Disclaimer: Characters belong to Dan Harmon. I'm only playing with them. Also, fic title taken from Regina Spektor's Better.
Notes: Hi folks! I know this is way late, but this is a response to last week's Ficcy Friday prompt by ashiabug26. I couldn't resist. I've never had a drug problem and have never taken Adderall, so I apologize if the behaviour depicted isn't 100% accurate. Hope you guys like it!
"You're getting sadder, getting sadder, getting sadder, getting sadder
And I don't understand, and I don't understand
But if I kiss you where it's sore
If I kiss you where it's sore
Will you feel better, better, better?
Will you feel anything at all?" - Regina Spektor, Better
There's a heart-shaped box under her bed filled with memories and secrets. Annie thinks about it every once in a while (usually when she's stressing over a particularly important exam or after someone has done something hurtful enough to make her cry), but she never allows herself to open it.
Its lid is striped with pink and red paint and there's dust obscuring the glittery border around the hinges, and when things get particularly bad she'll pull it from its hiding place and place it on her lap and spend hours tracing little swirls along its edges with her fingers. It feels a little like toying with an active bomb when the pad of her thumb brushes longingly over the little latch on the side, but when she's done she'll put the box back under her bed and feel a little better. She could have opened it. But she won't.
For a long time Annie had almost forgotten the box and the secrets that live inside of it. The shitstorm of high school was behind her, and in front of her was a shiny new future full of everything she ever wanted: friends, success, a boyfriend, all finally within her reach. None of them were perfect or anything close to how she'd planned, but she loved them regardless- Britta was kind of like the cool older sister she's always wanted, and Troy was finally taking notice of her, and Jeff was actually treating her like an equal, and even though no one in the group really liked Vaughn, he was a nice guy who genuinely liked her for her (the high school cheerleaders would die if they knew- a cute, older guy who is also in a band going for someone like Annie Adderall? Things really had changed).
And all at once she was winning debates and solving crimes and kissing boys and acing exams without performance enhancers and the whirlwind of it all felt a little like growing up. Her life was finally starting to go right, and the happier she felt the less she thought about the box under her bed.
But then, as most good things do, everything began to fall apart.
Vaughn moved to Delaware, and rather than go with him, she'd entangled herself in the complicated web of failed romances that Jeff had unwittingly woven around himself. The night after the Transfer Dance, Annie held the box in her lap for a long time, listened to its contents roll and rattle whenever she shifted, and tried so hard to ignore how not enough it was. She entertained the thought of opening the lid just a little, just to get a peek of what lay trapped inside, but as soon as her fingers hit the latch all she could think about were slippery slopes and overdoses and missed opportunities and enough failure to choke on. She shoved the box under the bed and buried it beneath her grandmother's quilt for good measure.
The box stays closed through a summer without phone calls from anyone save for intermittent ones from Troy and Abed, and Shirley that one time right before classes. It stays shut through the first-day-of-the-school-year jitters and Jeff's callousness and watching him make-out with Britta for like an hour and a half and the explosive blow-out that followed. It stays shut despite Shirley's disapproving stares and Britta's vengeful anger and the lingering hurt left in the wake of Jeff's declaration that she was only ever 'young flesh' to him. It stays shut despite the residual awkwardness that refuses to fade even as the study group stumbles along in an attempt at resuming normalcy, through Britta's sharp little comments and the rest of the group's lack of patience with her.
In a way, Annie's proud of herself for this show of restraint. She still has hope that things will work out on their own, but every day brings some new problem, someone else to step on her and make her feel like high school all over again.
When Jeff tells her, point-blank, 'I can't believe I made out with you,' her fragile strength buckles like a wet piece of cardboard, and that night after taking three showers to wash the oil out of her hair, she opens the box.
There's not much in it anymore, a few letters from people she used to know in rehab and pictures of her with short hair, acne and a back brace. But beneath the wrinkled paper and outdated photos is her worst, most humiliating secret, rattling like a plastic toy as she rifles through memories she'd rather forget with damp fingers. The little bottle is mostly full, the last of what was once an impressive (and horrifying) stash, and with only a moment's hesitation, Annie pops the cap with her thumb and rolls two little white secrets into her palm.
Their shape and weight are not an unwelcome sight, but a strange feeling of dread mixes with relief as she turns them over in her hands. Alarm bells are ringing in her head so loud it drowns out all thought- she shouldn't be doing this. This is wrong. She's going to wind up alone and a loser with no hope and no degree and no friends to speak of (just like before, just like last time).
She doesn't have to take them. She could put them back in their bottle and put the bottle back in the box with the rest of her bad memories and lock them in the dark for a few more years. She could put them back and pretend like this moment of weakness never happened.
But then there's that sick, sinking feeling again, the one that kind of makes her feel like she's drowning very quickly, head suddenly underwater and all hope of rescue just out of reach. Her friends aren't really her friends. Troy voted to kill her on the Space Bus. Shirley thinks she's a heathen. Britta hates her. Jeff hates her (I can't believe I made out with you).
It's his cold, unsympathetic expression she sees when she swallows the pills without water and settles into bed to wait for the high to kick in.
When it does, it creeps up on her in tingles of calm and clarity, and in the long sleepless hours that follow she absently wonders how it's possible to feel so much better and yet, at the same time, so much worse.
At first Annie only opens the box when she needs it. It's kind of like a game, seeing how long she can hold out, how much she can take before she goes running for a little relief.
She opens the box after getting a C on her last English paper (she'd misread the guidelines, and the Professor marked ten points off of her grade just for improper margins). It lasts her about a week, until Abed's latest webisode has her character drunk and stumbling into Jeff's character's apartment, humiliating herself by throwing up on his shoes (she takes two pills after that, one for the second-hand embarrassment and the other for the spine-tingling fear of Abed's uncannily-accurate readings of the future). It's another four days before she dives for the box again, this time to help her finish an all-night cramming session for what promises to be an extremely difficult calculus exam. And then again, another two days later, after she's been attacked through the library window by zombies (she takes five pills for this, all in quick succession, and rides numb on a giant wave of dopamine for the next two days).
Within a month, she's taking one every other day just to be safe. She's got to conserve her stash, since she doesn't know when she can get a refill (her old supplier was one of those people she wasn't allowed to contact after the whole... plate glass... thing, and the only people she knows who could get her the goods are still in rehab), but it's gotten to the point where she gets that scary shaky feeling if she waits to long between doses.
It's okay, though. She has it under control. Things won't end up like they did last time.
It's hard to regret testing fate though, when she's finally feeling good and focused and productive for the first time since she graduated high school. She studies straight through the night and in the morning still has enough energy to go for an early morning jog. She gets a head start on the homework listed in her classes' syllabuses, makes hand-written copies of every PowerPoint slide she's seen this semester, and after that she drafts outlines of possible senior thesis topics (because it's never too early to start planning ahead). She's handling her life again, and for once it all seems manageable.
Thanks to the pills, that bright shiny future actually starts to feel possible again.
She pretends to work through the assignments in study group to downplay her productivity, lest anyone get suspicious and start asking if she feels like a robot. No one asks questions when she breezes through the worksheets (she's done them all before), or when her hand shoots up to answer every single question Professor Bauer asks, even the rhetorical ones. No one asks because she's Annie. She's supposed to be smart and ahead of the grading curve and the teacher's pet. It's why they let her in the study group in the first place, isn't it? (she may still be taking the pills but her secrets are still safe, still tucked away in the heart-shaped box beneath her bed)
No one asks, but with her alertness skyrocketing with every little white capsule she can't miss the measured glances Jeff keeps sending her way when he thinks she's not looking (he's looking at her like she's a set of nearly identical pictures with one thing out of place, searching for something wrong). It happens every few days- she'll look up from what she's doing (tapping her pen rapidly against the desk during lecture, jotting down fake answers to an assignment she'd already turned in a week ago) and he'll be watching her. He'll look away before she can say anything, cool and unflappable as ever, but the pills keep her heart from skipping a beat like a lovesick teenager's would at the thought of him starting to pay attention to her again. The pills keep her from caring.
She thinks this must be how it feels right before a person jumps off of a cliff- it's a moment of fear and then nothing but smooth sailing, a downward glide and the numbness that comes with accepting the inevitable. Jeff's suspicious looks are ignored as Annie hands him a copy of the lecture notes with a bright, fake smile.
She's so over it.
The looks don't stop, but over the next few weeks they change, morphing from purely suspecting to actual concern. Even with her laser focus pointed elsewhere (that new project in Anthropology is going to require more all-nighters than she has pills left- she needs to pick up more from that kid in her Applied Sciences class), she can feel the shift in his not-so-surreptitious stare.
She wants to say she's imagining it, but there's no mistaking the times that Jeff looks legitimately worried when she catches his eye, like he's afraid she's going to spontaneously combust. Or fly screaming through a plate-glass door.
He never says anything about it, though. Just looks at her like at somebody might look at one of the feral monkeys at the zoo, waiting for it to do something crazy.
It kind of pisses her off.
He catches up with her one day after class and winds up walking her to her car. They both play at small-talk for a valiant amount of time before Jeff drops all pretenses and puts on his serious face.
"Seriously, are you okay?" he asks levelly, already anticipating her answer.
Well, she wouldn't want to disappoint, would she? "I'm fine," comes the retort, a slight snap to it that clearly calls for a change of topic.
"You're not fine. I'm not an idiot, Annie." Jeff doesn't sound mad, but the lowered slant to his eyebrows shows that he's far from pleased. "You've been acting like a bunny rabbit on crack. I mean, the extra assignments that you keep 'accidentally' doing, the bags under your eyes, the bitchy attitude-"
Annie gasps sharply before letting out an offended little huff.
Jeff remains unimpressed and plows on without acknowledging her. "I'm not kidding around, Annie. I know something's up. When's the last time you slept anyways?"
"That's none of your business!"
"It is my business when you're snapping at everyone for not being able to keep up and making our study time incredibly unpleasant. You're worse than Britta when she tried to quit smoking. Seriously, what's going on with you?"
He's not wrong about the attitude thing- her grades may have improved since she'd started back on Adderall but her temper has gone on something of a downward spiral. She can hardly be blamed for her impatience with everyone's grasp on the material... she'd learned this stuff weeks ago and hasn't slept in three days so excuse her for being a little grouchy when they have to keep going over Mesopotamian society because everyone keeps getting sidetracked by the word "Assyrian" ("More like Ass-yrian! Get it?").
Still, she's too riled now to concede that he's made a good point, and instead starts digging in her purse for keys. "I don't have to stand here and let you interrogate me. I'm going home."
She tries to dodge around him to get to her car, but Jeff just extends one of his endless arms and snags her before she can get her key in the door (even with the pills, it's hard not to think about how warm and large his hands are as they grip her shoulders- they're strong enough to prevent her from going anywhere, yet gentle enough to send a tell-tale shiver down her traitorous spine).
"Hey, hang on a sec. I'm not accusing you of anything, I just want to know what's wrong. You can tell me, you know," Jeff's voice is surprisingly calm, and he looks her right in the eye and sends an electric shock raking sharply down her spine. "We're supposed to be friends, aren't we?"
Her fingers are tingling in the aftermath, body numb and fried. She wants to tell him everything, to show him that pink and red box under her bed, unlatch it and let him have all of her secrets because sometimes it's so hard to hide them all. She wants him to like her again. She wants him to stop looking at her like she's scaring him. She wants him to stop making her stupid heart do stupid things. She wants she wants she wants.
But there's that sinking feeling, that simulated drowning (I can't believe I made out with you), and she remembers how she got here. Remembers who's voice was ringing in her ears when she opened the box for the first time in almost two years.
It's easier to stay mad. "If you were really my friend, you'd quit hassling me! So I'm getting my work done early, that's not a crime!" she snarls, shoving her key into the lock and giving it a vicious twist. In one fluid motion, she swings the door open with more force than necessary, kind of hoping to hit him with it.
"Annie, stop." Jeff's got his hands in his perfectly-moussed hair- a clear sign he's frustrated. "You're not acting like yourself."
"Then you don't know me at all, do you?" she snaps, and she swears that for a moment a flicker of hurt crosses Jeff's features before it's erased and smoothed into a distant sort of distress- it's so brief that she writes it off as paranoia from the pills and lets the look slide by without touching her.
"Just let it go, okay?" She slams the door shut behind her.
He doesn't move as she guns the engine and pulls out of the parking lot, and despite how she tells herself not to look, she can still see him there in her rear view mirror, hands fisted in his hair and something unreadable written all over his face as she speeds away.
He doesn't let it go.
The next day, rather than just shooting her worried looks over their Anthropology readings, he's enlisted a security detail to tail her wherever she goes. Troy's waiting for her at the front doors when she pulls up in the morning, and he walks her to her first class under the guise of just being a gentleman. Between her second and third classes, Shirley tries to talk to her about the reformed Rabbi who spoke at her church last weekend. During lunch, Britta buys her a plate of macaroni and doesn't even glare when she doesn't finish her side of baby carrots.
Annie normally wouldn't have minded the extra attention- she usually thrives when the others take special notice of her- but it would have meant a lot more if their concern had been genuine and not orchestrated by Jeff. Today, all of their babying only serves to annoy her, irritation building on itself until by the end of the day, steam's practically shooting out of her ears.
After her last class, Jeff is waiting with a smirk on his face, clearly amused by her red-faced rage. "How's it going, McGrumpy?"
She barely resists the urge to do something completely out of character, like flip him off. "This seems a bit excessive for just 'breaking a light sweat', don't you think?" she grumbles, brushing past him without a second glance to see if he's following.
He is. "It was necessary."
"How is assigning the study group to shifts of Annie-watch necessary? What did you think you were accomplishing with that?"
Jeff's long legs allow him to keep up with her swift angry ones with an ease that's unreasonably annoying, and when she looks over in his direction, he's perfectly even with her, staring down at her with a stern, fatherly expression that has her hackles raised in an instant.
"We all thought we were doing the right thing by acting like your friends. Everyone thinks you're acting crazier than usual, and everyone just wants to make sure you're not in some sort of trouble."
"It's not your job to make sure of anything. You don't have to take care of me," Annie snaps, whipping around to face him. Her shoulders are squared and she's wearing her formidable face and this 'concerned friend' bullshit ends here because she just can't take having Jeff look at her like that when she knows it doesn't actually mean anything. "Besides, weren't you the one who threw a fit when I told you that you were the dad?"
The affronted look that crosses Jeff's face is an automatic response, and Annie tries not to feel secretly pleased that she's pressed his buttons so accurately. "I'm not the dad!" he insists.
"Then stop acting like it! I spent the whole day being babysat!"
"Because you're not telling us anything!" This is the closest Jeff has come to yelling at her in a long time, and the force of his words and the angry crease in his brow causes her to recoil, just the tiniest bit. "How are we supposed to know what to do when you refuse to talk to anyone about what's going on with you?"
Annie's restraint has become something of a fickle thing, and with a burst of rage she rushes forward to give Jeff a particularly forceful shove that has him stumbling back a few steps. To his credit, Jeff actually manages to look moderately concerned for his safety.
"Why do you even care what's going on with me? It's usually like pulling teeth to get you to care about anything but yourself!"
"Nice try, but never attempt to deflect a lawyer," Jeff says levelly, not about to let her barb stick despite how savagely she flung it at him. Maybe if this was any other time, she'd be impressed by how tightly reigned he has his own temper (it'd certainly be flattering to see how much he's letting his ego get stepped on for her sake. Flattering, if it wasn't so obnoxious). "Shocking though it is, none of this is about me. This is all your thing, Annie."
She glares up at him, eyes narrowed into mean little slits as her lip curls in a snarl. "You're right. This is all my thing. So why don't you just back off and let me go home before I pepper-spray you into compliance."
The silence that follows is thick with things unspoken, the tension in the air giving the moment an electric snap. Jeff slips on that indiscernible expression he's been using so often these days, staring hard at her for a long, long moment (it's the kind of look she never thought he'd know how to use, that almost-sad, almost-disappointed, almost-a-lot-of-things stare that has guilt stirring in her stomach before she can choke it down).
Her heart aches as it flutters against her ribcage, begging her to apologize—she's not a bad person. Certainly not the sort of person to put down her friends for being helpful, to scoff at their efforts and scream at them for their trouble. She's friendly, perky Annie Edison, who always tries to do the right thing and help others and be considerate. She volunteers to help the needy. She makes copies of her notes for everyone in the study group just in case someone missed something important. She remembers birthdays. She does not look into the face of the only person trying to rescue her from drowning in her own box of secrets and threaten to mace him. God, what's happened to her?
A beat more and Jeff rips his gaze away, mouth pressed into a tight, thin line as he raises his hands in a universal 'I'm done with this' gesture. "Fine, kid. Have it your way. But you'd better think about getting your shit together before this whole thing blows up in your face, because I'm so done trying to keep you from falling apart."
He spins on his heel and begins to stalk away. Annie opens her mouth to call after him, to make him turn around, to say she's sorry for being so messed up, but all at once the air is too slippery for her lungs and this huge, crushing weight comes down on her chest. It feels like getting sat on by an elephant.
The suffocating feeling doesn't fade until she's home, kneeling beside her bed and reaching for the box with trembling hands.
Three pills later, she's able to breathe again, but they do nothing for the horrible guilt still hanging around her heart like a prisoner's chain (she doesn't like where this is going, but she has no idea how to turn everything around again, and more than that, she's so, so scared that it's already too late).
Annie avoids the library for the next few days, ignoring a litany of calls and texts from her friends all asking where she is. She sits in the very back during their Anthropology class next to Starburns, where she knows no one from their group will risk getting too close.
And when she looks up from her notes every once and a while, Jeff is never watching her.
It was inevitable, really. Abed's predictions are hardly ever flat-out wrong, and with the way she's been increasing her daily regimen of little white pills, a repeat performance of "EVERYONE'S A ROBOT!" was bound to happen in one way or another.
At the very least, she doesn't disgrace herself in public this time.
Just in front of Jeff (which, arguably, is worse).
By this point, she hasn't seen her friends in a week, and hasn't slept a full night in longer than that. Her body is always shaking, intermittent tremors that refuse to fade no matter how many secrets she swallows. This is bad, worse than it was in high school, but she no longer has the strength to deny herself when the drowning feeling returns. It's not a game, it's scary and real and horrible, but she just can't stop.
It's 2am on a Thursday night when she realizes that she's just finished off a bottle of pills she opened yesterday. There's a zip of pure adrenaline in her bloodstream the minute the capsules start to dissolve, and suddenly the whole world is fluctuating around her, her apartment swimming in and out of focus as she stumbles towards her nightstand, where her cell phone is plugged into the wall.
Her hands suddenly feel too big as she clutches the tiny device, managing to slam down on a speed dial with numb, clumsy fingers before jamming the thing to her ear and praying, praying, praying.
By the sixth ring she's sure she's going to go to voicemail, but before she can try to compose a logical, semi-casual plea for help the line clicks as it connects and a rough, unhappy voice comes through the receiver. "What?"
Annie almost cries with relief. "Jeff?" she forces the word past slightly-chattering teeth. Her voice sounds small and scared even to her own ears.
There's a creaking of bedsprings on the other line, and Annie can picture him sitting up in bed, one hand scrubbing over his sleep-clogged eyes and the other pressing the phone against his ear. "Annie?" he sounds tinny through the tiny speaker, but even in the midst of a bad high she can hear the worry underlying the rough growl of his voice. "What's wrong?"
Words are a jumble in her brain and they spill out of her like water from a pitcher. "The secrets won't go back in the box! I took them out but now there are too many but I can't put them back because they won't go back and-" She's crying now, really crying, making the kind of hysterical whimpers you'd hear from someone getting their foot sawed off. Slowly. "—Jeff I'm scared! None of this is right!"
"Okay, okay, calm down. Where are you right now?" There's a sigh buried in his tone, but she's too strung out be bothered by it.
"Okay, just sit tight, Annie. I'll be there in five minutes. Don't move."
She doesn't think she could stand even if she wanted to, so staying put isn't an issue. Her heart is hammering in her chest like it wants to escape and her breath keeps coming in sharp little bursts and every few seconds she's hit by this overwhelming wave of nausea. So she curls up on her bedroom floor next to her bed, cell phone clutched to her chest and the heart-shaped box open and gaping like a wound next to her head.
It only takes three minutes before Jeff's pounding on her door. She can hardly lift her head without the room spinning, so she just croaks as loud as she can for him to come in, it's open.
She's not sure if he heard her, but she can hear the door swing forcefully open and slam shut again (her neighbors won't be pleased) before his heavy footsteps can be heard clomping around in her living room. "Annie? Where are you?"
"In here," she calls, struggling to sit up.
Jeff catches her and hauls her upright before her arms can buckle beneath her, placing one wide, warm palm on the curve of her back to support her while the other touches her face, tilts it up and brushes the hair back from her eyes. For a split second, she thinks he might kiss her, but no, he's just checking her pupils to see if she's lucid enough to give him a straight answer.
"Annie." His clothes are rumpled and his hair is as messy as she's ever seen it, sticking up at a weird angle in the back (probably from how he was sleeping, before she woke him up and made him come here to try and piece her back together even though he's already made it so clear how done with her he is).
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so, so, so sorry," she sobs, fresh tears streaking hot across her cheeks. "I messed everything up. I didn't know what else to do."
Jeff looks at her with a mixture of sympathy and concern before sighing through his nose, the hand that had tucked itself against her cheek now running through her hair in long, comforting strokes. "I know," he says, eyes searching her face for something she can't put her finger on. It feels like missing the last step in a flight of stairs.
"No really. The secrets got out and I'm sorry, I tried to keep them locked up but then, under the bed, and I just couldn't because you, and Britta, and Abed's show and I'm just so stupid. I'm sorry."
"Annie, it's okay," he says very slowly, as if talking to a very small child. "It's gonna be okay."
Annie fights for a deep breath, scrubbing at her wet eyes with the back of her hand. "You think I'm pathetic, don't you?"
Jeff manages a wry look at that. "I think you're overdosing on Adderall."
It takes a moment for his words to sink in, and once they do, fear hits her gut like a sucker-punch. She's overdosing on Adderall. Again. This is her fucking life.
The potent swirl of terror and shame mixing with the queasy feeling festering in her stomach only serves to make her feel about twenty times worse. "Jeff," she whines in a voice that is so much smaller than her voice. "I don't feel good."
"Come on." He gives her back a reassuring pat before trying to urge her to her feet. She struggles to comply, the earth giving a violent jolt and whirl as she unfurls her legs and pushes up to stand. "Someone needs their stomach pumped."
The thought of going to a hospital, writing her name on giant pile of forms and letting the whole world know just how far she's sunk causes her whole body shake and her nausea to spike heavily, but she doesn't protest when Jeff half-leads, half-drags her out towards the door. They're making their way to the foyer when Annie starts to dig in her heels.
Jeff hardly has enough time to ask what's wrong before Annie throws up all over his shoes.
It feels like she's flying apart and slamming back together all at once. What should have been a month's worth of pills lay spattered over Jeff's expensive sneakers, and yet he's still there, holding her hair out of her face and rubbing her back while she tries to calm the dry heaves.
A small eternity later, the seizures in her stomach finally stop and she stops erupting like a volcano, and Annie is left feeling monumentally better and completely mortified at the same time. This is worse than flying through a glass door, worse than the time the other cheerleaders put raw sausage in her locker, worse than the time she walked across town in a backless hospital gown to retrieve her grandmother's quilt from Troy and Bambi-McBimbo. She screws her eyes shut and wipes clumsily at her mouth, trying hard not to cry in humiliation. She just threw up on Jeff Winger (oh God, he's so never kissing her again).
But Jeff only shakes his head resignedly, as if he saw this coming and figured he deserved it. "Well. I guess that saves us a trip to the hospital."
She watches in a detached, horrified stupor as he peels off his soiled shoes and socks, nose wrinkled in a way that would have been adorable if the situation weren't so embarrassing.
"Go sit on the couch," Jeff orders, then goes to deposit his shoes and socks in the bathtub.
Annie responds with the stiff, automatic motions of a robot, shuffling awkwardly to the second-hand couch and plopping down gracelessly. Her vision is still kind of hazy and the tremors are still working through her every few minutes, but at least she no longer feels like she's suffocating.
The sound of running water echoes from the bathroom, and Annie tries hard to get herself even mildly composed before Jeff comes back, brushing her hands down her thighs and smoothing out the wrinkles in her plaid pajama pants and trying to do the same with her brain. She doesn't know why he's being so saintly-patient with her, especially after all of the horrible things she said to him in the past few weeks. He doesn't owe her any favors, and were their positions reversed, she'd probably have been tempted to just let him stew in his own pile of crazy. And she actually likes him (Jeff doesn't like her, not like that, and she was stupid to think he ever could). Why was he here, rubbing her back and letting her puke on him and not getting mad and yelling and dragging her to back rehab by her hair?
She's still fumbling for answers when Jeff emerges from the bathroom, bare feet making soft sounds on the carpet. She watches toes with fascination as he moves to stand in front of her- she doesn't think she's ever seen them before. They're long, slender, tapered just like his fingers, each ending in a perfectly manicured nail.
"How are you feeling?" he asks as casually as if she hadn't just barfed on him.
"A little better," she mumbles meekly, peeking up at him and hoping she looks apologetic enough for him not to hold this against her. "I'm sorry I-"
He cuts her off. "-Annie. It's okay. Really. You didn't kill anybody or break anything, so stop apologizing."
Her mouth snaps closed with an audible click of teeth, biting back another apology sitting on the tip of her tongue. She knows Jeff doesn't want to hear it but it's so hard to keep her mouth shut against the 'sorry's welling up inside of her like a flood- she wants to tell him everything, about how tired she is and how achy she feels sometimes, about how everything was falling apart and how she just couldn't hold it all together, not even with the pills to help her focus. She wants to tell him she's sorry for relapsing, for being weak and useless, sorry for making herself a burden when all she really wanted was for everything to go back to the way it was (she's sick of disappointing everyone, sick of disappointing him, but mostly she's sick of disappointing herself).
"Jeff?" Annie ventures in a small, tentative voice. When he quirks an eyebrow expectantly, she feels it's safe enough to continue. "The world is still kinda... floaty. And you don't normally have hand-feet, do you?"
Jeff's raised eyebrow quickly jerks downward to furrow the skin at the bridge of his nose. "I'll have you know these feet are a work of art crafted by higher beings of immense power and bonevolance. You think about that, I'm going to go grab you a glass of water."
Annie manages a nod before lurching forward to place her head between her knees. Her whole body spasms for a moment, muscles snapping tight against her bones and twitching a little before, after a small eternity, the tension is gone and everything sort of just settles back into a manageable place. This isn't anything like the bad trip she had in high school, with the paranoia and the hallucinations, but everything still feels a little out of reach from reality (she's not dead and Jeff is here bringing her water and what is up with that? This can't be real).
Jeff returns a few minutes later with a glass of tap water in one hand and her grandmother's quilt tucked under his arm. Before she can order him to put it back where he found it- because that is an important family heirloom, thankyouverymuch, and it's already been soiled enough by men that don't love her- he's shoving the water into her hand and tilting the glass up to her face, nearly drowning her before she can get her brain to function enough to remember how to drink. Her mouth floods with lukewarm water, most of it dribbling down her chin before she swallows a few gulps and pushes the glass away, the taste of nameless faucet minerals lingering on her tongue.
"Finish it," Jeff orders sternly, settling himself down onto the couch beside her (close but not-quite touching, and the warmth radiating off of his body makes her feel like she's sitting next to a supernova, the skin beneath her ratted old t-shirt tingling as if it's been burned).
She chugs the rest of the water like a woman dying of thirst. The liquid sits stale and unpleasant in her stomach, but at least it's a distraction from the way her head spins when Jeff casually throws the quilt across her lap.
Jeff wordlessly takes the empty glass from her slightly-shaking hands and sets it aside, propping his feet up onto the coffee table and making a big show of getting comfortable before scooping up the remote and scanning her basic cable for something watchable. The noise of the television- snippets of conversation and blips of commercial jingles- help compliment the fuzziness of her head. The picture sort of blurs together, but Jeff doesn't linger on any one program for more than a few moments, so Annie just closes her eyes and lets the white noise wash over her, waiting for the tremors and the wooziness to fade.
A few moments of stillness and Jeff must think she's fallen asleep, because all at once the channels stop changing and she can feel the weight of his eyes on her, heavy and sharp as they bore through her flimsy defenses and she doesn't want to know what he's seeing. She shifts uncomfortably under his attention, and when she opens her eyes he doesn't look away like he usually does, only holds her gaze with that complicated, unreadable expression.
She may have near-perfect SAT scores and a working knowledge of upper-level calculus and know complex chemical formulas backwards and forwards but she has no idea how to interpret that look on his face, can't pull it apart and dissect that intensity and make it make sense, so all she has to go on is the alert in her brain that tells her 'this is significant,' and every other sensory organ starts paying very close attention.
"Why did you come over?" the question escapes on a tiny breath of air, slipping between her teeth before she can think to stop it.
The moment of weighty silence is shattered, and Jeff turns back to the television, face carefully blank. Onscreen, reruns of The Daily Show are just starting, painting her living room in a pale, bluish light that obscures half his face in shadow. "You needed me to," he answers matter-of-factly. "What kind of a question is that? Did you think I wouldn't?"
Annie's guilty silence speaks for itself. No, she hadn't thought he'd come, certainly not without a fight. She'd been horrible to him, a terrible friend. She'd said mean things to him, tried to hurt his feelings and then thrown away his attempts to help her like they meant nothing. Why would he go out of his way for a person like that? Jeff may not have her SAT scores, but he's not stupid enough to keep bashing his head against a brick wall when obviously it bears no results.
Jeff manages to look hurt for less than half a second before slipping on the expression he usually wears when Abed says something meta. "Why would you think that?"
"Because I'm horrible." She can feel her face crumpling with shame, but she's not sure if she has it in her to cry anymore. "I said awful things to you, to our friends..."
"So you think we'd all just stand by and do nothing while you OD alone in your apartment?"
Annie ducks her head, feeling even more ashamed. "No, it wasn't like that. I just thought..." She takes a breath, trying hard to staunch the stabbing ache that kicks up in her heart whenever she thinks about it. "I thought you didn't like me anymore."
Jeff blinks in surprise, clearly caught off-guard by her admission. "What the heck gave you that idea?"
"You said-" she tries, but she doesn't want to say it- doesn't want to let him know just how hard she took his rejection, how badly he hurt her. "I just thought things had changed."
Jeff closes his eyes and sighs through his nose, and all at once he looks as exhausted as she feels. "Annie, believe me. You make it impossible for people to not like you."
He doesn't look at her, but the bells in her brain are ringing, demanding she pay attention because this has to be important.
"I know I can be an asshole about a lot of things, but I've always... liked you, okay?" Jeff says, passing her a sideways glance that despite its briefness leaves her feeling lightheaded. "Nothing's changed."
Her heart skips a beat or five and she thinks she might have swallowed her tongue (she blames the pills still making everything seem a little unreal and exaggerated, it certainly has nothing to do with the small, stupid bubble of hope rising in her chest like a balloon).
That seems to be the end of it, because Jeff saves her from having to figure out the righ response to something like that by turning up the volume on the TV, filling her tiny living room with the warm sounds of a live studio audience.
They don't say anything else for the remainder of the night. Jeff falls asleep halfway through the first episode, head tilted back over the back of the couch and mouth slightly open. Annie watches him sleep until the rest of the Adderall wears off, tucking the corner of her grandmother's quilt over his long legs at some point durring the night and then cursing herself for it. She still feels a little on-edge at five am, but the sounds of the television are relaxing, and the sound of Jeff's breathing washes over her like a wave. She feels calmer than she has in months.
Annie falls asleep to the sounds of Jon Stewart and Jeff's gentle snoring and doesn't stirr until morning.
She wakes up four hours later to the sounds of someone banging around in her kitchen like a bull in a china shop. Her head feels like someone's trying to split it open with an ice pick, and she's pretty sure something died in her mouth.
By the time she stumbles to and from the bathroom, Jeff's got breakfast prepared and laid out on the coffee table- it's nothing fancy, just toast and eggwhites and a pot of coffee, but just the thought of Jeff making her breakfast is enough to make her smile giddily despite how badly the thought of food makes her feel like throwing up. She's surprised that he'd stayed through the night, even more surprised that he's sticking around through the morning, but she doesn't dare ask about it. Gift horses and all that.
Jeff makes her pick her way though a piece of toast and half an egg, and while he's clearing the dishes he tells her in a voice that is as casual as commenting on the weather that he'd flushed the rest of her stash and he will personally kick her ass if she buys more (it's quite possibly the nicest thing anyone has ever done for her, and it's all she can do not to start crying into her coffee cup).
They talk briefly about how she's feeling, about maybe trying rehab again, but she's able to convince him she'll be fine on her own. They don't talk about what will happen if the group finds out about it- it's already an unspoken agreement that they won't say anything about what happened last night. It's is between the two of them, and Annie sort of likes that now she has a different kind of secret to keep.
Jeff has no class until four and Annie has already missed most of hers, so they spend the rest of the morning relaxing on the couch watching cartoons on the Disney Channel, her grandmother's quilt spread over their laps and shared between them (she does not even try to think about analyzing this).
And when Jeff falls asleep again, his arm stretched along the back of the couch behind her head, she does not think on that either.
There's a heart-shaped box under her bed filled with empty pill bottles and old letters from people she does not talk to anymore. Annie turns it over in her hands, thumbing the little latch along the sides and half-remembering, half-forgetting. There was a time when this box meant everything to her- it hid her strengths and weaknesses and kept every secret carefully locked away. She's memorized every stroke of paint, every swirl of glitter, every groove and pattern in the wood.
Jeff was wrong when he told her nothing's changed, because everything's changed (after so many months of unanswered questions and wrong assumptions and mountains of insecurity, she finally, finally understands). This box and the garbage inside of it used to be so important to her.
She drops it into the trash without a second thought.
Thanks for reading! Reviews of all sorts would be greatly appreciated!