I've written a huge amount of drabbles, flashfics, and shorts for Jeff/Annie in the last year and a half, and those stories need a home: Notches. In mostly chronologically written order.
Rating: T for Too Many Metaphors
Genre: Vignette, General, Character Piece
Disclaimer: Not my characters, now or in any future fic.
Warnings:Jeff/Annie, floppy-haired behavior, spoilers for eps 1x24 & 1x25
Summary:Jeff's changing relationship to Annie over the season. (Oh God, I promise it's not as boring as that sounds.)
Break It Down (For Me)
To the dismay of the study group and the delight of nearby gawkers, the night of the Greendale First Annual Tranny Dance was turning into one of those horrid "finale" encounters that seem unavoidable when a year's ended and relationships are tested. Jeff wasn't sure he'd ever had one of these "episodes" before, and maybe he could blame Abed for the fact that he was having one now. The problem with seeing the world through Abed's spy glasses, however, was that sometimes reality and fiction could look a lot like one another without being similar at all.
For instance, there was the masculine side of romance. TV shows and books always bemoaned how guys felt uncontrollably hormonal around the ladies. They couldn't help wanting to grab them or kiss them, all the time and any time, as if a man who desired a woman spent every dreaming minute and about three fourths of the waking ones barely restraining himself from lustful cave-man action. Perhaps even the young Mr. Winger had felt that way from the age of eighteen to twenty-four-ish. But the truth was that Jeff hadn't gotten where he was now (mid-thirties, undereducated, formerly overpaid, bilingual to Greendale standards) by being an emotional guy. Emotions, like ethics, could be compartmentalized.
The filing box in Jeff's brain-slash-soul labeled 'Annie' was a mess of hanging drawers, sealed locks with missing keys, stuffed in papers, and libido subpoenas. Did he think about grabbing her waist as they walked to study group and attaching himself at the lips? Sure he did; for about a week last winter he'd been unable to fantasize about anyone else while jacking off in the shower. But he didn't imagine that every time they talked. Most days in the study room it didn't cross his mind at all. If Jeff thought about her, it was to admire her study ethic or to wish her self-righteous babydoll voice was heckling someone else.
Truthfully, Annie had existed in his initial mental impression as a cute, nervous squirrel who wanted to sidle up one moment and bite your finger the next. Everything about her demanded that she be handled with care, but if he were too careful she sensed it and grew angry at him for underestimating her. She was pretty and out of bounds the way foreign race cars could be pretty and out of reach, until the debate happened and she'd popped onto Jeff's sexual radar like a tank-launched ballistic missile headed straight for his Lexus. The mental filing box for Annie Edison had to be expanded by a few drawers to become a cabinet, some newly uncomfortable and confusing feelings were stuffed inside, and then the whole thing was locked up again for safe keeping. It wasn't an act of denial, because he'd didn't really pretend anything for or against. He simply stopped thinking of her that way when it was clear that it only made both of them uncomfortable. This was not as difficult for Jeff as he suspected it might be for other people; want or need didn't matter if you knew your long-term goal.
The debate wasn't a solitary instance of attraction, because Jeff was still a man and men were neither angels nor robots. While it happened sporadically, it did happen. Every once in a while Annie would catch him off guard with a soft-eyed request or a Freudian slip, and plunge Jeff back through time at radical speed until he was suddenly thinking about her again, seeing her again. He'd flounder for a second, then the second would pass, he or Annie would leave, and he'd put the feeling out of his mind and into a drawer to be dealt with later. If it was obvious to both that they were attracted to each other, then it was equally obvious that social inhibitions were trouncing that attraction into the carpet.
He'd gone a whole year relating to her this way, and as a result he'd managed to earn her friendship without being concerned about getting into her pleated skirt. Jeff reserved all of that effort for Britta-a woman who both required and deserved effort-so his friendship with Annie was easy and, for the most part, uncomplicated. It was probably the least complicated relationship he'd had with a woman in years. Sometimes they were Spanish study buddies, sometimes they were friends, and sometimes she was the group's littlest sister, Jeff's to scold or celebrate as much as anyone else's.
At first, their conversation after the final Spanish exam had seemed just like any of half a dozen awkward moments this year where friendship and honesty got the better of them. In this case he reacted with less reserve than usual because it felt as if she were doing by accident what he was used to women doing on purpose. When Annie mentioned dressing like a professor he'd taken it at face value, only to have her panic at his obliviousness and him panic at her panicking. The communication was so brief-just a few squawking words from either party-that in its wake Jeff was left to wonder if Annie had been nervous because he'd interpreted her comment correctly or because he'd interpreted it incorrectly. Either explanation seemed likely to induce confusion where there had before been clarity, so he decided to ignore it the way he ignored most of their accidental exchanges.
Either time proved the enemy of self-control, however, or Jeff's lawyer instincts decided to step in, because he found himself unable to let go of that moment as easily as he had the rest. Some aspect of it tickled his brain, wiggled around and made a home for itself in the part that organized his aforementioned mental compartments. The moment was unlike the moments before it, and it represented either an aberration or a shift in circumstances. Although trained by the legal culture to think in analytical structures, Jeff's conscious mind didn't conceptualize it so precisely. He just knew that it bugged him, and he knew that figuring out why it bugged him was something he'd have to worry about eventually.
Eventually happened a lot sooner than Jeff expected. Four days later, he realized what had changed with Annie in the hallway in just about the same quarter of a second that he realized she was going to kiss him. They'd stood not far from the brightly decorated site of his most recent emotional failure, and she'd listened while he tried to poor his scraggly heart out to the only woman who hadn't asked to hear about it. Better than judging or advising him, Annie understood what he wanted to express. Jeff was so grateful for a friend that knowing she was back to stay made the whole night survivable again.
Fortified by her faith in him, he made an excuse to leave but didn't, until the urge to stay was greater than the urge to go. They hugged, stepped back, and Annie finally caught his eyes. She moved a centimeter, maybe less. But Jeff was still close-close enough to smell her shampoo-and he knew that move. In a quarter of a second the drawers containing vital details about Annie flew open in his mind, and he knew what had been different about the conversation outside of class. He knew why she had stayed, he knew why she was moving closer, and his eyebrows pulled together as he took no time at all to reassess everything he'd understood about Annie Edison.
Jeff knew it was time, and he closed his eyes.