Spoilers: Through 3x19 for Community
Word Count: 1,927 (of 18,470)
Disclaimer/Notes: See Prologue for disclaimer and general notes. Thanks to Twitter user applextree, who inspired Jeff's observation about Greendale's tendency to self-destruct. The quote from Jeff's dream is from The Amazing Spider-Man #42 (November 1966) and was written by Stan Lee.
Part VII: Greendale Community College, Year Three
In which Jeff doesn't play paintball
"Jeff, are you co— OW!"
Annie heard something crash to the floor moments before Jeff appeared in the hallway outside the diorama workshop next to her. "Annie! Are you— Son of a bitch!" He glanced down at the bright blue splotch left by the paintball that had just smashed into his chest. "This is a brand-new shirt!"
"You two are outta the game!" said Greendale's head of security as he stepped out of the shadows brandishing a paint pistol.
"What the hell, Chang?" Jeff said. "We weren't even in the game! Do we look like we're in costume?"
"And Borchert Hall is supposed to be off-limits," Annie added.
"I have special dispensation to discharge my weapon wherever and whenever I see fit," Chang said, pulling a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket and holding it up for Jeff and Annie to see.
"You signed that yourself!"
"As head of security, I'm in charge of granting special dispensation."
Jeff's lips tightened and he inhaled slowly through his nose. "Fine. Let's get the hell out of here, Annie."
But when they got outside, they found the paintball game was still going strong, making it impossible for them to reach the parking lot, so they retreated to the workshop to wait it out. Annie took a seat at the table and pulled out a textbook, but before she had a chance to open it, she was distracted by the sight of Jeff taking off his shirt to inspect the damage done by the paintball. Whatever his personality flaws, she couldn't deny he had a really nice body. Not nice enough to counterbalance the flaws, but enough to make her, in her weaker moments, wish he was making better progress on overcoming them. She hurriedly looked down at her still unopened book when she noticed his head starting to turn her way.
"Can I borrow that little pack of tissues you keep in your backpack?" She tossed them to him and watched him try to dab the paint off his shirt. "I can't believe this place. How many times can one campus self-destruct?" Annie watched as Jeff wet his finger and touched it to one of the paint-stained tissues. "Well, it's water-soluble, at least. Shouldn't be too hard for my dry-cleaner to handle. Hey, do you want me to take your sweater to my guy? Best in town, guaranteed."
"What?" She'd been distracted by his abs again. "Oh. No. It's machine-washable." She laughed at the pained expression that flitted across Jeff's face at hearing those words. "You are such a girl."
"Jeez, sexist much?"
"Oh, spare me the simulated Britta routine. By the way, your shoulder is blue."
Jeff looked down and groaned. "Of course. I'm gonna go wash this off."
"Check if the war's still on while you're at it."
When Jeff returned a few minutes later, he reported that if anything, the parking lot was even more inaccessible than it had been earlier. "Looks like we'll be here for a while." He sat down heavily at the table. "All I've ever wanted from this place is to not be here. Isn't it enough that I go to some of my classes? I have to be trapped here after they're over?"
Annie frowned as a thought occurred to her. "Wait. Your last class was hours ago. Why are you here?"
Jeff looked at her. "Uh, for diorama club? Remember, the thing we were doing before that lunatic shot us?"
"When I asked you if you wanted to join the diorama club last semester, you laughed so hard that you hyperventilated and had to spend twenty minutes in the health center."
"Yeah, but you said you needed help getting ready for that otter poop thing."
"Ew! It's not… what you said, it's the Otterloop Invitational, the most prestigious diorama-making tournament in the western U.S. But I didn't ask you to help. I know how much you hate dioramas."
"No, I heard you talking about it with Professor Thompson in the cafeteria."
Annie narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "Since when do you pay attention to what people are saying?"
"I listen to people!"
"Jeff, two days ago you got up and started giving your biology presentation while Chester A. Arturo was in the middle of his!"
"Because I was listening to you!" Jeff insisted. "You said, 'Jeff, you're up.'"
"I said you were up next!"
"So I stopped listening one word early. Gimme a break, I'm new at this."
"Aha!" Annie said triumphantly. "So you admit that until recently you didn't pay attention to what people were saying!"
"Objection, leading the witness."
"You can't overrule me!"
"Cram it, David Mamet! What's your game?"
"You know, you'd make a good prosecuting attorney."
"And don't try to change the subject!"
Jeff sighed, and he slumped in his seat. "You remember when Blade was in town?"
"If you knew how many times I had to wash the curtains in the bathroom to get the pot smell out of them, you wouldn't have to ask. What about him?"
"Well, I was thinking about what Shirley said about how sometimes someone comes along you just can't shake from your system—"
"What, and you think you're my Blade?" Annie asked. She had, in fact, wondered this herself, generally during his not-infrequent periods of shirtlessness, but for the most part she believed what she had recently told Abed about her relationship with Jeff. Getting him to love her was like making the cheerleading squad at Riverside High, or going through rehab: a seemingly insurmountable challenge that, once conquered, would make less challenging situations seem all the easier.
"Ah, no. The other way around."
Annie stared at Jeff, repeating his last statement to herself, trying to figure out if there was some meaning to it other than the obvious one. "You think I'm your Blade," she said.
"Maybe? It's not really a concept I was familiar with before, so I don't—"
"Are… are you in love with me?" Annie asked in a small voice.
There was a long stretch of silence before Jeff replied, "I don't know." Annie didn't respond, so he continued. "I told you and the rest of the group on Valentine's Day last year that I loved you, but sometimes… sometimes it feels different with you. During the Pillow War, I realized that there wasn't anything I wouldn't do for my friends, but if I'm being honest with myself, that was already pretty much true for you. I mean, my shrink had been on me since January to start keeping a journal, but I didn't do it until you told me I should." Annie couldn't keep a pleased smile from forming on her face. "And sometimes I have dreams about you."
Annie felt her face heat up, and Jeff smirked. "What can I say, playing Dungeons and Dragons with you really opened my eyes," he said. "But they're not all like that. Sometime we're singing and dancing. And one time I was Peter Parker and you were Mary Jane Watson."
"I suppose we were kissing in an alley while you hung upside-down from a web?"
"No, you were standing in the doorway saying, 'Face it, tiger, you just hit the jackpot!'"
"Which movie is that from?"
Jeff looked pained. "It's not from any of the movies, it's… never mind. The point is, I don't know if any of that means I'm in love with you, because I've never been in love with anyone, so I don't know what it feels like. My shrink is trying to help me figure it out. Which is to say he's trying to get me to figure it out for myself, because I swear he's incapable of answering a question without turning it back on me."
"That's a sound technique," Annie said, thinking back on the Introduction to Counseling Techniques she'd taken the previous semester.
Jeff's lips quirked in a sardonic smile. "I'll make sure he knows you approve."
Annie felt her face flush. "Well, I'm interested in that sort of thing," she said, a little defensively. "I've gone through my share of therapy, you know."
"It's fine." He fished his phone out of his pocket and started typing.
Annie opened her biology textbook, but found herself just staring at the page, unable to focus on the words. Finally she broke the silence, saying, "I don't know if I'm comfortable knowing you're… judging me like a piece of meat or something."
"You should've thought of that before you started questioning my motives for helping you with your diorama." At her exasperated sigh, he put down the phone and added, "Look, this isn't about judging you. I don't need to judge you, because I know you. And I know I feel differently toward you than I do toward anyone else in the group. What I don't know is what that means. That's what I'm judging. Well, judging's not the right word… evaluating? Whatever, once I've got it all figured out, I'll let you know."
"And what if I don't feel the same way?"
"I'll keep bugging you about it until you change your mind. I can be pretty persuasive when I put my mind to it." Jeff leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head and let loose a dazzling smile.
Annie stared at him for several long seconds, unable to speak. Finally, she found her voice. "Unbelievable."
Jeff's smile fell. He dropped his arms and sat up straight. "That didn't sound like the good kind of unbelievable."
"You haven't changed, have you? This is exactly the way you behaved toward Britta. You think that women should just rush into your arms the instant you show any interest!"
"What? No, that's—"
"I suppose you think it's some big step forward that you have 'feelings' beyond horniness, but you're still talking like the only opinion that matters in a relationship is yours!"
"But… but you told me you love me," Jeff said. "Back when we did that conspiracy thing with the Dean."
"That was almost a year and a half ago, Jeff! Did you think you're the only person whose feelings change?"
"Well, guess what, just last week I told Abed I don't love you!" Jeff recoiled like he'd been slapped. "And you can stop 'evaluating.' You're not in love with me, because if you were, you wouldn't be thinking about convincing me to give you what you want. You'd be thinking about what I want."
"I told you, that's why I'm here right now!" Jeff insisted. "Because you wanted help with this stupid diorama contest!"
"Oh, thanks so much for deigning to spend your precious time on something so stupid!" Annie said, sending her chair toppling to the floor as she stood and shoved her textbook back into her bag.
"My time is precious to me, Annie," Jeff said as she stalked toward the door. "And this is where I chose to spend it."
Annie's anger abated, and she stopped at the door. "I know," she said. Turning around, she added, "I meant what I said to Abed. I'm not in love with you." She paused, and continued, "But… sometimes I think I could be. Someday." She turned around and looked Jeff in the eye. "But I'm the one who gets to decide that, not you."
Jeff smiled slightly. "And when you figure it out, you'll let me know?"
Annie returned the smile. "And we can figure out where it goes from there."
Prologue | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Epilogue