*A/N - Hello, again. This is the third and final installment of the Saying Goodbye vignettes. The main reason I separated all the pieces of this series is because of the huge difference in length, with this final part being over 3 times as long. I decided to leave this piece with the same rating as the first two parts to keep the story as a cohesive collection and found I was able to do that because I don't recall there being anything too graphic in this; if anyone disagrees and believes I should change the rating, please let me know. I've never really written any kind of lemon fanfiction and although I sought out to do so, I have no problem admitting that I failed, because I quickly realized that that's not what I wanted it to be; instead it became something softer, sweeter and more bittersweet. I know I probably should have edited the length, but I put so much into writing their last moments together, that I couldn't get myself to part with any of it. I know, 'Bad fic writer. Bad.' lol, I'll work on that in the future. I hope you enjoy this finale of sorts and I am so sorry for the drawn out Author's Note. As always, please R&R. It means the world to me. -Nikki
The kiss was soft at first, until Jeff was pulled in, reciprocating heavy and hard, determined to set every nerve on fire with her texture and taste. His hands fisted through her hair and Annie let out a soft moan as he wedged her in between the wall and himself. After a minute, the hunger in him began to calm and he realized that this time there would be no distractions, no guilty consciences, no friends bursting in and tearing apart the spell she had him caressed in. This moment would exist for as long as either saw fit and he could feel it in the way her body pressed to his that she had no intention of stopping, her resolve mirrored his, that nothing could pull him from this second, from her lips. It dawned on them that what was about to transpire was both long overdue and here all too soon.
Jeff now kissed her slow; no longer treating the touch as a starving man would at the first glance of food, inhaling beyond necessity. At first, there had been no guarantee that this would continue, but as he realized that she wasn't going to be snatched from him anytime soon, he began to savor her decadence. Of course Annie wasn't a feast, but she had been his sustenance for longer than he cared to guess. He pulled back and Annie looked at him and he stroked her cheek. Even in his hunger and passion the expression of tender yearning never left his face. "Annie, I-" he began to utter and she was too afraid to let him finish.
"Don't." She said softly. "Please."
He seemed to understand the plead that words might make everything too hard for her, so he was determined to show her what he felt, what he meant. He kissed her lips, brief and soft, pulling her blazer off her shoulders. They were in the bedroom when they began to undress and Jeff felt his throat burning as so many words demanded release, but he knew she was right. Opening the floodgates would stall what they now needed to feel and show, not what could be said, but would go without saying. They unbuttoned one another's shirts and although the movements were quick, there was no forced rush in the motions.
When Annie lay naked on the bed, Jeff surprised her with only a brief glance of admiration before being drawn back to her eyes. He kissed her slow and let his hand trail up the back of her thigh lazily, bending the leg in his hand. Annie couldn't look at him; everything in her chest hurt and her breathing was released as if stolen from her lungs through a charred hole, but she wouldn't let a tear fall or her eyes betray how much she was feeling; so much more than she could ever articulate.
Everything moved slow as they took possession of one another. Jeff let his hand guide her chin so she faced him. "I need-" was all he could manage before she read his eyes and tone, kissing him passionately yet again. As their lips collided and fought against one another, their bodies followed incongruously, slow and unrushed, needing to stretch every touch, every sensation, making milliseconds last hours, still never long enough for their famished passion and need for one another.
Jeff looked at her closed eyes and although a small part of him understood that kissing her with his eyes open was awkward, he couldn't look away, knowing that this could very well be the last and only time they were like this. She was leaving tomorrow and he had to soak up her taste, touch and image. He had wasted so much time.
She writhed in his arms as a sound erupted from her. She opened her eyes and looked at him and he couldn't stop himself from kissing her face gently. He hadn't done enough, he hadn't shown her enough, just what she meant to him. The feel of her body began to drag him towards oblivion before he could do anything more and his eyes briefly tore from hers, closing as something inside him collapsed.
Before he could lift his head, Annie's fingers began to trail a path trickled in sweat from his hair down his neck and across his back. Her fingers were soft and the movement comforted something far and unfathomable inside him and he was about to break their unspoken rule; he had to tell her he wanted her, needed her, loved her. He had to say something, this wasn't enough, it couldn't have been, no matter how incredible it had felt, it couldn't convey the depth of what existed between them. He didn't get his chance, because she released a husky, whispered laugh and said something so ridiculous. "Well, why couldn't we do that sooner?"
Despite himself, Jeff actually laughed along with her. "I wish I had an answer that makes sense…" He said in an offhanded way, because he honestly had no excuse, especially not one that he could deem worthy.
"But relationships are complicated?" Annie's voice was soft and nudged at his memory.
He pulled his head from her shoulder and looked at her for a brief second. Jeff wiped a piece of sweat-strewn hair from her forehead. The look in his eyes turned her stomach to liquid despite the fact that he was still resting between her thighs. "I'm an idiot."
She touched his cheek. "Too much has happened to regret any of it."
"Part of me still does." He grabbed her hand from his cheek and kissed her palm while his lashes briefly rested on his face. "And then another part of me thinks I wouldn't do anything differently. Who knows what would happen if I did?" He smiled and still grasped her hand. "And right now, I'm pretty damn lucky."
She tried to smile trivially. "I'll give you a couple minutes and then you can be even luckier."
"Is that a challenge?"
"If you think you can rise to the occasion."
"Annie, you're finally in my bed. Things are already rising again." He said with a smirk, needing to be playful, needing to say anything but what was clawing at his throat.
She laughed. "I'm flattered." She kissed him again.
Annie's seraphic form still lay in his bed and miracles felt real and attainable for the first time in his life. Jeff knew it would be good between them, it had to be, what with the strength of their teamwork and the veracity of their chemistry. If debate with her was like really good sex… then he could have only imagined, and he knew now how greatly he had underestimated.
Jeff wanted more than anything to be hopeful, but didn't allow himself any presumptions. This hadn't changed a thing; she was leaving the next day and there was a chance, a notable one that she might not come back. He had never felt so torn; of course he wanted her to stay, she was everything, but of course he wanted her to go, she deserved everything.
He just couldn't accept that it might be time to say goodbye for real. He couldn't accept that it was too late to do anything more than just watch her sleep in his bed and know that they would most likely never be together again, not like this. As much anguish as he could feel, he couldn't help but be calmed and soothed by the sight of her beside him. Feeling and hearing her breath eased his own, bringing him momentary peace and relief.
The bed dimpled as Jeff felt his eyes snap open. The clock alerted him that he had been sleeping a little over an hour. Annie sat perched on the bed with her back facing Jeff as she quietly and quickly dressed. She had woken up five minutes prior resting against Jeff's chest. Her heart swelled and squeezed at the way he had wrapped his arm around her. She had wriggled and shifted until she had rolled free. She rushed in gathering her clothes and sat on the bed to finish putting on her shoes.
It was just too much for her. Sleeping beside him was so intimate and she had to remind herself that she was leaving in approximately 15 hours.
"Hey." She heard his warm whisper and Jeff noticed her back tense.
She turned around to face him. "Sorry, I have to get back." Her eyes were soft and somehow Jeff was even more wounded by the knowledge that she meant no harm.
"It's okay. I get it." His eyes were gentle and Annie looked away. "You have a lot to do."
Looking down, she smiled and tucked hair out of her face. "Yeah."
A thought dawned on Jeff. "What time did you want me to come over?"
She couldn't stop the 'deer caught in headlights' look. She had completely forgotten that Jeff was supposed to take her and Abed to the airport. A huge part of her had wanted this to be goodbye.
"Um… 6:30, I guess. We have to pick Abed up from his Dad's which is on the way to the airport."
"Okay." The tone of his voice lingered.
Her heart clenched at the sound. "Actually, if you want to get there at 5 or so, I was going to make dinner for Britta and me. It'd be nice if you would join us."
"Yeah." Jeff smiled softly, afraid he might be imposing, but too desperate to soak up her vanishing presence to care.
"Ok, well…." She stood and gestured towards the door now fully dressed.
Annie couldn't stop herself from being affected by the sound of his voice, so without any prompting and before she could stop herself, she kneeled on the bed, leaned over and kissed him. She could nearly taste the surprise on his mouth. It was supposed to be just a second, but she felt herself getting pulled in by the memory of how it felt to be in his arms. It didn't help that Jeff was now sitting up and had one hand gently holding her cheek and the other wrapped so fully around the small of her back. She could feel his strong, bare chest pressed to her stomach and everything in that second, especially Jeff beckoned her to stay. Annie pulled away a little forcefully and Jeff let her slip from his grasp.
"I'll see you later, okay?" She managed and walked away before Jeff could reply. She knew if she hurried home she could beat Britta, who would be off in 5 minutes.
When Annie got home she hurried into the shower. Her mind kept lingering without her permission. She had never experienced anything like that, which shouldn't say much because she could count every man she'd ever had sex with on one hand and still have a finger to spare. Technically, she had been romantically involved with every other guy she had been with, but even then, she had never known sex to have an emotional aspect to it, at least not to the degree she had just felt and she had never been so connected to the person she was with, not like with Jeff.
She shook her head hard and went to her room to dress in her pajamas. While walking towel-clad through the hallway, the door opened up to an exhausted Britta shuffling her feet just beyond the door, until collapsing on one of the recliners. She closed her eyes and slipped her shoes off with a heavy sigh. When she took another breath and opened her eyes, she let out a curse. "Shit!" She clutched her chest looking at Annie. "You scared the crap out of me!"
Annie slipped into her room and dressed, leaving the door cracked to reply. "Sorry. I didn't mean to scare you." She walked back into the living room and sat on the other recliner.
"What are you doing still up? It's 2:30." Britta watched her, intrigued.
"Oh, you know. Can't sleep, mind racing. Insert cliché here."
Britta smiled. "I'm familiar." She pulled her hair up into a high ponytail. "Nervous or excited?"
"Both." Guilt seeped into her veins. It's not like she had really done anything wrong. Britta and Jeff had become about as far from an item as possible. It wasn't like she had betrayed her. She started to think that maybe the guilt was stemming from her absolute silence. It felt cheap to act like something so… huge hadn't happened. She wanted to say something, but knew better, and even if she hadn't, she still couldn't quite find the words.
"I'm going to miss you. It's not going to be the same around here." Britta looked around the apartment, appraising every detail of her recent home. "It'll be too quiet."
"What'll you do?"
"I'm not sure; however will I survive the peace and tranquility?" She replied sarcastically.
Annie scoffed. "I meant about rent, you know roommates? You're kind of losing two/thirds of the income." She mock whispered. "Actually more like two halves of it."
Britta briefly scowled and then openly pondered for a second. "You know, I'm ashamed to say I hadn't even thought of that."
"Ah, Britta Perry: The Overly Prepared." Annie said, wistfully sardonic.
"Ah, Annie Edison: The Overly Neurotic." She shot back, equally facetious.
Annie nodded. "Fair."
Britta smiled. "I don't know. I'll probably put an ad out on Craigslist. Maybe I'll just ask some people from Greendale."
"Please, for the love of God, not Chang!" She barked out quickly and Britta laughed as if the idea was too ludicrous to even consider. "Hey, how am I supposed to know how desperate and tight things might get around here? All I'm saying is any standard has to start before him." Britta shook her head humoredly. "Sure it sounds funny, but with that kind of double strength concentrated crazy, you might have a potential 'Tell Tale Heart' situation on your hands." All laughter stopped at that; which gave Annie some satisfaction that her warning had officially been heeded.
Annie cleared her throat. "So, apparently Troy should be home in a few months."
Britta noticeably brightened at the news. "That's awesome! I miss him."
"Yeah, Jeff says he doesn't think Troy will stay in Greendale long, that he might just follow Abed to California."
Britta soured. "Great; so does that mean I'm stuck with Captain Forehead forever?"
Annie lightly laughed. "Well, at least during the summer."
Britta refocused on Annie. "So you are coming back?"
She thought for a second. "I don't know; it really depends on how things go."
Britta nodded. "Ah, so you haven't decided yet?"
For a brief second Annie thought about waking from her daze in Jeff's bed barely an hour before, and felt as if her stomach had melted. "I guess the fairest thing to say is that I'm not really sure what I want." She answered noncommittally.
Britta smiled, nodded and patted her on the knee. "You'll figure it out." Annie smiled. "It's probably time to hit the hay."
"Yeah." She could hear the distracted tone of her voice and made no attempt to disguise it; unaware that any attempt would be futile as Britta had already taken notice of it.
After saying goodnight, Annie went to her room and lay on her cold bed, torn at the sight of her vacant room. Anything she wasn't taking with her, she had packed up, in case Britta might find a roommate. It felt like looking at the shell of herself and the sight made her bed feel frigged. She remembered warmth, soft sheets and a steady breath that soothed her anxiety and simultaneously revved up her heart beat. How could she just leave him like that? She had even tried to sneak away while he had dozed off, which just felt cheap. When she woke up everything had suddenly felt so complicated and the last thing she wanted was for Britta to come home to an empty apartment and then her have to deal with being greeted by Britta's overactive curiosity.
For a brief, insignificant moment in time, she felt the sturdy certainty of Jeff's embrace and her body fooled her into believing that this was a familiar situation; that Jeff wasn't her dearest friend of six years, that he wasn't a decade and a half her senior, that they hadn't ever pushed farther than a kiss because of fear for what it could mean, that it was okay for her to want this, to want him, so much that each inhale felt like stoking a building fire in her lungs, that this was her life or that it easily could be. But things were never that simple, especially not where Jeff was concerned and it felt too late in the game to spend the night, but she wanted to.
She got under the covers and tried to focus on anything but what it felt like to have Jeff touch her so intimately, kiss her so tenderly, see her so vulnerably and fill her so fully. When the denial failed her, she let the memories wash over her and soak her body in reminders of passion and pleasure; only then was she able to lull herself into a peaceful slumber.
There was no sleeping once that door had shut. Jeff couldn't think or move, he just lay there looking at where he had seen her dozing an hour before. It had been astounding, being that uninhibited with Annie; the way she had moved in his arms, the sounds that had escaped and sometimes erupted from her. Annie being everything and the only thing he saw, felt, tasted; ecstasy felt like a lowly name for what he had experienced. It had never been like that for him, ever and he wanted it back. Not just the sex, although, yes, that was definitely part of it; but the sound and feel of her in his bed, it was like being grounded after a strange dream, like he was supposed to wake up next to Annie and he was supposed smell her shampoo in his bed, like the sight of her was supposed to fill his room with a caramelized glow and it was always supposed to be like this. So why wasn't it? Why couldn't it be?
Annie stretched with a squeak and for the first time in years, she felt a low simmering soreness in her muscles. It happened to Annie every morning after – SEX! She had had sex with Jeff! The moment she remembered, she was caught in the torrent of memories of kisses, touches and orgasms and she quickly tried to think of anything else as now her heart was thudding in her chest and her blood was pulsing in her veins. She shook her head and looked at her phone. It was a quarter after 1 in the afternoon. She felt bad for sleeping so late, but knew it couldn't really be helped since she hadn't been able to go to sleep until well after 3 in the morning. She was leaving today and although there was nothing really to be done, she refused to just sleep the day away, so she quickly got dressed.
Britta was sitting on the couch, one leg tucked under the other as she ate cereal and zoned out watching whatever was on T.V. "Afternoon." She greeted while chewing on a mouthful.
"Afternoon." Annie poured herself a cup of coffee and sat on the couch beside her.
"I can't believe you slept in so late."
Annie lightly scoffed. "Hey, I went to bed the same time as you and it doesn't look like you've had the most productive morning." She scanned Britta's pajamas with a pointed gaze.
"Yeah, but that's me. You're usually up before the sun."
"I was pretty tired. It's been a long week."
"Don't I know it!" Britta said again with a mouth full of cereal and Annie had to reign in the urge to tell her that if whatever she was going to say wasn't an emergency, the conversation could wait for her to finish chewing, but instead she just sighed, reminiscent and unbothered.
"By the way, just a heads up: I invited Jeff to dinner tonight, so he should be here around 5 or so." She sipped casually.
"Ugh. When did you talk to Jeff?"
"Last night." Annie said evenly. "I think he's a little bummed with us leaving. You know how well he handles change." Britta nodded. "It's too bad that Abed can't be here too."
Britta scoffed, not fooled. Sure, Jeff would miss Abed, but that wasn't what had put his attitude in the dumps as of late and she knew it. "Yeah, I'm sure he'll be torn up that the guest of honor isn't here."
"Hey, don't be shitty." Annie retorted. "We are all each other's family and I think Jeff and Abed have a weird kind of special bond. Jeff cares about him a lot."
Britta stared back, slightly dumbfounded. "Okay."
Annie noticed the intrigued and prying nature of the look she was receiving from Britta, so she gulped the rest of her coffee down and headed to the sink. "I was thinking about making lasagna for dinner tonight, sound good?"
"As long as it's meatless." She replied, crunching into her toasted mini-wheat's.
"I'm going to make two small ones. One vegetarian for you and one regular that Jeff and I can share. I'll try to get him to take the leftovers off your hands." She hummed and wrote a list for groceries, knowing that she would buy more than she needed, mostly because she didn't completely trust Britta to do any shopping while she was gone.
Britta quickly finished her 'breakfast', brushed her teeth and offered to tag along with Annie as she went shopping. Shopping was definitely not Britta's thing, but she wanted to spend as much time hanging out with Annie as she could, especially since she couldn't go with everyone to the airport. "Don't you want to get dressed?" Annie said, her inflection hinting that Britta should take the moment to put on real clothes.
"I am dressed. Pajama pants and t-shirt is a classic combo; I'm thinking about bringing the look back." She said with a smirk, as she put on her sunglasses with a theatrical tilt of her head, wrapping her arm around Annie's.
Annie grinned and let out a small laugh, indulging her older, yet notably less mature friend.
It was a quarter to 4 when Jeff started to get ready. He dressed slow in hopes of lengthening the process so he wouldn't show up too early. Just the memory of one night with Annie and he had to actively stop himself from calling her all day; not even texting, he actually wanted to call her and hear her voice. He tried to shake away the reminder of how disgustingly enamored he was becoming. He looked over at his bed and quickly grabbed his sheets, tossing them into the laundry bin. The last thing he needed was to come home after taking her to the airport and immediately smell her in his room, all over his bed.
After the stalling became too deliberate, he finally decided to get in his car and head over to her apartment. There was practically no traffic and he was outside the front door at 4:48. He breathed deeply 3 times before knocking, determined to eliminate the ludicrous swarming butterfly feeling that had possessed his stomach. He tried to not let his face falter when Britta answered.
"Winger? A little early, aren't you?" Britta tried not to read into the solemn expression Jeff wore when he realized she had answered the door.
Jeff pushed the door back further and shoved his way around her. "Thought I'd try something new, as you guys are always getting on me about my punctuality."
"Or lack thereof." Annie called teasingly leaning passed the kitchen entrance to smile at him. She had racked her brain the entire time she was cooking on how to best act natural, especially considering that Britta was her audience. After an hour of contemplation, she settled on playful; anything to hide how last night had shook her core.
Jeff looked at her and smiled, his eyes wrinkling the way they only did whenever he beamed. Everyone in the room was aware of the intimate nature of the look, all hoping that no one else had noticed. After actively reigning in his 'love sick puppy', Jeff straightened and sat at the barstool watching Britta set the table. Annie was cutting a small lasagna, when Jeff swerved the chair. "Yikes! So carb fest, huh?"
Annie grinned timidly, keeping her eyes focused on her task. "It's a special occasion." She looked up and met his gaze, hoping he couldn't see her blush in the terrible kitchen lighting. "I think you can handle it."
"Need any help?"
"Um…" Annie turned, looking at the food she had set out, trying to assign a task, as Britta was strictly not allowed in the kitchen when she was cooking, due to the high amount of culinary mishaps that she caused which tended to become an even larger issue when side by side with the overly precise Annie. "Would you mind putting the salad together?"
"No, I think even I am capable of that." He rolled up his sleeves and washed his hands. Annie pointed him in the direction of the cutting board and he had to mute his own disappointment; he had hoped it was one of those bagged salads, where you pour the crap into the bowl and add dressing. "No bagged Caesar salad?"
Annie's nose wrinkled in endearing disgust. "No, all fresh."
"Ah, I'm sorry for questioning your culinary commitment, Chef Edison." She smiled and pulled out the second lasagna. As Jeff began chopping lettuce, Annie peaked over and smiled. There was something so funny and charming about Jeff performing such a domestic task. As he diced the tomatoes, she couldn't help but notice the way the muscles in his forearms tensed and clenched with each small, seemingly insignificant movement, and yet it left her spellbound.
The timer she had set for the French bread went off, yanking her from her appreciative gaze. She could hear Jeff's over the top sigh. "More carbs; are you trying to kill me, Annie?"
Annie tried not to be anxious by the way her name sounded different in his mouth now; she had to chalk it up to her over imagination, but even so, she liked the change. The affection was still there, but something about it caressed her spine with its intimate cadence. "Oh, you'll live."
Jeff reached for the cucumbers and suddenly caught a whiff of her shampoo, dragging him into memories of their intense night together. He marveled at how small she looked to him, beside him in this tiny kitchen. He tried to keep his breathing under control and more importantly, tried to not be affected by every sound and sigh that escaped her as they both danced around one another in the kitchen, paying attention to their tasks and attempting to give each other the widest berth allowed in the small room, careful not to touch, graze or bump one another as if choreographed in a delicate number of restraint.
The moment Jeff finished assembling the salad; he left the kitchen and sat at the table, unable to stand beside the ridiculously adorable Annie any longer as she unconsciously began to hum some song. Britta walked over with a glass of lemonade and sat beside him. "So this must be torture for you, huh?" She whispered.
Jeff tensed. "What do you mean?"
She replied nonchalantly. "Abed and Annie leaving." Jeff nodded calmly. "Well, mainly Annie." He looked up at her in surprise. "Oh, come on, Winger, don't look so shocked. I'm not stupid. Something is definitely going on. You both have been acting weird since the Nippledippers walked in on you guys in the Study Room." Some of the anxiety eased in his gut when Jeff realized that Britta had been referring to the past week and not the past day. "So, what happened? Did you beg her to stay and she rejected you?" There was something slightly resembling glee in her tone.
Jeff shook his head. "Not that it is any of your business, but no. I told her that she should go and that I'm going to miss her."
Britta punched his shoulder. "That's it?! You idiot!"
"Ow, what?" He bit out defensively.
"Annie's leaving, possibly forever and all you have to say is Bon Voyage? You vapid tool!" She huffed. "What about the big confession?"
"I'm sorry, Abed? Big confession of what?"
Her face puckered and her eyes narrowed. "I should sucker punch you in the jaw for asking that as if it were a legitimate question!" She looked back at the kitchen where Annie was finishing up, still humming and completely oblivious to their forceful, yet whispered conversation. "You know damn well what I mean! She's says she's leaving and you tell her not to go and that you're crazy about her, yada yada yada, 'insert cliché dialogue here'." She said the last part with air quotes.
"That's it, Britta! I think I'm going to have to tell everybody about your secret Nicholas Sparks collection if you keep going on hardcore binges like this."
"I'm serious, Jeff." She sighed. "You could stop her."
"Stop her from what, Britta, living her life?" Jeff rubbed the back of his neck. "Why would I want to do that? How could I do that? How could anyone ever do that to someone they care about? Nicholas Sparks and cheesy chick flicks be damned; someone like Annie deserves a happy life, not some sad, older, emotionally constipated man holding her back." Britta sat back with wide eyes. "I'll deny saying any of that." He smiled. "Of course, I want her to stay, but she still has so much to experience. If I asked her to stay and she did; how long do you think it would take for her to completely resent me for holding her back? Do you think I could handle Annie hating me?"
Britta shook her head. "No, but-"
"No 'but's', Britta. Annie might come back and if she does, it will be because it was her decision." He shrugged, trying to downplay it all. "Besides, it's only a summer internship, right?"
Britta took a sip of her lemonade. "And absence makes the heart grow fonder?"
"Okay, I'm not sitting next to you." He got up and went to the kitchen to pour himself a glass of lemonade.
Once Annie had announced the food was ready, Jeff grabbed the two small, yet heavy trays of lasagna from her grasp so she could grab the French bread and salad bowl. He sat as far from Britta as he could manage and made himself the smallest plate Annie would allow.
Jeff ate slow, savoring and regretting each bite as it traversed through his mouth, gliding across his taste buds. After eating what he justified as being only 1 ½ pieces of lasagna, he returned to crunching on his salad, sorry for his delicious deviation. When he had sneaked his 7th peek at Annie, he heard a weighted sigh. "I wish Abed were here." Britta said, tearing at her French bread.
"I know, but at least we already got to have a congratulatory dinner with him." Annie reminded her of earlier in the week. Britta tried to smile and act more enthusiastic, but Jeff could read between the lines; she didn't just wish Abed was there, she wished Troy and Shirley, and maybe even Pierce were there with them. After tonight, their little group would practically cease to exist; they weren't just saying goodbye to two dear friends, they were saying goodbye to the end of an era and even Jeff had to admit that it was a pretty heavy and emotional thing.
The rest of the meal was deceptively joyful as if they all were pretending that it was just a normal dinner. It ended abruptly when Britta looked up at the clock in horror to realize that she had lost track of the time and was running late to work. Her goodbye was brief and rushed and she couldn't help but be thankful that the melancholy moment wasn't drawn out. She told Annie that she would clean up after she got off and then felt crushed to realize that it wouldn't matter because Annie wouldn't be there waiting to scold her.
Jeff finished his plate just as Annie was scraping Britta's clean. "Didn't she tell you she would clean up?"
Annie laughed. "I don't think I can completely rely on her to follow through with that. It doesn't matter anyway, we still have a little time before we have to go pick up Abed."
Annie started packing up leftovers and Jeff began washing dishes. "Jeff, you really don't have to do that."
He looked over and smiled at her so his eyes wrinkled just slightly. "It's okay, I don't mind, like you said, we still have time."
"Thank you." She began wiping down the counters. Again, they moved around the kitchen, just barely out of one another's grasps, but this time they moved slower, as if they were hoping for a touch, graze or a bump. Each second felt loaded with the silence that masked all the things unsaid.
Once Jeff loaded up the dishwasher, he turned around, wiping his hands off with a drying towel and saw Annie looking up at him with her hands outstretched, holding Tupperware. "Oh and I didn't get you anything." He said sarcastically.
"It's the meat lasagna, Jeff."
"No, Annie. Tonight was already too much. I can't take it home with me."
"Well, Britta's not going to eat it and I don't want it to get tossed. Please." Somehow, even though she wasn't using her baby blue doe eyes against him, Jeff still found himself grabbing the container. "Plus, it's not like you'd be doing me a huge favor. I watched you at dinner. You loved eating it."
Despite Jeff's inner turmoil, something about the last sentence made him actually want to growl. He fought the urge. "Thanks."
"Thank you for coming." Again, he fought the urge. "This was nice." She gestured to the dinner table and as soon as her eyes left his, she looked out into the living room and stared. Jeff could feel the moment coming on and just allowed her the silence. It stretched for no longer than a minute. "Wow." She looked back at him. "I was prepared for this, but it's actually pretty hard." Her voice caught and Jeff pulled her into a hug, somehow knowing, almost telepathically, that that is what she needed right then. Her hand rested on his chest and they stood in a brief silence.
"You know," she whispered into his chest. "I moved from my parents' house to my own apartment before I came here and somehow this is the first time I've actually felt like I'm leaving my home behind." Jeff allowed himself a small indulgence as he let his hand softly skim across her hair, comforted by the smell and feel of her back in his arms.
"I know." He said quietly into her ear. The truth was that Jeff had never before experienced what she feeling. He had left 'home' at 18 and had lived in at least a dozen apartments since then; moving on to greener pastures when his income outgrew his current residence. It had always been about bigger and better, with no tear shed for the lesser. During his first year of Greendale he had to downsize for the first time in his life and he had missed those ridiculous faucets, but that was all it had ever meant to him, pretty and shiny appliances that were a reminder of his finer days, a memento of the status he had achieved and would fight tooth and nail to regain, or so he thought. The sentiment should have been all so foreign to him, but standing there in a kitchen he had roamed more times than he could count and holding this small, beautiful, frightening woman in his arms, the one he had shared a hundred adventures with, the one he loved so deeply that most of the time he struggled to comprehend the depth to which he cared for her, he began to understand the fear and ache that came with saying goodbye to the only home you'd ever known, maybe forever.
Annie pulled away abruptly and sighed. "Thanks." She nodded and looked around the kitchen, making sure everything was in perfect order. "Okay, I think I'm ready." She hesitantly looked up, meeting Jeff's gaze.
"Okay. I'll be in the car." He went into the living room and grabbed her suitcase, slipping out of the apartment. Annie allowed herself a brief second before grabbing her purse and locking up with as little fanfare as she could manage.
When she reached downstairs, Jeff was already in the car waiting patiently for her. As she finished buckling her seatbelt, she could feel the fragile silence and knew it was close to breaking, only it wasn't her that was determined to speak.
"Look Jeff, about last night …" She didn't know where she was going with it. All she knew was that she could feel his eyes caressing her and the softness of his voice washing over her to such a degree that she had to cut him off. "It happened and it was great, but-"
His hand covered hers resting on the middle console and she looked up to find him staring at her gently with amusement behind his eyes and a small grin. "But relationships are complicated?" He guessed.
Despite herself, Annie let out a small laugh; it always came back to that. Jeff's stomach unclenched at the sound. "I didn't say anything about relationships." Her smile turned shy.
"I wasn't talking about you." He let go of her hand and pulled out of the parking spot. He loudly breathed, trying to calm his gut. "I think we should've talked last night. I know that I shouldn't say anything, that I'm not supposed to say anything, but I don't know if I can. It just seems like I've spent so much time not saying anything and its stupid-"
Annie cut him off again. "Jeff, there's no reason for us to make this such a huge deal. I thought you were the spokesperson for casual sex." She filled her voice with false humor, because they both knew that last night was not what that was.
"Not with you." Jeff spoke quietly, but with enough volume for Annie to hear in the small car, she just chose not to.
"Last night was probably just a manifestation of what happens when two people are attracted to each other for so long and one of them is leaving."
"Is that what it was for you?" His voice was low, level and devoid of emotion.
It was easy for Annie to pretend everything was fine, but she couldn't outright lie about her feelings for Jeff, so she looked at him almost pleadingly. "Don't expect me to answer to that, not honestly." She looked away.
They sat in a loaded silence and just when Jeff couldn't take it anymore, Annie spoke softly, absentmindedly. "You know, it's funny."
"I think you've been misled about the definition of funny." He replied in his familiar brand of snarky sarcasm.
Their eyes met briefly and she smiled timidly, like she often used to, before looking away. She played with the edge of her sleeve. Although he had to keep his eyes on the road, Jeff felt drawn by an urge to watch her; he wasn't sure if it was the gentle whisper of her voice, the body language that exuded shyness and uncertainty or if it was his need to keep his gaze locked on her for every second that would soon be considered one of the last.
Annie's voice was sweet and slow. "I like to think that I've grown a lot, but I open my eyes and I'm suddenly transported to 5 years ago, being pulled in two directions. One telling me to stay, the other telling me to go and face the unknown." She tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear and ignored how oddly bashful she felt all of a sudden. "And just like last time," she looked up at Jeff and couldn't decide whether she was relieved or mortified that he was looking right back at her. She hadn't even noticed that they were parked in front of Abed's childhood home. "I feel pulled in the direction that means you."
Jeff could hear the echo of his heart. She knew how he felt and even beyond that, she felt it to some degree too, which made it all that much harder, because it was real and it was also being taken away from him. He slowly reached over and grabbed her hand as she attempted to avert her vulnerable gaze.
Even though it wasn't enough, there was one thing he knew he had to say; the thing that kept him up most of the morning while lying in his empty bed and smelling her sweet strawberry scented sweat on his sheets, making it impossible for him to breathe without reliving her taste, feel, touch. He'd wanted to wake up beside her, wanted it so bad, it felt like a necessity. He couldn't say beyond that, because he knew why. In the early morning when he usually would wake for a few minutes, he could've looked over and experienced what Annie was like. He could've been pleasantly surprised to learn that she talks in her sleep or he could've been enthusiastically baffled to learn that she snores; either way, he would've pulled her closer into his arms and played with her hair (mostly to answer the long-building curiosity of whether or not it was actually that soft all the time) and he would've fallen back asleep lulled by the steady beat of her heart.
But he didn't get any of that. He had been robbed of the moment and he wasn't sure who was the thief; Annie for leaving or him for waiting too long to even give her some indication of how deeply he felt for her, how desperately he became a fool for her and how thankful he was for it all. And it wasn't enough, and it came too late and he woke up alone. "Annie," he said cautiously. "You are making the right decision. You have to do this for yourself." She looked down and nodded confidently. He reached out and touched her cheek. "Just the same, I wish I could've woken up beside you." Right then, he heard the trunk of his car being tapped by Abed's uncoordinated and strictly business rhythm. He quickly let his hand fall and opened the trunk, going outside to help Abed. Annie took a moment to compose herself and chanted, 'It's just for the summer,' to herself, over and over again.
Abed and Jeff both sat and shut their doors at the same time. Abed's gaze shifted astutely around the car, the second he finished buckling his seatbelt. "Something's different." He said with the demeanor of an 'on the trail' hound dog. The timbre of his of his voice dipping when he spoke as if in mid-sniff. "There's a charged energy."
Annie could see Jeff tense beside her, she smiled and spoke patronizingly sweet. "Of course, something's different, Abed. We're leaving."
He opened his mouth as if to object to her reasoning, but quickly closed it as his eyes widened as if trying to calculate the likelihood of the excuse she had given. He nodded hesitantly. "That may be true, but it's not like this is really goodbye forever." He said as if it was the easiest conclusion to come to.
Jeff's arm rested on the middle console right beside Annie's. He peeked over at her and the tenderness in his eyes made her feel as if the gesture was as bold, if not more so, than actually holding hands. "I think so, too." He replied.
They drove in mostly silence as Abed would randomly throw out some Meta humor about character development and how this was where their finale would typically end and although it started to drive both Jeff and Annie crazy, they indulged their friend as neither one of them knew what to say. When they pulled up to the curb, Annie let Abed out.
As she leaned in to give Jeff a hug goodbye, she murmured. "I'm coming back, you know?"
"Oh, I know." He gave her a faint smile and kissed her on the cheek.
Jeff got back in his car and headed to The Vatican where he knew his friends were waiting for him. The truth was, he didn't know if Annie was coming back, but he had to hope, because that's what she had taught him. He had to believe that it was there, content, peaceful and certain hiding behind the limits of the horizon, beckoning him to what he truly wanted, needed and doubted he could go on without, that hopeful future, that bright tomorrow with Annie, that illusive season 7.
*A/N - Sorry again, just wanted to say that I do plan on continuing this story in a full fanfic, which I am currently working on, in case anyone is curious about what happens next.