The Absence of Normality

Summary: Troy is gone, they're drunk and sad, and nothing about this is normal. Abed/Annie one-shot.
Author's Note: Troy has moved out, so this story can be seen as AU season 3 or set sometime after season 3. I struggled a lot with this one, so feedback will be greatly appreciated!
Disclaimer: Don't own it; don't sue me.

They're already drunk when they stumble through the door, but Abed's not drunk enough to avoid noticing that it's just two of them entering the apartment, not three. Annie doesn't let go of his arm when the door shuts behind them - if anything, she squeezes him tighter.

A night at the Ballroom drinking screwdrivers and beer is not enough to erase the fact that nothing about this is normal. Tonight, he knows that neither of them wants to think about how quiet and strange the apartment feels without Troy. He knows that neither of them wants to think about how they had been part of a trio and now they're just two-thirds of one.

So he goes straight to the fridge and pulls out the six-pack that Troy left behind. Annie joins him in the kitchen and leans against his shoulder while he fumbles with the bottle-opener. She takes the proffered beer and they clink their bottles together silently.

They stop thinking.

Two hours, five bottles and a giant bag of gummy bears later, they're dancing like fools around the living room and singing at the top of their lungs while The Blues Brothers plays on the TV in the background (Everybody needs somebody to love!).

Abed shimmies his entire body in such a ridiculous way with such a serious face that Annie bursts into hysterical laughter, grabbing his hand to steady herself.

He immediately lifts his arm and spins her once, twice, three times (I need you, you, you), stumbling backwards at each step until the backs of his legs hit the recliner and they both lose their balance. He collapses across the seat and Annie trips over his legs, ending up sprawled over his lap in a very undignified heap. She cracks up again and the sound of her laughter makes Abed chuckle through his nose. She wraps her arms around his neck so she can pull herself up, her body shaking with the force of her giggles.

But now she's just sitting on his lap, their faces scant inches away from each other, and their mirth abruptly dies away as they realise their proximity. He is hyper-aware of the heat of her body, the placement of his hands on her back, and the fact that her skirt has ridden high up on her thighs. Somewhere inside of him, Rational Abed prods him and warns too close, too close, this is definitely too close, but Drunk Abed can't gather the mental faculties to push Annie away.

The sounds of the movie are becoming white noise in his ears (When my soul's on fire). Her gaze flickers down to his mouth and she licks her lips, and oh yeah, he knows where this is going. Rational Abed points out that this is definitely too far into 'improvisation' territory, that he'd be messing even more with the already-altered group dynamic, that this isn't going to fix anything or make anyone feel better, and come on, who does he think they are, anyway, Chandler and Monica? Abed and Annie have never had that kind of story arc.

But her body is warm and soft against him, and they're both drunk and the study group dynamic is broken now anyway (Sometimes I feel / I feel a little sad inside), and Annie is attractive and he knows she's attracted to him, and didn't she once say herself that they both had to get more comfortable winging it?

And most importantly, she's here. She still hasn't left him. Not yet.

So when she leans in, eyelids fluttering closed, he leans in too, and their lips meet in something soft and curious and strangely familiar that quickly becomes needy and urgent and heated. And as he unbuttons her cardigan and she slips her hands under his t-shirt, he murmurs into her mouth, I need you, you, you.

They wake up in Annie's bed, naked and hung-over, but Abed quickly finds that the awkwardness is more painful to endure than his headache.

Annie squeaks and disentangles herself from him, retreating to the other end of the bed with the sheets pulled up tightly around her body. He sits up slowly, clutching his head and racking his brains for some kind of movie reference to help him deal with this situation.

Nothing comes to his alarmingly fuzzy mind despite his best efforts, and eventually he becomes aware that Annie has been speaking for the past two minutes. With great effort, he concentrates on her words.

"We were drunk," she repeats over and over again, rubbing her temples with her eyes squeezed shut. "We were really, really drunk. So... so it didn't mean anything."

Abed doesn't think he's supposed to feel a throb of disappointment at those words. He doesn't know how to respond.

Jeff would know how to handle this, he reflects, looking down at the bed. But his head hurts too much to figure out what Jeff would say, and he doesn't think that Annie would appreciate his Jeff impression anyway.

Troy would probably know what to do, too, given his own track record with girls, but Troy isn't here. And if he was here, they wouldn't be in this situation in the first place.

Abed quickly looks back up at Annie in the hopes of derailing that particular train of thought. She opens her eyes and says again, "It didn't mean anything," and it's her tone that brings him out of his darker thoughts: it sounds like she's trying to convince herself.

"Abed?" It's the first time she's addressed him directly since they woke up, and she stares at him expectantly with an expression he doesn't know how to read. "It didn't mean anything, right?"

He suspects that the wrong answer will have terrible and unalterable consequences, but he can't figure out what he's supposed to say. He thinks that maybe he should agree with her, because it's the answer that will most likely lead to them going back to the way things are supposed to be between them. No, it didn't mean anything. Yes, we can just forget about it. Yes, we're still just friends.

But as he considers this, flashes of last night come back to him: the way she shuddered when he ran his fingers down her back, the warmth and smoothness of her skin, the sound of her gasps swallowed by his mouth. And the moment that stands out the most in his foggy mind is afterwards, when they were drifting off to sleep, still entwined, and Abed had felt... safe. Like he had found something that wasn't going to disappear. Like things were going to be okay.

So it had meant something. He isn't sure what (and he's pretty sure he was wrong about things being okay), but it had definitely meant something to him.

It would be easy to ignore it and tell her what he thinks she wants to hear. But he makes the mistake of meeting her wide, uncertain eyes, and suddenly he can't quite bring himself to lie.

Instead, he takes the coward's way out. "Did it mean something to you?"

Annie looks away and is quiet for a long time. "I don't know," she says finally, her voice very small. "Maybe."

Is that good?he wonders, deliberately ignoring the sudden flutter in his chest. Judging from her body language, probably not. Her arms are wrapped protectively around her body, and she's ducked her head so he can't decipher her expression. It looks like she's trying to make herself disappear.

So, no. It's not good.

They're at an impasse now, both of them sitting very still and separate and not looking at each other. He and Annie have often sat in silence together before, but those times had always been friendly and warm. Never like this, with the oppressive weight of awkwardness pushing down on them, and the sickening knowledge that there won't be an easy sitcom resolution to this situation churning in his stomach along with all the gummy bears he ate last night.

"We can just forget it," he offers flatly at last. "Nobody needs to know, and everything can go back to..."

He trails off, because how can they go back to normal? Ignoring the events of last night won't change the fact that they happened. What does 'normal' mean now that they've slept together and changed the entire dynamic of their relationship? What does 'normal' mean now that it's just the two of them in the apartment, left to deal with everything and get by however they can? And what does 'normal' mean now that Troy is gone?

This is way too far off-script. Everything is changing, and it's all so wrong. He can't figure out how to fix it, and if he can't fix it, then she'll leave, too. And with no Troy and no Annie to temper him and make him more relatable, the rest of the study group will tire of him and they'll walk away as well, one by one.

"...Abed? Abed!"

He gradually becomes aware that Annie is shaking his arm. He blinks and her face swims into focus, close to his: she's moved to sit next to him and is peering at him anxiously. Relief floods her expression when he turns his head slightly to meet her gaze.

"Oh, thank God," she sighs, still holding onto his arm. "I thought I'd broken you again."

It's a strange thing, he thinks absently, that her actions can affect him so much, so often, and that she can read him so easily. When did he stop being the observer and start becoming the observed?

Her expression becomes concerned again and she leans forward slightly. "Abed? Are you okay?"

"No." He looks away, because she makes him feel too much, and he can't quite meet her eyes while he says his piece. "We got drunk and had sex, but it wasn't just a meaningless one-night-stand for either of us. I won't know how to deal with it, and you won't know how to deal with me. Without Troy around to be a distraction, there'll be too much awkwardness. It'll ruin our easy-going roommate relationship, and eventually you'll leave, too."

He continues staring at his blanket-covered knees and waits for her to start her "aww"ing, her protests and denials, her reassurances that she'll stay even though he knows she won't. Her words won't matter. He knows how this story is going to end.

"Abed, look at me," Annie says quietly. Her hand on his arm has started moving in slow, soothing circles over his shoulder. When he looks up at her, he's surprised because there's no pity or frustration or hurt in her eyes: just warmth.

"I like you," she tells him matter-of-factly. It's the rising colour in her cheeks that alerts him to the fact that she's just admitted more than friendship. "Last night might have been a mistake because we were drunk and sad, but it definitely didn't feel like a mistake. At least, not to me."

"Really?" he asks, tilting his head, his heart thudding a faster beat. This definitely isn't what he expected. She withdraws her hand from his skin and he immediately misses the warm comfort of her touch.

"Yes," she answers hesitantly, almost apprehensively.

"Me neither," he tells her, because honesty deserves honesty, and he wants more than anything to make that anxiety disappear from her face. His words change her whole demeanour: she sits up straighter, the faintest ghost of a smile hovers at her lips, and her voice takes on more confidence, more strength.

"I mean, yes, Troy's gone and things are going to be different and it's going to be really hard," she acknowledges frankly. "But you and me... We're going to figure this out. Together."

Her fingers lace through his and he looks down at their joined hands. It surprises him that he is no longer surprised by how well they fit together. She squeezes him and when he meets her eyes again, she leans forward and kisses him on the cheek. It's gentle and chaste, but it lingers and feels like... something more. Something new.

"I'm not leaving you," Annie tells him as she draws back, gazing at him steadily, resolutely. Tenderly.

Still unsure, Abed can only respond by blinking. Others have said that to him before and all of them ended up leaving.

She gives him a small, wry smile like she knows what he's thinking. And then she leans forward and kisses him again, this time square on the mouth.

It's the first time they've kissed as just their ordinary selves, not drunk or playing some kind of role, and it's soft and sweet and feels so good that it prompts his epiphany.

Growing and changing has never really been his thing, but maybe it's been happening to him anyway. He would never have seen this coming, would never have scripted this storyline himself – after all, Troy's still gone and the study group is still worse off and their trio is now just a duo. But if this is where his arc has been heading, with Annie's lips on his and this unexpected romance blossoming between them ... well, who is he to argue against character development?

It doesn't seem to matter so much that nothing is normal. They can figure it out. Together.

When they part for air, she squeezes his fingers again, and he feels the corners of his mouth lift slightly.

"Okay?" she asks, tentatively returning his smile.

He reaches up and cups her face, relishing the way she melts under his touch. "Okay," he says, leaning in to kiss her again.

And for the first time since Troy left, it really is.