Word Count: 3,865
Spoilers: post-"Debate 109"
Summary: In which kissing is misinterpreted, hole punches are dangerous, Annie has a bountiful list of reasons for her behaviour, and Jeff has a tough, tough time.
Author's Note: Oh, good God. I had a paper to write today; instead, all my caffeine-fueled energy deflected itself to this. I'm going to flunk out of college, but on the plus side, I've got my lucrative career as a fanfiction writer to fall back on! Yuk yuk yuk.
Damn it, Community.
(This is seriously all over the place and weird. I think my brain is drug-addled by the combined forces of Lipton Iced Tea and paralyzing fear over my academic doom.)
Also: I fear that Britta came out a little shrewish, or -- say -- g-d-b-ish in this. May I just say: I love Britta, I find her awesome, I'm not trying to Terri Schuester her at all! It's the caffeine, and the school-related despair. I can't be held accountable for anything anymore.
Britta has something to say about it. Gasp. Shock.
“This is disgusting,” she hisses. “You are disgusting. You get that, right?”
“Ehhh – not really. Maybe if you tried being more open about how you really feel—”
“God! I just want to castrate you before you can inflict any more damage upon the young, innocent, young women of this world. In fact, let’s get down to business, let’s do it right now. I’m sure I have something with me that’ll get the job done – this. Here. How ‘bout this?”
It’s a hole punch.
“You don’t see many of those anymore,” Abed remarks calmly from the corner of the room. “The handheld single hole ones, I mean. It’s usually the three hole punch now. For efficiency.”
“Not right now, Abed,” Britta growls.
“Just saying,” Abed says, and sinks back into silence.
Jeff would love nothing more, in this moment, than to continue a lively, thoughtful, and drawn-out discussion about the evolution of hole punches, but it looks like that’s off the table. He gets the sense that their little Scooby gang has been buddies (or … whatever) long enough that everyone except him has figured out that it’s not in anyone’s best interest to piss Britta off.
In that department, and that department alone, Jeff is a slow learner.
That’s why right now, he says to her, “You do realize I’m going to find your new and – dare I say it – ardent interest in my nether regions nothing besides encouraging, right?”
He prepares himself for physical pain.
Instead, some of the fury goes out of Britta’s face, and she suddenly looks nothing besides very tired and very sad. Oh, crap. “Jeff. It’s Annie.”
“I know it’s Annie,” he says, heaping a layer or two of extra dismissiveness into his tone. “That’s why it’s nothing.”
“You kissed her. We all walked in on you kissing her.”
Actually, Jeff does not say, she was most definitely the one who kissed me.
“I tripped,” Jeff does say, “and fell on her face.”
Britta throws the hole punch at his head. Which isn’t quite castration, but still.
“You saw all that comin’, didn’t you?” Shirley asks Abed, while Britta storms out, and Jeff absolutely so is not seconds away from weeping in pain.
(But for the record: ow, ow, ow, holy shit, ow.)
Abed says nothing, just shrugs with a kind of quiet dignity. The noble, omniscient bastard.
“You could have given me a heads up,” Jeff tells him, scowling. “Busted out, I dunno, a ‘Hey, Jeff, you might want to duck before the crazy lady throws a hole punch at you.’”
“In the most recent episode of The Community College Chronicles,” Abed says, “it was a staple remover.”
“Ooh, Jeff. You should count your blessings. Those things got little teeth on them.”
And then Shirley remembers that she’s on Britta’s side in this little debacle, and scurries on off after her. This leaves Jeff alone with Abed, and call him crazy, but Jeff doesn’t really want to be alone with Abed. He gets the sense that Abed gets what’s going on right now, which is a) unfair, and b) sort of scary. Jeff’s not entirely sure he wants to be enlightened.
He’s in the men’s room standing in front of the mirror and dabbing at his fun new head wound with a wad of paper towel when the door swings open.
“Damn it, Starburns,” he says, because that guy is a total bathroom lurker.
But then it’s not Starburns. (Who is clearly losing his edge.) It’s Annie.
“Abed told me,” she says, coming over to stand next to him, “about your injury.”
“Yeah, well,” he says, and realizes he doesn’t have anything more to say than that. Worrying. If there’s one thing that’s never failed him ‘til now, it’s his ability to always, always say stuff.
“Did you tell them that I kissed you?”
“Nope. My lips are sealed. When they’re not being randomly accosted by yours.”
“Do I get to ask why you kissed me?”
“A lot of reasons.”
“Can I hear them?” he asks, scowling, because he figures he’s at least earned that much.
1. Troy’s got a girlfriend.
2. Sometimes, they kiss in the hallways, even though this isn’t high school and that sort of thing seems really immature, like, can’t people at least be considerate enough to keep their PDA to themselves?
(But then, Jeff points out, they would be private displays of affection.
To which Annie rebuts, It would still be PDA.
Which is technically correct, so he doesn’t argue.)
3. Troy and that girl sat on her grandmother’s courting quilt together and Annie always, always dreamed that she’d be the one to share that experience with Troy, and now the courting quilt is sullied, and she doesn’t know how to feel about her entire romantic future because of it, which, to be quite honest, stresses her out. Even more than most things do already.
4. Jeff does look like a really tall Ryan Seacrest, and Ryan Seacrest is the only reason she’s ever watched American Idol anyway, at least the audition episodes, because it causes her actual physical pain to bear witness to that much oblivious failure.
5. Jane is eighteen and Mr. Rochester is in his mid-to-late thirties, so it’s not like it’s totally unprecedented.
(Like two centuries ago, Jeff can’t help pointing out.
But a true love story, Annie says, never expires. Like Twinkies.
Jeff is pretty sure that even Twinkies expire sometime.)
6. Annie has kissed three boys in her life and they were all varying degrees of awful at it – waggy tongues and lots of spit and one of them even bit her, and that was before Twilight made it big, so there wasn’t even an ‘On the bright side, he’s kind of like a sexy vampire’ justification to fall back on – and Jeff is old enough that she has always assumed that he must have worked out how to kiss successfully by now (his brain gets caught on the phrase ‘always assumed’, and then the phrase ‘damn it, damn it,’ and then the pressing need for some brain bleach), and the kiss at the debate proved that assumption correct; besides, he’s always going after women, all the time, everywhere, so it makes sense to deduce that he’s in good shape, kissing-wise.
(Not all the time, says Jeff. Not everywhere.
You hit on the lunch lady, Annie reminds him.
Um, Jeff says, that was purely political. It was pizza day.
That was really manipulative of you.
Yeah, and Anne Boleyn went for Henry VIII because he was so dreamy.)
7. She’s inclined to suspect sometimes that Britta is making Jeff almost as miserable as Troy is making her, and therefore, it is her duty as a good friend to offer a fleeting distraction from his romantic misery, or aid him in his quest to make Britta notice him in a sexual light.
(Don’t say sexual, Jeff orders.
Why not? Annie asks, her eyes big, her lips parted in faint curiosity.
He doesn’t say anything for an inconveniently long time, and then what he says is, You know what, never mind.)
8. She understands that she has considerably less romantic experience of a physical variety than most girls her age. Considering she’d like to get married and have beautiful biracial babies by 2015 at the latest (and a part of her has always favored 2011, just in case those Mayans were on to something), it seems negligent not to try to improve in that area in the meantime. And if one wanted to learn to knit, well, they wouldn’t take lessons from someone who’s made one lousy scarf, would they? No. They’d pick an experienced knitter, one with finesse, one with gloves and sweaters and afghans galore to their name. (He can actually feel the floor shaking under his feet, getting ready to open up in a wide gaping abyss that swallows him down into the fiery pits of hell, and on the plus side, that means he won’t have to go to Sr. Chang’s Spanish class anymore, and on the minus side, it’s hell, and on the plus side, it might make him feel a little better, because he thinks he may deserve it. Never in all his years of sleazy lawyerdom had he ever felt quite this sleazy.) Jeff seems like a very experienced knitter.
(I have never, Jeff says, had anything to do with knitting. Ever.
It’s metaphorical knitting, Annie briskly explains. It’s code for—
Yeah, knitting, Jeff interrupts. I’ve done some knitting in my day.)
9. Statistically, it seems odd to have a group of seven friends, four male and three female, and no romantic matches therein. If life were a television show, it would be an actual impossibility. And while the more obvious pairs are Jeff and Britta, or (she pauses wistfully) Annie and Troy, it’s become clear that there are too many current impediments to expect either of those matches to happen anytime in the immediate future.
(Seriously, that? Jeff says. That’s your reason? And you automatically think us? What about Pierce and Shirley? Or, hey, Troy and Abed. Don’t pretend you don’t see it.
I don’t see it, says Annie.
Jeff stares at her.
I see it a little, Annie relents.)
9a. Similarly: because they’re both attending college, they’ll both have similar restrictions in terms of their schedules and their finances, so, taking things like night classes and that stint where Jeff lived in his car into account, they could shape their dates accordingly – for example: afternoons at the public library—
“Annie,” Jeff interrupts, because they’ve reached 9-freakin’-a, and a theoretical world where you go to the library for enjoyment, “I can’t – date you. Adopt you, maybe.”
“I’m not done yet,” Annie informs him.
“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”
But instead of sharing number ten, she just sinks into silence.
Really, really drawn out silence.
“Number ten …?” Jeff finally prompts.
"We both had everything all figured out.” She says it to her reflection in the mirror instead of to him. “Our whole lives. You, morally questionable law. Me, everything. A big, bright, shining future. And now we’re here.”
She sighs. The noise is small and delicate.
“I’m pretty sure,” Jeff says in his bluntest and least empathetic of tones, “that applies to everybody.”
“Well.” She breaks eye contact with her reflection and smoothes her skirt unnecessarily, her voice going back to its chipperest. “All right, then. Anyway. Those are my reasons.”
“So you thought out ten reasons why you should do it, and that led you to kiss me?” He doesn’t really get why he’s asking. It’s very much lacking in smartness. He blames Britta. He’s probably got a concussion. The world’s lamest concussion.
“No, I just kissed you.” For a split-second, she looks troubled. Then she brightens. “But it’s all right, because the reasons were there afterwards, just waiting for me to think of them.”
“You really like reasons, don’t you?”
“And lists.” For a second, they stare at each other. Then she reaches toward him.
“Whoa.” He backs up. “What are you doing?”
“You’re just smearing blood around,” she says, taking the paper towels from his hand. “I can fix it up for you.”
“No, I got it,” he insists. There will be no more touching. No more touching.
“No you don’t,” she says, laughing a little.
He’s crumbling. Curse the power of the cutesy giggle. “Oh, fine. But only because the defense of your honor’s the reason I’m sporting this gaping head wound, Florence Nightingale.”
“That’s fair,” she decides. “Next time, I’ll take the fall.”
“How about next time, you don’t randomly kiss me?” Damn it, why does he keep mentioning the kissing like it’s a thing to mention ever again? It’s not. It’s so profoundly not.
The worst part is that she seems to really think about it, like this is a question at all. And then, lower than usual, she says, “Deal.”
He thinks about being in a threesome with Pierce. It worked for Britta and smoking. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t here.
“I’ve got bandaids in my purse,” Annie says after dabbing at his forehead one last time. “I always carry them around just in case.”
She rummages around in her purse for a few seconds, then pulls out a tiny safety kit, the existence of which doesn’t surprise him at all. She takes out a bandaid, tears it open, and gets ready to stick it on his forehead.
He’s not so sure he’s okay with that course of action, because—
“It’s pink,” Jeff says blankly. “With … butterflies.”
“To cheer you up,” Annie says, like this is really obvious.
“It doesn’t cheer me up,” Jeff says. “In fact, congratulations, butterfly bandaid, you’ve officially depressed me.”
“You’re a downer.”
“You’re lucky I’m nice to you.”
“You’re lucky I haven’t perfected an antidote to your girly tears yet. Which I’m working on, by the way. And making significant progress.”
“You’re one of the coolest people I’ve ever known,” she says as she puts the bandaid on, which is … random. “Isn’t that sad?”
“Gee,” he frowns, “Thanks.”
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Yeah? How did you mean it?”
She doesn’t say anything back. She runs her pointer finger gently back and forth over the stupid bandaid, smoothing it down, and her fingertip keeps running over his skin, and he’s never been this weirdly acutely aware of his forehead before, not even in the direst days of zitty teenagerdom. She’s looking at him with a lot of focus, the kind of focus she usually devotes to Troy and textbook pages.
“I saw Return of the Jedi when it came out,” he blurts out. “In the theatre.”
“My family bought the DVDs when they released the remastered editions,” Annie replies, looking a little confused by the sudden shift in subject matter. “You know, where they computer-edited Hayden Christensen in at the end instead of that bald wrinkly guy.”
“This can never be,” Jeff says.
“Seriously,” comes a voice from a bathroom stall. It is, unsurprisingly, Starburns.
“You know,” Jeff says the next day, when it’s just the two of them sitting waiting for class to start, “I think you’re overestimating how invested I am in the whole Britta thing.”
“You’re just saying that because you’ve fallen into the habit of masking your emotions with snappy comments, a devil-may-care attitude, and perfectly tousled hair. And she threw a hole punch at your head.”
“It’s not that,” Jeff says, even though, okay, maybe he’s still a little pissed off. “I’m just not that into her.”
“Or are you just afraid that she’s not that into you—”
“I know she’s not that into me. But what I mean is, sure. Britta’s a cool gi—” He takes a second to consider who he’s talking to. “—adult, grown up woman, who spent the eighties existing through them. I like her. I wouldn’t be devastated if one day she begged me to ravish her in a moonlit glade. But it’s not like I cry myself to sleep.”
“Moonlit glade?” The corner of her mouth twitches.
“That was sarcastic,” Jeff tells her.
She keeps on smiling.
“You feel bad for me?” he says, maybe a little more acerbic than is necessary. “You cried for twenty minutes yesterday because Troy borrowed a pencil from you, forgot it was yours, and leant it to somebody else.”
“Not just anybody else,” Annie glowers. “That stupid skank who only writes down the topic headings from the Powerpoint slides and spends the rest of the time on her iPhone. Why even bother to take notes? The first thing they teach you about college preparation is that the most important material is what the professor says out loud. When I was in eleventh grade, I checked out audiobooks of the complete Shakespearean canon and transcribed them by hand to teach myself how to copy things down with speed and legibility.”
Jeff stares at her.
Annie eh-ehms uncomfortably, then continues, “But the point is: at least I experience my feelings for Troy. Really, really experience them. It’s my emotional outlet.” In which case, Jeff has the suspicion that someone stuck an emotional fork in it. “When was the last time you let yourself really feel anything?”
“Did you really just ask me about my feelings, Meredith Grey?”
“Did you really just make a Grey’s Anatomy reference?”
“Ooh! Did somebody say Grey’s Anatomy?” Shirley asks, beaming, as she and Britta come up.
“Grey’s Anatomy is everything that’s wrong with humanity,” Britta says. “So really,” she adds to Jeff, “it makes sense that you’d be a fan.”
“You threw a hole punch at my head.” This will be his default retort to her forever. Or at least the next couple months.
“Annie,” Britta says, her tone making the abrupt jump from I Will Impale You With The Sound Of My Voice Alone to Oh, You Poor Kicked Puppy, Get Out Of The Rain And Into My Loving Arms, “why don’t you move to that desk?”
“Why?” Annie says.
“I’d like to sit next to Jeff. For … reasons … relating to vision. Mine is really bad.”
“And Jeff’s a pervert,” Troy snickers, sauntering over with Pierce and Abed.
“I am not a—”
“Oh my God,” Annie explodes. “Why are all of you so against the idea of me and Jeff??”
The answers all come in one big avalanche of disapproval:
“He’s taking advantage of you!” (Britta.)
“A height difference that drastic’s just gonna cause problems. Holding hands should be fun, not work! – And he’s taking advantage of you.” (Shirley. Featuring a pointed nudge by Britta.)
“If you’re looking for an older gentleman to school you in the ways of romance, is Jeff really the best select— Ow!” (Pierce. Featuring a Bic pen thrown by Britta.)
“You’re too similar. Despite the superficial differences, you both share a sense of deep, looming disappointment with life, a sense that the universe has betrayed you, and once you’ve recognized that in each other, found another aching human soul to truly connect to, neither of you will be able to maintain the veneer of contentment you foster through overachieving-slash-underachieving-and-u
“I think it’s cool.” (Troy.)
“You do?” Annie asks, sounding all quavery.
“Sure,” Troy says, shrugging. “You could double date with me and Randi.”
“Troy, they are not double-dating with you,” Britta says. “They’re not dating at all, and—”
“Yes we are,” Annie says abruptly.
“What??” Oh, Jesus. “No. No we’re not.” Jeff turns to Britta, who is probably going to just straight up impale him. Thank God she threw her pen at Pierce; it’ll buy him a little time. “We’re so not.”
“Sweetie,” Annie says, “we don’t have to lie anymore.”
“Annie. What. The. Hell.”
“Besides,” Annie says fiercely, turning back to Britta, “I don’t see what the big problem is about our slight discrepancy in years. Jane and Mr. Rochester—”
“MR. ROCHESTER IS EVERYTHING THAT’S WRONG WITH HUMANITY.”
“I thought that was Grey’s Anatomy,” Shirley says.
“They’re both everything that’s wrong with humanity,” Britta fumes. “Hell, he can be McLocksHisWifeInTheAtticAndThenLiesAbout
“Dude,” Troy says, “spoiler alert.”
“It’s his wife in the attic??” Pierce asks, dismayed.
“This vein of humour is abnormally literary,” Abed observes. “Like, if our lives were a TV show, or maybe fanfiction about a TV show, this would be written by an English major.”
“You guys,” Jeff says, “Annie and I are Not Dating. Listen to the emphatic capitals in my voice.”
“Oh, Jeffrey,” Annie says, reaching over and pinching his cheek, “you’re adorable.”
“If this was a TV show, you couldn’t be thinking that word right now,” Abed says, studying Jeff with a look of greatest discernment.
“If it was a fanfiction, he could,” Shirley points out.
“That’s true,” Abed acknowledges.
“Do you realize what you did?” Jeff mutters fiercely, grabbing Annie by the arm as they file out of class. “We are now in a fake relationship.”
“Oh my God,” Britta groans, taking in the sight of their super shameless physical contact. “Don’t force us to bear witness to this.”
“I think somebody’s jealous,” Annie says to Britta, then shoots a conspiratory, boy-oh-boy-look-how-I’m-helping-you-out glance Jeff’s way.
“Why does everyone think I’m a lesbian?” Britta demands.
“Of me,” Annie says pointedly. “For Jeff.”
Britta’s brow furrows. “Wait a second.”
“This is all a set-up,” Britta says, jaw dropping.
“What?” Jeff says. “No.”
“You put Annie up to this, didn’t you? This whole weird awful May-December atrocity is just one big ploy to make me get jealous and want to date you? God, Jeff, I thought we were past that.”
“I—” Jeff starts.
He looks at Annie. She’s got a deer-in-the-headlights look going, and he gets the sense that whatever craziness motivated her ‘Jeffrey and I are dating’ profession died as soon as Troy walked off with Abed.
He makes his decision. “If you’d just yield to my advances, like a normal, sane, well-adjusted, non-closet-lesbian woman,” he says to Britta, “I wouldn’t have to go to these lengths.”
“Annie,” Britta says through clenched teeth, “Let’s go … talk about feelings in the bathroom.”
“I can tell that’s code for ‘write “Jeff Winger is a fugly slut”’ inside the stalls,” Jeff says. “Ladies, I wasn’t born yesterday.”
Britta rolls her eyes at him and latches her arm through Annie’s, dragging her off. Jeff watches them disappear down the hall in a fearsome two-person stampede of feminine indignation. Annie turns and looks at him over her shoulder; he answers it with a sardonic at-your-service bow. She smiles, just barely.
Which, for the record, isn’t nearly enough to make up for the Wrath of Britta, or anything. No way.
That afternoon’s study session is considerably more stilted than usual. After about a half hour, everybody takes off for a cafeteria break. Jeff sticks around to rummage through Britta’s bag. He’s finding and confiscating that damn hole punch before it can wreak any more damage. If the glares she’s been shooting him are anything to go by, then he ought to view castration as a very real threat at the present moment.
He gives the hole punch to the first person who walks by and doesn’t look at him like a crazy person for offering each passing stranger a perfectly good free hole punch. (Seriously. Whatever happened to sharing is caring?) Then he goes and sits back down. It’s a relief to be alone for a little while.
He looks down at his Spanish book and realizes that it’s been tampered with. There’s something pink sticking out of the top of it. Pink … and butterflied. He flips open to the page that the bandaid’s marking, and finds a post-it note waiting there for him in the middle of some verb conjugation. In neat, cheerful handwriting, it reads: Reason #11: Man is good.
He sticks the bandaid in Pierce’s (remaining) hair at the first given opportunity. It’s possible he leaves the note in the textbook.