Title: Spinning Webs Too Big To Climb
Characters: Annie Edison, Jeff Winger, Rich Stephenson, several OCs
Spoilers: 2x13- "Celebrity Pharmacology"
Summary: It was a time in her life where no one was who they seemed, including her.
Annie Edison had been raised by her mother to be an honest, hardworking woman. She was expected to live a conservative life within the realms of chareidi Judaism, and to find a husband whose beliefs matched her own, and in less than a decade after graduating from college she would have two children and have made her first pilgrimage to Mount Sinai. She would wear long skirts and sleeves, not tight enough to reveal her shape, cover her hair in a scarf at all times.
The first time she lied to her mother she was six, the crime was stealing a piece of caramel candy from the local grocery store, and the fact that she'd gotten away with it had given her a secret thrill for months. It was her first act of small rebellion, and even loving her mother as much as she did wasn't enough to stop her from chasing that tingle under her skin again and again.
The twelfth time she lied to her mother she was sixteen, high on Adderall, and had just had sex with her (gay) boyfriend in her closet. It was the only time her mother realized that she was lying, and Annie liked to think that it was the drugs and sexual frustration that corrupted her normally impeccable lying skills. Lack of use did not indicate lack of skill, and Annie had long ago discovered that she was unexpectedly good at deceiving others. Her father was easy, wrapped around her fingers like putty, but her mother was all soft femininity wrapped around steel and even as Annie longed to be just like her it was also something she dreaded. She could never be the good wife and mother that Sela Edison was, not when she spent her spare time chasing the euphoria that drugs and lying provided. When the house of cards came down around her, Annie found a new plateau of pleasure, a freedom in acknowledging that she was a failure, and though it was a bitter freedom she didn't want to give it up. Her mother wanted to forget the "incident", to ignore the problem and go on with their laid out life plan, a plan that didn't include losing her scholarship, didn't include trembling hands and nightmares, and a stint in rehab. It wasn't the first time Annie had rebelled against her mother; it was the last.
It's eleven o'clock at night, peak time for the shop downstairs and it's less-than-stellar clientèle, and there was a knock at her door. It was forceful bordering on aggressive, and the very reason why she insisted on three deadbolts on the new real wooden door. She was paying bargain basement rent on a very bad apartment, but the fact that she wasn't a street-walking cross-dresser like the former occupant had given her some leverage with the landlord. The cops weren't likely to be breaking down her door every three weeks, so a higher quality barrier against the riff raff who wandered at all hours of the night wasn't an unreasonable investment.
Annie was still awake studying for an anthropology test, reviewing everything from the actual textbook to current affairs to British pop culture, because with Professor Duncan there was no telling what was going to be on the mid-term. The unexpected company, because anyone coming to her apartment was unexpected, immediately had her reaching for the chloroform she'd begun to routinely carry in her backpack. The peep hole in the door had been cut lower so that she could use it without straining, but it often resulted in her seeing only the upper chest of whomever stood on the other side. Clutching the small glass bottle in one hand, her cell phone in the other, Annie called through the wood, "Who's there?"
The man on the other side spoke softly, but Annie still heard him quite clearly. "Ms. Edison, I'm Officer Lucas Tyler, and the lady with me is Detective Francesca Tarabotti. We'd like to speak to you about an opportunity we think you'd be interested in." Annie's first thoughts were to sort through recent activities and decide whether she'd done anything worth a visit from the police. Her second and third thoughts were that she might need a lawyer, and that for a few favors she might be able to get Jeff to informally represent her should this lead to her being carted to the police station.
"Please show me your badges," Annie requested, using memory of her phone layout to scroll down the the Greendale non-emergency number for the police department. It took exactly eight rings for a connection to be made, but it took only a minute to verify the identity of the couple outside her door. With muttered words of gratitude Annie disconnected, and with a heavy sigh opened the door. "Please come in," she invited, though her stomach was knotting and her brow was sweating. She wondered if her chloroform attack at Jeff's old firm was coming back to bite her, but dismissed it since Jeff had assured her no one had made any connection between the party crashers and the breaking and entering in the offices.
There was an awkward silence for several minutes as everyone evaluated each other, Annie noting the bad suits (Jeff's sense of style had advanced her own appreciation for a sharply tailored ensemble), and the police officers noting the well-tended, but ultimately poor quality of her apartment. Annie gestured for them to take a seat at her small dinette set and offered them drinks which they declined.
"I'd like to be upfront about why we're here, Miss Edison," Officer Tyler started, "we're aware of your history with drug usage and that you've worked very hard to distance yourself from the occurrence but not to erase it. You do volunteer work with rehabilitation programs, still attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and have more than once reported suspicious people around your neighborhood that have led to several arrests. We're also aware that you were disinherited following your entrance into a rehabilitation clinic, and that following your eighteenth birthday you were asked to leave your parents' home and have since fallen into financial trouble. We have a proposition that we believe would be beneficial not only for you, but for the department as well."
Annie was shocked by the depth of information they had collected on her, but she wasn't speechless for long. "I find the amount of information you have collected on me to be terribly invasive. I'm contemplating writing a letter to your superiors."
"We'd like you to work with us, Annie. We're offering you a position in the department, a little unorthodox, but we've been given permission from our boss to offer it. The pay is not high, the risk is mid-level, but you'd be doing your city a great service. If there is one thing our research has shown, it's that you believe in community service. Are you interested?" Tyler explained and Annie couldn't deny that she was. It was true that she'd been looking for a job without much success (though the manager of the shop below had offered her a position, it was an entirely inappropriate one).
Annie took a seat at the table opposite the two officers and drew her notebook towards her, turned to a fresh page and clicked open her pen. "I would like you to explain to me what would be required of me, how much I would be compensated, and just how I came to be considered an option for this position. I will have questions and I will require answers before I consider accepting."
The couple across nodded to each other with small smiles, and then Detective Tarabotti began to speak for the first time. "There's been an increase of drug trafficking through Greendale in recent years, and I've been placed in charge of tracking down the people responsible and though it's taken me almost two years I believe I've tracked down the first solid lead that I can actually pin down. All the transactions can be traced back to school institutions-"
"School? You think my old dealer is involved? Because honestly Nurse Schuester just thought she was helping, she had no idea that I would take it so far," Annie interrupted and rushed to explain.
"Not high school, Annie, college. Community college," the detective explained, reaching into her handbag and pulling out a thick file. "It's an even distribution between Greendale Community College, City College, and Dale Park College, but we have solid links to all three. We've made six deals with offenders for this information, and if we can't produce actual convictions from this then the case is going to be shuffled out of my hands. This is my last chance to close it."
Annie could hear the sincerity in the woman's voice and nodded. "What do you need me to do?"
"You're going to provide an introduction for Officer Tyler's undercover persona. The Greendale student populace is difficult to integrate into, but with a 'guide', our investigation can proceed with little to no impediment," Tarabotti explained.
"Why Greendale? You said there were two other community colleges that you had links to. Why use Greendale?" Annie asked, studying the pictures and affidavits that the Detective had spread across the table.
A grin split Officer Tyler's face and Annie blinked several times, surprised at how attractive the movement made him. Suddenly, to her surprise, she found herself realizing that the officer was an attractive man, all dark hair, lanky limbs, and blue eyes. She straightened in her chair, unconsciously pushing her hair behind her ear in a coy movement, and forced herself to ignore the nervous buzzing in her ears and focus on what the man was saying. "We're holding certain information over your dean, things that could get him into a lot of trouble should it become public knowledge. We used that leverage to procure his allowance for our investigation on his campus."
Annie snorted her amusement and pointed out, "His love of dalmatians isn't exactly a secret."
"The surveillance system in place around campus is, however," Officer Tyler explained, "and also a highly illegal invasion of privacy."
"He's been watching the students?" Her scandalized tone clearly amused the two officers and they shrugged.
"He's going to remove the equipment when our investigation is complete. For now we'll utilize it ourselves to monitor the operation," Tarabotti continued. "Your part in this would be providing entrance into the student populace. You'd be pretending Officer Tyler was your boyfriend, a new student, and from there we would handle the rest of the operation."
"Who do you think is behind the drug trafficking?" Annie inquired, having not seen it named in the documents before her.
"We require you to agree to assist us, and sign certain contracts, before we could reveal that information to you."
Annie bit her lip and took a minute to think the matter over. On the one side of the issue, she did appreciate helping her community in any way, and drug use prevention had become a pet project of hers. On the other side of the issue, there was the fact that she was already overwhelmed between searching for employment, school, and the various study groups she'd formed for her classes. She also had her volunteer projects, dioramas, and different school government activities that were due and required work. "I'd like to help you but my time is already rigidly scheduled. I also doubt that I could convincingly pull off such a facade. It would require me to lie to my friends for weeks before you even appeared on campus, and that's not something I'm comfortable with."
The detective nodded and shrugged. "Of course, Miss Edison...or do you prefer Ms. Decker?" Annie gaped at the detective, speechless and staying that way. "We're confidant that you're capable of doing what we've asked of you, and we're willing to make accommodations for your life. We want Officer Tyler's cover to be as convincing as possible, he'll be involved in your day to day life when the operation matures to that point. More than able to assist with whatever projects and activities you choose to undertake. In no way will you be sacrificing your academics for our cause."
"I do need to say, though, that it might be best to keep the glue gun away from me. I once glued my hand to a wall," Tyler admitted with a sheepish nod. "Still have a small scar."
Annie giggled and found herself nodding. "I'd like to help. I really would. I'm just not sure if I can."
Detective Tarabotti shifted the papers on the table and slid a stapled stack towards Annie. "Sign, and we'll take care of the rest."
Annie read the document, she wasn't a fool, but found everything within it to be acceptable. There were even clauses that provided for her safety and that of those closest to her, something that more than put her mind to ease. She signed the papers and sighed heavily, her head suddenly pounding and her shoulders heavy under the tension carried there. She'd come home expecting to be awake in the wee hours worrying about mid-terms and romantic problems, not about her hand in a criminal investigation. "So...that's it?"
Tarabotti reached into her bag again, removed a second thinner file. "This is the person we believe is responsible for the trafficking, at least on the community college circuit. He's been enrolled in classes at all three institutions at the time we began to receive reports, and we have several eyes witnesses who placed him near the crimes, as well as affidavits from the arrested claiming his involvement."
Annie's hand trembled as she opened the file and immediately dropped it to the table in shock. "No," she gasped, her hand covering her gaping mouth as her eyes shot from one officer to the other. "I don't believe it. I'm sure you must be mistaken."
"We've done a lot of research and reconnaissance already. We're convinced even if you are not. I'm confident that you'll soon believe it as well. This is, of course, is also how you came to our attention. The friendship between the two of you, and your own history, we believed you were involved, if not in buying, then possibly even dealing," Tarabotti explained.
"Your back pack didn't help matters. There are so many pockets; pockets within pockets," Tyler noted with a smile. "I could never get enough time alone with it to search the entire thing."
"You've been in my backpack? Now I feel really violated," Annie scolded.
"Let's focus, children," Tarabotti interrupted, tapping her finger against the files on the table. "This is our target. We'll lay out a schedule of how to integrate Tyler into your life, Annie, and from there we'll begin gathering evidence to make a case. If all goes well, we should be out of your hair in six months."
Annie's eyebrows shot up and her face turned bright red as her thoughts turned to the havoc this was going to wreak on her carefully planned school year. "Six months?"
"If it goes well."
"Okay, here's the thing, me and...he and I aren't exactly speaking right now."
"Well, Annie, I suggest you start again."
The first month was relatively easy, her life continued on much as it always had. She attended classes, completed projects, passed her mid-terms with stellar scores above and beyond her classmates, and slowly weaved the first of her lies into her life. It took some effort on her part to provoke personal questions from her study group, and it was the realization that they didn't generally willingly ask them that disheartened her in the beginning. The first five minutes of their study sessions ran around the table like a recitation from an elementary school 'show-and-tell' session, and Annie couldn't seem to find an appropriate point in the narrative to blurt out that she'd seen a cute boy in one of her other classes. It would have been out-of-character for her, especially with both Troy and Jeff present. It was Officer Tyler (who insisted she become used to calling him Luke), that provided a solution.
"You're right, you're not really the kiss-and-tell type," he said a few weeks into the collaboration. He'd arrived on campus early in morning to walk Annie to her first class, seeding his entrance into the group. It wouldn't do, he'd explained, for him to just show up in a few weeks claiming to be a student but not having been seen around before then. "You've been in relationships with other students before, how did you inform your friends then?"
"I didn't, they saw us," Annie replied, before rushing to explain, "not like they were spying or anything. It's just a surprisingly small campus and if you spend any time with anyone at any point someone is going to see."
"Like right now? Walking with me?"
Annie nodded and shifted her backpack straps, glancing around and not surprised to find none of her friends lurking about. That would've made her job far too easy. "Yeah, though I should point out that the only reason I didn't tell anyone about it at the time is because I was hiding it from them."
"Vaughn was Britta's ex-boyfriend, and it didn't end well. You remember that song that was played a lot on local stations last year? 'Gettin' Rid of Britta'? That was Vaughn's band. I didn't want to upset her, but I really liked him, and then one day she and Jeff just saw us and made the connection."
"And the second time?"
"Well, see, Rich and I never actually went out. I wanted to, but he turned me down."
Officer Tyler scoffed and Annie immediately found herself liking him more.
"I know, right?" She asked with a grin. "We'd spent all summer around each other, doing community projects and everything, and he joined Anthropology because I suggested it and he sat next to me, gave me all the signs that he was into me, but when I asked him he said no."
"Maybe you were too aggressive?" He suggested, bumping her shoulder in a friendly teasing manner that had her scornful glare relaxing into a pout. "Some men like to do the chasing, they're unsettled by women that come onto them."
For some reason Annie immediately replaced Rich in the conversation with Jeff, and silently recognized that the statement could apply to both men.
"Cosmopolitan says that every woman should control her own romantic endeavors and not let their potential spouse, man or woman, dictate the pace," Annie recited, shifting her backpack's straps as the weight of it began to pull at her shoulders unpleasantly. Officer Tyler reached over and pulled the bag from her shoulders, slinging it over his shoulder easily and shrugging at her questioning look.
"I wouldn't put much faith in magazines for romantic advice. A lot of times you just have to trial-and-error through dating. Some men like to be chased, and some don't. Honestly, looking at you, you seem the type who'd want the man to chase you. You don't seem very bold," Officer Tyler explained, and Annie fought not to be offended, especially since he was correct.
"I...no, I don't find it natural to go after the men I'm attracted to. The problem is that they don't seem inclined to come after me, either."
"It's the age thing, isn't it?"
Annie stumbled to a stop and glared at him. She folded her arms across her chest and fought the urge to stamp her foot. "There is no 'age' thing."
"You've got a thing for older guys. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just your type. It's why I'm a good fit for this operation. I'm older than you, it's your thing, won't seem so out of place," Officer Tyler grasped her arm and gently pulled her back into motion. They walked in silence for several minutes, her fuming silently at him and he with a stupid smug grin on his face that made her want to throw something.
"There is no age thing."
"There really is. I'd accuse you of having daddy issues, but from what I've seen it's more likely mommy issues."
"I-...you-..." Annie was pretty sure there was steam coming out of her ears, she found herself so suddenly and bitterly angry. "You have no right to bring that up. Information you gather during background checks is not information freely given, so do not feel like you can nitpick at the details of my past to my face. It's personal and private and not for you and Detective Tarabotti to get your jollies out mocking me for."
Officer Tyler seemed to realize that he'd made a serious faux pas, because he froze and turned to her, pulling her to a stop with an apologetic look. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to poke at a sore subject. You're right, you didn't tell me anything about it so it's not casual conversation material. Won't happen again."
Annie nodded but didn't forgive him, not really. She gestured for him to hand over her belongings and shrugged. "We're still no closer to finding a solution as to introducing you to my friends."
"I don't think we should do a formal introduction or anything like that," he replied. "We'll do this a couple times a week for a while, until it gets back to your group that I've been seen squiring you around campus. Don't say anything about me until they bring it up. That's the pattern that's already been set, so we'll stick to it."
It took two weeks for the ploy to work, six occurrences of them walking together at different times of the day, somehow avoiding ever actually running into another member of the study group. Officer Tyler discovered that she loved blueberry muffins and brought her one during their morning dalliances, she learned that he disliked eating and walking at the same time and suggested they pause near her favorite tree behind the psychology building. In the mornings the campus was almost deserted so discussion surrounding the investigation wasn't likely to be overheard, but in the afternoons the two of them improvised dialogue that two people getting to know each other would indulge in. Star-burns joined them in talking about favorite foods and restaurants in the area, and told them that the Del Taco just off campus was offering new variations of their loaded fries, and Annie couldn't stop the blush that colored her cheeks when Officer Tyler smoothly transitioned the conversation into asking her to join him there after class. Annie nodded in agreement, forced her eyes to stay on Officer Tyler, though she knew that Star-burn's penchant for gossip and Twitter was matched only by Pierce's. Two days later she and Officer Tyler were sitting in the cafeteria when Chang forced himself into the conversation and demanded that Annie talk to him about Shirley.
"Who's Shirley?" Officer Tyler asked, his clueless face impeccable in its convincing nature.
"She's my babymama, bro, keep up," Chang muttered aggressively, doing a double take and realizing belatedly, "You're not Winger. Who are you? Wait, wait, wait...Annie, he's not in the group is he? I demand my place in the group. This will not be tolerated! Where's Winger and Brittles?" Without waiting for a reply Chang took off to the other side of the cafeteria, where sure enough he zeroed in on the rest of her study group with alarming focus. Officer Tyler looked a bit shell-shocked, but Annie couldn't tell if it was real or forced.
"He used to be my Spanish teacher," she explained, with a shrug. She waved apologetically to the group as Chang descended on them, and saw both Britta and Shirley made gestures that she should call them, before grinning and giving her two thumbs up. "I think we've been spotted."
Officer Tyler looked over his shoulder and registered the reaction of her friends. "Phase one complete. Let's keep the appetites whetted, though, and blow this Popsicle stand."
Annie smiled and pointed out, "You really need to lay off the classics. You sound like a Pleasantville reject."
"No one does it better than Brando."
"Just wait until you meet Abed. I can't tell whether you two are going to get along famously, or terribly. Either way, it's going to be fun to watch," Annie replied, sliding from her seat and slinging her backpack on before unconsciously reaching for his hand. They left the room that way, him leading and her following, neither of them consciously putting an effort into the picture they presented. She was relaxed and comfortable in his company, more so than she expected.
In fact, Annie was underwhelmed entirely by how well she took to the deception. It was a bit like when she'd been pretending to be Caroline Decker, except she was pretending to be herself. She was Annie Edison, the version who had an attractive and funny boyfriend, one that relaxed her from the stress she brought upon herself and deliberately distracted her when she became too intense. She was Annie Edison who talked to that boyfriend about everything and listened when he pointed out the things that she was oblivious to. It was Officer Tyler who commented on the drastic change in her wardrobe from high school to (community) college, and made the logical leap as to her motivations. Her short skirts and tight blouses would horrify her strait-laced Jewish mother, but at the same time she was almost punishing herself because she'd never been completely comfortable in them.
The first time she wore jeans to a study group, everyone could only stare at her in silence for five minutes, and Annie could conclude that she'd won show-and-tell that day. She'd smiled and refused to explain the change, and refused to even look at Jeff though she could feel him staring at her. "Just leave it alone, guys. We have studying to do. We may have passed mid-terms, but it's only a few months until Winter finals! We have tons of studying still to do. That test comes from the state, so it's definitely going to be on Anthropology, and Professor Duncan clearly isn't going to cover the material."
Annie brought them back to studying with her sharp words, but inside she was practically gleeful. She wasn't nervous about the lies now, she didn't hesitate or think about these things before they became vocal. It was instinctive and though she was disturbed by how easy it was becoming, it was also somewhat...fun, having a secret that was no one's but hers. Sometimes she imagined it was there, just behind her eyes, staring out at her friends and them none the wiser. She liked imagining it as something separate from herself, a creature within her that she had to sometimes fight for control over. Officer Tyler had laughed at her metaphor, but agreed that it was accurate. If they weren't careful, it would be easy to get lost in the lies. It would be easy to take it too far, to push the limits of belief, to give into the hungry and selfish nature of lying.
It was a conversation that stuck with her as the weeks became months. In the beginning she'd embraced this new role she was playing, even being nervous had felt like an adventure. As she and Officer Tyler had worked him into her life, explaining how they'd (falsely) met, to when he'd first asked her out (in front of Star-burns), her friends went from being blissfully ignorant in her mind, to being deceived. She went from feeling that she was doing something necessary, playing a trick that would hurt no one, to feeling hollow and fake around them. Like even her genuine laughs and smiles had nothing behind them because there was this huge amount of information she was keeping from them. Someone they all knew, and most of them liked, was doing something truly bad under their noses and none of them realized. She was a party to that crime, Annie began to dread, because she kept them in the dark.
Just before winter break Officer Tyler told Annie that he'd made contact with their suspect. They were sitting in the study room alone, her friends had yet to arrive, and she searched through her bag for her favorite pen when he blurted out the news. She sat down heavily in her chair and knew she looked shocked. "What? When?"
Officer Tyler grinned at her reaction and took the seat next to her, wrapping his arm around the top of her chair and lowering his voice as he explained. "You've been up a wall for the past few weeks, running yourself ragged with the studying and the projects and the tutoring, and he and I got to talking about it and he offered. He freaking offered, Annie. If I didn't think his lawyers would claim entrapment I'd arrest him right now. Tarabotti says we need to wait, though. When he moves from offering the drugs to asking for payment, we got him."
"A month, maybe two. Depends on how we play this," he explained. "He thinks the drugs are for you, he knows your history with them, so he's going to be looking for signs. We'll take him down before you'll have to start pretending to seriously tweak, but you know what's it's like in the beginning. He'll want to see some of that. A little aggression, some anger, every once and a while skip a meal. If you feel the urge to jump me and just start making out, I'm okay with that. Sacrifice one for the team."
She wasn't entirely jesting when she punched him in the arm and glared, but he took it that way anyways.
"I'm serious, babe. I'm totally there for the team, with you being the team, and me being at the bottom of the puppy pile. You could ask Britta to join your team and I'd be okay with that, too."
"I know what you're doing," Annie pointed out, "and it's not working. You're not making me feel better."
"Are you sure? You're blushing, and it could be from anger but I think it's because you're thinking about it and maybe even like what you're thinking," Officer Tyler pointed out, wriggling his eyebrows in a Pierce-esque manner that didn't fail to make her laugh. That was how the group found them, seconds later, her beet-red and giggling into her hand struggling to stop, and her faux beau grinning down at her.
"What's so funny?" Shirley asked, her saccharine voice breaking the spell the two of them had found themselves in.
"Nothing," Annie said quickly, so quickly that they all immediately recognized that it was the exact opposite of nothing. "It doesn't matter."
"Does that mean you agree?" Officer Tyler asked, slipping into his role of Luke-the-boyfriend as easy as someone else might put on a jacket. He treated the entire charade like an in-joke between the two of them; he didn't seem bothered by how every word out of his mouth was false. Annie couldn't comprehend how it didn't keep him awake at night, living a life that wasn't his own, being someone who didn't even bear a passing resemblance to his true nature.
"No, I do not agree," Annie replied snidely. "Now get out, buffoon, we have to study."
"You wound me," he argued, standing and relinquishing Shirley's chair to the real owner. He slapped his hand over his chest and bowed playfully, "But as my lady requests, so shall I acquiesce."
"You've been looking at my Word-A-Day calendar, again," Annie accused but Officer Tyler had already slipped away, waving off her accusation and leaving the group to their studies.
"What was that?"
The question bordered on angry and Annie wasn't surprised to find it came from Jeff. She ignored him, however, and focused on finding her Anthropology book in her backpack.
"That was adorable, that's what that was," Britta replied for her. "I don't know which class you found Luke in, Annie, but sign me up next semester."
Annie smiled back at the blonde, grateful that at least in all this she and Britta had managed to regain some of the ground they'd lost during the debacle at the beginning of the semester. "It was Spanish 210, actually. Just think, if you'd continued it with me, he'd probably be dating you instead of me."
"Why do you say that?"
"Oh, you know. Blonde hair, leather boots, tight jeans. Stuff like that," Annie replied casually, though she admitted to herself that it was a bit catty. They'd regained some ground lost, but they weren't over it, not really.
"Those jeans you wore last week were nice. Really nice," Troy helpfully pointed out, grinning widely and giving her a thumbs up.
"Thank you, Troy! Luke picked them out, said skinny jeans make my butt look fantastic," Annie confessed, smiling at the table as she rifled through her book for notes.
"They did. They really did," Troy murmured, his eyes glazed over as he lost himself remembering. Annie was both flattered and a little unsettled but she'd gotten used to the combination when dealing with Troy, ever since Jeff had somehow made the boy recognize her as a sexual being and not just Annie Adderall.
This was, of course, the most Jeff could take of the conversation. "You're telling me that Annie's...friend can give her fashion advice and there's not one gay joke from Pierce, but I spend five minutes perfecting my bed head and I'm the biggest flaming queen this side of England? Sheeze, Pierce, inconsistent much with your irrelevant ramblings?"
"They make diapers for that now," Troy pointed out, cowering under the force of the glare Jeff directed at him.
"Back on point, I don't like him," Jeff announced, crossing his arms as if to say that was the end of the conversation. His words only provoked the group, however, as they all felt the urge to defend Annie's fake love life. Annie's glare was just as intense as Jeff's, however, and she used it to silence her friends.
"Jeff," Annie started, her voice soft and just a bit condescending as she reached over and patted his arm comfortingly, "I don't care. Get over it."
That statement left the group with no idea how to react. Britta wanted to cheer for Annie's sudden tenacity, Shirley approved but wasn't sure if Jesus would have been so blunt, and Pierce was still wondering if Troy's diaper comment had been a subtle insult to him. Abed was calculating the possible plot points a cessation of unresolved sexual tension would have on the paradigm, and Jeff was just extremely off-kilter by how unimportant his opinion had just become in the grand scheme of Annie's life. He was out-of-sorts and uncomfortable, and entirely dissatisfied with this new role he was playing.
"Now," Annie continued, leaning back and pasting her happy face back on, "shall we study?"
It wasn't the end of the altercation, not by a long shot, but Annie felt irrationally pleased that she'd won the battle. Jeff glared at her for the next hour and a half, and left without another word to anyone; Britta promised she'd talk to him and make him apologize for being a giant tool about the situation.
With finals over and no need to continue the charade without an audience, it's the third day of Hanukkah before Annie sees another person. She'd spent the first couple of days puttering around her studio apartment, cleaning manically, contemplating painting the walls a different shade of beige, and wondering if her sewing skills were up to creating new curtains rather than waiting for yard sale season. There was a soft knock at the door, almost hesitant in nature and Annie spared a glance for the baseball bat resting against the wall near the hinge, a gift from Officer Tyler after he confiscated her surprisingly large supply of chloroform. He reasoned that chemical attacks indicated premeditation but physical defense could be argued as impulsive. Annie didn't know whether she was flattered or horrified that he felt she would someday need a good defense argument.
Still, she rested her hand over the handle of it as she pressed her face to the door, her mouth falling into a gape at the person on the other side. The disarmament of her multiple locks was an odd soundtrack to her racing thoughts, but when the door itself opened she pasted a welcoming smile on her face. "Jeff, hi! What are you doing here? I didn't even realize you knew where I lived. I was sure you were too intoxicated the night of Troy's birthday to remember. You even said you'd been drinking too much to remember making out with Britta, but you remembered where I live?"
"I lied about not remembering swapping spit with Britta, to avoid the awkwardness of her liking me again, I've never blacked out from drinking in my life," Jeff explained, stepping into her apartment without invitation. Annie shrugged and closed the door behind her, engaging the locks with numb fingers and ignoring the small tremble in her fingers.
"You thirsty? I have tea and juice, and Luke just bought me a filtered water pitcher because he claims the pipes in the building are degraded and possibly hazardous. There's also some beer in the fridge if you'd like, again, it's Luke's but I'm sure he wouldn't mind sharing," Annie knew that she had a terrible habit of babbling when she was nervous but knowledge of her flaw didn't seem to make her capable of suppressing it. Her eyes skittered around the main room of her apartment, flitting to the small touches of presence Officer Tyler had insisted be strewn about. Random visitors to her abode were uncommon, but not impossible, and he'd felt that small details would make the relationship seem better entrenched in reality.
Annie imagined that she and Jeff took the same course of observation, moving from the obviously male sweater draped nonchalantly over the back of a kitchen chair to the football fallen forgotten to the floor by her bookcase. His beer in her fridge was a verbal cue, as was her casual mention of 'Luke's' attempts to take care of her, and again, she didn't even realize what she was doing until it was done.
"No, I'm good. Look, Annie, I wanted to apologize for what I said last week about Luke."
Annie looked at him and tried to seem receptive but she couldn't help feel that this was only the beginning of the conversation, and not the conclusion of their silent clashing of wills. Jeff didn't seem capable of a simple apology, and indeed, didn't even seem apologetic in the least. She knew him well enough to recognize his technique, and his open friendly statement of regret was merely the first volley in a new argument that he felt was better suited for privacy, somewhere their friends wouldn't be able to interfere.
"You're not sorry," Annie tossed out casually, crossing her arms and tilting her head just-so. Jeff seemed taken aback but not surprised.
"This is exactly why I don't like him, I hope you realize," he threw back, unconsciously mimicking her body language and taking it further, stepping several feet closer but not enough to be considered invasive of her personal space. Annie looked up at him, clenched her fists, and fought the urge to stamp her foot. "You're not acting like yourself, you're...you're wearing jeans and talking back and being a snot."
"You mean I'm not licking your boot heels and scavenging for the slightest crumbs of affection from you anymore."
"No, that's not what I mean! You're late for study group half the time, and you're secretive, always giggling with your boy-toy in the courtyard and running off for mysterious dates. School used to be your priority, Annie, getting the grades and proving that you're not Annie Adderall so you can get back to your plan, to real college and a real life," Jeff argued. "I figured you were different from other chicks, you had priorities and I didn't want to screw with that. So what do you do? You go and screw it up yourself."
"Nothing has been screwed up, Jeff. I still have my priorities, and if anything, Luke is helping me reach them! If I'm a little late, so what? You've all always told me I needed to loosen up, and so I have. 'Don't take life so seriously, Annie', and now I'm not. You're just angry that you're not the one in control of me letting loose. It took me a long time to realize it, but you're controlling, Jeff. You direct the conversation in study group, manipulating everyone around you for entertainment. Then, when it goes oh-so-wrong, when we get too close, or we stray too far, you come and reel us back. All with words, honeyed little lies and compliments and insults. You want to be detached and untouchable, but you're the weakest of us all because you're the one so firmly entrenched in being here. Graduating Greendale is the one thing that holds you together. Any one of us can walk away and start over somewhere else, but this is it for you. This is the only play you have left."
"Hey, another new thing about you, you didn't used to be a bitch," Jeff spit out, and this time it's Annie who stepped closer.
"Stop poking at things that aren't your business. My relationship with Luke is private and personal and has nothing to do with our study group. Your opinion is neither wanted nor asked for," she avowed and ignored the way her chest tightened with each breath.
Jeff was silent for maybe a dozen seconds, glared down at her, licked his lips even as they turned into a sneer. "You used to have a tell when you lied." Her breathing caught in her throat at the change in subject, she stepped back a foot but he followed. His finger traced the corner of her mouth gently, so softly that she barely felt it. "You'd smile when you lied, as if it amused you. Only a second, but I always noticed it. Now, when you lie, nothing. What's going on that you've lost that, Annie? I can't even tell what's a lie and what's not anymore. That worries me. What are you hiding?"
"This isn't about what I'm hiding, this is about you and your-"
"This is only about you," he interrupted, his eyes warmed with anger and what Annie belatedly realized was real concern. "It's always only been about you."
It was so unexpected for Jeff to choose now, that moment when she was alone and at her most vulnerable, that Annie found herself wanting to tell the truth. She was in her kitchenette talking to Jeff, but at the same time she was home, in her bedroom trying to explain to her mother why the drugs had helped. It was always about the thrill, the pleasure, the adrenaline in her blood. It was so easy to give words to, but so hard to actually say.
She turned her back on him, she couldn't look at his face anymore. Her hands gripped the counter before her and she tried to find a lie that would appease him. Her mouth opened and closed as she found and discarded possible reasonings, and at the end of the list truth glowed brighter and grew closer to her grasp with every failed escape plan that slid away. Jeff stepped closer, framing her against the counter, his hands resting against the Formica surface and his thumbs unconsciously passing back and forth over the edge of her palms.
"It was never about whether or not I wanted you, it was about when. I'm not good enough for you, I know it, our friends know it, everyone knows it. I thought I could pretend though. I even went to Rich and tried to get him to teach me how to be that guy. I'd never really be him, never be that good, but I could lie and say I was. Then, when no one cared about me being so much older than you, we could be together. No more jokes about 'To Catch a Predator', no snide little comments in the men's room about liking them young. It wouldn't be something worth talking about, it would just be...you and me. Together. I wouldn't have to pretend that every time you come within a foot of me I'm not fighting the urge to touch you, or that by the end of most of your lectures during study group I'm not hard as a rock and having to wait for everyone else to leave first. I could tell you that I don't think you're neurotic because I like knowing that everything is in it's proper place, too. I could admit that I know you smell like gardenias because once in a store I was walking past the fragrance section and someone sprayed it and I spent the next five minutes looking for you and I was disappointed when you weren't there. I was okay with waiting and not saying these things because I knew that someday I would get to say them. My waiting doesn't work, though, if someone else is saying them to you. I don't want anyone else saying them to you."
She's not trembling anymore, she's completely still inside the circle of his arms and though they're barely touching she can feel him in a way she hasn't experienced since the Tranny dance last year. It had nothing to do with physical bodies, and everything to do with reaching out to touch and being touched in return. Annie wanted to reply, wanted to grasp the truth that hung in the air so densely now that she could practically see it, but these days she was never sure whether she would lie or speak the truth until the words came out. The fact that she recognized this about herself brought her a sense of shame that she hadn't felt since she and her two suitcases were standing on her parents' porch and waiting for her Uncle Ira to pick her up and give her a place to stay for a week or two. Annie desperately didn't want to be that girl again, but she didn't want to be this girl either.
She didn't say anything, instead she turned within his arms and pressed her face to his chest, her arms sliding around him easily and bringing a comfort that had been missing from her life for too long. If he held her too tightly in return she didn't notice, only gripped the material of his sweater and tried to find something to say. There were no words that felt right, so she expressed herself through action instead.
Later, the lights of Dildopolis were flashing hypnotically through the slats of her blinds, and Jeff's hand left a warm path along her back as his fingers rhythmically passed over the bumps of her spine. Annie lay on her stomach, faced away from him, and thought perhaps the humming in her blood was audible, a song their bodies played together and it was so beautiful that she couldn't be sure if she was imagining it or not. She was certain walking was out of the question after their acrobatics of the past few hours, but with her breathing finally evened out and the mood mellowed Annie figured her courage was as steady as it ever would be.
She shifted under the sheet, straddling Jeff's waist and pressing her face into his neck one last time before sitting up, grasping the sheet until it wrapped around her modestly. Jeff looked at her through half-lidded eyes, his smile sleepy but loving. "You're going to have to give me about twenty minutes here, Annie. I need to recover."
She grinned at him, but shook her head slowly. "You wanted to know what I've been hiding, and you're right I have been lying. I am-" She paused and sighed deeply, shaking her shoulders as if to somehow shake off the weight of her secret. "I am a civilian informant for the Greendale P.D.; specifically, Detective Francesca Tarabotti." Jeff seemed to instantly lose any glaze of drowsiness brought on by his post-coital state, his eyes narrowing on her face as he waited for her to continue. "They're investigating a drug ring operating out of local community colleges."
Jeff's hands tightened almost painfully where they rested casually on her thighs, but at her small sound of protest he deliberately loosened his hands. "Why would you be able to help them?" He pushed himself upward, balancing on one hand but wrapping the other around her back and pulling her closer. There's an unspoken question on his face, and Annie paled at seeing it.
"No, I'm not using again. They thought I could help because I know the person they believe is in charge," Annie explained, "and they felt because of my past I'd be open to helping."
"You know a drug kingpin?" The idea of it seemed to amuse him more than shock, and Annie didn't resist the urge to punch him lightly.
"And so do you," she couldn't resist pointing out. "They have evidence that Rich is behind everything. Falsified prescriptions, hospital inventory errors, Medicare fraud. All they're missing is the smoking gun, him actually selling or passing the drugs to a seller. If they can get that, then he's going away for a very long time. I couldn't tell them 'no', Jeff. Not if I could prevent anyone from going through what I did."
"Officer Lucas Tyler as in...your boyfriend Luke?"
"Well, technically he's not my boyfriend. That would make what we're doing cheating, and I don't do that. We're just...saying he is," she was reluctant to actually call it lying, though at this point in the night Annie supposed she might as well call it like she saw it.
"For how long?"
"He says it should be a few more months, but they're getting close."
"What does this mean for, um, us?"
"Awww, you said 'us'!"
"Stop making fun of me and answer the question."
She could only shrug. "I don't know. I don't think they're going to let me fake-break up with my fake-boyfriend so I can have a real boyfriend. It's not supposed to be much longer," there was a tone to her voice, and Jeff seemed to know more about what it meant that she did. His arm tightened around her, drawing her closer, and she instinctively wrapped her arms around his neck. "I'm ready for it to be over," she admitted, her faced pressed to his temple. There was comfort in this position, the way he felt wrapped around her; it felt safe.
At the same time, it wasn't safe. Being with Jeff was like the drugs, the lying. There was a thrill inherent to the act, a risk that she couldn't resist taking, but this felt more personal. The drugs endangered her body, the lying her mind, but Jeff was dangerous to her heart, and it'd already been bruised by him before.
"Maybe they'll be understanding," Jeff suggested, slowly easing back onto the bed until they once again laid curled together.
"Don't be optimistic, that's my role," she chided back, her body already boneless and relaxed once more.
"Role playing so early in the relationship, I like where this is going."
The next few months were harder than either expected, living a life under a lie underneath another lie. For every few hours they had together, there were a few more falsehoods to spread about. Annie knew Luke suspected she was hiding something, but she couldn't confess her liaisons with Jeff without having to admit that she'd told him everything. That would invalidate her contract and most likely end with her sacrificing the paycheck she was promised at the end of the operation. Jeff didn't want to be the cause of her hard work going to naught, and she didn't want to be responsible for ruining months of work by Officer Tyler and Detective Tarabotti.
They sneaked around everyone, their friends and the police; meeting in secret in places where no one would think to look and relishing the few hours of alone time that they could garner. During their study group they'd laugh and smile and converse with everyone like things were as they'd always been, but under the table Jeff's fingers traced idle designs on the back of her hand and her nails left crescent marks on her thigh as she fought the urge to respond in kind. Jeff and Officer Tyler were alike in that regard, always finding it so amusing to tease her under everyone's noses knowing that she wasn't brave enough to truly respond in kind. With Officer Tyler she usually exacted her vengeance through a swift kick to the shin, but for Jeff she could only promise retribution with her eyes and hope he understood that she wasn't happy with him. His answering smirk irritated her, but didn't fail to make her fidget in her seat with anticipation.
It wasn't all stolen kisses and clinches in supply closets, and the secrets didn't come without bumps. Jeff couldn't really control his dislike for Officer Tyler and made a point of joining the two of them during lunch, and if she didn't glare hard enough to warn him off at other times he'd never let them alone. It wouldn't have been such an inconvenience if it wasn't so damnably noticeable to everyone else as well. The Greendale twitter had practically taken on a Gossip Girl-esque slant, naming where they were, what they said; every glare, glance, and gesture marked down for examination and sent drifting into the online world. Annie had never imagined that so many would find her love life interesting, but no one could resist a love triangle, or so Abed told them.
"You're all pretty, and audiences find the incestuous nature of pretty people fascinating," Abed noted, cocking his head just slightly to the side as he studied the reactions that crossed his two friends' faces.
"You think I'm pretty?" Annie asked, a light blush darkening her cheeks.
Jeff ignored that part in favor of pointing out, "Incestuous?"
"The back and forth," Abed clarified, "first you like one person, then another, then you're back to the first, then the first person likes the second person that you used to like. It's fascinating, and the repercussions are always entertaining. If all the characters are attractive then all the better. For example, when Troy and I pursued Mariah the librarian no one kept a running count of insults or started a betting ring of when it would implode. While Troy and Mariah were very attractive, I'm weird looking so interest wasn't high. You, Annie, and Luke are all very attractive, and thus the audience wants to know who Annie will choose."
"Abed, you're not weird looking," Britta admonished, reaching out and laying a comforting touch on his shoulder, though he clearly wasn't upset by his own assertion.
"No, it works for me. I'm the Adrian Brody of the group, unique but charming," Abed assured her.
"Mariah wasn't hot enough to break our friendship, though. Who's your Halle?" Troy asked suddenly, veering off-topic and inadvertently doing exactly what Jeff and Annie were hoping someone would do.
"I hope it's Agent Vohlers, but it could also be Britta," Abed answered.
Abed glanced over at Britta's shocked face and shrugged. "Can't be Annie, can't be Shirley."
"Why can't it be me? I'm hot," Shirley retorted, looking thoroughly irritated by the conversation.
"You already have a love triangle going on. Also, example two that only pretty people love triangles are interesting," Abed pointed out.
"I find you quite attractive," Pierce admitted, leering at Shirley and ignoring the grimace that twisted her face.
Annie's phone buzzed in her pocket and she reached for it absently, focused on the argument that erupted between Shirley and Britta over who made a better Halle for Abed's Adrian. She tore her eyes away from Shirley's shaking finger and underhanded claims of loose morals about Britta long enough to glance at the screen and couldn't stop the wide grin that split her face as she read it. She slid her phone over to Jeff so he could see it as well.
'Warrants issued. Be safe, stay in a group. We'll be on campus in thirty.'
Jeff was better at containing happiness over the end approaching and slid the phone back with an unreadable look on his face. If Annie didn't know him as well as she did she might suspect he wasn't happy that the secrets could finally come out, but she did know him and the emotion he wasn't willing to show was worry. Perhaps Officer Tyler was just being overly cautious in his admonition that her safety might be in danger, but it was something Jeff took very seriously. He glanced at the doors of the study room, and Annie could see him cursing under his breath at whoever had the bright idea to shut the doors and close the blinds. Privacy was one thing, but now they couldn't see if anyone was coming and tonight that was a bad thing.
Annie returned her phone to her pocket, her own happiness dimming as the worry grew. Her hands knotted and she slid them beneath the table to hide her white knuckles and clenched fists. She bit on her lip lightly and tried to tune back into the conversation that continued around them, somehow turning to a debate of the downturn in movie quality in recent years of Adrian Brody's career. Her concentration was completely thrown though when Jeff reached over and grasped her hand under the table. He twisted their fingers together and she relaxed in slow increments, her body relaxing back into her seat and her attention slipping far more easily back onto the conversation at hand.
The classroom is empty and the couple stand near the window studying the scene below with wary eyes. The strobe lights on top of the police vehicles remind her of the first night she and Jeff were together, and she desperately tries to pull that feeling of peace from the memory and into the present. She settled for leaning back against his chest and watching Detective Tarabotti do her thing, which in this instance meant reading Dr. Rich Stephenson his rights as she handcuffed him. Annie was vaguely amused and horrified by the fact that Rich continued to smile mildly as he listened to the detective's words.
"I heard they arrested Star-burns in the mess hall," Jeff commented and though she couldn't see his face Annie knew he was smiling. "He was auditioning for the roller-disco racing team and they wouldn't even let him take them the skates off before they put him in the squad car. Oh, and apparently Magnitude said 'Pop, pop' and was tackled by two officers."
"That's terrible! Excessive force by police organizations is one of the reasons why so many citizens have lost faith in the justice system," Annie declared.
"Annie, I used to be a lawyer, remember? People don't have faith in the justice system because it's a broken system."
"We have to have faith that it can be fixed, though, otherwise what's the point? Why put ourselves through this if we don't believe that something good will come of it? That the bad will be punished and the good protected?"
They'd already had this argument before, several times, and in her head she imagined she could already hear the words coming. He would call her naive but affectionately, or sigh heavily and shake his head. She'd continue on in the vein of the good of humanity and he'd point out the various flaws that people never failed to exhibit from selfishness to ambivalence to downright malevolence. She'd become irritated with his inability to raise above the negativity and he'd grow frustrated with her unwillingness to accept that most people aren't by nature good, but today was a different day than those before and Jeff didn't fail to surprise her with his words.
"I wouldn't say it wasn't worth it, there were definite perks," Jeff admitted, and Annie turned her head so that she could see his face from the corner of her eye.
"Perks?" Jeff's hands shifted from her waist upward and Annie giggled at the whisper of tickling that shivered under her skin at the movement. "Ah, okay, I see your perks, Jeffrey Winger. I could probably even name a few of my own, but I'm not going to let you distract me."
"Me? Distract you?" His words were mumbled against her neck, in that small spot just under her ear near the curve of her chin that never failed to drive her crazy. "Why would I do such a thing?"
"What do we tell our friends? Now that it's over, and we don't have to lie anymore?"
He didn't have an answer for her.
She was sitting in the study room a few days later, her notes spread out on the table before her and her mind completely focused on memorizing entire excerpts from her Anthropology book. Her friends drifted in slowly, caught in their own conversations and when addressed she answered, but her mind wasn't there, not really.
Jeff slipped into the seat at the corner to her right, and with his arrival everyone was there. He reached over and tangled his fingers with hers, on top of the table in plain sight and Annie's heart skipped in her chest. Her eyes slid around the table but the conversations went on just the same.
No one noticed a thing.