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Mar. 13th, 2011

       
       
       
       
       
       
       
   

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How Could There Be No Reprecussions 3/?

Jeff's mother had lived in Cedarburg, about an hour away, but Annie waved him off and assured him that she was completely free (she wasn't. She had notes to type up for astronomy class, a diorama to map out, and 4 chapters to read in her anthropology class) and cleared her Saturday for him.

He picks her up in his Lexus and she slides into the front seat feeling a little uncomfortable and underdressed in her simple black shirt and skirt. She doesn't really know what to wear to a funeral. She's never actually been to one (thank god) but she isn't going to tell Jeff that, who would probably just be reminded of how young she is. So she smiles nervously at him and clicks her seatbelt on, but he turns off the car and takes his off, leaning over and catching her mouth with his in a soft, surprisingly sweet kiss. Then another. Another. Another. When he finally pulls back, he presses his palm to the side of her head, against her hair. His wrist is really delicate, she realizes absently, so strange in comparison to his long, large forearm, his huge hands and she debates kissing him there, right where his veins pulse near the skin, but before she can get up enough nerve, he's pulled away and started the car back up.

They don't talk much on the way there. She doesn't know what to say. It's such an awkward way to spend their first day together. Flirting seems like a no-no. So does talking about feelings (this is Jeff, after all) and she doesn't want to just talk about trivialities on the way to his mom's funeral. In any case, he seems fine with the silence, occasionally reaching over and touching her hair (she's starting to see it's a thing for him - she racks her mind for what scent her shampoo was this morning. Coconut? Peaches? Hopefully not something boring). They only really talk once when she has to ask him to pull over so she can go to the bathroom. He watches her carefully as she walks into the gas station, eyes protective and a bit amused. When she gets back into the car and smoothes her skirt fussily down her legs, he smiles for the first time.

His mom's funeral is very uneventful. Jeff speaks to no one - merely walks up to the front pew of the Pentecostal church and sits down silently. Only about 20 older couples mill around, staring occasionally at them until the service starts. Jeff doesn't speak. No one seems to expect him to. A few women say some nice things about his mother. About her cooking. About her wicked sense of humor. But Jeff stares stonily ahead and every time Annie glances at him to see his reaction, she wonders if he's even listening. Probably not. He doesn't need other people to tell him about his mother.

After the service, a few people come up and hug him, shake his hand, offer those strangely sincere condolences that can only come from outsiders, from those not too affected by the tragedy themselves.

One woman hugs Annie, taking her by surprise. "It's so nice to see you here," she says even though she's never met Annie before, "I'm sure your mother-in-law, wherever she may be, is so happy her son has someone to take care of him during this time."

Annie blushes, thinks about correcting the woman, but Jeff doesn't even seem to notice the mistake and so she just nods and whispers her thanks and then stares at the side of Jeff's face for a reaction after the woman scoots off towards the side door. He only takes her hand and starts to pull her in the direction of the exit, nodding to the few people who stop him on the way.

They're traipsing their way over the church grass, a little wet and springy beneath their feet, when Annie asks, "Where's the wake? Or the ...." she struggles for the right word, but can't find it "thing at? Reception?"

"At Mrs. Johns' house - the one who thought you were my wife," he answers.

She blushes again and hurries her step a bit to catch up to him. The height difference between them and the way her heels keep sinking into the dirt are leaving her far behind him. He finally seems to notice and stops, waiting for her to reach his side.

But they don't go to the reception. When they drive into a old Denny's parking lot, she frowns and asks him what he's doing.

"I want some pancakes."

"Jeff....we need to go to the thingy."

"I don't want to go to the thingy," he responds, his voice laced with a tired amusement, "I want pancakes."

She starts to protest (this isn't how things are done!), but he gets out of the car and leaves her to follow or not. So she follows.

There's absolutely nobody inside and the hostess gives them both a weird once-over before leading to their table. She wonders if the girl actually thinks this is a date. That she has a boyfriend that got all dressed up in a suit to take her to Denny's, of all places. She hopes not. How embarrassing.
 
She slides into the booth across from him and watches as he orders his coffee and meal without looking at the menu (a 'meatlover's' sound disgustingly bad for you, but she bites her tongue) and she orders herself a coffee and a bowl of chicken noodle soup (extra crackers).
 
He doesn't speak until their coffee is in front of them, creamed and sugared.

"Thanks for coming."

"You already said that."

"I know but..." he trails off, fiddling with one of his empty splenda packets, looking uncomfortable. She's never seen him this quiet before. Usually nothing can keep his mouth shut.

She sips at her coffee, politely ignoring his inelegance. "So," she asks, "did you know any of those people there, Jeff?"

He shrugs. "Not really. My mom moved to Cedarburg just recently. Plus, she wasn't much of a social person. I mean," he grimaces a bit, "she wasn't anti-social, just solitary. Not like me..." Another grimace. "She liked people." He sighs and clamps his mouth shut and it's the first time that he's looked so openly depressed, so she slides out of her side of the booth and scoots in next to him. She has to lean up, her butt not even on the seat anymore, just to kiss him, but he catches on quickly and hunches over enough so that she can settle against his side and kiss him lazily. The waitress comes while they're kissing, looking at them like they're crazy, but when Annie gets up and settles back in her seat, something about the tired lines around Jeff's eyes and mouth seem to tell the whole story (that and their somber, all black clothes) and the girl's look softens a bit, becomes more knowing. She slides the bowl over to Annie and then goes about the task of giving Jeff his meal, which has about 4 plates.

Once she's gone, Annie stares over critically at his pile of food. "How do you eat all of that?"

He shoves some bacon in his mouth. "I'm 6'4 - I can eat a lot."

She takes a bit of a cracker. "I kinda hate you right now."

"No, you don't," he winks at her.

She's done with her soup way before he's even halfway through his meal, so he pushes over a plate towards her. "Have a pancake."

"No, thank you."

"Come on," he whines, "have a pancake. They're good for you."

"Is that so?"

He places a hand to his heart. "Good for your soul."

She laughs and stabs at the floppy thing with her fork, struggling to capture it. "A Spongebob reference? I think you're giving yourself away, Jeff."

He narrows his eyes at her. "You'd only know it was a Spongebob reference if you watched it too."

She shrugs, takes a bite of the pancake speared on her fork. "I did. I do. I love Spongebob." She swallows her bite, dabs a napkin on her mouth. "Hold on. Watch." She glances around the restaurant, making sure no one is around, and then lets out a loud, spot-on Spongebob laugh.

Jeff chokes on his food. She gasps and reaches over to pat his shoulder, apologizing. 

"Geesh, Annie," he sputters after gulping down half a glass of water, "you gotta warn me before you do crap like that."

"Sorry!"

He laughs and it's so sincere and happy that it's infectious. "Somehow you just got hotter," he tells her, face red with laughing.

"Somehow?"

"Well, I didn't think it was possible."

It's the best compliment she's ever gotten. She blushes.

The laughter seems to take a lot out of him. He pushes the rest of his food away and leans against the window, eyes hooded and sleepy. After awhile, he beckons her over to his side and she goes willingly, sliding up under his arm and letting him ghost his fingers through her hair. He keeps touching her and touching her and while a part of her says its only because he's clinging to something after the loss of his mom, another part knows it's just because he's finally allowing himself to do what he wants without worrying about it so much. Maybe the two go together. Either way, it's nice being here this close to him.

He pushes a piece of hair behind her ear. It falls back into her face immediately. He laughs.

"Annie," he kisses her shoulder, "if we're gonna do this ..." he trails off, as if fighting for the right words, "can we keep it between us for awhile? It's not that I'm ashamed of you, I just... if the group knows," he sighs, "they'll think the worst of me."

She wants to say Jeff! They'd never think the worst of you - they love you! But while she knows that last part is true, the first is too. Because she may be young, but she's wise enough to know that it's often the people you love the most that you think the worst of.

"That's gonna be a lot of trouble, but okay." She relents, even though there's a tight feeling in her chest that twists up a bit. "So no adoring looks?" she asks playfully.

"No, no, keep that up - or else they might get suspicious."

She elbows him roughly in the side - more like his hip - and he doubles over laughing and gasping. He rubs the spot.

After a minute, she eyes him closely, voice sobering. "So, are you alright?"

"I'm fine," he says lightly. A little too lightly.

She rolls her eyes and huffs a bit at him. "Why don't you ever say how you really feel?"

He watches her, carefully, as if debating something with himself. Then, he merely says, "Maybe I'll tell you. Sometime."

She decides not to push it, but when he leans over again and brushes his mouth right under her ear and he smells like coffee and some subtle, expensive cologne, and feels warm and solid like a man should, she blurts out:

"I'm in love with you."

She expects him to rear back. Recoil. She knows she's jumping ahead in the story, skipping over chapters and plot points and developments, but she's already there. And maybe it's because she's young and stupid and inexperienced but the truth's the truth and she might as well let him know. He deserves to know. It needs to be out there because she wants everything and won't be satisfied with less. Because even though she may be little Annie Adderall and a closet fattie and her teeth are just waiting to spring back to their pre-braces snaggle, and maybe she's never been popular or normal and maybe she can never face her former schoolmates without hearing snickering behind her back, she's allowing herself the worth and dignity to expect the best. To deserve the best. She doesn't want to just be the girl he gets to kiss when he feels like it, or goes to his house to hang out and eat pizza and watch Law and Order. She wants everything. So if they have to nip this in the bud, so be it, but at least it should happen now rather than later. It's better than waiting until any needed severance between them only results in massive blood loss and missing limbs - waiting until they're so entwined that it's hard to tell who's who and what's what.

But he doesn't recoil. Doesn't rear back. He just gazes at her for a moment, hand still in her hair. And then he smirks. "Really? That fast? Wow, I am good." Then he leans over and kisses her - not so softly and not so sweetly; a bit roughly, more than a little possessive - and even though he doesn't say it back, even though piano music doesn't start magically playing, even though candles don't suddenly float onto their table and light themselves, though no heavy, sexy velvet drapes drop down to cover over the dirty mini-blinds slanted open towards the trash-strewn parking lot, when he pulls away, he's staring at her with the goofy, shmoopy face reserved just for her. And that's enough.

He picks up the check and nudges her hip with his hand. "Come on, let's go home."

Playing Favorites

    She wanders back from her talking head segment with Abed and flops down in the chair next to Jeff. He’s flipping slowly through a People magazine as if it’s the most interesting thing he’s ever seen (and Annie knows him well enough to know he’s really thinking about his father) so she takes the opportunity to lean a bit over until his arm makes contact with her shoulder and she relaxes a bit into him, using him like a buttress because she feels like her legs have been kicked out from under her (and yes, she knows she’s sitting down. Stop being so literal).

    He doesn’t react to her touching outside of a small sigh (she’s not even sure he realizes he does it - not just now, but always. Every time they touch, every time she takes advantage of his height to sidle up next to him, he sighs. Just a tiny exhalation, so soft that she can’t even read into it enough to know if it’s annoyance or something else. Maybe one day, when things aren’t as awkward between them, she’ll build up enough courage to ask him if he realizes he does it. But not today).

    She just sits there for awhile, but starts a bit when he settles on an article about some star just out of rehab and slings his arm over the back of the chair behind her. He doesn’t ask her to move, or nudge her out of his space, so she holds her breath for a moment (maybe if she doesn’t move, he won’t even realize she’s there) before relaxing again.

    But apparently he does know she’s there (duh) cause he scratches at his cheek with his other hand and says, “What’s up, Edison?”

    “Pierce gave me a tiara.”

    “Did he now?” he doesn’t look up from the magazine. He already knew what her present was. He’d stared pretty hard at it when she’d gotten back from being bequeathed on, as if trying to see if it meant something to her or not.

    “Why?” she asks, hoping that the all-wise Jeff might have an answer (even if it was one of his bull responses pulled from that magical land of big, fancy words that made anything sound logical and true). But he still doesn’t say anything, so she continues, voice going shrill, “What does it mean? And don’t say he gave it to me because I’m a princess or I’ll hit you.”

    His hand touches her back for a minute, so briefly that she wonders if she hadn’t dreamt it (it wouldn’t be the first time she dreamt….you know what? That’s none of your business).

    “I wasn’t going to say that,” he answers, voice soft and amused. “What did Pierce say was the reason for the gift?”

    Annie hesitates. “He…said I was his favorite.”

    She’s not even looking at him, but somehow she knows Jeff’s smiling. She turns her head a bit and sees that she’s right - he’s got this kinda goofy half-grin on, still staring at the magazine in his lap.

    And then all he says (in response to Pierce’s creepy assertion, mind you) is, “Okay.”

    Okay?!?

    “Jeeeeeeeeeff!! Why would he say that? Why am I the only one he isn’t torturing?” She gasps, “Oh, maybe he is! Maybe this is my mind game! But what does it mean?!”

    “Annie, maybe he isn’t trying to hurt you.”

    “Why not? He’s hurt everyone else.”

    “Because….you’re Annie.”

    She glances at him sharply, eyes narrowing. “What does that mean?”

    Jeff runs a hand over his mouth (and his hand is so big it covers almost his whole face. She tries not to stare at his long fingers but she can’t help it). After a minute, he shrugs. “It means even Pierce can’t bring himself to hurt you.”

    “You’ve hurt me,” she blurts out a bit testily before realizing that it actually puts her at a disadvantage, not to mention brings up all sorts of stuff they were pretty successfully ignoring so far.

    He’s quiet, but his arm disappears. He flips through the magazine again as she leans up and forward a bit, her shoulder warm from where it had gathered some of his body heat.

    “Yeah, well,” he finally says, “not on purpose, and not just to hurt you.”

    She takes his admission as a nice way to drop the subject. “But Jeff, really, favorites? Why not Britta? I always thought he-”

    “Please,” Jeff scoffs, “is Britta your favorite?”

    “Jeff, that’s not nice. And I don’t play favorites.”

    “Oh, come on. We’re not all each other’s children. We can have a favorite. You think Troy and Abed feel the same way about the rest of us as they do about each other?”

    That’s true and she knows it. She bobbles her head a bit as a concession. Then she asks, curious, “And Britta? Who’s her favorite?”

    “Shirley.” At her disbelieving look, he rolls his eyes, “It’s obvious. They fight all the time but Britta’s always looking out for her.”

    “And Shirley?”

    “Britta.”

    “So does it always work out that we’re paired off in favorites?”

    “Well, no. You’re Pierce’s favorite, but I don’t think the feeling is mutual, is it?”

    No, it definitely wasn’t, but they were getting dangerously close to the territory of so who’s your favorite, Annie? and she didn’t want to go there, at least not until…

    “So how about you, Jeff? Who’s your favorite?”

    He’s silent for a while, head kinda rolled back towards his shoulder, looking down at her. Then he smiles arrogantly and cocks a thumb back at himself. “Are you kidding? This guy’s my favorite, because he’s awesome.”

    She laughs and looks back down. Then she decides to risk it. She rocks a bit to the side, still looking at her tiara, and whispers conspiratorially, “You’re my favorite too.”

    She doesn’t look at him, afraid of how he’ll react, so she doesn’t notice that way he blushes, or the happy smile that breaks out over his face.
     

How Could There Be No Reprucussions 2/?



    She breaks up with Professor Laurent. And she’s so embarrassed by the reason that she doesn’t mention it the group for a few weeks (not that the group was particularly talkative lately - ever since the blow up between her and Jeff, they’d both stubbornly returned to the group, refusing to be pushed out, and the studying went on in a stilted, uncomfortable way.)

    Now, the reason she broke up with Professor Laurent all comes down to the moment he tried to kiss her. One minute they’d been standing at her apartment door, and the next his face was close to hers and she thought how’d his mouth get here so quick? and she realizes it was because he didn’t have to lean down or reach for her - all he had to do was take a step forward and they were face to face - and the idea of it made her jerk away from him, banging the back of her head against the door behind her. Well, after that it only seemed natural to tell him it just wasn’t working out! and rush into her apartment without so much as a goodbye.

    So she was alone again, and sometimes at night she woke up with her fingers curled up into her palm as if she was holding onto someone’s hand in her sleep, but the side of the bed next to her is empty and cold and the 'toy' shop beneath her is already alive and thrumming with business and feet ambling back and forth so loudly that she swears she can feel her whole apartment shaking. Who knew those places were so popular?

    When she goes to class, she sits on the opposite side of the room than Jeff and tries to ignore the few times she swears she can feel his stare on her the whole time Duncan is talking (slurring, really). When she goes to study group, she keeps her head down in her book, barking out questions like some Nazi, marching back and forth across the room, and when group is over she’s the first to leave. No one tries to talk to her and she tries not to wonder if they’re keeping away from Jeff just as much.

    Then one day, Jeff doesn’t come to group. And even though she’s angry (still so so so angry) she feels a twinge of worry that she shoves down and bites back and she forces her way through the chapter without ever asking about him.

    But then he misses the next class, and then the next study group, and then the next class...and her worry balloons up into an all-encompassing panic that tints everything she does, everywhere she goes, with a sour, sick feeling. So the next time she goes to study group, she ventures to ask as casually as she can, "Where's Jeff?"

    Britta does a quick glance around the table. "We haven't see him."

    "Oh?" Annie rearranges her books, clasps her hand together over the glossy pages. "Have you tried calling him?"

    "Yes, we have," Shirley answers, "but he doesn't answer or text back."

    Annie frowns. She suddenly feels like she's about to throw up. She knows this has nothing to do with her - she's not so romantic to think he's gone into some kind of depressed slump just because she's avoiding him - but she still feels ...feels what? Worry. Concern. Absolute blinding terror.

    But she can't show that, so she simply raises her eyebrows and looks at Troy and Abed and says (and if there's accusation there, so be it. Why haven't they taken care of this if they're his friends?!), "Have you gone by to see him?"

    Abed opens his mouth. Closes it. Troy says, "Well, we figured if he's not answering his phone, then he doesn't want to talk to us."

    And something about this causes the whole room to burst into a flurry of conversation, all talking about Jeff and  I don't want to sound like a worried mother but and Jeff's such a drama queen and we really should go over there just to make sure and Annie is really surprised that her name never comes up. There's never any well, after what happened between him and Annie... so when the group decides that it IS about time to go over and see what's up with their friend, she feels like it's okay to gather up her books and trail along behind them.

    She expects when she gets to Jeff's place that they'll be 'welcomed' in with some snide remarks about how lame they are to worry about him, and how he isn't some girl who's missing class cause he's upset about something. But instead, Jeff doesn't answer his door and Abed magically whips out a key from his back pocket, the little genie, and Britta does the pushy-meddling job of unlocking Jeff's door and barging in. Annie, who normally would protest such invasion, is trying to keep out of everyone's focus, so she stays quiet but hangs back by the threshold of the door.

    Jeff is on his couch, obviously asleep fully clothed. There's a pizza box on his table and a bottle of scotch and he must be pretty out of it because he doesn't wake up until Shirley gasps as if she just found a dead body and Britta snorts disdainfully at the anti-climaticness of Jeff asleep. He jerks up onto one elbow and then off the couch, swaying a bit. He looks terrible...okay, he doesn't look terrible, but he has a bit more growth on his face than is fashionable and he looks really, really tired and disoriented. But apparently he's not so disoriented that he doesn't catch on to what's happening pretty quickly, and Britta's bag doesn't even have time to hit his coffee table before he's swept it up again, pushing it a bit roughly into her chest.

    "Get out of my house."

    Shirley, clutching her own bag to her own chest, exclaims "Jeffrey!" in that cloying, motherly tone that Annie happens to know aggravates Jeff even more when he's hung over. "We're just worried about-"

    He doesn't let her finish. "Get out!"

    "This isn't how it's supposed to go," Abed remarks from the corner, "you're supposed to break down and confess your problems to us and then we all hug."

    And then Jeff curses at them - all of them. Not just Pierce, who's already in the kitchen going through his refrigerator. Not just Troy who has somehow managed to get behind him and is trying to hug him awkwardly, not just at Britta who's rolling her eyes at him.

    Annie's never heard him curse before, at least not in their direction, and she flinches back and takes the one step that takes her back out into the hall. He's shoving at all of them, still letting out a string of words that are making Annie's ears tingle,  herding them towards the door without any gentleness, any appreciation for the thought - the concern - that brought them all here, and when he finally gets them all out, nearly throwing out poor Troy (still trying to hug him in some weird way that looks more like laying his head on his back and falling asleep) and when the door finally slams in all their collective face, Britta kicks at the wall and storms off.
   
Abed is the last one to leave (besides Annie) and he merely murmurs an abstracted "hmmm" and disappears, probably to write another Chronicles segment about an intervention. Annie stares at his door for a minute, wondering if she should knock and tell him it's just her, but she doesn't think she could handle being treated the same way even though no one else is around, so she leaves after angling her ear towards the door and hearing nothing but (scary) silence on the other side.


    That evening, she's watching a rerun of Jon Stewart, eating some peanut butter balls and milk (she ignores the voice in her mind that sounds suspiciously like her mother going keep eating like that, sweetie, and you're going to turn into a little porkie pie! and chomps away happily). Her text message chimes and she knows it's Jeff because it's the Family Guy ring he put on there for her (Louis! Louis! Louis! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Momma!) and she lets it run all the way through the whole alert - the whole stupid audio clip - before flipping open the phone and reading his message.

    My mom died

    That's all. Annie sits there in her pajamas, a half-eaten peanut butter ball halfway to her mouth, shocked. She doesn't know what to write back. How to respond. The past 3 weeks, she's been furious with him, outright avoiding him, and now she's the one he writes about something like this. She feels guilty, then feels guilty about feeling guilty (this isn't about her). She drops her peanut butter ball onto the coffee table (it rolls off under the couch - she has to remember that or she'll have an infestation soon) and presses reply before she can think about it. Asks the first thing that comes to her mind:

    I'm so sorry! How?

    Heart attack

    Her fingers hover over the keys. She tries to ignore everything that has come before - all their history - and thinks of what she'd ask if it was just a casual acquaintance.

    How old was she?

    64

   
    Okay. Now what? She gets up and puts her milk cup in the sink. Splashes water on her face. Walks back to her phone waiting on the coffee table and takes a deep breath.

    Do you want me to come over?

    She waits a few minutes and then:
   
    No
   
    She's not insulted, not really. But she wants to see him. Wants to do anything she can to make him feel better. Wants to hug him. And she can't do that if he won' t even see her.

    Then her phone chimes again:

    Not right now.

    She takes a risk and simply texts back a heart emoticon. Hopes he understands it's a sign of sympathy and not some declaration of love. He doesn’t' write back, so she goes and takes a shower and watches some more television for a few hours before crawling into bed and crying.


   
    She wakes up at 2 in the morning because someone's knocking on her door. She rolls out of bed and pads across the 2 or 3 feet separating her bed from her front door and peeks through the peephole. Jeff's standing outside. She can just imagine Abed's this is just like a romantic movie. Jeff shows up drunk at your doorstep and pours his heart out to you but when she opens the door, he looks at her alertly, clearly, and she can see he's not drunk. Just very tired.

    He slides in without really being invited, and she has a hard time closing the door with him there until he leans a bit over the back of the couch to make room. She blurts out the first thing she can think of. "Are you alright?"
   
    Even in the dark, she can see his eyebrow arch a bit as if to say you've got to be kidding me and she runs a hand through her hair awkwardly and gestures to the couch, disappearing into the small kitchen nook to get him the drink of water he didn't ask for. She takes a moment out of sight to lean against the counter and regulate her breathing.

    When she comes back into the living room, he's laid out on her couch, knees dangling over the side of her armrest, her end table pushed aside to make room for his feet. She would feel irritated at the presumptuousness, but he has one arm slung over his eyes and the line of his mouth is a bit soft, a bit sad, so she lets it go (plus, just a few hours ago she'd been standing outside his apartment as he was sucker punched by the group's nosiness slash love).

    She puts the cup of water on the table and sits next to it, ignoring the fact that her place is so tiny that her knees are pressed up against his side. "Jeff, did you want to talk?"

    He shakes his head. Swallows.

    "Okay." She pulls the throw cover over him (it's so tiny it barely covers his bottom half) and runs her fingers lightly over the back of his hand. "There's some water here if you want some. I'm going to go to bed, okay?"
   
    He doesn't say anything so she stand and walks to her bed, realizes when she pulls her covers back that her hands are shaking badly. Her whole body is shaking. She feels a little burst of anger at him for that - for being him - and for making her feel like this. Not like Troy did (a little giddy and a little uncertain) but like something else completely that she has nothing to compare to, except maybe that horrible feeling of terror and excitement you get before getting on your first roller coaster ride, but even that pales a bit - there was no warm blush over her whole body, no burn in her stomach, the first time she'd gotten on one of those horrible rides.

    She settles in and tries not to think about the fact that he's right there. But she lets the sound of her breathing lull her to sleep.


    When she wakes up, he's in bed with her. He's not curled up against her. Not spooning her. Not even touching her. Just there, his arm anchored under the pillow and his hand pressed against his chest, snoring softly.

    She rolls away and starts to get up, feeling like she's going to throw up again, but his hand strikes out and grabs her arm. The feel of his skin against hers makes her gasp, but he doesn't let go. She lets him pull her back down. He still has his eyes closed, but he murmurs her name and opens them slowly, finding her face against the glare of the sunlight. Wide awake suddenly, he lets go of her and sits up on his elbow.

    "Sorry," he mumbles, "your couch is really small, and you were already hanging off the edge of the bed so..." he trails off and watches her as she gets up, adjusting her shirt and pants into something more presentable. She kinda wants to hit him. Kinda wants to curl up into his side and attach herself to him forever.

    She does neither, obviously. When she turns around, he's sitting more in the middle of the bed, his feet hanging over her side and she wonders how such a large man can manage to move so quickly and quietly. He grabs her arm again, forcing her to look at him.

    "Hey," he says softly, "I'm sorry. I'm just...upset, I guess. I should have been more considerate."

    She sits down next to him. "When's your mother's funeral?"
   
    He stares down at his hand, "This weekend."

    "Do you want us to go?"
   
    "No."

    She swallows. Tries not to feel hurt.

    Then he leans over and brushes his lips against her cheek. Then under her ear. She holds her breath until he moves away. "Can you come?" he asks. "Just you?"

    The question is ridiculous. Of course, she'll come. She'd follow him anywhere. That was part of the problem, wasn't it? Little Annie Adderall stalking his steps like a lost puppy looking for its owner. She nods. He leans over again and kisses her neck. She leans into him, then away from him. Confused.

    "What are you doing?"
   
    "I don't know."

    "Well, maybe you should figure it out."

    He smiles at her and it takes her by surprise. Reaches a hand up and brushes her hair back a bit. "Okay. I was lying. I know what I was doing. I was kissing you."

    She pulls away from him. "Why?"

    "Because I wanted to."

    She has to get away from him. As far as she can get in her tiny apartment is the kitchen, but he follows her there too (oh, how the tables can turn) and won't even let her get some water without being close to her.

    "You're only acting like this because you're depressed," she accuses softly, neither mad nor hurt. Just resigned.

    "Yes, that's true."

    She has her back to him at the sink, but she knows he can tell she's started to cry cause she feels the warmth of him at her back and he kisses the top of her head. "But," he continues, "that doesn't make it less real, does it?"

    She doesn't know. She's 20 and inexperienced and not really good at reading into these subtle lines and differences. "What are you actually saying, Jeff? Make it less complicated for me, cause I don't  know what you want or what you mean or what you're after."

    "I want you."

    "Right now?"

    "Yes. And tomorrow, and the day after that, and maybe always. You know that. You've known that for awhile."

    "Yes," she admits, cause she's had known that. She's not that blind. "But what does that mean?"

    "It means I'm going to have you."

    And, well, there's not much to misread about that.
 
 

   

Jeff/Annie icons (and others)

Not very good :( but I tried.










             
     
     
     
     


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Where'd the Sweetness Go? A Community rant

This is the thing: Jeff is a jerk. We've known that from the beginning, but it was his vulnerability to this strange, lovable group that endeared him to us. So where did that go?

On a general note, they seem to have separated him from most of the group or simply put him with Britta. I love Britta -- she actually reminds me a lot of myself - but I feel like Jeff and Britta both stagnate with each other. They don't grow from each other or help each other evolve in any way. Which is fine, except when that stagnation happens over many episodes. Where's the Jeff that learns what it feels like to disappoint  a mother figure like Shirley? Or the Jeff that learns weird getting-older lessons from Pierce? Or the Jeff that learns about being an outsider from Abed? He's gone.

As a Jeff/Annie shipper, I have some more major problems with the majority of this season. First, the season premier was just uncomfortable to watch. Jeff with Annie was the Jeff that had a heart - the protective Jeff that was willing to sacrifice in order to help Annie. He hurt her occasionally and then immediately put himself at great cost to fix it and make her feel better. I could NEVER imagine Jeff being cold or hurtful to her on purpose - at least not without massive guilt following close behind.

Also, his awkward avoidance of her in their moment's of 'chemistry' were endearing and cute. He was running from Annie because he was scared of what he would do. In those moments, he lacked confidence and was not the 'Jeff Winger, president of Snark Inc.' that we know him as. Just his open look across the table during the sweater scene in Debate 109 is SO different from any look we've seen on his face before that or since that. It was almost boyish in it's sincerity.

So what happened? In the season premier, he runs from her - not a new thing, to be sure. But he doesn't do it as someone fumbling around for what to do, or someone who's nervous. He just brushing her off, sometimes roughly, like she's some mangy, unclean dog that's following him around and nipping at his ankles. It's unpleasant to watch and lacked any depth at all. I don't mind what he did so much, as long as there had been some indication to us, the viewer, that he was covering over his fear or panic at how he really felt. But there didn't seem to be any of that. He wasn't vulnerable, or susceptible to her emotions, or seemingly sympathetic to her at all.

Then he insults her in front of everyone, and - the wost part - it actually seems as if it was the REAL reason the writers wanted to put in place for why he kissed her. It wasn't just said because he can't admit to everyone that he likes Annie - which could have been implied by a moment's hesitation before he said it, a look towards Annie, or SOMETHING. But no, it comes out like the god's honest truth and it was mean. Plain mean. If I guy ever did that to me (or the equivalent, since I'm not young flesh anymore), I would never speak to him ever again, especially if he said it in front of other people that I like and want to respect me. And the, annoyingly, Annie never calls him on it and Jeff never apologizes (once again, this would have maybe implied that he was lying about it).

All this added up to a weird feeling of mean-spiritedness. I watch Community because it's all about trying to be a more self-sacrificing, about being a good person. It's about learning to do what's right at the same time that you realize you're worth something as long as you have friends. But that hasn't been here at all (except the last episode, which I'll get to). Jeff's been hovering around above everyone like he's not really a part of the group and it just feels dry and cold.

I understand that the writers have let all the rave reviews of Modern Warfare go to their heads. But those kinds of episodes are good every once in awhile as a break from tradition. The show should be about the small group of people and their dynamic. That's the interesting part - as proven from Cooperative Calligraphy. That episode was perfection  - these actors are great together. Their wit, their banter, how their emotions can swing back and forth, all adds up to a wonderful group of people who truly love each other. And we finally got to see Jeff back invested in the group - he was terrified that someone had stolen that pen and broken the group's trust and he couldn't have the secure little bubble he's created with these people. Instead of being arrogant, cocky Jeff, we got to see slightly insane neurotic Jeff, which reminds us that he's not perfect and belongs very much with this group. I hope this episode is a good indication of where the show is going.

Plus, watching him match Annie crazy-for-crazy is great, especially since part of that came from his desire to help her and his growing frustration with a seemingly impossible task (finding that stupid pen!). They reminded me of a married couple (why do you keep taking that tone with me?) and that, along with the other interesting interactions in the group, make the show funny and enjoyable. I know the writers want to backtrack, they want us to forget about Jeff/Annie, but guess what? They're a part of the show - even if just as friends, so LET THEM SPEAK TO EACH OTHER.

On another note - if they have Jeff and Britta hookiing up on the side, I'll be mad. Mostly because it's sloppy writing - it's obvious Jeff and Britta aren't really even attracted to each other anymore. How could any kiss be as awkward and disgusting as the one in the season premier if two people are attracted to each other? And why would Britta put herself out there like that, especially after claiming she only slept (not "is sleeping") with Jeff because she hates herself. Don't ruin the nice characterization of Britta that's going on now. I finally like her - because she's not just there as Jeff's love interest, but as a weird and complex (and hilarious) part of the group. Just. Let. It. Go.

Alright: Rant over.
How Could There be No Repercussions?

    "Men are monsters who crave young flesh!"
    Annie almost thinks she hasn't heard him right. Or maybe he's lost too much blood and doesn't know what he's saying. He couldn't possibly be talking about her, could he? And their kiss? That beautiful kiss that she hasn't stopped thinking about in 3 months?
    "What?" she sputters out, throat already tightening with not-magical tears. Real tears. Unattractive tears. Red-faced, snot filled tears. She's never been so hurt in her life. How hard would it have been to merely say because Annie's nice and I wanted to? Or even Annie smelled really good? It didn't have to be a declaration of love, by any means, but what he did say might as well have been because she's got a nice rack.
    Jeff must realize how it sounds too. He faces her. Sighs. Blood is still streaming down his face. "Annie," is all he says. As if it means something she's supposed to understand. But she's too mad to read it, too mad to care about his stupid unspoken thoughts.
    Plus, the humiliation is unbearable. Why would he say that about her in front of everyone? As if she weren't good enough for him? She might have been able to take it in private (no, not really) but here in front of all her friends, she feels her face burning with shame and anger.
    "Tell the truth, Jeff!" she demands, stomping her foot even as she realizes it does nothing to make her look more mature.
    He stands there for a long time while everyone stares at him. The silence is so different from the usual chatter and inanity of their study sessions. She wonders if he's ever going to respond, but he just stands there for a long time. Then, finally, he sighs again, and shakes his head. There's a feeling of resolution in the movement, and he just says, "No. I can't."
    She's about to ask him why not?! but he's already swept up his books with one hand and is almost running out of the room, still shaking his head as if saying to himself over and over no no no no.

     
    The third time she misses study group, everyone tells Jeff to fix it.


    Annie's at the vending machine in the hall, right outside their anthropology classroom, slamming the heel of her hand against the plastic repeatedly. Britta sees her there, on a Friday (if this conversation goes badly, they at least won't have to see each other tomorrow) and approaches slowly, trying to formulate what to say.
    She settles on a simple, "Hey."
    Annie jumps a bit, and then her face almost visibly shuts down. "Hey," she responds, neutrally. Britta can tell she's expecting a fight.
    "No soda?" Britta asks, nodding to the machine. God, she's terrible at this small talk crap.
    Annie sighs, "It's not dropping." To emphasize her point, she kicks at the machine with her tiny ballet flat. Then she just stares at the thing, her books cradled in one arm. Britta realizes Annie's only still standing there because she's too polite to walk off when she can tell Britta wants to talk.
    So she gets right to it. "Look, Annie. I just wanted to apologize to you. I'm not mad."
    Infuriatingly, Annie just shrugs. "Okay."
    Britta keeps talking, "I know you didn't kiss Jeff to spite me or anything. If anything, it's Jeff that I'm still pissed at."
    At that, Annie glances at her. Her face is still a mask of neutrality, but Britta can see a sudden interest in this subject. "Because you love him?" Annie asks.
    Britta recoils, "Ew, no."
    "Then why?" And there's the Annie that Britta knows - a bit whiny and shrill.
    "Because he didn't know that," Britta replies, almost gleefully. She catches herself, though, when she realizes how she sounds - she knows she has to keep a lid on this overwhelmingly competitive spirit. It's really unattractive.  "But honestly," she continues, hoping Annie hadn't caught her moment of immaturity, "he didn't owe me anything. I acted embarrassing." She sighs, annoyed at having to finally admit this, "And if he ran away, into someone else's arms, then that's perfectly understandable or ...something."
    Annie's face shuts down again. Britta has a fleeting thought that maybe she's insulted, but what would she be insulted about?
    What Annie finally responds, it's a simple, forced, "Okay."
    Britta leans against the machine, "Jeff shouldn't have said what he said, but maybe what he meant is that you represent something good and pure that he wants to go back to."
    "You think that's it?"
    "Yeah, it's the same with you - you like him cause he represents the cool older guy that thinks you're worthy of attention."
    Annie exhales evenly. This time Britta is sure she might have just insulted her. But then Annie nods. Agrees, "Right."
    "Besides," Britta laughs, "It's not like you're in love with him. You aren't that stupid."
    Annie stares for a long time, mouth open and eyes wide.
    Then she nods again, quickly and decisively. "Right."
    Britta actually hugs her, "Come back to the group."
    But the humiliation is still there. Everything Jeff said, everything he did (they did) is still hanging out there in the air. The kiss, the chasing, the words.
    All Annie can say is, "Maybe."
 

    A week later, she's in the cafeteria. It's the day before Veteran's day so no one is there (4 day weekend!), and the solitude is kinda nice. The cashier is filing her nails, and there's no lunch lady today, so Annie's helping herself to a generous portion of creamy, cheesy noodles when a voice pops up besides her.
    "All that mac and cheese won't make you taller."
    She looks up at Jeff, a spoonful of lumpy stuff suspended in the air above her plate. Her look must convey a pretty clear wha? because he smiles deprecatingly at himself and says, "Maybe you have to be on the tall side of that joke to think it's funny."
    Yeah, she's not so sure about that. But worst than the joke is the strangeness of him talking to her. He had tried so hard to brush her off - literally, almost, like she was some parasite that had attached itself to his neck - so it's hard to get why he's here at her side. Couldn't the man make up his mind?
    "What do you want, Jeff?"
    He pauses for a beat or two. Then, "To apologize."
    She glances over at him. He's scruffy today - when did that happen? And why does he wait til she's gone to go all ultra-sexy, dangit?! - and he's wearing one of his nice button down shirts and expensive jeans. He has a tray with two cookies on it and that's it.
    "For what?" she asks.
    He gazes down at the meatballs like they're the most interesting thing he has ever seen, though he makes no move to get any. She reaches over him and picks up the ladle, though she doesn't really want any. When her arm brushes against his, he shifts away from her.
    It kinda pisses her off.
    Finally, he admits, "For saying you were just young flesh."
    "But I am?" she pushes. God, she just needs him to say something nice. Is it so bad that she wants someone to say something nice to her for once?
    "Annie-" he starts, then cuts himself off, "No. You know that you're not."
    She puts down the meatball ladle a bit forcefully. It falls with a loud clang over onto the partition between the food trays. "Then why did you say it?
    He turns to her, his face taking on that Jeff's been pushed to his crazy limit expression and he hisses, "What am I supposed to say? That I like you? Annie, you're 19.
    "So?" She knows that how whiny her voice sounds does nothing to make him change his mind. It takes everything in her power not to stomp her foot or bounce sulkily.
    He shakes his head again, the same way he did in the study room - nose all bloody and books in disarray - and says, almost to himself, "No. No. I'm not." She knows what he means. I'm not going to be with you. Ever. 
    "What's your problem, Jeff? Do you try to be this much of jerk?"
    "No," he almost yells, "That's just it. I don't try. I AM a jerk, Annie. And you're 19." He sighs. A long pause. And then a resigned, "I'm a bad person."
    "No, you-" Annie start to protest.
    "I am," he interrupts, "I'm getting better, but I will never be able to undo all the things I've done. I'm a liar and a manwhore and I. Am. Not. A. Good. Guy."
    She doesn't know how to argue with this. She doesn't think it's true, not at all - and no, she's not just young and stupid and naive - but she can tell that nothing is going to convince Jeff otherwise. So she resorts to a weak, "So?"
    His jaw clenches, as if he's restraining some great emotion. "Find yourself a good guy," he tells her, with a tone of finality.
    Well, that's not going to happen. She doesn't want a good guy - at least not in the sense that Jeff means. She doesn't want some pasty faced little boy who's never kissed a girl, who plays video games or skateboards or speaks in some slang she doesn't understand. She wants ...Jeff. Only Jeff. And if she can't have him, fine. But don't tell her what she should want, thank you very much. And don't leave her without at least telling her the one thing that could make her feel better.
    Which is, "But how do you feel?'
    He looks up at the ceiling, but he doesn't seem exasperated. He's thinking, she can tell. Actually taking the time to formulate his thoughts instead of just blurting out the first witty or snarky one-liner that pops into his head. Finally he says, "Like someone who could hurt you really bad ... What else do you want from me, Annie?"
    "I want to know I mean something to you. I want to think I wasn't just something to distract you."
    She start to pick up another spoonful of mac and cheese, adding to her already overflowing plate, but he grabs her hand and pushes it back down. His skin against hers make her fingers and palm tingle like her flesh is just waking up. Her cheeks grow warm, her neck, and chest. She hopes he doesn't notice.
    Once he's wrestled the thing from her, putting it back in the tray like it's some drug she shouldn't be touching, he rubs a hand over his face and tells her, "When I was 23, there was a girl I dated for almost a year." He takes a deep breath. "I loved being around her, I loved the way she spoke, how she moved, the fact that she didn't take any of my crap. And since her, since she left, I haven't felt like that about anyone." She hears the unspoken words there even Britta but she's glad he doesn't feel the need to say them out loud. "I feel a little like that when I'm around you," he admits, and it makes Annie's heart jump up into her throat. But then he says, "And I don't want to ruin it." A sigh. Then he repeats, once again, "You're 19."
    She sighs. Stares forlornly at her plate, suddenly not at all hungry for any of it. Stupid Jeff Winger, ruining her appetite for artery clogging food.
    "Jeff... All the time I was in high school, I worked so hard to fix the things wrong with me, all the things that kept the guys from paying attention to little Annie Adderal." She doesn't know why she's telling him this - her pathetic life story - but she continues, "And they were things I did to myself - I was anal and addicted to drugs and ugly - the braces alone could have turned a guy gay." She doesn't add and I think they actually did, cause that's too pathetic to ever admit to someone like Jeff. "And," she continues, "here I finally feel like I've gotten a handle on those things. And then I meet you and the one thing I can't - no matter how hard I work - fix about myself, you use as the reason we can't be together. My age. Geez, Jeff, why can't you just say you think I'm too short? Huh, I could throw on some heels and be done with it. What am I supposed to do about my age? Which is 20, by the way, thanks for keeping up." 
    "Annie. It's not your age, only."
    "If I wasn't 20, if I was 30, would there be a problem?"
    "Yes."
    She almost bursts into tears despite her efforts to stay angry (angry is more mature, right?). It was the last thing she wanted to hear. She starts to turn away, tray forgotten, but catches her by her backpack and pulls her back effortlessly.
    "No, Annie, listen. There's a problem with me." He looks her dead in the eye, serious. "Find yourself a nice guy, Annie."
    And she wants to tell him to shut up, to stop telling her what to do or trying to make life choices for her, but his words are pleading, almost desperate, as if her disinterest could save him from something he can't pull himself out from (but needs to so so so much), and so she just sighs and takes a moment to control her breathing.
    "Look," she starts, determined to be reasonable about this, "I don't know how we got here, Jeff, to this weird point, but I wish we could just be friends like we were before." No she doesn't. What she wants is nothing like friends. Nothing. 
    But Jeff seems to like that idea. Looks relieved. "We can."
    "Can we?"
    "Yes. Just - first, come back to study group. We all miss you." He nudges her. "I miss you."
    "I don't want it to be . . .awkward."
    He smiles cockily, "Awkward is what we do!" Nudges her again. "Listen, c'mon, it'll be fine. We just have to get back into a groove."
    She stares at her mac and cheese.
    "Alright," she finally agrees. "Friends?"
    He smiles broadly, like a little boy just given the thing on the top of his Christmas wish list. "Friends."
    He leans over and actually hugs her, as if that shows that it doesn't have to be awkward. And it's not - not like all the other times. This time they hold on tightly, and she feels her chest relax, her body melt into him, and she closes her eyes against the soft press of his shirt in her cheek, the heat of his chest beneath that -which she can feel, somehow. She feels his breath exhale across the top of her head, in one long rush, and feels his own body lean into hers, as if clutching at her, and she knows he's feeling it too. That thing that they both won't speak of again.
    They're still hugging when they hear a high pitched oh, that's nice! screaming towards them, and then Shirley is hugging them both and Abed is talking about how the dynamic is going to be back to normal if this were a show Annie's prolonged absence would have caused a major ratings drop that we could never have bounced back, Troy and Pierce are eating from Annie's plate of mac and cheese, and Britta is standing to the side, smiling uncomfortably. Annie wonders how long they were sitting there in the booth, watching them. It makes her uncomfortable, even as she smiles brightly and tries to pretend like everything is fine and oh, it was such a silly thing to get upset over! and that nothing has to be any different now, even though her and Jeff had kissed and then argued, and even though one of them had been assaulted in the process, and even though Annie hadn't been to study group in 2 weeks. But, yep, everything was a-okay!!!!
    She doesn't get her appetite back. 

   
    A month later, everything's fallen back into place. But one day when Shirley asks Annie about her new boyfriend, Jeff's head jerks up from his phone.
    "Boyfriend?"
    "Oh, yes," Shirley exclaims, "Ann-ie has a new beau, but she won't tell us who he is."
    Jeff frowns, "Really? Who's the guy?"
    Annie looks uncomfortable - even more so than normal. It's obvious right away that there's some reason besides coyness that keeps Annie from telling them anything. She glances at each person at the table, except Jeff, who she avoids altogether.
    Finally, she says, huffily, "Fine. Yes, I've been seeing someone. But it's not serious at all and I don't want you guys making a big deal about this."
    "Who's the guy?" Jeff repeats, slowly.
    She wants to ask what do you care? but she knows it will come out extra pissy and she doesn't want everyone wondering why, so she shrugs and says, "Professor Laurent."
    Jeff gapes. "The history guy?" he chokes out.
    She smiles, bounces a bit in her seat, "Yes!"
    Shirley's smile has fallen a bit. "You're dating Professor Laurent?"
    "Yes," Annie repeats, though their lack of enthusiasm has deflated some of her excitement.
    "He's 40," Jeff says, quietly, almost as if....no. He can't be mad, can he?
    " know you like younger men, Jeff," Pierce pipes up, "but really, let the girls have some every one in awhile".
    Jeff slams down his phone, "First, shut up, Pierce. Second," he turns to Annie, forehead all wrinkly with those peculiar Winger frown lines, "why would you date him?
    "He's nice."
    "But he's 40," Jeff nearly spits out at her. Oh, yeah, he's mad. Why?
    "He's not 40. He's 36. And what's wrong with you?"
    "I just wonder why you make such bad decisions."   
    Abed and Troy mutter a knowing, "Uh-oh" in perfect unison, and Britta just reaches over and slaps at Jeff's arm. But Jeff doesn't notice. He keeps glaring at Annie.
    She sticks out her chin, trying to be formidable, which is actually pretty easy considering how furious she is with him at the moment, "Stop being such a jerk. You told me to find a nice guy."
    "I meant a nice guy your age," he says through clenched teeth. 
    She slams her book closed. "Stop telling me what to do!"
    "I'm not telling you what to do. I'm not your-"
    "What?" she cuts him off, eyes going intense and wild,  ""My daddy? Are you sure? Is there any other parts of my life you'd like to butt into, daddy?" She puts as much faux little girl innocence into the last word, but it comes out more suggestive than she meant for it to.
    Pierce's eyes go wide, "Whoa."
    Jeff breaths through his nose, like a bull ready to charge. When he speaks, his voice has been forced to evenness. "Stop calling me that."
    "Why?" she presses, voice still ringing out in a mocking falsetto, "You don't like it, daddy?"
    "You can call me daddy!" There's Pierce again.    
    "Shut up, Pierce!" Jeff yells, almost half out of his seat. He turns to Annie, still fuming, "I'm not old enough to be your father!"
    She up out of her seat too, in his face, "Then stop acting like it!"
    "Stop acting like a child!"
    "God, you're such a- a ...ugh!" she pushes her books into her backpack, eyes ablaze with anger and hurt and a few other feelings she hasn't sorted out yet. She wants to call him a bad word, but she still can't bring herself to say anything like that, so she settles on a venomous, if not childish, "You're such a butt." And then she storms out of the room without looking back.

The Turn [Sylar/Claire - redemption]

    She already had the pen. Held onto it as tight as possible as he continued to talk - ramble, really - about them. Two of kind. The same but opposite in every way that really mattered. She kept remembering how hard the seat had been at her father's funeral, how it had dug into her backside, almost distracting her from Peter's eulogy. Kept that in her mind, used it as a buttress for her anger. Waited.
    He asked her why they were different. Why they'd chosen such different paths. He wanted an easy answer. A quick fix. But there was none, not for him. When she opens her mouth to respond, she's only concerned with hurting him.
    "Because there's something wrong with you, Sylar, something broken that can't be corrected with a little soul-searching or in tiny moments of remorse. You understand what you do is wrong, but you don't care, don't feel anything. You're a sociopath. You're crazy. You're...unfixable." She shrugs, lets a tone of mocking creep in at the end there. Waits for the petulance, the childish tantrum, that she is sure will come. But instead he looks at her intensely, a strange light in his eye. She can practically hear the gears working in the mangled brain of his.
    "Nothing is unfixable," he says after a tense moment.
    They stare at each other for a moment. With the bright sun spilling in through the high windows, she can hardly see one side of his face. She focuses on the one eye she can see, tries to read him, but all she can get from him is distraction. He's thinking about something.
    Then abruptly - so much so that his chair rattles on the ground as the legs try to find traction - he stands and starts to walk out. As he passes, he nods at Gretchen's back pack, "She's in the cafeteria, eating."
    And that was that.

    A week later she wakes up and knows at once something is wrong. She's near the edge of her twin bed, so close she can see the tiny grains in the wood of her side table even in the dark. Gretchen's asleep, her face turned to the wall. Claire's bed is sinking a little lower than usual, and she knows he's there. She rolls over, slowly, cautiously, and he's right beside her, his hands clasped in front of his face. His eyes are closed but when she moves again, tensing to run, they open. It's very dark, but she can see that they're bloodshot, wet, blacker than usual. He has lines around his mouth, across his forehead. She wonders how that is considering he ripped open her head and took her power from her - how it is he looks so old all of a sudden.
    She grits her teeth, but he speaks before she can, his voice low and resigned, "I did it."
    She extremely uncomfortable here, so close to him. So close his breath kisses her hair as he exhales. Gretchen hasn't stirred. She can hear her snoring peacefully. It's mostly because of that that she can take a deep breath and answer, "What are you talking about?"
    He smiles, just a bit, but there's no real happiness there, none of the mocking glee she's so used to. Just sadness. "I fixed it."
    It takes her a moment. Her judgment is a little clouded with sleepiness, with his presence, his warmth. With the wet shine in his eyes. But after a minute, she understands, completely.
    "You...." she doesn't know really what to say, knows that what's about to come out of her mouth is completely ridiculous, even for someone who lives in a world of regrown toes and people who can move things with their minds. "You opened yourself up, didn't you? Fixed yourself?"
    He nods. His jaw clenches but it's not cause he's angry. She can feel him swallowing, his breath suddenly hitching up on itself. He's about to cry. And she wants to get away from him more than she ever has before.
    But instead she asks, prodding, curiously, "And?"
    He doesn't try to tell her about how great he is now. About how he's gone in to his own head and turned a few screws, correcting all the pathways that were disconnected. Finally knows what that little word compassion feels like. Love. Fellow feeling. He doesn't do any of this. That's what Sylar would do.
    He rolls onto his back, brings up a hand to his face and lays there for a minute. And then without a word, without any explanation for why he'd come in the middle of the night to have this talk, he climbs out of her bed, clumsily, and leaves.

    A month later it happens again. He's pressed up against her this time, his face in her hair. But he's breathing evenly and she knows he's asleep. She's not even scared this time. Not even for Gretchen. The most she feels is annoyed, and that familiar uncomfortableness at how near he is. She doesn't roll over, just turns her hear a bit until his forehead brushes just lightly against her cheek. Whispers, "Why are you here? Why me?"
    He doesn't answer. She thinks he's still sleeping for a long time. But then he sighs. "Because I know I can't hurt you."
    Her stomach clenches up painfully, her chest burning. She understands what he means. But he's so, so wrong. There are many ways to hurt people and Claire is only invincible physically. She wants to yell this at him. Wants to scream and claw at his eyes. Wants to break him - show him that what he's done to her is far worse that what he's done to any of his other victims. But she knows, deep down, that he already realizes this. Because he knows how things work, right?
    She starts to cry instead, uncontrollably, her face pressed so hard into her pillow that she can't breath. He doesn't say anything. Doesn't move for a long time. And then he slides an arm around her, reaches his hand up between her own and clutches at her. And she knows what he's doing. Knows that he's not just comforting her, but also himself.
    When she wakes up the next morning, he's gone. Gretchen is staring knowingly at her from the other bed.

    Two years later, she's finishing up her undergraduate work. She's happy. Relatively. She enters a cafe on the other side of town, Gretchen in tow, and takes a seat. When she looks up from her menu, she sees him. For a moment, she almost doesn't' recognize him. Not because he looks any different, not really - he's still tall and dark and almost abnormally good-looking. He's wearing a dark blue shirt and black pants. He's scruffy. All the usual stuff. But he's not as intense looking. Doesn't hold himself with that arrogant, godlike posture. He looks almost unassuming. He gives her a strange look when he sees her.
    She excuses herself from Gretchen and storms up to his table. Forgets what she was going to say when he looks up at her and she can see that he obviously wasn't expecting her to be here. Wasn't stalking her like she thought he was. All the air seems to deflate from her. She sits. Folds her hands on the table. Waits for him to speak.
    "It's nice to see you," is the first absurd thing he decides to say.
    "What are you doing here?" she hisses. Annoyed at him merely for existing, for reminding her of everything she's managed to put behind her.
    He looks around, actually as if worried she'll cause a scene. "Just having some coffee. I didn't plan for you to be here."
    "One of us will have to leave," she demands. Growing more infuriated by the minute. He doesn't answer her, isn't even looking at her, so she repeats herself, a little louder this time. The couple at the next table glance over.
    But he still doesn't look at her. Doesn't even seem to be listening. She wonders what is so interesting, what he could be staring at so intently across the room. She looks over her shoulder. He's not looking at Gretchen, thankfully. There's a man in the far corner, a piece of untouched pie in front of him, a coffee cup clenched between his hands. He looks nervous. Claire wonders if he's prey. If Sylar's gone back to his old ways.
    Sylar leans forward towards Claire, his eyes still on the man. "He's going to hold this place up."
    So he's not prey. Claire glances back again. Doesn't see anything suspicious. "How do you know?"
    Sylar gives her a condescending look and she realizes how stupid the question was. Of course Sylar would know. She looks again. "Hold up the place how? Just for money?"
    He knows what she's really asking. "He's going to hurt people."
    Claire glances at Gretchen, instinctively. She's already formulating plans in her mind, any way to to get these people out safely. How to sacrifice herself once again. But Sylar reaches over and puts a hand on hers.
    "It's okay," his voice is low, soothing. She pulls her hand back quickly.
    "Are you going to do something?" she asks.
    His eyes flicker down for a moment, something uncertain flashing through them. He could save them all. Better than she could. But he doesn't know if he wants to do it.
    "I thought you were better?" she spits, "fixed? I thought you could feel now? So where's your compassion for these people? You want to see them hurt? Or worse?" She's pushing him, wants him to do something. Wants someone else to do something for once. Why does it always have to be her? She just wants to be left alone.
    He blinks. Smiles bitterly at her. "You were right Claire. I may have fixed what was wrong, but there are some things you can't undo. Some things you can't come back from."
    She stares at him. Knows they're wasting time talking. But she can't keep herself from considering his words. Wonders how much blood and death a person can see before they're changed for good. Before they're very cells are soaked in it. Until it's not as horrifying as it should be. She can see he cares. She can see he's worried now about these people in the cafe, these unknown people, in a way Sylar never would have been. But he also looks like a man who has drawn back the flesh of the world and peered into its innards and seen only the remnants of cancer eaten organs and muscle. What she sees in his eyes isn't heartlessness, or malice, but resignation.
    She takes a deep breath and plunges forward, "Will you help? Please? For me?
    And there it is. Her gamble. It hangs there, that last question, for a long time. Too long, for Claire, while there's a man with a gun nearby, ready and willing to hurt someone.
    Sylar smiles, almost shyly, but she can see a little of his old arrogance there. "Well, I was going to anyway. But since you asked so nicely...." he looks over at the man again, his face going intent, his eyes unblinking for a long, long time.
    And then he visibly relaxes. Takes a sip of his coffee. "You can call the police now. He can't move."
    She looks over. The man seems normal, by all appearances, and if he's sitting a little unnaturally still, as if being held down to his chair, casual passerby's would only assume he was very focused on the tv hanging in the corner.
    Claire's reaching for her pocket, pulling out her cell phone, as she asks, "That's it?"
    "What were you expecting? Some great showdown? Sorry, Claire." He's smirking at her now. She rolls her eyes.
    "You make it seem so easy."
    She's already answering the police dispatcher as his smile fades a bit at her words. Once she hangs up, he stands, pulls out a wallet and throws some bills on the table. "You'll forgive me if I don't really want to be hear when the police show up."
    He turns to leave, but then looks back and reaches out his hand to her. It's her wallet.
    "Wha-"
    "Sorry," he apologizes, but it's a bit insincere, "not that easy to get a job when you're a known felon. I'll pay you back next time."
    She takes it. Watches his tall form as he starts to cross the street, then literally disappears when a police car pulls up to the curb. The man bolts at the sight of the police, rushes out the door, and almost escapes. But she knows Sylar's still out there somewhere because the man trips, right on the sidewalk, face down, his gun skittering out and coming to a stop right at the cop's feet.