Jess heard the noise before she felt it.
Drip, drip, drip.
At first, she couldn't be sure if it was just something random in her unconscious that had meandered its way into her dream, but her brain kept focusing on it:
Drip, drip, drip.
Rhythmic and repetitive. Just as it was stirring her gently from slumber, the first drop of water landed squarely on her forehead, making Jess sit bolt upright faster than you could say Jam-boree.
Blinking through the foggy haze of sleep, she squealed when a second and third drop plopped onto her head in quick succession from the ceiling above her bed, followed by a fourth and fifth.
"Oh my god, what the hell?!"
Scrambling out of bed, Jess flicked the light switch on, wincing at the sudden brightness and vowing to skin Winston alive if this turned out to be one of his stupid pranks.
Drip, drip, drip.
Her gaze drifted upwards to find a steady trickle of water droplets pooling together and following one another to her bed below, like a stream of kamikaze pilots.
"No, no, no!" She groaned, hands covering her face and a foot stamping the floor in frustration. "That son of a bitch!"
The storm a few nights ago had inflicted some damage to the roof above, but Remy had assured them he would have it all fixed before it caused any problems. Muttering loudly to herself about tearing him a new one as soon as daybreak was here, Jess hurried to the kitchen and rifled through the cupboards looking for something to use as a vestibule to collect the rainwater currently soaking her brushed cotton sheets. In the absence of any other suitable containers, she had no option but to grab the 'meat bucket' from under the sink (thankfully now long devoid of said meat) and begrudgingly propped it up with pillows to catch the now constant drips that fell on to her already damp comforter. The introduction of the bucket was merely damage control at this point.
Stepping into her slippers, Jess trudged out into the hall, looking up and down. The loft was now quiet, but both Winston and Schmidt had 'overnight guests', so bunking with them was out of the question. Her eyes fell on Nick's door and she chewed the inside of her cheek in contemplation.
There was nothing for it but to head for the lumpy old excuse of a couch in the living area. Jess pulled a blanket off the back of the cushions and laid herself down. After tossing and turning to get comfy, she had finally found a spot where she could nestle down properly. Her eyelids were heavy and she longed for sleep to pull her back under to its blissful embrace. Just as her breathing started to slow, Jess crinkled her nose.
What was that smell?!
She sniffed a few times at the air around her. There was definitely an offending smell coming from somewhere nearby. Like milk that had gone off, sour and putrid, burning her nostrils. Heaving herself back up to a sitting position, Jess glanced around, trying - and failing - to locate the source. Her eyes fell on the clock. I was 1am, and she had to be up for work in precisely 5 hours and 15 minutes. Sighing in resignation, Jess tugged the blanket around her shoulders and found herself once again staring blankly at the closed door of Nick's bedroom.
Her fisted hand rose and fell several times, never quite finding the courage to knock.
Closing her eyes, she rested her forehead against the door and cursed the fact that this was how things were now. Before she and Nick were a 'thing', Jess wouldn't have thought twice about asking to bunk in with him. She knew the answer would always have been yes. Open door policy. But, now? Now, things were a little more complicated. What if he got the wrong idea, or she gave off unintentional signals that this was something more than just a 'needs must' situation? They'd finally reached a place where it didn't feel so 'messy', and Jess was happy. She liked having her best friend back. They'd even been able to support each other after their break ups with Kai and Ryan - something no one thought possible. But they did it.
Because Jess knew better. Her and Nick were different. Ultimately, their relationship was based on a brilliant friendship, and that hadn't gone away. They still cared greatly about each other.
She could do this.
It was fine.
With a deep breath, she raised her hand one last time and finally gave a little tap-tap-tap on his door.
She tried again, louder this time, and heard an irritated grunt from the other side of the door.
"Go away, Schmidt - I haven't got any more condoms. You used them all, remember?"
Jess screwed up her face in disgust.
"Uh, no...actually, it's me...Jess..."
"I'm not watching The Walking Dead with you..."
"It's not about that! Can I come in?"
"Fine, you may enter." Came his groggy reply.
Twisting the doorknob, Jess pushed his bedroom door open and stood there, all backlit from the hall light and looking like a super hero wearing a blanket cape.
Nick was lying on his stomach - arms clutched around one pillow and head lifted off the bed to regard her warily.
"Why's your hair wet?" He pointed accusingly to her face.
"Oh, well, that's kinda why I'm here..." Jess explained, lifting a hand to tuck the damp hair behind her ear "...that storm damage Remy said he'd fix on the roof? He didn't fix it. Now three day old rain water is drip, drip, dripping directly on to my bed...and me." She gestured to her head.
"Yeah, so I was wondering_"
"I'm not going up to the roof to fix it for you at this time of night, Jessica." He interrupted, and Jess huffed in annoyance.
"I know that, dummy! As if I'd let you anywhere near my bedroom ceiling anyway - I'd probably end up with a makeshift skylight. And not in a good way!"
"Everyone likes to sleep beneath the stars..." Nick joked.
"Alright, fine, so what do you want? Get to the point, Jessica - I need my beauty sleep. These boyish good looks don't just happen by magic, you know."
"Well I can't sleep in my room, on account of the the water situation..."
"Winston has a lady friend over, as does Schmidt..."
"And I already tried the couch but it smells terrible...like, really terrible. I actually think something might have died..."
"Spit it out, already!" He moaned, rolling into his back and throwing his arms up in exasperation.
"I just really need a place to sleep." She answered in a small voice.
"And you thought 'Why not on top of old Nicky Miller?' Gotcha!" He laughed lazily and squinted at the light coming in through the door, giving her the finger guns with an exaggerated wink - to which Jess grimaced and immediately wrapped the blanket tighter around her shoulders.
"Eww, Nick!" She tutted and began to spin back in the direction of her room "You know what, forget it...I'll just go sleep on my floor..."
"Jess, stop! Come on, I'm just messing with ya - would you get in here already?"
Turning slowly in the doorway, Jess pursed her lips and leant against the woodwork, sucking in a deep breath as she watched Nick draw back his covers and scoot over. There was a dip in the mattress where he had been laying, and a flood of memories rushed back into her mind of a time when she would often curl up beside him to sleep in the hollow his body weight had made. Suddenly, there was a knot of longing in her stomach and her chest felt tight. Jess immediately doubted herself for knocking on his door at all, wondering if perhaps this might just be a terrible idea. They hadn't been an item for a while, sure, and both of them had since moved on to have other relationships...but bottom line, she would still be sharing a bed with her ex boyfriend. Not just any ex boyfriend, either. This was different. It was Nick. Their split nearly broke her, and of all the many ways she had thought about sharing his bed since they broke up (and, boy, had she thought about it), this had - funnily enough - never cropped up.
Sensing her hesitation as she hovered on the spot, Nick sat up and smiled sympathetically. He knew this was weird territory for them both, she didn't need to say it. Shifting to the edge of the bed, he rubbed his knuckles against his eyelids and yawned, then reached back and grabbed a pillow.
"Here, Jess...just, you know, take my bed and I'll go use the couch."
"Nick, no...honestly, it's okay." She waved a hand in the air "Pretend I never asked."
"It's fine. I'm used to the smell. No big deal." He stood and took a couple of strides towards her, but was stopped by her outstretched hand as it landed on his chest.
"I can't let you do that for me." Jess insisted, drawing her arm back quickly when she felt the heat of his body radiate to her palm.
"Jessica..." Nick looked down and tilted his head slightly "...If you're not going to get out of my way, will you please just get in to my bed? It's late, I'm tired, and I promise you there's room for two."
"Okay..." she replied quietly.
"Okay..." he nodded, moving backwards to wave her in so he could close the door. Gesturing grandly to his bed, Nick proclaimed "I'm afraid the turndown service is currently unavailable madam, we had to fire the maid when she was caught stealing the managers underwear, but we do hope you will enjoy your stay here at Chez Miller."
Jess snorted and shook her head as she sat on the edge of his bed to remove her slippers. You could always count on Nick to break the tension with his special kind of stupid humour.
"Will madam be requiring any extra pillows this evening?" He continued.
"Madam just desperately wants some sleep" Jess laughed softly "...but I will be sure to tell the manager how amazingly attentive the concierge has been..." She yawned loudly and lowered herself down under his sheets.
"Mmm...I forgot how comfortable your bed is!" Jess murmured as she sank into the pillows with a sigh, rolling on her side to face the door as he laid back down.
"Yeah, all the sex I've had in here has really softened up the mattress..." Nick answered, smirking to himself as he sensed her eye roll in the darkness.
"You're a jerk."
He chuckled and tucked an arm behind his head, the other resting on his stomach as he stared up at the ceiling, falling silent and trying to ignore the way his heart was suddenly beating harder in his chest with the sensation of her body being just inches from his own.
Jess was restless, tossing and turning despite her comfortable surroundings. Try as she might, thirty minutes had passed and sleep was still no closer to coming.
"Hey, Nick? Are you still awake?" She whispered.
"Mmhmm...you can't sleep either?"
"No..." Jess rolled on to her back, mirroring his position and sighing heavily "...this is a little weird, huh?"
"Yup." His lips popped on the last letter, as if to emphasise just how odd he was finding it.
It was too strange to be able to sleep.
And so they talked.
Until all the weirdness fell away and they were just two clowns having random conversations in the middle of the night.
They talked about Winston and his unhealthy obsession with Furguson ('should we stage an intervention?'), about the bizarreness of Schmidt and Fawn's dalliance ('I'm sure one time I heard her call him Daddy. It was traumatising.'), about Outside Dave and how he came to be known as Outside Dave ('I heard he was once a millionaire who gambled all his fortune away on a high stakes game of Chess...heartbreaking, really.')
At some point down the line, they both relaxed into the mattress, no longer being acutely aware of their close proximity to one another, not even noticing that their shoulders were resting together as they laughed. Their hands laid limply on top of the covers, and when his knuckles slightly grazed the skin of her fingers, Jess didn't even flinch.
Nick looked over to her as she stifled yet another yawn, eyes wide when he saw the time on the clock beside her.
"You know it's like 02:30, right?"
"Oh god, really?" Jess laughed and groaned simultaneously "I would have gotten more sleep just staying on the couch!"
"With that smell? Are you kidding? It's hideous!"
"You said you were used to it!" Jess propped herself up drowsily on one elbow to look at him.
"I lied..." a lop-sided grin spread across his face as he stared towards the ceiling, avoiding her gaze. Feeling her eyes burning into his skin, Nick pouted.
"Nothing..." Jess shook her head, biting back a smile as she settled back on to his pillow "...it's just...you were still going to go and sleep out there? For me?"
The motion of him shrugging rippled across the mattress.
"I figured the idea of sleeping next to me probably freaked you out, so..."
"What? Nick, no, it's not that..."
"You don't have to lie, Jess. I saw the look on your face earlier. Things are different now. It's just how it is..."
Jess felt like she'd swallowed a stone.
"No, you don't understand..." She stammered. "I mean, is this how I thought I would end up in your bed again? No, but_"
"Wait...you've thought about being in my bed again?!" Nick swallowed thickly.
"I...uh...well, yeah. You mean you haven't?"
"This feels like a trap..."
They both dissolved into awkward giggles before Jess exhaled heavily.
"I'm sorry, Nick. For making you feel that way. It's not that I didn't want to come to you first, I just didn't want you to think I was taking advantage of our...history, or whatever..."
"It's okay. I get it."
A quiet calm filled the space between them once again. The moonlight dappled across the walls as they blinked into the darkness holding their breath.
Nick's voice eventually broke softly through the silence and found her ears.
"Just so you know, Jess...for you, my door is always open."
There was a moment where Jess couldn't move. She was silent and still, absorbing his words. Her fingers flexed and slowly moved across the sheets to line up with his hand, lacing themselves loosely with his. He squeezed gently in response, until their palms were pressed together.
And that's how they stayed: holding hands, fingers entwined, pulse points throbbing against one another's skin.
The sound of each other's breathing was all they could hear, and it was as sweet and comforting as a lullaby.
When slumber finally came to embrace them, their murmured voices crept up through the darkness, becoming the last thing they heard as they were pulled under into dream filled sleep.