"Annie! Annie, look at me!" Britta finally grabbed Annie's attention and sighed gratefully. "God, that took you long enough! Okay, so I know this is weird, but you just have to trust me. It involves this witch and a gingerbread house and IT WAS VEGAN, OKAY? Do you know how hard it is to find vegan gingerbread? It's really hard, Annie. And it's not my fault I was hungry! Nobody goes camping without Mary Jane, right?" Britta saw Annie shake her head and she took a deep breath, centering herself, before getting back on topic. "Sorry, sorry, where was I? Oh. Yeah, so just trust me. Okay?" Annie continued to stare and Britta, impatient, waddled toward her.
"Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod... There's a penguin. In the hallway. There's a penguin. In the hallway. Ohgodohgod. You are not hallucinating because of an overdose of Adderall, Annie. You haven't taken any Adderall so how can you be overdosing on it? Logically speaking, you can't. Deep breaths, Annie. Think rationally. You can do it... C'mon. You can do it." Britta managed to get close enough to hear the low mutters and she frowned. She had just talked to Annie! Was she not listening? She tried again, deciding to go with gentle but firm.
"Annie? Listen to me. It's Brit-ta. Britta. You know? Your friend? From the study group? You're obviously panicking because the situation is stressful and reminds you of past trauma. But it's okay, I'm a mental health professional!" She kept her tone reassuring and positive. Annie backed away.
"Okay, Annie, the penguin is approaching. And are you trying to quack?” Annie leaned down and scrutinized the penguin for a moment before shaking herself and rearing back once more. “No. No. Annie, no. Just walk away. There is no penguin. The penguin is not there.” Britta stopped short at Annie’s first question, frozen in shock, coming to the realization that she wasn’t speaking in any language that could be understood by humans. Annie’s mumbles brought her back to the present. Tuned in again and nettled by the denials, Britta’s expression soured and she crossed her flippers angrily.
“Britta?” Annie’s astonishment rang through clearly. Her eyes were wide as she stared down at the penguin whose joy at being recognized was palpable. She waddled forward and Annie suddenly found her legs surrounded by soft feathers and flippers. “Aww, Britta!” She wiggled down and cuddled Britta-the-Penguin for a moment. “Wait, what?” Annie pulled back with an eyebrow raised. Britta shrugged, a weight easing off her shoulders. It wasn’t like she knew how to explain this without words. “Right. Right, because you can’t talk. Hmm. I have to go to class. Oh no!” Annie’s gasp startled Britta. “You have to go to class!”
Britta rolled her eyes. Annie wouldn’t ditch school when her friend was, without explanation, suddenly a penguin and, to top it all off, now she was more worried about said friend being unable to go to class?
“We can make this work. We need to find somewhere you’ll be safe, first. I’ll find someone to cover your class. I’ll come get you at 3... Oh, you don’t have a watch. Can you read? It’s okay, I’ll leave you my stopwatch. It has a clock function!” Annie held it out proudly. Britta shrugged again. Annie was weird. “I know the perfect place you can stay! Our closet!” At this point, Britta was beginning to feel pretty lackadaisical about the whole thing. Between dealing with being a penguin and finally getting Annie to recognize her, she was more than happy to follow Annie around. She hadn’t been aware that the two of them shared a closet but she wasn’t about to complain. They arrived in less than a minute and Britta craned her neck, peeking around Annie’s legs, but nothing clicked.
“Stay here. Nobody besides Jeff and me ever uses this closet and I have class with him next so you’ll be safe. Do you need anything? Water? I don’t think I can get krill or any fish on campus... I’m pretty sure the fish in the cafeteria fish and chips are just misshapen chicken nuggets but I’ll see what I can do after class. Would subway sell me plain tuna, you think?” Annie glanced at her watch. “Shoot, I have to run. Oh, Britta.” She leaned down and cuddled Britta to her chest once more before taking off.
Britta distantly acknowledged that Annie’s boobs probably deserved having a monkey named after them – they were pretty comforting. She was still stuck, however, on the idea that ‘our closet’ had meant Jeff and Annie’s closet, not a closet that she and Annie shared. Not because she was jealous! But what exactly had Jeff and Annie been doing in said closet to make it special to them? Or to make it special to Annie, at least? Slumping on to her bottom, Britta rested her chin in her upturned flipper and pondered.
“Really? You’re a penguin? Really?” Britta was startled out of her reverie by a strident voice that sounded painfully like Cordelia Chase. And, okay, yeah, that was Cordelia Chase. Because this day needed to be even more cracktastic. Sure. “Ugh, you would be a penguin.” Not knowing what else to do, Britta shrugged. Again. “Ugh. Whatever. Here’s the deal, blondie. You eat some of my house? You get cursed. I’m queen bee, or if we’re sticking with the theme here, Queen C. You don’t mess with the queen.”
“So I’m cursed. Great. You showed up just to tell me that? Big, powerful witch and this is what you use your abilities for? You could be doing so much good! Instead you’re cursing people and showing up to rub their faces in it?” Britta took a deep breath, preparing to let loose, feeling rather brave with the knowledge that she couldn’t be understood. When the witch drew her fingers together in the ‘mouths closed’ gesture Jeff had already perfected, she squeaked in surprise.
“First off, why are you mouthing off to the one who cursed you? Second, are you quacking? What kind of penguin are you anyway? Ugh. You’re the worst. And you know what? Quit making accusations! I’m a great witch, I’m a nice witch, okay? You ate my house! I am a strong, independent woman who exercises agency in the direction and use of my powers, alright?” She tossed her hair and pinned Britta with a glare. “Finally, I showed up to help you out. Unless you want to keep yelling at me.” Britta had lowered her eyes to the ground and raised her flippers protectively sometime after the second point. She had eaten her house. Britta heaved a sigh and eyed the witch from below a flipper and nodded slowly.
“Good. The thing is? You got nailed with a pre-set curse. So there’s not a whole lot I can do. In order to break the curse, you’ve got to do something. A job. The task you’ve got to complete is the task you’ve got to complete, no Door#2, unfortunately. . But at least I can tell you what it is. You run into anyone yet?” Britta nodded cautiously. “Okay, so, the first person you met? You have to help them find their true love. If it’s any consolation? No matter how long it takes, you’ll be the same age when you de-penguinify!” Cordelia finished with a sunny smile in place as Britta felt her heart sink. Find Annie’s true love? How the hell was she going to do that?
“Cheer up! This could be fun! And you don’t actually have to make them fall in love... Trust me, that’ll happen whether they want it to or not. You just have to make sure he or she finds them. You’re like Cupid. If he’d been a thieving penguin.” She threw Britta a fake smile. Britta rolled her eyes again.
“Look, I think you got your point across – I was a jerk. Now I’m a penguin. I suck. Got it. You’re saying I have to find my friend Annie’s true love? As if true love even exists! It’s just a concept invented by corporations and the patriarchy to sell an impossible dream to women so that we aspire to marriage and motherhood and don’t shake the power structure that keeps-“ Cordelia advanced toward her threateningly. “I don’t even know where to start! Well, I guess I could start with Troy but...” Britta trailed off, uneasy, but unable to pinpoint why. She shook it off. “Okay, well, I guess I have to figure that out. Can I just ask, why a penguin?” Cordelia snorted.
“It wasn’t me who made you into a penguin. That was all you. Look, think of it as... Your spirit animal or something. Something in the universe connected the dots and said, ‘if you were an animal, you’d be a penguin.’” She studied Britta for a moment. “You want the reasons why?” Britta nodded. Cordelia sighed. “Fine.” She yanked a feather, none too gently, from Britta’s tummy and stared at it, as if reading the answer. “Oh, c’mon, give me a break! Ugh.” She huffed and then made eye contact, exasperated. “Penguins are social creatures, they tend to congregate together, and they look out for one another. They’re monogamous but totally cool with switching it up each breeding season and they’re A-OK with same-sex couples. They’re egalitarian in childrearing and... The universe apparently identifies all of those same qualities in you.”
“Oh.” Britta’s chest puffed out. “Oh.”
“Don’t let it go to your head. You still waddle. And you’ll keep doing it until you find your friend’s true love. Good luck with that.” Cordelia made to turn, as if she was leaving, when Britta huffed out a hurried ‘wait!’
“I have two more questions! Please!” Cordelia rolled her eyes.
“How will I know when I’ve found her true love? When I’ve succeeded?”
“You’ll know. And you’ll turn back when she figures it out. Second question, go, quick.”
“Um... Why Cordelia Chase?” The witch grinned.
“Why not? She was hot, she was badass, and she fits in around these parts a lot better than my natural form. I’m not covered in warts or anything. But I kind of sparkle under these artificial lights. It’s ridiculous. Anything else, dear?” Britta shook her head, flippers crossed behind her back. “Then I’m off. Take care, behave, and if you get high in the woods again, bring your own damned snacks, got it?” She pointed a finger accusingly at Britta, then sniffed dramatically and left the closet. Britta glanced at Annie’s stop watch surprised to realize it was just past 3. She began reviewing what she knew about Annie’s love life as she waited for her to come back.
Annie entered the closet cautiously, checking the hall surreptitiously before slipping inside. She aww’ed silently as she watched Britta with her head resting on a bent flipper, making a strikingly cute silhouette of Rodin’s The Thinker pose. She quietly slid her phone out of her pocket and took a picture (or three!) and smiled.
“Britta?” Her voice was quiet but Britta jumped before waddling over for a hug. Unable to help herself, Annie cuddled her stroking the smooth back before drawing away. “Okay, so let’s sort this out. We need a way to communicate. Clearly, talking isn’t going to work. Maybe we can work out some kind of drawing system?” Britta managed to convey her disbelief, apparently, because Annie rushed to explain. “You have flippers, you could probably use paint... Without opposable thumbs, I’m not sure how else to do visuals.”
Her comments were apologetic and Britta felt bad for seemingly putting all the responsibility on Annie and then reacting negatively. She nodded in what she hoped was an encouraging manner and Annie smiled.
“Great! Here, I grabbed some supplies. Let’s try this out!” She pulled out a large roll of paper and a paint palate along with multiple bottles. Britta stared, entirely taken aback at Annie’s neurotically over-preparedness before, once more, shrugging and waddling closer. Annie organized the materials, poured out some paints, and stepped back. Britta took a deep breath, shook her body out and then dipped a flipper into the brown paint and began.
Annie sat patiently while Britta painted and painted and then painted some more. Laying out stretch of paper after stretch of paper, it took a full twenty-odd minutes before she finished painting it all out for her. Britta waddled back and observed her work. She was no artist but she had done her share of graffiti and she thought her work held up well here. She took another deep breath and threw a flipper out in a gesture meant to urge Annie forward. She gazed at Britta without understanding for a moment before jumping up excitedly. Annie hurried forward and looked down.
“Um. Britta. Did you... Eat a gingerbread house?” Britta bounced with unadulterated joy and Annie’s eyes widened incredulously. “Okay. Sure. Because that makes sense.” She glanced at the next picture and closed her eyes briefly before reopening them and nodding. “And then the witch visited you. After you were a penguin.” Britta nodded again. “And explained that she had...” Annie’s head tilted to the side. “Hexed you?” Britta hugged her leg forgetting that her flippers were covered in paint. Annie looked down at her leg, now a lovely rainbow hue, sighed, and moved to the next picture.
“Okay, so you’ve been hexed. And to break the hex?” She looked down for confirmation, “You have to... Is that me?” Again, Britta nodded. “You have to find my love?” Britta was, quite literally, quivering with excitement. Annie had figured it out so fast and maybe psychology was her calling but clearly, she was also a budding artist! “Britta, how are we going to do that?” The little penguin deflating was a visible thing.
“Well... We’ll just have to figure this out! One guy at a time.” Annie side-eyed her. “One at time, right? “ Britta raised her flipper threateningly. Annie shrunk back and raised her hands in an attempt at placating her. “Oh, c’mon, you referred to yourself as a motherflipping carnie-banging werewolf, Britta! How should I know what you would expect me to do in the pursuit of your humanity?” Only somewhat mollified, Britta waddled over to a corner and slumped down, her feet sticking out beyond the desk.
“I’m sorry, Britta. I’m not judging, I swear! But you’re... Much more open about your sexual... Proclivities. And there’s nothing wrong with that! But I’m not really prepared to do just anything yet. I mean, I will, for you, of course! But. You know. I just wanted to make sure. I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. Or ruffled your feathers.” Annie had lowered her voice substantially for the last part of her statement but Britta heard it. Her expression soured, for the second time that day, but she clambered to her feet and gently patted Annie’s leg anyway. Sighing, she gestured toward the door with a flipper and Annie sighed in response, nodding. They shuffled out slowly, peering into the hallway, before heading into the great wide unknown.
They stood outside Study Room F, peeking in through the slated blinds. Noting that the room was still empty, Annie ushered Britta in ahead of her, making sure the door closed securely behind them. She moved around the room, closing the blinds as she went, before checking the hallway, and closing the other door as well. Moving back toward Britta, she reached into her backpack, and began pulling out paper and markers as Britta hovered impatiently at her knee. Done laying out her supplies, Annie reached down and lifted Britta into the chair beside her.
“So I was thinking, we’ll make a list of all the guys at Greendale and go from there. We can play the odds, you know? I’ll write their names, we can figure out how well we know them, compatibility... It’ll help us keep track and narrow the list! And hopefully, it’ll save us some time.” She finished writing out Abed’s name across a sheet of paper before turning to look at Britta. “What do you think?”
“That is a great idea, Annie. I’m impressed.” Realizing Annie’s friendly smile was quickly fading into a look of pained confusion, Britta huffed and bobbed her head enthusiastically, knowing Annie would understand the gesture better than the nonsensical quacking all of her words translated to. Britta got a pleased hum in return as Annie continued writing out names. Britta slumped into the chair, waiting for Annie to finish, feeling rather disconsolate. She was rather certain she was going to be a penguin until Annie died, at this rate. Who ever heard of meeting your soul mate or true love or whatever in community college? When you were 21? Really! Cordelia had set her up for failure. All because she’d been a little hungry during the camping trip... A throat being cleared got her attention and Britta shelved her unhappy thoughts to see Annie smiling at her again.
“Here are the guys I know the best at Greendale – we may as well start with them, right? Abed, Troy, Jeff, and... Pierce. Oh god, it’s not Pierce, is it? What if it’s Pierce?” Annie’s breathing was getting heavier, her voice was rising in pitch, and her eyelashes fluttered madly. Britta pursed her lips and decided it was in their best interests to calm Annie down so she whapped her with a flipper. “Did I just get slapped by a penguin?” Britta nodded. “I probably deserved that.” Annie inhaled deeply and nodded at Britta.
“Thanks. For... You know. Calming me down. It’s not Pierce, though, right?” Her tone carried enough genuine fear that Britta considered it seriously for a moment. Yeah, she’d stay a penguin before she let Annie suffer that fate. She shook her head from side to side furiously and Annie exhaled gratefully. Leaning over, she hugged Britta with one arm before going back to the papers she had laid out. “So. Abed, Troy and Jeff. I really don’t think it’s Chang or the Dean, but... I included them too, just in case.” A flipper raised to her chin, Britta looked at the names before her. With all due consideration given, she had to go with Troy. She pointed to his name, scrawled in orange, and nodded.
“Troy?” Annie’s voice held doubt but she seemed on-board. “Okay. I’ll talk to him... How are we going to know?” Annie watched as Britta tapped at her temple and then gestured at her own eyes. “You’ll know. And you’ll watch me?” Britta’s bobbing penguin head was enough to dispel Annie’s lingering uncertainty. She shrugged. “Alright. Where can you hide for now?” Scanning the room, Annie pointed at the cupboards lining one wall. “We can leave the door ajar, Troy won’t notice...” Britta nodded resolutely. “Okay. Okay.” Annie’s nods weren’t quite frantic but Britta wouldn’t have described them as calm either. “Now we just have to get him here. I’ll text him and, I guess, we’ll see?” She looked at Britta apprehensively then took a deep breath, pulled out her phone and began typing.
“What’s up, Annie?” Troy entered the room, one hand holding an earbud to his ear. Annie glanced at the cabinet where Britta was safely ensconced and took a deep breath before turning to Troy.
“Uh, hey, Annie?” His response was phrased as a question and really, Annie thought that was only fair. “You texted me, asking me to come here?” Annie closed her eyes for a scant second as she realized no part of the plan had addressed what to do once they got Troy in place. The last time Troy had displayed any non-platonic interest in her, he had been jealous, egged on by a scheming Jeff and Britta. Seeing no other recourse, Annie chose to play the only cards she had.
“I need your help, Troy. I, um, I like this guy? He plays... Football. Which, you know. I know nothing about? So, if you could help me, I would appreciate it. A lot.” Annie lowered her voice and began twisting a lock of hair around her finger, hoping it conveyed sexy as opposed to constipated. “A lot, Troy. I’d be... Grateful.” She bit her lip and attempted to look sultry.
“Yeah, I don’t know Abed, she’s acting weird. But it’s cool. Apparently she needs help. I’ll talk to you later, buddy.” Troy made eye contact with Annie and nodded. “So I wasn’t really paying attention. What’d you say?” Annie huffed, half in exasperation, half in relief. She abandoned the coquetry but repeated her request.
“There’s this guy I like. He plays football and really gets into the Superbowl and... The Rose Bowl? But you know me, I don’t really know anything about football, so... I need your help, Troy.” She finished confidently and hoped Troy bought it. And then felt suitably jealous and this whole ridiculous situation would be over. Instead, Annie watched as Troy looked surprised, then excited at her mention of the college football game, then he stopped short.
“Annie.” Troy held up a hand, with a single finger raised, as he seemingly contemplated her words.
“Before I agree to help you, I have a question you need to answer. Honestly.” Troy’s voice was grave enough that Annie felt a small, desperate stirring of hope.
“Does Jeff know?” Her mind blanked for a moment before Annie eyes narrowed and her nostrils flared.
“Why would it matter if Jeff knew, Troy?” A lesser man would have trembled and retreated but Troy wasn’t cowed. From the cupboard, Britta found herself impressed.
“Because you two always give each other googly eyes. And schmoopy stares. And remember that sleep-cute incident? Oh, wait, maybe you don’t because there was more than one!” Troy was gesturing wildly with his arms and his voice was raised and Britta paused as she considered his words. “I may be stupid, Annie, but I’m not an idiot!”
“Hmph. Fine. Don’t help. It’s fine. Just go, Troy!” He stared for a moment and Britta was stunned to realize that Troy looked serious and rather astute as he studied Annie intently. He finally ‘hmph’ed rather dramatically before he whirled around and stalked out of the room.
Britta nudged out of the cabinet slowly and approached Annie cautiously. She hugged her leg attempting to calm the angry nerves she could feel skittering under Annie’s skin, charging the air. It took a minute but Annie eventually looked down and sighed.
“Alright, Britta, who’s next?” She laid out the papers once more, lifted Britta onto a chair, and let her point out the next name. Annie watched Britta but couldn’t figure out what she was thinking. Apparently Penguin!Britta was much better at concealing her emotions and thoughts than Human!Britta was. Annie sighed again.
As Britta peered at the names, she kept thinking over Troy’s words. She had known that Annie had feelings of some kind for Jeff, between the beginning of their second semester and the end, Annie had made it pretty clear, in fact. Britta couldn’t really fault her, either. She had sort of maybe liked Jeff too? Really briefly and only a tiny bit. But it had been there. And yeah, okay, the guy was attractive. It wasn’t like there was no basis for Annie’s feelings either because she and Jeff had kissed twice. Britta had never really taken it seriously, though, because Annie was so young. Jeff liked adult women, not teenagers, so Britta had assumed it was entirely one-sided. If Jeff occasionally showed Annie special attention? Dude was an egomaniac! Of course he enjoyed the attention of a pretty young girl!
It was Troy’s words bouncing around in her head that forced her to reconsider the truths she had previously held sacred. As Britta thought back over the last two years, it was hard not to wonder whether Annie’s feelings, school girl crush or not, were truly as one-sided as she had originally thought. Britta was well aware that it wasn’t the best time for introspection so she pointed to Abed’s name, hoping to buy some time, and continued pondering.
Annie approached Abed in the A/V room which consisted of a desktop computer, a TV and VCR/DVD combo on a rolling tray and a table with two chairs. He was sitting with his laptop, watching something intently, with headphones hanging around his neck. At her approach, he glanced up, eyes flashing briefly toward the door, brow furrowed in suspicion.
“Abed, hi. What are you doing?” Annie twisted her skirt nervously unsure if Troy had already talked to Abed (but really, was there any doubt?), unable to read him.
“I’m working on a film project. You’re here late. How come?” He stared at her unblinking but Annie refused to wilt under his gaze. Her and Abed got each other. They did. Maybe that meant something?
“Lost track of time... I knew you were still around so I thought I would come find you. We haven’t hung out in a while.” Her hands had moved up to fiddle with her backpack straps.
“Hmm. This feels like a special episode, one that’s not going to fit into regular canon. It’ll probably be dismissed from our regular universe as soon as it’s over. But I’m curious enough to let this play out. I won’t lie, I’m sort of hoping for Howard the Duck-style lesson in existentialist storytelling. Will you deliver, Annie?” Annie stared. She continued staring until she had to admit that, yes, Abed was utterly and completely serious.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Abed.” Annie’s smile was nervous.
“That’s too bad, Annie. But it’s okay. We’re not quite there yet. We’re still Phoebe and Chandler. There’ll come a day when we’re Phoebe and Monica, though. Just wait for it.” He offered her a quick quirk of the left side of his mouth before turning back to his screen. She waited a minute, then two, before she let out the sigh she had been holding in and waved goodbye.
She headed into the hallway and looked around for Britta. When she had entered the A/V room, Britta had yet to find a hiding spot with advantageous sightline but she had shooed Annie toward Abed and not knowing what else to do, Annie had merely rolled her eyes and followed her silent instructions. She heard a noise from the bank of lockers three feet away and watched as the door to the bottom one was pushed open. Britta was struggling out of the locker without much success. Annie shook her head and then resigned herself to helping, knowing it was useless to resist.
The two of them slowly made their way back to the study room. Annie had only been involved with this outrageous situation for one day but she would swear that the exhaustion and dismay was the result of 1000 years of ineffectual effort. She looked at Britta, the defeat written plainly across her face. Britta stared back at her, seemingly suffered a silent debate before she huffed and her flippers spread wide. Annie made eye contact, spine straightening as her head reared back. She pointed at herself, mouthing ‘me?’ silently, as she turned to look around the room. Realizing it was still empty except for herself and Penguin!Britta, Annie bit her lip and smiled gratefully, ducking down for a quick hug against Britta’s comfortingly-feathered tummy.
“Do you want to try one more tonight?” Annie’s question was falsely cheery as she drew back from the hug. Britta, flippers still holding on to Annie’s frame, studied her friend’s face and sighed internally. She shook her head, waving a flipper lazily to indicate that it could wait another day. “Oh, thank goodness! Okay, then we need to figure out where you’re going to stay. I don’t think leaving you on-campus by yourself is a good idea…” Britta knew, without taking time to process it, that an undignified squawk had emerged from her at that statement. Annie rushed to quell her quickly rising ire.
“No, Britta, that’s not what I meant! It’s just not safe! What if someone stumbles upon you? We have a campus full of strange people! Who knows what they’d do to an adorable, defenseless penguin?” Britta contemplated Annie’s defense before giving in with a shrug. Sleeping on campus was the resort of the overdue-on-rent club, not the suddenly-a-penguin crew. Annie and Britta stayed silent, both trying to think of a workable solution, before Annie squirmed and cleared her throat.
“So. I have an idea. Let me get it all out before you start quacking, okay?” Annie’s eyes were serious so Britta just nodded, steeling herself. “What if… What if we told Jeff and you stayed at his apartment tonight?” Britta let out an involuntarily outraged quack. “Britta! You promised!” Visibly restraining herself, Britta motioned for Annie to continue. “Look, if I take you back to my place, Troy and Abed won’t leave you alone. Abed will turn you into a documentary and Troy will try to adopt you. He’s convinced he’s Joey and Abed is Chandler from friends but they need a pet duck.” Britta refocused on Annie in time to hear her grumble about being the hen in that scenario before she pushed aside her confusion to listen.
“It makes sense, okay? You’d have a place to stay, someone else to help cover your absence, and let’s face it, Jeff isn’t going to tell anyone about something as weird as this, right?” Annie’s arguments were compelling but the true piece de resistance were the Disney Eyes turned in Britta’s direction. She nodded in agreement, not even realizing what she was doing. Huffing in disgust with herself, Britta reconsidered; perhaps this would be a good chance to observe Annie and Jeff and it’d be nice to have a place to sleep without the threat of creeps (besides, you know, Jeff) bothering her.
The knock at his door startled Jeff out of his television-induced trance. He glanced at his watch as he rose, curious as to who would be visiting him, uninvited and unannounced, at what he now knew was 9:13PM. Not bothering to glance through the peephole, he opened the door and stopped short at the sight of Annie clutching a... Penguin?
“Are you carrying a penguin?” The question was out before Jeff could reconsider it because, well, duh doy, Annie was carrying a penguin.
“Um. Yes. Let me explain.” Jeff forestalled any explanation by raising a single finger at her and shaking his head ever so slightly.
“Just. Just come in. If this involves a felony, like say, stealing a penguin from the zoo, I’d rather we discuss inside my apartment. I really hope you didn’t steal that penguin from the zoo, Annie. That would be a terrible decision. Leave the protests against animal cruelty and the subsequent felonies to Britta.” He waved her through the door, briefly noting her wince at his mention of Britta which was covered quickly by her overly-bright smile once more.
“So, as you might have noticed, I am holding a penguin.” Jeff nodded as he leaned against his sofa, arms crossed against his chest, watching Annie muddle through her explanation. “It’s actually a pretty funny story, Jeff, really.” Annie squeezed out an awkward laugh. “You mentioned Britta, and this is where it gets funny!” Annie’s eyes were growing bigger with each passing word and if her gaze felt a little manic to Jeff? Well, there was a reason for that – he was well acquainted with Annie when she was frantic and grasping at straws.
“Speaking of Britta, where is she? Did she steal a penguin and leave it with you? Just because you’re living with Troy and Abed, doesn’t mean you should be the automatic caretaker for wild animals.” Jeff glanced at his nails, buffed them against his shirt, and looked up to smile charmingly at Annie. “Better you than me, though.” Annie rolled her eyes at him.
“Britta is the penguin!” Jeff’s eyes, which had begun to wander back to his nails, snapped back to Annie.
“Annie. Have you been drinking? Did you… Take something?” Jeff’s voice was cautious but concerned. “I don’t really know how to deal with this but I’m sure we can figure it out, okay?” Annie looked pained before she sighed heavily.
“I’m not high or drunk, Jeff. I know it sounds crazy, I know that. But, I’m not lying or kidding. Let me explain, okay? Even if you think I’m crazy, it should be pretty clear that I’m not drunk or high, okay?” Jeff nodded calmly in response but kept his attention focused intently on Annie. “I was walking down the hall today and this penguin starts quacking at-“
“Wait, it quacked at you?” Annie carefully set the penguin down, shaking out her arms.
“Yeah, she sort of Britta’d the whole penguin-speak. She sounds exactly like a Canada goose actually.” Annie grimaced apologetically in the penguin’s direction. Jeff rolled his eyes and gestured for her to continue. “She was quacking at me and I was convinced I was having another delusion but I knew I hadn’t taken any drugs and I was about to just walk away and ignore the whole thing when… I looked at her and despite the whole penguin thing, I knew it was Britta!” Jeff still appeared less than convinced.
“Yeah, sorry, Annie, but that story was a little more Weekly World News than New York Times.” Annie’s offended gasp made him smile despite his continued worry over her mental health. “Anything else?” Harrumphing loudly, Annie dug into her backpack which rested beside the oddly serene penguin.
Jeff studied the penguin quietly as Annie kept searching through her stuff. Its expression was reminiscent of Britta’s condescending smile when he first met her but Jeff refused to believe that people could turn into penguins. It wasn’t even remotely possible. The penguin stared back and crossed its flippers against its chest, mirroring Jeff. He couldn’t help picture her with blond curls and a leather jacket and high-heeled boots. Questioning his own sanity was, thankfully, interrupted shortly thereafter.
“Aha!” Annie stood, and displayed a rolled up paper which she quickly unfurled to display Penguin!Britta’s painted Pictionary efforts. Jeff looked at the pictures, not one hundred percent certain what Annie wanted him to see. Yes, it was feasible that the pictures had been painted by a flipper (he covertly looked at her flippers, startled to realize there were indeed leftover flecks of paint on them) or two but that was entirely circumstantial. If Annie wanted to convince him, she would need better leverage than what she was currently offering him.
“Sorry, kid, still not buying it.” He watched her expression go from hopeful to aggrieved and before he could even start to backtrack, he knew he’d lost.
“Kid? Kid, Jeff? Do I look like a kid to you, Jeff? Hmm?” Jeff’s answer was a wide-eyed shake of his head. “No, I don’t think so either.” She moved a step or two closer and Jeff’s casual lean was turning more into a fearful cower. “You don’t have to believe me, Jeff, but I think the very least you could do is hear me out without judgment, a simple courtesy you might extend to any other adult in your acquaintance. Don’t you agree?” She was barely a foot away from him, invading his personal space, and Jeff managed to clear his throat and speak.
“Annie… I didn’t mean it like that. I know you’re not a kid. Remember our talk?” He saw the corner of her mouth quirk up but her expression had no give otherwise. “I just… Sometimes it makes it easier, you know?" He leaned his forehead against hers, taking a deep breath, hands gently circling her wrists. She stepped closer and they were wrapped up in a comforting hug within seconds. Jeff took another deep breath and it was just nice. He made eye contact with the penguin who appeared much less serene and much closer to gobsmacked. He drew back from Annie, just slightly, still holding her securely in his space and took one final deep breath.
“So what do I have to do exactly?”
When they first arrived at Jeff’s apartment, Britta wasn’t really sure what to expect. Whenever she had shown up uninvited, Jeff had only grudgingly let her in despite his lewd remarks and the sex that he knew would follow. Since then, he’d had Chang as a roommate, he’d been called out by Annie, they had ended things and he’d gone crazy a few times. It was possible he had changed. Even as Britta told herself that and Jeff allowed them in with nary a protest (even though Annie showed up randomly clutching a penguin? Really? Britta swallowed her disbelief), Britta was sure he was going to end up being his usual jackass self any minute.
Instead, Britta was alarmed ever so slightly to realize Jeff was hearing Annie out. He interrupted to make a snarky remark here or there, and okay, she had been insulted (twice by her count) but that wasn’t unexpected. No, Jeff was really listening and paying attention to Annie. Britta occasionally found him glancing at her and she was more than happy to stare right back; taking Jeff Winger down a peg had been her self-appointed job from Day One after all! Britta watched as Jeff looked, by turns, disbelieving and concerned. It was when he called Annie ‘kid’ that things got interesting.
Britta wasn’t really sure how it happened but they went from a friendly interaction to arguing and… If she wasn’t mistaken (she wasn’t), that there was some serious sexual tension. Within minutes, and Britta couldn’t quite follow the how, emotions and dialogue were flying fast and furious between Jeff and Annie and then they were hugging. And she wasn’t sure what she was supposed to see but whatever it was, it was there. Britta was completely and utterly astonished to realize that, apparently, Jeff was Annie’s true love.
Annie held her backpack aloft, tugging item after item out, and placing them one by one on Jeff’s table. She had a limited supply of raw fish and a book about penguins (borrowed from Greendale and Annie had been amazed to see that it contained factual information, verified with the help of Google). Once finished, she surveyed her efforts briefly before turning to Jeff, prepared to lecture him on the importance and proper of methodology of caring for Penguin!Britta.
Only to find him engaged in a bizarre staring contest with their feathered friend.
“Annie.” His calm response made her scowl.
“Why are you staring at Britta like that?” Jeff briefly broke eye contact with Penguin!Britta to look at Annie, one judgmental eye-brow raised.
“The penguin started it.” Annie rolled her eyes, wondering silently how Jeff had managed to defraud the Colorado State Bar for as long as he had given the ridiculous antics he engaged in now.
“Really, Jeff? The penguin started it?” He didn’t respond and since it was 10:32PM, Annie felt justified in switching tactics. “Jeffffffffff!” Her whining seemed to do the trick as Jeff looked up and pinned her with an aggravated glare. “Oh, what, only one of us can be immature at a time now?” He looked affronted but Annie ignored it in favour of ending her long and confusing day and, maybe, just maybe, the remote hope of getting some sleep tonight.
“Look, I get it, this is crazy but-“
“Here’s my number, call me, maybe?” His snarky interruption had tears welling in her eyes. “Annie? Shit. Annie. C’mon, I’m sorry.” He held his arms out, ignoring penguin!Britta entirely and needing someone to unload on, Annie moved into them willingly.
“It’s been a really long day, Jeff. I know you don’t believe me and that’s okay. But I have a penguin that I can’t take back to my apartment and I would really appreciate your help.” His arms tightened around her and she felt, more than heard, him sigh. All of the fight drained out of him as he rested his chin on her head.
“Yeah, okay. What do you need me to do?
Britta listened to Annie hurriedly explain the care and maintenance of a penguin as she reeled in shock. Jeff was Annie’s true love. Jeff was Annie’s true love. Jeff was Annie’s true love. As the truth roiled in her tummy, Britta forced herself to breathe deeply. It made her uncomfortable, the idea that Jeff and Annie either were or should be in love but facts were facts. If she considered it from a purely objective viewpoint, she could understand it. It didn’t mean she had to be okay with it but… She didn’t have to like it.
Another deep breath, and Britta prepared herself to help her two friends fall in love. It was hearing Annie’s comforting reassurances that he would be fine alone (not if Britta could help it) with penguin!Britta that spurred her to action. Britta figured her best bet was to do something now, while Jeff and Annie were relatively alone and in the same room. She considered her options; only moments ago, there had been some serious sexual tension in the room and the two seemed to take every opportunity, however implausible, to touch. In Britta’s experience, touching and being alone and sexual tension usually led to, well, sex.
And despite how she might feel about a potential relationship between them, Britta knew, just knew, with a bone-deep (did penguins have bones? Britta made a mental note to check on that when she was no longer a penguin) certainty that Jeff wouldn’t do casual sex with Annie. No, if the two of them were going to kiss, it would eventually lead to more, and Britta would be happy again. She looked up to see them hugging (seriously, again?) and revised her statement. It would lead to more (like falling in love) and Britta would be human again.
Annie pulled away from Jeff, the second hug of the night more for him than her this time. She patted his arm and began collecting all of her stuff, pushing item after item into her bag. She almost wished she could stay – she would worry about penguin!Britta all night and Jeff made the whole ridiculous day better – but Troy and Abed were probably wondering where she was and if she knew anything, they would probably be discussing if she’d been abducted by Blorgons and replaced by a pod person like what had happened to Melita the twelfth companion. She finished gathering everything and let loose another sigh.
“Okay, I think that’s all. Jeff, you have my number and all of the care instructions right there – we’ve talked about her diet and her environment… Are there any last questions?” Jeff stared at her for a minute before shaking his head and huffing out a laugh.
“It’ll be fine, Ms. Edison, I promise to take good care of your child. Look, I even have my babysitter credentials approved by St. John’s Ambulance!” Annie scowled at him and followed up with a quizzical look, unsure of what St. John’s Ambulance was. Jeff noticed and answered the unspoken question. “It’s a humanitarian organization… They offer a babysitting course in Canada and when I was in Toronto on a business trip, I saw a sign. I thought it was sort of hilarious. I mean, how hard can babysitting be, right?” Annie smirked.
“I guess you’ll find out, won’t you? Besides, that’s a great idea. It builds confidence and helps make sure that participants know the basics. I’m sure that course prevented a lawsuit or two…” Jeff merely shook his head.
“Go home, Annie, you look exhausted and if I die tonight, this isn’t how I want to remember you.” Smiling, she rolled her eyes and was about to turn when she felt something soft and warm slam into her legs. Unable to keep her balance with her bag, clutched in her left hand, throwing off her centre of gravity, Annie flew forward, falling into Jeff and slamming them both into the couch. He managed to steady her, leaning back against the couch, and skimmed his hands down her arms to check for injuries. The sensation was both comforting and sensual and Annie couldn’t control the shiver that rippled through her at his touch.
Jeff’s hands stilled against her and slowly, their eyes met. The kiss that followed a moment later was, essentially, inevitable.
One arm locked around her waist and the awkward way that Annie had been kneeling between his legs on the couch turned into a very not-awkward-at-all-but-actually-really-great straddle of his lap. Entirely by accident her hips ground against his as Jeff’s hand made contact with her breast, his fingers brushing against the nipple. Neither spared more than a fleeting consideration for the penguin they were supposed to be minding. She was, after all, a penguin. It’s not like she could go anywhere on her own.
Britta watched for a moment, trying to control the desire to heave. It wasn’t that she didn’t love Jeff (not like that) and Annie but the idea of them actually together had never really been something she considered. Yeah, they clearly had a bit of a soft spot for each other but Annie was so young and Jeff liked worldly women and it would never work out and damn it, why did all of her exes end up with Annie, anyway?
Britta sighed and wished, just for a minute, that she had a cigarette. Instinctively, her hand patted at her jacket pocket and it was then that Britta realized she was once again in human form. She contemplated whether she should let them know but really, Britta didn’t want to have that awkward conversation right now. Given how things were progressing on the couch, they’d eventually be losing clothing and, hopefully, they would get up to move the sexy party somewhere else like Jeff’s bed. And maybe they would spare a thought for the penguin they had no trouble traumatizing with their sexual shenanigans and then they’d figure it out.
This was always going to happen whether Britta interrupted it now or not.
Making a decision, Britta moved quietly toward the door and let herself out. The couple kissing frantically on the couch didn’t notice. Sighing to herself, Britta dug her phone out of her pocket and dialed Troy’s number without thought, only realizing it when she heard his voice. As she moved down the hall, and Troy agreed to come pick her up, Britta was surprised to feel… Happy. She glanced at her phone as Troy hung up and couldn’t help but smile.
Yeah, maybe she wasn’t 100% on board with Jeff and Annie quite yet but who was she to begrudge them some happiness in this crazy world? Humming “Daybreak” to herself, Britta headed outside to wait for Troy.