Spoilers: All aired episodes up to Modern Warfare
Rating/Warnings: PG-13. There's a bad word or two somewhere in there.
Word Count: 2938
Disclaimer: Believe me - if I owned the show, Joel McHale would be naked on a weekly basis instead of a semi-weekly basis.
Jeff Winger is not an idiot. Contrary to the beliefs of his study group, he’s quite aware that he’s madly in love with Annie Edison. The group has no idea, of course – they think he’s either so wrapped up in himself that he’s incapable of forming a connection with another human being (which is a good theory, Jeff has to admit) or that he’s still intent on getting Britta to sleep with him. First of all, been there, done that. He’s really not hung up on her anymore. But hey, sex is sex, so, sure, if she were to rip off her shirt and lay down on the table, Jeff would certainly do his best to ravish her, but only if Annie wasn’t around. If he had to choose between fucking Britta or making Annie happy, he’d choose Annie every single time.
But, like he said, he’s not an idiot. He’s incredibly aware that he’s sixteen years older than Annie. It’s a problem – he gets that. He can’t even imagine how he would begin to tell one of his friends about his feelings – surely, it would go something like this:
BRITTA: Blah blah blah, I’m a feminist.
TROY/PIERCE/ABED/SHIRLEY: You and Britta have sexual tension that would make Bert and Ernie jealous. (Though, admittedly, Pierce’s comment would be at least 57% more racist and/or sexist)
JEFF: Oh, by the way, I’m in love with a girl who could very well be my daughter, if I hadn’t been so into Doctor Who and taken so long to find myself in high school.
Yeah. That would go well.
(And, just to be clear, it’s not like Jeff was so lame in high school that he never had a girlfriend. He did. He just…never got to touch her below the neck. Not that he ever had the opportunity, since all their dates were spent on functions with her church’s youth group.)
He knows the group, mostly Britta and Shirley, is fiercely protective of Annie. Jeff doesn’t blame them – even before Annie had kissed him, Jeff would go out of his way to ensure that no one and nothing would upset her. If Annie suddenly announced one day that a 35-year-old man asked her on a date, Jeff would be tracking him down with Troy’s Louisville slugger (which he keeps in Abed’s room, for some reason. Whatever. Jeff’s done trying to figure out that relationship) before Annie could even finish her sentence. He’s a hypocrite, he knows, and he absolutely hates himself for it, though he thinks he would get over his guilt if he could just touch Annie’s soft skin. And it probably wouldn’t hurt to see her naked, either.
It’s a Thursday in the beginning of May when Jeff decides he needs to tell Annie how he feels. In all fairness, he makes this decision only when he looks up and sees Annie’s wearing a tank top. He’s never seen her in a tank top before, only fuzzy sweaters and button-down shirts. He thanks every god he doesn’t believe in for creating hot days and libraries with no air conditioning.
He’s had his eye on her the entire study session. He can hear Troy and Abed debating which Indiana Jones movie is the best, and Pierce is saying something that’s undoubtedly racist to Shirley, but Jeff quite honestly doesn’t care. Annie’s helping Britta understand the difference between the imperfect and preterite tenses, and Jeff flat-out can’t look away from her. He thinks Annie notices a few times – she doesn’t look at him, but every so often, her cheeks grow pink and her lips curl into the tiniest hint of a smile. Something inside Jeff seems to grow warm whenever he sees that smile – more than once, he makes a pledge to make her smile like that as often as he can.
He jumps at the sudden sound. “What?” he asks a little too sharply, turning his head to see who dared interrupt his dirty thoughts about Annie. Oh – it was Britta. Naturally.
Jeff throws on his usual smirk, trying to act as if everything’s normal and he hadn’t spent the last hour imagining what would happen if he just leaned over and kissed Annie, or maybe if he tucked that one piece of hair behind her ear, and maybe he’d move his hand just a little too slow so that he’d just barely brush her cheek.
Aw, crap. He’s thinking about Annie again. Right – focus on Britta. She’s mid-sentence – Jeff has no idea what he missed, but he really could not care any less.
“…all day. Is there something going with you two? Because you do realize that that’s totally gross, don’t you?”
Jeff assumes she’s talking about him and Annie, but he can’t be entirely sure, and if he said something, then he’d wind up declaring his love for Annie in front of all his friends. Luckily, Annie heard the entire thing and responds on his behalf.
“Nothing is going on between Jeff and me,” Annie squeaks, her cheeks turning crimson. “I don’t know where you got such an idea, but –“
“I got the idea,” Britta interrupts, “from watching Jeff for the last hour. He hasn’t taken his eyes off you once.”
“Whoa!” Jeff exclaims, holding up his hands. “If you know that, that means you haven’t taken your eyes off me for the last hour. Is there something you’d like to tell me, Britta?”
Britta, Jeff’s happy to see, has no response. Relieved, Jeff turns back to Annie, and something about her face makes him decide it would be a very, very good idea to wink at her. Who is Jeff Winger to fight his instincts? His instincts have led to him sleeping with a professor, a contortionist, and a very eager crossing guard. Following his instincts is surely the way to go if he wants Annie.
Except Jeff forgot something very important – just because Britta doesn’t have a response doesn’t mean anyone else wouldn’t. Jeff’s not shocked when Shirley speaks up. “Jeff,” she says gently. “We’ve all listened to this for a long time now, and I just can’t do it anymore. Britta isn’t interested in you. It’s never gonna happen, sweetie.” A familiar edge appears in her tone. “So stop acting like she wants you.”
It’s funny – Jeff’s hand is resting on the very table where he and Britta had sex less than a week ago. He thinks Britta’s hand was actually pretty close to where his is now while she was on top of him, but he’s certainly not going to bring that to the group’s attention.
“Okay, everyone!” Annie says brightly. “Let’s just move on, all right? Does anyone have the list of vocabulary words for Unit Six?”
Her voice sounds…off. Her usual perkiness is evident, but it sounds almost strained, like she’s forcing herself to sound happy. Jeff watches her as she flips through her binder. Her hand is shaking, just a little bit –
Before he knows what he’s doing, Jeff reaches out and grabs her hand. The shaking stops immediately, though that’s probably because Annie’s entire body freezes.
“What – What are you –“ Her voice trails off as her gaze meets their hands. They’re just lying on the table, so natural, so…comfortable. It’s almost like they do this every day. Annie has to stop for a moment as she processes that thought – getting to treat Jeff like her boyfriend every day. Kissing him hello, walking arm-in-arm to class, his arm thrown around her shoulders in the cafeteria, every single day.
Okay – No. Too much to think about, and this place is entirely too public. Annie quickly draws her hand back, her breath caught in her throat as she meets Jeff’s eyes. She’s read books where the heroine asks a question with her eyes – it’s never really worked out for Annie, but she tries it, anyway. “What are you doing?” she asks with her doe eyes that drive Jeff absolutely insane.
Except, of course, Annie’s very unskilled in the art of nonverbal communication. So, naturally, Jeff sees the batting of her eyelashes as some sort of signal, and he nearly falls over in his chair. Is she really flirting with him in front of everyone? Is it possible that she wants him, too, maybe just as much as he wants her?
Okay. This needs to end. They have something like thirty minutes left in their study session – Jeff needs to through the next half hour without throwing himself at Annie, or completely embarrassing himself through some kind of Notebook-esque speech in which he describes, in great detail, his feelings for Annie. That shouldn’t be too hard to do, right?
As Jeff quickly learns, it is quite possibly the hardest thing he’s ever had to do in his life. All he wants to do is look at her, but he knows that Shirley and Britta are now watching him like hawks. Instead, he looks at Pierce – this way, he can still see Annie out of the corner of his eye. Speaking of eyes, Pierce seemed to have something stuck in his for a while, judging by the frequency he made winking-like motions at Jeff.
It sucks, but he somehow gets through the next half hour. But he’s determined – Annie always stays behind after they’re done studying, and he’s going to stay with her. He’ll find some excuse so he doesn’t attract anyone’s attention, and as soon as everyone’s gone, he’s going to tell Annie how he feels. It’s a rather ingenious plan, even for him.
Everything’s going according to plan – he took out his phone and started pretending to text about five minutes before their time ended. Then, one by one, everyone trickled out of the room – first Troy, who seems to be allergic to studying any longer than he absolutely has to. Then, of course, Abed follows him. Finally, it’s just Annie and Jeff. As usual, the thought of being alone with her makes Jeff’s stomach jump in funny ways, and he – Good God. Something about this girl makes Jeff act like – well, a girl. A 6’4”, 35-year-old little girl. He’s never given this much thought to a girl before. Who would have thought that little Annie Edison, Annie Adderall, would be the one to make him get all emotional and heartfelt and crap?
Ugh. The thought of being this sentimental usually would make Jeff sick to his stomach – and, okay, yes, he does feel a bit of nausea, but it seems a little…different. Is it possible that he’s nauseous because he’s about to tell Annie how he feels about her? Jeff’s never been nervous about talking to a girl. Why is this different?
As soon as he asks himself the question, he knows it’s a stupid thing to wonder. It’s different because this is the only girl who ever had any control over him. If he gets rejected at a bar, he swallows a drink to regain his pride, then moves over to the next girl. But Annie? There’s no replacing her. For the first time since he was six and he met his new neighbor (the one with the pink streaks in her hair and a belly button ring, not the girl who played the cello. That girl was weird. Funnily enough, Jeff wound up losing his virginity to the cellist, but he decides it’s best not to go there), Jeff Winger only wants one girl.
That one girl, he realizes, is currently staring at him with something that looks an awful lot like amusement in her eyes. “Jeff? Why are you still here?”
He gapes at her for a moment, not really having a good excuse. “Um…It’s dark outside. I wouldn’t want you to have to walk to your car alone.”
“It’s only five o’clock.” Her bright smile and red cheeks betray her cynical words. Jeff knows his audience – he knows Annie likes being protected, likes knowing that someone actually cares about her.
Jeff shrugs self-consciously. “Maybe I was really worried about you.”
Annie raises one eyebrow. When did she learn how to do that? Jeff’s never seen her do that. She seems as if she doesn’t believe him – Jeff wouldn’t blame any other girl for not believing his story, but Annie? Usually she’s just so flattered that someone is talking to her that she’ll just go along with whatever they say. It takes him a moment, but then it occurs to Jeff that Annie is calling him on his bullshit. No one is ever going to believe this.
“You know, Jeff,” she says, the color leaving her cheeks, “believe it or not, I’m a big girl. I don’t need you to ‘protect’ me – I’m more than capable of doing that myself.”
Okay, this is definitely not how he saw this conversation going. Jeff had counted on, well, being able to charm her. Okay, okay, minor setback – he’ll just turn up the charm. No problem.
He gives her his brightest smile, pulling his chair over right next to hers. “Did you ever think that maybe I like protecting you?”
She gives him a dubious look. What the hell? Jeff hadn’t been expecting her to fall all over herself as soon as he talked to her, but…really? It’s almost as if she doesn’t want to talk to him at all. Okay – fine. Annie wants to try some weird tactic on him? That’s fine. Jeff can switch up his game, too. He’s gonna go for it – honesty. The word leaves him with goosebumps, but he’s got nothing else.
He swallows hard. “Annie, for the last few months, I – I haven’t been able to get you out of my head. And I think that you feel the same way about me – or I did, at least, but the way you’re acting now, I guess maybe I’m wrong.”
She doesn’t even freaking look at him. What the fuck is going on here? This is completely new territory for Jeff. Rejection is one thing, but this? Annie’s acting like she didn’t even hear him.
Okay – it’s a big room. Sound gets lost. Maybe she actually didn’t hear him. So he tries again. “Annie? Did you hear me? I said that I like you, and I’d love to take you out to dinner.”
She begins to calmly organize the papers in her binder. “I heard you, Jeff.”
He blinks once. Then a second time. Then a third. She doesn’t continue. Okay, Jeff knows that Annie doesn’t have a lot of experience with dating, but surely even she knows that you have to at least talk to the other person, doesn’t she?
“And…?” he prompts. Annie stops fiddling with her papers and finally (thank God) looks at him.
“And I politely decline,” she says.
Jeff swears that, for a second, the world stops revolving.
She thankfully doesn’t need prompting to continue this time – Jeff’s relieved. There’s no way he can talk, let alone think, right now. “Jeff…I do have feelings for you,” she admits, that familiar blush back in her cheeks, “but I broke up with Vaughn for a reason. I’m not a kid anymore. You’re always telling me I need to grow up, and you’re right. I want to be treated as an adult, and, frankly, I don’t think that you treat me as one.”
Jeff blinks. Did Annie just stand up for herself? Good Lord, that was hot. Okay, no. Bad Jeff. Focus.
“But – I do,” he says numbly. Annie gives him another dubious look.
“No, you don’t,” she says. “When you look at me, what’s the first thing you think?”
Well, depending on her current outfit, it variates between “Good God, she’s beautiful” and, “Good God, I need to see her naked”. Jeff figures that he shouldn’t say either of those, though, so instead he replies, “I think that you’re someone I care about, and that you –“
She rolls her eyes at him. She’s serious right now. Jeff doesn’t understand a single thing that’s happened in the last two minutes. “No, you don’t,” Annie says. “When you were deciding whether or not to ask me out, let me guess, the first thing you said to convince yourself that it was a bad idea was that I’m eighteen.”
Actually, the first con Jeff thought of was the fact that Britta and/or Shirley would probably attempt to castrate him…but he supposes their protectiveness comes from Annie’s age, so he’s willing to say that’s the same thing. “Well – Sure,” he says. Then, quickly, he adds, “But so what? You’re a lot younger than me. I have to consider things like that.”
“No,” she says with a small shake of her head, “you don’t. I’m eighteen – I’m an adult. That’s what matters, Jeff, and you’re too caught up on the specifics to realize that.”
Then she stands, gathering her books. “Jeff, I would love to go out with you. But I need to be with someone who respects and understands me. As soon as you’re capable of that, try asking me again.”
The next thing Jeff knows, Annie’s gone. He leans back in his chair, his face blank. Did that seriously just happen? Did he just get a lecture from Annie? That’s just so…unprecedented and weird and…kinda hot. Aw, crap. Jeff knows he’s screwed – there’s no possible way he’s going to forget about Annie, especially not after her sudden growth of a backbone. For the first time in his life, Jeff Winger is going to have to actively try to woo a girl (Do people still say woo? Ah, whatever. It sounds old-fashioned – Annie would probably love it). That thought is…terrifying, and yet, totally worth it.