"Right," Britta said, and slammed the door behind her. "This ends now."
Pierce jumped. "Oh god, please don't call the police."
"What ends now, Britta?" said Shirley.
Britta gestured out of the study room window at where Abed and Troy were sitting together on the bench in the corridor, staring intently at something on Troy's phone. At the exact same second, they started to laugh hysterically. Troy fell against Abed's shoulder.
"The... windows are dirty?" tried Annie.
"Abed's wearing a sweatervest?" Jeff suggested.
"Does nobody see anything weird about that little gathering over there?"
"Troy and Abed?"
"You mean Troy, Abed, and their betrayal of our friendship?"
The group stared. Britta held up her hands. "Okay. Shirley, set your prejudices aside. Pierce, get your mind out of the gutter. Annie, put your mind into the gutter. Jeff, shut up. Have any of you ever thought that Abed and Troy's friendship was a little - " Britta hesitated for dramatic effect, which always had the effect of having people want to help her finish her sentence.
"- close?" finished Britta.
"Proposition one - oh God, now I sound like Annie. Firstly, they obviously have deep unconsummated sexual desires for each other bubbling under the thin shell of their quote-unquote 'bromance'," Britta said, making quotation fingers. "I remind you of Troy's reaction to Abed's Don Draper performance."
Annie's eyes glazed over, just a little.
"He did seem to like it," Shirley said, frowning deeply. "And he asked Abed to do it again later for him in priva - oh!"
"And I'm sure we all remember the Kickpuncher sex scene," said Britta, with the triumphant air of a bitter parking cop rounding on a tiny old lady who has just fumbled fourteen unpaid parking tickets out of her handbag.
Pierce winced. "Please don't mention it. Please."
"They're young guys, they're exploring their sexuality," Jeff said, leaning back in his seat and spreading his legs rather more than was strictly necessary. "The media programs us to admire other men's bodies. Envy them. It's normal."
"Uh huh," said Britta.
"What? I'm comfortable with my sexuality."
"Proposition two," said Britta. "Think about it for one second. Can you think of any evidence that they are not fu - "
"Keep your filthy words out of my ears, Britta!"
"- Screwing like bunnies."
The group reflected.
"I heard Troy asking Abed if he'd left his blue-and-white stripy cotton long-sleeved shirt at his place," Annie said thoughtfully.
"I saw them having sex in a tree at the Valentine's Day dance," Pierce said. "With a monkey."
"You did not," Britta snapped. "You were high. And that's racist."
"I think you people are tarnishing a beautiful friendship," Shirley said severely. "Although, now that I think about it, Troy did ask me if I thought Abed had pretty eyes."
"Okay, okay, settle down," Jeff said, taking charge at last. "Bubbling, outer shell and all other frightening creme brulée metaphors aside, and even given that they are secretly dating, which I admit is possible, what does that have to do with us?"
Britta gaped at him. "They're our friends," she squawked finally. "They're supposed to tell us when they're dating! Oh my god, come on."
"Maybe it's just none of our business," Annie said firmly.
"Right!" said Jeff.
At that moment, Abed and Troy came in, and they all started talking loudly about the upcoming quiz, when the results would be up, and how weird it was that it was so windy today.
Halfway through Annie's review of chapter nine, Abed nudged Troy in the side. "Lucky Charms," he said in a hoarse whisper. Troy snorted juice out of his nose. Over his head, Britta stared at them all significantly, several times, just in case they hadn't got it the first time.
On Tuesday, Abed and Troy 'filmed' an episode of Troy and Abed in the Morning with Shirley, on which they discussed parenting. They had invited Shirley's sons, but they were in school.
"Have you thought about how many children you'd like, Troy? Bouncing little boys and girls?" Shirley said delicately.
Troy looked at Abed. Abed nodded. "Two boys and two girls," Troy said promptly.
"We want to see if the ability to function in zero-gravity is a result of nurture or nature," said Abed.
"Nature!" said Shirley brightly. "Bringing up a child as nature intended is so important. You know, with a man, and a woman, after they've been united before Jesus!"
"What about your sons?" said Abed. "They don't have a dad now, right? Do you think that's going to affect their natural development?"
Troy elbowed him. Abed stared at him, then cocked his head, and turned back to Shirley. "But I think you're right that nature is the deciding factor in whether or not humans can eventually colonize space," he concluded.
"Did you see that?" hissed Annie. Jeff pinched the bridge of his nose.
On Wednesday, Abed and Troy came as Xena and Gabrielle for the 'Come As Your Idol' career aspiration costume fair. They spent the whole evening playing Fluxx with the guy in the BP booth, of which Britta was organizing a boycott.
"They're evil," hissed Britta to Troy, when the protest lines edged close enough to the booth that she could hiss at him adequately without looking like she was defecting. "They kill baby birds and shorelines."
"This is Gilbert," said Abed. "He went to school with Wil Wheaton."
The guy shrugged.
"I just work here."
"Don't you guys care about what you want to do in the future?" Annie said, her arms full of leaflets about the MCATs.
"I'm going to make movies," Abed said immediately.
"I'm going to work for him," Troy said.
"Wouldn't that be, you know, a conflict of interest?" said Britta.
"I don't think so," said Abed, adjusting his gold-paper-covered bra. "He likes me and movies. It's fine."
On Thursday, Abed was editing his short documentary on the rise and fall of the Ho Wong Noodle Van, a purveyor of delicious noodles that used to operate outside Greendale until it was raided by the FDA (on a tip-off which, Abed was setting out to prove, had come from their rival in the cut-throat business of campus food provision, Jim's Magic Pretzels) when Jeff burst in.
"Okay, listen, this is driving me nuts, and it can be cleared up with a minimum of fuss, so I'm just going to ask, since nobody else around here is apparently capable of basic communication between friends. Are you two dating?"
"There's actually only one of me," Abed said, and saved his project. When Jeff got all worked up about something, nine times out of ten (well, six times out of eight thus far) it took him at least ten minutes to get it all out of his system and leave Abed to get on with his projects. One time out of eight, Abed had to go with him to Urban Outfitters.
"Could you just look at me?" Jeff said. He waved his hand between the screen and Abed's face, then clicked his fingers. This was clearly going to be one of those times. Abed sighed, backed up his work to his flash drive, and closed Final Cut. Jeff leaned over the top of the laptop. He had crazy eyes. "Please. For the sake of my sanity. Answer the question clearly and simply. I'm going to put it into very simple terms. Are. You. And. Troy. Dating."
Abed cocked his head to the side. "Hm. That would explain a lot, wouldn't it."
"Oh my God, why can't anybody around here act like an adult?!" Jeff snarled, and kicked the filing cabinet on his way out. Some papers fell on the floor. Abed picked them up, slowly.
After being basically ambushed in the library where he was returning Abed's book on Film Noir, Troy was beginning to suspect that this conversation was going somewhere that he wasn't going to like. Still, as long as it didn't end up with LeVar Burton coming through the door, he was peachy.
"Listen, Troy," Britta said, her face - and voice - radiating compassion. Actually, it was sort of oozing it. Dripping. Like a leaky faucet. Damn, Troy had to pee. "We're your friends. I know that, well, your people aren't always as accepting as the rest of us -"
"Excuse me?" said Shirley.
"Troy's family are Jehovah's Witnesses," said Annie. "They're pretty unaccepting." Troy shrugged. That was fair. His mom hadn't even accepted that text messaging was a legitimate form of communication.
"Anyway," said Jeff, "What Britta's - what we're all trying to say is that we accept you for who you are, Troy."
"Right!" said Annie, nodding vigorously. "We support you and your lifestyle choices."
"As long as I don't have to watch you do any of that gay stuff," Pierce said. "Although, listen, son, if you're hard up for cash, I believe you can get pretty good rates for that kind of thing. Different strokes, huh? What a crazy world."
Britta hit his shoulder. "Shut up Pierce. God, you're so gross."
"You should feel comfortable telling us - whatever you want to tell us," Jeff said. He gestured at the room around them. "This is a safe space."
"... Thank you?" said Troy. Nope, that wasn't going to get him out of this. Britta was staring at him expectantly. So were the others. Where was Abed when you needed him to say something weird yet incisive and hilarious and break the tension, or at least distract everyone?
"Okay, you guys are creeping me out," said Troy. "What?"
"Are you and Abed dating?" Annie blurted out.
"What? No!" Troy squawked, shocked. Then he hesitated, and honesty demanded he amend that to, "Wait, maybe."
Annie got that crease between her eyebrows like she did when she didn't get something. Shirley bit her lip. Jeff pinched the bridge of his nose. He'd been doing that a lot lately. Britta and Pierce high-fived.
"I thought you had a problem with gay people," said Troy, because he couldn't think of anything else to say.
Shirley looked hard at her hands. "Well," she said. "I looked to Jesus to guidance."
"He said boys can get things out of their systems in college and go on to lead healthy and productive lives."
"Didn't Jeff say that?" Pierce stage-whispered.
"You just keep away from those Republican politicians," said Shirley quickly. "Don't get involved with no married men with a secret shame! And you look after Abed, do you hear me? That boy's got enough trouble in his life, living in a broken home, and predicting the future."
She messed with the catch on her handbag, looking flustered. Annie put her hand on her shoulder, her eyes big. Troy felt like he should say something about how he didn't really need Shirley's blessing to date Abed, then felt weird, because when he thought about what it would have felt like with Shirley giving him angry, freaked-out looks all the time like she did for a week that time she found Scott's marijuana in his backpack, and his stomach felt cold and kind of heavy. Huh. Then he thought about pointing out the fact that he wasn't actually dating Abed, but at this point it seemed rude.
"Okay, Shirley. Uh, thanks."
And anyway, maybe he'd just forgotten, or something. If everybody thought they were dating, maybe they were; something similar had happened to him in junior high, when he'd only found out after she'd asked him that taking his friend Steven's sister to see Meg Ryan movies was dating and that he was being a gentleman. But he was pretty certain he would have remembered going on a date with Abed. Maybe Abed would have reached under the arm of the seat in the movie theatre and brushed his hand against Troy's in the dark, or - okay, so Troy was a twelve-year-old girl. Maybe Troy would have reached under the arm of the seat in the movie theatre - or in Abed's room, okay, yeah, when they were watching TV together and eating nachos, only on a date - could that be a date? He guessed it could be, if you really knew the person and were comfortable with them and they didn't mind if you got salsa on their pants and chips in their sheets, which was the kind of relationship Troy had never had but which he imagined he'd like - okay, so, if they'd been in Abed's room, on a date, Troy might have casually shifted closer so that their legs were touching, then left his hand against Abed's, just resting there, and Abed might have twined his fingers together with Troy's, and Troy would pretend not to notice, but -
Troy shook himself, and rubbed the phantom tingle from his fingers.
"Uh," he said. "I need to pee."
In the bathroom, he locked himself into a stall, and thought for a while.
"Well, maybe now Troy will regard us as worthy of his trust!" said Britta. "I thought that went well, did you think that went well?"
"Maybe we need to just leave them alone," said Jeff loudly. "Why are you so upset about this?"
Britta whirled on him. "Because they don't trust us! Just because I made friends with someone just because I thought she was a lesbian, and Annie doesn't know what the prostate is, and Shirley thinks George Takei's going to hell, and Pierce is just - offensive, and you're an enemy of love -"
"Hey! I am not a - what does that even mean?"
"You should come with me to my next checkup," Pierce whispered to Annie.
Britta threw up her hands. "It isn't fair!" Her voice went high, almost hysterical. "Abed's a social reject and Troy goes to keg parties, they're a Muslim and a Jehovah's Witness, they have been brought up in an, an unforgiving society that won't accept their love, and Abed's dad will probably throw him out and Troy's football buddies will haze him, and they should be coming to us with their problems and they're just - look at them! They're happy! I'm normal, and I'm not happy!"
There was a silence. Britta wilted a little. "And - they think we wouldn't be happy for them? Which is my problem?"
"Someone's jealous," Shirley said at last.
Britta flopped into a chair.
Annie looked at her, wide-eyed. "Is this what this has all been about, Britta? That you're jealous that two unlikely souls can find a connection?"
"She needs to get laid," Pierce said, loudly.
Jeff rubbed his face. "Shut the hell up, Pierce. Britta - seriously?"
"Can we just," Britta said, in a small voice, "Forget this happened? And get ice cream?"
"Only if you apologise to Troy and Abed tomorrow for prying into their personal lives for selfish reasons!" said Shirley. "They want to tell us about their sodomy, they can do it in their own sweet time."
Britta nodded, and Annie took the floor. "I propose Dairy Queen," she said. The proposition was seconded by Pierce, and interrupted by Jeff, who pointed out that their study group was not a democracy. They went to get Blizzards. And if Jeff hugged Britta - one-armed, only for like a second - on the way out, they pretended it had never happened.
Troy knocked on Abed's door at seven twenty-seven. It would have been seven fifteen, like it usually was, but he'd walked up and down the corridor a few times first. The door swung open, and Troy braced himself, but all he got was a view of the opposite wall; for a moment he thought something creepy had happened, like a ghost opening the door or something, but then Abed said, "Hey," and he realized Abed had just opened the door and sat down again really quickly. It occurred to him that Abed might have had a visit from Jeff and the others today too. That made him feel even worse.
"Hey," he said.
"Close the door, it smells like burnt toast out there," Abed said. Troy closed the door. With the click of the latch closing, and the sound of Abed's superfast typing starting up again, he felt a whole big weight lift off him. Abed's room was tidy and smelled good, like pop tarts and roti and clean laundry. There were several piles of clean clothes on the bed, and a pyramid of socks on the beanbag he normally sat on. He thought about moving them onto the bed, then sat down on the floor and started matching them instead.
"If you find any gray ones that don't have partners, bring them over here, I need them for something," Abed said, not looking up from the laptop. His costume-making kit was arranged neatly on top of a big cardboard box that had printed on it 2X8 EXTRA TIDE DO NOT FREEZE. Troy didn't ask what he was making; he liked to be surprised.
"Okay," said Troy.
"You want to watch some Star Trek?"
"Only if it's Voyager," Troy said. He didn't feel like dealing with intricate federation politics, Kirk and Spock were making him kind of uncomfortable lately, and Next Gen was obviously out of the question.
"Okay. In a minute, I'll just finish this."
Abed wore nice socks. Mostly they were white sports socks, but there were a few that were funky colors, with stripes. Troy finished the last one just as Abed spun his chair around from his desk.
"Thanks," Abed said.
Troy noticed, suddenly, that his blue-and-white stripy cotton long-sleeved shirt was cleaned and neatly folded on Abed's bed, set apart from the rest.
"Hey!" He grabbed it, and grinned. "Where'd you find it?"
"Oh, it was here the whole time," Abed said calmly. "I stole it."
"What? Why'd you do that?"
"I," said Abed. Troy looked at him, and realized suddenly that Abed was not calm. Abed was really far from calm. He had a little frown on his face like he did when Zhaan died, he was looking at Troy's knees and at the socks Troy had just folded, and he was picking yellow stuffing out from the hole in his chair seat.
Troy felt the weight come back on him then, but it felt different, this time, like being an adult. Oh shit, he thought, and then, without really thinking out loud the steps in between Abed's expression and the sweet ache in his chest, he thought, I'll have to tell my mom.
"I liked the way it smelled," Abed said, still staring at Troy's knees. "It smelled like you. It was nice to sleep with."
Troy laughed shakily, over the pounding in his chest. "Anyone else, and that would be really creepy, man."
"I know," said Abed. "It wasn't normal behaviour, and it went beyond the established boundaries of our relationship. I'm sorry, Troy."
He was holding himself so rigid it looked painful. Troy wanted to shake him, or hug him, or something; anything, to stop him from looking like that. Damn, he looked really upset. Did he think Troy was going to get mad at him or something? How could he think that?
"It's - it's okay, man," Troy said, trying to think of something to say that didn't make him sound like a dumbass. Except - Abed already knew exactly what kind of dumbass he was. And he was still friends with him. Actually, Troy was pretty sure he was in love. They were. He and Abed.
"D-do you want to kiss me?"
"Yes," Abed said immediately. Then, "Wait, are you being sarcastic?"
"No," Troy said, shaky and in a rush, "Come on, do it," and Abed stumbled towards him, put his hand on Troy's face, and kissed him on the lips. It was over pretty fast, and Troy's lips tingled.
"Okay," said Abed. He took a short, sharp breath, hot against Troy's mouth. "Take two," and Troy stood on the balls of his feet to kiss him this time, and wrapped one arm around Abed's shoulders and balanced himself against the bed with the other, and he was still holding a pair of Abed's socks as he got his first - second - third if you counted Kickpuncher - gay kiss from his best friend, which probably looked pretty dorky, but he cared so little it was unreal.
"They all think we've been having sex, like, this whole time," Troy said later, as Robert Picardo marched up and down yelling at Janeway because he'd saved Ensign Kim (man, why hadn't they ever promoted that guy?) instead of Ensign Jetal and felt bad about it.
"Mm," Abed said. "It was a plausible conclusion to draw, in retrospect. I can't blame them. But they're still pretty stupid."
"No argument here, my friend."
Abed was folded up around him on the bed. Troy had tried putting his arm around him but then it had started to go numb, so he'd taken it back, and had felt weird, but then Abed had sort of shifted so that his chest was warm against Troy's back and his chin was resting on Troy's head, and Troy had burrowed down a little and tugged Abed's arm around him and it wasn't really that different from that time they had stayed up all night watching all twenty-eight Godzilla movies and Troy had fallen asleep halfway through Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, and woken with Abed curled around him in the bottom bunk, snoring quietly into his ear. Yeah. In retrospect, he guessed it made sense.
After they watched Janeway go back and apologise to Seven-of-Nine for being an ass about the nature of individuality, Abed said, "Do you think before her separation from the collective she would have supported the EMH's development into a sentient life form?" at the same time Troy said, "Did you want to be having sex this whole time?"
"You first," Troy said.
"Not really," said Abed. "Mostly I just wanted to kiss you and have you be around all the time. But sex isn't off the table."
"Oh," said Troy. He tried to untangle the knot of feeling in his chest and throat, then decided it was mostly relief. He hadn't - he didn't - that is, yeah, obviously he was a guy, and sex, but he hadn't ever had sex with a guy, or really with a girl except for one or two times that weren't that great and he was pretty sure he'd done everything wrong, and Abed was kind of weird about touching sometimes, so the idea of jumping straight into bed with him had made him feel tense, kind of sick, and like he was in someone else's movie. But kissing was cool.
They hadn't kissed for very long before Abed had jumped up, grabbed his laptop and lined up some Voyager. Trying to think about kissing Abed now was like looking into the sun - bright and fragmented, and sort of hot and painful if he thought for too long about the way Abed had breathed in when Troy kissed his neck. He shifted against Abed. Yeah. They could work up to sex.
"That sound okay?"
"Yeah," said Troy. "That sounds good."
They watched the Emergency Medical Hologram pace up and down some more. Troy felt bad for him. He'd hate to have to let someone die to save Abed. That would suck. But he'd do it, and he knew that as sure as he'd known that he'd come to Abed's dorm this evening and somehow he and Abed would be together in a new way, and that he'd deal with it, even if it meant getting hurt and having to make some hard decisions. He guessed that was what this episode was about.
Janeway went back to her quarters, and left her book for the EMH. He picked it up and read out loud, "In that book which is my memory, on the first page that is the chapter that is the day when I first met you, appear the words - Here begins a new life."
"I love this episode," said Abed quietly. His breath tickled Troy's ear, and Troy felt like the happiness inside him might burst out of his chest - maybe like an alien embryo, but maybe not, maybe it would just glow out in a non-gross way, like light.
"Yeah," he said. "Me too."
"I'm sorry I assumed your love would be doomed because my love is normal and doomed, and I'm sorry I said normal," Britta said at lightning speed, looking at the ceiling.
Abed looked at her.
"No problem," he said, and went back to his documentary about the Ho Wong Noodle Van. Maybe he'd see if he could get someone in food science for an interview.