Disclaimer: I do not own Community. Community owns me.

Author's Note: M/M Fic Exchange Gift for rashaka

Title and lyrics come from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.

Mad crazy props to my genius beta for her awesome encouragement.

Story Notes: The "Present Day" story in 2013 alternates with sections of Flashbacks. Flashbacks are denoted with date stamps.

Part I:

man oh man, you're my best friend

XOXOXO

He flips the Blue Book closed and slams his pencil down on top.

"Done."

The remaining students in the classroom all look up in irritation.

"We're ecstatic for you Mr. Winger. But please keep your excitement to yourself."

Jeff unfolds himself from the desk (those damn, miniature desks that he will never have to sit at again - from here on out it's only mahogany or oak, and one of those plush spinning chairs with a built in massager), hands in his exam and walks out of the classroom with his arms extended.

"I am officially done with college."

His words are met with a chorus of cheers and an enthusiastic six-way group hug as his friends surround him. Jeff can't help but laugh and pat someone, Abed maybe, on the head.

"Guys. I can't breathe."

"Oh we're just so excited." Shirley clasps her hands in front of her as they pull away. "We're really done."

"It's a little sad though, right?"

"No." Jeff points his finger at Britta's face. "I will not be brought down by your need to inject gloom into every situation. I am enjoying this moment."

She rolls her eyes.

"For once, I'm with Britta. This is pretty depressing."

Shirley nods in agreement as Abed puts his arm around Troy in consolation.

Jeff sighs, "Guys, we're going to see each other tomorrow. In fact, we're going to be spending three hours in the same car together tomorrow. So why don't we wait till then to talk about whether or not we're going to miss each other." No one laughs so he glares over at Britta and she throws her hands in the air.

"I know! I'm sorry. I killed the buzz. Again."

"Don't worry Britta, this type of feeling is common in finales. Besides, something will happen by the end to make Jeff have a sudden epiphany about how much all this has actually meant to him."

"The end of what Abed?"

He tilts his head in thought, "I'm not completely sure. Normally this would be the final scene. But Jeff's right. We're going to see each other tomorrow. We're breaking the standard finale formula." His brow furrows as it is oft does when life does not live up to the television tropes on which he's based all his theories.

"Well, at least we'll get to see Annie tomorrow."

Troy scowls, "It's not really fair that she gets a whole ceremony and we get nothing."

"That would have helped the finale vibe," Abed murmurs to himself, thinking.

"Too bad the entire graduation budget had to be directed toward flood relief."

Jeff speaks these words pointedly and everyone suddenly looks downcast with guilt. (They are the only six people who know the truth about what happened the night of, what has been dubbed, The Cafeteria Flood of 2013.)

"How was I supposed to know that pipe was so big?" Britta hisses through her teeth.

"That's what she said!" Pierce crows. Everyone stares at him and he laughs, "You guys still don't get the joke?"

Troy rolls his eyes, "No Pierce we get the joke. We got the joke ten years ago when it was an actual cool thing to say."

Pierce leans over to Britta, "Was it too racist?"

Ever since an unfortunate incident involving a foreign exchange student, mistaken identity and an ill-worded text message, Pierce has been trying harder to make his comments more PC and Britta (lucky her) gets to be his constant point of reference.

She rolls her eyes, "There's nothing racist about that joke Pierce."

"Are you sure? Cause it's about sex and black men are known for having large-"

"Pierce!"

Unfortunately, even with Britta's help, Pierce still doesn't understand what exactly constitutes racism or political correctness

Abed snaps his fingers suddenly. "We could put on our own graduation ceremony."

Jeff is about to scoff at this but Troy's eyes light up and Shirley says, "Oh that would be nice" and even Britta's smiling - so there's really nothing to do except purse his lips and nod his assent.

"Heeeeyyyy gang!" The Dean bounds around the corner and stops next to Jeff, "Did you all hear the good news?"

"You figured out why the water in the women's restroom has been running brown for the past three weeks?" Britta asks.

"Ah. No." The Dean pauses, looks caught for a moment, "But I can assure you, that will be taken care of immediately."

"Uh-huh."

"No. I'm sure he's been too humble to announce it himself but Mr. Winger here has just accepted a position in the Political Science department of our prestigious institution!"

Everyone stares at Jeff in various degrees of shock.

Jeff clenches his jaw.

He really shouldn't be surprised. The Dean's been trying for weeks now to get him to agree to stay on at Greendale as a faculty member because the current Poly Sci professor is leaving for maternity leave and they're in a jam and Jeff is their only hope for salvation or blah, blah, blah (there were a lot of words here that Jeff stopped listening to).

But there is no way, not even if threatened with the deepest depths and circles of hell, that Jeff will be staying a second longer than necessary at this school - despite the many offers of free cafeteria food for life or limo service (Jeff's pretty sure this would end up being something like the local High School Driver's Ed class in a mini van) or what the Dean called, with a wink and a nod, "turn down service." Jeff didn't ask for details on whatever that meant, only got up and walked out of the office without a word.

"I did not."

The Dean tilts toward him, "I just assumed your silence from before was a speechless, "yes!" He punches his fist into the air for emphasis.

"Noooo. It was a resounding no. And the job is neither prestigious nor in a department. There's one teacher and she spends the majority of her time showing the class old footage of the OJ Simpson trial. Make no mistake. After today, I won't be returning. Ever. Got it?"

"Well then." The Dean is visibly struck down by this. "I see your years here at Greendale have meant nothing to you. We've only prepared you for the greater world beyond and this is the thanks we get. I see. Carry on then." He slowly begins to inch away and around the corner, but he leans his head back as if waiting for Jeff to suddenly change his mind. Jeff turns quickly, shooting him a glare. The Dean squeaks and scurries away.

"I think you hurt his feelings."

"Well, I'm sorry Britta, but I'm not going to accept a job at this school just so the Dean's feelings aren't hurt."

Everyone's casting side-glances at each other and he can practically feel disapproval radiating through the air. He sighs. "So, Abed, graduation?"

Abed snaps to attention. "Yes. Everyone meet on the football field in an hour. Troy and I have this covered." The two of them disappear in the direction of the theater department and everyone else wanders away, leaving Jeff standing alone in the hallway feeling oddly like he's just made some kind of huge mistake.

XOXOXO

August 21, 2011

It was Community College so of course they weren't going to be there forever and Jeff even had a countdown clock app on his phone that he stared at in class sometimes, but it was still a surprise when Annie showed up to study group one day and announced, with a trembling voice, that she was transferring. She had been accepted to a school three hours away and it wasn't Ivy League but her eyes got bright when she talked about getting an apartment and a roommate and having to buy mundane things like that little plastic holder for silverware. They all cheered for her and Shirley took her shopping and Abed made her watch marathons of every college movie known to man, but a weird pall fell over everything and made her last few months in town seem oddly subdued.

She left on a Sunday, one of the hottest days of summer. Her hair was pulled back in a knot to keep it off her neck and she kind of bounced around with nerves, checking and rechecking to make sure she had everything – everything including four different state maps, a batch of Shirley's brownies and a collection of compilation CD's from Britta that were sure to be filled with angry chick rock from the late 90's.

It was a strangely tearless good bye and her lip only barely trembled as Shirley and Britta enfolded her in a three way hug and Shirley cried, "I'm gonna miss my pumpkin."

She and Abed did their handshake and winked at each other and Troy nodded at her and said, "It's pretty cool you got so hot." At this she almost paused and something of the old Annie flickered across her face but then she just blushed and moved on to maneuvering out of a hug with Pierce.

When she got to Jeff he smiled, holding out his arms and she fell into them, turning her head into his chest. "I'll miss you," she murmured so quietly that he almost just felt the vibrations of her words rather than heard them.

"I'll miss you too." He bent down and briefly brushed his lips against the top of her head and then she was pulling away and smiling one last time.

They all stood in a line and watched her car disappear around the corner and it felt like the end of something but not even Abed could bring himself to say anything about what it all meant.

XOXOXOX

Jeff shows up at the football field to find six chairs lined up facing toward the scoreboard. A large boom box stands nearby next to the French National flag. (At Jeff's questioning glance Troy explains that the French classroom was the only open classroom with an appropriately sized flag and that the flag was necessary because it provided authentication).

Abed hands him a robe with red and gold lining that reads "Gryffindor" under an embroidered lion in a coat of arms. Jeff sighs, "Is it even worth asking why?"

"We needed gowns or robes of some sort and the theater department already stored away all their costumes. But I remembered that I had seen the Harry Potter Club wearing some during their last Quidditch match."

"Of course." He looks at Britta's robe and raises an eyebrow. "Slytherin?"

"Shut up," she growls at him.

Pierce takes a closer look at Shirley's robe. He points, "Ha! Now that's inappropriate."

Everyone looks and Britta sighs, "That's a badger. Not a beaver Pierce."

Abed makes a signal and Troy runs onto the field, presses play on the stereo and then runs back. The faint strains of Pomp and Circumstance drift towards them.

Britta snorts and Shirley starts giggling as Jeff shakes his head. There really are no words for this kind of absurdity. He wishes that this were actually the weirdest thing they had done in their four years here. But it doesn't even compete.

They "process" to their seats, Shirley and Britta practically in hysterics the entire time, Pierce muttering something in the back about why he didn't get to be a lion like Jeff.

Before they sit Shirley leads them in the Pledge of Allegiance.

"Why am I pledging allegiance to the French flag?" Jeff whispers out of the side of his mouth to Britta.

"Shut up." But she's still trying to hold back laughter.

Abed nods toward Jeff, "Would you like to say a few words?"

"Uh. No. Why?"

"We need a commencement speech. On television this is usually done by the Valedictorian. Annie would do it if she were here. But you're kind of our leader, so that works too.

Dammit. He just had to throw in that "you're our leader, we look up to you, we depend on you" thing that always makes Jeff do things he doesn't want to be doing.

"Okaaayyy," He stands slowly and faces his friends. "Um. Hi." They look back at him expectantly. Britta is smirking.

"Look, I just want to say… I guess that, I've never been so thankful to have been turned down by a woman before." He glances over at Britta and her face relaxes into a true smile. "And that I'm glad you guys let me back into the group." He thinks about it, "You know, the eight or so times you kicked me out."

They all laugh.

"So, thanks I guess. For being my friends and putting up with my crap and just being you. Cause you're all a little weird. But, I'm starting to realize that I am too." Everyone nods at this.

He laughs, looks down at the grass. "So, to the Greendale Class of 2013 I say, go and… I don't know…make your dreams come true."

Everyone cheers as he sits down.

Britta looks over at him, reaches out and grabs his hand, "That was actually pretty sweet."

"I've always been a man of words Britta."

"Yeah, but you meant it this time."

He watches as Abed and Troy launch into an acoustic version of "I Believe I Can Fly" and knows that she's right.

XOXOXO

Fall 2011

At first, the hardest part was learning how to work without her. They weren't taking a class together anymore but it seemed strange to break tradition so they still all gathered in the library to study together once a day - or at least, this is what they attempted to do before everything unraveled five minutes into the hour and they spent the rest of the time arguing over the correct pronunciation of the word "vase" or whether it was correct to say "pop" or "soda" or, in one weird session, which Jonas Brother would have the most successful career.

Jeff always assumed that he was the one holding the puppet strings of the group but this was apparently not the entirely the case – and he was a little perturbed at how much this actually upset him.

In a moment of desperation, after a session in which Troy cried and Shirley left in a huff after smacking Pierce over the head with her purse, he called Annie.

"What's your secret?"

"There's no secret Jeff. It's all about determination. Make eye contact. Be formidable."

She was maybe teasing him a little bit and he couldn't help but smile.

"I don't know Jeff. It always just worked before."

"Well obviously this is a two person job. I get control and shut them up. You instill the good behaviors. You're obviously going to have to come back."

When she was quiet on the other side of the line Jeff wished he hadn't said anything, he knew that this was hard enough for her.

"You're liking it there?"

"Yeah, I think I am."

"Good."

Ten minutes later as they were about to hang up Annie said, "You can always call you know. Anytime…. No one's really called."

She was trying not to sound desperate as she said this but Jeff heard it for what it was and realized that they had all been spending so much time trying to pretend that everything was the same that they had been neglecting to deal with the things that had changed.

The next day he suggested that they drop the whole "study group" thing and just make a point to hang out together as friends. It felt a little like breaking up with someone but in the end it was maybe better because they stopped fighting so much and when he walked into the cafeteria each day and saw the five of them around a table it felt like escape.

One day he slipped in an offhanded remark that it had been a few weeks since Annie left and he wondered how she was and there were a couple guilty looks around the table when no one answered.

The next time he talked to her though she was laughing as she told him about the series of inappropriate emails she received from Pierce and the two-hour three-way phone conversation she'd had with Shirley and Britta.

And slowly, things began to slide into a new normal.

XOXOXO

It saves on gas money for all six of them to pile into Shirley's van for the three-hour drive to visit Annie but by the end Jeff decides that nothing is worth that kind of torture. Somehow, three hours turns into four and a half hours and by the time they're pulling into the parking lot of the hotel he's ready to drop to his knees and kiss the pavement.

The combination of Abed and Troy playing every car game known to mankind and Pierce insisting on singing (the wrong, more sexually explicit lyrics to) campfire songs like "On Top of Old Smokey" and Shirley trying to tune them all out by blasting her favorite Christian radio station, had left Jeff one step away from throwing himself into oncoming traffic on the middle of the highway.

Britta's the only one that he doesn't want to murder, until he catches whiff of the toxic fumes emanating from her breath and suddenly realizes that the clear liquid in her water bottle is not actually water…. And now he just wants to kill her for not sharing.

He grabs his bag from the trunk and growls, "I'm going to check in."

The lobby of the hotel is cool and as soon as he hits the air conditioning he thinks of locking himself in his room and taking a shower and staying far away from everyone else for the next few hours. He needs silence and space and…

"Jeff!"

He knows that voice, can't help the way his lips quirk up as he turns around and then there's a flash of brown hair and something tiny barreling into him, throwing her arms around him and almost knocking him backwards off his feet.

"Whoa. Whoa." But he's laughing and hugging her back, pulling her up so that her feet dangle several inches off the ground. Annie squeezes him back tightly.

"It's so good to see you," she squeals in his ear.

"Annie. I talked to you like two days ago."

She pulls away and he deposits her back to the ground, "It's not the same."

They smile at each other.

"What are you doing here?"

"I knew you guys were going to be getting here this afternoon. I wanted to surprise you. I thought you'd be here earlier."

The smile falls off Jeff's face. "Troy apparently has the smallest bladder in recorded history. We had to stop at every rest stop on the way here."

"Aww." She pats his arm, "I told you so."

"I don't really want to talk about it. Or ever relive it."

"You're going to have to go back the same way you know. Unless of course you're willing to pay three-hundred dollars for a cab ride." Her eyes practically twinkle as she teases him and he shakes his head at her.

"Oh trust me, it would be worth it this ti-"

"Annie!" The rest of the group straggle into the lobby and surround her with hugs.

"Oh you guys, thank you guys so much for coming. You have no idea what this means to me."

Jeff leaves them to their reunion and heads toward the front desk. He's checking in when Britta appears next to him, wobbling slightly so that she leans into his shoulder a little bit.

He levels her with a glare. "Hey drunky."

"Shh." She hold her finger to her lips. "I don't want Shirley to know."

"Britta, I hate to break it to you but everyone knows you're drunk. Even..." He looks at the desk clerk's nametag, "Donald here, knows you're drunk. Right Donald?"

Donald glances between them but just smiles and hands Jeff his key.

Britta rolled her eyes, "Whatever, you're just jealous. But, hey." She leans in so close she practically has her face pressed against his arm. "She seems okay, right?"

They look over to where Annie is talking animatedly with Abed.

"Yeah, she seems fine."

"Seems or is?"

"What's the difference?"

"When it comes to Annie? Huge difference."

"Britta." Jeff takes his key and hoists his bag over his shoulder. "She's fine. Okay?"

"Okay." She shrugs. "But you should keep an eye on her. Take care of her, or whatever it is you usually do." And then she stumbles again.

"What is wrong with you?"

"Nothing. What's wrong with you?" They stare at each other until Jeff looks up to the ceiling in exasperation.

"I'm going to my room."

"Jeff!" Annie calls out to him and he looks back reluctantly. "We're meeting in the hotel bar at 6:00?"

It's a question but it's accompanied by wide, blue, unblinking Little Mermaid eyelashes and she knows he's going to say yes anyway so he just narrows his eyes at her, mutters "yeah, yeah, yeah" and stalks off toward the elevator.

XOXOXO

Fall 2011

"I met someone."

He was the TA in her Literature course so she got to know him right away because she always had a million questions when class was over and he always just smiled and answered everything and sometimes even called on her in class to expand on some point she had made about the symbolism of water in Chopin's The Awakening.

There were times she didn't really have any questions but stayed and talked to him anyway and found out things like, he was in the Master's English program and he loved jazz music but hated olives on his pizza (she found this last one out after he invited her to dinner one Friday night). She also found out that he doesn't kiss on first dates, but apparently she does and when she pulled away he was smiling and maybe blushing a little.

"What?"

"I met someone. A guy."

"Well I'm glad to hear they have guys at your school now."

"Jeff. I'm serious."

The stop light ahead of him flickered to yellow and he slowly eased his foot down on the brake, tapped his thumb on the steering wheel in time to the music playing on the radio

"Um. Okay."

"I think I really like him."

"Well, that's…" He shifted uncomfortably, "Why are you telling me this? Isn't this more of a Shirley thing? Or Britta even? I'm the friend you call when you, I don't know, need a flat tire changed."

Annie laughed, "Do you even know how to change a flat tire?"

"That's beside the point."

The light turned to green as Annie sighed, "I just wanted to tell you. I'm sorry. It was silly."

"No. It's… so this guy. He's a good guy? What's his name?" He grimaced into the review mirror.

"David. And yes."

"David. I guess that sounds like a fairly decent non-douchebag name."

"Yes. He is a non-douchebag." There was a smile in her voice.

"Good." He flicked on the turn signal and glanced over his shoulder before merging into the right lane.

"Jeff! Are you driving?"

"Yes."

"How many times do I have to tell you not to talk on your phone in the car? It's dangerous."

"You called me."

"I didn't know you were driving. I'm hanging up now."

"Annie, I've been driving the entire span of your lifetime. I think I'm fine."

"I don't know Jeff, senior citizens cause just as many accidents as teenage drivers."

"Wow. Low blow."

"I'm hanging up now."

"Fine… hey, Annie?"

"Yeah?"

"He's a good guy?"

"Yeah, he is."

"Good."