a/n: This fic ignores spoilers for the fifth season. I was determined to post it before the season started, but it looks like one day before is the best I could do! Title and lyrics from the Goo Goo Doll's "Come to Me." :)

Cover me with kisses, dear,

Lighten up the atmosphere.

Keep me warm inside our bed,

I got dreams of you all through my head.

Her phone starts to vibrate against a pizza box, and she jumps, elbowing Jeff in the thigh.

They're at his apartment for Samuel Jackson night, crowded around the television; Piece claimed the chair, Troy is sprawled across the ground, Shirley is on one sofa with Britta, and Jeff, Annie, and Abed are crammed onto the other, Annie's head against Jeff's shoulder, her feet in Abed's lap.

When the phone buzzes, she nearly jumps two feet in the air before she fumbles to answer it. Shirley tuts at the interruption, but Samuel Jackson is on the screen, and nobody bats an eye when Annie stumbles over Troy, bangs her knee on the coffee table, and scurries into the kitchen.

But Jeff knows what the call is about, and he can't help it. He follows her.

She nods into the phone. "Yes. Right." He tries to catch her gaze, cupping her elbow. She grabs his wrist, squeezing tightly, and her eyes fly to his face, but he can't read her expression. "Yes, thank you. Okay. Thank you." She hangs up the phone, biting her lip as her eyes drop to stare it.

He raises his eyebrows, waiting.

Slowly, she nods. "I got it," she breathes, a catch in her voice like she doesn't believe it. "Jeff, I got it. The internship. For the summer. I got it." She looks at him with big, bright eyes, shaking his arm as she starts to bounce in excitement at the realization. "I got it," she squeals, "I got it!"

He laughs, and she throws her arms around his neck.

He lifts her off her feet, swinging her around. He knew she would get it. She laughs a little, and he squeezes her as she shifts to look at him. "I got it," she repeats, awed, and he grins back at her.

She gives another cute, girly squeal, hugging him, and it's impossible not to kiss her.

He is a lawyer in his thirties, somebody with his life together, and it doesn't really matter that his study group is like a family to him, or that she is in that group. No matter how you figure things, in the real world it's weird for him to have a pretty, peppy twenty-something girl for a best friend.

She acts like it isn't, but it totally is.

They are friends, though.

He texts her about as much as he plays Candy Crusher, which is a lot, and he meets her for lunch on Wednesdays to catch up, and it's a regular thing now. He knows she is allergic to shellfish, and she knows he fractured his wrist when he was sixteen, and she helps him buy his mother a birthday present after they go to the movies on a Monday. They're friends. Which is the problem.

One month after he graduates, he doesn't want to be her friend.

When she texts him about a night on the town with the girls, he doesn't expect to see her at the bar where he meets with a few old law buddies, and he doesn't expect the realization to hit him.

Her blouse is pink, and she wears a fuzzy, pinker cardigan over it, but she is in slim black jeans, those pink shoes have heels, and her hair is curled. Britta waves her arms about stupidly, Shirley nods exaggeratedly in agreement, and Annie giggles at them before her gaze lands on Jeff. Her eyes widen in surprise, but he grins at her, and she beams back. She gives a cute, girly wave before she turns her gaze back to Britta. They don't actually talk that night, but he doesn't mind.

He watches her as she sips a cocktail, and she isn't a teenager.

She isn't a kid.

She hasn't been in years, and he wants her, and it's time to own up to it. She doesn't need him to protect her. She knows who she is, is happy with her life, and he knows who he is, or who he wants to be. And there are twelve years between them, but he wants her, and she kisses him back.

In his kitchen, her cheeks flushed with excitement at the phone call. She kisses him back.

She sucks in a breath, startled, but her fingers curl in his sweater, and her mouth opens under his.

He shifts her against him, his hands on her thighs to hoist her up, to hold her properly, and she wraps her legs around his waist. He turns to trap her against the fridge, and he starts to pepper kisses along his neck as he catches his breath, and that's when she stops him. "Jeff, wait, wait."

He looks at her, her face flushed, eyes wide, lips plump, and his heart is in his throat.

"You can't take this back," she says warily, and her hands hover at his shoulders, hesitant.

He presses a kiss to her cheek, the skin warm against his lips. "I wasn't planning on it." He can't look at her face as he whispers the words, but he forces himself to say them. "I'm better than I used to be," he breathes. "And you're older than you used to be, and let's do it. Let's do this. Us."

His nose ghosts across her cheek as he moves to kiss her lips, and her breath catches.

"Okay." She nods. "Okay, yes," she mumbles, and he kisses the smile growing on her lips once, twice, three times, "yes, yes, yes," she says, her hands fisting in his hair, and she kisses him back.

(She likes to say that things started years ago, and he concedes the point when she pouts at him, because she decided to eat peanut butter from the jar as a ten o'clock snack, and her feet are in his lap, and it's impossible to argue with a pouty cheater when her kisses taste like peanut butter.

No matter where the story starts, this is what followed.)

His hands have inched beneath her sweater when Troy screams in terror.

She breaks away from him. "The group," she breathes. She smiles shyly. "Come on." She pushes gently on his chest, and he steps back as she slips off the counter. She runs her fingers through her hair, and he tries to focus. Right. The group. He wipes her lip gloss off his face. But she gives him a small, sweet Annie smile, and he touches her cheek, brushing his thumb against her mouth.

Her eyes flicker to his lips, and he leans in.

From the living room, Shirley shrieks. Right. The group. He hates the group.

Annie straightens pillows distractedly, trying to be subtle as she lingers. She isn't.

But nobody questions her claim that she wants to help Jeff clean up.

As soon as the door shuts behind Troy, her eyes meet his. It's quiet, the room between them. He takes a step towards her, and she launches herself at him. His hands find her waist as hers grasp his shoulders, propelling herself up, and he draws her into a kiss. "I thought they'd never leave," he murmurs into her lips, running his hands up her back. She giggles, and her teeth graze his lip.

He should've kicked the group from his apartment hours ago.

He presses hot, open-mouthed kisses to her throat, his hands tightening on her waist. "Do you want to stop?" he murmurs into her skin, and her pulse jackhammers against his tongue. Her fingers curl in his hair, but he draws back to look at her. "Annie." Her cheeks are bright, flushed.

"Jeff." She grins, her eyes dark, playful, a glittering want in them; it's as much encouragement as he needs. He slides his hands over her thighs, hoisting her up, and she giggles breathlessly in surprise, but he grins against her mouth as she wraps her legs around his waist, and he kisses her.

He drops her on the bed, pulling back from her to yank his shirt up over his head. She fumbles to drag her tights off, and he starts to help her, but they abandon the task at her ankles, and he surges in for another kiss as her hands snake across his back. He climbs onto the bed with her, and she scoots back to let him, trying to take her sweater off at the same time. But the buttons catch in her hair, and she laughs a little before he helps her toss the offending pink garment aside.

He kisses her quickly, tongue swiping into her mouth, before he unhooks her bra with one hand, the other tangled in her hair; he hardens painfully as she tugs the straps down, as he looks at her.

Her boobs are fantastic, and he always knew that, but, holy shit, look at them.

Look at her, hair tousled, pupils blown, naked from the waist up. Annie, naked. In his bed.

He kisses her roughly, skimming a hand up her stomach to cup a breast, a heavy weight in his hand; he squeezes, feeling her nipple pebble against his palm, and her breath catches in his kiss.

He slides his other hand down to her thigh to hitch her leg around his waist as he lays her back, and her hands fist in his hair, flit over his shoulders, skate along his arms. When his mouth ghosts over the spot on her neck that makes her gasp, he grins into her skin, and he looks at her.

Her lips are plump from kissing, and her eyes have that soft, adoring look.

She runs her hands up his stomach, her nails scratching dully against his skin.

He kisses the smug little grin on her face, kisses her throat, her collarbone, her breasts.

She breathes in sharply when takes a pert, rosy nipple into his mouth; her hands fist in his hair as he sucks softly, and she gasps when he bites down. He soothes the bite with his tongue, becoming impossibly hard at the soft, breathy noise she makes. He drags his lips greedily from one pale, perfect breast to the other, and it's better than every fantasy, better than everything ever.

It's a miracle that he manages to pull away from her, but he needs to get his jeans off now.

He rolls onto his side to shimmy his pants off, and she laughs at him.

Her own attempts to tug off her skirt make her breasts bounce, and she flushes when she realizes where his gaze is, but he grins as he meets her eyes, and he surges into a kiss. He doesn't let her deepen it, though; he kisses his way from her throat to her collarbone to her stomach, rolling her nipples between her thumbs as he mouths at the slice of skin that sits above her green underwear.

Annie, in her girly, green cotton underwear, her gaze intent on him as he looks at her.

He tugs off her underwear, she trembles a little when his hands run up her legs, and he smiles as he presses a kiss to her calf. He drags his lips across her thigh, stroking her hip lazily with his thumb, and she squirms. But her fingers sink into his hair, and her hands push lightly at his head.

He kisses the crease at her hip, grinning up at her. "Do you want something, Annie?" he asks.

"Like you don't know," she says, glaring, and he laughs before he presses his mouth to her.

She is already wet for him, and it isn't hard to work her up, tonguing at her clit, curling his finger inside her, his hand on her stomach to pin her to the bed as she starts to rock against his mouth.

He brings her to the edge, and he stops. "Jeff," she whines, shoving at his shoulder as he moves to his knees to shed his briefs. He bends over her for a kiss, and he slides his finger into her; eager, she rolls her hips against his hand, but he pulls his slick fingers away to pump his erection.

He fumbles for a condom from the drawer beside his bed with his other hand.

He doesn't take his eyes off her as he rolls one on.

She gazes at him with dark, heavy-lidded eyes, and he kisses the top of her breast, the curve of her shoulder, the corner of her lips. "Jeff," she says, whimpering; his hands guide her legs, bending her knees, and he starts to push into her at last. Slowly, inch by inch, into hot, tight bliss.

He pauses, kissing her. Draws away, and starts to push back in.

When he bottoms out inside her, her mouth finds his in a shaky, sloppy kiss.

Annie. He is inside Annie, and it's the most fucking fantastic moment in his life.

He gives her a moment to adjust before he pulls back out, surging forward as carefully as he can, and he knows this won't last long, but he isn't about to finish without her. She shifts, rocking into his thrust, but the timing is off, and "here, wait, wait," he pants. He grasps her thighs, rolling onto his back and taking her with him. She settles on his lap, his cock sheathed inside her, and she smiles breathlessly as she grips his shoulders, steadying herself when she rocks up on her knees.

She takes the reigns, sinking back down onto him.

As soon as he can, he catches onto her rhythm, thrusting up into her as she sinks down on him, and her gaze is heavy on hers. He can't look away, doesn't want to, because this is Annie, his silly, sweet Annie with her purple pens and her unbelievable boobs and her crazy, intense antics, his Annie, riding him. "Fuck, Annie," he mutters, and she leans in, her breasts brushing his chest.

He grunts at the new angle, kissing her, and she starts to move in a frenzy, mumbling, "there, fuck, Jeff, oh, oh, yes," and her hair tickles his face, and her nose brushes against his, and, "yes!"

She starts to clench around him, coming apart.

As soon as she slumps bonelessly against him, he flips them, and he slams into her.

Her breasts bounce as he fucks her, and her mouth is slack beneath his; but her breathing rises, her sweet, breathy little screams building a second time, and his last thrust pushes her up the bed.

He pushes into a few more times, slowly, lazily, as he finishes, and her hand strokes his back.

He forces himself not to collapse on her, settling on his back beside her. He pulls off the condom, tossing it. It's quiet for a moment as he stares at the ceiling, as he realizes he might have fucking blacked out for a second there, coming inside her. When he feels her gaze on him, he turns to look at her. She bites her lip, a soft, satisfied smile tugging on her mouth, and it makes him grin.

"You're welcome," he says, and she dissolves into giggles.

He wraps an arm around her waist, dragging her into his side. "Jerk," she says, and he kisses her.

Annie is a mouth breather in her sleep, and she keeps her hands curled up under her chin.

He stares at her, at the way she managed to roll herself up in his blankets in the night, hogging the sheets to craft a cocoon with them, and he wonders what the fuck is supposed to happen next.

How is he supposed to do this?

He told his therapist about his daydream, about the darkest timeline. But she didn't congratulate him on his realization that he didn't have to be scared to graduate. Instead, she asked about Annie, about why he imagined himself with her. He shrugged. "Does it really matter?" he asked.

She smiled, and she told him that he wasn't evil to want to be with Annie.

That was three weeks ago, and now Annie is in his bed, naked, wrapped up in his sheets.

He brushes the hair from her face, and she mutters at him to go away, "m'm sleeping." He smiles at nothing, and he tucks her cocooned little body against his. She smacks her lips, burrowing in.

He expects her to ask what this is, what they are.

She'll ask, and he'll admit that he doesn't know. It's the truth, and he'll remind her that she knows who he is, knows his history, knows that he isn't great at this. But he wants to be with her, has always wanted to be with her. It's weak, but he'll apologize for the way he treated her in the past.

Hopefully, she'll take him for his word.

They'll have a chance to do this, whatever this is.

But two weeks in, she hasn't asked.

(It's what he used to say to clients, to women who thought the guy who fucked them in his car wanted a relationship, to his mom when she asked when he was going to visit her, don't ask questions you don't want to know the answer to; it was a motto he embraced from an early age.)


They're at the kitchen table, and Troy keeps his arms crossed as he sighs dramatically, refusing to look at Jeff. Abed won't not look at Jeff. "Guys, we're just going to dinner," Jeff says. "That's it."

"What will you do after dinner?" Abed asks.

"Bring her back to us, obviously," Troy says, glaring at Jeff. "Her curfew is eleven."

"Right," Jeff says. "Again, I want to emphasize that —"

Troy sobs. "No, you listen!" he cries. "If you're going to date our Annie, you better treat her with respect. Like a princess! Because she is a princess!" He fans at his face, struggling not to tear up.

"It's not a date," Jeff says. "It's dinner." It isn't a big deal. They've been sleeping together for two weeks, but that doesn't mean they aren't friends, that they can't go for dinner on a Thursday night.

"I remember when she took her first step in the apartment," Troy says, sniffing.

"This is hard for him," Abed adds, and Troy waves a hand dismissively at him.

"And her first time in the Dreamatorium, and — and the first time she made the chocolate chips in my pancakes smile at me — and, oh, they grow up so fast!" He bites down on his fist, sobbing.

Jeff raises his eyebrows. "Well, this is fun." He pulls his phone from his pocket, glancing at Abed, who blinks at him. "Annie," Jeff calls, raising his voice, "how much longer do you need?"

"What are your intentions, Jeff?"

"To take Annie to dinner, Abed."

"There aren't two amigos," Abed says. "Or two musketeers. The trio is an established trope in television. Buffy, Willow, and Xander. Sam, Neal, and Bill. Michael, Fiona, and Sam. Laurie, Ellie, and Jules. They're my favorite, obviously. But I could go on. Would you like me to go on?"

"I'm not going to ruin your trio," Jeff says, exasperated.

It's quiet. Troy sniffles, and Jeff fiddles with his phone. He glances at Abed.

Abed stares back at him. "Do you know how many movies I've watched, Jeff? A lot. And I watch every genre. Thriller. Horror. I've picked stuff up. From television, too. Have you seen Dexter?"

Holy crap.

"Are you threatening to kill me?" Jeff asks. "Actually, don't answer that." He sighs, glancing at his phone for a moment to thumb absently through his apps. "I'm not going to hurt Annie, guys."

He looks back up, meeting Abed's stare.

Abruptly, Abed relaxes. "Cool." He nods. "Cool, cool, cool."

As soon as Annie emerges from her room, Jeff is on his feet. She smiles brightly, starting to greet him, and he cuts her off. "Let's go," he says, grabbing her hand. He shakes his head in explanation when she shoots him a cute, puzzled look, and she lets him drag her across the room.

They're at the door when Troy shoots to his feet. "Jeffrey. If you hurt her, I'll make you hurt."

He glares at Jeff, and Annie starts to smile. "Aw, Troy," she says.

"Noted," Jeff says, and he explains when they've left the apartment that Abed might've possibly threatened to kill him. Annie laughs, her hand hooked on his elbow, and promises to protect him.

She is snowed in at his apartment the next day, the sleet drumming loudly against the windows.

He talks her into the shower with him in the morning, and they have waffles for lunch.

In the afternoon, she finds an old, unopened puzzle that his aunt Millie bought him a while back, shoved into the closet for a reason. But she is thrilled at the find, and he watches Duck Dynasty while she pieces the thing together, sitting on the floor with her back to him; he suggests pieces every once in a while, toying absently with her hair from his position sprawled across the couch.

(For a long time, he told himself that he wouldn't know what to do with Annie.

He might've wanted her, but he couldn't have her.

She was Annie, and she deserved a relationship, but he couldn't be in a relationship with her, because, seriously, what the fuck would they do in a relationship? He liked scotch, boobs, cynicism, and reality TV; she liked to play house at a hotel, to participate in things, to try at life.)

The group celebrates his birthday with karaoke at a bar, but he leaves with Annie around ten.

As soon as they arrive back at his apartment, she jumps him.

Her hands snake their way beneath his shirt, shucking the material up until her nails scrape over his nipples, and his fingers fist in her skirt at the sensation. She draws away teasingly, though, and her little white hands flit over the buttons on her green, polka dot blouse as she gazes at him with big, Disney eyes. Four buttons down, and her pink, lacy bra is revealed, clasped in the front.

It's the first time she's worn one with that opens in the front.

She giggles as he covers her mouth with his.

He knows she expects him to steer her to his bedroom, but he doesn't; he walks her to the wall, trailing kisses down her throat as he catches his breath, and he starts to turn her. She blinks at him in surprise, but he squeezes her hip in reassurance, smiling against her cheek for a moment.

She kisses him before she turns to face the wall.

He rucks up her skirt as she tugs down her underwear, and he wraps an arm around her, holding her to his chest, palming her breast with one hand as his other unclasps his belt. As soon as his pants are at his ankles, he traps her against the wall, and she grinds into him. He groans into her hair, his lips grazing her ear, her neck, hovering over her pulse as he pushes into her from behind.

She gasps, rocking against him.

They find a rhythm quickly. "Jeff," she murmurs, and he knows what she wants.

Once he starts to talk, she comes apart around him; it's what always gets her. He whispers that he always wanted to fuck her like this, that he loves when her ass is pressed to his cock like this, that he loves how tight she is for him, for his cock, that he wants to fuck her until she can't walk.

He talks the way she likes, and he brings her over the edge twice before he finishes.

Afterward, he pulls her underwear back up for her, and she kisses him as he tugs his pants up.

She complains that his towels smell like mildew, and he gives her a credit card to buy new ones for him, because the game is on. He forgets about the exchange within ten minutes, but three days later she shows him the purple towels she bought to match the new swirly, purple shower curtain she purchased, but "there are gray swirls, too," she says, wide eyed, "gray, manly swirls!"

He sighs. It could've been worse; she could've found a floral print.

She claps when he agrees to keep the towels, the curtain, the fluffy purple toilet seat cover.

It's a few months before Britta decides to share her thoughts on the matter.

The group runs into Rich when they're in town for dinner, and Pierce invites him to join them at the bar. Honestly, Jeff tried to like Rich. But people aren't supposed to be that nice. It isn't natural. Two hours in, the group is at the bar with Rich, and Jeff is on his own in their old booth.

Apparently, this means the time is ripe for Britta to needle him.

She joins him in the booth with a cheap, girly beer, starting right in. She prattles on about how Jeff is lucky that Rich refused to date Annie, or Jeff would've lost his shot with her. "I mean, Annie would've driven off into the sunset with a guy like that," she says. "He is perfect for her."

"Pfft. He is not."

But Britta looks pointedly at the pair, and Jeff is forced to glance at them. "He isn't an insecure jerkosaurous like you, but he is funny, smart. Attractive. The guy is a nicer, niftier Jeff Winger."

"He collects stamps," Jeff says.

"Annie like stamps," Britta says.

If he weren't drunk, he might've been able to make a stronger, sounder argument. But he is drunk, and he glares at Britta, and he growls that Annie isn't with Rich. She is with him, and she is happy, and "I was the first person to show her how good sex can be," he says. He is good for her.

Better for her than Rich, or Vaughn. Or anybody. He is the best for her.

"Nice try, jerk," Britta says. "But you weren't the first person to give her an organism. I was."

He starts to reply, but her words sink in. "Wait, what?" He gapes at her.

She is smug for a second, only to notice his shock. "Not like that," she says. "After I learned that her boyfriend in high school wasn't stellar in the sack, I realized she hadn't had an orgasm before. I told her that she didn't need a man to be happy, and I taught her what to do." Proudly, Britta straightens in her seat. "That's right, Jeff," she says. "I taught your girlfriend how to masturbate."

He stares incredulously at her. "When?"

"Freshmen year. After the STD fair. I told her what to do, what to look for. She tried, reported back, and I gave her more pointers. Tried a second time, reported back. Only took a few tries. What's the problem? Are you upset at the idea that women don't need men for sexual pleasure?"

"There isn't a problem," Jeff says. "I'm just surprised. That's all." It's the truth. "I didn't realize you were that close with Annie." He raises his eyebrows at her, and she glares, crossing her arms.

"I'm friends with Annie," she says. Her expression grows defensive. "I know that I'm not always the nicest role model, okay? Pobody's nerfect, Jeff. But Annie is my friend." She glares at him, and he realizes what this is about, why Britta started this whole conversation. "Look, I love you," she says. "I do. I love you, and I owe you a lot. But I love Annie, too. She's like my little sister."

"I know," he says. He didn't, though. He hadn't realized Britta cared about Annie that much.

"This better be about more than just sex, Jeff. She wants more than that. She might pretend like she doesn't, but you know that isn't what Annie's about. She wants more, and she deserves more."

"I know. I care about her, too." He pauses, and his gaze drops. "If all I wanted was sex, I wouldn't risk my friendship with her. It isn't like there aren't other woman who'd have sex with me."

Britta is quiet, and his gaze travels to Annie.

"What do you want?" Britta asks.

Annie catches his eye, and she smiles, wiggling her fingers against her glass in this small, silly wave. He smiles back, and he looks at Britta. "Annie," he says. "I don't know much more than that, but. Annie. That's what I've got for you. I want Annie." It's the truth, and he holds her gaze.

She seems to appraise him. Finally, she nods. "Okay. Cool." She pauses. "So. How's your dad?"

His life isn't what he'd planned for while at Greendale, what he'd counted on, but things are good.

Things with the group are good, and things with Annie are good.

They watch television, and they participate in shenanigans with the group, and they make a pizza from scratch, because it's something Annie has always wanted to try, and "it'll be fun," she pushes, "and it'll be healthy, Jeff, which means you won't have to add three miles onto your run!"

They have dinner at an Indian place she wants to try, and he takes her bowling one night.

Bowling isn't like skiing, a thing that cool people are supposed to like to do.

It's distinctly, definitely uncool, this sport that isn't a sport. But his mother used to take him when he was a kid, and she would smoke with her friends while he played by himself. Needless to say, he was a natural. He might've won a trophy, or ten, but it isn't like he enjoys bowling as an adult.

He hasn't been in years, because he isn't a dork.

But Annie lights up when he mentions that he doesn't, you know, hate the idea, like, you know, in case she wanted to go but had assumed he wouldn't want to, well, he would take her. Bowling.

It isn't uncool to go to a bowling alley when the girl you're sleeping with wants to.

(He wants to cheer her up, to take her mind off Troy, who left, and Abed isn't dealing, she says, and he believes her, but he knows she isn't dealing either; she hasn't been herself in three weeks.)

She tries to talk smack with him as she laces up those awful, dorky shoes.

She isn't that bad, except she is; her technique is awful, and she starts to laugh when she realizes that his isn't, that he knows how to bowl. "Jeff, you're a bowler!" she says. He scoffs, but she propels herself up to kiss him, her hands on his shoulders as she smiles briefly against his mouth.

Her hand runs lazily over his stomach, and her thumb grazes his scar.

"What's this?" she asks, tracing the smooth, raised mark.

He shrugs, his eyes closed. "Happened when I was a kid." It's an answer that satisfies people, and he likes to leave his explanation at that. But her fingers flit over his skin, and he blames how tired is when he starts to talk, when he tells her what happened. How he wanted to know he was liked, how he made up a story, how he gave himself that scar. "I was a pretty weird kid," he adds.

It's supposed to lighten his story, and he forces a smile into his voice.

Annie doesn't respond, but she shifts, and her lips tickle his skin. She trails soft, feathery kisses down his stomach. He breathes in, breathes out, and she presses a long, lingering kiss to the scar.

She graduates in May, and her internship at a forensics lab starts in June.

The air conditioning unit in his apartment breaks in August. His plan is to avoid the kitchen until the super fixes it, but Annie promised a woman at the lab that she'd bring a dessert to the summer's end bash, and she commandeers his kitchen to try to bake a three-layer chocolate cake.

Unfortunately, she can't seem to bake one that isn't lopsided. It's a crisis.

He comes into the kitchen for a beer, and he is greeted with a flushed, hysterical Annie, her hair curling in a frizzy halo from the heat. She looks ready to burst into tears as she turns to face him.

"Shirley knows how to do this in her sleep," she says. "Britta knows how to do this! Britta!"

"Nobody cares how the cake looks," he placates. "As long as it tastes good, you —"

"I care how it looks!" she cries, eyes bugging. "Jeff, it looks like somebody sat on it!" Her face starts to crumple, and he knows he needs to nip this in the bud, but he is at a loss for what to say.

He kisses her. She can't cry when his mouth is on hers, right?

She jerks in surprise, trying to reprimand him. "Jeff!"

But he slides his hand into her hair, and she gives in after a moment.

He backs her against the counter, and he reaches for the cake, swiping his fingers in the frosting; he trails his fingers up her throat to cup her cheek. His thumb brushes over her mouth, and her lips part; she's lick his fingers clean. "Told you," he says, kissing her. "Tastes good." He doesn't wait for her reaction before he noses at her cheek, kissing away the icing he left a moment ago, and her hands curl into his shirt as he licks the sticky, chocolate smudges off her cheek, her neck.

It isn't long before they've managed to smear chocolate across his chest, in a line between her breasts, on his stomach, up her thigh, and he drags his hands through the sweat that coats her back when she straddles his hips. His back presses into the cool, hard kitchen tiles as she kisses him, and he licks away the chocolate that stains her mouth, the sweat that beads on her upper lip.

She pulls away to tug off his briefs, and he reminds himself to think. "Need a condom," he pants.

He needs to keep them in every room; as it is, this means a trip to the bedroom, and he expects Annie to spring to her feet. Instead, she pins him with this long, pointed look. "Or not," she says.

He stares, confused.

"I'm on the pill, and I'm clean." She smiles shyly at him.

Slowly, he nods. "Me, too. Clean, I mean." She raises her eyebrows, and he grasps her hips in answer. Her eyes are on his as she rises up on her knees, her hands splayed on his chest for balance when she sinks down onto him. He groans at the heat, and what started in a hurried, chocolate frenzy slows impossibly in that instant. She circles her hips, and "Fuck, babe," he says.

When she clenches purposefully around his bare cock, he knows this is his end.

He won't survive this, Annie riding him bareback on his kitchen floor.

As soon as her walls flutter around him, he takes her hips, guides her, slams her down onto him, and she rides him through her orgasm, bringing him to his. Afterward, she collapses on the ground next to him, and the sticky, sweltering kitchen is quiet around them. Her arm brushes his.

He turns his head to look at her. Her brow is crinkled. "What?" he asks.

"I'm going to have to buy a cake," she says, pouting.

He pats her side. "There, there."

She huffs at him, but a smile tugs on her lips, and he grins lazily at the ceiling.

He knows a shower is in order, one he intends to drag her to soon, but he can't bring himself to move quite yet. It's quiet, and he tries to remember the last time he had sex without a condom. He can't, and he glances at Annie. She smiles lazily back at him. They stay like that for a while.

Three weeks later, he pads into the living room, yawning, to find Annie in purple spandex, doing squats, an exercise video on. "Morning!" she greets, her ponytail bouncing as she hops around.

He rubs his eyes. "It's six in the morning," he says. She isn't fazed. "On Saturday," he adds.

"Go back to bed," she replies, cheerful. "And wake up in time to shower with me!" She flashes him a smile before she skips across the room to extract a giant blue exercise ball from the closet.

He stares at her, and they're together. In a relationship. The kind with texts to say you're going to work an hour late, with pancakes on Sunday morning, with giant blue exercise balls in his closet.

It was a relationship from the start, wasn't it? His longest relationship yet.

He is her boyfriend, the guy who orders Chinese for dinner when she is stressed, who watches Teen Wolf with her, who picks up her sweater from the dry cleaners. He goes on runs with her, and he jogs easily in circles around her while she whines at him, "to stop it with your long legs!"

"Jeff." Annie shoots him a funny look. "What's that face?" she asks, stretching over her exercise ball. Her own face is upside down as she smiles; everything about her in that moment is Annie.

"Nothing," he says. "Just — you look hot." He smirks, gaze sweeping over her.

She rolls her eyes, failing to suppress a smile. "Go back to bed, pervert."

(She confesses eventually that she might've decided to act on the assumption that they were in a relationship despite the fact that "you had yet to articulate properly your feelings for me." He starts to protest, and she smiles indulgently at him. "I'm sorry, you're right. When I think about a man who happily discusses his feelings and expresses himself openly, I think about Jeff Winger."

"Hey," he says, pointing a finger at her. She kisses his finger, and it's a relationship.)

It's months before he realizes that there are things they really need to talk about.

He texts about dinner, and she responds that she is busy with research, but "I would take a break for pizza!" He arrives at her apartment an hour later, pizza in hand, and she smiles in greeting.

But she doesn't move to stand, to take the pizza, to kiss him. Her focus returns immediately to the papers strewn over the table, and he glances at Abed, who is eating cereal as he watches TV.

Jeff puts the pizza on the counter and takes a beer from the fridge, twisting off the top before he looks at what, exactly, is more captivating than he is. His hip is at her shoulder, and she tilts her head to press her temple against his side in acknowledgment. "I've picked my top ten," she says, "and I'm narrowing that down, and I'll apply to my top five." Schools. The research is on schools.

"Okay," he says, sipping his beer. She reaches up, and he hands the bottle to her.

But his gaze stays on the papers, on the list she penned in purple. There are schools from across the country on her list, schools in New York, Philly, Boston, California, Washington D.C., but there isn't a single one in Colorado. He starts to ask why that is, but the words stick in his throat.

"Did you get ham on the pizza?" she asks.

He blinks at her. "I'm sorry, did you want ham on the pizza?" He snaps his fingers. "Shucks, I guess I must've missed the nineteen texts you sent me about how much you like ham on pizza."

She swats his side, and he steals his beer back.

But she takes a break for pizza, and they don't talk about the things they should talk about.

The waiter brings a dessert menu, and Jeff starts to shake his head. But when he notices that the restaurant has pecan pie, he orders a slice to go. "I thought you didn't like pecan pie," Shirley says, frowning. "After all, you didn't want my pecan pie last week." She narrows her eyes at him.

"I don't like pecan pie," he replies. "But Annie hasn't stopped raving about yours." He shrugs.

They have Thanksgiving with his mother in Denver. Annie twitches excessively the whole drive, tapping her foot, shifting in her seat, smoothing her skirt, and she peppers him with question after question about his mom. "I want her to like me!" she says, fussing with the clip in her hair.

It isn't until they're slowing to a stop in the gravel driveway that anxiety twinges in Jeff.

He loves his mother. For the most part, he likes her, too, and he wants Annie to meet her. But he knows that his mother isn't exactly what people expect. She used to work at a supermarket, smokes shamelessly, sports a frosty blonde perm, and likes to watch poker championships on TV.

(The taunt in the schoolyard was "white trash." But Jeff was smart, and his mother reminded him daily that he was better than those boys, and he charged twenty bucks a paper to the wealthy, stupid kids at his high school; he used the money to buy his mother diamond earrings from Sears.

His life as a lawyer taught him taste. The necklace that matches the earrings is from Tiffany's.)

He puts the car in park, and he smiles at Annie. She'll like his mother. It's impossible not to.

His mother bursts from the house, delighted, and envelops Jeff in a hug as soon as he steps foot on the porch. She smells like cigarettes mixed with perfume from J.C. Penny, and he gives her the sloppy, smacking kiss on the cheek that she likes. "Look at you!" she crows. "My handsome boy! I like your hair like that. It's distinguished!" She rambles on, and he preens under her praise.

He steps back at last to introduce Annie, hovering anxiously on the steps. "Hi, Ms. Fitzgerald."

"Annie!" she exclaims, and she tugs Annie into a hug. Annie is startled, and Jeff grins at her wide eyes as she pats his mother on the arm. His mother is a big woman, and Annie looks tiny compared to her. "Such a classy, beautiful girl! My boy certainly has an eye for beautiful things."

Annie blushes, and his mother exclaims at how her cheeks are such a lovely, pretty pink.

Like he said, it's impossible not to like his mother.

They listen to Loretta Lynn croon Christmas songs while they make dinner. Annie is tipsy on his mother's fruity beer within half an hour, and she tries to embarrass Jeff with tales about his time at Greendale. He objects to her blatant, unnecessary exaggeration, but his mother laughs, patting his cheek fondly. "But you know I'm proud. Takes a real man to admit his mistakes like you did."

He nods. He might've taken his time, but he did tell her eventually that he was at Greendale. She was disappointed with him, and she cried about how she failed him when he needed her most. But that was two years ago, and her ability to be disappointed in her son proved to be short-lived.

She starts to smoke after they've finished the pumpkin pie that Annie brought.

"Mom, come on," he says, admonishing.

"Oh, hush," she replies. "If I wanted your opinion, I'd ask for it." She taps her cigarette on the ashtray, voice breezy as she adds, "I'll quit when you give me a few grandchildren to play with."

Jeff chokes on his breath, and his mother asks Annie how she curls her hair like that.

She wants to go to the movies when she finishes her smoke, but she needs to dress up, and Jeff ends up on the porch with Annie, waiting for his mother to dress up to sit in a dark movie theater.

"I like her," Annie says.

Jeff nods. "Me, too."

"Actually, that's why I'm a little confused," she says. She pauses.

He raises his eyebrows at her. "Go on."

"If you like her as much as you seem to, why don't you visit her more often?" She bites her lip as she looks at him, her foot drawing lazy, invisible circles on the ground. "I mean, she adores you."

He nods. "I know." She waits, and he sighs. "I worked surprisingly hard to disassociate myself from everything I grew up with. From — from my dad leaving, from the guy my mom married after he left. From the guy she married after that guy left." He shrugs. "It's not like I haven't checked up on her. I bought her this house, you know. Back before my career was in the dumps."

"She might've mentioned that once, or twice, or fifteen times," Annie says, teasing.

He grins. "I'm a good son, what can I say. It's another reason I'm awesome."

Annie snorts, knocking her ankle against his. "She is a lot like you," she says. "Charming."

"What?" he says, amused. It isn't exactly the first adjective he'd have used.

"She is," Annie insists. "She isn't charming in the same way you are. I mean, she doesn't use her powers for evil." He gasps mockingly, and she grins at him. "But she is charming, and she is sharp, too. Knows how to deflect. I have a feeling the woman knows how to get what she wants."

He nods, smiling a little. "She does. It's true."

"Her mannerisms are like yours, too," Annie says. "The way she talks. The faces she makes."

He starts to say that she is making things up now, but she touches his shoulder suddenly, tilting him towards her, and she kisses his cheek. "She likes you, too, you know," he murmurs. Annie hums contentedly in response, her head resting on his shoulder, and he kisses the top of her head.

Finally, his mother steps onto the porch in a loud, floral print dress. "How do I look?" she asks.

"Stunning," Jeff says, standing.

His mother swats lightly at him. "Oh, Jeffrey." She sighs happily, shaking her head. "Always such a sweetheart." She glances at Annie. "He really is the sweetest, my boy. The very sweetest."

She hooks her arm with his at the same moment that Annie slips her hand over his other elbow, and they talk him into seeing an awful movie about a couple that falls in love in dreams, or something. When they drop his mother back at her house after the movie, she hugs Jeff twice, kisses Annie on the lips, and insists that they take Cheerwine from the fridge to drink in the car.

She waves from the porch as they drive away, and Annie waves back. "That was nice," she says, curling up sleepily in her seat, and he pops open a Cheerwine can with one hand. It wasn't awful.

They've been together for a year when she texts that her throat hurts.

He grabs ice cream for her after work.

But when he shows up at her apartment, he realizes she is sick for real, the gross, pasty sick. She glares miserably at him from the couch. "Tonsillitis," she says. "Again." Her voice is funny, and her face is puffy from tears, and this is going to be worse than when Troy had the chicken pocks.

It's a week before she is better.

Three weeks after that, he takes her to the hospital for surgery to remove her tonsils.

She is hilarious when doped up, insisting that she feels lighter without tonsils, walking into walls, explaining to Jeff how she loves that carrots are crisp; he takes fifteen videos on his phone.

The doctor explains that she needs to take meds for the pain every four or five hours, which means she needs to remember to take a dose at night, or she'll wake up in horrible, horrible pain.

But she isn't listening to the warning, and Jeff knows that one is on him.

His phone beeps to wake him. She doesn't stir, but he stumbles from the bed to fetch the syrup, and she mumbles sleepily when he turns on the light. He returns with the medicine to find her burrowed under the blankets. "Come on, babe," he murmurs, pulling back the sheets, and he coaxes her to sit up. As soon as he spoons the stuff into her mouth, she sinks back into the sheets.

"Gross," she whispers.

He stares at her. She smacks her lips softly in her sleep, and he is in love with her.

There is a soft, polite knock on the door. "Is everything okay in there, sir?" she asks, concerned, plain, pointed heels are visible through the six inches the dressing room door rises from the floor.

"Fine," he breathes, and Annie smirks, gazing up at him with her big, wide Disney eyes, his cock in her mouth. He clears his throat. "I'm fine!" he says, but Annie drags her pretty pink tongue along his cock, her head bobbing forward to take him deeper, and he groans through gritted teeth.

Her cheeks hollow, sucking.

"Do you need something in another size, sir?"

"Really, I'm great," he says, "I don't need —" but his words end on a high, strangled note when his cock hits her throat, and Annie holds his hips while he comes; he pushes his fingers into her hair, is able to feel her swallowing, and her glossy pink mouth sucks his cock until he is finished.

She tugs his briefs up, tucking him away before she rises to her feet.

She wipes her hand with her mouth, pleased as punch, and he tugs her to his chest, squeezes her ass, kisses the laughter off her lips. They leave the dressing room before he is able to sink to his own knees, but he decides not to buy the jeans that she convinced him looked better on the floor.

He wraps his arm around her shoulders, nodding at the wide-eyed woman in plain, pointed heels.

In the end, things come to a head when they're forced to. In March, she hears back from schools. Two rejections, and four acceptances. Abed volunteers to devise a few simulations to help her pick a school, and they're in the Dreamatorium for hours. It's eleven when she shows up at Jeff's.

"How'd it go?" he asks, clicking off the TV.

She stomps the snow off her boots. "I realized something I didn't want to admit," she says, and she looks sadly at him, her nose a shiny pink from the cold, her fluffy red earmuffs on, snow melting in her hair. She takes a deep breath. "I haven't wanted to, but we need to talk. About us."

He picks at the peeling label on his beer. "I know."

"I've thought about this a lot in the last year," she says, tugging off her coat, her boots, her earmuffs. She smoothes her skirt needlessly, tucks her hair behind her ear. "I know what I want."

He nods.

"I want to go to Boston. It's an amazing program, and I loved the city when I visited a few years ago. It's a whole new start, and I want it." She pauses. "I thought about staying. My career has always been important, but my relationships are, too, and I — I don't want to leave. You. I don't want to leave you. But I have to go, Jeff, I have to. This is something I've wanted my whole life."

He takes a deep breath, but she doesn't give him the chance to respond.

"If I'd gone away for college, the situation might be different," she starts. "But I —"

"Didn't go away for college," he says. "I get it. Seriously, I do." He smiles. "I know how hard you've worked for this, and you deserve to go to whatever school you want. The truth is I've actually thought about this, too. About what happens with us. And here's the thing. I'm a lawyer."

He pauses, and she starts to nod, but, "I don't know what that means," she says.

"They need lawyers in Boston." In fact, he might have a better shot at a job he likes in Boston.

But she blinks at him. "Are you — are you saying that you'll move to Boston with me?"

"Yeah. Yes." He nods. "That's exactly what I'm saying." He smiles, but she hasn't responded yet, her mouth slack in surprise as she stares at him, and he starts to panic. "When you started applying to schools, it got me thinking. I realized that I didn't want to lose you, but you deserved to have everything you wanted. This is the answer. If you want to go to Boston, I'll go with you."

"Jeff," she says, stunned. But she doesn't go on, doesn't respond, and he is left to wait.

He needs her to respond, to say she wants him to come. He is in love with her. He wants to do this, to move with her. But for the first time, he realizes that Annie might not be in love with him.

It's not like she's told him she is. She might not want him to move to Boston with her.

"Well, what do you think?" he pushes. "The silence isn't really working for me."

"Is this for real?" she asks, the barest trace of a smile on her lips.

He nods, and he stands. "This is for real. I want to do this. I'm ready to do this."

Her smile comes to life, and "I love you," she breathes, bright eyed.

For a moment, he is stunned, but —

"Good," he says. He grins. "Good, 'cause I, ah, I love you, too," he says, and she laughs softly, breathlessly, clapping a hand to her mouth. "I love you, and I'm going to go to Boston with you."

She launches herself at him.

He laughs, dipping his head to kiss her. But she ends the kiss a moment later, unable to taper her smile, peppering his face with a dozen happy, hurried kisses. "I love you," she says, over and over, and he draws her in closer, slips a hand into her hair, catches her lips in a proper kiss at last.

She pushes her palms flat against his shoulders, and he hoists her up obediently; her arms wrap around his neck, her legs around his waist. "I'm such a good boyfriend," he says, and she laughs.

They invite the group to his apartment for dinner. Annie orders a sheet cake from Food Lion for the occasion, and the words We are moving to Boston! is written in purple frosting on top. But the group doesn't meet up as regularly as they once did, and she stalls on the cake, on the reveal.

"Bullshit," Britta crows. "Bull. Shit, Winger." She sits back in her seat. "Pick up that pile. Pick it up. Ooh, ooh," she sings, dancing dumbly in her seat while he gathers up the cards in the middle.

"One four," Annie says. Jeff makes a face at how cheery she is. She sticks her tongue out at him.

"Four fives," Pierce says.

"Baloney!" Annie cries, delighted, and Pierce sighs.

"This game is stupid." He takes the cards she hands him.

"I told you not to say you have four unless you have four," Chang says. "Honestly, you guys are horrible at this game. Two sixes." He glares around the table, daring somebody to challenge him.

"Three sevens," Abed says.

"Bulldean!" the Dean trills.

"Again, I have to ask," Jeff says. "It's clear to you which word you're replacing, right?"

The Dean chuckles, stroking Jeff on the chest, and Abed reveals that he did, in fact, have three sevens. "Oh, phooey," the Dean says, sighing. Shirley puts down two eights, and Chang announces that he needs to go numero dos, amigos, which means the game is officially on pause.

"So. What is this shindig about?" Britta asks. "One nine."

"We just wanted to hang out with our friends!" Annie says.

"One ten," Jeff says. "Actually, there is something we wanted to tell you."

He looks at Annie, who deflates. But she nods, taking a deep breath. "I think it might be time for cake," she announces, rising to her feet. Shirley smiles sweetly, saying that she would've been happy to bring a cake had she known they wanted to enjoy a cake, and "Chang!" Annie exclaims.

Chang runs suddenly from the kitchen, Annie on his heels.

Jeff frowns. "I thought you had to go to the bathroom," he says.

Chang swipes at the icing on his cheek. "I was hungry, and you had cake that you didn't want to share with your guests! But now I know your Changret! Threaten me, and I'll reveal everything!"

Exasperated, Annie crosses her arms over her chest. "Nobody is going to threaten you."

"THEY'RE MOVING TO BOSTON!" Chang shouts, brandishing an accusatory finger at them.

In the stunned, awkward silence that follows, nobody knows what to do. "Surprise," Annie tries, smiling weakly at them, and the dam breaks in two seconds flat; everybody starts to talk at once.

But Jeff hasn't lost his touch. One gesture, and the group is silent. "Okay. Here's the deal."

He explains that he wants to try his luck at law in Boston, which is, coincidentally, where Annie wants to go to school. Again, there is silence. "Well." Annie musters a big, bright smile. "Who wants some vanilla cake?" She glances hopefully from face to face. "Vanilla cake? Vanilla cake?"

"It's actually quite delicious," Chang adds. "I really enjoyed it." The Dean bursts into tears.

It isn't the best idea they've had to move in the summer, but they do, and the humidity is awful.

The apartment they find is older than he is, and the whole place smells faintly like Italian food from the restaurant two floors below, but the windows are huge, Annie is in love with the molding in the bedroom, and they each have their own walk-in closet. Plus, the price was right.

They're low on cash, but Annie is crafty where money is involved; she cuts coupon like a pro, makes the curtains with fabric she found on sale, pays $40 for a dresser from Goodwill that she paints black to cover the weird, circular burn on top. She is crafty, and she is detailed; receipts for everything are put in a three-ringed binder while the budget is kept on an Excel spreadsheet.

Jeff decides they need to reward their frugality with a splurge.

He buys a 54" television for the main room, and they watch Shark Week to celebrate their move.

She paints her toenails a sparkly blue while they watch, her feet propped up on his thigh. When the shark on screen attacks a dolphin, Annie claps her hand to her eyes. He squeezes her calf, amused when she peeks through her fingers to spy on the bloodshed. "I hate sharks," she mutters.

"We don't have to watch," he says.

But she insists that she wants to watch. She sidles up to him, tucking herself under his arm. His sleeves are rolled up, and her nails run absently along his arm. He wasn't familiar with sweet, absent touches before her, didn't know how much he liked to be touched like that, to be cared for.

He isn't able to find a job for weeks, and he remembers why he avoided relationships in the past.

His job in Greendale was the worst, but it was a job. He was an idiot to leave without a thought. Annie gives him a soft, sympathetic smile, and she says that a job is around the corner, that he needs to be positive. But he is moody, miserable, and mean, needling her until they're in a fight.

She cries to Britta on the phone for three hours about what a jerk he is.

They've squabbled, but this isn't like their fights in the past.

This isn't about how bad the young, idealistic teenage girl makes him feel, or about how to repair his friendship with her. The stakes are higher. This is about his relationship with her, and he remembers why he kept to the easy stuff for years, why he refused to commit like he has to her.

But he is committed to her, and he grabs the phone from her hand, hanging up on Britta. "Jeff!" she cries, indignant. He tosses the phone onto the bed behind her, and he takes a deep breath.

She doesn't give him the change to apologize. Instead, her arms are suddenly around him, her cheek pressed to his chest, and she says that she knows he'll find a job, and he can't give up yet.

Slowly, he wraps his arms around her. "I'm sorry I'm a jerk."

She nods. "Me, too. That you're a jerk, I mean." She pauses. "Thank you for hanging up on Britta, though. She wanted to talk about what my decision to be in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable, man-child with daddy issues says about my neurosis and self-worth."

He chuckles, and she props her chin on his chest to look at him when he murmurs that he might have a few ideas why she is in a relationship with a rugged, ridiculously attractive man like him.

"I know, I know," she says, sighing. "I'm as shallow as you are." He opens his mouth to retort, but she kisses him, pushing him back towards the bed, and "shut up," she mumbles into his grin.

(They don't fight a lot, but there are spats over the years. One about money, one about his father, one after she buys them plots in a cemetery. But he doesn't really remember how most end, because they always end the same way. She loves him, and he loves her. They're in this for good.

He told her once that he'd break a light sweat for her.

It wasn't the truth. It never is. The effort she rates is always, always off the charts.)

Three weeks later, he walks into an interview only to come face to face with Nick Santos. "Jeff Winger, my man!" Nick says, clapping Jeff on the shoulder, and he precedes to explain to everybody at the firm how he went to law school with this balding, old bastard, and Jeff Winger is the best in the business. "I swear to God, this guy could charm the habit off a nun!" he crows.

As it turns out, his good, old buddy Nick is a partner at the firm. Jeff walks away with a job.

They stay in Boston for the holidays that year. He puts up a tree that Annie decorates with tiny silver menorahs, and she hangs stockings on the wall, insisting that they open them on Hanukkah. He is stunned at the new Clarisonic skin cleansing system that she stuffed into his.

He drags her underwear down her legs, trailing kisses up in thanks; when she comes against his tongue, the tiny blue lights that twinkle on the tree make shadowy patterns on her flushed cheeks.

(It's weird, celebrating the holidays without the group. But things have changed a lot. Britta lives in Chicago with a reedy, mustached man she met at Whole Foods, and Abed is in L.A. for his career, and the group hasn't really been a group in a long, long time. Honestly, Jeff misses them.

But they haven't lost touch, and they'll find the time to visit each other.

In the end, the group doesn't have to be a group; they're a family, and family is for keeps.)

His job with a reputable, successful firm means that Jeff isn't forced to buy cheap, tacky presents for everybody, and he gives in to the temptation to splurge on gifts for Annie. He buys her the book she heard about on NPR, and the perfume from Macy's that she likes, and earrings, too, with a necklace to match. But those earrings don't go with the dress she bought for the party at his firm, which means he needs to buy her a pair that do, and he buys a bracelet to go with those.

"This is too much," she says, fingering the pink pearl that hangs on the necklace.

"I like to buy nice things," he says. "And I like you." She drags her gaze from the jewelry to look at him when he leans in. "And I'll like how you'll look in bed with nothing but that necklace on."

He grins, and she smiles slowly back at him in that way that undoes him. Her teeth drag across her shiny pink bottom lip, and she tilts her head at him, her smile widening, and he forces his eyes up from her mouth to meet his gaze. She tastes like strawberry lip gloss when he kisses her.

Fireworks are visible from their apartment on New Year's Eve that year.

They stay in, and she clinks her appletini against his scotch when the fireworks go off.

When they go to the grocery store, he parks next to a dented, green volvo. It's a mistake, because there is a dog in the volvo, and the windows aren't cracked, and Annie is gutted at the realization.

"Look at him! Jeff, his tongue lolling like that is bad! He is dehydrated!"

It's a poodle, the big kind, and it presses its nose to the window, tongue swiping at them.

"The owner probably ran into the store for a second, and he'll be right back," Jeff says, steering Annie away. But when they return half an hour later, the car hasn't left, and the poodle stares dolefully at them. Annie drops her bags in dismay; Jeff winces as the egg carton hits the ground.

"What do we do?" Annie asks, eyes wide with horror.

He opens the trunk to his car, starting to load the groceries. "There is nothing to do."

"I need to call 911," she says, nodding at her own words.

"No, you don't," he says. But her phone is in her hands, her fingers fumbling over the screen, and he grabs it away from her. "I'll call them," he says. "I'll call." Reluctantly, she nods, and her attention is drawn back to the poodle. She presses her hand to the window, and Jeff dials nobody.

He talks to his own voicemail, explaining the situation.

Unfortunately, he doesn't pay as much attention to Annie as he should, and he doesn't know how she manages to extract the hammer she keeps in her car "to break the window in an emergency!" but he sees what is about to happen right before it happens. She shatters the window in one blow.

In an instant, the door is unlocked, and the poodle is in her arms. Dammit.

"Oh, sweetheart!" she exclaims. "Jeff, quickly! He needs to hydrate!"

Jeff buys a water from the vending machine, and the poodle laps up every drop from his cupped hands as Annie looks on. It's the position they're in when a man with a straggly goatee stalks towards them. "The fuck?" he cries. "What the hell is your problem? What'd you do to my car?!"

Annie straightens, shoulders back. "I saved a life, that's what!"

"Are you ready to tell that to the police?" the man says, glaring at her.

"Okay, okay," Jeff says, stepping in. "Look, she was worried about your dog. It isn't a big deal; it's not a reason to involve the police. I'll pay for the window." He gives the man a calming smile.

Annie isn't as calm.

"It is a big deal!" she yells. "If I hadn't broken into your car, this poor little boy could've died, you horrible man! It is over seventy degrees today, which means inside your car it is an inferno!"

"It's my fucking dog, lady, and my fucking car!" He looks at Jeff. "Man, you better pay for it!"

"I don't think you deserve to be a pet owner!" Annie blusters, her cheeks flushed. "Which is why I'm taking him! I'm taking your dog. He's mine! I'm taking him!" She clutches the poodle closer.

"Whoa, whoa," Jeff says, "I think we've reached the crazy quota for the day, babe. Let's —"

But no one bothers to listen to him, naturally, and things escalate quickly after that; the man yanks his phone from his pocket, Annie starts to lecture him, he reaches for his poodle, and Annie punches him in the face. She punches him, and Jeff gapes as the man stumbles away from her, clutching his bloody nose. "Shit, you broke my nose!" he shouts. "Shit! Motherfucker! Shit!"

Annie glares at him, her chin trembling for a moment. "It's what you deserve!"

The man glares back, taking a menacing step towards her. "The fuck it is, bitch!"

Okay, no.

Jeff moves in, cutting off his path to Annie. "Hey, back off. This is finished. I'm sorry about your car. And about your nose. But you did lock your dog in your car for an hour, and that's a pretty douche move. Understandably, my girlfriend was pretty upset, and your face attacked her fist —"

"Dude, your girlfriend is a crazy bitch!" the guy shouts. "And —"

Jeff punches him. The guy howls in pain. "Want to repeat that, bitch?" Jeff spits.

The scene devolves into chaos. They have an audience, and somebody must've called the police, because there are sirens in the distance, and the douche steps on glass from his broken window that cuts into his flip-flop at the same time that the poodle pees on Annie. It's basically a disaster.

In the end, Jeff pays for the window, and the guy doesn't press charges.

When they manage to escape the parking lot at last, the car is quiet. The light turns red, and Jeff slows to a stop. He glances at Annie to find her gaze on him, and she smiles slowly. "Do you realize you fought a man to defend my honor?" she asks, this pleased, preening look on her face.

He raises his eyebrows at her. "Did I?"

"As soon as he said I was crazy, you punched him." She smirks at him.

"Well, you are crazy," Jeff says. "But I enjoy the crazy. Clearly, the pimply, white trash punk with poor personal hygiene doesn't treasure that personality quirk like I happen to. Guy was a dick."

She hums in agreement, but she isn't able to taper her smile.

The light is green, and somebody honks at him; he focuses back on the road. But he reaches for her hand, brings her fingers to his mouth, and she giggles when he kisses her knuckles. She intertwines their fingers, and their hands settle on her leg. He knows how to drive with one hand.

(He gives her a puppy for her birthday two years later; mostly, it's a pre-emptive strike, because he knows she bookmarked the SPCA on her computer, and he isn't about to shack up with a three-legged dog that pees on the carpet because Annie is a softie. He has a client who breeds Border Collies, and he picks the fluffiest in the bunch, one with floppy ears and big brown eyes.

"Look at her sweet, floppy ears!" Annie says, cooing, and Jeff gives himself a pat on the back.)

She drags Jeff around Boston that summer. He is taken to a Red Socks game, on a ghost tour, to the Franklin Park Zoo. She claims her favorite thing is the giraffes at the zoo. Personally, Jeff likes when a guy in black leather pants decides to sing I Believe in a Thing Called Love to Annie.

They're on the subway, and the car is packed when the guy rises from his seat. His voice starts at a low, soft hush, rises at the chorus, and is a wail when he drops to his knees, singing to Annie, who backs into Jeff, and the whole thing is pretty much the greatest thing to happen in the world.

"It was harassment!" Annie exclaims.

"There was a song in his heart, babe," Jeff says. "He believes in a thing called love."

He teases her for a few days. But her classes start the next week, he takes on a case at work that bumps his hours up to sixty hours a week, and they're like ships in the night. She is stressed about how difficult her classes are this semester, too, and he walks in with Chinese food on a Thursday a week into September to discover that she is about to have a meltdown in the kitchen.

He decides to sing to her.

She isn't impressed, but "Just listen to the rhythm of my heart!" he sings, dodging the pencil she throws at him while he circles the table. The moment she stands up to chase him, he grabs her around the waist, hoisting her into the air, and sings as obnoxiously as he can. She tries to escape, to push his face away, and he sings into her ear, "touching you, god, you're touching me!"

She laughs at last when he attempts to sing the guitar solo, and he releases his hold on her.

When her feet hit the ground, she turns, and he tries to sing into her mouth, but she bites his lip, and her hands tug at his shirt. He kisses her, and she pushes him back onto the bed. "Shut up."

He grins, and he pulls shirt over his head while she works on his belt.

But when she sinks onto him, he isn't able to resist.

"Annie, babe," he whispers, one hand on her hip, the other at her breast, rolling a nipple between his fingers. He rises to meet her, and she gasps at the change, but her arms circle his neck. "Hey."

"What?" she asks.

"Can't explain," he says, and her brow wrinkles, "all the feelings that you're making me feel."

"Sweetie, no," she says, realizing.

"My heart's in overdrive, Annie, and you're behind the steering wheel." She slaps a hand over his mouth, but he shifts away to break into song, falling back onto the bed. "Touching you, touching me, touching you, god, you're touching meeeeee!" He laughs when she smacks his chest, but he doesn't stop. She starts to laugh, too, pausing above him when his voice rises impossibly in pitch.

"Shut up!" she says, trying not to laugh. He quiets, and she resumes her slow, steady pace on him. She leans in, her hands on his chest to steady herself. But she eyes him. Her cheek trembles.

He grins slowly at her, and "I wanna kiss you every minute, every hour, every day!" he sings.

She loses it.

She gasps for breath through her laugher, unable to carry on atop him, and she pitches forward, shaking with laughter against his chest, and he sighs dramatically. "Don't! It's your fault!" she pants, laughing, and he rolls them over, runs his hands up the backs of her thighs, and hoists her legs up before he pushes back into her. Her hands slide against his cheeks, and she smiles at him.

"I'm good, I'm good," she claims.

But her eyes meet his, and her lips twitch, and she dissolves into laughter under him at the same moment he trills, "I believe in a thing called love, ooh!" His rhythm falters, but he picks up the pace, thrusting wildly into her, and her laughter gives way to a gasp when she arches off the bed.

She comes apart on him, collapsing in tearful, breathless giggles, and she tries to sing, "touching you, touching me!" with him. His voice cracks on a long, high note, and she surges up to kiss him, grinning into his mouth. Her fingers press into his shoulder blades, and she clenches her walls purposefully around him. "Come on, baby," she whispers, and he jerks his release into her.

It isn't seven in the morning yet, and it's Monday, and he knows the moment he sees her.

He wants to marry her.

Three years together, and marriage was never really a thought. But.

She doesn't notice him as she sings along to the lame nineties song on the radio, and he watches her moonwalk her way from the counter to the fridge. She wiggles her butt stupidly, twirls around with the milk in hand, singing, "all the things I used to know," and he wants to marry her.

They're in Colorado for a week at Christmas that year, and he meets Shirley for lunch.

"I need your help," he says. "It's about Annie."

Shirley smiles. "Ooh, did she get that job she wanted?" She brightens at the thought. "Do you want to surprise her with a celebration? Oh, Jeffrey! How nice! I'm happy to bake a cake for her."

"Actually, it's —" His stomach tightens suddenly, nervously, and he doesn't know why. But he hasn't said the words yet, and Shirley stares, waiting, confused. "She hasn't heard about the promotion," he hedges. "Actually, um." He sighs. And says it. "I want to ask Annie to marry me."

"Jeffrey!" Shirley cries, delighted.

He chuckles. "Yeah." This stupid, inadvertent smile tugs insistently on his mouth. He is going to ask Annie to marry him. This is real. "And I need to buy a ring, but I don't know where to start."

The waiter arrives with their salad, and Shirley beams at Jeff as she assures him that she is happy to help, because she knows men are useless at jewelry, and she knows Annie likes yellow gold, and, "I always knew you two would end up together," she gushes. She leans in, lowering her voice as she adds, "I prayed for it." She hums happily to herself, drowning her salad in dressing.

Jeff shrugs. "Well, looks like prayer works."

"After living in sin for four years, it's about time," Shirley says, but she doesn't wait for a reply. She is back on the ring, on diamonds, on opals, what about this cut, or that cut, the classiest kind.

He takes her to the bistro where the napkins are folded on the plates like swans.

"Do you know what we haven't talked about?" he asks.

She twirls the cake on her fork in the sauce that decorates her plate in large, loopy swirls, and she smiles at him with chocolate on her lip. "What?" The tacky, beaded pin that Britta gave her glitters in her hair, and he realizes that he hasn't told her that he likes her purple, ruffly dress yet.

He clears his throat. "The future. Our future." He pauses. "Did you want to get married?"

She blinks. "I thought you didn't believe in marriage," she says.

"I didn't. Or at least I wasn't interested in it. If I hadn't met you, I doubt I'd ever have considered it. But I did meet you." He shrugs. "My problem was that I always thought that marriage wasn't real, that it didn't last. But I met you, and I love you in a way that I didn't used to think was real."

She eyes him. "Are you saying that you'd like to marry me?" she asks. Her lips twitch.

"I might be convinced to."

She laughs. "Romantic." She tilts her head. "I love you, Jeff. I want to be with you, and I'd like to marry you. Eventually, I mean." She bites her lip. "But I decided a long time ago that I didn't need to be married to you in order to spend my life with you. I'm happy with how things are. Honestly, you don't have to worry that I'm unhappy, or that I'm about to give you an ultimatum."

He reaches for her hand across the table. "I know. This isn't about that."

"Okay. What is this about?" she asks.

"It's about the fact that I might like to marry you," he says.

She smiles softly at him, and she nods. "I might like to marry you, too." Her cheeks are flushed.

"Good to know," he says, and she laughs, rising up. He meets her for a kiss over the table.

But when she sits back, her hand slips from his, and she picks up her fork. He swallows thickly, pushing back his chair, and buttons his jacket while he rises to his feet. She glances at him in surprise. He circles the table, reaching into his pocket, and she breathes in sharply, her eyes wide.

She claps a hand to her mouth when he gets down on one knee.

Suddenly, his heart is in everything at once. Lodged in his throat, pounding in his ear, swooping in his stomach. He releases a shaky breath. "I love you. This is what I want, and I think you admitted about five seconds ago that this is what you want, too." He fumbles with the small box.

Her hands graze his, and she opens the box for him.

He looks at her. "Will you marry me?"

"Yes." The word is a whisper, but she nods. "Yes," she says, breathless. "Yes, Jeff, yes, yes!"

The people around them have started to cheer, but his whole world in that moment is Annie. She laughs at the way his hands shake, and he laughs with her. This is real. Her hands touch his shoulders, touch his face. He kisses her palm, taking her hand in his to put the ring on her finger.

They stare at her hand for a moment before she tugs on his jacket to pull him up.

The ring presses against his cheek when she cups his face, and he laughs into her mouth.

She asks when they're snowed in at the apartment. "Do you want to have kids?"

"What?" His gaze snaps to her.

The television is on, and she started the puzzle on the table yesterday, but she turns to face him on the sofa, curling her legs. "I realized that I don't actually know where you land on that. It's something else that we've never talked about. I mean, all I know is that your mom wants you to."

He chuckles. "Right. Um. Honestly, I never figured I would."

"But you never figured that you'd want to get married," she says, searching.

"I don't — I don't think I'd really be a good dad," he says. "Kids were never really my thing."

She stares at him. "Oh. Okay." She sits back. "I guess I'd be a pretty crappy mom. I was never great with kids. I mean, Ben proved that I'm not a baby whisper like Britta." She stares at the TV.

"But you want a kid," he says. He knows she does.

"Well, I always figured I'd have kids," she says. "Do you really not want a kid?" She looks at him like she doesn't know how not to, and her eyes are wide. "Not ten, or something. Just two. One."

"I'd be an old dad," he says.

"Not that old," she argues. He sighs, and she winces. "I'm sorry. I don't want to make you say that you'll have kids when you don't want to. And we don't have to have kids. It isn't a deal breaker for me. I think I'd like them, but I'd rather have you. If I had to choose, I'd choose you."

He smiles. "Good to know."

"Okay. No kids." She looks back at the TV. "I should check on my roast."

She disappears into the kitchen before he is able to stop her. He doesn't think he'd be a great dad, and he'd definitely be an old one. But she'd be a good mom. And he doesn't like kids, but he'd like their kid.

He follows her into the kitchen, coming to stand behind her. She straightens against him.

"One," he says. She glances at him, and he holds up a single finger. "One kid."

Slowly, she smiles. "Okay." He grins, and she squeals suddenly, loudly, making him laugh whens she turns in his arms. "One kid," she says. "In a few years, or whenever you're ready. Just one." She kisses him, and he squeezes her hip. "I love you," she breathes, hugging him. "So, so much."

(Their son isn't a year old when Annie starts to talk about how she wishes that she'd had a sibling as a kid. How she was lonely after her father died, how there was nobody to talk to when her mother worked constantly, how Annie was without friends, and a sibling would've been somebody to be friends with, to talk to, to count on. Doesn't he think he would've liked a sibling?

"I don't suppose you'd like another kid," he says. They have another kid.)

"Do you know I was married for twelve years?" Pierce asks. "I mean, to one wife."

"Actually, I didn't," Jeff says.

Pierce nods. "My second wife, Muriel. Twelve years. My first wife, well, that lasted about two months." He chuckles. "But when I met Muriel, my whole life changed. She was the most beautiful woman I'd ever met. Actually, she was a lot like Annie. Smart. Sweet. Always believed the best in people. She was the first person to make me feel like I really mattered. Next to Mom."

He pauses when the barber asks him to face to the left.

"What happened?" Jeff asks.

"Aneurysm. One day in the shower. Couldn't be helped." He shrugs. "She died."

Jeff doesn't know what to say. "I'm sorry," he tries. "I had no idea."

Pierce waves a hand dismissively at him. "It isn't something I like to talk about. Here's the thing, though. I loved that woman more than life itself. But I was young. Stupid. I didn't give her everything she wanted, and I wish I had. God, I wish I had. I wish I'd given her the world." He sighs, turning in his chair to look at Jeff. "Annie is a good one. Like Muriel. Give her the world."

"I will." He clears his throat. "I will, Pierce."

Sitting back, Pierce nods. "Good. Also, remember. All you have to do is picture a dainty, girlish man. Like Gene Kelly. Or Ay-bed! That'll get it up for you, and Annie'll never know." He winks.

The wedding is in September, and they plan for a small, quiet weekend at a resort.

Naturally, things kick off with a monkey lost in the hotel.

But Troy finds Annie's Boobs, Jr., and the ceremony on Sunday is oddly without incident. The place looks like a fairytale after Britta is finished, and they ask Chang to be the usher, which means that guests are seated in an orderly, efficient manner. Annie is terrified that she'll trip when she walks down the aisle, but Troy is on her right, Abed on her left, their arms hooked with hers.

She laughs at something that Troy whispers, and she is the most beautiful thing in the world.

He takes her hand. "Milady."

"Milord." Her eyes shine with tears, this bright, breathless smile on her face, and he grins back at her before they turn to face the Dean. It was Abed's idea to have Craig officiate the ceremony in order to mirror his role at Greendale, and it isn't the worst idea in the world; he pauses a few times to wipe away his tears, once to blow his nose, but he gives a speech that makes Shirley cry.

They say their vows, and they are married.

Troy sings Wind Beneath My Wings to Annie at the reception. Jeff dances with his mother after Annie dances with Pierce, and he dances with Shirley, too, with the Dean, and with Britta, who teases him about how lucky he is that she is hot, "or you wouldn't have met your wife," she says.

He smirks. "Don't worry, Britta. I appreciate how hot you are."

Annie kicks off her shoes at some point, and she leans heavily against Jeff while they dance the last few songs. He toys lazily with the curls that have escaped from the pins to curl at her neck. "You can't take this back," she says, and she glances at him with a smug, sleepy look on her face.

"I thought that's what divorce was," he says.

"Nope." She kisses the cotton that covers his chest. "Never." He chuckles, squeezing her hip. She rises up to meet him for a kiss, only to laugh against his lips when Chang starts to play his keytar.


Today's the day I'll make you mine,

So get me to the church on time.

Take my hand in this empty room,

You're my girl, and I'm your groom.