Warning: Excessive Schmoopiness
Disclaimer: Me no own Community. Me stupid.
A/N: Title from Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Originally this was the closing chapter of 'The Final Year' sequel I had planned but I reworked it into a one-shot for some pointless fluff. It's not necessary to read TFY. All you need to know is Jeff/Annie = established relationship. I'm a little embarrassed posting this because when I wrote it I kind of slipped down the schmoopy well and couldn't get out, and basically I don't recognise myself at all. Also, we're probably wading into OOC territory here but whatever. I hope you like it. :)
Watching his reflection in the full-length bedroom mirror, Jeff folds the crisp collar of his dress shirt over his tie, wiggling the knot to loosen it a little and smoothing his fingers down the black silk. With a click against his back teeth, he shoots a finger gun at how goddamn good he looks - really his handsomeness is too much sometimes - just as Annie bursts through the door, breathless, cheeks flushed and hair mussed from the cold wind whistling outside.
"Finally," he says, still staring at his reflection. "I know I said being fashionably late was my jam, Annie, but even this is pushing it. This tie is working, right?" he asks, and flicks at the tapered end.
"Yeah. I noticed."
"Jeff." The quiver in her voice finally draws his attention from the mirror, and all he notices is the line furrowing her brow, the noisy scrunch of the paper bag in her hand.
"I'm late late," Annie says quietly, adding "Again" when his brain still doesn't seem to understand.
Then, he gets it.
"What. You mean…?" Jeff swallows hard at the slowness of her distracted nod, all too aware of the pulse in his ears. "O-kay," he murmurs, more for his own benefit than hers, using every shred of self-control to keep his feet rooted to the spot even though he's feeling some real conflicting feelings right now.
"Okay, so you bought a test?" he asks, hoping he sounds casual and calm even though he feels the complete opposite.
"I bought six," Annie says, emptying the bag onto the bed, and they both stare a little disconcertedly at the different tests sprawled on their sheets.
"We have to be sure, Jeff!"
"Sure. Yeah. And you're...you. Of course you'd buy six just to make sure."
Annie doesn't have a response to that because he has a point, but she moves in a little closer. They breathe a synchronized breath, their eyes dashing from face to bed and back again, and for the briefest moment, Jeff fully expects Abed to jump out of their closet and shout "Plot twist!" or something like "CUT!"
But he doesn't.
"So," Jeff starts, and swipes at his forehead. "You wanna take them now, like right now?"
Annie releases her lower lip reddened by the roll of her teeth, her shoulders lifting in a tiny shrug. "I don't think I'll be able to concentrate at the party otherwise. What do you think? If you want to wait, we'll wait."
"No," he adds hurriedly. "I want to know. If that's okay?"
Annie chuckles, though the sound is a little flat. "Look at us being all polite."
"Yeah, well." He scores a palm across the back of his neck. "I don't want a repeat of last time."
Annie nods like she's gearing herself up for something and quickly plucks a box at random, staring at it for a long moment before she heads for their bathroom. "What," she starts, pausing at the doorway. "What if this test is positive?"
Jeff's pulse quickens at the thought because that is just. Well, it's. It's... "I'm pretty sure that means you're pregnant. So I've been told."
"Really, smart ass?" Her head tilts to one side. "I mean, how would you feel?"
She baits him with wide expectant eyes - those blues are his constant downfall - and Jeff releases his breath slowly. "I think I would be…okay with… that."
"You would?" Annie squeaks, the surprise in her voice unmistakable.
"Yeah, I." Jeff stuffs hands into his pockets and starts toeing patterns in the carpet with his shoe. "What about you?"
Studying the pink box in her hand, she turns it over this way and that. "I know we've always avoided the conversation for obvious reasons but I think." She finally looks at him and there's a certainty in her expression now. "I know I would love it."
She meets and matches his smile slowly. "Yes."
Looking down at the box in her hands, the enormity of the moment and everything it entails has her smile waning quickly. She watches him again, all bitten lip and crumpled brow, eyes wide with alarm, and Jeff nods encouragingly in the silence.
Thankfully, it's all the reassurance she needs.
A couple of minutes later Annie opens the bathroom door and Jeff wanders inside, his gaze immediately falling to the plastic stick resting on the sink vanity.
"So, what now?" he asks, feeling all kinds of agitated and jumpy, and he knows for sure he'll have to redo his tie.
"Now we wait," Annie says. "Two minutes."
"Ugh. That long?"
Annie rolls her eyes. "Whoa, easy on the patience there, Jeff."
"Yeah, well, it's a little different to waiting for a bus, Annie."
"As if you ever waited for a bus in your life!"
"Uh, how do you think I got to school?"
"I don't know. How did people travel in the stone age?"
"Oh, low blow, Annie. Low. Blow."
Annie smiles. "I'm sorry. Still too soon for the age jokes?"
"Yes, and for the record it will always be too soon." He holds her chin in a pinch, gazing at her determinedly. "Okay?"
She nods in his hand, smile a little mischievous still. "Okay."
The surge of silence is only broken by the slight whirr of the florescent light above and the wind outside rattling the glass of the window. Jeff threads his fingers through Annie's, not sure what else to do at this point and acting purely on instinct. At his touch she looks at him with a smile she probably hoped was reassuring, but her chest rises too fast and Jeff can see the obvious flutter of her pulse at the base of her neck, and somehow, her nerves are comforting. It makes him feel less alone in the twist and turn of his insides doing all kinds of things that do not feel normal right now.
The two minutes feel like a lifetime stretched out soundlessly, full of awkward little glances at watches and huffs of breath and fingers squeezed too tight.
Annie takes one final look at her watch, restlessly wringing the skin around the strap. "Right. We can do this," she says, and suddenly...
Chin lifting bold and high, she steps towards the sink. "I'm doing it. Yes, sir."
Jeff hears nothing but his heartbeat. "Well?"
"I can't remember what this symbol means." Annie fingers the plastic with erratic taps. "My brain's gone blank. Oh god, I think I'm seeing spots."
"Hey. Don't panic." Jeff seizes the empty box from the sink, quickly scanning the fine print as he soothes circles across Annie's back with the warmth of his palm. "We'll just re-read the instructions and holy crap you're pregnant."
On the chequered tiled floor of their bathroom, Jeff and Annie sit with their backs propped against the bathtub.
Six tests lined neatly in front of them – two lines, blue lines, pink lines, plus signs and one smiley face – but Jeff can't stop staring at the one that reads 'Pregnant' in black lettering on a digital screen, as if the word somehow makes it more real because honestly, nothing feels different.
He's stared at it so long he can see the word lighted behind closed eyes, every time he blinks.
Pregnant. Pregnant. Pregnant.
Annie sits cross-legged beside him, head in her hands, elbows digging into the flesh of her thighs, and Jeff reaches out to tuck the loose curl of hair behind her ear so he can see her face.
"Yeah, I'm just…" She takes a while to tear her gaze away from the tests, blinking dazedly a few times to focus. "I feel like I've stepped out of my own body and this isn't really happening, like are these even my hands? Does that make sense?"
"It does, weirdo," Jeff says around a huffy laugh, and maneuvers a little, tugging and lifting Annie with a whispered "C'mere" so she's tucked in between his legs, her back against his chest. "So, what do we do now?"
"I don't know." Pulling his arms more tightly underneath her bust, her head falls back against his shoulder. "This is-"
"Wrinkling your brain?"
"Yes," she laughs softly and turns to nuzzle him with the tip of her nose, right against his jawline. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah. It's gonna take a while to sink in but I'm. Happy." Saying the word and owning it still feels so alien to him, even now. But the thrill of something new, something he once never considered, sort of buds and bursts inside, along with the fear that this could all go so very wrong, and he's not sure if he wants to laugh, drink or run fifty laps around their neighborhood.
Ignoring that for now, he tilts Annie's chin to meet his eyes. "You believe me when I say that I'm happy about this, right?"
The smile floods her face, meeting eyes bright and shiny on the brink of tears, and whispers a breathy "Yes" as she greets his lips with a kiss, soft and slow and full of everything. They've barely sunk into it when Annie abruptly wrenches herself away, using Jeff's knees as leverage to scramble up off the floor. "Dammit!"
"What?" Jeff asks, dazed, mouth still puckered to kiss.
Annie unintentionally kicks the pregnancy sticks to scatter in all directions as she moves to the sink, fingers fumbling against the buttons of her blouse. It slithers to the floor in a pool of lilac chiffon.
"We're supposed to be at your firm's party!"
"Yeaaahhh." His palms slap heavily against his thigh. "I don't want to go now."
"Tough!" Annie throws him a pointed glare from the mirror as she spins her hair into a knot and clips it high. "You need to schmooze with these people if you ever want to make Partner. I'll have a shower and you, I don't know, go finish making yourself pretty. You need to fix that tie."
Jeff sighs to his feet, not even caring that Annie is naked and climbing into the bathtub or that he's been sitting on the floor in his best pants.
Okay, maybe he cares a little. They're Armani.
"Annie, how can you still want to go?" He dusts his pants with the back of his hand. "I don't really feel like drinking with a bunch of people I pretend to like. Not now."
"Well, you're just going to have to suck it up!" Annie shouts a little over the sound of the shower spray. "This is an important night and you've been talking about it for months. We'll set aside some time to freak out later." He laughs at that. "And before you try to Winger your way out of this you have to do what I say now because I'm pregnant. With. Your. Baby."
The smile dances around the sound of her voice, and Jeff watches Annie's silhouette behind the shower curtain as it shifts and slaps, his heart kicking harder than it was a moment ago.
Shit, he is just not used to this information and part of him wonders if he ever will be.
Moving to the door, he shakes his head with every step. "Wow, Annie. Already pimping out the baby for your own devious means. I feel so proud."
Jeff turns onto Pierce's driveway, wheels crunching along the gravel path as he rolls to a stop and kills the ignition. In the sudden darkness once the interior car-light flickers off, the moonlight licks at the windows, and Jeff watches Annie and the absentminded play of her fingers across the small sonogram print-out in her hand.
She's been looking at it for hours. Hasn't stopped.
"So…" Jeff nudges her thigh softly. "We sure about this?"
She sighs, just like she has every other time he's asked the same question. "We have to tell them, Jeff. They're our friends and I want them to know before they guess. You know it won't take long because, a) Abed, b) I'm gaining weight as we speak, and c) Abed."
Well, he can't argue there.
And now that Jeff's aware of what's happening with Annie's body, he's definitely noticed a change, maybe even searched for it.
"Yeah, but not where you think."
"What?" Annie follows his twinkling gaze to the low cut of her top. "Jeff!"
"What?" he says, his grin wicked. "I can't help it. I'm a man, Annie, and I'm a fan. Big fan. We learned this a long time ago."
"Let's just go inside, shall we?" Her eyes dance with amusement, though she tries to keep the grin off her face and fails. "But first, give me your phone."
"Because I'm not giving you the chance to play Bejeweled when things get awkward. I don't know how but we're telling them tonight." She watches him purposely until Jeff expels a breath like it's all too much effort, and makes an exaggerated show of fishing his phone from his pocket and placing it in her hand.
"There. Phone Nazi."
"Ugghhhhh," Jeff whines and rattles the steering wheel a little. "Can't we send them an email and let them get used to the idea first?"
"Oh please, you're just scared that Shirley's going to be all judge-y. She forgets that I'm twenty-six years old sometimes."
"Hmm." His mouth curls downwards as he considers. "It's more the whole babies before marriage thing that you know she'll bring up. Just wait."
Annie shrugs, though she doesn't look at him, her gaze falling to her lap. "We'll just have to be honest with her and say that's not in our plans."
"Right," Jeff says with a nod, but his stomach lurches uneasily. "Wait. Hang on. Marriage isn't in your plans? You, Annie Edison? The same woman whose giant wedding folder is currently taking up a whole shelf on our bookcase?"
She tries to smile but it's more like a grimace.
"We've not really talked about this, have we?"
"Avoidance until it's impossible not to has always been our thing. Why change?"
Annie huffs a breathy laugh and swats at him, pausing a moment to chew on her lip. "Look, I used to think marriage was in my future because that was the fairy tale, you know? That's how things were supposed to be. But I know it's not like that anymore. And yes, I have a wedding folder and sure, sometimes I like to look at flowers and whatever. Whoopdee doo! That doesn't mean anything, except maybe that I like pretty things. And well, I learned your views on marriage a long time ago and that's, that's okay, Jeff. I'm happy." Her fingertip runs soft across the sonogram, her mouth curling upwards every time. "I know you're committed to me. I mean, we have a mortgage and everything."
He frowns, bemused. "This is a little different, Annie."
"I know," she adds hurriedly, like she's scared whatever she says will have him running in the opposite direction. "I just. Regardless of what Shirley or anyone might say, I just want you to know that I don't expect anything from you apart from being here with us. That's all I want."
Leaning over the centre console, Annie presses a kiss to his distracted lips before dropping the scan into his hands and squeezing his knee. As she leaves the car, Jeff feels the weight of her words settle over him uncomfortably, unsure whether they were pacifying lies or truths and seriously, why did he open his goddamn mouth in the first place?
Squinting at the print-out in his hands, Jeff fingers the white lettering in the corner – little digits and letters describing the gestational age and size of their baby and other things that look like nonsense to his untrained eye. But nonsense is usually something Jeff can avoid and this is definitely not one of those things, and the anxiety he briefly felt last month suddenly sort of swells and sticks in his throat.
Jolting a little from the impatient rap of Annie's knuckles against his car window, Jeff flips down the sun visor and tucks the scan there along with the business card Annie gave him for Christmas all those years ago. Once he climbs from the car, Annie offers her hand and nods her head to the steps leading up to Pierce's front door.
Jesus Christ, he has no idea.
Thirty minutes later, the group sits around the large oak table in Pierce's kitchen, the light from the shade above bathing them green and playing harsh with their features. Shirley fusses at her seat, watching disparagingly as Britta awkwardly juggles a dish of steaming potatoes while trying to remove the Saran-wrap covering.
"Shirley, I'm not going to Britta this," she says, hissing at the heat of the steam against her fingertips. "Stop staring at me like that."
"So…" Pierce jabs the air with his fork. "Care to explain why I haven't seen you in forever?"
Annie looks surprised that he's talking to her and sneaks a glance at Jeff. "Pierce, it's only been a month," she says gently, trying to placate him.
"Why is that again?"
"Well, you know how busy we get." Annie shakes her head at Britta's wordless offering of wine. "I mean, Law and Order makes it look so easy but it's not."
"You could have made time for my cheese and wine night," Pierce grumbles, mouth half full.
Troy's fork pauses mid-air. "I thought we all agreed we'd never mention that night again," he says, and the desperate severity in his voice has Jeff and Annie staring bemusedly at each other across the table, eyes circling the silence of their friends and back again.
Britta watches them sheepishly. "You don't want to know."
"Mmm-hmm." Shirley nods, her mouth curled unpleasantly. "Trust us."
"Anyway…" Annie's voice is a little shrill, and Jeff notes that she really needs to get better at playing it cool. "That was the night of Jeff's work party," she adds with a smile.
"Ooooh how'd that go, Jeffrey?" Shirley asks, genuine interest sparkling in her eyes and perhaps a little eagerness to change the subject.
"It was an interesting night." Annie's eyes widen perceptively and Jeff has to cover his grin with a mouthful of lettuce. "I worked the Winger charm pretty good. I think I've got Partner in the bag."
"Jeff and Annie are hiding something."
"Oooh." Troy's eyes widen delightedly as he whispers, "Secrets."
"Abed. What." Jeff sighs. "Why would you even say that?"
"You've been looking at each other every two minutes."
"Ugh," Britta groans. "You guys are even more sickening since you got back together. I was hoping it would ease up eventually but this is just how you two are, isn't it?"
"Mmm-hmm." Shirley nods in agreement again. "Googly eyes."
"Yeah, well, forgive me for finding my girlfriend attractive. I like to look at her. Big deal." Jeff stabs at his salad. "And Shirley, googly eyes? Really? It's been four years."
"Yeah, four years of your damn googly eyes."
"Technically," Abed starts, with one of his firm finger points at the ceiling. "The googly eyes started in 2009 so it's actually eight years, maybe less if we deduct the time they broke up."
"They still made goo-goo eyes even then. It was twice as bad," Pierce mumbles, mouth full and spitting flakes of chicken.
"One, gross." Troy leans away from the mess in slow degrees. "And two, can we stop saying googly eyes now? It sounds weird."
"Oh Troy," Britta says, a little too patronizing as she shakes her head and pats his back softly. "Everything sounds weird to you. Remember you couldn't stop laughing when I said bagel?"
The group laugh in reminiscence and Troy turns to her with a wry smile. "That's because you say it wrong."
"Well, forgive me for trying to bring some diversity."
Jeff grins. "You're not bringing diversity by mispronouncing the word bagel."
"Everyone, not just us." Jeff's hands circle the table to illustrate." But everyone in the whole world."
Pierce suddenly looks up from his plate a little confused. "What are we arguing about again?"
"Nothing important," Annie sighs, tapping his hand comfortingly. "So-"
"You know, we've done the whole keeping secrets thing before and the reruns are getting sloppy."
"Abed, for the last time," Jeff groans, annoyed now. "There Is. No. Secret."
Caught in the quiet the words hang in the air as if everyone can see them for the lies they really are, and the length of silence baits Annie to clear her throat. The sound is ragged and coked in the weight of things to come, and Jeff jerks forward to meet her gaze. For a moment they catch and throw a series of looks across the table that to everyone else seems like a little widening of their eyes and a scrunch of their lips, but really it means, "What are you doing?" and "I don't know!" or "Help me!" and for once Jeff isn't pleased with their secret way of communication because the group is still looking at them and the silence is bordering into the kind of awkward that usually has him reaching for his phone.
"Act-u-ally," Annie starts, momentarily distracted by his outburst. "I do have some news."
"Called it," Abed says flatly.
Jeff takes a steadying sip of beer but the bubbles catch the back of his throat and he has to fist his chest and cough to settle it.
With an exaggerated eye roll in his direction, Annie links her hands together on the table top and straightens her spine as she says, "I'm pregnant."
It's silent enough to hear the hum and flicker of a tacky neon art-installation shaped like a naked woman on one wall. Jeff and Annie circle the wide eyes of their three motionless friends while Pierce seems distracted by the chicken caught in his shirt pocket and Abed continues munching on his food, pausing only to take sips of his soda through a straw.
"Well. This explains the bigger boobs."
"Pierce!" Shirley snaps, pushing her plate away to rest her elbows on the table. "I'm sorry, Ann-ie, sweetie, but it sounded like you just said you were pregnant and that can't be true."
"Why can't it be true?" Annie sighs exasperatedly. "I have a uterus too, you know."
Jeff chuckles, the sound slipping away the moment Shirley glares at him, and he mouths a silent, "What?" as he raises palms in defence.
"I think what Shirley was trying to say in her own special way," Britta starts sweetly, ignoring Shirley's high pitched "Special?!" with an eye roll. "Is that -"
"That," Annie intones, loudly. "I'm an adult in a committed relationship who can make her own decisions. Right?"
"But your career..."
"Will always be my career. At lunch just last week you said that women could have it all, if that's what they wanted. Didn't you? Or was that just talk?"
"Lawyers." Britta pouts and slumps back in her seat, arms folded sharply. "Always lawyering me."
"Wait a minute," Pierce grumbles. "You had lunch last week and didn't invite me? Typical."
"Hmm. You know, I didn't anticipate this," Abed says suddenly, head tilting a fraction. "I thought you'd be announcing your engagement. That's what usually happens."
Jeff's fist clenches on his thigh and Annie shrugs. "Well, we're not."
"What?" Shirley gasps, like the devil was actually sitting at the table. "You're not getting married?"
"Bet sending that email first is looking real good right about now."
Annie tilts her head at him, irritated.
"Um, excuse me," Britta joins in, throwing her palms wide in indignation. "On what planet do they need to get married to have a baby?"
"On the planet that took God seven days and nights to create!"
"Well, I-" Troy starts as Shirley begins quoting scripture about marriage from the Bible and Pierce continues grumbling loudly about always being left out.
"Oh god everyone stop talking," Jeff groans into both palms. "STOP."
"No." He thumbs the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes for a second. "I don't want to hear it."
"I was just gonna say congratulations because no one's said it yet." Troy says hurriedly. "I'm happy for you guys. Plus your babies will be pretty cute."
"Aww." Annie momentarily melts into her chair, the emotion too much for a moment, before she rushes over to Troy, throwing both arms tight around his shoulders and mumbling, "Thank you," into his neck.
Jeff nods, a little abashed. "Yeah, thanks."
"You're not freaking out or being a douche!" Britta gasps, her finger waggling at him purposefully across the table.
"No." Jeff curls an arm around Annie's hips as soon as she moves to stand beside his seat. "But your vote of confidence is always pleasing, Britta."
"But last time…" she trails off awkwardly when Annie practically hisses at her.
"Last time?" Shirley frowns, voice falling an octave as her suspicion climbs. "What does she mean last time?"
Britta's face wrinkles a little. "Oopsies."
Jeff feels Annie's ribcage expand and contract against him and he tenses a little at what's about to happen.
"I had a teeny tiny scare," she mumbles, ignoring the synchronized gasps from Shirley and Troy. "It was two years ago."
"Two years? Now we know the reason you guys broke up. Not one of the scenarios I'd run through but the Dreamatorium dial isn't programmed to cliché."
"It wasn't the only reason, Abed, and seriously, will you ever get rid of that thing?" Annie huffs in annoyance. "Anyway, it doesn't matter. That's in the past and this is not a false alarm this time." Her smile climbs full and bright and her hand settles low on her stomach. "I'm due late September. We had our first sonogram today."
"What did it look like?" Troy asks, his voice full of interest and wonder.
"Like a black and white photo of a giant blob." Jeff flinches as Annie swats at him. "What? It does."
"Oh. My. God. You're really pregnant."
"Britta," Shirley says with a weary sigh. "Have you been smoking the weed again?"
It's a sunny Saturday when everyone gathers in downtown Denver for the third branch opening of Shirley's Sandwiches. The small café is decorated with colored balloons and a huge yellow banner that reads 'Grand Opening,' much to Pierce's amusement.
Shirley and Andre circle the packed café with trays of mini-sandwiches, dealing with their new customers, while the rest of the group huddle around Annie. It's been a month since they last got together and her stomach has seemingly expanded overnight.
It is all they can talk about.
Troy and Abed take turns palming Annie's tummy, hoping for another kick from their little 'Punchkicker,' "You know, because its kicks have the power of punches," Troy explains, and they happily perform their handshake when they both get their wish.
Abed even discusses the possibility of acting out episodes from series 48 of Inspector Spacetime now that there's a baby in the family.
Annie murmurs a tactfully sweet, "We'll see."
Britta is more than a little cautious but watches Annie with a soft smile that could be wistful in the right kind of lighting, and mentions knitting things for the baby because it would make a nice change from a cat. "But I'm picking neutral colored yarn because I don't want to reinforce gender stereotypes."
"Greaaaaat," Annie says, her smile just a little too wide to be natural.
Jeff had initially settled on a couch in the corner hoping to write a few emails for work, but his phone sits loose in his grip and he's not sure he even knows what an email is right now. His head is fuzzy with white noise, his chest feels too tight. He's vaguely aware of Shirley placing a cup of coffee on the table in front of him but it's not until he feels the weight of her palm against his shoulder that he realizes she's been talking. To him.
He's dazed, completely out of it, as he blinks up at her. "Huh?"
Shirley pitches a knowing smile. "Annie and the baby are fine, you know. You can stop looking."
"Psssh." He takes a sip of coffee, tongue wriggly a little at the heat. "I was looking at Pierce. He looks as confused as ever. We should probably keep an eye on that."
"Mmm-hmm." Her eyes narrow shrewdly for a moment before her face breaks into a beam. "I'm proud of you, Jeffrey."
"You're...proud of me?"
"Boy, don't sound so surprised." With feigned interest of her feet, she fusses with the sides of her cardigan. "I know perhaps I wasn't as supportive as I should have been -"
"No. Let me say this. Please. It sounds ridiculous but sometimes I forget that Annie's not eighteen anymore. And when she told us she was pregnant I just had flashbacks of her cute little Bambi face sitting next to me in the study room and that time she told me she'd never seen a penis and well, you know the rest. But I am happy for you and I need you to know that."
His neck undulates as he swallows. "I do. I mean, all the baby gifts and late night brownie deliveries the last couple of months said the same thing."
"Good. I'm glad. You're going to be a great father, Jeffrey. I just know you will. You're already so attentive and protective and-"
"Shirley," he says hurriedly, coating his mouth with a smile. "I'll be right back."
"Uh…" The pleasure climbing her face slips to confusion. "O-kay."
The table jolts a little as Jeff surges to his feet, weaving through the chairs and tables and balloons, passing Ben sitting cross-legged on the counter screaming, "Elijah stole my sandwich!" and all the eyes he feels watching him as he makes his way outside, the buzz in his ears not loud enough to drown out the chime of the bell above the café door.
Though the freshness of the air is dulled by the summer heat, Jeff lets it roll through his body as he strides back and forth along the sidewalk in a pace that matches his racing heart, trying desperately to calm the absolute anxiety clawing through him currently.
He cringes and closes his eyes in a panic because he really doesn't want anyone to see him like this, least of all Annie. He mumbles "Dammit" under his breath before he turns to where she's now hovering by the doorway, her face pinched with concern, hands smoothing the floral dress stretched over her stomach.
She eyes him cautiously as she wanders closer. "You're acting really weird right now."
"Weird, Annie? Weird?" He laughs, though the sound is a little manic. "I don't know what you mean."
"Uh. Well, you kind of left in a hurry back there. Abed thinks you might be Goldbluming again."
"Abed thinks? Abed-" he stops, sighing wearily at the sound of his own voice, and scrubs a palm across his face. "Okay, so maybe I am. Maybe I'm freaking out. Maybe."
Annie frowns. "Freaking out about what?"
His mouth twitches a little because he knows he could probably think of some excuse about work, some little lie that used to come with so much ease. But that was before and if ever there was a time to be honest, it's now, with the mother of his child.
"It just sort of hit me. I know how crazy that sounds, I mean, I knew you were pregnant, Annie. But it's. You're really showing now – it is literally impossible not to see that you've got a kid in there-"
"Yeah, with your giant forehead by the looks of it."
"Pierce!" Jeff snaps at the man now standing outside the café door. "Go. Away."
Pierce gestures flippantly as he heads back inside, and Jeff returns his gaze to Annie now frowning at her stomach, her lower lip starting to tremble.
"Oh no. No tears. Only one breakdown at a time, Annie."
"But, but he said…" She stomps her foot in frustration. "I knew this dress was a mistake. I asked you if it made me look fat and you said no!"
"Newsflash, Annie. That's how you're supposed to look." He presses a finger to her parting lips. "And before you ask, no, you don't look fat, you look beautiful. There. Happy now? Can we get back to the meltdown I was having before Pierce ruined it like he ruins EVERYTHING ELSE?" He shouts that last part though he knows Pierce can't hear him and yep. It's official. He's lost it.
Annie observes him warily, the pause only filled by the sounds of a few passing cars. "Jeff," she says carefully, like she's talking to a child. "You need to calm down and take a breath. That vein on your forehead is scaring me. Tell me what's wrong. I'm listening now."
Jeff chews on the inside of his mouth for a moment, not sure where to begin. "Just seeing everyone excited and making plans and then Shirley said…" The weariness creeps into his sigh. "It's making it more real."
Annie nods in understanding. "More real than when she kicked the first time?"
Jeff startles a little. "Wait. She?"
"Yes, she." Annie smiles to herself, cradling her belly for a moment. "I feel like it's a girl. Don't you?"
"I don't…know?" He stares unseeingly for a moment. "I guess I thought maybe a boy, especially the first time it kicked. I mean, that's why Abed named it Punchkicker."
"She can be a Punchkicker if she wants. Or Kickpuncher. She can do anything." She beams, unable to contain her joy as she says, "She's ours."
"Jesus," he breathes, all wide-eyed, throat parched suddenly.
Annie frowns at him quietly, curling her fingers around his forearm and brushing soothingly, just the way she knows he likes. "What is it, Jeff, really?"
Jeff swallows the fear thick in his throat. "I think I might be nervous." He breathes a little frenzied laugh. "Ridiculous, right?"
"No. This is nerve wracking, Jeff. We've created a little person which we're accountable for. It's not just you and me anymore."
"Okay, now I'm terrified. Thanks." Her face crumples apologetically and he sighs. "Let's face it, Annie. I don't have the best genetic example to follow here."
Annie's face tilts a little sadly. "Jeff."
"I mean, isn't there something about nature versus nurture, didn't we learn that in Biology or something? I don't know. What if I'm overruled by my genes and, eventually, I just turn into my father. It happens, right? That happens."
Annie teases the scruff along his jawline. "I know you and you're nothing like your father and I won't hear you talk about yourself like that. Understand?"
Her eyes flit across his face, eager and searching for signs he's calming down. When he takes a steadying breath and nods – more for her benefit than his own – Annie brings him down for a kiss, soft and soothing. Her fingers give a reassuring press into his shoulders as he pulls away.
"But what if I break our baby? What if my shitty parenting is unavoidable, like death and taxes?" He pauses to frown at the smile playing with her mouth. "What's so funny?"
"Nothing, you just said our baby and it was…" She blushes and shrugs a little, stroking her belly again. "It sounded real nice."
The happiness blanches out across her face, bright enough to pull him from whatever darkened well his thoughts sometimes slip into. They stare at each other with matching smiles and if Jeff wasn't part of the sappy moment currently happening on the sidewalk, he would probably point derisively and laugh his head off at the schmaltzy-ness of it all.
When did he become so gross?
His head shakes at the thought, sighing almost resignedly, "Ugh. You've ruined me, Annie."
"I know. I'm the worst."
"Damn right." He smirks. "I feel like I'm in an episode of Full House."
She quirks one brow. "You watched Full House?"
"Hey. Uncle Jesse was cool, okay? He had good hair and was in a band and whatever. Seriously. I'm past caring."
Annie reaches up to link her hands behind his neck, her belly pressing into him as she ushers close, and it won't be long before she can't do that anymore.
"Listen, it's okay to freak out. I'm scared just as much as you."
Well, that's news to him.
"Well, apart from the fact that I have to push your child out of me and that's terrifying...You're not the only one with crappy parents, remember?"
He huffs out a laugh. "True."
"I like to think that we already know what kind of parents we don't want to be. That's got to be a good start, right? All we can do is take one step at a time." She nuzzles into him, cheek pressed against his chest. "And read every baby book known to man."
"I knew you were going to say that."
"Hey." She pushes back to look at him. "We need all the help we can get mister!"
"Don't lie," he chuckles, smoothing her hair away from her face. "You just like to study."
"Well, so do you. Remember when I helped you study for the Bar exam?"
Jeff grins at the memory of her methods that summer after graduation. Lots of bared skin and skimpy lingerie and hours spent in his room. He'd never been more eager to study in all his life.
"Hmm. Not sure if I do."
"Oh, well. I can remind you if you'd like. Unless this doesn't really do it for you?" Annie points at her stomach, a flirty smile grazing pink-glossed lips.
"I think you know that it does." He eyes her appreciatively, gaze lingering as his grip tightens against her hips. "It's all very much working for me."
"Good." She beams smugly, tugging on his hand and starting towards Shirley's café. "Have you stopped freaking out now?
Jeff grins, shaking his head, more than a little impressed. "You are too good at this now, you know that?"
"I know," she says, throwing him a cheeky wink as they both wander inside.
In the cool air of the open refrigerator, Jeff studies the calorie content of a pre-packaged salad just as Annie calls from the living room, shouting a little over the sound of the TV.
"Is the car seat fitted properly?"
He rolls his eyes. "Annie, you were there when the guys did it at the shop. You made them check three times."
"Hmm." There's a pause and Jeff silently counts to three on his fingers, grinning triumphantly when Annie asks, "Does the car have enough gas?"
"Gas? I thought I'd just push it along to the hospital."
"Well, it's only fair that you push something," she mutters, voice low, and Jeff chuckles to himself, eyes drifting back down to the salad in his hand.
"Is the bag by the door?"
Seriously, 400 calories for a salad?
"Just like the last ten times you asked. Just look."
"Jeff. It took me five minutes to sit my butt on this couch. Do you really think I can turn around and check if the bag is by the door? Puh-lease."
"Well, your determination is one of my favorite things about you."
"I thought it was my boobs."
"That goes without saying."
Annie giggles but the tinkering sound stops abruptly enough for Jeff to look up a little startled. He shoves the salad back into the refrigerator and wanders through the open double-doors leading to the living room, joining Annie on the couch and stealing her hand from its permanent place on her stomach.
Her mouth twitches this way and that and she doesn't quite look at him. "I want this baby out of me, Jeff. I'm so uncomfortable." She tries to shift a little, stopping as soon as the pain and discomfort claws at her cheeks. "It's the 29th already. Why isn't she here?"
"Still think it's a girl, huh?"
She shrugs, mouth pouting a little, and starts playing with his fingers. "I'm scared now, Jeff. I mean, I know I said it was okay for us to be scared and I'm really trying to be loosey goosey here, but waiting around for it to happen is giving me more time to think about all the things that could go wrong when it does."
"Annie, I think the only thing we'll have to worry about is keeping Abed and his film crew out of the delivery room. You know how he gets with documentaries."
"Jeff!" Her eyes grow wide. "Don't even joke about things like that. Oh my god."
"I'm sorry." He chuckles, squeezes her hand. "What if I made it up to you? Anything you want."
She looks at him with interest. "Will you push this baby out of your vagina?"
"Sure. Let me call Science first and we'll get right on that," Jeff says, watching the slow dawn of a smile climbing across her lips. He scoots down then, pressing a kiss to the skin of her stomach not covered by the stretch of her camisole, grinning against her flesh when she giggles and tickles the wisps of hair behind his ear.
"Did you ever see that movie Nine Months?" Annie asks suddenly.
"Uh, no," he mumbles against her skin.
"Basically Hugh Grant-"
"-is this commitment-phobe whose girlfriend gets pregnant and -"
"Aaaand?" Jeff sits up straight, interested suddenly.
"And, well, Abed made me watch it because he's hoping my labor starts the same way, like my water will break while we're having dinner in a fancy restaurant-"
"Impossible. You haven't left the couch in a week. But carry on."
"-and you'll freak out-"
"-and then you'll hit someone with your car in the race to the hospital -"
"That sounds like the worst movie ever."
"Jeff!" She swats at him as he laughs. "I'm being serious. What if it all goes wrong? What if we end up with Robin Williams as our wacky incompetent OBGYN?! Or worse." Her hand curls tight into the sleeve of his t-shirt, her eyes a little manic. "What if Britta has to deliver our baby like she did for Shirley? Oh my god. Britta, Jeff. Brit-ta!"
Jeff blinks at her flatly, slowly prying her grip away from his t-shirt and smoothing away the wrinkles in the material. "So, I have a question."
"What helps bring on labor?"
"Um." Annie frowns for a moment but soon counts on her fingertips the list Jeff knows she has memorized. "Spicy food, walking, castor oil, sex -"
"Sold." Jeff cradles Annie's jaw and lunges at her mouth. She kisses back distractedly for a second before pushing at his chest, murmuring, "What are you doing?" high-pitched and breathy against his mouth.
"We need to get that baby out of you because you are making zero amounts of sense." He whips off his t-shirt and makes a play for her mouth again.
"Jeff, I'm just…stop a minute," she whispers frantically between kisses and licks of his tongue. "Is it crazy to want everything to go perfectly?"
"Annie," he says with a sigh, and takes a steady breath.
"Okay, okay. I know nothing goes perfectly. I know that. I just want everything to be okay." She glances down at her stomach and rubs it softly, the same circling motion she's done for weeks now. "She's five days late, Jeff. I want to meet her already."
Jeff smiles in spite of the pitch of his stomach because whatever happens is going to happen any day now and holy crap. But his eyes soften to roam the worried bite of Annie's lips and he hopes the squeeze of his hand says everything she needs to hear.
Sunday 1st October 2017
It's late when Jeff cradles the tiny bundle in his arms, eyes drawn to the little pink hand curled tight and poking free of the blanket. He traces the soft crescent-edged fingernails, uncurling the tiny palm to follow the line of indents, and the strength of the baby's hand closing around his forefinger would have the breath catching in his throat if it did that sort of thing.
Jeff glances at Annie – her head rolled in his direction, eyes closed, lashes fluttering restlessly against still-flushed cheeks, the hair at her temple still a little sweaty – and the need to kiss her is more than a little overpowering right now.
But he doesn't do that.
Instead, he looks at his child – his daughter – at the upturn of her little nose, long lashes quivering against pink chubby cheeks, and the fine dusting of brown-blonde hair. His eyes widen in alarm when she makes a little smacking noise with her mouth, lips scrunching once, twice, before she stills and stops wriggling.
"Hi. I guess," he whispers, and huffs a breathy laugh.
He doesn't understand all the things he is feeling – doubts he ever will – and he's pretty sure if he didn't have his arms full he'd be full-on Goldbluming right now. But as he looks down at his daughter, he knows one thing for sure. He loves her. It's surprising - overwhelming really - because he has only ever learned to love people over time, and here he is now, with this little person less than an hour old, and he loves her more than anything and he didn't know that was even possible. It hits him then, how much he is truly capable of, how very different he is from his father because there is nothing that will keep him away from her. Nothing.
The realization makes him feel free and light and bouncy.
Rising slowly from his seat, Jeff throws a glance at a still-sleeping Annie and cautiously pushes the door open with his back, every step slow and measured as he makes his way out of the maternity ward.
He thinks of the moment his daughter arrived, how there was no big drama in some fancy restaurant, no freak out, no frantic rush to hospital or hitting someone with his car. Just a wriggling blur of too-pink skin and a broken gasp for air. He doesn't think he'll ever forget the sound of her cry, so raw and loud, or the newness of it all, and the relief he felt had been overwhelming.
In the waiting area, Shirley, Britta and Abed are slumped sleepily in hard plastic seats, and it's not until Jeff says, "Uh, guys?" in a voice much shakier than normal that they all come to life and hurry over with an excitement that's palpable.
Shirley wriggles in delight, hands clasped tightly beneath her chin, eyes wide and shiny with tears as they flit from Jeff to the bundle in his arms. Nudging the blanket away from the baby's face she gasps, "Oh my, Jeffrey," sounding as shocked and breathless as he feels. "You're a daddy."
It's the third time someone has called him that – first the Midwife and then the nurse – and yet the word is still as unfamiliar as the feel of the baby in his arms, so tiny and fragile and real.
He has to swallow a little thickly.
"I know," he says. "It's weird. It's weird, right?"
"No," she smiles, soft and knowing, and steals another glance at the baby. "Oh she's so beautiful."
Shirley giggles, her cheek falling to rest against his bicep just as Britta ushers closer to get a better view, her eyes widening slow.
"Oh my god, Jeff. That's a baby."
Jeff just blinks at her, though he's smiling, hasn't really stopped. "Really, Britta?
Britta stutters back a step. "Oh no, I didn't mean. It's just… I never thought that you -"
Abed steps close. "That's the third time you've said that."
Jeff smiles as the baby stirs. "I know."
"How's Annie?" Britta asks, seemingly a little dazed.
"Sleeping. I guess that's what a fifteen hour labor without an epidural does to you."
"Oh sweet Lord." Shirley winces as her grip tightens against him. "Ouch."
At that moment, Troy and Pierce enter the waiting area, the steam drifting above their plastic cups, and they halt immediately at the sight of the empty seats. With a mild scuffle and scramble and a little spilt coffee, Jeff is soon surrounded, feeling a tad too emotional for his usual tastes as five pairs of eyes stare unblinkingly at his child.
He has a child now.
A child is a thing he has.
The air is a little close as they huddle together, sharing a moment of silent breaths as they study the newborn, each trying to figure out who she looks like the most, and what kind of person she'll be and oh my god, Jeff and Annie had a baby.
"Aww. Look at her wibble hands!" Britta tentatively tickles the soft flesh of those tiny baby fingers and when they suddenly flex against her, she squeaks, the noise disturbing the stillness of the moment. Her eyes widen abashedly as five heads turn to stare at her with interest.
"Um. I didn't make that noise," she scoffs as flippantly as possible. "It's late, I'm tired."
Troy chuckles. "It's okay Britta, we won't make fun of you for it."
"Yet." Jeff smirks.
"Yeah, laugh it up. Britta finds babies cute. Whatever."
"Well done Jeffrey." Pierce interrupts, palming Jeff's shoulder. "You must be relieved the child doesn't have your forehead. We were worried for a while."
Jeff's mouth parts indignantly just as Abed says bluntly, "True. Pierce, you owe me $50."
"Dammit." Pierce shakes his head and plucks a palm-full of folded dollar bills from his pocket.
"Hold up. You guys were betting on my kid?"
"Oh wow." Britta's hands snap to her mouth. "You sound like a dad this is so weird. I can't."
"Shut up." He glares at her, but then her expression softens and Jeff can't help but meet her smile.
He's a dad now.
It is weird.
Abed flicks through his winnings, scores his fingers across the neat fold of bills and tucks them into his shirt pocket with a satisfied pat. He studies the baby with unblinking eyes.
"Forehead crisis averted, she does have your nose." He turns to Troy with an outstretched palm. "Time to pay up."
An hour later Annie wakes to a room full of pink and purple balloons tied to the end of her bed, some decorated with cartoon babies and storks and "It's a Girl!" in bright bold lettering. The bedside table is already covered in flowers and cards of congratulations and even a few stuffed animals.
The baby asleep in his arms, Jeff sits beside her bed and watches her stir to consciousness. Annie blinks at him, face scrunching in discomfort as she tentatively lifts herself into a seated position against the pillows.
Hands flying to her hair, she smoothes out the strands that clung to the sweat of her brow only a few hours ago. "Shut up, I'm a complete mess."
Jeff smirks. "I've still got it."
Annie giggles, eyes sparkling despite her tiredness, and looks at him expectantly. Her fingers hover nervously against her mouth but not close enough to disguise the eager squeak that bursts from her throat. Jeff rises gently – and a little awkwardly – to place the baby in Annie's arms, grinning wide at the gasp she emits as her fingertip traces one smooth chubby cheek.
"Oh my god, you're so beautiful and lovely I just want to squish you!"
"I think they frown on that."
Her eyes are shiny with tears as she looks up at him. "She's perfect, Jeff."
"Well, duh. She's mine." Annie's uncaring of the tear that slides down her cheek and disappears into the cloth of her hospital gown. Jeff perches on the edge of the bed, quickly thumbing away the wet trail. "What are we going to name her?"
"What do you think?"
His brow lifts in surprise. "You're asking me? Miss Annie-plan-everything-months-in-advance-Edison? I must have imagined that list of all the names that best match my surname."
"I could never decide on anything and well." Her gaze darts between his and the bundle nestled in the crook of her arm. "You're her daddy."
There's a hollow-sounding whistle as he expels all the breath from his body. "I am not used to hearing people say that."
"It's weird isn't it?" Annie smiles, gently smoothing the fine sprinkling of baby hair with one wary palm. "I don't understand how this happened."
"Well, Annie. When a man and a woman love each other very much, they -"
"Jeff!" They laugh together quietly, unable to take their eyes of their daughter. "I just. I can't believe we made her. We have a baby, Jeff. A baby."
She nuzzles the baby's pointy nose with the pad of her finger. "I'm not sure I know what to do with myself or her. What if I do it wrong?"
"Annie, you've read every baby book there is. You know what to do."
"Hmm. Maybe. Hopefully."
He pinches her chin lightly, tugging it upwards. "It's actually me we have to worry about."
Annie beams at him brightly. "We've discussed this. I'm not worried at all." She shifts then, wincing a little as she struggles to cross her legs under the sheets, gingerly laying the baby on the bed with all the finesse of a first time mother.
"What are you doing?" Jeff asks with a frown, sliding off to kneel on the floor, his elbows denting the mattress.
"I want to see her properly." There's an excitement and eagerness dancing in her voice as she unwraps the blanket and tentatively traces the pink flesh of one little leg. "I want to count all her fingers and toes and just look at her. I can't stop looking at her. She's so beautiful."
They each take turns to thumb the underside of her feet and tickle each toe, unsnapping the Punchkicker onesie that Abed had made especially, and smoothing the skin of her tiny baby belly. Her little hands clench up by her cheeks and when she briefly opens her eyes, Jeff shakes his head with a disbelieving laugh.
"I am so in trouble."
Clasping one small foot he kisses the sole as softly as possible, letting his lips linger against the wrinkled skin, and Annie squeals blissfully at the sight, clasping her hands against her bust in a little wriggle of excitement. Jeff grins, dropping to rest his cheek on her knee, feeling a strange sense of calm as he cradles his daughter's head and Annie combs her fingers through his hair.
All is still.
When the baby starts squirming restlessly, they redress and swaddle her back in the blanket and Jeff wrestles with the tiny yellow hat that Britta knitted them, unsure of how to put it on her head without breaking her because honestly, his giant man hands make everything look ridiculously fragile, let alone a baby.
The hat ends up somewhere in the corner.
Britta must have knitted it wrong.
Eventually, Annie settles back against the pillows, the baby nestled in the crook of her arm, watching Jeff pull the chair close to the bed as quietly as possible to sit down.
"We never decided on a name."
"Well. My mom always said if I ever had a sister she wanted to name her Grace. What do you think?"
"Grace. Gracie. Gracie Winger. Oh yay, Jeff, I love it! Come here," she murmurs with a wiggle of fingers, and they smile through a string of soft, chaste little kisses. "Is your mom coming?"
"You're not supposed to think of my mom when I'm kissing you, Annie. I obviously didn't do this right."
"Shut up," she giggles as he makes a play for her mouth again. "I just want Grace," she smiles through the word, "to meet her as soon as possible."
"She will." He squeezes her fingers reassuringly. "I'm not sure when, because at one point during our phone call all I could hear was hysterical sobbing and seriously, I think I might actually be deaf. But my mom will be here. Once you've had some sleep."
"You know, you should probably go home and get some rest too. We have lots of sleepless nights ahead of us and we need to be ready."
"I can't. I don't know what's wrong with me, Annie, but I don't want to leave."
"Oh no. You're one of those gross people now, Jeff. Alert the media! Jeff Winger loves his family."
He nudges her leg playfully but any response dies the moment Annie's gaze dips down to their daughter again. There's an innocent sort of wonder to the graze of her fingertips against Grace's pudgy chin, and a contentment that wasn't there before, and everything makes sense. Every niggling thought and feeling Jeff's filed away for another day to discern sort of tumbles out in a rush, and the chaos of it all should be senseless and unsettling.
But it's not.
He has a family now.
"Hmm?" she murmurs, distractedly.
"Just so you know. I'm going to marry you."
"What?" she squeaks, her gaze biting to his instantly.
"Why are you so surprised?"
"Because." Annie blinks numbly. "Because you don't believe in marriage and you said you were going to 'nut up and die alone,' and you did say that, right? You did."
"I did." His fingertips brush soft against Grace's downy hair. "Not really possible now though, is it? I mean, it hasn't been the case for a long time."
Annie bites the inside of her cheek. "I guess."
"Plus, you know, you'll get to use that big-ass wedding folder and then we can throw it away. I could really do with the space on my bookcase."
She nods slowly, lips twitching to smile. "Seems like a good logical reason to get married."
"Yeah well." He shrugs. "You stay friends with Abed for eight years and logic will kinda rub off on you."
"This is true."
"Also, Shirley will approve. You know how much I like to keep Big Cheddar happy."
Annie's smile blooms fully. "You're making a very good case, Mr Winger. Any other reason?"
"Hmm," Jeff says, pretending to think about it. He draws her hand up to his mouth, holding her gaze intently as he places a kiss there. "No. Can't think of anything. Can you?"
Annie shakes her head a little, eyes sparkling with amusement and affection and tears as their fingers intertwine and their lips meet above their daughter sleeping between them. "Nope. Nada. Not a thing."