community fic: you're the legal man (1/4)
pg-13. 5305 words.
She’s sitting in the front row, first in line to change the world. What if Jeff had never lost his license to practice law? What if Annie had gone to her dream school instead Greendale?
Note: This is a response to nessataleweaver's Ficcy Friday prompt: I'm a sucker for AU's, so what about something where Jeff and Annie meet in an alternative timeline where a) Annie never had her bad trip b) Jeff never got busted for his under grad degree, so they meet in a situation where only one or neither on them went to Greendale and joined the study group? (yes, I know jeff formed it in the first place. Play with it) I just like the idea that one way or another, Jeff and Annie meeting was inevitable. Milady, your wish is my command, and I hope you enjoy. ♥
The air is practically buzzing with excitement. Annie takes a deep breath and smoothes her fingers over her pencil skirt. She recrosses her ankles. She could hardly sleep last night, true, the prospect of actually being sort of a real lawyer was too thrilling to let her relax, but now she’s going to forget that. She’s going to be cool, calm, just the kind of person anyone would want to defend them after justice has dealt them a wrong turn. It’s been a whole year of torts, old litigation, and investigating Colorado law so intricate that Annie would sometimes find herself regretting whatever impulse had made her change her hospital management major to a political science major. And even though she’s not really looking forward to her Intellectual Property class tomorrow, this is where the real lawyering begins. This is where Annie Edison gets to put on her big girl skirt and truly make a difference. She’s sitting in the front row, first in line to change the world.
The conversations stop behind her. The silence jolts Annie out of her daydream.
Their professor has entered the class, and they’re all transfixed. He’s taller than most of her professors, with muscles that strain just slightly at the seams of what looks like a really expensive suit, pulling slightly at the shoulders. When she cranes her neck she can see evidence that he spent time in the sun this summer. There’s a tan that looks especially golden against his crisp white shirt, that makes his eyes sparkle way more than is natural for any reasonable human being. He’s way too hot to be a law school professor.
Anyway he probably spent more time on his hair this morning than Annie did, even to pin it up in a sleek bun that leaves no doubts as to her capabilities. She’s here to do real work, not ogle her teacher. He’s checking something on his iPhone, clearly the newest model. She opens her notebook to a fresh page.
After typing something on his phone (probably something important, notes for a trial or an essential deposition question), the professor looks up and begins to speak.
“This is the Monday-Tuesday-Thursday section of the Law Lab. If this isn’t what you came for, you should probably leave. That is,” he says, making an exaggerated wink, a totally cheesy move that somehow still manages to show off the lines of his face, “unless you want to get a better look. I can’t blame you for that. You probably know me, but I’m Jeff Winger, I’m a senior partner at Dewey Cheatum & Howe, and I’m your professor for this class.”
He pauses. Annie thinks she can see him biting his lip. Maybe he’s about to say something profound. It’d be a nice change of pace after the winking and all that product in his hair. She fists her fingers around her pencil. Professor Winger inhales, deeply enough that his pecs pull at the front of his shirt. There must be a gym at his office.
“I know you all are probably twitching in your seats, all excited to do real lawyer stuff. But let me tell you, you’re getting the reject cases. That embezzler who’s got you pulling all nighters for a re-trial? It’s a case no one else will take. No matter what the murderers tell you, they weren’t falsely accused. And the minute you set foot in prison, you’re going to regret that you took even a passing interest in do-gooding and criminal law, in that order.” He pauses, glances vaguely around the room without making eye contact with anyone. “Do I have any takers?”
Papers rustle and Annie can hear people squirming in their seats. Part of her, the part that palmed Aderall during finals weeks at Stanford, the part that dated a married doctor for nearly two years, who still has Caroline Decker’s old driver’s license somewhere in her wallet, that part wants to raise her hand and ask Professor Winger why he’s here if he doesn’t give a crap about fair access to justice.
Before she can ask him, there’s a syllabus in front of her face.
“Am I interrupting anything?” Professor Winger asks, flashing a smirk. She snatches the stack of papers out of his hand.
But in between the time it takes for her to grab a syllabus and pass the pile on to the people in back of her, something clicks. She’s seen this guy before.
He starts going through the syllabus, obviously reading off the pages, and usually that kind of wasted time would annoy Annie to no end. But instead she’s thinking about a string of articles she followed in the Boulder Weekly, last spring and into this summer. Her roommates had made fun of her for yet another one of her “geeky lawyer habits,” but the case had her riveted: a man and the owner of a failed stereo shop, Andre Bennett, had sued his ex-wife, brownie magnate Shirley Bennett, for alimony. He’d run off with a stripper two years prior. Jeff Winger had been Shirley’s defense attorney.
After she’d won the case, it came out in all the Colorado papers that Jeff Winger had been sleeping with the stripper girlfriend.
Annie tunes back into the lecture just in time to hear Professor Winger say they could leave early, this once, and that he’d email them their clinic assignments later in the week. She figures this means Friday, right before he clocks out of work at his fancy law firm. It doesn’t matter. There’s more important business at the moment. She slings her satchel over her shoulder and grabs her notebook, then strides a few steps until she’s right up against his desk, mere inches away from him. He’s on his phone again.
“Why are you even here?” she blurts out.
He looks up from his phone at her, like it’s no big deal that a student is mad at him, fifteen minutes into the semester.
“I know who you are,” she says, leaning over the desk. He has to take her seriously if she’s in his space. At least, it’s not so easy to look away now.
“See,” he tells her, finally at least setting his phone down, “I told you about this at the beginning of class. I’m a big deal in the legal community. You shouldn’t be embarrassed that you’re starstruck.”
“Seriously?” She doesn’t realize she’s rolling her eyes until it’s too late, they’re pointed directly at the ceiling. “I mean, I know about the Bennett case.”
“So?” Maybe he has a lot of cases go to trial, maybe a lot of them are more important, but isn’t he supposed to be some kind of example?
“The stripper? They held you in contempt of court for that, I heard.”
She forces herself to look him in the face. It’s stiffened, almost like he’s wearing a mask that’s keeping him from normal expressions. He’s staring at a spot on his desk but she can tell he’s not really looking at anything. Her advisor at Stanford always said her attention to detail would make her a great lawyer. Now it makes her feel powerful and a little skeezy. The clock at the back of the room clicks out the seconds. She just stands there, arms crossed, waiting for him to make a move, totally in control for once unless he decides he’s going to fail her for insubordination but he’d better not do that, class was totally inappropriate today and she didn’t pay for a whole year of law school for nothing, if he tries to get her kicked out she’s going to plead her case and maybe they’ll just reassign her to a different clinic section, which might not actually be the worst thing.
When her brain returns to the moment at hand, she realizes he’s looking right into her eyes. Oh god, how long has he been watching her space out?
“Let me guess,” he says, voice pitched a little softer, “you’re one of those people who went to law school to change the world.”
“I’m not going to let you ruin my career because you’re bitter. And anyway, why are you teaching this class if you’re such a void of ideals? Can’t you restore your faith in humanity without destroying my semester?”
“Okay, you’re so keen on the truth? Here’s the truth.” She would say he actually sounds upset if she believed Professor Winger capable of any human emotion. “My billings took a nosedive this summer. Ted, the head of my firm, told me I needed to restore the community’s faith in me. Some garbage like that. This was the easiest way to get it done.”
“So teaching law school is your community service?” Maybe her parents were right, maybe she should have reapplied after all those waitlists at the top-ten schools. She never thinks like that. It’s just one more reason to hate Jeff Winger. “I really hope it works out for you, and I really hope you don’t ruin this class, but you know what, professor? No matter how terrible a human being you are, the last thing you’re going to do is ruin my career.”
It’s lucky she wore heels today instead of flats. They make it so easy for her to spin out of class, clicking against the linoleum as if to say watch out!
Jeff Winger settles into his Lexus, slumping against the leather seat and cranking up the air conditioner the second the engine revs up. It’s only Thursday afternoon and he’s already exhausted. Being a law school professor seemed really easy when he was in law school, and it seemed like a no-brainer when the other options were things like joining Habitat for Humanity. Building a house, getting covered in asbestos, actually breaking a sweet: no thank you. But he’s only a week into this teaching gig and he just wants to curl up in his condo with a bottle of scotch, not come out until the semester’s safely over, with the occasional company of a few ladies from his iPhone’s contact list. Too bad there’s a stack of paperwork waiting for him at the office. Ted took away his junior partner after the Bennett debacle and his paralegal replacement is questionably literate. It’s easier to just take care of the forms himself, except that there are so many forms and they take forever to fill out. No crime show ever talks about how much paperwork you have to do as a lawyer. It’s by far the least sexy part of the job.
He’s barely gotten out of the parking lot before he catches someone waving at him from the sidewalk. It’s that Edison girl, the one that yelled at him on Monday. She’s sat at the front row of every single class. Whenever she meets his eye she scowls her disapproval. Why’s she even acknowledging him outside of the classroom? To be fair, she’s not smiling, it’s just an extended hand. Still, he’d really like that junior partner back on his service, and this is a great time to practice the Winger charm. He eases the car over towards her, rolls down the window, and stops the car right in front of her.
“Hey Annie,” he says, keeping his voice low, just this side of a purr. It’s the tone he uses when the jury is mostly women, and it always gets him the verdict he wants. “Are you liking class any better these days?”
“It’s only been three classes, Professor Winger.” She’s a little less hostile than she was a few days ago, and she’s thumbing the strap of her bag like a schoolgirl with the beginnings of a crush. Body language is one of his specialities, in and out of the courtroom.
“Well, I hope you know I’m trying.”
Now she’s actually smiling, her blue eyes going wide like some kind of Disney princess. He’s got her right where he wants her.
“That’s good to know,” she says, like one of those helpless baby harp seals. You would have to feel bad eating them, if you were a shark, but then again, you either eat or you die.
He rolls up his window and then he practically sails the rest of the way to work.
The clinic assignments come in near midnight on Sunday. Annie’s curled up with her laptop, reviewing her Constitutional Law notes on the living room floor while Troy and Abed are in the middle of their weekly Inspector Spacetime marathon. Immediately she clicks the email open.
Crap. She’s been partnered up with Jeremy Simmons, the biggest jerk at the University of Colorado. He’s a great speaker but that’s where it ends. Annie was in a study group with him last year, during Torts, and he stole her intricate array of flashcards. As if that wasn’t enough, he justified it by all the while reminding her about the scandal that had, in his words, “destroyed her”. Not that he was much of a genius, with some glorious legal battles in his future. She’s sure that any As he’s gotten are the result of some poor hardworking student like herself, forced to be in a group with him. Now she has to buddy up with him to get some poor innocent person out of prison?
Annie glances across the spreadsheet. They’ve been assigned to some poor innocent person named Britta Perry, found guilty of breaking and entering while under the influence. That lady is staying in prison forever. She was probably stealing food to feed her family, some noble and innocent crime, and thanks to stupid Professor Winger and stupid Jeremy Simmons, she’s going to be locked up until the end of time.
A groan escapes her mouth, louder than the TV.
“Annie, I know that law school is hard because you tell us, but do you think you could tell us about it again in five minutes? The Inspector and Reggie have almost defeated the Blorgons forever.” Abed doesn’t even look away from the television screen. She’s used to it by now. Troy shoots her a sympathetic half-smile before he turns back to the action.
For a second she’s tempted to tell them both that the Blorgons are never ever defeated forever, but instead she just buries her head in her hands and sighs out all the air in her lungs.
The summer after Stanford, Annie had needed a place to live. Her parents had insisted she spend a year at home, working and reapplying to the top ten law schools, according to the latest issue of US News and World Report, a law school to match her college. Something in her had snapped. Here she was, nearly a college graduate, and her parents were trying to decide how she’d spend the rest of her life? She’d accepted her spot in Colorado’s law school without telling them. At the time she had assumed she could live at home for three years. Their house was only ten miles away, in Greendale. Even if her parents could hardly acknowledge each other without yelling, at least she’d have the coursework to keep her occupied, and the commute was long enough that she could crash at a classmate’s apartment if a study session went too late. But instead of being happy to see their only child so often, her parents had calmly informed Annie that if she wanted law school on her own terms, she was going to have foot the bill herself.
Apartment hunting wasn’t nearly as glamorous as she’d imagined. Instead of a small scale version of House Hunters, she’d encountered dozens of “cozy” studio apartments smaller than her dorm room and reeking of mildew. Troy and Abed’s Craigslist ad had caught her eye immediately. Most postings just described the apartment’s floors or square footage, but theirs had promised We’re the only apartment with a Dreamatorium! They had asked kind of weird questions at the interview, but they seemed strange in a harmless way and the rent was in her budget. Sometimes they let her rap with them.
So mostly Annie can handle life. She’s focused and driven and no matter what her parents think, she’s going to succeed as a lawyer here just as well as anywhere else. But Annie’s life plan doesn’t account for another semester of Jeremy Simmons.
“Inspector!” Constable Reggie shouts from the TV screen. “The Blorgons have disappeared! Where are they?”
Inspector Spacetime turns to face the camera. Annie would swear he’s looking right at her, just this side of winking. She almost smiles.
“The question, Reggie, is not where the Blorgons are, but when.”
Yeah, she doesn’t end up going to bed until nearly three in the morning, but when Troy and Abed start their own personal rave to the Inspector Spacetime theme song, Annie’s almost certain she’s in the best of all possible whens.
The best thing about group projects is the fact that he gets to watch everyone instead of actually teaching them. Occasionally he takes a walk around the room to make it look like he’s doing something productive, not just beating the shit out of Alan in Words With Friends. Alan’s still somehow on Ted’s good side, which means he doesn’t need to lift a finger at the office. Too bad all that extra time didn’t stop him from a masterfully-placed “zed” over a triple word score.
He told the class to start developing a strategy for their assigned defendant. They won’t be able to visit the prison until next week, which means they don’t have a lot of key information, but at least it gives them a chance to crack open huge books and feel good about how much they’re learning in law school. It’s only a year or so before they find out how useless all that education is. Might as well let them enjoy the moment.
Just as he’s about to make it to his desk without incident, he hears Annie Edison’s voice go up. She’s still sitting right in front of the room, a book the size of an unabridged dictionary splayed open in her lap.
“…I really don’t think we can give up on Miss Perry before we visit her, Jeremy! You can’t just assume the case is boring before we meet her.”
“No surprise,” her partner, Jeremy Simmonds, says, rubbing his soulpatch, “Little Miss Perfect Annie wants to play things by the book. Hear her out. Is that what you told Doctor Rich? That you had to hear his story before you screwed him?”
“My love life has nothing to do with this case.” Annie’s trying to whisper but Jeff can tell she’s too angry. “That was two years ago and anyway, we need to get Miss Perry’s story to make a convincing argument.”
“You can get Britta Perry’s story. I’m thinking the prison visit next week would make a great time to skip class.” Her partner hoists his feet onto the desk. His smile looks familiar to Jeff.
Annie doesn’t say anything. When Jeff glances at her face, her eyes are wide and glossy like she’s about to cry. Her mouth keeps twisting into the shapes of words but she’s not saying anything.
“We’re going to get an A on this project,” her partner adds, “or I’m going to make sure everyone knows that Doctor Rich is the reason you couldn’t stay at Stanford for law school. I’ll make very certain that the whole law school knows how you like fucking married men.”
Annie ducks her head. Her hair falls into her face but Jeff knows without seeing it that she’s crying, that her shoulders have gone rigid with the effort to keep herself from making a sound. And seeing this, he’s caught. He has to admire Simmonds’s tactics. They’ll work really well in a courtroom. But to destroy a classmate like this? To bring a girl like Annie Edison to tears for what is probably the only bad decision she’s ever made in her life? That’s not just shooting himself in the foot.
Before he can reason through the action, Jeff finds himself in front of Annie Edison and Jeremy Simmonds.
“I couldn’t help but hear that the two of you are having some problems communicating,” he says, keeping his voice smooth and level, the way he always pitches it for his opening arguments at trial, “so I just wanted to stop by and check that everything’s okay.”
Annie keeps her face pointed at her book. She’s still crying.
“We’re fine,” Simmonds says, his face blank of any particular expression. He looks nearly pleasant, if Jeff could convince himself to ignore that soulpatch. “In fact, I was just outlining our strategy on the case to Annie. She’s having a little bit of trouble. As you can see.”
He does look, just in time to see Annie’s shoulders heave with the effort not to start bawling. It’s like this guy is kicking a hurt puppy in the street. Yeah, Annie Edison is the student he was really hoping not to have, the kind of girl who might actually make him work. But even if that drives him crazy, this is crossing a line.
“The thing is, Simmonds, I don’t think Annie’s had trouble with a class in her life. She actually told me after the first class that she was sure I’d make it too easy. That doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would have trouble figuring out a simple plan of attack. So I’d suggest you stop trying to undermine her and keep in mind that if you miss even one of the prison visits, you’d better be stuck in the hospital or I’m going to make sure you wind up on your ass.” You can fake being stuck in the hospital — Jeff’s done it a few times, to get out of more terrible partner’s meetings — but it takes a lot of skill. And Simmond’s eyes have gone big enough that Jeff’s fairly sure he’s taken care of this particular problem. “So I think you should come up with a new strategy that takes into account the fact that you’ve really lucked out on partners, here.”
He’s only made it halfway back to his desk before he finds out just how wrong he was about Jeremy Simmonds.
“I see you’ve found a new fuck buddy, Edison.” The soulpatched freak doesn’t even bother to lower his voice.
Jeff rounds on them. He can feel his jaw clenching, which means this twerp is about to deeply regret the moment he set foot at law school.
“Out of my class.” He growls the words, waving towards the door with his whole arm. This isn’t a voice he uses in court, or one he ever expected to use in class. “Get out of my class.”
“Or what? You’ll give Edison a better grade than me?” Simmonds rocks back in his chair. He’s actually grinning like he’s going to win this one. Jeff has to ball his hands into fists to keep from reaching over and throwing him on the ground.
“If you don’t leave the room right now, I’m going to make sure that you’re suspended for harassing a fellow student. I’m going to make sure that the legal community of Colorado knows why you were suspended, and I will personally make sure that you’re never hired by anyone in this state.” He can barely get the words out through his clenched teeth.
He watches Simmonds throw his notebook and pen into a messenger bag and slink out of the room. It isn’t until the twerp closes the door behind him that Jeff turns back to the rest of the class, most of which is staring at him, wide-eyed and slack-jawed.
“The thing that people don’t tell you about being a lawyer,” he says, not completely processing the words until they’re in the open air, “is that you actually can’t do it on your own. You have to have people. And you have to get lucky, a lot of the time. These are your colleagues, so don’t treat them like shit. Okay?”
There are vague murmurs of assent. He doesn’t blame them for not being excited. Since when does he kick people out of class for being jerks? Since when is he a motivational speaker? This teaching gig is so far out of the realm of what he’d imagined.
Once they’ve started talking to each other instead of staring at him, he slides into the seat that Jeremy Simmonds just gave up. Annie’s still hunched over, but she looks up after a second, swiping her hands across her face. It leaves gray streaks of mascara around her cheeks. Her eyes are so huge and blue that he barely looks at her cheeks, though.
Jeremy Simmonds has gotten inside his head. That kid is a demon mastermind. Ted will probably hire him the second he graduates. He takes a deep breath, stares at the desk for a second, then looks back at Annie.
For a second she just stares at him. She’s probably looking for the words to say thank you and then there’s the shit Simmonds just put her through, so it’s not like he’s expecting her to be especially profound.
“Let’s recap,” she says, so clipped he could hardly tell she’d been crying if the evidence wasn’t in front of him, “you assigned me the worst partner, now you took him away and I have to do all this work on my own, he’s going to tell everyone we’re sleeping together, and after the way you acted, everyone’s going to believe him. I am definitely not okay. But thanks for trying?”
Someone needs to tell her to stick her endings. She was doing so well until the last part.
“What if I reassign myself as your partner?” He says it before he can think about what that offer means, and it’s weird, because he really hates doing work and this girl is not a fan of his at all, but even thinking about all the time he’s going to have to spend pretending to care about obscure Colorado law and Britta Perry’s existence, he doesn’t want to immediately take the offer back.
“Yeah, so everyone can really think we’re sleeping together.” She sniffles and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. “I’d rather do the whole thing myself.”
“Would sleeping with me really be such a bad thing?” It comes out of his mouth before he can think about the fact that this is in the top ten list of things no professor should say while his class is still in session. She’s smart enough not to say anything. Her cheeks blush a little pink and her mouth opens just slightly. If he were to have leaned over and kissed her just now, she would look like that.
He is going to destroy Simmonds for ever making him think like this.
Anyway, what happened to wanting to charm her and then dismantle her Disney-eyed idealistic annoying little self? Does this just happen to law school professors everywhere?
“I’ll tell you what,” he says, trying to regain just a little composure, “if I’m your partner no one is going to think I’m letting you off easy. You’re going to take the lead on it and you’re going to have to be great because I’m going to see every detail. And when you get Britta Perry a retrial, I’ll take the case and you can be my assistant.”
“You’d let me do that?” It’s amazing, how much this girl loves to work.
“You’d have to file all the paperwork. It wouldn’t be too exciting.”
“To be on a real trial? With a real lawyer?” She’s smiling, now, like she can’t help it. “I mean, yeah, maybe my reputation will be ruined for the next two years and I don’t know if you’re the best person to model my career on, but how can I not be excited about that?”
“You could work on not insulting your partner,” he says, leaning back into his chair. Somehow he’s actually smiling back at her.
Part of him is going to regret this, and soon. He’s just waiting for that moment to hit.
The instant class is over, Annie marches straight up to Professor Winger’s desk. It’s the second time this has happened in a week, and normally she would be worried about what that might do to her reputation, to say nothing of her grades, but right now she has bigger fish to fry.
“Professor Winger,” she starts, once she’s confident the last stragglers have made it out of the room, “I really appreciate what you said to Jeremy in class, and it would be so great to get to assist you on the case if we get Miss Perry a re-trial. But you really don’t have to work with me on this assignment.”
“Like I said, you’re going to do most of the work.”
“Then couldn’t I do this by myself?” She wants to make it sound practical but when she hears the words come out of her mouth, she realizes how rude she sounds. Her face is going red, she can feel it getting hot. “I mean, it’s not that I don’t appreciate your experience and everything, it’s just — you were teaching this class as a blow-off community service effort. Wouldn’t it be easier just to let me do this assignment myself?”
“You’ve dreamed about this class, right?”
“Yes,” she says, taking a step closer and splaying her fingers against his desk. The wood is cool against her palms. “Why does that matter?”
“The thing is, Annie, that a lot of lawyers are basically Jeremy Simmons. Some of them are worse. You’re going to have to learn how to deal with them. Even if you’re doing all their work.”
“So why couldn’t you just let me handle him?”
“That guy is a creep.” He says it too fast, nothing like the polished delivery he’s always used in front of class.
“Oh.” Really she’s just killing time while she thinks of something to say. “Well, Professor Winger, I guess I can’t stop you from working with me. But you’d better not slack off too much.” She’s edging towards flirting. That was how it started before, with Rich, and now she’s slipping again. She angles her head towards his face. Give it just a second and he’ll start to frown, she can see the lines forming in his forehead.
When he opens his mouth to say something, she’s positive he’ll have reconsidered. And it would be a relief, really, just to handle this whole thing on her own.
“I have at least a moderate grasp on criminal law, Annie.”
“Good.” She turns towards the door. Better to leave before she does any more damage.
“Oh, and Annie? If we’re going to do this project together, you should probably call me Jeff. Not in front of the whole class or anything, but it’d be kind of weird if you called me Professor Winger all the time.” He’s not really looking at her, and if it were anyone else, she’d almost say he was embarrassed. What happened to the jerk from the first class? He probably has an ulterior motive, though. It’s the kind of thing he would want to teach her, except that he doesn’t want to teach her. Or does he?
“Sounds good,” she says, then makes it to the door before he can be any more confusing.
When Annie checks her reflection in the rearview mirror of her car, her cheeks are still glowing pink.