Title: When You Can't Crawl (1/1)
Character/Pairing: Jeff/Annie
Rating: Teen
Genre: Angst, romance
Spoilers: 3x04 (Remedial Chaos Theory)
Summary: Annie's out of the mental institution in the Darkest Timeline. Life isn't easy for any of them to adjust back into.
Disclaimer: I don't own Community and I make no money off of it.
A/N: My second fic told solely in drabbles and double drabbles.

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"Ann-ie, yo-ur lun-ch is rea-dy."

Annie sits on her hands at the table, watching as Troy brings plates of sandwiches with him. His felt-goatee slips a little as he grins. She looks down to see a happy face formed by sandwich pieces and chips. "Troy..." She smiles sappily, happy to be home again, though it's a different room in a different apartment in a different building. "Thank you."

His eyes slide to Abed and his smile drops away.

Abed sits at the head of the table, felt-goatee looking sinister instead of silly like Troy's, and Annie feels her heart drop.

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"Annie, I'm not five. I can do it myself." Jeff struggles with his shirt, growling when the button shifts and moves instead of sliding through the hole. Shoving it through with his thumb, he exhales sharply in satisfaction.

She claps and folds her feet under her on his couch. "Bravo."

Though he rolls his eyes, he feels like he's accomplished something special under her watchful eye. Pride is in short supply these days, so he takes what he can get. Dropping to the couch, he folds his newly released sleeve up. "How's Troy-"

"Good!"

"Abed?"

"...he scares me sometimes."

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Britta stares across the table. It's weird seeing someone across from her again. Usually, the group sits glaring, or in Abed's case, plotting his way back to the 'right timeline'. But Annie's back now.

There aren't any smiles or teasing anymore, no giggles or arguments.

Narrowing her eyes at the returning member of their broken study group, Britta ignores the empty seats.

Jeff's playing with his phone, though it's just for show; he doesn't text anymore. He doesn't do anything-

"You're staring."

Britta jerks a little, turning to look at Jeff incredulously, because he doesn't ever do anything. "Back off, Richard Kimble."

"Nice," Abed says, pointing at her without bothering to look up.

"What's with the red streak?" Annie asks, wide eyes fixed on Britta's hair.

"Britta's gone 'evil'," Jeff tells Annie, using his hand to make exaggerated air quotes.

Britta stares at him. His lips are... curved. Up.

"Oh." Annie's eyes are still wide as she considers Britta. "Should I go evil too?" She runs her hand over a section of her hair.

Jeff observes her for a moment, then, "Nah, evil doesn't go with your complexion."

Annie smiles widely.

Maybe Britta is going evil because she glares. Hard.

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Annie's smile fades and she leans sideways against Jeff's couch back. "I'm a horrible person."

Frowning from his spot at the TV, Jeff shoves the DVD into the player and stands slowly. The blue screen on the TV goes black. "Are we back on this again? I thought you'd-"

"Having fun while Pierce is dead?!" She shakes her head and puts her legs down, searching for her shoes. "We're horrible people."

Jeff sits beside her with a sigh, placing his hand on her back. "Annie, we're just living without him, that's all. Do you think he'd want us to be miserable?"

"Yes!" She flops backward.

His lips twitch and Annie catches the movement.

Hers curve up for a split second before laughter escapes her. It quickly turns into a sob. "I miss him." She falls into Jeff's side and he wraps his arm around her as the movie starts.

"Me, too," he admits, eyes on the screen but not seeing a single word or image.

"We should say goodbye properly." She swipes at her eyes and sits up, looking ready to bolt out the door. It wouldn't be the first time.

"Or the way Pierce would want us to."

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Annie looks around the restaurant with a frown. "How's this supposed to make us feel better about Pierce dying?"

Jeff glances at her from over his menu before setting it down. "No, it's- I just come here sometimes to remember." His smile turns inwardly reminiscent. "Remember his crappy engagement that lasted all of five minutes-"

"Thanks to you."

"Thanks to me. Storming in here dressed as The Gimp from Pulp Fiction. Abed's story about Cougar Town. The party afterward." His smile slides away with realization. "I guess it's not just about Pierce, but everyone." Eyes finding hers, he notices the way her fingers play with the napkin and silverware. "We danced that night." He puts his hand over hers, stilling its fidgeting.

Her grin is bright, beautiful. "I remember." She points at him. "You suck."

Genuine laughter leaves him, startling both of them.

She sighs and drops her eyes to their hands and he realizes he's still covering hers with his. It's inevitable that her eyes land on his empty sleeve and his insecurities return along with his frown. He draws his hand free and goes over the menu again; the one he knows by heart.

"Jeff-"

"Salad?"

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It is, perhaps, the biggest disappointment of all for Jeff, the loss of his self-confidence along with his arm. It creeps in at all hours, making him feel like he's lost everything. Like he's incomplete.

His personal life is nil.

Work is hell.

School is almost unbearable.

But since convincing Annie to leave the institution, he's been greeted everyday with one of her smiles. Usually sad ones, but there are the occasional happy ones, like today.

"Care to dance?" she teases, holding her arm out.

"One arm, no skills."

She kisses his cheek and he feels a little less incomplete.

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"Britta's turning me evil tonight!"

Jeff sits, dropping his book and phone to the table, raising a brow at Britta

She shrugs, rolling her eyes as if it's no big deal. "I have some leftover purple. So sue me, drummer for Def Leppard."

"Annie."

Jeff sees Annie shiver from the corner of his eye as the others look toward Abed.

"Since you're embracing the Dark Side, you should wear your goatee."

"No, thanks." She opens her book and shifts in her seat.

"Abed, cut the creepy."

"Soon, you will all embrace the darkness." He caresses his goatee. "Soon, my children."

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Annie closes her eyes as Britta's fingers rub her scalp and smooth down a portion of her hair. It's soothing. Life hasn't been soothing lately. Pierce is gone, Shirley's-

Her eyes pop open, staring at the three pictures of variously clothed cats on the wall across from her. "When's Shirley coming back?"

Britta's hands slow and then start up again. "I don't know if she is, sweetie. Rehab hasn't been easy on her. Andre's concerned- I don't know."

Dropping her eyes to her hands in her lap, Annie nods.

The smell of the chemicals make her sick to her stomach.

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"I Think I Love You."

"I Think I- nngh-"

"Sorry, Britta, Jeff got it first."

Britta drops her head to the study table at Annie's pronouncement. "I actually knew that one." Her voice is muffled.

Jeff glances up from his phone. "David Cassidy is before my time, Britta, and the only reason I knew the answer is because I keep up to date on lame trivia. How did you-"

"My great aunt." She shrugs listlessly. "Can we go back to I Spy? I'm awesome at that."

"No." Jeff's eyes dart to Annie before returning to his phone. "I'm going to win this. Go."

Annie runs her fingers over the purple strands of hair over her ear. "Shouldn't we be doing evil stuff?"

Britta snorts loudly. "Not unless you wanna encourage Abed."

Looking up from his phone, Jeff smirks. "What do you think they're planning to do with the other versions of themselves when they get back to the 'real timeline?"

"Kill them," Annie says quietly, ducking her head. "What song did Elton John and Kiki Dee duet-"

"Don't Go Breaking My Heart!" Britta yelled triumphantly. Annie and Jeff stared at her. "What? I can't know cheesy things?"

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"Do you think they're going to kill us?"

Jeff stares at Annie. "What?" The words he's been trying to cram into his brain for the past hour melt away at Annie's question. "Someone wants to kill us? Is it Leonard?"

"Abed says he wants to kill the other timeline us. But maybe it's us he wants to kill." She closes her book, staring at the empty seats around the table. "They're 'real' after all. We're the fake ones."

She sounds bitter.

Jeff sighs, wondering what happened to their friends. "We're real, Annie. You and me. The others too, though I'm starting to wonder about that."

"Janis Joplin," she says sadly.

"Huh?"

"Troy and Abed; Piece of My Heart. They should just go on and take it."

"So, we're communicating in songs now." For some reason, it actually makes sense, which should probably worry him a little since she's a former ward of the local mental institution.

She smiles and opens her study book. "Owner of A Lonely Heart."

"And now we're communicating in bands, which you only know about because of our trivia games."

A shrug lifts her shoulder, the hint of a smirk riding her lips. "Barenaked-"

"No."

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"Why do you always turn away from me?"

Jeff looks up at Annie's question. "What?"

She points to him, leaning against his kitchen wall, one leg crossed over the other, turned away from her.

Shit.

"Is it me?" She puts the fork down and backs away from the pot of bubbling pasta water.

"No."

"You don't turn away from the others." She fiddles with her fingers, blinking at him through the steam.

"Annie, it's not you." The words stick in his throat and she hears the lie for what it is.

"Oh." She tries to go quickly past him.

He halts her, but she stays turned away and he wants to laugh. "It's not you. It's this." He waits until she glances back over her shoulder and then gestures to his missing arm.

"No," she laments, sad eyes melting his icy heart further. "Jeff, don't- you're still you. Still Jeff. And we still love you." She smiles shyly. "II/I still love you."

"How can you?" His voice is raw, harsh, filled with darkness. "How could you possibly love me like this?"

"The same way I loved you before." She kisses his cheek lightly, then his jaw. "You're beautiful."

"I'm damaged."

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Jeff stares at Annie's hand, held before him on his couch.

"You think you're damaged?" Her laughter is hard, bitter, but familiar enough to relax him. "I'm fucked in the head." She points at her temple with a hard look. Dropping her hand, she scoots closer. "We're all damaged. Even Britta. Maybe especially Britta. If she lies to herself about being any more okay, she's going to implode."

Jeff sighs, knowing Annie's right, but still feeling bitter and selfish.

"Troy and Abed... Jeff, they spend hours in their Dreamatorium trying to get to the 'real' universe."

"I lost an arm, Annie." It's not sinking in for her and he can't make her understand something she refuses to see.

"I lost my fucking mind!" She stops, takes a deep breath and settles her hand on his arm.

He fights the urge to shove it off.

"We all lost something. But we're alive." She threads her fingers with his. "I was afraid before. Of the way I felt- Jeff, I love you. I want-"

"No." He jerks away, all temptation gone in two words. "You should go. I'll see you on Monday." He slams his bedroom door on her regretful look.

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Monday comes and Annie doesn't appear. Jeff leaves it to Britta, Troy, and Abed to call her. After six hours of badgering worthy of Ihim/I, Jeff leaves the school and heads to her apartment.

It's empty.

He checks her favorite coffee shop.

Her old apartment.

Annie's nowhere to be found.

Going home instead of back to school with friends who are batshit crazy, he stops in his doorway. "Annie."

She's asleep on his couch, curled into a ball. Shutting his door, he wonders how she got in. And why he wants her to be there every time he comes home.

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"...Jeff?"

Jeff glances at Annie from the darkness of his apartment. Night has come and their friends have been informed of Annie's whereabouts. She's slept for four hours and he's watched her for all of them. He's alone and damaged and in perfect company. Like she said; they're all damaged.

"What're you-" A yawn interrupts her and he feels tenderness like he hasn't felt in months flow slowly through his veins. "Why're you sitting in the dark?"

'Watching' he doesn't tell her. Thinking and deciding.

He's come to some conclusions that he plans to share with her soon.

Soon.

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Annie's watching Jeff as she sits up, not sure why he's making her nervous. The unwavering gaze? The darkness they're surrounded by? The way he's sitting, arm on his chair, drink in his hand, legs bent at the knee, eyes... still not wavering.

"Are you okay?"

"No."

Her mouth opens while he waits, but she can't think of anything to say because he doesn't look upset. Just focused. "I fell asleep," she finally mutters.

His lips twitch or she imagines it. "I noticed."

"You're reminding me of Abed." She can think of something to say, after all.

"Damaged, not evil."

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"I should go," Annie tells Jeff, who's still in his chair. She's used the bathroom, gotten a drink of water, and Jeff's still sitting there. It's creeping her out.

There was a patient at the hospital who'd stared at nothing all day. Sometimes people got in her line of sight. Jeff reminds Annie of that girl.

He sets his drink down as she takes a breath. Stands as she turns toward the door. Crosses to his room as she begins to head out.

"Annie."

She turns to see him silhouetted by moonlight pouring through his bedroom windows.

"Stay with me."

Annie's heartbeat triples and she swallows thickly. "I-"

"We're both damaged. We're both fucked up." His shadow shrugs crookedly. "Let's be fucked up together."

As romantic overtures go, it's poor. As propositions go, it's fair. She doesn't care. She bends over to untie her shoes, eyes on Jeff. She's loved him for years and she doesn't want to waste anymore time. Their lives are half-dead anyway. Spending it together, at least for a little while, will bring them some sort of comfort, and, possibly, happiness.

She joins him, looking up, waiting.

They're playing in steps and it's his turn.

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It's easy to slide her tongue along skin that's dark and shadowed, but Annie craves more. She wants to see Jeff.

Reaching for the lamp beside the bed, she stills when his hand halts hers.

"Leave it off."

"Jeff, I love you. I'm not-"

"Then leave it off."

She huffs out a sound and turns the switch, blinking at Jeff in the sudden brightness. His bare chest rises and falls rapidly as he stares at her, looking displeased.

They watch one another, half naked and mostly disheveled.

His missing arm is obvious between them, so Annie kisses his shoulder.

"Annie." Hand pushing her back, he tries to climb out of bed, but she stays atop him, kissing his neck, his jaw, the spot behind his ear.

"I'm not going to let you hide from me." She smiles teasingly, hands lowering to his jeans. "Come out and play-ay."

He watches through lowered eyes as she cups him over his underwear, leans his head back against the pillow as she slides her hand along his length.

But it's not until she kisses him that he relaxes. "David Cassidy, Annie."

She smiles softly, knowing what he can't quite say. "I know, Jeff."

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Jeff holds still as Annie looks her fill. His mouth is dry, his cock hard, and his heart pounds a crooked beat that feels wrong.

"Beautiful," she mumbles, hands on his sides, leaning down to kiss his abdomen. "I think you're beautiful." She kisses lower, making him gasp and close his eyes, wanting to believe her. He controls his hips, though they want to raise to her every soft kiss, every slide of her hands, lower and lower.

She swirls her tongue around his hip, teasing, playful.

He aches to hold her with both arms, but only has the one.

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"We could be sleeping now," Jeff murmurs in Annie's ear, pretending to be annoyed but enjoying the way his voice makes her shiver.

Her arms tighten around his waist, warm cheek resting on his chest. "Boring."

"Healthy. And much needed. I'm an old man, you know."

She chuckles and spins them around his bedroom floor, swaying back and forth to a tune only she knows. "Holy crap. If that's what old men are like in bed, then maybe I oughta trade you in for Leonard."

He bursts out laughing, hugging her to him. "Yuck, talk about embracing the Dark Side."

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"Your hair..."

Jeff glances at Annie, resisting the urge to touch it, but just barely. "What about it?"

"It's evil. It has to go." She grins and kneels on the couch beside him, hands on her thighs. "Can I play with it?"

"Well, since I'm neither 10-years-old, nor a girl, I'm going to go with 'no'." Still, her enthusiasm makes him want to smile and he's unable to resist this urge nearly as well as the other.

"But I like the way it used to be." She leans in, breath ghosting over his neck as she whispers, "It was sexy."

He can't resist the shiver he feels working its way up his spine from her hot, moist breath on his skin and the tone of her voice, deep in her throat. "It's still sexy," he counters.

She shakes her head, though her grin is still there.

"It's not?"

Her head shakes again, creating a cascade of hair, rippling in the light from above. The ends curl over her bra-caged breasts as she moves to straddle his lap.

"Are you lying?"

She kisses him with an enthusiastic nod.

"Gonna have to do something about that."

"It Can Happen."

"That's a Yes."

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Fidgeting on his couch, Annie takes a deep breath and glances up at the banner above his TV. In his head, Jeff hears her voice saying the word repeatedly while pointing at the group one by one.

Intervention? Intervention? Intervention?

Tonight she's silent.

"How do I look? Is my dress okay?"

Annie smiles and turns to Shirley. "You look like you've been on a much-needed vacation. Lucky you. The institution was a big disappointment; there wasn't even a spa."

Shirley slaps a hand over her mouth as giggles emerge and Jeff smiles at Annie from his spot in the hall. She smiles back.

It almost feels normal again.

He joins them as the door opens and Troy, Abed, and Britta come in.

Standing quickly, Annie smooths down her dress and waits for Shirley to stand up. Clearing her throat, she takes Jeff's hand. "This is an intervention, Abed."

"Abed, we're worried about you, honey."

"We need you to come back to reality, Abed, because this is real life, not a TV show."

Abed blinks at them, stroking his felt beard. "That's what I'd expect from-"

"Ah-bed!" Troy sighs and joins the rest of them. "It's ti-me to st-op th-is."

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Annie takes Jeff's arm as Abed and Troy place their prized bouquet on Pierce's grave. The bright yellow roses mixed with baby's breath look cheerful in the dreary afternoon haze.

"You-'re pro-bab-ly eat-ing ghosts and what-not by now," Troy says, looking sadly awed. They're in their best suits, and Annie's in her best dress. "Eat some for me, bud-dy."

Shirley crosses herself and hugs Britta as more clouds pass what little sun there is. "So long, Old White Man Says."

Shivering in the chilly air as rain patters on Annie's umbrella, she holds back tears.

They all watch as Abed kneels, pulling his goatee off and placing it in front of the gravestone. "When you can't run, you crawl," he says softly and Annie leans against Jeff. "And when you can't crawl, when you can't do that..."

Troy steps up next to him, hand on his shoulder. "...you find someone to carry you."

Britta turns her face away but not before Annie sees the tears she's trying to hide.

"It still hurts," Annie tells Jeff. "Even after a year."

He hugs her tightly, lips pressed together.

"The darkness is gone," Abed intones, turning to face them. "This timeline is clean."