Title: With Words Unspoken
Fandom/Pairing: Community, Jeff/Annie, Ensemble
Note: For 0penhearts at LJ, who wanted a Jeff/Annie sign language fic. I aimed for about 2,000 words. It got a little out of hand. :D
Word count: ~10,000
Disclaimer: I own nothing Community-related except for the DVDs that I have pre-ordered in my dreams where I roll in piles of money. I also shamelessly stole the term "hormonal meltdown" from the one and only Joey Potter, so I can't make a claim to that, either.
Summary: The group takes an American Sign Language class, and Jeff and Annie are partners.
(Note: Anything strictly in bold like this is conveying the English translation of something currently being signed in ASL.)
It started like this:
Dean Pelton announced at the beginning of the new school year that common studies requirements had changed. They now mandated that while six foreign language credits was still the minimum, each student was to take classes from two or more different languages. This was applicable to everyone from seniors to freshman – no exceptions.
Greendale had received a substantial donation by an anonymous donor. Not that anyone had any idea how in the hell a person could be convinced to do such a thing. Clearly, it had been someone with more money than brains.
Regardless of how it had happened, the Dean was so overwhelmed by the news that he went into a fit of excitement and decided that the money would be used to promote diversity awareness and respect. His way of achieving this was to add the most "different" languages he could think of. In other words, none of the standard French or German.
In addition to Spanish, which had previously been the only option for foreign language study, Greendale now offered Mandarin Chinese, Swahili, American Sign Language, and Latin (how this made it to this list is anyone's guess, because that is not exactly going to help you appreciate and understand your fellow humans unless you're planning on dabbling in some necromancy).
When the Dean made the announcement during his "Welcome back to Greendale! Fall 2010 is sure to be the best semester ever, and here is why:" speech on the first day back, Jeff nearly chucked his backpack at the small, bespectacled man in a fit of outrage. He had put more than his usual amount of effort into Spanish 102 (not by much, but that is completely beside the point), and now it was all for nothing. Thankfully, Annie, who was sitting next to him – and apparently possessed surprisingly quick reflexes – reached out and grasped his wrist just in time. Normally, this would have yielded exactly zero effect, as Disney Princesses are not exactly known for their colossal body strength, but it gave Jeff just enough pause to remember that his brand new iPhone was in his backpack. He'd shelled out several hundred bucks for the thing, and he sure as hell wasn't going to risk destroying it. He settled for shooting a half pout/half glare at the small brunette next to him, who looked annoyingly perky for someone who had just been told that they had essentially wasted a fifth of their last semester's class time. But, well, it was Annie, so really, he should not be surprised.
After ten mind-numbing more minutes, the speech ended and everyone shuffled out of the stands of Boardshort Hall (it seemed the Dean had tired of being ignored when he made his speeches outside; he had made this one more official, and attendees were to be awarded a special prize – TBD, of course).
"So, which class do all of you guys want to take?" Annie asked as they made their way to the library. Annie had fallen into step beside Jeff on his right side, and Abed was on his left.
"Who said anything about taking one this semester?"
"I just…figured we'd take one of these instead of Anthropology. I mean, we were a Spanish study group, so we already have the routine down for studying languages." She looked around questioningly, met with a chorus of approving nods.
"That's true." Abed agreed.
"Assuming that we find one that fits into all our schedules, of course. Which brings us back to the question: Which to choose?"
"How about Swahili?" Shirley piped up from the back.
"I know all the Swahili I ever care to, thanks," Jeff answered.
They responded with a few laughs, an eye roll, a smile, and a confused glance.
"Isn't that like a bong?" Pierce inquired.
"No, that's a hookah."
"Wow, a little disrespectful of you, Jeff. I believe they prefer the term 'escort.'"
Jeff just blinked and turned back to Annie. She had tanned a little over the summer. He had not seen her in over a month – since the Fourth of July bash at Pierce's mansion, actually – and the lighting in Boardshort Hall was not really flattering to anyone. Her skin was now kind of a light, warm honey color. Jeff decided it was nice. Then he decided that his thoughts definitely should not be headed in that particular direction, and he should really tune back into the conversation.
"-don't think so," Shirley was saying. "It's supposedly one of the hardest languages there is to learn."
"My vote is for the sign language. I mean, it's just like English…but with your hands. Right? How hard can that be?" Troy voiced from somewhere behind Jeff's left shoulder.
"I have actually always sort of wanted to learn it," Britta agreed.
"And I already know the ABC's! I used to know a little more, but I'll need to brush up if we do take it. Sounds like sign language is the consensus. Anyone opposed?" Silence. "It's on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 1. Does that work for everyone?"
Jeff glanced over at her. "How do you even know that?"
"There were stacks of class schedules by the doors of Boardshort Hall. Didn't you see them?"
At his – and the rest of the group's – negative response, Annie just sighed in a way that seemed to declare the others hopeless. "I read along while the Dean was announcing the new classes, so I know. Any conflicts? Or are we good?"
Nothing but positive comments ensued.
"Then ASL it is!"
After this startlingly efficient process and decision, they changed direction from the library to the registrar's office, and that was that.
The first day of class was a Wednesday. Jeff took his seat in the middle, three rows directly behind Annie, who, of course, had already plopped down in her permanently reserved front and center seat.
At the precise moment the Greendale "clock tower" (Dean Pelton's recording that he now broadcasted over the intercom at hourly intervals) struck 1, the short, middle-aged blonde woman at the front of the class stood and cleared her throat.
"Attention, students! Welcome to American Sign Language 101. My name is Dorothy Granger. You may address me as Professor Granger or Ms. Granger. I don't appreciate tardiness, but overall, I consider myself a fair instructor…" Jeff's attention faded a little at this point, and he found himself staring at the back of Annie's head as she laboriously wrote work after word in her pristine little notebook. Had she cut her hair? Good God, man. He gave his head a quick shake and focused back in on the professor.
"…for extra credit. Any questions?"
One kid in the back asked if Extra Credit assignments would result in a mark up on their overall grade or in 10 points for Gryffindor.
A chorus of titters spread through the room (and a "What the hell's a Gryffindor?" courtesy of Pierce).
Ms. Granger then performed a sign that Jeff was pretty sure had nothing to do with ASL, but the meaning of which carried over nonetheless.
"Any more questions? No? Good. Now, I was informed that most of you probably don't have your books yet. So, today, we will simply go over the syllabus and do introductions. On page one of your syllabus, I have the breakdown of points. 20 percent of your final grade will be determined by class participation…"
On Friday, there was a picture of Emma Watson on the top right corner of the blackboard with a giant red X through it.
And the Gryffindor kid did not reappear. The hint was taken by the class, and the jokes ceased.
"Jeff, what did I tell you? ASL isn't just English with your hands. It has its own grammar! Were you not listening in class at all today?"
"Sure. Or maybe beating my high score on Bejeweled. Take your pick."
"Jeff. When are you going to start taking academia seriously?"
"I do. I'm very serious in my conviction that too much of it will actually yield physical pain."
Annie pursed her lips – to hold in a smile, he just knew it – and rolled her eyes, moving on to the next point in her notes.
Turns out, this sign language business was harder than it looked. It involved all this stuff like weird facial expressions and posture changes and, apparently, different grammar than English. Not to mention the actual signs themselves. Jeff had gotten the ABC's down pretty quickly, but numbers were a different story.
He was all good up until 5, but then things got fuzzy until 10. This whole 6-9 business was ridiculous. To start out, 6 was actually the universally accepted hand position for 3 – pinkie touching thumb, and the other three fingers up. Then on seven, your pinkie came back up, and your ring finger went down to touch your thumb. 8 was your middle finger, and 9 was your index finger. So any time someone made a 6, your mind automatically jumped to 3, and 7 and 8 looked exactly like each other if you were not given at least five seconds to mentally work it out. 9 was not too bad, really, so maybe he should amend his earlier statement.
Annie, Troy, and Abed were the best with the facial expressions (What, was there more elasticity in the skin these days? Something in the water?). Annie was not a surprise, as she had probably the singularly most expressive face Jeff had ever seen. Troy was surprisingly dedicated as he took pride in his facial flexibility, and Abed had remarkable control over his eyebrows.
Jeff personally thought everyone looked ridiculous with their eyebrows forced way too far up or scrunched so low it made them look angry instead of inquisitive. Ms. Granger said that you would lose points if you were not expressive enough, but Jeff has never put academics in front of vanity personal appearance, so really, it was all a matter of principle.
"Today, class, we will be practicing using our peripheral vision. I am going to place you in several groups of two, then go over what we'll be doing."
Jeff watched as the class was paired off. Abed with Britta, Troy with Pierce, Shirley with Starburns-
"Miss Edison and Mr. Winger,"
Jeff could neither confirm nor deny that something inside of him had jumped a little at his, and for the love of Clarence Darrow, how old was he, 12?
"I want you all to take a good look at the person I paired you with. This will be your partner for all in-class activities for the rest of the semester. I will switch you up for variation on occasion, but unless I specify otherwise, you all are stuck with each other. Now, stand and move to separate parts of the classroom. One pair in each corner, and one in the middle of the room." Jeff and Annie met halfway between their desks, which turned out to be smack dab in the center of the room. "Now, here's what you're going to do: I want each of you to stand one to two feet apart and look into each other's eyes. No where else, during this entire exercise. One of you will start by raising your hands, index finger extended, and drawing a shape or design in the air. The other person will use their peripheral vision to take that shape in, and then they will mimic it. Then it's that person's turn to draw. You repeat all this, switching off every time. But never do I want to see you looking anywhere else but your partner's eyes."
Those Doe Eyes were his only weakness (Okay, so maybe that was not entirely accurate, and maybe he had too many weaknesses where Annie Edison was concerned, but he didn't like to think about that). And he had not held eye contact with her for that long since the Tranny Dance last semester. Right before the drop-dead amazing kiss they had shared and then subsequently pretended had never happened. It had caused some awkwardness during the first couple of get-togethers over the summer, but they had gotten over it. Or at least gotten better at hiding it.
But this little exercise was going to be the death of that little arrangement, Jeff knew it. It was going to open up a box that should be welded shut and shoved up in the attic underneath never-used Christmas decorations for eternity.
Maybe he could switch partners.
But he glanced around the room and everyone else had already started, and how long had they been just standing there, anyway?
"I guess I'll go first?" Annie smiled hesitantly up at him.
Thump thump, his heart went, and Oh, Christ.
"Sounds good." Was it him, or was his voice a little thready?
Okay. He could do this. He was Jeff Winger. He was not going to be brought down by a 19-year-old midget in a cardigan.
Step 1: Clear throat in a supremely masculine fashion. Check.
Step 2: Eye contact. Established.
Annie took a deep breath and began to slowly trace a shape through the air. A simple square. He could do that. He drew the shape, then started one of his own.
She mimicked it, then drew a heart. This wasn't too bad. Sure, maybe his breathing was a little rapid, but it could be worse. Maybe they should try more complicated shapes. That would help move his concentration onto the task. (Sure it would, Winger.)
He drew the outline of a curlicue.
Annie got a tiny indentation between her eyebrows and as she went to mimic him, she licked her lips in concentration.
And that was when the mental barrier broke.
Soft lips, softer hair, sliding through his fingers like silk. Tiny, tiny waist, so fragile beneath his hands. The way her fingers had clutched onto his shoulders. That little sound she'd made at the back of her throat when he'd gone in to deepen the kiss…No. Jeff clenched his hands at his side, exercise forgotten.
Leonard. Think of Leonard. Um…toasters. Robots. Zombies. Apocalypse.
Inhale. Exhale. There we go. No unsightly bulges in the classroom.
He brought his gaze back into focus, only to see that Annie's eyes had that glazed look. Her chest was moving rapidly, and Christ, he wasn't a saint. It was bad enough to suffer through this when he pretended he was alone, but-
Nineteen. She's nineteen, man.
Her eyelids fluttered and she gave a little shake. When she met his gaze again, she flushed head to – he couldn't see, but he was pretty sure – toe.
Her tongue snaked back out again. "Is it a little hot in here? I was just thinking it was kind of hot. I'm just gonna…" Her hands reached up to the cardigan like she was going to take it off, and Jeff flashed back to the night of debate studying and what had happened then.
Annie paused. "What?"
"Time to switch partners!"
Momentary confusion ensued and he and Annie just stood there for a moment, frozen, then turned and parted their separate ways in perfect synchronicity.
He partnered up with some kid named Hardy who was clearly high (a buddy of Micronipples?) and messed up every shape he tried.
Which was good, because Jeff probably would not have been able to focus, anyway.
"Annie, is that a camcorder?"
"Yes. Professor Granger has been doing more and more signing in class lately – last Friday, a total of almost 20 minutes. And I couldn't watch and take notes simultaneously very well, not to mention, I couldn't record her lecture for playback like I prefer to. So, this was really the only logical solution. I just had to sign a form promising I wouldn't go post any of the lectures on YouTube or something."
"That's just a whole new level, even for you."
"If you mean a level of dedication to my education, then thank you."
"That wasn't a compliment."
"But I'm taking it as one."
"Suit yourself, Melvin Belvin."
"Please. And in your mind, you probably think you're Fonzie?"
(Somewhere deep down, Jeff cringed at this. She wasn't supposed to get his older pop culture references, dammit. She was young. She was supposed to listen to The Jonas Brothers and swoon over sparkling vampires. She wasn't supposed to do Happy Days. Uggh.)
"Hey, if the leather jacket fits…"
"You're not wearing leather. You're wearing Burberry."
"But I do own a leather jacket-"
"If you please, Mr. Winger? I'm trying to start class here." Professor Granger was raising her eyebrows at him.
"Right. I apologize." He flashed her a winning Winger Smile and ambled back to his seat.
Ready? Annie signed after everyone had finished eating and it was time to leave for ASL.
Out of habit or instinct, Jeff signed back Yes.
And then took a pause. Simple as it was, this was the first conversation he he'd had in sign language outside of studying or the classroom.
It was actually pretty cool.
"No. You're still doing it wrong," Annie said with an amused smile. "Like this." She demonstrated.
"Isn't that what I'm doing?"
"Very much not."
"Well, how do I fix it, all-knowing one?" he asked, heavy on the mockery, because Jeff Winger is not one who likes asking for help. (Not so luckily for him, Annie was fluent in Jeff-speak, and she could usually determine what he meant from what he said, or even, more dangerously, what he didn't say).
"Just flip your wrist up instead of down. No, not like that."
She instinctively reached out to correct him. The smooth pad of her thumb gently slid against the underside of his wrist as she maneuvered his hand into the right position, and a zing of electricity shot through his arm right to the center of him where it radiated throughout his body (mostly south, if we're going for full disclosure here).
And if he hadn't been looking down at that very moment, avoiding her eyes, he would have missed the way her toes suddenly curled in her flip-flops.
They remained like that, her fingers laced around his wrist, his gaze focused on her feet, for a few frozen milliseconds before each jumped apart as if the place where they touched had suddenly burned flaming hot.
Jeff swallowed, but his voice still came out a little squeakier than usual. "So. Like this?" The motion actually felt much less awkward now.
"Exactly. Good job."
"Lates," she joked awkwardly and walked away and Oh, bad decision, Annie.
Because "Micro" or otherwise, Jeff should not think of Annie and nipples in the same sentence, as he really did not want to be the one to prove that the path to hell can actually be paved with some pretty damn suspect intentions.
"The midterm is in five days, guys. We need to get this stuff down!"
There was grumbling from all around the table.
"Jeff: In a yes-no question, do the eyebrows go up or down?"
"Abed: What is the sign for 'home'?"
Abed formed a handshape that the group had taken to calling the "squished O" and touched it to the corner of his mouth to just in front of his ear.
Annie made an affirmative noise.
She went around the table, and everyone got it right except for Pierce, who signed 'devil' instead of 'horse' (a simple mistake of the fingers being apart instead of together).
"Jeff, what's the sign for 'hungry'?"
Jeff cupped his hand into a 'C' then repeatedly stroked a few inches vertically down his chest.
Annie turned bright red and fixed her gaze firmly on her textbook.
"Um, no. You only do the action once. Oh, and it goes a little farther down, otherwise you're just signing 'wish'."
Jeff had no idea what the deal was, but Annie just moved on to Britta without telling him what sign he had done.
Half an hour later, everyone had left besides Jeff and Annie. Annie always took forever to pack up her stuff – it was no wonder; her backpack had to weigh 40 pounds from all the odds and ends she kept in it – and call it chivalry or what you will (anything other than a subconscious desire to be alone with Annie for a few minutes every week), but sometime during their last semester, he had started walking her to her car since their study group did not usually get out until at least 9 PM when they met at night. It had become a habit since then. That was all. Don't go reading anything into it.
"Out of curiosity, what did I sign earlier?"
Annie glanced up at him from the pile of flashcards she was organizing. "What? The last one? I think it was 'yes'."
Jeff shot her a look.
"Oh, you mean instead of 'hungry'?"
"That's the one."
She seemed to be attacking those flashcards with renewed vigor. "Lust."
Suddenly the room seemed too small. Or out of air. Or something.
The silence stretched on too long, and his voice was a little too casual when he announced "I'm just gonna go get a drink. At the water fountain. You can meet me there when you're ready."
And he booked it.
Get it together, Winger. It's just a word.
Yeah. Just a word that had no business coming out of Little Annie Edison's mouth.
Jeff had never been a particularly 'huggy' person. He did not mind them, exactly; it was more that he just very rarely initiated them. Group hugs were good; they were really more like a huddle. But one-on-one hugs were more intimate.
So when he impulsively gave Britta a sideways "goodbye" hug at the end of the semester before winter break, it was a little surprising. Although not too much so. Since they had discussed the whole "I love you" debacle over the summer, the air had cleared between them. Britta had told him in no uncertain terms that she did love him – but only as a friend. Her competitive side had come out with Slater, and that was all. It had been a relief to both of them, and though they were not necessarily closer than before, they were definitely more comfortable with each other. Ergo, random sideways buddy hugs. Back in the present, Shirley looked at him expectantly and gestured toward herself with her arms, and soon enough, he was walking down the line of his study group friends and embracing every last one of them. Britta, Shirley, Abed, Troy, Pierce…
And then there was Annie.
He plastered a strictly friendly/platonic/entirely non-Humbert Humbert-esque smile on his face and held out his arms. Were his arms always this long? Did they always feel this awkward? What the hell, they were arms.
She stepped forward, and he leaned down, catching a whiff of her shampoo. Something citrusy. He knew her hair would be just as soft as it had been before…then his arms were completely around her.
Jeff felt the quickening of her heartbeat, the way her fingers curled involuntarily into his shirt, the sharp but quiet intake of breath. He felt it all. And damned if he should not have been hauled to the mother country right then and awarded knighthood for not giving into a ridiculously Neanderthal instinct to toss her over his shoulder, bolt to his car, and ravish her right there in the parking lot.
Despite all of these overwhelming sensations, the foremost thought in his brain was still of their audience and the fact that this hug could be misconstrued if it lasted any longer than, well, now.
So Jeff pulled away.
Annie avoided his eyes.
Just as the silence started to enter into awkward territory, Pierce broke it.
"I can still expect everyone for Thanksgiving Eve, of course?"
"Pierce, I thought we agreed to just call it November 24. There is no such thing as Thanksgiving Eve." Annie pointed out.
"Well, if you want to be that way about it-"
"I kind of like it," Jeff interrupted.
"Thanksgiving Eve. It works."
Pierce looked surprised. "That's very 'streets ahead' of you, Jeff."
A chorus of groans filled the room.
Pierce glanced around. "…What?"
Dinner at Pierce's mansion on Thanksgiving Eve had been delicious. A few moments ago, the group had migrated toward the Plasma Room, as it had been dubbed, to pick out a DVD to watch. Jeff had stayed behind at the table, quickly finishing up a text.
Just as Jeff slipped his phone back into his pocket and moved forward to join the others, he caught a glimpse of Annie through the next doorway.
She was sipping some pink concoction Pierce's bartender (seriously, he had his own personal bartender) had whipped up for her.
And Jeff had no idea what he was thinking when:
"Should you be drinking that?"
Seriously, what the hell was he, her father, and what did he care, anyway? But he'd been a little on edge all night – no thanks to the fact that Annie had ditched her sweater because Pierce had the heat cranked up to 80 degrees, and her collarbone was just peeking out from under her hunter green v-neck, and Jeff wanted to taste that little hollow so badly that it physically hurt.
She drew back. "Excuse me?"
"Nothing, never mind." Backpedal, backpedal, don't do this right now.
"No , what did you say?"
"I just said that maybe you shouldn't be drinking that. But it's not a big deal."
"I'm not a child, Jeff."
"I never said you were! But you are a teenager, and not old enough to do some things, regardless of how much you might want to!"
Her jaw clenched.
"This isn't about the drink, is it?"
"Of course it is! But whatever! Go ahead and drink the goddamn thing, already, I don't care!"
He was losing it.
This was a problem.
Jeff Winger didn't lose it. He had it, 24/7, all the time, and he could whip out the words to convince you of that in 0.8 seconds.
She spun around in those little flats of hers and stomped away, reminding him of nothing so much as a wayward child.
Which proved his point exactly.
Annie left a few minutes later, claiming that her mom had called and needed help preparing their family feast for the following day.
Jeff got a text later that night: It was virgin. Just FYI. Jerk.
Jeff had the oddest urge to find the nearest wall and bang his head against it. Repeatedly.