One thing I find fascinating about Annie's character so far is how she is always so controlled. It's like she is afraid of voicing her opinions because she thinks people will undermine them, tell her that she is exaggerating or judge her for them.

It took me three seasons to understand her character and now that I think I do, at least a little bit better, I find that I utterly empathize with her. I think that young people grow up not being able to voice their feelings and opinions as freely as they should. As a young woman, I too relate with the feeling that society will judge you regardless of what you are or what you do, so I really, really understand Annie.

One of the ideas that I've been recently working on is the fact that being angry does not mean that we are bad people. Sometimes, we deserve to feel anger. I was rewatching season 1 and 2 of Sweet Magnolias and I found myself wanting to tell Annie just that. This fic is a result of that.

Thank you so much for reading!

"Homecoming."

"Lord knows I don't want to take from anything that you're going through right now but I just - she's all I have. That is it. And she's been through so much, and she's always been there for those boys. So, why is it always the loyal one, the faithful friend, who's supposed to absorb every twist and kick that life delivers and still come up smiling? When she deserves some attention!? And she deserves some concern because being the strong one is exhausting!" - Dana Sue, 'Sweet Magnolias' - Episode 1, Season 2.

Annie stared blankly at her latest Instagram notification, the movie she had put on twenty minutes before entirely obliterated from her memory as it continued to play in the background.

That night had felt momentous, worthy of a change and so, the 1995' version of Pride and Prejudice was streaming on her TV instead of the usual rerun of Golden Girls. The room was dark, only the glow from the TV and her phone allowing her to make out any sort of shapes or forms. Before her on the coffee table, a bowl filled with popcorn was gradually turning lukewarm.

'Tytownsend has liked your photo.'

It wasn't even her newest one. In fact, she had kind of forgotten he knew about it in the first place.

It was way back when herself and the boys were in middle school that her love for photography began to grow into something more permanent and dearer. She didn't remember actually voicing it, only that she had started sneaking around with her dad's old camera, taking pictures of her parents when they weren't looking, of the beautiful sunsets she could see from her window or of her Aunties Maddie and Helen.

And of Ty, Kyle and Katie. Mostly of them.

In any case, she supposed her parents had been paying more attention to her than what she had initially thought because when she finished her last year of middle school, they presented her with her very first camera.

On her last day as a middle schooler, Ty had stolen her camera and taken her photo. They were joking around but the photo had actually turned out pretty good. In that picture, Annie was smiling at the camera, her raven locks falling in soft waves around her face. She was wearing her favorite dress - red, with white flowers embroidered across its hem -, and her slender hands were clutching her diploma with nervous excitement.

Whenever Annie glanced at that picture, she got that same warm, fuzzy feeling she had whenever Ty did anything sweet or chivalrous for her.

If you asked anyone else, they would tell you she posted that picture when she began highschool as a charm of good luck.

The truth was that she never wanted to forget how that moment - how he - made her feel.

It was the only picture Ty took of her.

Annie took a deep breath as she threw the phone back onto the couch. She tried to focus on Colin Firth's passionate delivery but she couldn't, not with her mind running a thousand miles per minute.

With a frustrated sigh, Annie paused the movie and stood abruptly from the couch, marching towards the kitchen in a hectic search for hot chocolate.

She didn't need to feel this. She was avoiding feeling like this for a reason. After everything that had happened, after the way Ty had hurt her, she had come to realize she needed to widen her world a little bit more, hang out with other people, become more than the person everyone could count on. She wanted to meet - to like - someone who would make her feel as if she wasn't a second option or someone who could be taken for granted. If she was to fall for someone again, she wanted it to be for someone who would actually catch her!

That's why she needed to stop thinking about Tyler Townsend.

Annie carefully placed her full mug on the kitchen counter, going back towards the couch to grab her phone before settling on a stool.

Taking a deep breath, Annie rolled her shoulders in a poor attempt of calming herself. Tyler didn't deserve her energy. If she was to create a life apart from the Townsend brothers, then she needed to stop overthinking. He had liked that particular picture, so what? What did it change? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

She smiled as she took a sip of her hot chocolate, distractedly unlocking her phone. She was going to be fine. Everything was going to be fine.

And then, the bell rang.

Annie looked at the door with distaste before glancing down at her clothes. She was wearing an oversize t-shirt over a pair of pajama shorts. Fluffy, purple socks completed the look. It was her outfit whenever she didn't plan on leaving home for the rest of the day. It was her comfort outfit.

And her comfort outfit was not meant to deal with unexpected visitors.

With a frustrated sigh, Annie plastered a kind smile onto her face and wandered over to the door, grabbing a sweater she was pretty sure belonged to her dad on the way. "Coming!"

She opened the door in an automatic manner, not even looking up at whoever dared to knock on her door so late at night until the door was wide open. When she actually looked up, her eyes widened just as much, her smile dampening onto something smaller, yet more genuine.

No matter what happened between them, Annie Sullivan would never be able to refrain from smiling whenever she laid eyes on Tyler Townsend.

And that dawning thought felt equally tortuous and blissful, all at the same time.

"Annie," Ty breathed, almost sounding relieved. He rested a hand on the door frame, right beside Annie's head. "You okay?"

His other arm was protectively cradled against his chest, the blue cast keeping it secure. Annie glanced at it momentarily. She hated that cast, just as she hated the cast around Kyle's leg. They reminded her that her friends…her home was slightly broken and that she hadn't been able to prevent it.

Annie frowned, her arms crossing before her chest almost instinctively. She was so tired of feeling pain. "Of course I am. Why?"

"Ah." Ty blinked. "Aunt Dana Sue said you didn't show up for Margarita Night because you were feeling ill."

Annie would have slapped herself hadn't it been obvious. "Yes! I mean- I'm so sorry, Ty. Yes, I have a slight flu and I didn't want you all to catch it. I'm okay though, just drinking a lot of soup and tea to recover."

Annie chuckled slightly, her laughter growing weaker and more awkward when Ty merely looked at her with this look…this intense gaze that made her more nervous the more she studied it.

As silence finally fell between them, Annie felt herself taking a deep breath, almost hurting from the way her heart was hammering in her chest.

This is why she hadn't gone to Auntie Maddie's, she reminded herself. This is why she needed to find herself away from him.

This is why he had to go.

Annie interlocked her hands before her, quickly hiding them behind her back as she noticed how clammy they had become. When Ty followed her actions with his gaze, she smiled brightly, hoping that action would distract him. "Anyways, thank you for checking on me, Ty, but I'm okay. I would invite you in but I'm sick, as I said before, and you need to rest."

Ty gulped as he straightened, his gaze flitting between her and the floor before he bent, picking up the carton tray with two to-go plastic cups Annie was only now noticing. "I actually…I remembered you going on and on about this tea shop in Castlewood and I actually already knew drinking tea is good for the flu so I went to get you some…just in case you didn't have any."

Annie pursed her lips as she glanced at the familiar plastic bag with a printed logo depicting a green tea cup. She then raised an eyebrow at Ty, secretly hating and loving just how hopeful he looked. "What kind of tea is it?"

"Chamomile. They specifically recommended it."

Annie cocked her head thoughtfully. Chamomile was her favorite. Darn it.

After a moment, she nodded at the plastic cups. "And those?"

"Well, I thought you probably needed a hot drink, since you were so sick you had to miss Margarita Night." Ty stared right into her eyes, almost challenging her to contradict him. When Annie only met his gaze with an equally challenging of her own, he sighed and lowered his gaze. "The other one is for me."

Annie raised her eyebrows at that. "Were you planning on drinking that on your way home?"

Ty sighed at that, yet was not surprised in the very least. "Annie…"

"I'm sick, Ty," Annie repeated, this time much softer than before. She didn't want to hang out with him but she also didn't want to hurt him and so, she had to be very careful about this. "Thank you so much for this but I don't want you to get sick. Please, don't think there's anything else into it."

Tyler cocked his head, looking at her with a soft gaze. "I don't mind getting sick."

Annie scoffed. "Well, I do mind getting my-."

For a second, shocked silence filled the space between them.

Silence because the change in their relationship had finally been addressed, even if it was in an implicit manner.

Shocked, because Annie - who had been avoiding him - had been the one to address it, and not Ty - who had been clearly trying so hard to be close to her again.

Finally, Ty managed a weak, crooked smile. "You have no idea how to finish that, huh?"

Annie looked at him almost pleadingly before she finally took a step back. "Come in."

Ty followed her silently, even as Annie moved further into the house. She turned on the lights with her free hand, the other one carrying the tray with the cups, the bag filled with the camomile tea hanging from her extended pinkie.

It was only when she made it back to the kitchen island that she dared look back at Ty. He was slowly wandering through the living room, his eyes carefully going from picture to picture. He was clad in his usual outfit: white t-shirt, jeans and blue sneakers.

Annie wished she didn't find him as attractive as she did. She really did.

Annie couldn't help but chuckle as she placed the cups and the bag on the wooden counter. "Those photos haven't changed in forever. Pretty sure you've seen them all a thousand times over, Ty."

Ty looked at her with a soft smile. "I suppose I haven't paid attention to them in a long time. You really haven't changed at all, huh?"

Annie laughed at that. "The nerve! What's that supposed to mean, Townsend?"

Ty smiled mischievously as he turned towards Annie, his uninjured hand holding a frame. He joined Annie by the opposite side of the counter and handed her the frame before grabbing his cup. "Your eyes. They've never stopped being so bright."

Annie's smile bled from her lips as her gaze fell on the picture. On Ty's picture of her. She then looked up at him, gulping nervously as she caught his gaze so filled with emotion.

The Annie she used to be in that picture would have been able to reply so many things if the Tyler before her had been the Tyler that had taken that photo. Alas, she was no longer that Annie and he was no longer that Tyler and they… they were in a place neither of them recognized.

And so, this Annie, this Annie that had kissed Tyler, this Annie that had watched as the boy he liked dated the girl that had made her life so darn difficult, the Annie that had watched as he was hurt so deeply… this Annie had no words.

She only had anger.

But she couldn't tell him that because for better or for worse, her anger was hers to carry. Her anger at him, at herself, at the world for making things as complicated as they were, it was hers to carry and to deal with.

With faux calmness, Annie could only grab her long forgotten cup of hot chocolate and turn towards the sink. "Glad you think so, Ty. Sometimes I doubt that myself."

When Ty spoke again, his pain was much louder than before. "And I'm to blame for that, aren't I?"

Annie leaned against the sink, leveling Ty with a small, yet genuine smile. "I don't blame you for anything."

Annie really hoped she meant that.

Ty apparently doubted her as well. "You mean that?"

Annie shrugged at that, frustrated that after everything, he still was able to read her so easily.

And yet, even in the awkwardness of that moment, even as they slowly threaded through a conversation they should have had a long time ago but one neither was ready for, she still was at ease because she knew him and she knew that, no matter what else changed, they would always be safe with each other.

That comforted Annie.

"I really try to," Annie was hesitant. When Ty didn't reply, she stood straighter, allowing herself to speak freely in order to fill the silence. "I mean, it's not even about what happened between us…about the kiss. Or maybe it was but it isn't anymore and even that was something I did."

Ty began rounding the table. "Annie-."

"I was left alone," Annie cut him off, her gaze challenging, even as she raised her hands in a pleading manner. For the first time, she allowed herself to show him just how much he had hurt her because deep, deep down, she knew she could trust him with that. "I know that what you and Kyle went through was hell. Your dad, and then your mom and Coach Cal…and then the accident. But I was there for you through everything, until you didn't allow me anymore."

Ty gulped, his eyes wide and his expression filled with panic. Annie almost felt pity for the poor boy. She never meant to bombard him with all of these feelings but the more she talked the more she realized how betrayed she had felt. Betrayed by what had transpired between them and betrayed by the way they had dealt with it- with her.

"Annie," Ty began after several seconds. He cleared his throat before trying again, his voice much more even the second time. "I'm so sorry, I didn't want to burden you with what I was going through, I didn't think you deserved that. I still think you don't deserve that!"

"You were hurt!" Annie raised her voice, shaken by the hateful memories of that night. She began to walk back towards the living room in a poor attempt of relieving herself from that pain, Ty hot on her heels. "You were hurt and I had to watch! That still haunts me, Tyler! How do you think I felt when that happened and I couldn't help you!? You didn't spare me at all!"

"And what could you have done!?" Ty snapped. He raised his arm in frustration, the other one still secure against his chest. "I had to give up baseball. I had to give up state! What exactly could you have done to help!?"

"I could have been there for you! I could have suffered with you! I could have been around and know that you trusted me enough for that!"

"I was scared!"

So far, they had stood facing one another, their faces red, their eyes wide and their postures agitated.

Those three words changed everything.

"Scared," Annie repeated, her voice a whisper. She lowered her arms, rooted to the spot as she tried to understand just how much weight those words held. "For your future?"

That didn't seem right and it was confirmed when Ty shook his head slowly, his gaze on anything but her.

"Scared of what Ty?" Annie asked. She took an hesitant step towards him, relieved when he remained unmoving. She wrapped her arms around her middle to avoid doing anything foolish, like hugging him. "Please tell me? I promise you, you're safe. You can tell me."

Everything about Ty was frozen except for his gaze. His gaze - filled with an emotion Annie couldn't name but one she was growing comfortable with - was warm and felt like a homecoming. "I was scared of you."

Annie felt as if she had been shot.

Still, she endured. This was what she had asked for, what she had missed. Being there for him.

Him. Ty is what she had missed.

"Why?" Annie managed to croak. "What did I do? Is this about the kiss? I'm so sorry, Ty, I-."

"No, no, no ." Ty stepped forward, his arm automatically reaching for her. He lowered his arm as soon as he realized what he was doing but didn't step back. "Please, don't apologize for that."

Annie sighed. She ran a hand through her hair before going back towards the couch. She sat and covered herself with a blanket before she dared looking at him again. "How can I not? I kissed you and everything changed. This whole mess started because of that!"

Ty slowly joined her on the couch. He remained by the opposite end but his whole body was turned towards her, almost as if he was aching to be closer. "Do you regret that kiss Annie?"

Annie rested her head on her hand, smiling even as she felt her eyes brimming with unshed tears. "I don't, Ty. I know I said it meant nothing but you have to understand that it happened and everyone immediately knew about it. People made fun of me, as if they expected me to feel bad for kissing the boy I liked. And you…"

Ty nodded slowly, biting his lip as he rested his head against the couch. "I made everything worse."

Annie turned her body fully towards his, her shoulders slightly hung. She began to braid her hair, just so she had something to do with her hands. "I understand that it was a shock for you. You had no idea. I mean, I had processed those feelings a long time ago and still I was so shocked when I woke up the morning after and remembered it."

Ty straightened. "A long time ago?"

Annie leveled him with an unimpressed look. "Tyler."

Ty raised his hands in surrender, laughing despite himself. Annie joined him and for a few moments, they could both revel in the release of the tension. That laughter allowed them a moment of respite but also, everything they had said made it easier for them to talk, for them to erase the weight of every decision they had made the last couple of months.

And that relief, whether they knew or not, allowed them to find each other again.

"I didn't get why you were upset with me for a long time." Ty admitted after a long moment. At Annie's glare, he quickly added. "Of course I understood the obvious, that everyone heard what you sent me but…I couldn't understand how, after everything that had changed, you and I also did and so, so suddenly."

"Of course, and I never expected you to understand." Annie whispered. She moved closer to him, stretching her hand towards him as she tucked her legs under her lap. "But look at it from my perspective. I kissed you and you stopped talking to me. Kyle stopped talking to me soon after. Everyone knew and made fun of me for something I didn't have complete control over. You began dating the girl that bullied me and you didn't give me a second glance. Stand where I stood and tell me, wouldn't you have felt alone, betrayed and unworthy too?"

Ty slowly grabbed her hand with both of his, exhaling slowly when she didn't flinch or move away. "Yes. Of course, I…I would have felt that way too. I'm so sorry, Annie."

Annie shrugged. "Thank you. And really, I understand why you felt so conflicted. After everything that has changed in your life-."

"It isn't an excuse," Ty cut in adamantly. "I should have dealt with it better. I think…you were always my closest friend because of our history but also because of how…safe I feel around you, I guess? Like, with everything going on, you remained this constant I could count on. And when that changed, it was like I was adrift. I… in a way I also felt alone because I didn't understand what that kiss meant for us and I didn't want to understand it with you and risk hurting you in the process."

"That didn't change, Ty." Annie smiled when Ty clutched her hand tighter. "You can still count on me, no matter what."

"I should have known that," Ty whispered in return. "And I should have been better so you too knew that you could- can count on me. Always."

For a long moment, silence developed between them. This time, however, was an easy one, as if they had stepped into the calm after the storm. It felt as if the war was over and she could finally rest and heal.

As Annie slowly turned her hand in his, biting her lip when his hold only tightened, she couldn't help but be grateful her mom and dad were in Margarita Night and playing basketball respectively.

The moment he left, Annie would have to stop herself from feeling anything other than friendship towards Tyler Townsend. Alas, that moment hadn't come yet and so, she reveled in the relief that came with regaining her oldest friend.

And it was the easiness of that feeling that made her want to continue being honest.

"Can I tell you something?" Annie asked, her stomach doing somersaults when Ty immediately locked eyes with her.

"Anything."

Annie nodded slowly, processing that word and its meaning. Now that they were talking, in a much more open way than ever before, she had to come to terms with the fact that she could believe him when he said that.

"When I woke up the morning after…" Annie trailed off, gulping when Ty nodded his understanding. "I panicked at first, of course. It was really scary, you know? Waking up to that and not remembering it had happened… but I was so relieved that you knew. I had been carrying with that feeling for so long, not knowing whether to tell you and fearing your reaction…so being able to voice my feelings, to express them…it was like I could breathe a little bit easier you know?"

Ty looked down for a moment, deep in thought even as he never lessened the hold he had on Annie's hand. After a few minutes, he chuckled bitterly. "I hated the text I sent you."

Annie snorted. "The one in which you called me dude? Yeah, that sure was enlightening."

Ty sobered at that. "It's so easy to think of everything I'd have done differently now that I've processed it but still…I regret so much of what happened and how I dealt with it. That text is pretty high on that list."

Annie smirked at that. "What else could you have sent me Ty? You didn't like me and you wanted me to know that. Of course it hurts but I would rather have things be clear."

Ty frowned. "I'm not so sure things were that clear for me."

Annie actually gaped for a moment before she remembered herself. She inched a little bit closer to him yet sat straighter, as if preparing herself for a blow. "What do you mean?"

Ty gazed into her eyes for a long moment before looking down at their joint hands. He began caressing the side of her hand slowly, almost fearfully. "I think the only thing I knew for sure when you kissed me was that I wasn't expecting it so it caught me by surprise. But this…you…I think I feel the same way you do."

Annie had to clear her throat in order to speak and even then, her voice was a whisper. "What?"

"Annie, you are my oldest friend and in many ways, the one who knows me the most. I mean, not even Gabe knows some of the things you do. You have been there every step of the way and even when everything was a fucking hell, I knew you would be there and that I could trust you to be there." Ty shook his head as he slowly straightened. His eyes were shining with unshed tears and all Annie could do was stare. "I should have been there for you as well. I should have been a better friend, with this and with so many other things. And…I should have known that I didn't have to be afraid of what you were making me feel because I should have known you would be there no matter what."

Annie listened with sweet rapture, her heart breaking when the first tear rolled down Ty's cheek. After hesitating, she slowly wiped it with her free hand, her entire being aching with intense emotion when Ty rested his cheek against her hand. "What did you feel when I kissed you?"

Ty stayed silent, as if he was debating something internally. Then, he smiled. "I always feel safe with you and…when you kissed me…it felt like coming home."

Annie drew a sharp breath at that, not expecting how much it would hurt to hear him speak like this. Almost in a daze, she stood up and made her way back towards the kitchen.

"Annie?"

"Why are you saying all of this?" Her question came without thinking.

Ty staggered to his feet. "What?"

"I get you regret hurting me," Annie began heatedly, grabbing her forgotten tea and heating up just so she would have something to do. "But that doesn't give you the right to say things you don't mean!"

"Annie, I meant everything I've said!" It took him three long strides to stand before Annie and grab her face with both his hands. "If it takes you time to trust me, I understand. From now on I will work my ass off every day to be the best version of myself for you. And you don't have to accept me, I won't pressure you but-."

"But what?" Annie whispered, clutching his hands with her own.

Ty's gaze softened. "I really like you, Annie. And I really, really want to be with you. Please believe me."

Annie's eyes brightened at that. She stepped closer, sighing in relief when his forehead rested against hers. "Very well, then."

Ty chuckled before leaning closer, their eyes closing.

And then, a car was heard entering the driveway.

Annie pushed herself away from Ty, already running for the window. "That's my dad, let's go!"

"Out your window!?"

Annie whirled to glare at him, her feet never slowing down. "You have a better idea!?"

By the time Ronnie Sullivan stepped into his home, his daughter was watching Pride and Prejudice with a small blush to her face, one she claimed Colin Firth was to blame for.

The to-go cups and the tea were safely kept in her room, away from anyone's sight and forever close to her heart.

It wasn't until much later at night that Annie heard from Ty again. This time, however, she actually expected it.

tytownsend: kind of glad ur dad came home when he did

anniesullivan: Not sure how to feel about that.

tytownsend: I want to make you laugh, rather than cry, before I kiss you. Maybe on our first date?

Annie covered her face with her hands in glee before rushing to reply.

She should watch Pride and Prejudice more often.


Hope you guys liked this!

Pretty happy with leaving this shot as it is but let me know if you want any scenes added or if there's any idea you'd love for me to develop!

Cheers for reading!