"And as much as it pains me to say this, I'm afraid our investigation has hit a dead end. There's simply no more evidence to be had." Shirley sat up straight and calm. She couldn't even look at Annie, who was squirming beside her like a little kid who needed the bathroom. She knew it was killing Annie to lie to the Dean, especially lying to say they'd failed in something he'd trusted them to do. But they had both agreed: Britta had suffered enough. They couldn't turn her in.
Dean Pelton studied them both thoughtfully. "And you're sure about this?"
"Yes," Annie said too quickly and too loudly. "But the evidence we did find suggests that it was very likely that the whole thing was an accident." She sounded so distressed that Shirley had to reach out and squeeze her hand. Annie squeezed back gratefully.
"An accident?" the Dean repeated. "Well, to tell you the truth nobody's come up with a more likely solution. Since I took you two off the case – well, since you took them off the case," he corrected, looking behind his chair to where Abed was standing, "the whole investigation's pretty much stalled."
"As far as we can tell, that's because there just isn't anywhere else for it to go," Shirley said, silently willing the man to just drop it already.
He made a disappointed sound. "I suppose if two volunteer campus security officers with your level of perseverance and dedication can't solve this mystery, then it's unlikely ever to be solved." From anyone else it would have been sarcasm. It should have been sarcasm. But from Dean Pelton it was nothing but genuine. "And even if you didn't get a result, I think your diligence has more than proven that you two are a credit to the force. Maybe it's not my place to make the call, but I'd say that someone deserves to be reinstated." He gave Abed a hopeful, encouraging look. "What do you say?"
Abed looked utterly baffled. So did the Dean, as he gradually realized how far he'd fallen into Abed's 'buddy cop' fantasy. "Oh God, he's getting to me."
Annie nodded sympathetically. "He does that."
"Aaaaaaaanyway." The Dean collected himself. "You were only authorized as campus security for two days, so there's nothing to reinstate you to. But what I am going to do is put a note in both your files saying that you made an impressive effort and recommending that you be among the first people I call if the need for volunteer security ever arises again."
"Oh, that's nice!" Shirley beamed.
"It's something, anyway. Although I'm sure it's not the neat, satisfying movie conclusion you were hoping for," he said to Abed, and this time there was a hint of irony in his voice.
Abed shook his head. "It's a good conclusion, just a nontraditional story. The real story was about Annie and Shirley learning to work together and discovering a little more about themselves. The case was just a backdrop, and in the end it doesn't matter if it never gets solved." He winked at the girls as the Dean turned his back.
"Says the man who doesn't have to do the paperwork," the Dean said. "Oh, well. Life doesn't always wrap itself up in a neat little bow, I suppose. And that's why we have corpse insurance." He gave a little sigh as he looked at the forms on his desk. "I think we're done here, ladies. Thank you for your help."
"You done me proud, girls," Abed said in his police chief voice. "Roll credits."
Shirley hugged Annie as they parted ways in the hallway. "It's okay, baby. You did a good thing in there."
Annie nodded. "I know. I think I just have to go sit on the quad and be conflicted for a while until I stop feeling guilty about it. I'll be okay."
"I know you will," Shirley assured her. "Call me if you need me."
A few seconds later Shirley heard footsteps behind her. Abed caught up with her easily on his long legs, shortening his stride to accommodate her pace as he came up even with her. "Pretty crazy couple of days," he said. "Thank you for letting me be a part of it."
"I wouldn't have dreamed of excluding you, sweetie," Shirley said. More accurately, it had never occurred to her that it might be an option to send him away. Abed was there, always, and she couldn't imagine it being otherwise. His odd insights and moments of unexpected kindness were an integral part of her Greendale family. Sure, she and Annie would probably never have gotten as worked up as they had if he hadn't been egging them on, but they also probably wouldn't have accomplished as much as they did. She cast aside the thought that they still hadn't accomplished very much; she felt like they'd done something satisfying. And maybe Abed had been right, and the conflict between the two of them had been the important part. "Besides, I think you made it a little more fun."
Abed tilted his head, brow furrowing slightly. "People don't say that to me often."
"Well, you are a lot to take in sometimes," Shirley admitted. "But other times, the world you see is a lot more interesting than the one the rest of us are looking at." She nudged his shoulder. "I liked being in on that for once."
He nudged right back. "I didn't really do much. It was all your story, you and Annie. I just provided the narrative framework." He paused. "Although I was expecting you to come away from it with a different lesson."
Shirley raised an eyebrow. "There was a lesson?"
"Of course there was. It didn't become obvious until the plot started to unfold, but the storyline naturally lent itself to being a learning experience." He held the door for her as they exited the building. "You learned that you're way too focused on trying to feel younger, and maybe you got a little closer to accepting your age."
Shirley stopped at the side of the walkway and folded her arms, giving him a warning glare. "I know that you don't always know when you're saying the wrong thing, honey, but you had better be going somewhere with this."
"I am." Abed stepped off the path with her, leading both of them around the corner of the building where they'd be out of the flow of traffic. "You're afraid that accepting your age means accepting that you're old, but you're not. You're not even middle-aged."
It was always surprising when Abed knew exactly the right thing to say. "Oh, Abed, that's sweet of you. Thank you."
"I probably should have said it earlier," he continued, "but I was sort of locked into my role as an observer, and then it turned into a big emotional group thing and I'm not very good at those. And no offense, but I thought it was a pretty obvious thing that didn't need saying."
It was slightly less surprising when he put his foot in his mouth. "Well maybe it would be more obvious if you all weren't constantly treating me like I'm so much older than you," Shirley grumbled.
"You are older than most of us." Abed's voice was infuriatingly reasonable. "But 'older' doesn't mean 'old.' I mean, you're not Pierce." The barest quirk at the corner of his lip told her he was being playful. "We know you've lived longer and done more than we have, and to be honest sometimes that's a little intimidating. It doesn't mean we think you don't have anything further to offer."
Shirley wasn't entirely sure if she believed him. "It doesn't seem that way sometimes," she said, aware that she sounded petulant. "Seems like every time I turn around someone is expecting me to be this group's mother."
"Because that's the role you put yourself in," Abed countered. "You want to take care of us, and even if you overdo it sometimes it's something that all of us need once in a while. Not all the time, though, and it doesn't always have to be you taking on the caretaker position. I think that sometimes you forget that."
Shirley started to protest, but hesitated. It was, on reflection, not a completely unlikely possibility. Before Greendale, most of her life had revolved around taking care of her children and her home. "It's what I know," she said simply. "That's always been my job."
"I know. I've met your kids, remember? I know you're taking great care of them and raising them right, but that's not your job here. It's only part of what you do." His head dipped down for a fraction of a second, and then he looked back up at her. "And I definitely don't see you as our mom."
"Even when I'm overdoing it?" Shirley's voice was just a little cold. That remark hadn't passed her by, and she wasn't ready to let it go.
"I'm not saying that you're not maternal," Abed said. "But you're not just a mother-figure archetype, either. You're one of the kids, too. You spent yesterday in a high-speed chase in a golf cart. You successfully piloted a ship into a perfect storm in a parking lot. You started your Christmas break by jumping into a brawl with a pack of disturbingly well-choreographed bullies. Those aren't 'mom' things to do." He carefully brushed a hand against her cheek. "And after seeing you in action I think I'd rather take my chances against some of Mike's gang than against you."
Shirley beamed, not sure if she was more pleasantly surprised by the praise or the touch. Abed welcomed friendly physical contact when the situation arose, but he didn't usually initiate it, at least not with her. It was even rarer for him to be quite so affectionate about it, and she suddenly found herself wishing he'd do so more often. As nice as the moment was, though, there was something she felt she had to be absolutely clear about. "Just for the record, that fight was not appropriate. Jesus doesn't approve of violence, even when it is totally justified and incredibly satisfying."
Abed nodded. "Okay, so maybe that was taking it a little too far. But my point still stands. You're just as crazy and adventurous as the rest of us sometimes. And you like that, don't you?"
It was a question she hadn't really stopped to consider. "Yes," she said finally. "I think it's been a long time since I've liked my life as much as I do now that part of it is here with all of you."
"So go with it." There was a smile forming across Abed's lips, faint but real. "Let yourself go once in a while. You're only as old as you feel, and you haven't figured out yet just how young you can be." That hand reached out for her again, tracing her jaw and tilting her chin up. "For one thing, you're young enough that I've been thinking about doing this for a while."
He kissed her.
There was nothing in the world that could have shocked her more, or so she thought until she realized that she was kissing him back, lifting her heels off the ground and leaning into him. His hands were on her shoulders now, holding her lightly and keeping her close, and all she wanted to do was stay there. She had always known that Abed had plenty of good qualities, but she had never considered that 'excellent kisser' might be among them. She'd never considered him like this at all, really, even if now she was wondering how she'd passed that thought by entirely. He was so warm, so kind, so sweet in his own very odd way. And they weren't really that far apart in age, if she thought about it. This was strange, definitely, but she couldn't imagine any reason that it was wrong. And if nothing else, it was hard to feel old when she was kissing a boy behind the school in the middle of the day.
Abed was careful to make sure that she was steady on her feet before he stepped away. "I may have gotten a little carried away there."
"It's fine," Shirley said quickly. She cleared her throat. "Was that…one of your little movie moments?"
"No. That was all me." He looked a little sheepish. "I'm really bad at making the first move, but…I like you. And if you like me, well, maybe we could go somewhere with that."
That might have been even more unexpected than everything else that had just happened. Shirley had wondered sometimes if anyone from the group might be interested in her, but truthfully she'd never expected a yes. Especially not from Abed, whom she'd never really thought of as having romantic interest in anyone. None of them had, she didn't think, or at least they hadn't before the incident with Jenny. "I am truly flattered," she told him. "And very surprised." He nodded like he'd been expecting that. She paused as a thought occurred to her. "And I think it surprised you a little bit too, didn't it?"
Another sheepish look as he ducked his head. "I wasn't lying when I said it's been on my mind for a while, but when I first started thinking about it, it kind of came out of nowhere. No offense."
Shirley waved away the semi-apology. "I'm not offended." She sighed tenderly and took Abed's hands in hers. "Abed, you are one of the most endearing and unexpected people I have ever met, and I love being your friend. And if you think we could make something more out of that, I think it's worth a try."
She hadn't known she was going to say it until it came out, and judging by the suddenness of Abed's smile he hadn't been sure what to expect either. "You do?"
"I do." She broke into a broad grin. "I can't say it doesn't sound crazy, but maybe I'm young enough to take the chance."
"You're young enough for anything." Abed leaned in to kiss her again, his voice dropping to a whisper just before their lips met. "And you were definitely the badass."
Author's note: Inspired entirely by Yvette Nicole Brown wondering on one of the DVD commentaries if anyone 'ships Abed/Shirley. Just the fact that she asked was so stinkin' adorable that how could I not write it?