Author's Note: I wanted to try something other than a sappy, romantic fic, so I sat down and wrote this in basically one go. I expect this to be a short series of 3-5 chapters when all is said and done. That being said, this is probably going to come out slowly as I'm currently addicted to two different video games. I'm also not familiar with writing in this category, so all feedback is appreciated doubly.

Standard Disclaimer: This fanfic is intended as a writing exercise with no desire or hope of profit.

Chapter 1: The Late Arrival

He stepped out of the black Ford Focus, taking an anguished look at how far he had to walk. Even this parking spot, leagues away from where he intended to be, had been close to impossible to find, requiring at least a mile's worth of intense eye strain. After the customary long drive stretch (that ridiculous one where someone hops around while contorting their back at odd angles), he attempted to straighten his clothing out with his hands, and began the long trek.

It was a gorgeous day by most people's standards. The weather was warm, not humid, with a comfortable breeze kicking in occasionally. The sun was out, but partially covered by fluffy, white clouds. He would have probably enjoyed it immensely if his mood wasn't so foul. His thoughts remained mired in unfocused misery for his entire trip to the beautifully maintained green field.

Dodging the mass of people, Freddie took determined steps towards the upraised pavilion where most of the guests seemed to be gathering. He ducked low underneath an arch of flowers that provided entry into the shrubbery encircled area, but he could not evade the pungent aroma of the hanging roses. The smell hung in his nose, as though it was begging him for his attention and adoration. Unfortunately for the roses, all of his attention and adoration had belonged to only one person since grade school. She noticed him at that moment, and immediately ceased her conversation with a well-dressed older gentleman. His heart began to race as she charged towards him as quickly as she could in a flowing white dress. The brightness of her smile almost chased away the shadow that had been gnawing at his heart.

Carly almost knocked him over as she crashed into him and wrapped her arms around his neck. From their entangled position, it was impossible for Freddie to see her face, but he could hear the tears in her voice as she whispered, "I almost didn't think you were going to come."

Freddie swallowed down the thickening in his throat before answering evenly, "I wouldn't miss the happiest day in your life for anything." Though he did his best to sound affectionate as he spoke, he couldn't force his face past the slackened state it had adopted for weeks. Luckily, his face was as concealed from her as hers was to him.

They had shared many hugs over the years, through times of happiness, grief, contentment, and release. Each time his body yearned for the contact, and cherished each and every second. Even today his arms desperately wanted to wrap themselves around her and crush her lithe body against his chest, but his brain held the powerful impulse in check with the sobering thought of the reality of the occasion. The thought was strong enough for him to gruffly say, "You're going to ruin your makeup," as he pushed her away firmly.

The admonition coupled with the physical rejection of her hug threw the young woman's emotional equilibrium off balance. As she was forced away from him, her hands shot up to her face to conceal the streaking make-up that was beginning to run down her cheeks. He could only see her eyes with her hands help up like that, but he could tell that she was still smiling when she said, "I'll go take care of this. Thanks for the warning." She escaped quickly, nodding every now and then at people she hadn't yet had the chance to greet. He watched her leave with a growing sense of impending doom.

When he finally began moving again, he barely noticed the looks and whispers he drew from the other guests. Normally the fact that strangers were looking at him, let alone whispering in hushed conversations, would paralyze him with embarrassment, but today he was too numb to be bothered by it.

As he passed a corner of the pavilion, a familiar voice called out, "Two minutes here and you've already sent her running away in tears." A sideways glance confirmed what his ears told him to suspect. Sam stood with her back against the wall, her bare arms crossed together against her chest. She was dressed in a nearly shoulder-less emerald green dress that hugged her torso tightly. There were a few straps covering the pale skin of her shoulders, with many more forming a stitch-like pattern of straps that formed on her mid-back and moved down to a loose, knee-length skirt. It was a standard outfit for her role in the event. Her face was displaying the fierce smile she always used when she was expecting a confrontation.

Freddie halted the smile by throwing a weak smile of his own in her direction and all but pleading, "Let's not fight today, Sam."

Her eyebrow arched as she sized him up. He was wearing a black silk suit with a darkly striped green dress shirt. An oddly patterned maroon tie hung from his neck. Freddie was a skinny, lanky guy naturally, but today he looked emaciated, as though he hadn't touched food in days. The dark bags under his eyes suggested that he hadn't slept in a while, either. There was a sway to his posture and a nervous twitch to his eyes that added weight to the "no sleep" theory. Maintaining her position, she asked, "Why not? You look like you could benefit from blowing off a little steam."

Freddie thought about how he must look at the moment and grimaced. Sam's observations had been dead on. For days, his meals hadn't consisted of anything other than a handful or two of cereal, and he couldn't remember the last time he had experienced a good night's sleep. Still he had promised Carly to be there upon pain of death. He had to be there. "We owe it to her," he said softly, completing his train of thought.

Sam nodded slightly and grunted her agreement. A clutter of motion marked Carly's return to the scene with rapidly touched-up makeup. Sam moved to indicate that Carly was back to Freddie, but found that he had somehow sensed her return and was now facing Carly's direction with his back turned towards her.

The words that eventually floated to her over the slumped shoulder that she found her eyes focused upon were, "It's her wedding day, after all."