Summary: A surprise invitation to a family event brings Annie and Abed closer together. Abed/Annie one-shot.
Author's Note: Written for the prompt 'driving'.
Disclaimer: Don't own it; don't sue me.
It's Abed who hands Annie the invitation that changes everything.
"This is for you," he says, passing it to her and dropping Troy's mail on the table. He disappears into the blanket fort, leaving her to open the thick ivory envelope.
Her mother's taste is impeccable, as usual. The calligraphy spelling out her name is ornate and beautiful, but the gold embossing blurs through Annie's tears as she reads the card.
Miss Edison. Her mother has addressed her wedding invitation to Miss Edison, like Annie is her colleague or a casual acquaintance instead of her daughter.
She didn't even know she'd been seeing someone.
Abed emerges from the fort, and Annie quickly dabs at her eyes with the heel of her hand, but it comes too late. He stops and considers her with a slight frown on his face.
"What's wrong?" he asks, blunt as always.
"Nothing." She tries to smile, hoping that Abed's difficulty understanding facial expressions will work in her favour this time.
"But your nose is red and your cheeks are wet," he points out. "You've been crying."
With a resigned sigh (When did Abed get so good at reading her?), Annie gestures to the invitation lying on the table in front of her. "My mom... my mom is getting married."
Abed tilts his head and continues to study her. "Weddings are normally happy occasions. Why are you sad?"
She knows that he doesn't mean to press her. She knows that he's just trying to understand. But how can she explain the myriad emotions coursing through her? How can she explain how this fancy piece of paper has burst the happy, family-free bubble she's been living in for the past few years?
She settles for two simple words she thinks he'll understand: "Family back-story."
Abed's eyes widen in sudden recognition, and she can practically see his brain ticking over as it replays every little bit of information he's accrued about her relationship with her family. Finally, he nods, and she feels a sudden rush of affection for him.
"Will you go?" he asks after a pause, curiosity and something like concern faintly colouring his voice.
"I don't know," she replies, toying with the envelope. "I haven't seen or spoken to her since I went to rehab. But... she's my mom, you know? And if she didn't want to see me ever again, she wouldn't have sent an invitation in the first place..."
With a sigh, she slumps back in her chair and stares up at him helplessly. "I don't know what to do."
"Attending might drag up old memories and self-esteem issues that could trigger a spiral into self-destruction, which will ultimately end in either tragedy or redemption," Abed muses unhelpfully.
Annie winces and squeezes her eyes shut against the memories of bitter arguments and Adderall-induced mania that Abed's words conjure up. Her breath quickens and tears prick her eyelids as she imagines herself relapsing.
"On the other hand," he continues, oblivious to her distress. "Attending could also provide some kind of closure or catharsis, resulting in the resolution - or at least acceptance - of your issues with your family, allowing you to move forward unburdened. It all depends on what kind of Lifetime family drama applies here."
"Abed, you're not helping!" she exclaims, her voice rising in both pitch and volume as she struggles to stay calm.
"Oh. Sorry." He blinks, and Annie expects him to walk away and give her space to deal with her mounting panic attack on her own. To her surprise, he hesitantly asks, "What should I do instead?"
She's so taken aback by the question that it takes her a moment to reply. Abed is not great at other people's feelings, and usually if he makes a blunder, he just apologises and moves on. The fact that he's seeking advice on how to make her feel better... well, maybe her lessons in empathy were more effective than she had thought.
"Can I... can you just give me a hug, please?" she asks finally, a little tearfully. She stands up clumsily and reaches for him.
He says "Okay," so Annie slips her arms around his waist. He holds her loosely, but the weight of his hands on her back is comforting. She closes her eyes and gratefully squeezes him a little tighter, focusing on slowing her breathing, her panic subsiding. His t-shirt is soft beneath her cheek, and she can hear the steady beating of his heart. Absently, she wonders what deodorant he uses, because its scent combined with their laundry powder is clean and warm and a little bit spicy. She likes it.
Feeling much calmer, she steps back and he immediately lets go, his face as blank as always.
"Thanks, Abed," Annie smiles, wiping her eyes again.
He grants her a quick upward quirk of his lips. "No problem."
He turns away, and Annie sits back down to ponder the invitation.
She looks up. Abed has paused in front of his recliner, fixing her with a thoughtful gaze.
"You've gone through a lot of character development since you last saw your mom," he tells her. "You're strong. If you go, it won't be a relapse story. It'll be a growth arc. You just have to decide if it's worth it."
He sits down and turns on the TV without waiting for her response, but she stares after him with wide eyes.
A growth arc, she thinks, turning the words over in her mind.
When she looks down at the invitation again, there is a gleam of determination in her eyes.
Jeff can't come with Annie to the wedding because of some big case he needs to work on. He's apologetic and sincere, so she nods and reassures him with a smile that it's okay, but inside, she's dismayed. Jeff, with his respectable job, good looks and easy charm, had been her best shot at a wedding date who wouldn't elicit overt disdain from her mother. He'd been her best shot at a date who might even show her mother that she's doing fine - better than fine - without anyone's help.
She asks Troy next. It's sort of a take-that to all the times during high school when her mother told her that a popular boy like Troy would never look twice at her if she didn't sort herself out. But he has to preside over a ceremony at the Air Conditioning Repair Annexe, so he can't come either.
So that leaves Abed.
She asks him during an ad break on Cougar Town night, trying to sound casual and keep the mild desperation out of her voice.
He regards her silently for a moment and it's impossible to tell what he's thinking. In her head she repeats the words Please say yes over and over again, like a prayer. She won't be able to deal with her mother's wedding alone. She needs a date. She needs a friend. And Abed's her last hope.
"Okay," he finally agrees.
It's going to be alright, she thinks in a flood of relief. Abed will come with her, and they'll watch the ceremony, make an appearance at the reception, and leave. She won't have to face her mother alone. Abed can help her avoid any public family drama, and nothing will go wrong...
"Wait." She holds up a hand and frowns. "I don't want you to say yes if you're planning to use my mom's wedding as some kind of film project or homage or something, okay? Seeing my mom again is a big deal for me, and I really need you to... to just be there for me."
Abed's eyes narrow slightly, and to her surprise he looks almost affronted.
"Of course," he replies, and though his tone is anything but indignant, she still feels sheepish. "I wouldn't do anything like that to you."
"Okay." Chastened, she tries to give him a small smile, which he doesn't return.
Annie feels a tiny knot of guilt form in her stomach. Abed has always been a good friend to her. He's doing her a favour because he cares about her, and she, like a jerk, assumed that he was only doing it for his own amusement.
The show starts again, and Abed turns his attention back to the TV. But Annie can't leave it like this. She wants him to know that she really does appreciate what he's doing for her.
She reaches out to where his hand rests on the recliner armrest, lightly covering it with hers. He glances blankly at her hand and then her face.
"Thank you," she says softly, earnestly. "Really. I'm glad you're coming with me."
His expression relaxes ever-so-slightly, and the knot in her stomach loosens as he flashes a brief smile. She smiles back and squeezes his fingers.
They both turn to face the TV, and she waits a moment longer before withdrawing her hand. His skin is warm beneath hers, and the contact reassures her that she won't have to face her demons alone.
Okay. Breathe. Everything's going to be fine. I just have to get through a few hours, and we don't even have to stay for the whole reception. I'll congratulate her, we'll talk a little bit, and then we'll leave. If I'm lucky, she might not find something to criticise... Oh God, should I have worn a different dress? Is this one too low cut? What if she thinks it's slutty? I knew I should have picked the purple one... but it's too late to go home and change again. Damn it!
"You're coming up to a red light."
What if she asks if Abed is my boyfriend? Should I lie? Would Abed be okay with that...? No, that's stupid, Annie, you don't have to pretend to have a boyfriend, because it doesn't matter what she thinks. Abed is here to support you as a friend, not pretend to be your boyfriend. Although... he probably wouldn't object, right? He likes playing characters. And he looks really good in his suit... No, stop it, Annie! That's inappropriate. I wonder what Mom will think of him. I know he isn't exactly the kind of person she would think is good for me... but he is good for me. Not that it matters, because we're not dating...
"Annie, red light."
How did Mom get my address, anyway? I haven't spoken to her since I went to rehab... Maybe she got it off Bubbe. Does that mean she really wants me to come, or did she just invite me out of obligation? Does that matter? What if she didn't expect me to come, and was just being polite?
Abed's sharp tone startles Annie out of her inner monologue just in time for her to slam on the brakes. They screech to a halt just in front of the stoplight, avoiding a head-on collision with the oncoming traffic.
Exhaling heavily, Annie releases her white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel. Slowly, she clenches and unclenches her hands in an attempt to relax.
She glances over at her companion. "Sorry, Abed."
He gazes at her, and although his face gives nothing away, she begins to feel uncomfortable under his intense scrutiny. The light turns green again, and she gratefully turns her attention back to the road.
"Pull over," he orders suddenly.
She obeys, brow creasing. They haven't been driving for long, but she rushed him through lunch because they were running late... maybe he's feeling sick, or needs something to eat?
She turns to him, and he holds out his hand.
"Give me the keys."
"What?" Annie stares at him.
"Give me the keys," he repeats calmly. "You're emotionally compromised. You shouldn't be driving."
She tries to laugh it off, shaking her head. "Abed, I'm fine. Really. I just got a little distracted back there, that's all."
Abed just blinks and continues to hold out his hand. She tries to stare him down, but she's no match for the master. With a resigned sigh, she removes the key from the ignition and drops it onto his waiting palm.
They get out of the car and exchange places in silence. Now, curled up in the passenger seat and robbed of the possibility of concentrating on driving, Annie's inner monologue and the mess of nerves in the pit of her stomach threaten to overwhelm her.
What if Mom brings up rehab? Does she still really hate me that much for going? Does her new husband know about everything that happened? Mom wouldn't want to talk about it, but he must know about me if I'm invited to the wedding, right? Oh God, he's probably going to hate me too. He probably already hates me! So now I'll have three parents who are disappointed in me. What am I doing? Why am I even going to this wedding? What if Abed's right and it just triggers a relapse?
She doesn't notice that they've pulled over again until Abed says her name.
She looks over at him through tear-blurred eyes. Almost by reflex, she reaches out and grabs his hand as she focuses on trying to suppress her distress.
"We don't have to keep going," he reminds her. "We can just go home."
"But you said this would be a growth arc," she says, blinking rapidly to clear her eyes.
"I also said that you have to decide if it's worth it." He cocks his head, glancing from their joined hands to her face. "Is it?"
She thinks about how easy it would be to turn the car around and head home, and she has to admit that it's tempting. But deep down she knows that if she doesn't face her mom today, she'll just be delaying the inevitable. And she, having already received her RSVP, would think she was a coward or a flake, and it would be even harder to face her later. Better to get it over with at an event where her mom is likely to be happy and distracted.
"I don't want to back out now," she decides at last. "Just... give me a minute."
Abed nods, and Annie closes her eyes, breathing deeply. She grips his hand tighter, holding onto him like he is tethering her, keeping her grounded. He squeezes back, and once again the comforting pressure of his hand reassures her that she isn't walking into this wedding alone. She has Abed. The knot in her stomach loosens considerably.
She opens her eyes again. "Okay. I'm ready."
"Are you sure?"
His concern for her is actually visible in his dark eyes, and it sparks a feeling of warmth that radiates from deep inside her chest.
She smiles at him. "I'm sure, Abed."
He lets go of her and starts the car again. Annie takes another deep, steadying breath. After one more lingering glance at Abed, she realises with surprise that, although she's still nervous, the knot in her stomach is gone.
"You still look sad. Should I do my Zach Braff impression next?"
Annie stops pushing the remains of her pommes dauphine around her plate long enough to attempt a smile. It comes out a lot shakier than she had intended.
"No, that's okay, Abed."
She looks out across the ballroom at all the strangers dancing, drinking and talking. Her mother stands near the front of the room with her new husband, laughing with a couple that Annie doesn't recognise.
The reception is proving as difficult to get through as the ceremony had been. It isn't that Annie doesn't want the best for her mother - it just hurts because she can't actually remember a time when she had seen her so happy.
Mom has built a whole new perfect life for herself, and I'm not part of it at all, she thinks morosely. None of the people at their table had even known that Annie existed.
She turns back to Abed, who is sitting serenely next to her. They're alone at their table. All the other people who had been sitting with them are now milling with other guests on the dance floor.
"I kind of want to go home now," she confesses, finally setting down her fork, ready to admit defeat. "Is that alright?"
As they get up and begin walking to the exit, Annie muses that Abed has been unusually considerate towards her ever since she asked him to accompany her to this wedding. He had given her her favourite Hershey's chocolate squares to cheer her up the day she mailed the RSVP card. He had patiently tried on outfit after outfit until she finally approved his Abed-being-normal suit. He hadn't commented when she had taken his hand at the start of the ceremony earlier in the day and not let go until it was over. And all evening he had been playing the gentleman: pulling her chair out for her when they sat down, trying to amuse and distract her with celebrity impressions, leaving with her now even before dessert.
Just as they reach the door, Annie catches a glimpse of her mother from the corner of her eye, and she stops short.
"Wait." She presses her lips together and exhales slowly. "I have to congratulate her."
She's been putting it off all day, but she can't leave now without doing it. She can't leave without actually speaking to her.
Abed nods and follows her as they wind their way through the merrymakers. As they approach the newlyweds, Annie reaches out and grabs Abed's hand. Somehow, holding his hand makes her feel stronger, more capable. And she needs all the courage she can get at this stage.
Steeling herself, she moves forward.
Her mother is clearly surprised to see her, but recovers quickly and gives her a stiff smile. "Annie. You came after all."
"Of course. I RSVP'd."
There is an awkward beat of silence, and then her mother turns to her new husband.
"Harry, this is Annie. My... daughter."
If Harry knows about their history, he thankfully hides it behind a genial smile.
"Nice to meet you, Annie," he says, shaking her hand. He turns an inquisitive gaze at Abed, and Annie sees her mother glance briefly at her and Abed's joined hands and raise one perfectly groomed eyebrow. Annie's cheeks heat up, but she makes no attempt to drop Abed's hand. If anything, she grips it a little tighter.
"This is my..." She trails off mid-introduction, suddenly unsure of how to continue. She can't think of the right description for the man whose hand she has been holding practically all day. 'Platonic friend and roommate' doesn't seem to cover it any more.
Thankfully, Abed puts her out of her misery.
"I'm Abed," he introduces himself, dropping Annie's hand to shake Harry's. Then, to Annie's surprise, he enwines his fingers with hers again.
She quickly looks up at him, and he subtly tilts his head towards her mother, silently prompting her to do what she came to do. With a slight nod of determination, Annie turns back to the newlyweds.
"We... I just wanted to congratulate you," she says, looking directly at her mother. "The wedding was beautiful, and... and I'm glad you're happy."
A flicker of emotion passes over her mother's face, but it's gone before Annie can identify it.
"Thank you, Annie." Her tone is polite, but its coolness causes Annie to falter and lose some of her confidence.
It's clear that her mother has very little to say to her.
There is another beat of silence, and once again Abed comes to her rescue.
"Well, this has been enjoyable, but unfortunately we can't stay," he tells the couple evenly, and Annie marvels at how easily he can manipulate social situations when he wants to, despite his self-confessed difficulties with social cues.
"Oh, that's a shame," Harry remarks pleasantly. "But we're glad you could come."
"Yes, thank you for coming," Annie's mother echoes.
"Thank you for inviting us," Annie replies with equal civility, her own politeness masking the mess of emotions under the surface. She doesn't wait for further pleasantries. With one final regretful glance at her mother, she walks away with Abed.
The tears don't begin to fall until they get into Annie's car in the parking lot. She tries to hide it, but Abed notices immediately and turns his body towards her.
"You're upset again. What should I do? Do you need a hug?"
His evident anxiety to make her feel better makes Annie smile a little, even as she shakes her head.
"I just thought things would be different," she murmurs, gazing out the passenger side window. "I was hoping that we'd be able to talk a bit. I thought I could show her that I'd made the right decisions for me, and that things have worked out for the best. But it wasn't anything like how I imagined it. She was so... formal."
She turns back to Abed, lip quivering. "To her, I must still be the huge disappointment I was when I was a teenager. Little Annie Adderall, who couldn't just sweep all her problems under the rug like she was supposed to."
Her eyes well up again, and she leans back against her seat as she dabs at her tears with the back of her hand. All those weeks of emotional build-up, all the stress and panic attacks that Abed had to help her through - it had all come to nothing. There had been no closure or catharsis, and now she's back at square one, except with the added knowledge that her mom has moved on with her life and doesn't want her to be a part of it.
Abed shakes his head. "You're not your mom's disappointing daughter, or Annie Adderall. Don't base your opinion of yourself on what your mom thinks about you. You're the protagonist of your life, and you get to decide who you are."
Her brow creases in confusion. "What?"
He tilts his head and studies her, and she finds her cheeks heating up again under his gaze. It feels like he can see right into her.
"You're Annie," he tells her matter-of-factly. "You're smart and strong and driven, and you can be whoever you want to be. You get to define your own character, not your mom. Not anyone."
She sniffles, the tears finally ceasing as she takes in his words.
"You took a major step in confronting the demons of your past and re-establishing contact with your estranged family," he continues. "It might not have been wrapped up in a single forty-minute episode, but it's a good start. And it took courage to decide to do it."
"You really think so?"
Annie feels a burst of some unidentifiable but undeniably warm emotion in her chest, and she reaches for his hand for the millionth time today.
"I'm really glad you came with me," she tells him earnestly. "I don't think I could have gotten through these past few weeks without you. You've been so sweet, and so helpful, and it's been amazing. I really don't know how to thank you."
She holds his gaze and tries to convey all the affection she feels for him in her smile. He stares back at her, and she sees something change in his expression.
Before she can figure out what's happening, he slides his free hand into the hair at the nape of her neck, leans forward, and kisses her.
She is so shocked that her whole body goes still and she can't quite respond to his kiss. He pulls away after a second, and she stares at him, wide-eyed and open-mouthed.
"What was that?" she manages to squeak.
"I thought that was a social cue," he replies, a crease appearing between his eyebrows. "Did I misread something?"
Annie continues to stare at him, trying to piece together her scattered thoughts. She knows that her emotions have been all over the place lately, making them harder to trust. But these past few weeks, and especially today, have already shown her that there might be something more to her relationship with Abed than she originally thought. Why did he kiss her, though? Had it just been a misguided attempt to make her feel better? The truth is, after their paint-drenched kiss in 2011, she had often imagined kissing Abed-in-character. But she had never thought that Abed might want to kiss her as himself.
She licks her lips. "Abed, did you... did you do that because it was what you thought you should do, or because it was what you wanted to do?"
"I wanted to do it. And I thought you wanted me to."
He leans back and releases her hand, and she is shocked by how keenly she feels the loss of that sweet, comforting contact.
"You - you caught me by surprise," she tries to explain, twisting her fingers together.
He blinks at her, obviously waiting for an instruction or a cue.
She falters and bites her lip, unsure of how to proceed.
"We can forget about it," he suggests suddenly. "I've made you uncomfortable. I didn't mean to do that." He turns to face the windshield, reaching for the key in the ignition. "Let's go home."
"No, wait." She shoots out a hand to stop him and he pauses, turning his head to watch her expectantly.
If she's been brave enough to face her mother for the first time in years, then she should be brave enough to say what she wants. "I, um..." A blush stains her cheeks as she blurts out: "Can you try it again?"
Abed regards her for a moment and she stares back, hardly daring to breathe.
And then he brings his hand up and brushes his fingers lightly down her jaw to her chin, drawing her towards him. Her eyes close as soon as his fingers graze her skin, her heart thumping with anticipation.
His lips meet hers, soft and gentle and sweet. She responds equally tentatively at first, one hand flattening against his chest. As the kiss deepens, he lets go of her chin and cups her cheek, drawing her closer as his lips slide over hers more confidently.
It leaves her breathless, and her eyes linger closed for a second longer when they part. She can feel his heart beating fast under her hand, and when she looks at his face, it's clear that she isn't the only one affected by the kiss.
"Did you know that this was going to happen?" she wonders aloud, their heads still inclined towards each other.
"I considered it as one possible outcome when you asked me to come with you, since weddings are typically romantic settings. But I couldn't predict how this day would play out. I tried to wing it and pick up on your cues."
She knows that it's difficult for him to improvise, to just let events play out without interference, so his admission touches her heart. It's clear that this is something new for both of them, and that makes Annie smile and press another tender kiss to his lips. Who would have thought that the day would end like this?
"Thank you, Abed," she says softly. "I'm glad you're with me."
He holds her gaze for another beat, gracing her with a real, genuine smile. Then he starts the car, and they pull out of the parking lot.
As they drive home, Annie alternates between gazing out the window at the passing streetlights and stealing glances at Abed. He had been right, she realises. Going to her mother's wedding had been a growth arc - not just for her, but for both of them. And she had paid a pretty hefty emotional toll for it.
Was it worth it? she asks herself, considering her still-unresolved relationship with her mother and the stress of the past few weeks.
She looks over at Abed just as he glances back at her and raises an eyebrow, a smile just tugging at the corners of his mouth.
Definitely worth it.