward the door, then back out the window. Wait. Shit. She wasn’t supposed to actually leave.

Jeff practically trips over himself back to the bedroom to grab his phone off the dresser, not even stopping to think before quickly scrolling to her number. He’s still not sure what to say and it’s likely that something monumentally dumb is going to come out of his mouth when she answers but she’d looked scared when she ran out the door and he really needs her to come back.

The line rings and a moment later a rattling vibration sounds from behind him. He barely registers it at first but at the second ring and the second vibration he turns slowly and spots her phone sitting on the nightstand by the bed. He stares at it, holding his phone to his ear, watching her phone vibrate closer to the edge until her voice comes cheerily over the line. “Hey, you’ve reached Annie. I’m not--”

Jeff quickly hangs up. “Shiiiiiiit,” he breathes as he drops down to sit at the edge of the bed, at a complete loss. Ten minutes ago he had been making breakfast and planning on spending another day lazing around the apartment with Annie, watching bad television and maybe kissing her at some point because the need to kiss her had been thrumming under his skin since he had walked into the kitchen and seen her standing at the sink in pink pajamas and her hair half falling out of its ponytail.

He scrubs his fingers through his hair a few times, fighting back the breathless pressure of feelings that expands in his chest and up into his throat. A crooked smile pulls at his lips and he huffs out a small laugh as he stands up again and looks around the room. Her water glass and phone are on the nightstand, her blankets are in a heaping pile on the floor where he had kicked them off the night before, there’s still an indent in the pillow on her side of the bed, and he really can’t be in here right now.

Back in the kitchen he opens a cupboard and takes out a box of coffee filters, holds it in his hand for a moment before realizing that he doesn’t even want coffee - the last thing his adrenaline filled body needs right now is more caffeine - and putting it back. He opens another cupboard, stares at the contents, then closes it again.

There’s a purple pen resting next to Annie’s supply of post-its where she keeps them by the coffee pot and Jeff picks it up, clicking it absentmindedly. After two months the stainless steel fridge is almost completely covered in a bright pattern of color and every once in a while when the door is opened one of the post-it notes will unstick and go fluttering to the ground. Jeff presses his fingers firmly over the bent up edges of one that says, “It’s Friday!” his eyes tracing over Annie’s loopy handwriting.

The increasingly frenetic click, click, click of the pen suddenly registers in his brain and he tosses it down and wrenches open the fridge door with more force than necessary and pulls out a carton of milk. He takes a long swig and sets it back, wiping the back of his hand over his mouth and burping loudly. The sound seems to echo around the tiny kitchen and he looks around like he’s half expecting someone to make a noise of disgust in response.

Earlier in the summer, just days after she moved in Annie had walked into the kitchen one morning to find him in almost the exact same spot, milk carton in hand. Her nose had started to scrunch up, but before she was able to open her mouth he pointed at her and said sternly, “Rule number two.” She had stared at him for another minute, eyes narrowing before turning and walking away with a sigh.

Jeff grins to himself at the memory and kicks the fridge door shut. He grabs the two plates off the counter, tosses the now cold omelets in the trash and dumps the plates in the sink. The bubbles that Annie had filled the sink with earlier have dissipated into a sad fizz that congeals around the edges of the tepid dishwater so Jeff turns the faucet on to hot and over the next half hour washes all the dishes, wipes down the counters and sweeps and mops the floor.

About halfway through his work he starts whistling to himself.

When he gets back from taking out the trash he stands still for a moment in the middle of the living room, briefly considers vacuuming and then growls, “fuck it.” He hasn’t showered since the day before yesterday and he feels the uncomfortable kind of gross and grungy that comes from lying around in bed for two days straight, so he yanks off his shirt, throws it in the direction of his bedroom and heads into the bathroom.

As the shower starts to fill with steam and he stands still under the almost-too-hot water it’s impossible not to think about her, the way droplets of water still cling to the tiled walls after she showers in the morning, the air heavy with the scent of her shampoo, making those repressed fantasies of her in there with him with wandering hands and slick warm skin and a warmer mouth all that much more tangible. She’s this undercurrent of thought meandering through his mind no matter what he does, even when he’s not aware of it…

… and she loves him.

Jeff presses his palms against the wall, leaning his head down and letting the water cascade over his shoulders and back in calming rivulets, a slow smile spreading across his face until he can’t help but laugh, a low rumbling that starts in his chest and makes tears prickle at the corners of his eyes.


~*~*~

By the time he gets out of the shower, styles his hair and throws on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt it’s eleven o’clock. He tries sitting down to watch television with his bare feet up on the coffee table, but ends up only staring at the blank screen for about five minutes, not even bothering reaching for the remote before he’s up again and grabbing a pair of shoes from his closet. There’s an antsy buzz biting at his skin, the soles of his feet, and keeping him moving out the door with his keys and wallet in hand.

He ends up at the mall.

It’s crowded with Saturday morning shoppers and he walks past chattering groups of teenage girls and parents pushing strollers, the thumping bass and emanating body spray of Abercrombie, and a line of kiosks where sales personnel harass passerby with hair straighteners and lotions and heat packs.

He stops and grabs a coffee from the shop just on the edge of the food court and sits in one of the uncomfortable metal chairs, stirring in a packet of sugar and leaning back to sip carefully as he idly spins his phone around the table with one hand and barely pays attention to anyone around him. There’s a group of older women at the table next to him with nearly matching bobbed haircuts, visors, and polo shirts and he’s pretty sure he hears one of them mention something about a “cute butt” so when he gets up Jeff sends a wink in their direction and walks away with a smile as they giggle behind him.

A perky salesperson with red streaks in her sleek blonde hair and too much green eyeshadow greets him at the front of Sephora. Jeff knows he has a bunch of Beauty Insider points racked up and he needs a new moisturizer so he lets her direct him around the store pointing out her recommendations and a half an hour later he walks out with a new cleanser, moisturizer and a handful of samples.

When he passes the RC helicopter kiosk there are a few scattered people standing around watching with half interest as the salesman does a demo and shouts out random facts about the helicopter. Jeff almost continues on his way before he hears that this one has the capability to hold and shoot water. It’s been a while since he and Troy had last gone through an RC phase but this just takes it to a whole new level of interesting.

He buys two. At the very least they’ll torture Pierce with them.

He’s walking towards Banana Republic and mentally cataloguing his current Fall wardrobe selection when a dress in the window catches his eye. It’s simple, black, and form fitting – an almost perfect replica of the dress Annie wore to the party at his firm. Jeff’s fingers tighten around the handles of the bags in his hand and he keeps walking.

Over the next hour or so he makes stops at Aldo, Hallmark to buy a birthday card for his mom, GNC and Game Stop. There’s one terrifying moment where he thinks he spots the Dean and is half ready to hide behind a large potted plant until he realizes it’s just a female Hot Topic employee.

He makes one last stop at Macy’s and is in the middle of searching for a fitting room to try on a long sleeved blue plaid that he remembers Annie making an off-handed remark about how good he looked in that shade of blue. At the time he had smirked and made some comment about how every color looked good on him. She had immediately retorted that he might want to re-think orange and Jef had sighed and said she was right, he had never figured out how to get that one to work.

He buys the shirt without trying it on.

As he’s walking out of the store he spots a familiar head of curly blonde hair up ahead and smirks as he lengthens his stride to catch up, falling into step with her. “Here to protest the damaging consumerist ideology pervading our culture? Or did you hear about the two-for-one Team Jacob t-shirts at Hot Topic?”

Britta jumps at the sound of his voice, stepping back and raising her fists defensively before she realizes it’s him.

“Jeff?”

“Hilary Swank?” His eyes fall to the striped pink bag in her hand and his mouth turns up into a delighted grin. “Are anarchists supporting Victoria Secret now?” He leans over and tries to peer into the bag but Britta wrenches it away from him and holds it behind her back.

“Like you’re one to talk.” She waves at the bags in his left hand. “Sephora having a sale?”

Jeff ignores her, zeroing in on the flush spreading across her cheeks. His eyes widen slightly.

“Wow. You really like this guy.” There’s a hint of surprise and a little bit of awe in his voice. He’s honestly not trying to be an ass, but Britta won’t meet his eyes so he adds, “I mean, the most I ever got was Fruit of the Loom. If you were wearing anything at all.”

Britta makes a loud noise of disgust and swings the bag at his arm. “Oh like I was going to put a lot of effort into a guy whose idea of romance was ‘letting’ me watch him do cool down push-ups after sex.”

“Says the woman who practically had one foot out the door before the sex was even over.”

Britta levels him with a smirk. “Felt over to me.” She turns on her heel and practically stomps away. Jeff watches her leave, looks down at the bags in his hand, and then follows with a shrug, catching up to her after a only few steps.

She doesn’t slow down. “Don’t you have anything better to do than follow me around the mall on a Saturday afternoon?”

“Not really. Your life amuses me.”

Britta makes a little shooing motion. “Well go away. Where’s Annie? Make her entertain you.”

There’s a tug low in his stomach at her name, at Britta’s assumption, and he’s suddenly horrified at the prickling heat spreading up his neck and cheeks.

He tries to shake it off with a scoffing noise, “I don’t--”

But Britta comes to a halt, her eyes narrowed as she points a finger at his face. “What was that? What just happened?”

“Um. Nothing, weirdo.”

She searches his face, her scrutiny making him shift back and look over his shoulder nervously. “It’s really hot in here, right? I think I heard something about the air conditioning being out.”

Britta’s curiosity evolves into smugness, lips twisting into a smirk. “Shirley told me about you two sleeping in the same bed.”

Jeff snorts, “Shirley’s a war-mongering gossip.”

“Maybe, but she doesn’t lie.” Britta crosses her arms across her chest. “What did you do?”

For a split second he thinks about telling her. Instead, he laughs and shakes his head as he turns in the opposite direction. “I’m going to go get a pretzel.”

He walks past Hollister, Baby Gap, the store selling what looks like giant bean bag chairs, and two jewelry stores, Britta’s boots clacking behind him the entire time. He finally darts into Williams Sonoma and starts immediately perusing a shelf of cookbooks with exaggerated interest, but she follows him and stands facing him, hands on her hips. Jeff pulls out a cookbook and holds it out to her.

“I’ve been thinking about going gluten free. Thoughts?”

“You couldn’t have at least kept it in your pants until we graduated?”

“Britta.” Jeff starts slowly as he puts the cookbook back and wanders over to a shelf of stainless steel cookware. “Nothing was taken out of anybody’s pants, alright? It’s fine. Besides.” He scrubs his hand over his forehead. “You’re the last person I want to talk to about this.”

“Oh. The last person? So you’d rather talk to… Julian Assange?”

“What?”

“He runs--”

“I know who he is, and you know what? I would rather talk to him. He probably wouldn’t judge me.”

Britta frowns. “I won’t judge you.” Jeff side-eyes her, eyebrows practically at his hairline, and she sighs and sticks her chin out defiantly. “Fine. I judge people. But that’s my right as your friend… and as an American.”

Jeff’s eyes widen as he nods quickly and taps his index finger against his lips. “Well then it’s a good thing we’re not in Canada then, right?”

“Exactly.” Britta starts to nod and then stops. “Wait, what?”

“I honestly have no idea.” He grins at her and she tilts her head to the side, first in confusion, then in resignation.

“You’re really not going to talk about this are you?”

“Nope.”

They’re both quiet as they stand side by side in front of a wall of utensils. Britta picks one up and flips it around in her hand. “What is this?”

“Garlic press.”

Jeff takes it away from her and puts it back and she sighs loudly. “Fine…just.” Her hand waves out in front of her face in a vague flicking motion. “Be careful. Okay?”

“With the garlic press? It’s really not that dangerous.” He smacks her lightly on the arm with a spatula but his smile fades when she won’t meet his eyes. Jeff’s fingers tighten until he’s afraid he’s going to break something. He tosses the spatula back and looks away.

“You really think I’d hurt her?”

When she doesn’t answer for a long moment he swivels his head around to see that she’s making a face, nose scrunching up like she’s embarrassed.

“She wasn’t the one I was worried about,” she mumbles so low it’s almost indecipherable.

Jeff stares at her. “What?” He tries to laugh but the sound gets caught in his throat. “What? You think Annie’s going to break my heart?”

“No. But I think she could.” Britta finally looks up at him, shrugging sheepishly and Jeff swallows hard and nods.

“Yeah. Me too.”

They walk out of the store under the annoyed glare of the manager behind the counter who seems suspicious that they didn’t buy anything, and directly into a rowdy group of teenage boys who are laughing and pushing each other and barely even notice when Jeff and Britta have to sidestep out of their way. One of them looks back over his shoulder, giving Britta an appreciative once over. Jeff smirks at him but Britta doesn’t notice; she’s running her thumb along the pink ribbon handle of her bag and smiling down at the ground.

“So when do we get to meet this guy?”

She looks up, a mischievous grin pulling at her lips. “Who says you haven’t already?”

“I knew it.”

Britta rolls her eyes and nods her head in goodbye but Jeff reaches out and grabs her hand before she can leave. “Hey.” He struggles for the right words but she shakes him off with a shudder.

“Whatever. You’re welcome.” She starts walking away backwards, head tilted to the side, contemplating him. “You know, if I had known you were this damaged when we first met I probably would have slept with you a lot sooner.”

Jeff laughs so loud that a woman walking past him turns around to give him a dirty look.


~*~*~

His phone vibrates in his back pocket as he’s walking back through the mall towards the entrance and he slips it out to see who’s calling, smiling when he sees the name on the screen and answering it immediately.

“Shirley.”

“Oh Jeffrey. Good. Is Annie with you?”

Jeff stops short and tilts his head back with a groan. “Oh come on! Nothing happened.”

The line is quiet and he winces in anticipation.

“That’s not why I’m calling.” Her voice is low and a little dangerous. “But you better believe we will be discussing the inappropriateness of you letting that girl sleep in your bed.”

“But see, what you call inappropriate I call chival--”

Shirley clears her throat loudly and Jeff stops mid-sentence.

“We’ll. Talk. About. It. Later.”

Jeff rolls his eyes, “Okay, mom.”

“Oh I know you did not just insinuate that I’m old enough to be your mom. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you people--” There’s a muffled commotion over the line and then a rustling like she’s covering the speaker with something fabric. When she gets back on a few moments later her voice has returned to a cooing sweetness that is somehow even more disconcerting.

“Andre’s taking me out dancing tonight and my sister was supposed to baby-sit until she decided to run off to Vegas with her no-good boyfriend for the weekend. The older boys are staying with friends but I don’t have anyone to watch Ben.”

“She’s still dating that loser?” Jeff asks with a grimace. “I thought they finally broke up.”

“Don’t get me started. Did I tell you about the waitress he was running around on her with?”

“I thought she was a dental hygienist.”

“That was last month.” Shirley launches enthusiastically into the sordid story of her sister walking in on her boyfriend in flagrante and proceeding to scream about it so loudly that four different neighbors called the cops because they thought someone was being murdered. Jeff listens, fascinated. When he gets outside he squints and tucks the phone securely under his ear to reach for his sunglasses where they’re hooked into his front pocket and slide them onto his face.

“I just pray that the Lord has mercy on their sinful souls,” Shirley’s careful to add at the end and Jeff snorts.

“And I’m sure you take absolutely no pleasure in that.”

“I always enjoy praying to the Lord, Jeffrey. Something you might want to--”

“Shirley.”

She coughs. “Anywho, I’ve been trying to call Annie but she hasn’t answered her phone.”

“Oh. She--” He recalls the panic in Annie’s voice, the surprise in her wide blue eyes, the final click of the apartment door. “She’s still not feeling all that great. I think she was planning on sleeping all day so she probably has her phone turned off.”

Shirley tisks and asks if Annie needs anything and Jeff quickly tells her that it’s nothing a few days sleep won’t fix. Then:

“I can babysit if you want.”

There’s a pause before Shirley lets out a loud barking laugh.

Jeff frowns. “What? I’m serious.”

“What do you know about taking care of kids?” She’s asks through her laughter.

“Uh. They eat, sleep, and poop. What else is there to know?”

“Oh. So that’s all you think there is to-- Andre!” There’s another commotion as Shirley’s voice fades into the background and then Andre’s comes over the line.

“Hey man, we would really appreciate the help.”

“Has he ever even changed a diaper?” Jeff can hear Shirley asking. He recognizes the resigned-slash-frustrated tone in her voice.

“Yeah. Yup. Definitely. I took Home Ec. Easy.” He doesn’t mention that he took the class because of a girl and then proceeded to skip as often as possible and con different members of the class into doing the work for him when it turned out she already had a boyfriend.

“Great. Can you be here around six?” Jeff is pretty sure there’s a trace of laughter in Andre’s voice and he frowns again as he hangs up and heads toward his car.

~*~*~

He stops at home to drop off everything he bought and when he opens the door and sees that her stuff is still there he lets out a relieved exhale.

~*~*~


The front door closes, cutting off Shirley’s last shouted instructions as Andre tugs her out of the house. Jeff stands in the doorway to the living room, arms folded over his chest, and looks down at the fifteen-month-old sitting on the carpeted floor surrounded by toys.

“So, what’s the plan for tonight, buddy?”

Ben looks up at Jeff and throws his hand up toward him in a wave, “Hi. Hi.” He gets up and toddles over to the toy chest next to the television, reaches in and pulls out a block that he holds up in excitement. “Block!”

Jeff raises an eyebrow and then shrugs, joining him on the floor sitting cross-legged. He picks up one of the large bubble-shaped blocks and scoffs.

“This isn’t a Lego. What the hell is this?”

Ben pulls it away from him and carefully sets it atop another block already on the floor. “Block!” he yells again.

Jeff adds another one on top and Ben nods approvingly.

They go back and forth, building up a tower until it’s almost taller than Ben is standing up. It wavers slightly to the left and Jeff is just about to suggest adding more support around the base when Ben swipes his arm out and topples the entire thing to the ground. He claps his hands together, bouncing unsteadily at his knees, “Agin!”

Together they continue stacking towers, trying to build as high as possible before Ben knocks them over. The first one that Jeff destroys is purely an accident – he’s twisting his torso to stretch out a kink in his back and his elbow bangs into it - but it makes Ben shriek with such loud delighted laughter that Jeff can’t help but do it again. Soon it becomes a competition to see who can knock down their towers first until Jeff’s barely putting the second block down when Ben kicks his leg out and sends both blocks flying across the room.

Ben yelps happily and Jeff’s laughing too until Ben launches himself at where Jeff’s sitting, his elbow connecting painfully with Jeff’s lower stomach.

“Jeeeeesus.” Jeff doubles over, face twisted up in pain while Ben continues to laugh and climb all over him. “Kid,” he groans out. “You’re killing me.”

He manhandles Ben off his lap and throws him over his shoulder, holding onto his legs to keep him steady and the tiny boy kicks and wiggles, almost smacking Jeff in the face.

“Back ride!”

“Um.” Jeff sniffs at the air tentatively and grimaces, quickly pulling Ben away and setting him down on his feet on the carpet. “I was really hoping you weren’t going to do that.”

“Back ride!”

“Nope.” Jeff stands and bends over slightly to grab Ben’s hand and direct him toward the bedroom where he eyes the changing station and the stack of diapers Shirley left out for him. “We can do this, right?”

Ben nods seriously.

Jeff gags twice, Ben squirms and flails the entire time, trying to grab everything in sight, and it takes him a couple tries to figure out which end of the diaper goes front, but after a few minutes the new diaper is on and secure. He stands Ben up, wiggling him around slightly to make sure it stays on and then lets out a loud, “HA!”

“I always knew those sitcom dads were full of shit.”

~*~*~

Dinner is a relatively easy affair - Jeff warms up some of Shirley’s homemade mac and cheese and he and Ben sit together side-by-side eating from tiny bowls in front of the television while watching Pound Puppies. There’s one minor spill, but Jeff cleans it up and then moves the couch forward a fraction of an inch just to be safe.

Afterwards, he manages to get Ben’s pajamas on, wash his face clean of cheese sauce and set him down in his crib without much of a fuss, but as soon as Jeff starts to step away Ben pushes himself up to sitting, looks around and then meets Jeff’s eyes with a plaintive, “Monkey?”

“Oh. Yeah.” Shirley had warned him that Ben needed to have his favorite stuffed monkey with him in order to go to sleep. There’s already a small contingent of stuffed animals in the crib – a bear dressed in a football jersey, a yellow elephant, a stuffed Blorgon – but no monkey.

Ben starts to whimper as Jeff rummages through the toy chest and closet to no avail, trying to tamp down a rising panic. He finally spots a monkey crammed into the net of stuffed animals hanging over the crib and goes to yank it out with enough force that a rain of stuffed animals topples out and into the crib. A plush Eeyore bounces off Ben’s head and he looks startled for a moment before giggling and picking it up.

“Or!”

“Crap. Sorry. What does a kid your age need with so many stuffed animals anyway?” Jeff tosses each one haphazardly into the net, leaving the Eeyore in Ben’s hand and pressing the monkey into the other. “There you go.”

Ben stares at it for a second, looks up at Jeff and takes one hiccupping, shuddering breath, his lower lip trembling. Jeff freezes, eyes widening slowly, but the second he takes one step towards the crib Ben opens his mouth and lets out a loud shout.

“No! Monkey!”

“I gave you your monkey. What else do you want?” And he flinches back as Ben pulls himself up and chucks the stuffed animal over the side of the crib, his face starting to go red with anger.

“Monkey!”

“Okay. Soooo. Wrong monkey.”

Jeff spends the next five minutes frantically searching Jordan and Elijah’s room, Shirley and Andre’s room, the living room, the kitchen and the bathroom, Ben’s cries echoing from his bedroom all the while in a growing desperation. He’s torn the cushions off the couch and opened almost every cupboard in the house but there’s still no sign of a stuffed monkey and it’s with a string of curses muttered under his breath that he grabs his cell phone off the coffee table.

He knows that Abed and Troy baby-sit once in a while so he tries Abed first. There’s no answer. He doesn’t leave a message and hangs up to scroll to Troy’s number and then tuck the phone under his ear as he walks back towards Ben’s room, swallowing hard at the sight of Ben standing where he left him, his cheeks wet with fat crocodile tears that roll off his chin and soak into the neckline of his shirt.

Jeff gingerly picks him up and settles him onto his hip, Ben immediately curling his head against Jeff’s chest and continuing to cry, quieter now.

After the fourth ring, Jeff is about ready to give up and try Shirley but then Troy’s voice is in his ear.

“Yo man, what’s up? Where are you? Is that a cat?”

Jeff lets out a long relieved breath. “It’s Ben. I’m babysitting. Listen, Shirley told me that he always stops crying as long as he has his monkey. I gave him the only fucking monkey stuffed animal I could find and he still won’t. stop. crying.”

Troy lets out a dry sarcastic laugh that usually means he thinks the person he’s talking to is being stupid. “Uh. You gave him a monkey? Monkey’s not a monkey, Jeff. He’s a dinosaur.”

“WHAT.”

He pulls the phone away from his ear for a second, squeezing his eyes shut and clenching his fist around the phone in frustration before he takes a deep breath and starts looking around anew for what Troy describes as a blue dinosaur with yellow horns. He doesn’t find anything that fits the description but Ben’s crying subdues slightly as he watches curiously.

“Troy, I still can’t find anything.”

“Hold on.” Jeff can hear the chatter of voices in the background like Troy’s in a crowded restaurant. Then, “Hey, Annie. Jeff can’t find Monkey. Do you have any other tricks for getting Ben to sleep?”

Jeff freezes, her name a kind of electric shock that shuts off all brain function for a split second, and he’s sure he’s heard that wrong.

But then there’s the soft, unmistakable sound of her voice. He can’t make out most of what she says but he’s pretty sure he hears a panicked “what?!” that almost makes him laugh.

“Jeff’s babysitting Ben and he can’t find Monkey and now Ben won’t go to sleep.”

There’s a long pause. Jeff looks down at Ben, who is now only hiccupping with residual sobs, and widens his eyes. A flicker of a smile plays at Ben’s mouth and Jeff gives himself a point as Troy gets back on the line.

“She said to look between the wall and the crib. Sometimes Monkey gets wedged in there.”

Jeff leans over the crib and sure enough there’s a blue something shoved into the tiny space. He yanks it out and looks at it, rolling his eyes up toward the ceiling.

“Troy. This is a rhinoceros.” He shoves the stuffed animal at Ben who looks at it, whimpering, and then lets out a happy cry, wrapping his arms all the way around it and resting his cheek on top.

“Uh. I’ve seen Jurassic Park, Jeff. You can’t tell me that a rhinoceros isn’t a kind of dinosaur.”

Jeff lets out a loud exhale. “Um.” He wets his lips. “Hey, tell Annie I said thanks, okay?”

He hears Troy relay the message and then a moment later, “She said, you’re welcome.”

Jeff hangs up and slips the phone into his back pocket, looks down at Ben. “Well, that was exciting.” Ben is clinging tightly to Monkey but his eyes are still large and sad and wet and his entire body feels warm. Jeff tightens his hold on him, trying not to care that Ben’s tears have soaked into his shirt now, leaving him feeling damp all over. He eases onto the gliding rocking chair, guilt at making the kid so upset keeping him from putting him back in his crib.

“It’s okay, buddy.” Jeff stretches his legs out on the ottoman. He looks around, his eyes landing on a framed photo on a shelf above the changing table. It’s a picture of Shirley in the hospital with Ben in her arms. Andre is on one side of her and Elijah and Jordan are on the other, and they’re all crowded onto the bed and smiling into the camera.

“It’s a good thing we got a hold of Annie, huh?” He allows his mind to settle on her, wondering what she’s doing with Troy, if she had actually been so freaked out this morning that she had gotten in her car and driven as far away from him as possible.

Ben sighs heavily and Jeff looks down at him with a raised eyebrow.

“She told me she loved me this morning, you know.” He says it out loud slowly, like he’s testing the words out on his tongue. “Well, yelled it at me actually.”

A tiny affectionate smile plays at his lips. “And I guess I understand the feeling. You don’t get to be friends with Annie Edison for three years without getting smacked in the head every once in awhile by just how--” He cuts himself off.

“God, she’s a lot. Too much. One minute she’s wearing these buttoned up sweaters and leaving annoying text messages to remind me to study and the next she’s wresting in oil and coming up with evil schemes and sitting on my counter in her pajamas telling me about the one time she cheated on a test and then felt so guilty about it that she purposely failed the next one. In fifth grade!”

His jaw twitches, his body tensing, and Ben seems to sense the change because he looks up, lifting Monkey as if to show him, “here he is.”

Jeff ignores it, eyes glazing over as he continues to talk. “I always knew that I cared about her. That was never a question. But she was confusing and too many things and I could never fucking keep track of it all, keep up with her.” His lips purse as he stops and squints at the opposite wall.

“And then a few weeks ago we went to the midnight release of The Dark Knight with Abed and Britta--”

Ben, who had been poking his finger into one of Monkey’s eyes gasps at the sound of Britta’s name and flails his arm out to the side. Jeff grins and reaches out, encircling Ben’s tiny fist in his and shaking it lightly so that Ben giggles.

Jeff thinks about that night at the theater - Annie in capris and hoodie, her hair pulled into a ponytail, musing over whether she should get Raisinets or Junior Mints while Jeff only half listened, inwardly griping over the unruly crowd of mostly teenage boys.

A patient from her office had walked up and tapped Annie on the arm and they had fallen quickly into a conversation about insurance coverage so Jeff and Abed left her there and weaved their way through the crowd toward the concession stand where Britta was already in line.

After paying and standing off to the side while Abed argued with one of the theater employees about the correct popcorn-to-butter ratio to best maximize movie-going experience Jeff looked over at Annie, noting the attentive way she was listening and nodding slowly, all her normally animated mannerisms subdued into a quiet composure.

She had looked up then and met his eyes so he smiled and held up a box of Raisinets, and then a box of Junior Mints, and her resulting smile had almost knocked him breathless.

“There was this moment… And I’m not going to say that it was suddenly like we were the only two people in the room because it felt like there were a thousand people there all screaming at each other and remind me never to do that again. But…” He tries to figure out how to put into words the way everything inside him had seemed to melt into place, like one big long drawn out exhale.

“It was like I suddenly felt sure of her.”

He looks down as Ben shoves his thumb in his mouth, his eyes starting to look heavy with sleep, his fingers petting absentmindedly at the fur on Monkey’s head.

“I kissed her. A lot actually.”

Jeff closes his eyes and tilts his head back.

“I would have been okay never talking about it. How do you even tell someone…” He snorts. “The movies have it wrong. You don’t say shit like ‘you complete me’ or confess your love in the middle of an airport. Those things don’t fucking mean anything..."

"Sometimes you just kiss her for no reason. And hold her hand even though you’re not the kind of guy that holds hands… And you say, ‘I care what you think about me’ and ‘you don’t have to change’ and ‘let’s stay in tonight’ and…” He huffs out a tiny laugh, “You tell her that ever since she mentioned going to Washington you’ve started wondering what the weather there would do to your hair and if you’d have to take the Bar again, like it’s some kind of given that you’ll just be wherever she is.”

His eyes pop open. “Fuck, that’s cheesy.”

Ben looks up and opens his mouth in a loud yawn that makes his eyes water. He blinks a couple times and sighs.

Jeff grins. “Am I boring you?”

Ben touches his finger to Jeff’s chin. “Mama?”

“Yeah, please don’t tell her about this.”

~*~*~

Ben falls asleep, but Jeff doesn’t get up right away, just keeps gliding back and forth gently in the rocker with one foot braced on the floor, lulled into a mesmerizing calm by the repetitive motion and the weight of Ben heavy in his arms. His eyelids start to grow heavy and his head lolls to the side as he sinks into a light doze.

He’s not sure how long he’s asleep but he startles awake when Ben shifts against him and smacks his lips together a couple times. Jeff blinks and then pulls himself out of the rocking chair, his movements stiff even as he tries not to jar Ben. He lays him back in the crib, makes sure Monkey is tucked in safe next to him and then turns the light off so that the nightlight next to the changing table casts a dim yellow halo around the room.

After cleaning up the dishes from dinner and putting away all Ben’s toys Jeff sprawls out over the couch in front of the television, idly flipping channels until he lands on a Cupcake Wars marathon that he watches half-interestedly for the rest of the night until Shirley and Andre get home around midnight.

Shirley’s practically floating, flitting around the living room and humming as she boots Jeff out the door. He stands on her front porch, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck and peering with heavy exhaustion across the lawn at his car parked on the street. It was only a few days ago that he had been parked in that same spot, Annie in his arms as they bubbled with conspiratorial laughter and the fear of getting caught after a frantic make out in his front seat.

His palms itch with the need to touch her right now.

Jeff doesn’t turn the light on when he gets home, just throws his keys and wallet on the counter and heads straight for the bedroom where he peels off his jeans and stretches out on the bed, one arm behind his head, one hand resting on his stomach. His entire body is braced with tension, and he rolls his head from side to side and closes his eyes.

Somehow he manages to finally drift off to sleep and he’s in the middle of a confusing dream about playing Dungeons and Dragons in what starts out as the Greendale cafeteria but then dissolves into a thick forest where there are real dragons flying around, when a movement against the mattress startles him awake. He blinks into the darkness, lifting his head with a quick intake of breath.

Annie’s leaning one hand on the bed as she takes off her shoes with the other and it takes him moment to orient himself and shake off the heavy feeling that this is part of the dream. It’s like waking up in a bed and room that isn’t his.

“Hey,” he rasps out, starting to sit up, but Annie just shakes her head and slides down next to him.

She pauses for a moment, biting her lip before inching closer under his arm and tucking her body into his. Jeff lies back as she rests her head against his chest, unsure suddenly of what to do with his hands. “Can we just sleep?” she murmurs.

Jeff is still for a moment, sure that she can feel the way his heart is thumping in his chest, before tightening his arm around her. “Yeah.” He nods. “Yeah.”

Annie sighs and curls her fingers into his shirt.



Comments

( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
na_thalia
Oct. 10th, 2012 05:18 am (UTC)
I just re-read this last night, seriously, and was blown away, yet again, by how good it is and then there was that crappy news in M/M this morning and then... This.

Ugh. So good. I want more! MORE, I TELL YOU! I'm being gluttonous, I'm sorry, but it's really hard not to. I will maybe try to leave you a better, more comprehensive review on a day when my brain hasn't been fried, but for now, just. Good. So, so good.

Thanks ;->
crittab
Oct. 10th, 2012 05:49 am (UTC)
Man, given all of the crud in our fandom over the past few days, I needed this. This was a well timed reprieve from RL Community news.

Another awesome chapter. I hope the next one comes quickly!
rashaka
Oct. 10th, 2012 06:16 am (UTC)
The word "SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEE" is the appropriate choice, I think.
There's this lovely serenity to this fanfic, a smoothness and restraint that just plays so beautifully in character reactions. So when the emotions hit, they hit hard, and when they settle again I feel like I have to let my breath out. You describe scenes so well, almost like a scrolling video feed, that I can just imagine everything, from Jeff throwing away the omelets (wahhh) to Abed's dad answering the door with his resigned voice.

I've been waiting and waiting and WAITING on this story to update, so finding it tonight was like a delicious reward for updating my own fanfic this morning. Thank you! Please keep writing and until next time, don't die or break your index finger or get another hobby, because we are all going to show up to read this.
zappeej
Oct. 10th, 2012 07:18 am (UTC)
:'))) That was beautiful. *sniff* Jeff and Shirley, Jeff and Britta (you write them so well, I love it), Jeff and Ben, Jeff and his thoughts about Annie, and the Jeff and Annie we got at the end, how ever little it was, was more than enough.

Beautiful. So very beautiful.

My greedy self cannot wait for more <3
sillyrabbitlp
Oct. 10th, 2012 07:41 am (UTC)
You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy
When the skies are grey
You'll never know dear
How much I love you
So please don't take
My sunshine
Away

Thanks alot I needed this today.
veritas724
Oct. 10th, 2012 07:49 am (UTC)
FEELINGS. INCOHERENT FEELINGS. ALL OF THE FEELINGS.

Um.

I really really love the moment you chose for when Jeff *knew.*

I loved Annie and Troy's ugly-cry-shouting.

I loved Jeff's confessions to Ben.

I LOVED JEFF AND BRITTA.

Please don't wait four months to update again, but if you do, that's okay, because this was worth the wait.
kbisthebest
Oct. 10th, 2012 09:34 am (UTC)
What a beautiful beautiful chapter!!I just love this fic so much.
Also they are so going to have sex the next morning right?:)
cuda77
Oct. 10th, 2012 10:09 am (UTC)
When I woke up about an hour ago and checked my messages on my phone, I had to hold in a cheer when I saw the tweet from the M/M account saying this had been updated. What a fantastic thing to wake up to. I just found this story over at FF when you put up Chapter 7 over there. Then I read 8 back here and was dying for an update and now we've gotten one and YAAAAAYYYYYYYYY!!!!! *cough*

This was wonderful, as everyone else has pointed out. All the character interactions were fantastic and it was really fun (and heart-wrenching) to watch Jeff and Annie stumble blindly through the fallout of Annie's bombshell. Loved this and I'm hoping that your muse and time are on your side again and that the finale will be arriving sooner than later.
jennynoname
Oct. 10th, 2012 01:33 pm (UTC)


I JUST. SHANNON. SHANNON, YOU DON'T EVEN UNDERSTAND HOW AMAZING AND PERFECT THAT YOU ARE. AND HOW MUCH I COULD LITERALLY FEEEEEEEEL THIS CHAPTER IN MY HEART.

Ugh. You. I just. UGH.

I loved that you broke it up into Annie AND Jeff's POV. Because I think that is super important -- to be able to see both sides of the relationship, you know? Especially because this bit was just so emotional and introspective.

I love the "moment" you chose for each of them to reflect on (Annie at the restaurant and Jeff at the movies), because they're so seemingly insignificant but utterly important. And Jeff's right -- it's not a moment that the world stops spinning or something cheesy, but it's one where you just KNOW. You conveyed that so well.

Additionally, I loved how you used Troy and Abed to help Annie and Britta to help Jeff (her line about Annie breaking HIS heart was just flawless). I just love so much that they ALL know what Jeff and Annie need. And I also love the fact that you had him admit it all to Ben -- there is something so wonderful about him just pouring his heart out to a little kid, knowing there's no judgement and no way that Ben can TELL Jeff what to feel.

Stray favorite things/observations:
- Annie/Troy/Abed discussion about the "movie" and Abed continually trying to guess which one it was.
- The boys taking the long road trip home.
- Britta frowns. “I won’t judge you.” Jeff side-eyes her, eyebrows practically at his hairline, and she sighs and sticks her chin out defiantly. “Fine. I judge people. But that’s my right as your friend… and as an American.”

Jeff’s eyes widen as he nods quickly and taps his index finger against his lips. “Well then it’s a good thing we’re not in Canada then, right?”

“Exactly.” Britta starts to nod and then stops. “Wait, what?”

- Shirley and Andre hysterically laughing over the idea of Jeff babysitting.
- Ben knocking over all of the blocks.
- Annie returning and crawling into bed.

Like, honestly Shannon... I'll wait another four months if you give me something as perfect as this. ;) You're amazing. And I bow down to your writing prowess.
busycybering
Oct. 10th, 2012 02:39 pm (UTC)
Oh, beautiful. Just awesome. :D I loved it! Especially the ending. And oh! oh! Seeing 'PART TWO' made me so relieved. I didn't want it to end. :O

But it did, and the whole thing was great, and I totally don't mind that it's been so long since the last update... Jeff and Britta were brilliant as were Troy and Abed AND the road trip. Also, I like how Annie's not all angsty. Most people do this thing where, once the fic reaches this point, Annie/Jeff become all sad and depressed. But they're in love! And life is still happening! You actually made that balance happen. ^_^ Also, you know, Ben was adorable. (As was Monkey. Who is a dinosaur. Rhinoceroses are dinosaurs. Troy's seen Jurassic Park. He knows.)

...seriously, that ending is perfect.

When's the next chapter?
kimmierocks
Oct. 10th, 2012 03:49 pm (UTC)
Ugh. I love you. Can THAT be the type of Jeff/Britta closeness that we get this season? Cause it is SO perfect and SO in character for them.

This story is beyond amazing, Shannon. Thank you for brightening my day :-)
fangirl_101
Oct. 10th, 2012 08:33 pm (UTC)
I really love that this is split into Annie and Jeff's day apart. It's really interesting to see how their days were completely different, and yet they both came to the same conclusion by the end. I'm going to be so bummed when this is over because I've enjoyed it so much. It's definitely your best story IMHO.
satine_59
Oct. 10th, 2012 10:41 pm (UTC)
I read this fic last month and I was so happy when I saw the update this morning! I love how they both spend their day apart but with members of the study group, it really was nice to read. This is seriously one of my favorite J/A fic ever (if not my favorite!) and I can't wait to read the finale chapter (also dreading it because then it's over). Thank you for writing this fantastic piece ♥
treblebeth
Oct. 11th, 2012 03:03 am (UTC)
I love this section so much. You have such an excellent handle on Jeff here. He's so hard to write and you've done it perfectly in character. It just FEELS right. I love the glimpse of Jeff/Britta friendship and the mental image of Jeff and baby gives me feels. FEELS I say. please please please don't wait another four months? :)
stephanierb
Oct. 11th, 2012 04:12 am (UTC)
I can't tell you how excited I was when I read your tweet last night, and my eyes bugged out of my head when I saw the word count. Holy cow. And of course, I loved every word of it.

Love Annie's panicky reaction. The way she grips her steering wheel and stares out the window, watching the old couple walk past and then turning around to go back to the apartment, only to drive past at the very last moment.

I loved the callback the summer after the Transfer dance, and all the feelings she experienced and how it and they compare to this summer with Jeff, so completely different and yet with similar levels of intensity. And I love, love, love that kiss in the restaurant. I must've read that paragraph a dozen times. Really powerful.

So awesome to see Troy in this! I truly do not understand why you were concerned about writing him, because this was so spot on. The way he started crying when Annie did and how they both ended up yelling crying was sheer perfection. And Abed happening upon them with no clue as to what was going on. lol Spot on.

And I cracked up at Annie's "movie" and her frustration at Abed continually guessing the movie title and Troy dissing the story. Ahahaha. That felt like a moment from the show. Truly. You've got their dynamic down pat.

I really liked the juxtaposition of Annie waiting by the car while Troy and Abed climb the castle, especially with Annie feeling lost; literally grounded but metaphorically adrift. I'm not sure if that's what you were going for with that, but the fantasy of "Princess Annie" and the castle contrasted with the family returning to their car just struck me as an interesting representation of Annie's inner struggle.

And of course I love that it's the exchange with Jeff through Troy that brings her back to Earth. :-)

I adored Jeff's POV. We knew very little about his feelings at the end of the last chapter, so it was nice to really get inside his head, and heart, on this. I LOVED the way he tried to stifle his smile and then couldn't help but laugh joyously in the shower. We rarely get to see Jeff affected that way in fic, and it was wonderful to see him so HAPPY about Annie's declaration.

And man do I love your Jeff/Britta interaction. That dig about her thinking the sex was over was outstanding. No lie, the perfect Britta burn. LOVED IT. Their entire conversation felt so natural and the reveal that Britta was really worried for Jeff was so touching. I don't believe they would ever work as lovers, but I do enjoy seeing them emotionally open with one another as friends. It's very sweet.

There’s one terrifying moment where he thinks he spots the Dean and is half ready to hide behind a large potted plant until he realizes it’s just a female Hot Topic employee.

AHAHAHAHAHA.

Jeff telling Ben about his feelings for Annie elicited a "MY EMOTIONS!" type reaction from me. Jeff's description of that moment in the theater and the way he's already thinking about what he'd need to do to make a life in whatever city Annie ends up in just hit me where it hurts in the best way possible. Jeff said it was cheesy, but it came across as so genuinely heartfelt, I loved every bit of it.

Your use of detail in this story adds a richness to it that just enhances the entire experience: the way Annie wrings her hands on the steering wheel, Jeff's facial expressions while sitting at the kitchen bar, Annie washing her face in the rest stop bathroom, the grass wreath, Jeff's dream. You feel immersed in this story in a way that so few fics achieve. It all feels so REAL.

And that ending. THAT ENDING. So little is said, but there's so much emotion between them. Both a little unsure of what's going on, and yet so sure of each other. Just lovely.

I don't know what you have in store for us with the final chapter, but I have such mixed feelings about it! I want to read it RIGHT NOW, but I never want this perfect story to end. I'm in awe of your talent and grateful that you've shared it with us. You always deliver flawless writing and this is chapter is no exception. As always, Brava, my dear. BRAVA.

Edited at 2012-10-31 03:02 am (UTC)
nyclove3
Oct. 11th, 2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
*SQUEE*

This was absolutely worth the wait and I bow to your perfection. I loved both Jeff and Annie's moments of realization that they were in love. I'm completely enamoured by the image of them sitting in the restaurant and Jeff leaning over and kissing her, and then for Jeff - just a smile from Annie in the cinema over a couple of packets of candy. Both seemingly inconsequential but I think that's what makes them more real.

You always get every character voice down so perfectly too - I just loved Annie/Abed/Troy's interaction and their voices and mannerisms were just so clear to me. First Annie and Troy crying together and then Abed's blasé confusion as to why. And then Annie trying to get advice by describing a movie plot but eventually realizing she's getting nowhere was so funny and exactly what I expected to happen. Plus Jeff and Britta at the mall. *sigh* This is what I love about their relationship - this back and forth snarky banter, so good I felt I was watching it happen. Also, Shirley and Jeff's conversation on the phone had me smiling. I love when they're all gossipy together.

And way to kick me in the feels with Jeff looking after Ben and confessing his feelings as he sat there cradling him. Guh! What are you trying to do to me?! And I smiled when Ben got all excited about hearing Britta's name. It was a lovely callback to an earlier chapter.

And the end scene - so brief but powerful all the same. I love the idea of them curling up together and exhaling in relief and silence that they found their way back to each other - now THAT was cheesy! hehe

There's so many moments I could describe my love for but I won't. Just know that everything you write is just beautifully visual and I hope you never stop writing for this pairing. 'S wonderful! 'S marvellous! *squishes you* :)

Edited at 2012-10-11 11:13 pm (UTC)
woobloo
Oct. 21st, 2012 08:01 pm (UTC)
Oh my. That was...

This fic is amazing. The arc of their relationship is just so *believable.* Its length is necessary, because the slow Jeff/Annie build up is exactly what their characters need. Their realizations were perfect. I usually cringe at these types of things because god can they be cheesy, but these just worked for the characters.

Every single relationship between these characters is beautifully represented here. I love Shirley and Jeff's gossip, Britta and Jeff's snarky attitude and bickering, Annie and Abed's sweet friendship. And of course the many-faceted amazingness that is Jeff/Annie. (It's a little thing, but I particularly liked when they were texting how you had Annie use caps and punctuation and how Jeff used all-lowercase texting lingo. It's *exactly* how they text, I just know it.)

They are hot and they are adorable and they are domestic in a way that is exactly like them. Amazing, amazing job.
nazwaz
Jan. 11th, 2013 06:14 pm (UTC)
I'm relatively new to the Community fandom, having digested the whole thing in curiosity after the October 19th debacle. I've since devoured hours and hours of fic and I must say that this series is one of my favorites, and you are a fantastic writer. Thanks so much!
trisha_ftw
Jan. 31st, 2013 11:36 am (UTC)
Please update this. Please.

Its January 2013. You have to update.

Community is coming back soon. You have to update..

It's a really good story. You have to update.

Please update this. Please.
cpt_peggy
Mar. 3rd, 2013 02:02 am (UTC)
This fic is so awesome! If you get the chance to finish it I would love to hear how it ends. Regardless, thanks for writing such a lovely story :)
elizbethmay
Mar. 7th, 2013 01:06 am (UTC)
This fic is so good! Hopefully you get the chance to finish it, not that I want it to end! Well done :)
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )