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Abed sits very still as the credits roll. By this point, Annie's crying pretty hard and has to go on a hunt through her pockets for some unused kleenex, so it takes her a little while to notice.

After she's blown her nose, though, she realizes he's turned off the tv but hasn't stopped staring at the screen.

"... Abed?" she says hesitantly. "Are you okay?" She's been trying to stay more involved in Abed's media routine since Troy left (and okay, honestly it's pretty fun), but she's not sure she's prepared to handle a full-scale TV finale-related meltdown. And if anything would precipitate one, she's pretty sure it would be this.

Abed's quiet for another few moments and doesn't look at her when he does start talking.

"That wasn't the finale," he says.

"It... wasn't?" Annie asks. Maybe they got sort-of-but-not-really renewed like Scrubs.

"That was someone else's finale," he says and finally turns to look at her, voice dropping. "That was a finale from... the darkest timeline."

She can't help but feel a chill go down her spine as he says it. Even though she knows alternate timelines can't be real. Or probably aren't real. Or not the kind of real you can interact with.

"What..." she starts, sniffing, but he stands abruptly.

"I have to fix this," he says and strides toward his bedroom, where the cardboard Dreamatorium lives, pausing in the door. "Whatever you hear, don't come in after me," he says levelly. "We need someone in this universe who knows what's happened."

"Okay, but..." she says, but he gives her a salute and the door slams behind him. Okay.

Annie takes a little while to go through her Facebook feed, somewhat comforted by the fact that everyone is as pissed about the finale as she is.

It's when she's gathering up their empty pie plates ("Because why have Pi Day... when you could have Pi Month?!" Troy had said two years ago, and the tradition stuck.) that she hears voices through Abed's bedroom door.

She pauses, wanting to sidle closer to hear better but knowing she should give Abed his privacy. There's a moment of silence and-- is that another voice?! Annie feels her stomach thrill in disbelief. Could he really--

"I don't care how you did it," Abed is saying. "Just bring the right reel back."

"And why should I do that?" says the second voice, chuckling a little. It sounds familiar. Like -- Annie shakes herself. She's being ridiculous. Abed's just doing both voices is all. She forces herself into the kitchen, shaking her head. It's been an emotionally draining night.

**

Abed's still asleep when she has to leave in the morning but she does find his homemade Sensory Deprivator 5000 by the garbage can. It looks like someone stepped on it.

**

She's walking across the quad when she hears Leonard exclaim from a bench.

"There's going to be a second How I Met Your Mother finale!" he announces to the general vicinity, which is basically just her. "The last one was an April fool's joke!"

Annie feels that chill in her spine again. Did Abed really...?

"What??" she says. "How do you know that?!" He holds up his phone.

"I get breaking news alerts from CBS right here on my phone," he taunts. "Technology, look it up."

Annie huffs.

"Shut up, Leonard," she says, turning away with a flounce. "Only losers use Windows phones."

**

Everyone in the study room is equally mad about the finale. Even Shirley says something under her breath that sounds an awful lot like 'bullshit'.

"You know, I always liked Ted and Robin together--" Britta starts and the table erupts in boos. Chang throws a piece of crumpled up paper at her.

"Hey!" she says batting it away. "But not like that! Not where she spends decades alone and friendless because she prioritized her career. What kind of feminist message is that? And don't even get me started on Barney's baby mama not having a name beyond 'Number 31.'"

"You said it, girl," Shirley mutters, to Annie's surprise.

"And he'd better not make her get rid of her dogs again," Britta says. "Pets are very important. My cats--"

She's interrupted when Abed makes his entrance, sliding smoothly into his seat.

"Abed, did you hear?" Shirley asks. "There's--"

"-- a new finale, yep," he says, sounding unruffled. "I'm not surprised. I knew Carter Bays and Craig Thomas wouldn't do that to the fans. It's undoing nine years of character development and plot. They're better showrunners than that."

He blinks his eyes strangely in Annie's direction, which she realizes after a minute is supposed to be a wink.

Jeff clears his throat.

"Dramatic sitcom relationship arcs aside," he says (-- and did he intentionally just glance her way??), "...don't we have anything else to talk about today?"

"Oh, you're just mad because it made you think about the bleakness of aging," Britta says.

"And because it shook the foundations of his self-identification with Barney," Abed adds.

"I've told you, what you saw was not a Playbook!" Jeff erupts.

The fight that ensues is a pretty darn enjoyable way to spend twenty minutes, not that Annie's going to admit that to anyone.

**

It's like deja vu, settling down next to Abed again to watch the finale of How I Met Your Mother... again.

"What do you think will be different?" she says, but it's too late, the show is starting and Abed shushes her. Annie's has a fresh tissue box and pie with whipped cream this time, just in case.

**

[55 minutes later]

"There are so many times I could have met your mother and I didn't," older Ted is saying. "But it goes to show--"

"Hey!" Tracy interrupts from his study doorway, curls piled on her head. "What's going on? Why didn't I get the party invitation?"

"Dad's being nostalgic again," Penny grumbles, rolling her eyes.

"Hey!" Ted says, mouth open to protest more, but Tracy, who's come over, puts a hand on his shoulder and leans down to kiss him on the head.

"Well, the rescue committee is here. Go wash up, your Aunt Robin and Uncle Barney are going to be here with the takeout any minute."

The kids are out the door before she finishes her sentence.

"I hope they bring the dogs," Luke says in the hallway. Ted sighs as he wraps an arm around Tracy's hips, pulling her in.

"Kids have no sense of history," he complains, tugging her down onto his lap.

"And even with your genes!" she says, slinging her arms around his neck. "Unbelievable." She tilts her head and looks at him. "Why have you been on such a storytelling kick lately anyway?"

Ted's quiet for a moment, looking at her, and you can see it all in his face, what he's remembering: Annie's still holding a wet tissue from the whole second half of the episode, where Tracy got so sick. Tracy in her hospital bed, the kids curled up asleep on either side of her, as she tries her hardest to cry softly, desperate not to leave them. Ted outside the hospital in the dark parking lot, hands empty, looking up at the sky, breathing Please, please, please.

"I guess it's this time of year," he says finally. "I can't stop thinking about how easily things could have gone another way."

"But they didn't," she says softly, fingers tangling in the hair at the nape of his neck.

"It's just crazy to think," he says. "What if you hadn't gotten better? Or what if we hadn't ever met? It took so many coincidences to get here. If just one small thing had been different, boom, we're different people, living different lives."

Instead of answering, Tracy slides her hands up to his face and kisses him, long and sweet.

"Well, let those people worry about those lives," she says. "I'm here. You're here. Boom, mission accomplished."

Ted gives her half a smile, pleased in spite of himself, and she stands up, tugging on his hands.

"Come to dinner, Mr. Mosby," she says. "This is the story now."

 

**

Much later, after they've sat in the darkness of the living room in silence, processing, Annie presses her face tiredly into Abed's upper arm.

"Good job, Abed," she says, and when she looks up he's quirking a tiny smile.