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One Year Later

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Annie didn't really want to go back to Greendale.

After the first week of her internship she had already made herself invaluable at the FBI headquarters in DC and had been asked to stay on. As she had continued her overachieving workaholism, (which, of course, most interpreted as sucking up to her boss), she wasn't very popular among her coworkers. And yet for all that, she was still more or less stuck in the ranks.

And the cherry on top was that her boss, one of the few people in there that actually appreciated her work, had died of a heart disease just last week. Then one of the superiors came down and told her she would need more credits if she was going to go any further, especially in law. And her credits from Greendale were viewed rather skeptically (although as of late the taunts she received about that were for some reason greatly reduced) and the FBI would rather they came from a respectable law school. Since she had no better option, she basically took temporary leave for the next 4 years, then decided to go back to Greendale for the summer and figure her life out. At least they assured her that if her spot was taken, they would re-assign her somewhere else.

So all in all, yeah. It had been a shitty month.

Hell, a shitty year would not be too far off.

Her thoughts turn to Jeff. To how she had been able to just vent work-related problems at him, no matter how serious, and he would have that tender, partly amused, partly sympathetic smile on his face and even if he didn't offer any advice that would make it somewhat better. That was the summer of the year before graduation. (She still remembers it as the year she was 75% expecting/hoping him to ask her out. Only remembering that made her feel worse somehow.)

As time passed she stopped trying to shake them away when the memories came to her. Usually she was able to smile wistfully at the nostalgia.

Today she feels like curling into a ball and crying until she passed out.

"Ladies and gentlemen, your flight to Colorado will begin boarding soon. Please get ready your boarding pass and passport."

She comes back into reality with a snap as she realises who was sitting across her.

"Abed?"

---

Jeff knows the world as he knew it was coming to an end when he voluntarily agrees to organise the graduation party. The worst part was, he can’t seem to bring any part of himself to care about that lame, pathetic fact. (If he wanted to he could probably argue that the fact was not actually lame or pathetic, but that in itself made him want to stab himself in the brain.)

After Abed and Annie left he had gradually come to the realisation that he was going to be stuck at Greendale for a long time. Maybe forever (though again that was way too depressing to think about). But it had taken a while before he had truly accepted that fact. It probably still unsettled him a little on days like this. Where he is standing in front of his mini wardrobe, (in his office), and yeah, okay, he had no idea when that had happened, confirming his outfit for the stupid party the next day that never had any real meaning for anyone.

(Well, it was one year after he told her he loved her, but let her go, except in a lot more words and slightly more delicate phrasing, but no one else needed to know that, and so what? That's just the calendar. It doesn’t mean anything.)

OK, so he is game enough to admit that he enjoyed teaching now. Also that once he actually gave it a shot, he more or less effortlessly rose to become Greendale's Most Popular Teachers. On a normal day, he may even admit that Greendale was his second home (hey, the new couch in his office was really comfortable. And he actually graded papers into the nights these days. Who would have thought?) and sometime after Annie left he actually put a decent amount of effort into the Greendale Committee (they changed the name for fear of death by cringe, they being mainly Jeff) and Greendale is even considered the above average, more than slightly crazy community college in Colorado (emphasis on the above average. It had always been crazy.)

So what if he only earns half as much as he did when he was a hot shot lawyer? So what if he had faked his degree, been disbarred and banned from practising law and now teaches law? So what if he actually kind of cares about Greendale?

He is comfortable.

---

"Abed, its so nice to see you!" Annie squeals and pulls him in for a bear hug.

"Nice to see you too Annie," he said as they do their special handshake (greeting. It really isn’t a handshake anymore at this point.) She pauses. "Wait. How long have you been sitting there?"

"Exactly 14 minutes. You seemed completely out of it. And then you had your going-to-cry face on. What’s the matter?”

After a year of not seeing anyone in the study group, of no one actually caring enough to ask her that question, Annie suddenly feels like breaking down there and then. But instead she finds herself smiling sadly. "I’m fine, Abed. Just tired. Work is exhausting. Also, I missed you guys. What are you doing in Washington?"

Abed seems to accept that. "It's for a film project. We went around DC for the past two days doing scenic shots at different landmarks. Personally I don't think this has any relevance to the plot or the characters and doesn't improve the film aesthetically either. But this is one of the few things I’ll let the co-director have." He shrugs. "Why are you going back to Greendale, Annie?"

Yeah, I should have known that was coming. "Um... I have no idea actually. I guess its just been a year since I've seen any of my old friends, any friends, really, and, well..."

"You're feeling alone." Abed gives her a small smile. "It's OK. I felt the same too sometimes. But I'll be back for 2 weeks in Apartment 303. You should stay, too. For a while at least."

She nods as she relaxes in her seat. Well. Maybe it’s a sign. Maybe it’s time she returned home.

---

Jeff knows it is really lame to be grading papers and organising school parties in the middle of a Thursday night (Friday morning?) with a glass of scotch in his hand.

OK, scratch that, it is ten times lamer that he is supposed to be grading papers and organising school parties in the middle of the night but is instead sitting in the dark of his office nursing a glass of scotch and moping over a 24 year old girl.

It had been a long time since he accepted (stopped denying, basically) that he is in love with her. Since the whole Borchert's Lab incident, anyways. Unfortunately for him it was also since that exact same incident that he realised she had moved on.

"We have to love each other enough to let them want what they want."

"I’m in my twenties. I'll regret the kiss for a week."

Yeah, she had moved on. Hell, in the last year that she had been in Greendale he'd tried to draw her out of her little shell by quadrupling his intake of scotch (the worst part was the hangovers, but if it would show him that Annie cared, it was worth it), doing nothing but playing Planet Earth in his classes again, going quiet and becoming more reserved. She had done absolutely nothing. No private interventions, nothing of that sort.

And in the past year, uncharacteristically, more or less radio silence from Annie. Even in the week before she left. There were the mandatory "happy holiday" greetings and occasional pleasantries but nothing else. (To be fair, the rest of group got the same treatment. But the universe, more specifically Annie, revolved around Jeff Winger. So it was definitely directed against him.)

She had moved on. He should really do the same. Why was it so hard?

"You know that even if she hadn't moved on, you would be no good for her. You're in your forties and teaching at Greendale. She's taking over the world, starting with the FBI. You don't deserve her. There's no way you are going to tell her. You can't hold her back."

And that is the drunk voice at the back of his head, making an appearance every once in a while. Which, this time, he can find no strength to argue with. It is painfully true. He isn't doing badly, by his own standards (dreadfully lowered since his lawyer days), unless he compared it to Annie. Then, yeah. He might as well be a bartender at The Vatican.

"You'll break her heart. You can't do that..."

Before he falls asleep he has one last coherent thought.

You won’t break her heart more than she’ll break yours. You can’t take that.

---

Annie can never properly (over)analyse her last real face to face conversation with Jeff. And she had given up trying to stop herself, so here she is, waiting for her plane to start boarding, and still analysing Jeff for the millionth time.

So he wanted her, that much was certain, but was it like in the past, as in he had wanted her a long time ago, or was it more like always have wanted? Or did he actually not mean it?

And he let her go. Frustratingly Annie is really unsure whether he meant he had let her go, as in past tense, as in before the conversation happened, which meant that now he wanted her? Or that he was letting her go, at the time of conversation, which meant that he actually had moved on? Judging by his actions the following year it should have been the latter. Yet when she said something about season 7 having too many variables his face genuinely lit up.

Ugh, he was so confusing.

If he had only wanted her in the past, and was actually aware about it, yet proposed to Britta in a fit of panic, what would that say about him? Unless of course he hadn't actually accepted that he wanted her? So when had he stopped wanting her? If he did actually stop, why did he kiss her then? And why had he looked at her like that, with that mix of tender and vulnerable, before that?

But if he wanted her now, why did she get the distinct feeling he is avoiding her? Sure, it was nowhere near as bad as the summer after the whole Britta proposal (or their first year for that matter), but he used to text her way more than twice a week when they were actually good friends. So if he wanted her why hadn't he said so?

She exhaled a shaky breath. For the hundredth time she can’t quite shake the feeling that Jeff had moved on. That he’d really done as he said and let her go. She knows that she should probably do the same. But its been a year, and she has no idea how to.

OK, never mind. I do. I’ve done it before. I just ... don’t want to.

To prevent herself from slowly spinning out of control in her mind and breaking down (which only happened twice before, and that was in her bedroom, so it does not count at all), she needs to do something. "Abed, can you update me on the group? I've been really busy with work and haven't really talked to them all that much, except just casually, and you know..."

And as she listens to him go on a rant about Shirley's crazy detective stories and Troy's crazy round the world adventures and Britta's crazy protest that failed before the night was over she thought that maybe, just maybe, everything could go back to normal.

---

"Class dismissed." When Jeff finished teaching his last class of his semester, he can't help but feel satisfied with himself. He had successfully navigated two semesters of six classes (he could really use a car upgrade soon. And maybe a new suit. Sue him if he needed more money.) and pretty well, if he said so himself. Annie would be proud.

Ugh, that really has to stop.

He locks himself in his office and continues rewatching The X-Files with his projector (which was the best thing he had ever gotten for his office after the couch) and awaits the final event before summer.

Exactly how you spent this day last year, sitting in the dark, alone, blissfully unaware that two of your best friends were going to leave. Unaware that Annie would go and never return.

That is a good thing, right?

For the first time in a while, he couldn't convince himself of it.

All his friends (almost all, anyway) had left him. Those two were people he had grown very close to over the years. And now they were gone, off to do something worthwhile with their lives. He is really proud of them. He is.

But still, they left him. And then he gets sucked back into another memory.

"Everyone leaves in the end, kid. Either the other person goes, or you go. I'm just leaving earlier." His dad. God damn him, when the hell had this happened?

"When are you coming back?" He remembers asking.

The older man actually laughed. "I'm not coming back. No one ever does." He remembers his father's face, devoid of emotion, as he packed his stuff, got into his car and drove away for the last time. He remembers hearing the unspoken "Not for you" hanging in the air.

"Damnit." Jeff shakes his head and turns off the TV series. It isn't particularly interesting the fourth time anyways. What the hell just happened? Why did that choose to show up now? I thought I settled that with the stupid Thanksgiving trip to my father's house.

That was when you had friends. Family. Now they left. You have no one. That asshole was right. Everyone leaves in the end.

That thought is somehow enough for his muddled brain to persuade himself to visit The Vatican four hours before the party.

"Hey Jeff! What are you doing here? It's a little too early to get drunk, don't you think?"

"Can't I just stop by to see a friend, Britta? My usual would be fine, though, thank you very much. By the way, you look awesome."

Britta in the summer, being Britta, looks the exact opposite of how women in America in the summer usually look, complete with combat boots and a weird ponytail, with her hair covering half her face.

"Shut up, jag." She pushes his drink towards him and pours herself some tequila. And just like that, they are back to normal. "So why are you here, actually?" she asks.

"You may want to rewind your memory to the last thing I said."

"Pfft, yeah, don't give me that crap. Jeff Winger doesn’t casually drop by to 'see a friend' and get drunk in the middle of the day. Don't you have better things to do?"

"Its summer, Britta. More or less."

"Answer the question, pointy face. What is it?"

He chuckles because of course, she finds every opportunity to call him out on anything he's doing, and although Britta is Britta, she is still one of his really good friends. "I don't really know, actually. And don't act all surprised. I used to get coffee with Shirley for gossip on campus before she left. My classes are over and I have nothing to do until the stupid party. And damnit why do now I sound like a student."

She laughs. "Fine, whatever. You're not actually going to go to the party, are you?"

"Um, I’ll be fashionably late as usual, but I organised it, so why not? What about you?"

She shrugs. "I don't nothing better to do, so probably, yeah. There's free booze and free food, so..."

He nods, letting the silence hang over them for a while, and takes a sip of his scotch. But then his next question comes out of absolutely nowhere and shocks him more than it does Britta.

"Do you ever feel terrible that everyone left? I mean, we're the only two left. They all left to do something with their lives, outside of Greendale. And I'm really proud of them. But do you ever feel alone, because they aren't around anymore?" The honesty of the question shocks them both. But it's been said, and he’s already a little buzzed, plus Britta was his only close friend left in Greendale anyways, so he doesn’t really mind so much.

She knows who he is talking about immediately. But she never thought that would be something he would talk about. Not least not with her. And she knew he had deep-seated abandonment issues on top of his daddy issues for the longest time, which is probably what this is about.

At the gleam in her eye, Jeff continues. "Don't even try to therapise me, Britta. Just answer me. As a friend."

She nods. "Well, maybe, sometimes. You know they aren't gone, right? You can call them up anytime you wish instead of pretending to text someone on that phone of yours. And if you're really want to, buy a plane ticket to DC. Or LA. They'll always be your friends, Jeff. Do I miss them? Certainly, all the time, Greendale is nowhere near as fun without them." She can’t help catching Jeff's nod. "But I don't get all depressed about it and drink three bottles of scotch.. And didn't you Skype Abed this Monday?"

"Yeah, its just not the same when there are thousands of miles between you. I don't know why. Anyways. You're probably right. Forget I said anything. It's just the end of another year."

She does not miss the fact that "another year" meant another year after Abed and Annie announced their departure. But she doesn't bring it up. Instead she goes with, “Jeff, I say this not as a therapist, but as a friend with a degree in psychology. You might wanna consider therapy.” At his raised eyebrows she continued, “and certainly not from me because your situation is way too screwed up.”

He chuckles darkly and mutters, “Nice to know that’s how you think of me.” But he continues nodding, so she stays silent.

---

Annie is back in Apartment 303.

It had been a year and the experience of finally being back, even if for a while, is slightly surreal. For starters, the place smells like pot. And there is cat fur all over the sofa. Even Abed purses his lips slightly at the sight of the place. But then Annie goes into cleaning mode and within an hour, the place is brand new.

The worst part of it is that she’s just beginning to relive the wacky hijinks that of the past, the craziness and the giddiness, revelling in the memories. Yet she’s in her old bedroom, with her laptop, getting ready her application for some law schools. Getting ready to leave it all behind. Again. OK, there were law schools in Colorado and she would be lying if they weren’t one of the first ones she checked out but what if they rejected her? And Stanford or Columbia were the most prestigious law schools anyways. Oh yeah, and she had almost no background in law, unless the time she spent selecting books for Jeff to actually teach counted. Really should have envisioned this, Annie. The thought of the future depresses her too much so she goes grocery shopping and whips up lunch.

It's only toward the end of lunch in Apartment 303 that Abed drops the bomb on Annie.

“Are you going to tonight’s graduation party? Apparently Jeff organised it. There’s free food. Its only for students, but I’m sure the Dean won’t mind.” Before she can even react, he rushes, “Jeff will be there since he organised it, Britta will be there for the free drinks, Troy is coming back today and we’ll see him at the party with his new girlfriend, Shirley is returning to Greendale to restart her sandwich shop since her father just passed away and the audience will love the re-get-together of the original study group so are you going?”

As Annie finally realises what he is saying (Abed is speaking at five times his usual speed which is something he reserved for when he is really excited about something.) she gasped. “Ohmigod, why didn’t you tell me this?” She squealed. “Yeah, I’ll come, sure… Where’s Britta, by the way?”

“She’s back in town and bartending at the Vatican. Again. The party starts at 5 so we’ve still got a few hours.”

It’s only back in her room that she realises the real implication of what Abed said.

Jeff will be there.

And that somehow led to her wandering the halls of Greendale 2 hours before the party started, because there is absolutely no way that she would run into Jeff there, him being an actual teacher and all.

But she doesn’t see him at all. So she does what she had wanted to do for a while, walking through the halls of Greendale, remembering the crazy paintball wars, the stupid Chang takeover, all of the crazy Greendale capers. Together with Jeff. Like the yam trial night and the conspiracy theory night and the little chaste kiss under the blanket fort when he was so close and -- Damnit!

Suddenly, something catches her eye and she stopped in front of the trophy cabinet. The little gold cup was still there, but newspaper clipping was gone. She smiles wistfully at the perfect reminder of that ill-fated debate (cue the most awkward moment in the study room ever after Shirley had closed the door in a fit of giggles) but somehow she feels that the absence of the clipping marks the end of a chapter.

Wandering down the hallways aimlessly, Annie catches sight of a flash of gold. She was standing outside Jeff's office. Okay, when the hell had he gotten a new nameplate?

Oh yeah. I didn’t ask Abed about Jeff. Really should have done that.

Without thinking, her hand goes to the doorknob. It is unlocked and the room is Jeff-free. And surprisingly did not smell like alcohol. The last time I was here it smelled worse than Britta's room after she went through her stash of pot. But then again, it has been a year. And it looks... She stops as she turns on the lights and surveys the room, taking in the new stylish desk, sleek leather chairs and a sofa. And ... is that a mini wardrobe?

Damn. It looks good. She sighed. He's...really moved on. He cleaned his shit up. Are those actual books?

She smiled, partly proud and happy for Jeff, and yet somewhat hurt.

Why did it take me leaving before you picked yourself up?

It takes her a while to realise she was also envious. Jeff had, from the looks of his office, found contentment, while she was still trying to get her life together. OK, she had been working at the FBI and would probably get her promotion and everything when she got back, or at least got some more law credits, but that would be in another few years.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, there is also ... slight disappointment.

Shouldn’t you be broken here without me?

---

Having actually put in effort to organise the party, Jeff is rather pissed when it gets screwed up in typical Greendale fashion.

(He isn't there until half an hour after the party starts since he didn't particularly feel like spending any more time alone and Britta is actually slightly less annoying when they are both slightly buzzed.)

The first thing he notices when he steps into the cafeteria (30 minutes late, fashionable enough) is the absence of a DJ (scheduling problems, the Dean explains) so the PA system is hooked up to the radio where they are playing some "Top 50 Songs of the Month" crap that Jeff hears almost every day on his way home.

The next thing is that the decorations are distinctly inadequate (apparently half of the student helpers he had employed for this purpose had urgent family issues and couldn't stay. Like anyone not named Craig Pelton would believe that.) Not that he would usually mind at all but the lighting is way off from what he prepared and is way too jarring for his liking.

Despite that, they didn't mess up with the alcoholic drinks (like the last time when root beer was brought in and he basically left without a second thought) so that's where he and Britta direct their attention towards.

And, weirdly enough, watching the students of Greendale have a decent (he would not dare to use 'good') time at a party he planned gives him just a little bit of satisfaction. So he just zones out and sips his beer.

(He is therefore completely not responsible for his thoughts deciding to lead him to Annie and making him regret disappearing immediately after graduation and kind of ruining their friendship.)

Until the lyrics to one song hits him right where it hurts.


And I wished you had hurt me harder than I hurt you
And I wish you wouldn't wait for me but you always do

I've been hoping somebody loves you in the ways I couldn't
Somebody's taking care of all of the mess I've made
Someone you don't have to change
I've been hoping
Someone will love you, let me go



The universe is mocking you

, his inner voice sneers.

And he is unable to disagree with the fact that yeah, it is almost exactly what he had felt and is still feeling for Annie. Having it in song makes it almost twice as bad.

Annie let you go a long time ago, you fool. Back in Borchert’s Lab, remember? She hasn’t really talked to you in a year. She has actually let you go...

Yup, the stupid drunk voice is back again. Usually when he gets such thoughts (which is pretty rare, like once a month) he would drown himself in scotch until more pleasant memories returned (generally it would be their last kiss). But this time even the music is against him and he is too depressed to get himself a refill. He only saves himself running back to his office and hiding in the dark by holding on to one coherent memory, his default “happy place” (screw you, Abed).

Season seven, who knows? It's out of our hands. Too many variables.

The way she looked. The way her face lit up and how she looked directly at him when she said that.

---

When Annie hears the Dean panickily announce that the DJ was out and hook the PA system to the radio, she laughs. Greendale was never known for getting the details right. Oh, and apparently Jeff organised it, which probably explains a lot.

Deciding that she’s probably not ready to see Jeff yet, Annie continues wandering around the campus, reliving the old memories, eventually coming back to the study room. Where it all started. She smiled wistfully. If not for this place, let's face it, I would probably have relapsed at least once. My life would have been a lot more screwed up than it is now. These people saved my life. We were -- are a family. She sits down on the couch, closes her eyes and let the memories flood her.

(If Abed was in the room he would definitely have called for flashbacks and hell, she would probably agree, but he isn't and she’s not completely crazy so let's just move on.)

She winds up entering the party about half an hour after it starts (much to her disappointment / amusement, the set-up is pretty slipshod and the lighting is hilarious). She hasn't seen the rest of the group yet, but Abed told her they would probably meet up at the end of the party, so she just relaxes into the Greendale atmosphere, partly crazy but still somewhat endearing and comfortable.

Her thoughts drift off (back to Jeff, which is starting to become both annoying and totally expectable) which is probably why she feels such a strong pull in her chest when the lyrics of one song strike a sore point.


And I'll follow right down the river
Where the ocean meets the sky
To you, to you

Once upon a time we had it all
Somewhere down the line we went and lost it
One brick at a time we watched it fall
I’m broken here tonight and darling, no one else can fix me
Only you, only you


Some part of her thinks it's hilarious to get so emotional while listening to a break up song in the middle of a graduation party (again, its Greendale. To expect anything less crazy would be unrealistic.) but there is so much about it that is she finds herself oddly identifying with.

There was some point in their third year when Jeff and I were closer than anyone else. He was probably my best friend (again, I was waiting for him to ask me out.) and it was really comfortable. But then somewhere after that we just drifted apart. Until the platonic shoulder holding and the Britta proposal thing. And I could have reached out. If I had made the first move, he wouldn't have turned me down. Maybe if he wasn't so focused on his graduation, maybe if I wasn't so focused on going back to hospital administration. I should have asked him.

Then when my life started falling apart (hit a road bump. Not falling apart.) all I wanted was to pour it out on Jeff and let him comfort me -- Damnit!

It may be her imagination but she detects an undercurrent of broken resignation in the tune which depresses her even more.

Then she looks out across the cafeteria and spots him.

Except there's something missing. He's half-sitting on the drinks table and half slouched against the wall, with an empty cup of in his hand, which is really weird because he is not going for a refill. Also, as far as she can tell his face is mostly vacant and zoned-out. And since she had spent a really long time overanalysing Jeff's facial expressions there was no mistaking the sadness behind it.

Throughout the years I've never known him look like that, she wonders. No, wait a second. It's almost as bad as when Michelle dumped him. And as far as she knew he had not gone on an actual date since then. Hell, the last woman he kissed was...

Oh. Right.

Refusing to think too much about that, she continues studying him. Since he seemed pretty content visiting Britta's bar before the party and updating his Instagram account something probably happened in between. And the only thing which is remotely melancholy and mood-dampening in the entire place is maybe some songs over the PA.

Then she realises what song was on right before the one that made her feel like crying and suddenly it makes sense. She had never looked at it that way, but... if that really was the way he was thinking and, come to think of it, she hadn't really talked to him since that night and in that sense ... maybe it was actually understandable.

And because he can read her mind he looks up and their eyes lock. There's probably something in her expression because if he looked like he got the wind knocked out him before, it returns visibly. His smile reaches his eyes and she can't help but grin back at him, partly giddy and partly nervous (but mostly giddy) and there is probably something wrong with her but the vulnerability and the sadness remain on Jeff's face and if she was over there she would be kissing him right now.

They just stand there and stare at each other before it's a few seconds past awkward and he turns away with a forced chuckle. And it is not unexpected when her phone vibrates moments later but what does surprise her is his directness.

I know we haven't done this in a looong time, but can we talk? Please?

When she looks up again she spots him leaving the cafeteria and because she can also kind of read his mind she finds the nearest door and goes to track him down.

(For the record, she finds him in the study room within 5 minutes. Which is less time than they take to actually talk.)
----

Britta 1906
Hey Abed, Jeff ran off some time ago and isn’t back yet. Do you think the plan worked?

Abed 1906
Code blue.

Repeat, code blue.

Britta 1907
Damnit Abed. Speak English.

Abed 1909
We agreed on this, Britta.

To answer your question, Jeff’s disappearance was around the same time as Annie. So they probably went to talk.

And at this point in the plot Jeff would have had sufficient character growth to admit that he is in love with her.

And its obvious that she loves him too.

You know best what happens next, Britta.

Britta 1910
Huh. So, operation success?

Abed 1909
Yes, Britta. Operation Rose is a success.