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I Can't Count the Reasons I Should Stay (But I'd Estimate Five or Six)

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“We said no kissing,” Jeff points out.

“Oh, goddammit,” Britta mutters.

“I’m not complaining. I’m just observing. It was your rule.”

“I know! I’m sorry. It’s... easier without any of that stuff, you know?” She rolls off him, ignoring his noise of protest. “One second you’re having no-strings sex and everything’s fine, and then you bring kissing into it and suddenly he wants to hold your hand in public and introduce you to his parents and bribe you into an outdated patriarchal institution with some stupid ring.”

“I have married every woman I’ve ever kissed, it’s true,” Jeff says. “Say ‘outdated patriarchal institution’ again; that was hot.”

“Shut up.”

“Can I kiss back next time?”

“There won’t be a next time,” Britta says. “It was a lapse, but I’m in control. It won’t happen again.”

“Okay. How about if I initiate the kiss?”

“You find the things I say hot? With erotic masterpieces like ‘initiate the kiss’ up your sleeve?”

Jeff shrugs and smiles.

“Fine,” she says. “You can initiate one kiss. Then we’re even.”

-

The lookalike bar mitzvah at which Jeff earned the name ‘Seacrest Hulk’ wasn’t that long ago, but his memories of it are vague, buried in a haze of shame. Kissing Britta reawakens something in his mind, though, and it bothers him for the rest of the day.

In the middle of the night, he wakes up in a cold sweat, the memory suddenly sharp and clear.

He kissed Shirley.

She’s been a little weird around him since the party, and he thought she was just embarrassed on his behalf because, well, his behaviour was pretty embarrassing. But no; he kissed her. Just grabbed her and kissed her right there on the stage, without her permission, in front of everyone.

He’s the worst.

-

The others are all there already when he gets to the study room the next day. He makes his way straight over to Shirley.

“Shirley, can I talk to you in private?” he asks, quietly.

Shirley looks uncomfortable. “Actually, can you say whatever you have to say out here?”

How did he not notice there was a problem that needed to be addressed here? He glances around, smiles awkwardly in response to the curious stares. “Uh, okay.” He takes a breath and turns back to Shirley. “I’m really sorry I kissed you when I turned into the Hulk.”

Shirley swallows hard and looks down.

“I was an ass,” Jeff says. “I want you to know that I know that. I know I could make excuses about drugs or the exploding apple of my ego, but I still shouldn’t have done it, and I apologise.”

That gets Shirley to look at him again. “The exploding what now?”

Jeff sits on the desk and breaks out his most charming-yet-apologetic smile. There’s a good chance this is a terrible idea. “Anyway, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to kiss you again.”

What?” Annie and Britta demand simultaneously.

“Jeff,” Shirley says, staring at him, “I’m a remarried woman.”

“No intent, I swear,” Jeff says, holding up his hands. “I just want to give you a better memory of me than that disaster of an evening. Only if you’re okay with it.”

Shirley hesitates.

“It wasn’t a great memory,” she mutters.

“I’m sorry,” Jeff says. “Let me do this for you. I really don’t want to have this awkwardness between us.”

Shirley smirks suddenly. “And nothing’s less awkward than kissing your friends, right? Okay, do it. But if I sense intent, I’m kicking your ass.”

Jeff smiles, leans in, kisses her gently on the side of her mouth. She breaks into giggles when he pulls away, and Jeff has to laugh too.

The rest of the group breaks out into scattered, confused applause around them.

“Please don’t do that,” Jeff says.

-

It’s weird to see Professor Slater again, after all this time. It’s awkward at first, but they have a pleasant evening of Scotch and billiards at an extremely trendy club that Britta would hate. The alien invasion kind of puts a damper on things, but Jeff is able to hold them off for a while with his hitherto undiscovered but really cool martial arts skills.

And then she says, “We can stop the aliens by introducing them to the concept of love; kiss me if you want to save the world,” and, well, he can’t exactly refuse.

Of course, the moment their mouths connect he remembers that it’s not Professor Slater, it’s Abed, and they’re in the Dreamatorium. Jeff came in here with the intention of proving that the Dreamatorium is stupid, but apparently it’s a much better virtual reality simulator than he gave it credit for, considering that the interface is made of cardboard.

This is ridiculous. Abed obviously carefully crafted this story to appeal to Jeff’s interests, but still: how did he get so absorbed in this completely imaginary scenario? How is he now actually kissing Abed?

He could just break away.

Maybe not right now. It’s to save the world, after all.

There’s the creak of a door opening and a bizarre high-pitched yelp, and suddenly Jeff finds himself being dragged away from Abed and out of the Dreamatorium by his shirt collar.

“Hey, Troy,” Abed says, and then the Dreamatorium door closes between them and Jeff is dumped unceremoniously on the floor.

“What the hell is this?” Troy demands.

“I am also interested in the answer to that,” Jeff says, climbing to his feet and dusting himself down.

“Britta and Shirley and now Abed?” Troy asks. “Abed? And Annie before that? And Britta again before Annie? And something with Britta after Annie, right? I’m losing track here.” He shakes his head and seems to focus. “You can’t just have everyone! They’re not all for you!”

“Hey, it’s not like I’m sticking everyone in my refrigerator,” Jeff says. “Things happen.” He touches a hand to his lips, frowning slightly. “Things, uh, happen a lot right now, apparently. Wait, how do you know about Britta?”

“What, that you’re having sex again?” Troy asks, flatly. “Abed’s been making films about you doing it.”

Jeff stares at Troy. Then he turns to stare at the Dreamatorium, ideally so hard that Abed feels his stare through the closed door. “Abed’s been filming us?”

“He’s been making films about you doing it,” Troy says. “With his actors playing you.”

That’s a relief. Still pretty creepy, though. “But you know he can’t actually predict the future, right? Sometimes his films line up with reality, yeah, but that’s just coincidence. It doesn’t mean we’re actually having sex.”

“You thought he’d been filming you,” Troy says. “Why would you think that if you hadn’t actually been doing it?”

Did he just get outsmarted by Troy Barnes? That doesn’t feel good. “Look, we’re all adults. We can make our own decisions. And if I kiss someone, or have sex with them, or whatever, it’s not like I’m putting a brand on them. I’m not taking anyone away.”

Troy still looks sullen. Maybe this isn’t working.

“Okay,” Jeff says. “This is going to sound very slightly implausible, but I kissed Abed because I thought he was my hot former statistics professor.”

Troy makes an incredulous noise. “Do you seriously think I’m that stupid?”

“Do you seriously think I wanted to kiss Abed?”

“Why would anyone not?” Troy asks, in a tone that is slightly and inexplicably threatening.

There’s a pause.

“Compelling,” Jeff says.

“Have you made out with Pierce?”

Jeff makes a face. “No!”

“But you’ve kissed everyone else, right? Except yourself, I guess. I don’t know how that would work.”

Jeff’s actually thought about how that would work a few times. Maybe Abed could play him in the Dreamatorium? This probably isn’t a good route to go down.

“And me,” Troy says, quietly.

Jeff tilts his head. “Wait, are you – are you feeling left out? Is that what this is about?”

“Do you like the others more than you like me?”

“Of course not!”

“Well, why don’t I get a kiss? Huh?”

“Troy,” Jeff says, “I can kind of see what you’re trying to do, but acting aggressive isn’t actually making this conversation seem any straighter.”

“Just kiss me!” Troy demands, in the deepest, most hypermasculine tone Jeff has ever heard him use.

Jeff considers. Does he have a problem with this?

Not really. He likes Troy; he likes making out with people. The only thing he really has to worry about is reputation, and that was shot to hell the moment he enrolled at Greendale. Besides, the more people he kisses this week, the less significance any of it will seem to have. It’s not like he’s in love with his entire study group, right?

He’s definitely not in love with Pierce. He can hold on to that. Pierce is a symbol of how not in love with all these people he is.

But right now he’s going to push Pierce out of his head, because he doesn’t want that guy ruining his makeout with Troy.

-

On Friday, Jeff is actually the first person in the study room for once; he left a jacket in there yesterday and he doesn’t want it to get stolen. He pauses in the doorway, frowning, when he sees a number of important-looking envelopes carefully set around the table. There’s one for each of them apart from Pierce. He picks up his own, opens it and pulls out several sheets of paper with the official and eternally hilarious Greendale anus letterhead.

Dear Mr Winger,
It has been comman-DEAN my attention that you have been smooching a surprising number of your fellow students lately! Is there the teensiest possibility—

Jeff screws the letter up, firmly suppressing his curiosity about how the Dean knows this and indeed how he has managed to cover seven sides of A4, and throws it into the recycling bin. It takes him a moment to realise he should probably check the other envelopes as well.

The other envelopes all contain urgent enquiries about what it feels like to kiss Jeff, followed by lengthy speculation on the subject. It’s a little flattering. It’s also incredibly disturbing, and Jeff isn’t sure he’ll be able to get to sleep tonight.

“Jeff?”

Jeff tries to look like a man who hasn’t been startled, and then tries extremely hard to look like a man who isn’t surrounded by torn-open letters addressed to other people, rhapsodising about the firmness of his lips. “Oh, hey, Annie.”

Astonishingly, Jeff’s expression of innocence does not actually prevent Annie from noticing the letters scattered around him. “What are these?” she asks, and then, “Wait, are you reading Shirley’s mail?” and then, “Wait, are you reading my mail?”

Jeff shifts uncomfortably. “Technically, I don’t think these were mailed, so...”

Annie snatches up her letter, glaring at him, and sits down to read it. Before long, though, her expression clears and she begins to laugh quietly to herself.

“Okay,” she says, “I guess I can understand why you were worried about these.” She looks over the top of her letter at the others on the table. “That’s... that’s kind of a lot of envelopes.”

“Yeah,” Jeff says.

“Are they all...?”

“Yeah.”

“There’s one for Troy.”

“It’s a long story,” Jeff says.

Annie gives a little shrug with her eyebrows and looks back down to her letter.

Jeff pulls out the chair beside her and sits down to watch her read. The room falls comfortably quiet, no sound but Annie’s soft laughter and the rustle of paper as she works through the frankly excessive number of pages.

He kind of wants to kiss her.

Should he kiss her?

Annie is pretty young and a little naïve, and Jeff probably shouldn’t be kissing her because of some stupid morality thing. She can have trouble handling emotional commitment, and... okay, fine, it’s Jeff, Jeff can have trouble handling emotional commitment, but Annie can have trouble handling his inability to handle it, so really it’s still her problem. Romantically speaking, she is not an option. He needs to treat her like any other member of the group.

But for one reason or another he’s been kissing all the other members of the group recently, hasn’t he? If he wants to avoid singling Annie out, surely he needs to kiss her as well. It only makes sense.

Sometimes he really misses being a lawyer. Internal justification is nice, but it isn’t going to make him any money. His skills are wasted here.

Annie finishes the letter, folds it up neatly and tucks it back into its envelope. Jeff draws breath to speak, but what he was about to say is cut off when she quickly presses her lips to his.

“What was that for?” he asks, beginning to smile.

She grins sheepishly. “Well, the Dean wants to know what it’s like, right? And it’s been a while for me, so... I thought I’d better remind myself.”

“Do not tell the Dean,” Jeff says.

“I feel kind of bad for him. He obviously put a lot of effort into writing these letters.”

“I’m pretty sure he enjoyed it,” Jeff says. “Annie, do not tell the Dean anything.”

-

“Friendliest Italian restaurant in town, huh?” Pierce mutters, as they step out onto the street. “I don’t think so.”

“The first thing you said to the waitress was, ‘You can’t be Italian; you’re too efficient,’” Jeff points out.

“Exactly! You always start off with a compliment! Honestly, Jeffrey, sometimes I wonder if you know anything about women.”

Jeff chooses not to respond to that, hunching his shoulders against the wind. Sometimes he wishes he’d picked out a coat that was slightly less stylish and slightly better at keeping the cold out. Actually, no, he doesn’t wish that, because he looks fantastic in this coat and he knows it. Bring it on, wind. He can take it.

“Where the hell are the others?” Pierce asks.

The others are still inside, apologising to the wait staff for Pierce’s behaviour while Jeff keeps him out of the way. “They’ll be out soon.”

He can’t help smiling a little as he thinks of them. Britta, Troy, Abed, Annie, Shirley. All lunatics in their own way, of course, but they’re his.

His thoughts turn to the... unusual amount of kissing he’s been involved with lately. Not that there’s anything unusual about wanting to kiss him, of course. He puts a hell of a lot of effort into being irresistible. But previously he’d only actually kissed one-third of his study group partners, and now the proportion feels quite a lot higher, and that does at least seem worthy of note.

He’s not sure how he feels about that. Does he want to embrace it? Pretend none of it ever happened? Propose an orgy in the study room?

Terrible idea. The Dean’d probably walk in halfway through, and Jeff can’t imagine a bigger mood-killer than that. Somewhere more private, then. Hypothetically.

Now that he really thinks about it, he’s actually kissed all the other members of the study group in the past week, hasn’t he? Well, all except...

Jeff looks sharply at Pierce.

“You cold?” Pierce asks, nodding toward Jeff’s hunched shoulders. “Because I know a great way to warm up.”

Jeff runs. He runs, screaming, all the way back to his apartment.

Pierce shrugs. “Guess he’s not a fan of coffee,” he mutters, although there’s no one to hear it.