NOTES: J/A in Season 4, starting with episode 1.

Previously, on Community: Jeff takes some courses over the summer to pad his GPA for an early graduation; Abed relapses into a third level of reality perception but is saved by a Winger speech he imagines for himself; Britta gets a new pair of glasses and curses the eye doctor for supposedly inflating her prescription; Pierce sits on his nuts again; Annie pretends she's a world-famous detective married to Zac Efron; Craig Pelton rents the apartment next door to Jeff's; Troy takes a scary phone call from his grandmother; and Kevin crawls out of a tank of fish.


The Knots In Our Laces


"You're still mad at me," says Jeff, following in her trail like a penitent bloodhound. Annie goes right, he goes right. She goes straight and to the left; Jeff goes straight and only has to veer slightly left because of his gargantuan stride. It's Friday of the opening week of her senior year, and Annie is not a hundred percent sure she's ready to forgive Jeff for breaking up the Spice Girls.

"Annie, it's been three days. You never hold grudges this long."

"Shut up, Posh Spice," says Annie, and skips over a curb on the way to the bus stop, hating that her vehicle is having its transmission fixed this week. Troy and Abed don't get out of class for another two hours, so it doesn't seem worthwhile to wait on their ride. She spots the plastic-enclosed benches just ahead, and wonders when Jeff will give up begging in favor of bribery.

He stops in front of her, a wall of high-grade cotton that obscures the bus stop from sight. "Let me give you a ride, at least. You're acting like I'm Pierce or something! Except no, wait, you've forgiven Pierce for much worse."

Flipping her hair back and readjusting her backpack straps, Annie shuffles her weight from foot to foot and ponders giving in to the enemy or facing a twenty-seven minute wait in a blazing September afternoon. "You're just trying to get on my good side," she says, "So you can let yourself off the hook for being a crummy friend."

"My car's right over there, you can berate me on the way."

Annie looks to the sky, then looks immediately away because it is criminally bright out here. She isn't fond of the Friday bus driver; he appears to be on the verge of sleep every time she gets aboard.

"Okay, you can take me home. But don't assume this means you're forgiven, Jeremy Piven."

Jeff smirks and gestures in the direction of his chariot. "I'm surprised you know who that is."

"I've got layers," she retorts, and marches toward his Lexus.

In the car, on the boulevard toward Apartment Trobedison (her suggested moniker), Annie picks minuscule fuzz balls off her backpack and endeavors to be completely cool. About everything. Or nothing. Or—whatever. Why isn't he talking?

"So you're already planning your life without us," she says, and promptly winces because it smacks of a bitterness.

Jeff jerks his stick shift into gear for the upcoming stop light, and eyes her sideways. "I know I hurt everyone's feelings, but aren't you all taking this way too seriously? I'm not leaving you guys. I can't stop being friends with you after we defrocked Chang and fought in a pillow war together. Remember when we were expelled last spring? I was there the whole time, buying pizza I never even ate."

"You didn't fight in the pillow war," points out Annie.

The path ahead is green again, and he accelerates. "Every history book needs a double agent. It makes things exciting."

Leaning her head against the glass, Annie thinks about how exciting her life is going to be in five months, or eight, or even a year. A tiny, traitorous thought wriggles through her mind, whispering that perhaps she isn't mad at Jeff, merely jealous of him.

"I hope you go on happily with your exciting life after Greendale, then." She sees him roll his eyes, and moments later they're parking in a visitor spot. Annie expects him to stay in idle while she gets her bag, but Jeff uncurls himself from the driver's side and comes around the car to walk beside her.

They're silent for the ride up the elevator, until Jeff confesses: "It's going to be dull. My life, I mean. I'll be happy to start making income again, but I've never seen a law firm with five annual dances and an in-house laser tag system."

Annie's face goes all traitorous then, smiling and being wistful when she ought to be cloaked in anger. "Or a secret society that extorts innocent prodigies."

Jeff chuckles; it's brief and alluring. "Oh, there's plenty of those," he confesses. "More than you'd guess. Last time I counted, I belong to four. Probably still do."

She steps from the elevator, and he follows. Curious, Annie asks, "Can you really cheat on one secret society with another like that? Aren't they going to be mad when they find you out?"

"Well, one was just a glorified mailing list. The rest probably expect some level of duplicity as a matter of the profession."

Stopping in front of her door, Annie leans against it and watches him, letting the whole picture sink in. Jeff's hair is immaculately styled, a little shorter than he usually likes it. He's probably hoping it will grow in before anyone notices. His slacks are dark blue, almost black, and he's wearing a pale grey button down shirt, nearly silver in the lights of the Trobedison hallway. Jeff had worn a suit jacket earlier but that's back in the car, folded carefully on the seat behind the passenger side. He looks...Annie has to bite her lip, because he looks how he always does to her.

She's supposed to be mad at him for the betrayal and the abandonment and all that, but it's hard when he does things like rescuing her from the bus stop and walking her to her door. When did he start caring enough to do that? Was it between planning parties with Abed and going out to lunches with Shirley? Between teaching Troy how to drive stick and letting Britta borrow his old TV?

"Jeff," she says, but the question that slips out isn't the one she'd planned to ask. "What do you want?"

From your career. From life after Greendale. From us.

Jeff moves to lean one shoulder on the door as well, facing her a few inches away. "It's always the hard questions with you, isn't it?"

Annie can't decide where to stare, so she finds the spot where his clavicle meets his shirt collar. "They're not all hard questions."

Worried that response is not enough, that maybe she has to defend her statement though she isn't sure how, Annie adds, "Some questions are easier than others."

There's nothing but silence from Jeff, then more silence, until Annie's really afraid to look up. She's done it again—cornered Jeff Winger into a personal conversation he doesn't want to have. Any second now he'll run down the hallway like those men from Inception, escaping the crazy person trying to put thoughts into his brain. Or maybe he's still standing here because he's met someone, and he's nervous but he wants to tell the group so of course he's going to start with Annie. Annie is the nice one. Annie won't judge him too harshly, or interrogate the stranger, or do anything but wish for a friend's happiness. Even knowing that he's gonna jump ship before the three-hour-tour of Greendale is complete, Annie would try the most out of any of them.

"You're right," Jeff says above her. Annie feels his fingers tuck her hair behind her ear, and she wants to breathe but the hallway has filled with water and god she hated that movie. Troy was right, it makes no sense when you take it apart; the men in suits are all the same, and—

Jeff's light touch, Jeff's voice, Jeff's presence as he gives back her words: "You're right, as usual. Some questions are easy to answer."

And still there's no moment for a breath, no quarter, because Jeff has blocked her oxygen with a kiss. His hands slide up to her cheeks and Annie's fingers find that spot where his shirt lays against his collar bone. Everything feels different from last time: that was a thrill of being someone older, braver than herself. Now there's warm urgency and an ardent gasp as her back presses into the wooden door. Jeff tastes like coffee and he's not as careful as usual because this time around Annie can feel honesty on the brink of each kiss. There's a little more fraying around the edges—his edges—and she wonders what will happen if she pulls one of those invisible threads.

From the way Jeff is holding her, Annie intuits that she can unravel him completely with just the right tug. They've come full circle, friendship giving way to passion as if the last two years have never happened. It's merely a bubble in time, a stop gap until lips and whispers find their rightful place again. He fists his hands against her hip and that's when Annie relishes a selfish, satisfied thought:

Jeff Winger doesn't have anything figured out.