Warnings: mild UST for Annie/Jeff, Multiple Surprise Pairings, Shirley+Abed BFFs, spoilers for ep 1x23
Rating: T for Totally Tubular, 4,300 words
Disclaimer: Not my characters, now or in any future fic.
Summary: Rewrite Challenge for "Modern Warfare". Abed is a Boondock Saint, Shirley is hungry, Jeff is confused, Annie is mysterious, and dead people won't stay dead.
Comments: This was supposed to be a thousand words, instead I stayed up an extra three and a half hours and now look at it. If they go OOC, then blame the late hour and this ridiculous episode. Please forgive any misspellings. (How will I function at work tomorrow?)
The chips were down and this was the end of everything. All the hours of sweat and paint and even blood had culminated in this moment when two armies faced each other across No Man's Land. Their fingers tightened against the grips of their handguns, sweaty and creased. They checked their magazines and then checked them again. Every second that passed dragged for epochs, until at last one man raised his weapon and
"Abed, if you don't stop narrating, I'm going to fill your eyeballs with Yellow Number Five."
"He speaks the truth," said Shirley, not so casually lifting the tip of her own gun and allowing it to drift in Abed's direction. Abed shut his mouth and slumped against the overturned table.
"I miss Troy," he said.
Shirley relaxed her aim, and nodded. "He's with the Lord now."
"He's at home, probably asleep," said Jeff from behind the next table. He swung his weapon back to the enemy.
"Like I said."
"Any minute now, they're going to--"
"Abed!" Jeff and Shirley hissed in unison, but their chastisement evaporated in a storm of liquid bullets. The cacophony reached a crescendo, and then there was silence. Behind the two park bench tables, the last of the study group met each others' eyes.
"What was that?" Shirley asked, not really wanting an answer.
Abed tilted his head in a curling angle, and whispered, "Someone took out the Gleekers. They're gone. All gone."
"Or they've moved into a new position," pointed out Jeff. "Even if they don't get us, then we still have to worry about what got them."
"Always a bigger mutant fish," Abed agreed.
"Um, guys," said Shirley, soft beneath the footsteps of Glee Club stragglers departing the quad.
"We need to come up with a lure," Jeff began.
"Everyone," she said a bit louder.
Abed nodded. "Yes, draw him out. Like a carrot."
"Like a carrot."
"Hey!" snapped Shirley. The two men looked at her, and she pointed to the shape of person, just visible in shadow behind a free-standing announcement board. "I think that's Annie."
"Annie?" murmured Jeff, trying to keep his assassin face. He couldn't help it; a smile crept out in the corners. "She's the mutant fish?"
"But how did she survive?" Abed asked. He grabbed Jeff's arm as the taller man tried to stand. "Don't go out there yet. Something's wrong."
"Hey, that's Annie," insisted Jeff. "Annie is out there alone, and we're down two men plus Britta."
Shirley gasped. "Oh no! Jeff, she's the lure."
"But she just took out the entire club."
"Did she?" asked Abed. "Annie's a moderately talented pistol shot. Do you honestly believe she could get to all of them from that position?"
Jeff slouched back, and tapped the business end of his gun against his temple. Although his body was wired with adrenaline, ready to spring out and retrieve their lost tadpole, he was highly invested in this insanity game. Technically speaking even Annie was an enemy waiting to happen; no point jeopardizing their position without thinking it through. He switched his gun from hand to hand and stared at Abed and Shirley. "Annie wouldn't betray us."
Abed's face looked sad--or like he was trying very hard to look sad for Jeff's benefit. "Maybe she doesn't have a choice."
Jeff met Shirley's sympathetic eyes, and half-snarled into his gun hand. "Dammit, you're right. This sucks! We'll have to leave her." He peaked around the table. "She's still by the kiosk, we should go before she moves."
Shirley, designated logistics expert, pointed somewhere to the east of the quad. "The art building's that way, plenty of obstacles in the classrooms."
"Don't engage," instructed Abed. He was their designated action movie tactical specialist. "If we circle around on the windward size and stay low, Annie and her backup may not see us."
"Which side is the windward side?" asked Jeff, which made Shirley bust a gigantic smile.
"Oh, it's over there!" She remembered this from her dry-dock sailing course and pointed to their left, where a slight breeze was rustling a tattered student banner. She took point, Abed took high center, and Jeff brought up the low rear. Luckily they were on the cafeteria end of the quad, and had just enough tables and garbage cans to trespass safely to Art Studios 6-12.
At the final shielded point Jeff paused and stared one last time at the neon-splattered battlefield. Annie was there, three-quarters visible to him now, and she hunched in the shade with her gun pointed between her knees, ready to raise it or bolt at any second. Her head was down, though, with a dark veil of hair shadowing her face.
"Watch you territory," Jeff growled. "Get your damn head up."
Almost as if she could hear his command on the wind, which was ludicrous because he was a solid two hundred feet away, Annie jerked her face up to the sun. With wide eyes scanning, she settled her shoulders and stood. Her decked-out vest and pants appeared free of paint, but the bleaching sunshine made it tricky to confirm. Jeff ducked before her gaze swung in his direction, waited, and looked to Abed and Shirley. They made reprimanding faces from the door, and Abed checked his bare wrist for the time. When Shirley finally waved at him, Jeff darted from the table and into dark, blessed safety. Turning back to check on their wayward study partner would have been a liability, so he didn't, and the door shut with a satisfying lock-click combo.
"That was powerfully dramatic, Jeff, but too sentimental," Abed informed him as they walked down the hall. "You could have cost us precious time in an ambush."
"Shut up Abed." Jeff reloaded his gun with a fresh paintball magazine.
"He's just worried about Annie."
"You too, Shirley," said Jeff, designated bully with muscles. "We're done talking about this."
Shirley frowned at him with her best motherly expression, the kind she only reserved for special occasions with this group. "Don't get snippy with me, mister. I've got two weapons to your one."
"Peace, comrades!" said Abed, sliding to walk between them with guns at the ceiling.
"Agreed," said Jeff, and he tossed a free smile over Abed's head. "Let's find some emo painter types and shoot 'em in the knees."
It should have been that simple--it was supposed to be simple. Jeff, Abed and Shirley made elegant triad of death: Shirley was the best shot, and Abed operated on the ruthless policy that if you wanted to defeat the enemy you must do so thoroughly and efficiently. Jeff could assess a threat and direct them with ease, as if they knew what he wanted before he needed to say it. They swept through Art Studios 6, 7, 8, and 9 with such clean brutality that one sniveling pottery student likened them to the Boondock Saints. Abed almost hugged her for it, but Jeff held him back while Shirley lectured about friendly fire being spread through PDA.
It should have been like that forever, the three of them against a ravaged world. They should have been a legend in the annals of paintball history. They should have lasted until the last hour, where they could face each other proudly before the Dean in a triple Mexican stand off. It should have been glorious, and wonderful, and provide enough sarcastic exchange to fill three episodes of Abed's home movies. Epic, they should have been.
"I like that future," murmured Shirley, head tucked into Abed's shoulder. They sprawled side by side against the doors to cafeteria, elbows linked. He was highly occupied with bleeding green goop from a stomach wound, yet never too busy to tell a story to a friend in need. Shirley listened with a bittersweet smile, unable to look away from her orange and purple legs. The bright splash of colors dazzled her, and she wondered how long it had been since she'd eaten.
"I wish it were true," said Abed. "I would have liked to see which of us broke first and betrayed the others. It says so much about our character. Better to be naive and a good friend, or merciless but holding the prize?"
"I did want that prize."
He sighed, and uncharacteristic longing crept into his voice. "The prize."
Shirley squeezed his elbow. "Do you still have a key to the kitchen?"
There was no one to narrate the moment that Jeff Winger, sweaty and bleeding slightly at the hip, ran chest-first into Annie Edison. She bounced right off him, sliding on the pink-streaked floor of the Student Center, gun in one hand while she grabbed his arm. He grabbed her shoulder on the way, so that when the sliding stopped they were holding onto one another, inches apart and ready to fire point blank. A single aching second passed while they panted for breath; the last of Spanish Seven, face first with their guns out.
"Your paint ball name tag says 'Eye Shot Edison.' What the hell does that mean?"
She glanced down then up again, quick and suspicious. "I could ask you the same, 'Hot Balls'. What'd you do to get that moniker?"
"Are you kidding? This is the greatest nickname in the universe."
Jeff raised his eyebrows suggestively, and Annie's expression broke. She burst out a string of giggles and dropped her aim, unable to keep the pretense up when he was making faces at her. "Jeff, it's awful!"
He leaned in, grinning like a cat with a canary trapped in its giddy little paws. "Admit it. Best battle name in the history of battle names."
"Okay, okay!" Annie laughed. "I take it back. It's perfect for you."
"Glad to hear you think so, milady."
Their snickers faded as the lull in adrenaline hit both parties at the same time. Annie's breath caught with a start, and Jeff's upper arm muscles tightened under her hand. As if they realized in one shared moment how close they stood and how vulnerable they were, both let go and tripped over each other with halfhearted apologies. After a confusing exchange they decided to head toward their study room, since it was getting late and the doors could be braced from the inside.
"What do you plan to do?" he asked when they were safely barricaded. He had taped a wad of cotton to his side, so that he looked like a giant, hyper-masculine scarecrow with the stuffing coming out.
Annie sat on the study table and settled herself Indian-style. She flicked her pony tail over her shoulder, laid all three of her handguns to one side, and began organizing her ammo by color. "What do you mean?"
"We could be the last two left."
"We could be."
He sighed, rolling it into his words. "But we're not, are we?"
Annie didn't lift her head, only continued to divide her paint balls into a rainbow scheme.
Jeff swung himself up on the table, his legs folding up like curled tree branches besides hers. "We saw what you did to the Glee Club. By that I mean we heard it from a safe distance, which was scary enough. I didn't want to believe you were the bait."
"It almost worked on us." She shrugged. It was war, after all. "So where'd your friend the ambusher go?" he continued.
Annie started reloading the paint balls, and said, "You don't have to worry about them. We separated with irreconcilable differences."
"I wish I could believe you, Annie, but you want that prize as much as I do, and I want it too much."
"We do what we have to do. This isn't the end yet." She yawned. "Wow, this much apprehension is exhausting. I've been afraid of being shot for ten hours, at least."
"Here," said Jeff, taking her shoulders and turning them away from him. "Lean back. Seriously Annie, it's okay, just lean back."
Her head landed in his lap, and Annie found herself looking shyly up at him. This had to be a violation of their awkwardness-only policy.
"You're not going to shoot me if I fall asleep?"
"No plans for it yet."
"Then, yes." She settled in, and gave a smile that disarmed Jeff thoroughly. "You're comfy."
He tapped her forehead in a friendly manner, and waggled his handgun in the corner of her vision. "Go to sleep your Highness, so us lowly mortals can have our turn."
"Right-o, boss," said Annie, and closed her eyes.
Around two hours later Annie felt light touches against her temple, a skittering pattern of something delicate and hesitant. It was soothing, so her sleepy consciousness decided to ignore it and sink deep again. That plan was ruined just minutes later by a deep, mechanical hum. It took a second of dazed blinking for her to realize the vibration was Jeff's cell phone, and that she could hear it--no, she could feel it--through his leg. Pink color washed across Annie's face, and she jerked upright.
"I'm awake! I'm awake."
"I know," he said. He dug his phone out of his pocket with his left hand, and his right hand twitched as if he didn't know what to do with it. "I set the alarm."
"Good idea! That's a good idea." She bit her bottom lip and fiddled with her pony tail. "Um, your turn?"
They both looked at the clock on the study room wall. "I think we need to move," Jeff said instead.
"Yeah," said Annie in a low voice. She swept her ammunition into a bag--mixing the once-organized pellets into a single pouch of gumballs--and repeated herself. "Yeah."
Getting out of the Student Center proved easier than they expected, as the early hours were closing in and only the most dedicated, or most insane, of Greendale's student body remained. Between the two of them, Jeff and Annie covered both bases. They ducked and skid around each other like fish moving down a river of hallways, trading who had rear and who had front. Four students fell to their crusade, and they ate up their victory with high-fives and giddy elbowing. The truce had lasted them through the night, and both believed it could last a little longer. If they were strong, it might last all the way until the end.
At half-past three-thirty a.m. the loudspeaker bellowed to the campus that all students still in the game were ordered to return to the Media Studies Administration Building for a wrap-up and awards ceremony. It was too clean, too simple, and they didn't trust it one bit. They camped from two buildings over and watched the double-door entrance as the last of the survivors were lured in.
After no one had passed in several minutes Jeff stuck his gun business-end first around a corner of Social Sciences Lecture Hall 151, peaked, and jumped straight up with glee. "Hell yeah."
"What is it?" hissed Annie, herself distracted by a particularly suspicious batch of trees. Jeff swung back to grin a million bucks at her.
"You'll never guess who just brought a tiger-paint machine gun into the Media Studies Admin."
Whether it was the magic of the late hour, the always-startling synchronicity between them, or pure feminine intuition, Annie gasped aloud. "No! Not Chang?"
"Yes! ...I can't believe you guessed that."
"But he's not even a student."
"Let me put it this way: Do you care?"
Annie cocked her gun. "Let's paint him like a fiesta."
"That's my girl," crowed Jeff, and they darted into the dark of the Media Studies building.
At first, following Chang was easy. They picked up weapons like candy: two faux Desert Eagles for Annie, a rifle for Jeff to sling across his back. They even got two free granola bars from a fallen warrior who claimed God was punishing her for cheating on her geology midterm, and Senor Chang was his angel of death. The little man left a trail of bodies (some sleeping where they fell, some on the trudge home) bigger than the line for chicken fingers, and he wasn't particularly stealthy. Occasional roars of heavily accented Spanish cuss words filtered down the halls, punctuated with indignant squeals. Every time Jeff threatened let his testosterone get the best of him--the urge to run up behind the horrid excuse for a teacher and shoot him in the ass was a temptation almost equal to the prize--Annie made sure to keep them far enough back so they went unnoticed. For three levels they tracked him, ending at last outside Theater Lab 14.
Jeff took the right side of the door, Annie stood at the left. He counted down with his fingers, and as the last one curled into his palm Annie kicked the door, dropped to the ground, and slid into the room with her two Clint Eastwood handguns punching color across the audience seats.
"Buenos dias, children!"
Annie got to her feet and aimed both pistols at their Spanish professor, who stood with Starburns quivering in front of him.
"Don't shoot!" said their classmate, holding up frantic arms. "He's got a gun right against my ribcage. These things bruise like a bitch, and I don't have insurance!"
Jeff, who had entered behind Annie, swung to the right, walking around the back row of seats with his rifle centered on Senor Chang and Starburns. Chang jerked his human shield around to face Jeff.
"Beautiful, Senorita Edison. Extra points on the final."
"What?" Jeff whirled to aim at his partner. "You were allied with him? That's disgusting and inhumane!"
"I didn't!" insisted Annie, terror sliding from her eyes to her chin. "Jeff, I didn't."
"I knew it had to be someone major or you would've told me, but I never expected it to be the god damn Emperor Palpatine!"
"Awww, thanks Winger."
"You shut up."
"Jeff, he's lying," insisted Annie. "I would never join up with him, not even to take out the Gleekers. Look at what he's done to Starburns!"
Starburns shuffled, and tried to ignore the hard plastic poking him in the back. "I'm still here, you know. I'm not actually painted yet."
"Shut up!" snapped Chang and Annie together. Jeff shook his head and renewed his grip.
"Okay," said Annie, gesticulating nervously. "I'll admit this looks bad. But we're not allies, he's just trying to divide us."
Senor Chang began walking his hostage toward the front of the small theater, eyes on the two newcomers as he taunted them. "I was there in quad, Jeff. I used El Tigre--may she rest in peace--and wiped nineteen students in one florescent pink massacre. You heard their screams, and you saw them walk away. They were singing; do you remember what they sang?"
"You tell me, Chang."
He reached the front of the room, and shoved Starburns away, shooting him in the shoulder and bringing his gun square on Jeff. Annie, to the side, was frozen at the junction of friendship and authority. Starburns took a seat in the farthest row and pulled out a granola bar.
"Bang bang, Jeff," laughed Chang in a sing-song voice. "They thought she wanted to join them, that she was willing to sing backup. You remember the sound of their voices, demoralized and broken? Bang bang, my baby shot me down!"
Knowing it was all over, that he had been trapped with Annie in one corner and Change in another, Jeff whispered, "You utter bastard."
The moment before he chose to take his last chance and fire, a blue flower blossomed on Chang's elegant suit. He dropped to his knees, bringing one hand to touch the stuff in disbelief. Jeff was distantly aware that his mouth had fallen open, and when he looked to the side at his former partner, there was new awe in his gaze. She stood in profile above the professor with her guns dripping, and when she met his stare she gave a smile too wise and too sad for her years.
"Annie," he said. He took a few steps down the aisle toward her, but she raised her gun. From his place crawling across the floor, Chang cackled.
"Whoa, Annie, it's over. You beat him." Jeff began inching forward. Her luminous blue eyes had never seem so bright as they did in this dimly lit theater. On the wall-sized screen behind her light flickered, and one of Abed's student films exploded into silent life as her backdrop. It was #08: Tale of the Werewolf, and Starburns clapped with real enthusiasm.
"It's never over, Jeff. And your rifle is empty."
That got to him, and he checked the weapon before tossing it in the corner. Disgust laced his voice, mostly toward himself. "When'd you take them? At the door?"
"When Janice gave us food on the second floor."
Chang let his head bounce back and forth between the feuding comrades. "Face it, Winger! She betrayed you, and then she betrayed me. You found someone who's a better liar than you, ain't it grand?"
"Take a seat and shove it, dead man," said Jeff. He had one pistol left, tucked into his lower back, but it was one she already knew about.
"Hands up!" she yelped and brandished her gun. "Up now! I see your hands drop and this is over before it begins."
He obeyed, spreading his palms wide and away. "Annie, you don't have to do this. We can make the Dean split the prize. He's weak, he'll do it."
She let loose a peal of giggles that sounded a bit too much like the late Senor Chang. "Don't you get it, Jeff Winger? I've got something better than the prize."
His face got a skeptical smirk, and he cocked his head. "Yeah? Like what?"
"Me," drawled saucy female voice, and Britta stepped from behind the screen.
Jeff put his hands on his hips, because this was so not funny anymore. "Hey, you're dead. I know you're dead."
"You sure, babe?" she tried to saunter up to Annie, all cool and back from the grave, but her performance was hindered when she tripped on an electrical chord. "You saw Troy fall, and Pierce, but where were you when I 'died'?"
"Asleep in my car, but Abed swore he saw you drop."
She tossed her wavy blond curls, and pointed her gun in a way that said heck yeah, she was rockin' the femme fatale. "Abed saw what he wanted to see."
Jeff decided to ignore Britta and her stupid shampoo commercial hair for the moment. He crossed his arms and jerked his head at the classroom, at the paintball splatters, at Starburns and Chang watching from the audience. "So what is this, Annie? Some kind of bet? What's Britta got that's better than priority registration?"
"Wouldn't you like to know," boasted Annie.
"Oh I would," said Starburns from the back of the room.
"Hear, hear," added Chang. Annie looked unhappily at them, but she shook her head toward Jeff.
Britta's smile was brilliant and gleeful as she said, "Face it, Hot Balls. Sometimes you don't get to know everything. Sometimes you lose."
Jeff uncrossed his arms and dropped them to his sides. His final two steps put him nearly arms reach from both women. "In that case...So sorry, ladies."
Annie glanced him up and down, then toward Britta for a signal. "For what?" she asked, but in that instant of distraction Jeff pounced. He used his height and speed to cover the space separating himself and Annie, taking her chin in his large hand and swooping to kiss her. His other hand whipped behind his back and freed the paintball gun just as the first shot went off.
Eye Shot Annie melted against his mouth, curling into the kiss just like Jeff had the day she seduced him in front of an auditorium. He flung them both to the left, staggering to keep the connection while he aimed blindly with his right hand.
"Shit, Jeff!" shouted Britta, and he broke the kiss to meet her eyes over Annie's head. A green flower to rival Chang's covered her tank top. "We had you. And also: eww, guys."
Jeff looked down at the young woman in front of him, and smiled. "Hey," he said, as he touched her cheek. "Chin up, soldier."
His wayward ally met his eyes, her own welling with tears as she stepped back. She pointed at his abdomen, where electric blue soaked the cotton weave of his undershirt.
"Jeff," she said.
He laughed, a little too manic to be reassuring. "What, this? Tis a flesh wound."
Annie sniffed a bit, almost like a giggle except for the part where she appeared to be crying.
"I've made a mess of everything," she confessed.
"You mean there was a plan?"
"Yeah, there was a plan. My plan."
"Aaaannnnddd....are you going to tell the class?"
"Someday," she promised, and shoved her guns into her waistband. She looked at Britta, then at Chang and Starburns.
Britta gifted her with a lop-sided smile, and said, "Annie, you know what this means?"
Annie blinked. "No, should I?"
"You won," said Jeff, and pointed toward her unmarked outfit. It was also possible he was pointing at her chest, but Annie didn't care because her entire vision was taken up by a lack of florescence.
"I won?" she breathed. Almost involuntarily she began to hop up and down. "Oh my god, I won! I won!"
"Yeah, yeah, yuck it up!" called Senor Chang from the back of the room. "The bonus on your final is revoked, given that you shot me."
"I won!" Annie shouted to the theater. Starburns rolled his eyes and tried to get Chang to tell him what floor the bathroom was on.
The last frames of Abed's film clicked to an finish, making the screen a ghostly white that filled the room. After stretching his arms for a few swings, Jeff cracked his neck and shook out all the leftover thrills. It was early, and it was dark, and he had blue paint on his clothes, so why couldn't he stop smiling? Setting down his weapon, he turned his elbow to Britta.
"She still has to make it to the Dean's office. What do you say to playing honor guard?"