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"Do you want me to go down on you?" Abed asks, one afternoon, when they're watching My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Abed is knitting, a new hobby he's recently taken up to occupy his hands during tv-time; Annie, sitting in the chair next to him, is working on her biology homework.

Annie had been thinking about mitochondria – the powerhouse of the cell! – and whether it was okay for her to have a burgeoning crush on Applejack, so it takes her a moment to shift gears.

"What?" she says. Then, thinking that might not be enough, she adds, "What? Abed! What?"

Abed shrugs. His needles click together softly and he pulls more yarn from the green and purple ball sitting between his knee and the arm of the chair, weaves it carefully through his long fingers. "Just thought I'd ask."

Annie tries to think of what she's supposed to say, and then, after a long moment, she says, " . . . no."

"Okay." Abed turns his full attention back to the television. Applejack and Rainbow Dash are in a race.

"Okay," Annie repeats, unsettled.

-

Abed never mentions it again, and doesn't treat her any differently. He's her good friend, and he acts like it.

Annie isn't very disappointed.

Anyway, usually Troy is around, taking up the space between them, which helps to keep Annie from looking sidelong at Abed when they're trying to cook spaghetti together, when they're installing a beaded curtain for the blanket fort entrance together, when they're watching movies together in the dark with their hands almost touching and their breathing keeping slow time.

She wonders what Abed is thinking, what he wants, what he means by his offer. She goes over it again and again in her mind, trying to make sense of it, trying to see how it might be between them. Whether they would still just be friends. Annie imagines how it would feel to have Abed do that to her, how it might feel to have sex without needing to date first, to do it with someone she already likes and trusts, just because she can, because she wants to.

-

(In the spring of her junior year of high school, Annie decides to lose her virginity. It's been on her list for a while, since she turned seventeen the previous September, but what with applying for scholarships and keeping her grades up and running the Model UN and campaigning for student council secretary and taking the SATs for the sixth time, and the seventh time, and the eighth time, she just didn't have the time to fit it in. But she's been dating Josh for five months now, and they even gave each other Valentine's Day presents, so it won't make her a slut or anything.

"My parents will think I'm sleeping over at Jessica's," she tells Josh on the phone. "Can you get condoms? Never mind, I'll get condoms. Did you know that the cheaper ones can just break in the middle of it? Deplorable." Deplorable is her new word; she's been using it with relish all week.

"Okay," Josh replies, but it sounds like a question. "Whatever, uh, whatever you want."

Annie isn't really paying attention to him, though; there's a shooting pain behind her eyes and her whole body feels heavy and tired. She rubs her forehead with two fingers. Stress headache.

There's a long pause on the phone, and then Josh says, "I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Sure," Annie agrees, and reaches for her pills.

The sex itself isn't really what she thought it would be. Annie sets up the music (Madonna's Erotica, the sexiest song she knows) and closes the door to the walk in closet behind them (in case Josh's parents come home) and then she feels strange, turned on maybe, uncomfortably aware of their proximity in the dim, warm space. They kiss and touch for a while, like they've been practicing, and Annie ends up lying on top of him, kissing his mouth as they jostle this way and that, trying to get their clothes off. It takes a while for them to get naked and get the condom on and get Josh's penis inside her but by the time they do she's really wet and it just sort of slides in and doesn't hurt like it's supposed to, just feels strange. She's still lying on top of him, but that doesn't seem to work very well and Josh can't move much so she rolls over, lies on her back and waits for him to get inside her again. It feels just as odd the second time, that sensation of being penetrated.

Josh gets kind of weepy, but he keeps going so she figures it for all the emotions he's probably feeling, and then he starts moving fast and grunting, which probably means he's coming, so it must've been okay. She's pretty sure she doesn't have an orgasm, but it is really nice, exciting and weird. She feels full and good and kind of proud of herself for getting this done.

They don't ever do it again, because Josh doesn't seem to want to, or maybe because she doesn't get her courage up to ask him again. She's got other things on her mind, and she's tired all the time these days, so really it's something of a relief. But when she finds herself awake late at night, wired and restless, she touches herself and remembers the way she felt when Josh was below her, looking up into her eyes and biting his lip and waiting for her to sink down onto him. The best part, the part she always replays in her mind over and over, is the look on his face when he nodded up at her, his cheeks flushed, flushing, his mouth slightly open, a little embarrassed, giving her permission to do what she wanted.)

-

"Which pony would you be?" Annie asks, offhandedly, when she and Abed are watching MLP again a couple weeks later. Troy refuses to watch it with them; he's unsettled by the manner in which the ponies seem to be responsible for seasonal climate change and freaks out whenever Rainbow Dash moves the clouds around, so they always watch it while he's at football practice.

Abed replies instantly. "Applejack."

Annie raises her eyebrows at him. "Oh yeah?"

Abed makes a seesaw gesture with his hand. "I find it difficult to project myself on any of the ponies, actually. I see elements of myself in Twilight Sparkle's quest to fit in and understand the magic of friendship as well as Pinkie Pie's oddball theatrics, but I'm equally drawn to Applejack's propensity to speak from the heart even when it's not the best social move."

Annie nods slowly. "You've given this a lot of thought."

"Not really." Abed watches for a moment, then asks, "Which pony would you be?"

"I guess I'm a lot like Twilight Sparkle," Annie shrugs. Abed nods.

"I can see that. Studious, driven, drawn to organizational and leadership roles and occasionally jealous of others' abilities."

Annie blinks.

"Though I could see you in Fluttershy as well. Or Pinkie Pie. You're kind and giving and energetic."

Annie can't help the smile that breaks out on her face. She's never heard the word energetic used as a compliment before. "Yeah?"

"Sure," Abed says.

There's a long pause. "So, Troy is Rainbow Dash," Annie says, at the same time that Abed says, "Troy's Rainbow Dash, of course."

They laugh; or, Annie laughs, and Abed smiles at her fondly. Annie likes the way that Abed enjoys other peoples' laughter, that he's so giving and generous and wants to make people feel good.

"Hey Abed," Annie says, after a moment.

"Shhhh, it's the dramatic conclusion."

Annie waits for the ponies to save Ponyville. When the episode is over, she tries again, and Abed turns to her politely, focusing his considerable attention on her.

"Uh, so, I was wondering – what you said the other day – "

"About me going down on you," Abed nods.

Annie's heart starts beating faster. "Yeah," she says slowly. "What did you mean by that?"

Abed looks confused. "Well, I thought I'd start by putting my tongue on your – "

"Abed!" Annie interrupts. "I didn't mean, uh, specifics. I meant . . . " she trails off, but Abed doesn't break in or fill in the blank, just waits for her to finish. She sighs. "I meant, why did you offer . . . that."

"Oh." Abed shrugs. "I like doing it. I like you. You're not currently dating anyone, so you might want to blow off some steam, as it were." He cocks his head. "I hope you don't feel any pressure or obligation to acquiesce to my sexual invitations," he adds, carefully.

"I – no, I don't feel any pressure," Annie says.

"Good," Abed nods. "I have trouble deriving emotions from tone and body language, so I prefer explicit verbal negotiation and consent."

"Good to know," Annie replies faintly, although she doesn't actually know what that means. She looks down at the arm of the chair. There's a place where the stuffing is starting to come out.

"Are you asking because you do want me to go down on you?"

Annie blinks and drags her gaze back to Abed. "What?"

"Say the word and I'm on it," Abed assures her. "Or not. Whichever." He takes a sip of his Special Drink.

Annie opens her mouth to say no again, to say that she doesn't want that. But she knows now that Abed will take her at her word, so what she says instead is, "I'll think about it."

"Okay," Abed agrees. Then, casually, he turns his wrist so that his hand is lying palm-up on the arm of his chair, fingers curling upward invitingly. Annie reaches over and takes it, and they hold hands for a while as they watch the next episode, until Annie gets up and goes to the bathroom.

When she comes back, Abed has picked up his knitting from its spot next to the chair and is concentrating on adding careful stitches to what might eventually be a potholder, or maybe a scarf; Annie can't tell.

-

The next day, when she has the house to herself, Annie takes a deep breath and types "verbal negotiation and consent" into Google, which as it turns out brings up a lot of stuff. Negotiating Safe Sex and Consent. Making Sense of Sexual Consent. When No Means No. Some stuff she remembers from her vague and frustratingly coy high school Health classes. But a few links down things start to get interesting: the Dominance and Submission page at Wikipedia is smack dab in the middle of the results, and just below that something about Eroticizing Verbal Consent, which, Annie doesn't even know what that might mean, and then Informed Verbal Consent for Low Impact Exploration, which – oh, which turns out to be about mining rights. She scrolls back up.

Annie clicks, and clicks, and clicks, reading the Wikipedia entry and then the entire reference list at the bottom of the Wikipedia entry, surfing through Amazon reviews on books about bdsm and websites that give detailled how-tos on manufacturing your own whip, scrolling through entries on obedience and roleplay and switching, getting lost in a forest of open tabs. She still doesn't know what Abed wants, what he meant by what he said, but the more she reads about negotiation, the more she wants to know, the more she wants to ask him. She hadn't thought much about it at the time, but now Abed's offer seems strange to her – do you want me to go down on you, like that was all that they'd do – and Annie wonders if there's an explanation for it here, if someone who likes . . . eroticized consent and oral servitude . . . might like other things too.

There are so many more possible answers than she thought, than she could've imagined.

She doesn't even realise how much time she's spent reading until Troy comes home at four and she realises that she's been on the internet the entire afternoon. She glances between her laptop screen and Troy's face, so caught up in the rush of discovery that she wants to tell him, show him, introduce him to everything she's found. She hesitates, and then her second impulse kicks in, and she clicks ruthlessly through her tabs, hitting all the little X's until everything's wiped away and all that's left are the Greendale Library website and that website about mining rights, which turned out to be interesting after all.

"How's it going?" Troy asks, sitting down next to her.

"Fine," she says, and it sounds ridiculous to her ears. She tries to come up with something to tell him about, something she did that a normal person might do, but she can't think of anything. She's full of excitement and joy and trepidation and she can't communicate any of it, doesn't know how to put it in terms that wouldn't sound strange.

"Fine," she repeats. "I read this thing on mining rights."

"Annie, I think you need a hobby," Troy says kindly, then levers himself up out of the armchair while she smacks him on the arm. "Do you want anything to drink?"

-

After Abed gets home the three of them make dinner and curl up in the fort together to watch the new episode of Fringe. Annie and Troy both love Olivia, so they spend a lot of time poking each other and saying, "Olivia!" in excited voices. Abed's sitting slightly apart from them, working on his knitting, click-click-clicking his domestic little tune on the needles.

During a boring part (no Olivias, Astrids, or Walters) Annie tries again to figure out what Abed's making. It doesn't look like a scarf anymore. More like a big purple and green . . . thing. Sort of a rectangle, or a square.

"What are you making?" she asks.

Abed shrugs. "I'm not sure yet."

Troy looks over too. "Don't you need a pattern or something to follow?"

"Probably," Abed agrees, and they laugh.

"Hey, you should teach us to knit too," Troy says. "Then we could all make each other mittens."

"Yeah, we could each make one mitten for each of the other two," Annie agrees.

"Then our mittens wouldn't match," Abed points out. "Unless we all went out together so people could see them all at once."

"Fine by me," Annie says. She would never admit it, but she's secretly attracted to the idea of a special mitten club.

"So, can you teach us?" Troy asks.

"Sure," Abed agrees. Olivia comes back on the screen. "Not during Fringe, though," he amends hastily.

"Olivia!" Troy grins, and pokes at Annie. She pokes him back, smiling.

-

Later, Annie curls up under her covers and imagines Abed and Troy, nestled into their bunk beds just on the other side of the wall. She thinks about Abed, a few hours earlier, holding her hand and offering her more, offering her whatever she might want. She thinks about Troy's body beside hers in the blanket fort, warm and comfortable, and the way Abed had watched them so carefully from beneath his eyelids while he was pretending to pay attention to his knitting.

Slowly, she raises one arm up above her headboard and knocks, once, firmly, on the wall.

There's some rustling from the other side, and then a single knock answers hers.

She knocks again, twice this time.

Two knocks come back.

"The Little Princess," Abed calls out.

She laughs, because only Abed would come out with precisely the right cultural reference based on a couple of knocks. "Goodnight guys."

"Goodnight Annie."

"Night, Annie."

-

Whenever they're alone now, when Troy is out of the house or when they're walking together to the Theoretical Paragliding class they're taking with Britta and Pierce or when they happen to find themselves alone eating lunch in the cafeteria, Annie thinks about telling Abed yes. She thinks about it as hard as she can, psyching herself up, storing the words behind her lips, so close to being said that she can taste them. She doesn't quite manage it, and instead keeps starting inane conversations about airfoils and baby carrots. Abed doesn't seem to mind.

-

(There's a secluded patch of grass on the quad, tucked behind a couple of trees and far away from the hackey sackers and the hippie teachers who'll make their classes trudge outside and sit on the ground given the least opportunity. She and Vaughn like to hang out there, talking about soy milk and the latest Tegan and Sara album and the essential interconnectedness of all things. They make out and he sings her songs and she tells him about her tragic past.

One time when they're making out they end up lying down next to each other, just curled up together exchanging endless wet kisses. She puts her hands under Vaughn's t-shirt, touching the skin of his waist; he cups the underside of her breast, and she lets out a little gasp as her nipple hardens into his touch. Excited, reckless, Annie rolls on top and finds herself positioned with Vaughn's knee between her legs, and before she can even think about it she opens around him and rubs herself against his thigh. The seam of her jeans pushes against her, into her, and it feels so good that she breaks their kiss, pulling back from him in surprise. He looks up at her for a moment, then slowly shifts his knee against her again, again, again, slow and steady, looking up into her eyes, and then Annie is having an orgasm right there in public on school property where anyone could walk by and see them, and she doesn't even have any of her clothes off.

It's only a little one, not like some of the orgasms she's managed by herself, but it's her first with another person. When it's over she pulls back hastily, suddenly feeling sweaty and clammy inside her clothes. Vaughn sits up with her and holds her hand.

"You okay, mountain flower?" he asks, and his tone is calm and light like always, accepting.

"Oh, fine," she replies immediately. Her whole face feels like it's on fire.

He strokes his thumb against her wrist for a while, letting her gather her thoughts.

"I have to go to class," she says, eventually, and manages to meet his eyes. He smiles sweetly at her, as if it's no big deal when your girlfriend comes riding your knee in the middle of a public area. Leaning in, she kisses him again, slowly.

"Do you want to go out tonight?" he asks, standing and then pulling her to her feet. She falls against him and hugs him tight.

"Let's stay in," she says.

That night she lets him do her, the two of them crowded together on her lumpy second-hand mattress. She's surprised at how long it takes him to get to it; they spend a lot of time making out and touching first, so that by the time he's done kissing her neck and rubbing his thumb over her nipples and dipping his tongue into her belly button she's almost impatient, almost ready to push him off her and climb on top and just do him, the way she did with Josh, just do it in her own time.

She doesn't, because it would be rude, and because she feels too nervous and giddy to do anything but go along with what Vaughn is doing. Because this is how sex is probably supposed to be anyway. But she does sigh deeply when he finally gets inside her; she meets his hips with hers and then arches back, wrapping her legs around his waist.

"You're so beautiful, Annie," he says, which is really sweet. She mumbles, "You too," which isn't what you're supposed to say but it makes Vaughn smile so she figures it's all right.

They keep going for what seems like a long time, and it feels good but not really great until Vaughn puts his hand down between them and rubs at her clitoris. Annie's shocked and wants to pull his hand away, but then she's shoving herself against his fingers instead, using her own hand to guide his strokes. She ends up coming twice right in a row before Vaughn does.

She lets Vaughn have sex with her four more times before he goes off to pursue his competitive hackey-sack dreams. The last time, the day before he leaves, she rolls him over, giggles, and pretends to pin his wrists to the mattress while she straddles his waist. He doesn't seem to mind, but he doesn't really react, either. She presses down a little harder, her smile fading, and for a moment he lies there, accepting it, meeting her gaze. Annie's breathing speeds up and her heart races, and then it's over, Vaughn is flipping them back over, kissing her softly and respectfully and opening the buttons on her blouse. It almost doesn't occur to Annie to feel disappointed, because she wasn't expecting anything, not really, and when they have sex it feels fine, good even, good enough.)

-

Annie always knocks before entering the Dreamatorium – she's not sure why – and Troy and Abed always chorus "come in!", immediately, when she does. Sometimes when she goes in there she gets swept up in the game they're playing – "Oh, Annie, great, we need someone to be Picard" – or even suggests a new one for them to play – "But what if the courtroom were in space?" – and sometimes she just leaves them to it. Troy and Abed have built up a lot of little friendship rituals over the years, and she wants them to feel like they can still have their time together; god knows she needs time to herself too.

This time, when she goes in, she immediately notices that Troy and Abed are holding hands. As she enters they turn towards her, but don't let go of each other.

"Hey Annie," Troy says. "Wanna play Inspector Spacetime?"

Annie blinks for a moment; she can't stop seeing Abed's hand, its gentle curve around Troy's palm, the easy way they stand together, touching.

"We're doing the episode where the Inspector and Constable Reggie first meet," Abed explains, "so your potential roles are pretty much limited to evil zombie attackers or the Constable's overbearing dad."

"Nah," Annie says eventually, even though playing the zombies sounds pretty fun. "What . . . what part of the episode are you at?" When she first moved in, Annie had pretended to have seen all of Inspector Spacetime to avoid being sat down and subjected to all the episodes, in order, including animated reconstructions and radio plays. She doesn't regret that decision (she'll be damned if she's watching any Sixth Inspector episodes; it still breaks her heart that such a jerk took over for her beloved Fifth Inspector) but sometimes it means she has to do some tap-dancing.

She didn't know there was same-sex handholding in New IS, for example.

Troy and Abed shrug. "We're up to the part where The Inspector takes his new Associate by the hand," Abed says, and they hold up their linked hands in demonstration, "and tells him to be very, very still."

"Right," Annie says. "Well, I just came in to say that I'm going to the store, so if you need anything, I can pick it up."

"I'm good," Abed says.

"Can you get me some gum?" Troy asks. "Ideally the kind that promises both a cold and a hot sensation in your mouth."

They're still holding hands, easily, as if they've forgotten they're even touching. "Sure," Annie says.

She closes the door behind her again as she goes.

-

"Sexual reproduction," Dr Kane says, and stares at them so intensely that no one dares to move or speak, not even Jeff. Vicky coughs, and Magnitude, who was sitting beside her, shuffles surreptitiously away to avoid being associated with the troublemaker. In the silence, Annie wishes desperately that Dr Kane would say something else so that she could at least pretend to be taking notes.

"Sexual reproduction differs greatly among plant species," he continues, after a pregnant pause. "Plants can reproduce using wind, water, insects, birds, or other animals."

"Hot," Pierce mutters, but looks down at his books when Dr Kane shoots a glare in his direction.

Annie, relieved, starts writing things down.

For the lab section she's paired up with Troy, who elbows her in the arm and says, "I promise not to drag you down."

"Troy! I never thought that!" She feels really bad for a second, then realises that he's smiling at her.

"Relax, brainiac, I was just teasing. Which plant do you want?"

When they get to the front of the class, most of the potted plants have been taken already, but Annie hesitates in front of the remaining choices, chewing her lip. The red ones could be bird-pollinated or maybe butterfly-pollinated, but she can't really figure out from here which ones have which kinds of scents, so . . .

While she waits, Vicky and Magnitude grab one of the red ones, narrowing down their choices.

"Annie," Troy whines, bouncing on his heels.

"Okay okay," she says, hassled, and grabs the nearest one, which has a sort of brownish red flower on it. She can't remember what that means off the top of her head, but when it gets closer to her face she figures it out.

"Ugh," Troy says, and presses his hand to his mouth, turning away. Annie scrunches up her nose at the rotten smell. "Not that one, that's one of the fly ones!"

She puts it back immediately, then notices that there's only one other pot left, holding a tall blue flower. Troy makes a dive for it, and as he does she realises that Leonard is making a grab for it too, from the other side. Troy, sliding on his belly across the lab table, manages to beat him to it, but only by an inch; grabbing the pot up in his arms, he rolls over and falls to his feet on the other side of the table.

Annie bursts into applause as Leonard grumbles and picks up the gross smelling flower.

"Troy, my hero!" she laughs. Troy has potting soil and a grin all over his face.

"Thank you, thank you," he says, and starts to bow but then aborts the motion when he sees Dr Kane coming by, instead standing up straight and looking at the floor.

"Let's keep this about science," he says, without even slowing down on the way to his desk, and Troy looks like he's about to crumble. Gently, Annie takes the plant from him before he can drop it.

"C'mon, let's fill in the worksheet," she says, nudging him with her shoulder. Troy takes a deep, shuddery breath and follows her to their side of the lab bench, across from Jeff and Shirley.

"I'm not sure if it's right to be pollinating these plants like this. Seems so strange and artificial somehow. Not at all what nature intended."

Jeff is grimacing at the little paintbrushes they're supposed to use and rolling his eyes at Shirley.

"What nature intended is for a little bee to come along, get suckered in by nectar and tricked into collecting pollen, and then witlessly spread the pollen to some other flower while doing the same thing. It's all completely random and has nothing to do with intention."

"Oh hush Jeff," Annie says, and Shirley beams at her. "Just because there's such a thing as random chance is no reason to throw yourself into some existentialist pit of meaninglessness."

"Hear hear," Britta calls from the next lab table over, where she, Pierce, and Abed are taking turns cautiously sniffing a pink and gold flower with a long tube.

"Anyway, it's kind of nice, isn't it?" Annie adds, smelling their plant. It doesn't really smell much. "We get to play matchmaker."

Shirley awwwwws at her, and Annie reaches over to give her a fingerbump.

"More like, we get to force flowers into loveless arranged marriages," Pierce grumbles.

"Hear hear," Jeff says, and Britta throws a crumpled-up ball of paper at him, which bounces right off his grin. Annie rolls her eyes.

"I dunno," Troy says softly, and everyone else quiets down to hear him. "Just because you're thrown together with someone doesn't make it loveless. We were all thrown together, weren't we?" From the other lab table, Abed looks up and nods at Troy, once, seriously. Annie's heart speeds up when she sees the way Troy glows at Abed's approval.

"Thank you, Troy," Britta calls, as she flips through the pages of her field guide looking for her plant. "Besides, the assumption that arranged marriages are inherently bad or undesirable is based on a cultural bias about romantic love that actually was invented and continues to exist in order to support capitalism and to control women's life-narratives. Plus it's racist."

"We love you too Brit-ta," Shirley singsongs, and they all laugh. Britta, after a moment of glowering, breaks into a tentative smile. They all go back to filling out their worksheets for a while, noting the colours and shapes and smells of their plants and figuring out what they need in order to bear fruit. Annie and Troy decide that their plant wants a hummingbird.

"Arranged marriages aren't so bad, actually," Pierce opines into the silence. "My third marriage was sort of arranged. Margaret was the heiress to a napkin empire. You can make anything work."

Shirley looks surprised to be agreeing with Pierce, but nods. "I've always thought that there's potential for love between any two people." At Pierce's answering leer, she growls, "except you and me, Pierce, step back."

Britta smacks Pierce on the shoulder. "Not everything's about sex, Pierce, jeez."

Jeff throws her crumpled up paper ball back at her, scoring a hit on her right arm. "Spoken like someone who doesn't have a boyfriend."

Britta sticks out her tongue at him.

"So the bird picks up the pollen from here, then flies to a whole different plant and spreads it," Troy says quietly, pointing at the diagram he's drawn on the worksheet. "Not the most normal way to have sex."

"I guess it works for them," Annie murmurs. Troy smiles at her.

She lets Troy do the actual pollination part. His hands are surprisingly steady with the delicate little paintbrush, dipping into the blue flower and collecting pollen carefully, slowly. Annie holds the other flower open for him as he transfers it, dusting it over the stigma.

"Hot," Annie says, when it's done, and Troy snorts, nudges her shoulder with his.

"Let's get a cigarette," he grins.

-

It's Troy's day for football practice again, but she and Abed aren't watching MLP today; they're almost caught up to the new season, and Abed says he wants to savour them a while longer. So instead they're trying to navigate the kitchen, with the eventual goal of having dinner ready for Troy when he comes home.

"I like recipes," Abed says, pouring exactly two cups of lentils into the pot and poking at them with a spoon. "They're so soothing."

Annie nods her agreement. She's scrolling through the comments on the recipe they're making, Abed's laptop cradled in her arm, and collating the data. "The bulk of commenters agree that it comes out too dry if you don't add extra coconut milk," she says.

"Okay," Abed agrees. "How much?"

"An extra can."

Abed opens the cupboard and pulls out the extra can that Annie had insisted they buy, just in case. Annie puts down the laptop and picks up the can opener.

She knows that, if she were Abed, asking this question would be easy; she would just ask it, and wouldn't be embarrassed by sex or the possibility of exposing too much of herself. She takes a deep breath and tries to think like Abed, tries to frame the question the way he would. Explicit verbal negotiation and consent. She can do this.

"Abed, can I ask you some more questions about your offer to, um, to go down on me?" She almost gets to the end of the sentence without squeaking; she's proud of herself for that.

"Sure," Abed says, immediately. He's frowning at the spices on the counter, trying to figure out how to approximate the ones used in the recipe.

Annie forces herself to breathe, in and out, twice. "I guess I was wondering if it's an offer you make to all your roommates."

Now Abed turns to her and cocks his head. "Well, that depends on how you define roommate. I never offered to go down on Jeff when he was living with me for a couple weeks."

"But you offered to – do that – for Troy."

"Yeah," Abed says, easily. "But he hasn't taken me up on it yet either. Most people, you offer to give them oral sex, they jump right on it. You guys are different I guess."

Annie feels dizzy trying to keep up with the conversation and internalize all this new information. She looks down, and sees that she's long since finished opening the can, and has just been going over the same ground over and over.

"Maybe the difference is that we're your close friends?" Annie ventures. Yet, Troy hasn't taken him up on it yet, which means he's maybe in the same place as Annie, trying to get used to the idea, trying to decide.

"Maybe," Abed allows. He smells one of the spices, shakes it into the pot, pauses, then shakes some more. "I've never had friends like you guys before."

"Me neither," Annie says, softly. She shuffles a little closer to him to pour the coconut milk into the pot, enjoying the warm press of their arms together.

"So you've done that with a lot of people, then?" Annie asks, and her voice is quieter now. She feels sexy, sexual, turned on.

Abed stirs gently. "Yeah. If you want me to, it'll be good. I have a lot of experience. Though Troy is a bit disadvantaged there; I have more experience with girls than guys."

"But you have done it to guys?" Annie's never been in a conversation like this before in her life, not ever, and it's like being on a rollercoaster, all unexpected falls and fast turns and – now that they've started – a feeling of gut-wrenching inevitability.

"Sure. Late nights at the falafel shop with Hamid, you know." He looks up and into the distance, as if remembering, and smiles. "And Albert."

Annie tries to imagine it: Abed wearing an apron and maybe some plastic gloves, on his knees in the back room of a little hole-in-the-wall shop at two in the morning, sucking cock as some co-worker leans against the wall with his eyes shut and his hands in Abed's hair. She wonders about the girls he's been with, too – fellow geek co-founders of his high school Star Wars club? or popular girls who would never so much as look twice at Abed in public, just using him for what he offered? or older women, maybe. Someone's mom, or someone's teacher. She can imagine Abed with any of them, in abandoned classrooms, in the backseats of cars, in musty basement rec-rooms with Babylon 5 on in the background, Abed's head buried between spread thighs. A delicate shiver moves through her.

"I really want you to do that to me," Annie confesses, finally. Abed nods, but doesn't say anything, so she continues: "I just don't want it to be – you know, sordid. But I don't want to, I don't know if I want to be in a relationship either – "

"We can just be friends," Abed says gently, and Annie feels relief course through her.

"That's what I want," she says. "I want to be friends."

"With oral sex." He waggles her eyebrows at her. She laughs. "Well, the instructions say to let this simmer, covered, on low heat, for forty minutes. And Troy won't be back for over an hour. Wanna start now?"

"I – now?" So far, she's been thinking of it in the abstract, as something that could potentially happen in the future. Faced with the possibility of Abed giving her friendly oral sex at 5:43 pm on a Tuesday, in the hour before Troy comes back, Annie is overwhelmed by the reality of the whole thing.

"If you want." Abed puts the lid on the pot – it doesn't quite fit, but they don't have the pot that the lid actually belongs to – and turns down the heat.

Annie's nauseous, excited; she can feel her heart beating in her throat, and she's suddenly aware of her body, her breasts, her belly, the sweat she feels trickling against the back of her neck. She hasn't shaved her legs in a few days and she's wearing pretty ratty old underwear and she's never quite been clear on how much pubic hair girls are supposed to have anyway – and it occurs to her that, really, none of that matters. Abed, she thinks, will take her as she is, right now, at 5:43 on a Tuesday, no questions asked.

It's a powerful thought.

"Okay," she says, and reaches out to take his hand. He smiles down at her – it's funny, she thinks of him as skinny and delicate, like her, but he's also a lot taller than she is – and they walk together to Annie's room.

Abed puts his hands gently on her shoulders and guides her to sit on the bed, then kneels in front of her. She swallows hard; she finds that she likes the sight of him kneeling, head at just the right height to be patted. She strokes a hand through his hair, and he places his palms gently on her knees. She's wearing a flowery skirt and black tights, which isn't much material at all, as it turns out, because she can feel the heat of his hands through her clothes.

"What do you want me to do?" Abed asks. For the first time he sounds hesitant.

"I – I thought we'd agreed, uh," she says. His lips purse and sort of slide over to one side of his face. "Explicit verbal negotiation and consent, huh?" she asks, putting it together.

"Yeah." Abed's expression clears again.

She sighs. Abed was so open about his sexual history; she supposes she owes him the same. "Abed, I've never done this before. This – the talking thing. And the, the oral sex thing." She clears her throat. "So I don't really know – uh – how it works." She makes a vague gesture with her hand; he follows it with his eyes.

"Okay. Will you tell me what feels good, and what doesn't feel good?"

"Yes," she says, her mouth dry. Truthfully she's not sure she can do that, but she can try. His hands still haven't moved; she was expecting him to undress her right away. "Aren't you going to take my clothes off?"

"If that's what you want," he says. She meets his gaze.

"Take my clothes off, Abed," she says, explicitly, the words leaving her mouth in an excited rush of breath. His fingers slide under her skirt, up her thighs, up to the waistband of her tights and panties, and then he pulls them both down, gently but efficiently; she tilts her hips up off the bed for a moment to help him out. Her thighs are revealed, and then her knees, and eventually her calves.

Abed's hands cradle her feet one by one as everything gets slipped all the way off. She shivers at the sensation of his fingertips against her arches.

"Ticklish?" he asks, pausing.

"No," she breathes.

He gives her his little half-smile. "Nice." He bends his head slowly to press a kiss to her ankle, to the hard knob of bone there. Then he moves slightly, an inch further north, and kisses her again. "Is this all right?"

"Yes," she says. Then, emboldened, she adds, "keep going."

He does, working his way up her leg, kissing over her right kneecap while his fingers graze the soft underside of her knee, mouthing finally at the last bit of bare skin before the edge of her skirt. It's cool in her room, and her legs are naked, bare to the air. She's very conscious of the fact that there's only the breezy material of her skirt between her and Abed's mouth. He reaches for the little side-zipper, but some impulse makes her reach out to hold his wrist.

"Stop," she says, and then catches her breath when Abed does it, just takes his mouth and hands off of her and sits back on his heels, waiting patiently to hear what she's going to say next. He leaves his wrist in her grasp, as if his body is hers to do what she wants with it. Annie feels almost dizzy with the idea of it, that she could take his hand and put it wherever she wanted, that it's all up to her.

She and Vaughn always took off all their clothes before they had sex. It seems strange and kinky and daring to leave them on, but then, Abed's still wearing a cardigan. And she likes the idea of him only seeing what he needs to see.

She releases his hand and spreads her thighs. He looks up at her, and this time she knows to take her cue.

"Push up my skirt, but leave it on." She licks her lips. Abed does, sliding his hands under the material and slowly easing it up to her waist. He looks up at her, and when she nods he keeps going, rubs his palms lightly against her inner thighs, his thumbs almost skirting her labia. It occurs to her that no one else has ever looked at her like this, not from that angle, not with her legs spread and the lights on.

Abed keeps rubbing for a moment, just with his hands. It feels good; it feels so good that Annie almost can't imagine how good the rest of it is going to feel. Then Abed bends his head, his long neck curving downwards, and kisses her inner thigh, continuing his path upward. His breath feels hot where it skates across her cool skin. His nose nudges at her thigh, and she spreads her legs a little wider still.

When his lips are just a quarter-inch away, he darts a glance back up at her.

"Annie?" he asks softly, and she nods down at him.

"Do it," she says; then, getting a feel for this, she breathes, "lick me."

This time she's looking at him when she tells him what to do, and she notices Abed's eyes closing in pleasure, as if the order itself makes him feel good. Annie catches her breath, and a hot pulse of desire rolls through her body.

Then his mouth is on her, is in her. She gasps at the first slow touch of his tongue to her clit, his lower lip to her inner labia; she's already wet and slick but he's slick too, hot and strong where he touches his mouth to her body. Her hand comes up automatically, and she's an inch away from grabbing his hair before she pauses, remembers.

"Abed," she says, and her own voice sounds low and breathy to her, the voice of a woman being eaten out. "Abed, can I hold onto your hair?"

Abed pulls back just enough to speak, and even so his words buzz against her, tickling, vibrating, making her squirm. "Yes. I really like that."

She smiles and threads her fingers through his hair, tugging experimentally, and it's as if it drags a sound out of Abed because he hmmmmms against her, lips vibrating, completing a feedback loop of pleasure between them. She does it again. This time, Abed grunts, like he's the one being sucked and licked and lipped at. Just the thought that she's made him make a . . . a sex noise is exciting, makes her breathing pick up and her fingers tighten a little more.

Annie doesn't have any other experiences against which to judge, but it seems to her that Abed is very, very good at giving oral sex. He alternates strategies, first licking a long hard stripe from her hole up to the top of her hood, then sucking gently on her clit, then lipping eagerly at her labia, his pointy tongue just grazing her entrance. "That feels good," Annie will say quietly, and Abed will linger, doing it over and over with varying speed and intensity until he hits on the right combination; or when he goes too hard Annie will pull back, wincing, and he'll adjust immediately, ease way back and then build slowly again to find her tolerance level.

Annie finds herself saying his name, just quietly at first, with the exhalation of breath, when he does something particularly nice, but after a while it becomes a low chant: "Abed, Abed, Abed, that's amazing, keep doing that . . . Abed – !" and he listens, and he does what she says, harder or slower or more just like she says. She tugs his hair, squeezes his shoulders with her hands; she watches the tendons in his neck as he bends his head to her body, the flutter of his eyelids as he moves his mouth against her.

"Yes," she hears herself saying, and it's exactly what she means. It feels good in such a simple way to say what she wants and have it given to her, freely, gladly, with no strings attached. At some point she loses her grip on his hair, collapses back against the bed, and just lets herself revel in the sensations of Abed's mouth against her. She rubs her heel against his back in time with his stroking tongue.

She's surprised at how little time it takes; she had been worried that, if Abed couldn't get her off, she'd have to fake it so that they could look respectable again by the time Troy came home. But before long she feels full of pleasure, tingles of hot and cold skating along her skin, her body thrumming and pulsing against Abed's mouth, his tongue, his lips, his voice as he makes soft, quiet groans against her. She hears herself making noise too, little "hah!" sounds that come out with her breath, and she doesn't even stop to think about whether she sounds stupid or whether it's okay to be so loud. Abed starts moving his mouth a little faster, pressing a little harder, wet and wriggling against her and if he could just – she's almost –

"Abed," she gasps, "Abed, Abed, Abed, put something – in me – "

His hand moves immediately, as if he was just waiting for her to ask, and that feels good, too, makes her start to shudder and clench even before he eases two fingers into her, even before he curls them up and strokes her from the inside. He feels amazing inside of her, doing exactly what she told him to do. She hears herself moan softly and then all her thoughts and the sensations of her body rush together and she gives herself up to it, to that hot feeling that makes her shake and turns her head inside out and washes through her from nose to toes with pure trembling physical joy.

Then she gasps, and remembers herself, and blinks a few times as she raises her head from the bed. Abed is still on her, still in her, going slow and easy, winding down. When he notices her moving, he looks up.

"You want me to keep going?" he asks. She sits up on her elbows.

"Uh, that's fine for now," she says, then starts to laugh, for no reason except that she feels good and she loves Abed a lot. "That was great," she manages, between giggles, as he pulls his fingers out of her body.

Abed smiles at her. His mouth is wet; she wants to kiss it, but she's not sure if that's something that friends do. It occurs to her, belatedly, that he might think it was gross, given where his mouth had just been.

"I'm glad you liked it," he says, as if they're talking about some cookies he baked or a tv show or something. But Annie can see in his little smile and his crinkly Abed eyes that he's happy, so she cups his jaw with her palm. To her surprise, he leans into the touch, closing his eyes, letting her take the weight of his head for a moment.

"I really did," she says softly. Sitting up straight, she glances down at him where he's kneeling on the floor; she can't tell whether he's hard or not, and she doesn't want to ask. She feels herself blushing but forces herself to get the words out: "Is there – do you want me to do something for you?"

"Nah," Abed says immediately. "I'm good."

"Yeah?" she asks softly, stroking his hair again. "Because I want you to feel as good as I do right now. I could be your friend, too."

He cocks his head at her. "That's really nice, Annie. But I – " he looks like he's searching for words. She bites her lip and hopes this isn't some attempt to protect her. Abed's smile fades, and a little crease appears between his eyebrows; Annie wonders, suddenly, if anyone in his apparently varied and vast sexual history has ever offered this to him before. "I like this part the best," he concludes, after a minute.

Annie tightens her fingers in his hair, just for a second, and then lets go. "You – and you liked it when I did this," she says, haltingly.

"Yeah," Abed agrees. "I liked – no one's ever said my name before, either. I liked that a lot."

"Okay," Annie says. She still feels confused – this is not a sexual situation that anyone ever prepared her for – but she tries to be accepting, the way Abed is, and take him at his word. She also resolves to get some books out of the library. "I'll remember that."

"Cool," Abed grins. "Cool cool cool. You want me to leave you alone to get some clothes back on now?"

"Sure, okay," she agrees. He nods once, rises smoothly to his feet, and walks out, closing the door behind him.

-

When Troy gets home half an hour later, Annie's washed and put on clean clothes and even so she worries that he'll be able to tell, be able to smell it on her. She can't help but feel guilty, looking at him, like she swooped in and took something he was working up the courage to have for himself.

She makes him sit at the table, and brings his stew to him.

"Wow, you're being really nice to me, Annie," Troy says, smiling. Annie smiles back, but Abed's head snaps up and he gives her a questioning glance.

"Shut up, I'm always nice to you," Annie says, punching him gently on the arm, probably overcompensating. She holds herself back from casting a worried glance at Abed, but she can sense him frowning beside her.

Troy shrugs. "Whatever the change is, I like it."

-

Troy takes to knitting right away – Annie blames it on his extensive training in spatial orientation and hand-eye coordination (football and video games) – but, frustratingly, Annie can't quite get the hang of it.

"Just think of a knit stitch as a rectangular pixel," Abed explains. "They function in the same way." Abed is knitting something that still looks kind of like a potholder or the beginning of a scarf, and Annie wonders how he can still be working on that same square when he's been knitting so much and so often. Maybe he keeps making mistakes; god knows knitting is impossible.

"Yeah, that doesn't actually help, Abed," Annie says, sighing, poking her needle desultorily at the yarn. The whole craft seems to be based on tangling yarn together; she can't see the order in it. She squinches up her face and throws down her needles and lets out a little "argh!" noise.

Troy comes over and sits by her, his little ball of orange and yellow yarn trailing behind him like a cheerful puppy. "Here," he says. "Let me show you." Troy doesn't try to explain, just squishes in next to her and holds up his own needles.

"Okay, together now," he says, and Annie mirrors his movements. Slowly, they go through the whole process: insert needle, pick up yarn, slip the stitch off the needle; then faster, insert, pick up, slip, Annie's purple and orange following Troy's orange and yellow. They keep going until they get to the end of the row, and then they flip over to purl, moving in perfect synch, and Annie giggles. Troy grins at her.

"Yarn to the front," Abed murmurs, watching from a little ways across the room.

"Oh, right," Troy says, and adjusts his hands. "So, same thing but from the top." They purl together: insert needle downwards, pick up the yarn, slip the stitch up and off the needle. After a few stitches, they move a little faster, still in unison, and Annie starts to get a sense of the rhythm.

"There you go," Troy says. When they reach the end of the row, Annie puts down her needles carefully, making sure that none of her hard-earned stitches slip off, and then throws her arms in the air in triumph.

"Knitting!" she cries.

"Knitting!" Troy and Abed chorus after her, with raised fists.

"Now we just have to figure out what to make," Annie says to Troy. He nods seriously.

"With great power comes great responsibility," he agrees.

-

Annie waits for Abed to say something, to come to her again, but even when Troy's not home he's polite, kind, friendly, but never friendly. She keeps an eye on him and Troy, but she doesn't think they're having sex either; anyway, Abed would probably tell her about that. She thinks. She's almost positive.

When she finally figures it out, she could just about kick herself.

"Abed," she says, one day, when their My Little Pony ritual is over, "I'd like us to have sex again."

He smiles at her, eyes lighting up. "Yeah? Cool. I'd like that too. When?"

She smiles back; she should've known that he was waiting for her. She takes a breath and says, "How about right now?"

Abed nods once, decisively, and puts down the water glass he was holding, making sure to slip a coaster underneath. They walk together to Annie's room, and it's so practical and businesslike that Annie has to smile.

When they get there she decides to be brave, reaching up to put her hands on his shoulders. It only takes the slightest suggestion of pressure for him to sink down gracefully to his knees in front of her, his head ending up somewhere around her navel. She's surprised at how easy it was, how good it felt.

"If you want to do it like this, you're gonna need a box or something," Abed points out. Annie laughs and strokes her thumbs against his neck.

"Hey Abed," she says slowly. He looks up at her, arms at his sides, waiting for her instructions.

"Yes?"

"If you want to do this, you can – you can ask, too. I'd like you to ask, sometimes."

"Cool," he agrees, nodding. She smiles at him and walks backward until her legs hit the bed, sits down and undoes the top button on her jeans.

"Now come over here and take my pants off," she says.

He shuffles over on his knees, unsexy and adorable, and she's still laughing when his fingers slip beneath the elastic band of her underwear.

-

After that, Annie starts asking more and more often, and Abed starts offering – at first, only when they're alone, but after a few weeks he offers to go down on her when Troy's having a nap, or just gone to the store, or when they're both up early in the morning and Troy's still asleep. Annie finds herself saying yes, yes, yes; so Abed goes down on her in the blanket fort, in front of the tv during an episode of My Little Pony (albeit an episode that they've seen before); with her sitting up on the kitchen table and him kneeling on the tile floor; with her up on his bunk bed, shuffling around to avoid lying on his knitting needles and comic books while he stands and holds her thighs; on her bed, on the floor of her room, against the wall; until she's lost in a dizzy haze of Abed's mouth sucking her, licking her, bringing her off fast, or slow, or hard, or soft, however she tells him to do it.

She buys a pair of thigh-high tights and a garter belt, blushing furiously the whole time the clerk rings her up, to give him easy access when she's wearing a skirt and they have to be quick. The first time he skims his hand up her leg and encounters skin, he looks up at her wonderingly, and she smiles at him shyly and lifts her skirt to let him look. Abed runs his finger along the edge, just where the soft translucent material gives way to bare skin; she shivers, and squeezes his shoulder, and tells him to do it already, touch her already. He does, going fast and hard, greedy, making obscene slurping sounds; Annie gasps and comes twice, one orgasm spilling into another as he works her with his mouth.

Annie finds that she wants him all the time; now that she knows what he can do with his mouth, his lips and tongue and teeth and his nimble, graceful fingers, she wants him on her every minute of every day. She gets more and more forthright with him, tugging his head into place to get him just where she wants him, telling him what to do, and when, and how much, wrapping her legs around his shoulders and drumming her heels into his back, a steady rhythm for him to follow.

From what she can tell, Abed loves it too. At least, he keeps offering, and when Annie asks, he says he's enjoying it, that he wouldn't change a thing. She isn't sure whether to believe him at first, but then sometimes when he kneels for her or when she tugs on his hair she can see something in his eyes like perfect contentment, and she starts to believe in this more and more, to believe in them, in what they can have together. Annie opens herself to Abed and she groans his name in the rush of orgasm and sometimes, when they're sitting around sipping Special Drink and watching tv, she holds his hand, firm and easy and friendly.

-

"Abed, what are we?" Annie asks, shooting for casual. Abed's kissing her knee, a little constellation of freckles that he seems to like, working his way up her leg. She cards her hand through his hair. "I mean, are we still just friends, or something else?"

He looks up at her and brightens. "Oh, are we having a relationship talk?" He stands and leaps onto the bed next to her, bouncing the mattress, and lays on his side facing her with his head propped up on his arm. "Okay, first you say that you want to be monogamous and have PDAs and babies and go to the spring formal together, and then I reject the idea of commitment and we fight but ultimately decide that we can make it work."

"Abed, no, stop," she says, pressing a hand to his chest. He stops, waits for her. Annie gathers her thoughts. "I . . . I don't want that. I mean, it might be nice to go to the formal, I do have a dress I can wear, and you know that little moonstone necklace that I have?"

Abed nods encouragingly. "With the curly silver setting."

"Right! And – wait," Annie closes her eyes and tries to get back on track. "What I mean is, spring formal aside, I don't – I don't really want that. But I, it's weird to not want that, isn't it? If I don't want to, I don't know, be someone's girlfriend, or – " She breaks off, frustrated.

Abed, to her surprise, reaches out and touches her hair – not pretending to tuck it behind her ear, just touching gently with his fingertips and taking a deep breath, as if it's as comforting to him as it is to her.

"So this is actually a talk about how you think you should want commitment and monogamy but you don't," he says evenly. Annie bites her lip; she hadn't thought about it that way before.

"I guess. I wanted to ask you if, um, this is how you normally do this. Like, you said you've done this lots of times before and so I thought, maybe it is normal to just have a best friend who goes down on you sometimes and doesn't want you to return the favour."

Abed makes a little frown and his voice gets flatter. "You do return the favour. I like it, I told you."

"I know," Annie sighs. "I'm sorry."

"There's no rule that says that your best friend who goes down on you isn't your boyfriend."

"I guess." There's a long silence, not entirely uncomfortable, in which Abed's fingertips keep softly stroking the hair at her temple.

"I don't actually know what I'm doing," Abed says slowly, considering. "I've never done this with a friend before. I guess because I never really had friends before. It's all been a lot more casual string-free consequence-free fun."

This last phrase sounds like something someone else said to Abed once, that he's just repeating by rote, and it makes Annie quietly furious to think about it. Still, a part of her worries that he really means it. She swallows. "Is that what you want with me?"

"No."

"Is that what you want with Troy?"

Abed meets her eyes at this, gaze sharp and focused. "No."

Okay then. It makes Annie feel a little better, somehow, to know that Abed doesn't have this all figured out either, that he's as new to this as she is, in a way.

"I have a book," she offers, a moment later. "Actually, I have a bunch of books. On . . . you know, people like you."

Abed narrows his eyes. "You mean neuroatypical people?"

"No – "

"Asexual people."

"No – are you asexual? I do have a book on that, actually – no, Abed, on . . . you know. People who are. Submissive."

"Oh," Abed says. There's a long pause, and Annie coughs.

"I don't know if that's how you want to identify, just, uh, well, there was this chapter on service-oriented submission that seemed familiar, and. Well."

Abed appears to consider this. "Do you have any books on people like you?"

Annie blushes. "Um. Yes. Maybe? I'm not sure yet, but." Sighing, she sits up and reaches over to her desk, grabs the book on top of the pile, and hands it over, not making eye contact. The Sexually Dominant Woman - A Workbook for Nervous Beginners.

"Cool," is all Abed says, paging through it. Annie's breathing slows down a little.

"Really?"

"Yes."

Annie leans over on the bed and gives him a half a hug. Abed pats her on the back.

"Annie," Abed says a minute later, as he flips through the first chapter, fingers drumming nervously against the pages.

"Yeah?"

Abed's fingers don't stop moving against the pages of the book. "If I – if Troy and I – "

"That would be fine with me," she says, quickly, and she thinks it's true. She's had a while to get used to the idea, and the books say it's okay, and it feels right to her. She's so used to competitiveness and jealousy, especially after the whole Britta-and-Jeff situation, that competitiveness and jealousy are almost a reflex, but when she stops to think about it she's pretty sure that's all it is, just a kneejerk reaction. Annie reminds herself that she's allowed to want this for Troy, for Abed, for herself, that there's a name for it and a way to make it work. "I think you two would be good together," she tells Abed.

This time Abed's the one who reaches out; he takes her hand in his and threads their fingers together.

"Cool," he says again. Then, quietly, almost affectionately, he asks, "do you want me to go down on you?"

Annie thinks about getting up and finding her books on polyamory to show Abed, but figures it can wait.

"Yes," Annie says.

-

A few days later, on campus, she takes him aside in the study room and touches his arm tentatively.

"Can you – do you think you could meet me in the supply room later?" She wore her thigh-highs today and no underwear, with this in mind, and just the idea of it has been driving her wild. She hasn't even been able to concentrate on her graph paper, which for her is almost unheard of.

Abed's eyebrows go up. "Yes," he says immediately. "Definitely." Then he pauses, brow furrowing, and adds, "assuming that you mean we should meet up for sex."

"Shhhh," Annie hisses, even though the rest of the group is out in the hallway, and not looking in their direction. "Yes, Abed, I mean for sex."

"Cool," Abed says. "Cool cool cool. Right after lunch? The supply room by the cafeteria?"

Annie nods.

She sits through lunch with building anticipation, her frustration and excitement bubbling up inside her. She's so wet her thighs are slick. She makes small talk with Shirley about the french fries, with Britta about the ketchup, and when Pierce caws and steals her fruit cup she doesn't even care. She hopes they can't tell, that she isn't obvious.

Abed doesn't seem any different than usual, chattering away with Troy and Jeff, munching happily on his burger and salad. She wonders if he feels the way she does, jangling and nervous inside, hot.

He stays cool and collected while he says goodbye to the group and goes off on his own, not betraying a thing, so Annie subsequently spends ten minutes sitting on a box in the supply room wondering if he's even coming, if he's still interested. She resists the urge to touch herself. But when he does show up he's breathing kinda hard and he doesn't waste any time in joining her over in the dark corner, flinging off his messenger bag and sliding to his knees between her legs like a runner stealing home.

"Hey," he says, looking up at her.

"Hey," she replies, knotting her hand in his hair. "You ready?"

"I was really looking forward to this," Abed says. His hands are on her knees, starting position.

"Touch me," Annie says, not even hesitating over the words anymore, "put your mouth on me. Hurry."

He doesn't waste any time, shoving her skirt up and getting his arms up under her thighs, lifting her up at an angle and burying his mouth inside her. She hears him inhale deeply, like he's taking in her smell.

"Abed," she says, and touches his neck lightly with four fingertips, watching his skin shiver. "Suck harder."

He follows her light guiding touch and presses in further, giving her the suction and friction she's asking for. She's close to coming already; she's spent the day rubbing her thighs together, thinking about this, waiting for this, so even the first simple touches of Abed's tongue make her want to cry out and shove her hips forward.

Abed pulls his mouth away, replacing his tongue with his fingers on her clit. "You'll have to be quiet," he warns.

"Right," she says, nodding at him. "C'mon, put your fingers inside me."

Abed meets her eyes and does, slips right inside and starts to stroke. Annie laughs and gasps and encourages his head back down with her hand firm on the back of his neck. He goes willingly, sucking and lapping like it's all he ever wanted to do.

Outside in the hall she can hear students talking, laughing, shuffling to and from the cafeteria. She closes her eyes tight, bites her cheek to keep herself from making noise, from giving them away.

Annie feels the wave of pressure building in her, coming fast and hard, so she rocks her hips forward, then back and forth against Abed's mouth until it overtakes her and she thinks she does cry out, a little, involuntarily, as she clamps down against Abed's fingers and he sucks hard against her clit. It goes on and on – she feels her whole body trembling violently but it's completely out of her control – and when she finally comes back to herself she feels strange, almost out of body, her fingers and toes tingling and numb.

"Ungh," she manages. Abed is still stroking and sucking, but she's too sensitive for it now. "Stop, stop."

He does, immediately. She takes a long, shuddering breath.

"I've never seen you come that fast before," Abed reports. There's a smear of wetness on his cheek and he looks awed.

"Yeah," Annie manages. "That was intense."

"Is it the semi-public sex?"

Annie grins at him shyly. "I've always wanted to do it in school," she confesses quietly. "For years. Thanks for going along with it."

Abed looks strangely pleased. "You're welcome," he says. "Anything you want, Annie."

Annie touches his lower lip with her thumb, just brushing against it. Abed's eyelids lower and his head bows slightly. Annie watches, fascinated, an inarticulable tenderness for him blooming inside her.

"You really mean that, don't you?" she asks softly.

He doesn't raise his head but he replies immediately, confidently: "Yes."

Annie cups his jaw in her hand, holds him like that for a moment.

Then Abed coughs and asks, "You wanna go again? Slower this time?"

She thinks about it. Abed's mouth is hardly even red yet. High on endorphins, she leans down and plants a slow, chaste kiss on his cheek, where he's wet from her body. "Sure," she says. "But keep it slow."

Abed nods and gazes up at her, starting with just a thumb below her clit, barely even touching her, moving in slow, teasing circles. Annie cups the back of Abed's neck, scratching with her nails at the skin there, the way he likes.

"That's nice, Abed," she murmurs, holding his gaze.

 

2. increases, decreases

"Do you want me to go down on you?" Abed asks, one afternoon, when they're watching True Blood season three episode commentaries. Abed is playing idly with a piece of string, twisting it into strange cat's-cradle shapes, tangling it up, untangling it and starting again.

Troy had been thinking about the soothing sound of Alexander Skarsgård's melodious voice and what he would do if he could change from human form to wolf form at will (he thinks he'd start by smelling everything with his dog nose), so it takes him a moment to shift gears.

"Uh, what?" he says, looking away from Sookie to stare at Abed. Abed returns his gaze calmly.

"It's okay if you don't. I just thought I'd offer. In case you wanted me to."

Troy blinks a few times. "I'm going to pretend you never said that," is what comes out of his mouth, and he reminds himself of when he was eighteen and a quarterback and a prom king.

"Okay," Abed agrees, but he makes his 'puzzled' face so that Troy will know he's puzzled. Troy sighs.

"Look, why . . . " he pauses mid-sentence; Abed waits for him to finish, like he always does. Troy hesitates. "Guys don't do that," he says instead.

"I beg to differ," Abed says, quirking a smile and waggling his eyebrows. Everything Troy ever knew or assumed about Abed takes a sharp ninety-degree turn and the new possibilities that blink into existence make Troy feel dizzy, exposed.

When he tries to speak, his mouth is dry; he licks his lips.

"I don't, I don't want that," he stutters after a moment, and he can't bear to keep looking at Abed while he says it but in his peripheral vision Abed nods.

"Okay," Abed says affably, the way he does when they're settling on pizza toppings or when Troy agrees to kill the spiders in the bathroom that freak Abed out. Like maybe he's relieved, even. Troy narrows his eyes and manages to meet Abed's gaze again.

"Abed, you know you don't have to do that kind of stuff for friends, right?"

"I know." He's playing with his string again, slipping his fingers along it and through it until it's an actual cat's cradle. Unable to help himself, Troy leans over and adds his fingers to the mix, pinching the X's and drawing them over the sides to make the next pattern, taking the string onto his fingers.

"I'm your friend no matter what," Troy says sincerely. "You don't have to worry about that."

"That's nice to know," Abed says, and reaches into Troy's personal space to twist the string into the next pattern, freeing it from Troy's hands. Their fingers brush together, comfortable, because they've always been comfortable with each other.

After a few minutes they hit a pattern that neither of them knows how to solve, so Troy gives the string back to Abed and tries to focus on True Blood again. It's a sort of sexy show, and as people get half-naked and make out on screen he can't stop noticing Abed's presence, Abed's body in the chair next to his, watching the show with him. Troy feels like he's breathing too fast.

"Maybe I should take up knitting," Abed muses, staring at the string in his hands. Troy glances at it. It's so tangled around his fingers that it might as well be a pair of handcuffs binding him, and Troy tries not to think about the time they all played Dungeons and Dragons together, about the way Abed had raised his hands above his head and pressed his wrists together.

"Better figure out what you're doing first," Troy warns. Abed nods ruefully, and starts untangling.

-

(Troy is a football star at fifteen and the superstar best hope of his hometown, which means he's supposed to keep in shape and live wholesome and go to every party and get drunk a lot and tell people what to do and represent the town and date cheerleaders and be a gentleman and get laid as often as possible. After a while his coach figures out that he's never going to be comfortable being team captain and stops making so many demands on him, lets him play to his strengths, and Troy likes that, likes being given a playbook to memorize and a place to run and a ball to carry.

With girls, though, that never really happens, so he just does his best at dating Yasmine Tully, the prettiest and nicest of the four black cheerleaders, even though he's never sure when he's supposed to give her his letter jacket and when he's supposed to give her space. Yasmine likes it when he chooses things – where they eat, what bands they go to see, which earrings she should wear with this dress – so mostly he makes a lot of guesses and hopes he's not fucking them up too bad, hopes she's not miserable and hopes that she likes burgers and his friend Jason's band and the earrings with the little bits of amber in them. She never really says one way or another, just smiles at him, kisses him, says yes to him.

"Troy," she breathes, one night when they're making out in his dad's Volvo and she's guided his hand under her shirt so that he can touch her over her bra, "I want you to know something." Troy braces himself for a revelation of disaster – she's terminally ill, she's breaking up with him, she's secretly a spy sent to kill him – but what she says, after a dramatic pause, is: "I've been saving it for you."

He almost asks saving what?, but then realisation dawns, and for one utterly crazy second he considers telling her that he's been saving it, too, since it sounds nicer than saying that he's a hopeless virgin star quarterback.

"Yeah?" is all he ends up saying, breathlessly because they've been making out for a while and because he's hard in his pants. He shifts his hips away from her a little, not wanting her to feel it, then wonders if maybe she wants to.

"Do you – do you want that?" she asks. She's so sweet and nice. She's got her hand on his waist, is just running her fingertips back and forth over his skin where it peeks out from under his t-shirt.

"Yes," he says, because at least he knows the right answer to this one. "We might have to move into the back seat, though."

A little wrinkle appears on her forehead, one that he usually only sees when she's yelling at her little sister to get out of her room. Her hand stops moving against his waist.

"Or, or we could make a night of it," Troy tries. "We could do something special."

The wrinkle goes away and she smiles at him. "Yes," she breathes, kissing him deeply. Her fingertips start moving again.

After he drops her off that night, he goes home and jerks off, then lays awake half the night trying to figure out what he could do that would be special.

He ends up renting them a hotel room with money from his savings and taking her to dinner at the nice steakhouse first. Yasmine smiles all through the meal, and smiles when he leads her to the hotel room, and smiles as Troy takes off their clothes with trembling hands.

"I wanted you to be the one to show me this," she says, gasping, after he's finally gotten the condom on and gotten inside her. There's a trickle of sweat on her temple, sticking her hair to her face. She's beautiful, and Troy loves her, and he's absolutely terrified.

She's so hot and tight inside that he's afraid he's going to come embarrassingly fast. It's her first time and he knows he's supposed to make it good for her, but doesn't know how. He clenches his eyes tight and tries not to move for a while, conscious of their heavy breathing and Yasmine's body shifting awkwardly beneath him.

"Just – just tell me what you want. Want me to do," he manages, after a minute.

Yasmine blinks once or twice at that, then smiles, not her usual sweet smile, but a big one that shows off her overbite.

"Really?" She's moving around beneath him and Troy bites his lip.

"Yeah."

She kisses him, hot, searing, and he rocks his hips against her in a slow rolling thrust. When she breaks the kiss her forehead falls to rest on his shoulder and she's breathing funny.

"I was sort of hoping you would know," she laughs, shaking against him, clenching around him. Troy laughs too, can't help himself, and then his hips rock forward again and he's coming, hard and sudden.

"Oh, shit, sorry." He pulls out, not meeting her eyes. He's fucked it up. Yasmine collapses onto her side on the bed, still giggling.

"Fuck it," she says. Troy pauses in the process of throwing out the condom, his eyes going wide. Then she sits up and grins at him. Her breasts are small, with big dark-brown nipples, and her pubic hair is neatly shaved into a sort of rectangle, and Troy finds it within himself to hope that this isn't the worst first time anyone's ever had in their lives.

"We can try again, right? We have all night." She crawls over to sit next to him, pressing her forehead to his shoulder. Slowly, but not at all tentatively, she trails her hand over his thigh and starts touching his dick, just trailing her fingertips along it, careful not to graze him with her nails.

"We have all night," Troy agrees, amazed, and relaxes into the touch.)

-

Troy watches Abed after that, just keeps his eye on him, though he doesn't know what exactly he's watching for. But Abed doesn't touch him, doesn't try anything, doesn't invade his personal space or even look up when Troy walks from the bathroom to the bedroom with a towel around his waist. He doesn't seem gay. Troy's pretty sure he would've noticed before now if Abed was gay.

When Abed suggests that Annie move in with them, Troy wonders if it's meant as a secret message to him, like spy code: you had your chance.

"You really want Annie to move in with us?" he asks, the day after their big housewarming party when they're making sandwiches side by side in the tiny kitchen. Troy passes Abed the turkey at exactly the moment that he needs it, and Abed slices some cheese even though he doesn't want any, just because he knows Troy does, and they hand the mustard back and forth wordlessly, the way Troy remembers handing the football back and forth when he and his team were at their best.

Abed shrugs one shoulder and puts the block of cheese into a ziploc bag. "I think it would be good for her. I think it would be good for us."

"Because she'll . . . tone us down," Troy suggests, hesitating.

"Maybe. I bet she knows where the water goes in the iron."

That's true. Troy nods slowly. "Does that mean we take down the Dreamatorium?" He asks, resigned. He knows these things can't last. You have to grow up sometime. That's what his mom always says. Grow up, get a girlfriend, be a plumber.

Abed turns toward him, tomato and knife abandoned on the chopping block. "No."

Troy blinks and meets his gaze. "No?" Abed never talks like this, loud and almost angry.

"The Dreamatorium is non-negotiable. It stays. It doesn't change. It's – it's – " he looks upset, stuck, so Troy helps him out.

"It's in the lease," Troy supplies softly. It sounds official. He sets his hand beside Abed's on the counter so that their fingers are almost touching.

The tension drains out of Abed's face and he raises one finger in his I've-got-an-idea pose. "Or it should be."

Then they're abandoning their sandwiches, abandoning their beers, even abandoning the new episode of The Walking Dead that's about to air and Troy has never ever seen Abed do that before. Troy finds some broken crayons under the string and keys and old cellphone cords in the junk drawer, and Abed finds the lease behind the fridge, and then they're bending together over the document and Abed is writing the new clauses, alternating red and blue in his careful, neat handwriting.

"We never give up on dreams," Troy says. "Contractually."

Abed nods, and puts it into lease-talk. Troy doesn't understand it all, but there seem to be a lot of "withals" and "forthwiths," certainly enough to satisfy any legal mind.

"There," Abed says eventually. When he finishes writing he looks up at Troy and slowly, deliberately, turns his hand over so that it's palm-up on the kitchen table. His knuckles brush against Troy's fingertips and Troy wants really badly to reach over and take Abed's hand but he doesn't, quite.

"Nothing's going to change, Troy," Abed says seriously, and Troy knows he means it to be reassuring.

"Okay," Troy says.

-

Everything seems so simple when they're in the Dreamatorium; he can put on a costume and a funny accent and some really bad dialogue and be Abed's loyal associate, say things like "I'll follow you anywhere" and "Just tell me what you need, Inspector" and Abed will smile at him warmly, Abed will throw an easy arm around his shoulders, Abed will grasp his hand firmly and whisper in his ear to tell him to be very, very still.

Troy always shivers when Abed does that, the whispering thing, because Abed's breath is warm against his ear and Abed is a bit taller than he is and Abed sometimes shifts his hand so that he rubs hot friction into Troy's palm. Troy thinks that Abed must notice, that he must see Troy's reaction, that Abed is observant and smart and knows everything. Abed must know this about him. It's probably why he offered what he offered.

"Inspector, what were those – " Troy begins, and Abed presses a single finger to Troy's lips.

"Shhhhh," he says dramatically, actually louder than Troy. They stay like that, Abed pressed up against his side, the pad of Abed's index finger cool against Troy's lower lip, Abed's hand clasped firmly in his own – until the zombie attackers go past. Troy's heart hammers in his chest.

Abed removes his finger from Troy's lips. "I believe that they've gone, Constable," he says.

Troy squeezes Abed's hand. It seems like good characterization for Constable Reggie. Abed squeezes back, so it must be okay.

Just then there's a knock at the door, and when they shout out in unison for Annie to come in she trips through, bright and beautiful like always. Troy is caught between wanting her to join them – she always thinks up the best games – and a deep petty desire to have Abed to himself.

"Hey Annie," he says, after a moment, won over by her smile and her sensible shoes and her overall Annie-ness. "Wanna play Inspector Spacetime?" Troy's always thought that Annie would make a good Angie Lake. Especially in the priest outfit.

"We're doing the episode where the Inspector and Constable Reggie first meet," Abed explains, "so your potential roles are pretty much limited to evil zombie attackers or the Constable's overbearing dad."

"Nah," Annie says after a minute. Troy notices her noticing their clasped hands, and he knows that he should stop, should let go and step away, but his stomach tightens and he swallows hard and he . . . doesn't. Abed doesn't let go either, and they have a whole conversation with Annie, just standing there, Abed's skin warm and comfortable against his own. Troy's stomach does a slow flip when he thinks about how he's holding hands with Abed where Annie can see them, but beneath that he feels calm. He trusts Annie almost as much as he trusts Abed.

After Annie promises to get him some gum and gently closes the door behind her, Troy turns and smiles up at Abed, swinging their clasped hands slowly. Then, almost without noticing, as if it's something they do all the time, Troy leans in and kisses him, gently, on the lips, in the soft absent way that people kiss when they've been dating for months and they've grown used to one another. He realises his mistake – he and Abed aren't dating at all – halfway through, and pulls back in horror.

Abed immediately cocks his head. "Huh," he says, terrifyingly noncommittal.

Troy drops Abed's hand and takes a couple of steps backward.

"Uh, I – I think I have to go," he blurts out, and he stumbles from the Dreamatorium and out into the too-bright light of the hallway. He fumbles for his shoes, tosses a jacket over his Constable Reggie sweater, and is out the door before Abed can come after him.

-

He walks for a while, through the collegey areas of town between Greendale and City College, passing bars, restaurants, coffee shops. At one point he's pretty sure he's near Britta's place – he's never been there, but he dropped her off once, on his birthday – and he considers going in and asking her for advice. Britta's messed up and painfully open minded and has made plenty of mistakes in her life, so she'd probably understand. Troy could just vomit all his messy sloppy emotions out on her floor and then ask her to sort through them. Abed kinda wants to have sex with me, I think, Troy could say, for openers, and then go on from there to end up at but I think I want to marry him. Maybe with a digression about what his mom would say and how he'd be disfellowshipped and how Abed's dad is kind of scary and how this isn't how it's supposed to be.

Britta would probably get wide-eyed and bright and completely sincerely fake and encourage him to explore his alternative lifestyle. And she'd tell him that there was nothing wrong with him and then she'd probably engage in some terrible matchmaking scheme and it would all be wrong and horrible and public.

Not that the others would be any better. Jeff would probably tell him that romantic love is a cruel hormonal illusion, Pierce would pull out whatever congratulations-on-being-gay speech he had prepared for Jeff, and Shirley would put on that disappointed mom tone that Troy was all too familiar with when it was coming from his actual mom. At least Britta would probably have some pot.

Annie . . . Troy could maybe talk to Annie.

As if thinking about her could make her appear, like some amazing, incredibly organized, cardigan-wearing version of the devil, Annie materializes from around the corner. Belatedly, Troy remembers that she was going to the store; her backpack looks full of groceries.

"Troy!" She smiles when she sees him and skips over to where he's standing. "What are you doing here?"

Troy panics, abruptly abandons any and all plans to tell her about his feelings, and points desperately at the nearest storefront. "I'm going here," he blurts.

Annie looks up dubiously. "To the knitting store?"

Troy follows her gaze and sees that it is, in fact, a knitting store, multicoloured balls of yarn and funky looking sweaters arranged artfully in the window display under two giant six-foot knitting needles. An idea strikes him.

"Yeah, Abed said he'd teach us how to knit. I thought I'd get some more stuff."

Annie smiles. "Want some company?" she asks, sticking out her elbow in a cheerful, gentlemanly way.

Troy takes a deep breath – the first one he's taken since he accidentally kissed his best friend in the whole world and then fled the scene like a chump – and puts his arm through hers.

"I really, really do," he replies.

Troy has a lot of fun squeezing all the yarns, evaluating their scratchiness and fuzziness and colour; Annie has a lot of fun systematically grilling the store owner on the ideal materials for beginning knitters. They emerge with needles and a book and a few balls of yarn (purple and orange for her, orange and yellow for him; Annie let Troy pick the colours, but not what she's now calling the weights and gauges), as well as a pot of salve for Abed, who's been complaining about the yarn drying out his hands. In the process of picking out the perfect present for Abed, Troy almost manages to forget that he's totally messed things up with him, or led him on, or given him the wrong impression, or given him the right impression in the wrong way, or just generally ruined everything between them forever. But as they leave the store, Troy feels a heavy sense of dread that increases with each step.

When they get back to the apartment, Troy lets Annie go through the door first, bouncing and calling Abed's name, but when Troy shuffles in behind her Abed has a calm half-smile for both of them, and when they give him his present and show him their yarn, his five cools are directed at Annie and Troy equally. Troy tries to breathe.

"Thanks guys," Abed says, rubbing some salve into his knuckles. "This'll be fun." And Troy ventures a smile in his direction, and Abed nods at him specifically, and then Troy really does breathe, slowly, letting it go.

-

(Three days before Troy's seventeenth birthday, after a big win on the field and overwhelmed by the rush of relief and adrenaline, Troy doesn't kiss Robbie Barclay.

At first Troy doesn't even notice him, the room full of steam and sweat and towels, full of dudes calling each other faggot and giving each other high-fives, but then the shouting, celebrating crowd of football players dwindles and Troy and Robbie are the last ones in the room, sitting side by side on the bench, Troy lacing up his sneakers and Robbie shoving things into his gym bag.

"You were great out there tonight," Robbie says. He's a second-string player, but he got some field time tonight, filling in when Dylan took a rough tackle in the third quarter.

"Hey, you too," Troy offers, smiling at him. Robbie threw his t-shirt on right after his shower, so it's wet in places, askew on his body and sticking to him. There's a bead of water that Troy notices, right above the stretched-out collar, that's threatening to break free and run down in a little rivulet to soak into the soft grey cotton.

Neither of them speaks, for a moment, and the locker room seems almost obscenely quiet. Troy doesn't see it, but he feels it when Robbie slides his hand over Troy's thigh, palm hot and confident, when Robbie squeezes slowly, gently.

When he finally looks down, he's surprised at how big Robbie's hands are, how he spans Troy's thigh, how his fingers stretch to touch Troy's kneecap. His breathing speeds up, and he raises his head to meet Robbie's gaze; Robbie looks at him calmly but he licks his lips like he's nervous. Troy's stomach does a slow flip as the possibility opens in front of him. He could reach down, cover Robbie's hand with his. He could lean forward, put his mouth to the bead of water that's still clinging to Robbie's skin, struggling to fall.

"Really good game," Robbie murmurs, and it strikes Troy that maybe he's just being friendly, maybe he doesn't mean anything by it, maybe it's not what it feels like. Hot shame rolls through him then, and he thinks about the big empty space they're in, open doors on both sides, full of places where people could hide if they walked in and saw two football players making out. Troy's half-hard against the zipper of his jeans and Robbie's lips are pink, wet, open slightly. Troy wants very badly to kiss him.

"Thanks," Troy manages eventually, and doesn't move, and doesn't move, and doesn't move. Robbie's fingers are hot on his thigh and Troy wishes he knew what to do, how to tell, how to be sure. The moment holds a little longer, hovers in that space where Troy keeps on not kissing Robbie Barclay, and then it slips away entirely as Robbie's hand slips from off Troy's thigh.

Troy waits for Robbie to leave, then puts his head in his hands and breathes out slowly.

They both go to the party after, and even hang out a little, and Troy out of desperation pretends that nothing happened. Robbie is so easy-going and comfortable around him that Troy begins to wonder if maybe nothing did happen, if he really did make it all up out of nothing, because surely if Robbie felt the way that Troy does he'd be shaking a little, not meeting Troy's eyes, grimacing against the sharp taste of cheap keg beer in his mouth.

Later that night, when Troy's alone in bed and still buzzed he lets himself think about it: what might have happened if he had known what to do, if he had figured it out. Troy imagines Robbie kissing him, touching him, maybe even jerking him off in the showers. He wonders if Robbie has done that before, maybe done lots of stuff with other men. If Robbie would want to fuck him, maybe, and Troy in the darkness of his childhood bedroom puts his fingers inside himself and pretends it's cock, pretends he's being fucked up against the cool wet tile of the locker room showers, pretends that he hasn't messed everything up.)

-

Troy is still feeling a little edgy around Abed later that night when he shows them how to cast on. But then Abed stands over his shoulder, breathing quietly, giving Troy directions and brushing against his arm, touching his hands to correct his grip – it's like being directed by Abed in one of his movies, and Troy is so used to listening to Abed in that situation, so used to trusting him, that his heart slows down and he finds himself absorbed in the task in front of him.

It's clear now that Abed is going to let the whole kiss incident go. That he isn't going to say anything. Or do anything.

Troy follows instructions and moves the yarn around his needles until it's tangled systematically together. He breathes slowly and tries to be more like Abed, tries to put a lid on all his messy feelings that keep slopping out all over. Abed is so calm, and so disconnected, and clearly doesn't have of any of those messy sloppy feelings and Troy wishes he could be like that.

"Okay, so if you want to make it ribbed, you just do a different pattern of knitting and purling," Abed says, and Annie shuffles over closer to Troy so she can watch what Abed's doing. She smells like strawberries, and she smiles at Troy even though her knitting attempts are so far not going so well and Troy knows she hates not being good at things. Troy smiles back.

A few minutes later, when she gets mad at her yarn and throws down her needles, Troy presses up against her and takes her through it, step by step, and if it feels weird for him to be teaching Annie something, it also feels good in a really simple way to be pressed up against her, to cheer her on when she pumps her fists in the air, to hug her one-armed and watch her yarn turn into a logical pattern.

"Now we just have to figure out what to make," Annie says.

Troy nods. "With great power comes great responsibility."

"I'm glad you were here, Troy," Annie grins, and Troy grins back.

"Me too."

They play with the yarn a little, trying different things and giggling together, and it's not until a couple minutes later, when Troy looks up from Annie's hands and Annie's face, that he realises that Abed's watching them.

Troy tries a smile at him, but Abed doesn't smile back; instead, he puts on his puzzled face. Troy wants to explain, but doesn't know where to start, so he ducks his head and concentrates on his knitting instead.

He's basically just making a square. He figures that's good enough for now.

-

The next morning Annie leaves early for her Public Relations class, which leaves Troy and Abed rattling around the apartment alone. Troy never noticed before how quiet things get sometimes without Annie around; usually he and Abed are talking about movies or tv or the Dreamatorium or buttered noodles, but this morning Abed is oddly quiet and Troy misses Annie, who could at least keep a conversation rolling with talk about girl things, like romantic movies or hospital administration.

They both end up in the kitchen at the same time, trying to assemble the same bowl of cereal at opposite ends of the counter. When Troy reaches up to the top shelf for the cereal, Abed almost crashes into him, reaching for the same box; when Abed spins around to head towards the fridge, he almost crashes into Troy, who's also going for the milk; and when they each, individually, silently, make for the silverware drawer, they do bump into each other, Abed's body briefly warm against Troy's hands.

Abed doesn't make eye contact. "Excuse me," he says, the way he would to someone he doesn't know in the school cafeteria. Shocked, Troy tries to even remember a time when Abed apologised for getting in his way, and then realises that he's never had to; they've always just had a rhythm together.

Troy keeps his head down and waits for Abed to be done in the silverware drawer so that he can grab his own spoon. They settle in front of the tv with their bowls out of sheer habit – it's how they always spend their Thursday mornings, hanging out and watching tv in their pajamas, being lazy – but the tv stays dark.

"Did you want to watch something?" Troy asks, eventually. Usually Abed has something picked out, tells Troy all about it and gets him excited to see it, and then they watch that.

"Sure. Maybe you should pick."

Troy pauses with the spoon halfway to his mouth, dripping milk back into the bowl. Ever since they met Abed has been showing him stuff, teaching him about Star Trek: Voyager and Inspector Spacetime, being shocked when Troy admits that he's never seen Buck Rogers in the 25th Century or the episode of Friends where Chandler pees on Monica. He's always liked it, liked that Abed wanted so much to share the things he loves with him. Abed always picks the best stuff anyway, always knows exactly what to put on to suit Troy's mood. Lost for words, Troy shoves his spoon into his mouth. Milk dribbles down his chin.

Reaching over suddenly, Abed wipes the milk away with a folded-up kleenex. Troy stares at him, frozen in mid-chew.

The corner of Abed's mouth turns down. "Sorry."

Troy tries to say, "No, Abed, don't apologise," but his mouth is still full, so he aborts the attempt and finishes chewing first. While he's swallowing, Abed sets his bowl down purposefully and turns in his chair to look at Troy.

"Maybe we should talk about our romantic relationship," he suggests. Troy coughs up a cornflake.

"I know what you're going to say," Abed continues, and puts on his Troy-voice: "We don't have a romantic relationship, Abed!" Then back to Abed-voice: "But you kissed me and then you actually ran away like in a Julia Roberts movie and now I don't understand what you want."

"I don't want anything," Troy says immediately. "I'm fine. I don't need . . . " he trails off.

"Okay." Abed blinks. "Are you sure? Because if you want to have sex with me, I can – "

"No!" Troy's hand is shaking against his spoon. "That's – Abed, will you drop that already?"

"Okay," Abed says again. "Do you want to have sex with Annie, then?"

Troy sighs. "No, I don't want to have sex with Annie, she's – she's like my sister, Abed, okay? Just because Annie and I are friends doesn't mean you and I aren't best friends still. You don't have to . . . do this."

Abed doesn't speak, but stares at Troy for a while, long enough that Troy has to duck his head and stare at his soggy cornflakes.

Eventually, out of desperation, Troy turns on the tv. Angela Lansbury appears, in the middle of solving some crime in Cabot's Cove, so they watch the second half of 7x06 of Murder She Wrote while eating their breakfast. It doesn't suit Troy's mood at all.

They have Intermediate Film Studies together at two, but Troy decides to skip, and tells Abed he's not feeling good. After Abed leaves, he crawls into bed and stays there for a long time.

Abed isn't like other people, and it's not fair for Troy to want something from him that he can't give.

-

Troy doesn't catch them in the act or anything, doesn't overhear them or see Annie with her shirt askew or Abed with his pants unzipped. It's just the way Annie looks at Abed one day when the three of them are eating takeout Chinese and clicking their chopsticks at each other like pac-man mouths. Not with the flirty crush vibes she used to shoot Troy's way, and not with the possessive desire she used to direct at Jeff; it's something different, more grown up, more sure of herself. She looks at Abed as if they share a secret and she's completely comfortable with it. As he watches them, Troy's heart starts racing. When his brain catches up to his heart, he thinks, oh.

He can't stop seeing it, after that; he even finds himself looking for it, against his will, looking for stuff like Abed willingly standing pressed up against Annie in the kitchen, like Annie's hair being ever so slightly mussed in the back when he comes home from football practice, like the blankets on Abed's bunk bed being just a little messy one time in the middle of the afternoon.

He wonders if Abed made the same offer to Annie that he made to Troy. If he maybe offers that to a lot of people. If Annie said yes. If she kept saying yes.

-

Their plant has been sitting on the windowsill next to the lab bench, basking in the sunshine and (hopefully) bearing some fruit so that Annie will stop freaking out and they can get the bonus points for the assignment. Troy's been checking it every class kind of obsessively, but on Monday when he goes he doesn't look right away. He's looking instead at Shirley and Jeff, who are playing table football with erasers, and at Britta and Pierce, who are arguing furiously about something to do with probably capitalism, and . . . and at Abed and Annie, who walk in together shoulder to shoulder, smiling, thick as thieves.

Annie bounces up to Troy as if nothing's wrong, as if nothing's weird and broken and out of sync. "How's Raphael doing?" she asks, and Troy purses his lips.

"I haven't looked yet."

Annie frowns. "But you're usually such a proud papa!" She steps around him and reaches for the windowsill. Troy stands up suddenly, shoving his lab stool back with a loud scraping noise, and pushes her aside a little, beats her to it.

"I got it, I got it," he grumbles. Annie stumbles backwards. Troy can feel her behind him, can feel Abed looking at him too, but he doesn't turn around to look at them. He feels irrationally angry at them both, and ashamed, because he has no right to be angry at anyone. He pokes Raphael to see if he's pregnant yet.

"Well?" Annie asks, loudly, crossing her arms. She's pissed at him. At the next table over, Shirley and Jeff stop talking and turn in unison toward Troy and Annie, as if they have some kind of shared synchronized gossip-detection mechanism. At least Britta and Pierce are too oblivious to notice.

"I think there might be some seeds," Troy says eventually, and steps to the side, gesturing Annie up to look at the plant, shooting for courtesy but overcompensating awkwardly.

"Um, thanks," Annie mumbles, and gives Troy a weird look before poking at Raphael herself.

Abed comes to stand next to him. "Is this about – "

"No," Troy says, loud enough that even Britta and Pierce notice, turning to look at them.

"Oh, Troy, I think you're right, there are some seeds." Annie shoots him a nervous smile and points way too enthusiastically at Raphael.

"Congratulations, guys," Abed murmurs, and Shirley and Britta echo him quietly. They're all still glancing from Troy to Annie to Abed with worried little expressions. Troy wishes he could just disappear completely.

He takes a deep breath, bites his lip, and steps a little closer to Annie. "Thanks," he says to Abed, then turns to meet Annie's eyes. "So, do you want to do the diagram, or, I mean, I can do the diagram – "

Annie shakes her head. "No, no, you did the last one, I mean, I don't mind – "

"I don't mind either." They end up talking over one another and then both stop talking at the same time.

"Well, if you want to, go ahead," Annie says eventually.

"Okay," Troy says uncertainly. He digs around in his backpack for the pencil he's had to start carrying since becoming lab partners with Annie. "Sorry," he says, when he finally finds it. "Sorry, Annie."

"That's okay," she says, and frowns at him. "Troy, what's wrong?"

Troy doesn't particularly want to break down crying in biology – again – and he doesn't even know if he could tell her anyway, doesn't know if he has the words for it. Nothing's wrong, is part of the answer, and I don't know what's wrong, and everything's wrong. He opens his mouth silently, but is saved by Dr Kane, who strides up the aisle to the front of the class, already talking.

"All right, today's the last day to use the microscopes, and I mean that, because we only have six microscopes in the entire school and the chemistry department wants them back. So get to work on those slides."

Abed sits down next to Troy and leans over to speak in his ear. "Do you think Dr Kane is like Professor Snape?"

Troy smiles a little. "Then who's Harry Potter?" he asks.

"You," Abed replies, immediately. "You're our everyman. Annie can be Hermione, I can be Luna, and – "

"You're not Ron?"

Abed's mouth turns down at the corner. "Maybe this isn't the right cultural reference."

"Maybe not," Troy agrees, sighing.

-

Abed asks him if he wants to do the episode where Constable Reggie meets the Inspector again. Troy, against his better judgement, says okay. When they hold hands Troy squeezes even harder than last time and shivers when Abed whispers in his ear and closes his eyes and doesn't kiss him.

 

3. ripping back

Annie watches Abed's hands moving as he knits. He's getting pretty good, so his needles move fast even when he's watching tv at the same time: stitch, stitch, stitch, quick and easy. The thing he's knitting, bizarrely, doesn't seem to have grown any bigger – if anything, it's shrunk – and Annie watches him speed along for a little while, curious. Abed's got great hands, with long, limber fingers. A little jolt of pleasure shoots through her as she remembers what he did to her with them this morning.

A moment later she realises that she's staring and shakes herself out of it, looking around guiltily to see if the other two noticed. Abed's focused on the tv – the 2004 Inspector Spacetime Boxing Day Special – but Troy is looking at her, and his knitting needles aren't moving at all.

When she makes eye contact with him, he drops his gaze and focuses on his yarn. Annie blushes and looks away. Usually Troy is cuddled right up next to her on tv nights, but tonight he's not. He hasn't been all week, ever since he started acting so weird in biology class. It makes Annie feel cold, even with blankets wrapped around her.

"So, Abed," Annie says, coughing. "Have you decided what you're making? Because it still just looks like a square."

Abed shrugs. "That's what I'm making."

Troy looks up again, though he doesn't look at Annie. Annie bites her lip.

"So, wait, you've been making that same tiny square this whole time?" Troy asks.

"I've been making a series of tiny squares," Abed replies. "This is my fourteenth."

Troy smiles then. "Hey, I've been making squares too." He digs into the knitting store bag he's been using to store his yarn and pulls out two vaguely rectangular patches of cheerful orange and yellow. He frowns at them. "I guess they're not technically squares."

Abed stops knitting and tilts his head. "That one might be a trapezoid," he offers, pointing with a needle.

"I finally figured out how to not add stitches by the end of it, though," Troy says proudly.

Annie smiles and leans way over to nudge Troy with her shoulder. He looks at her, finally, and smiles back tentatively. "Those are actually called swatches," she offers. "It's a technical term for the thing you make when you're preparing to make a thing. Um, assuming that you're preparing to make a thing."

Troy and Abed both nod sagely at this new knitting vocabulary.

"What have you been making, Annie?" Abed asks. Annie ruefully holds up the single half-square she's been working on for the last couple of weeks.

"This is as far as I've gotten." At Abed and Troy's twin dubious looks, she adds, "I had to rip out a bunch of rows a bunch of times, when I made mistakes!"

"Well, when you finish it, you should give it to me," Abed says, knitting needles moving again in quick, precise movements. "I'm making something. You too, Troy, you should give me all your squares and trapezoids as you finish them."

Troy shrugs. "Sure."

"If I ever finish this thing, you can have it," Annie says, frowning at her current row and moving laboriously through the process of a knit stitch. She may need stitch markers.

"Cool," Abed says, looking satisfied, as he begins the process of casting off.

Troy shuffles towards her, just a little. He's probably just making himself comfortable against the pillows, but it's closer than he's been all week. She bumps him again with her shoulder, and this time he bumps back, and it's almost okay.

-

"What about Troy?" Annie asks the next day, about five minutes after she's finished gasping and sweating.

Abed puts on his puzzled face at her. His hair is mussed where she was grabbing it.

"I mean, I know you asked him – did he ever say yes?"

Abed shakes his head. "I would tell you about any other sexual partners I was interested in." He's really internalized that book on polyamory that Annie lent him.

"That's good to know," she replies slowly, "but that's not what I was getting at. I – " she takes a pause, secure now in the knowledge that Abed will wait for her to gather her thoughts. "I just feel kinda weird having this with you, without him." It sounds odd, but she can't quite find the right words to express what she means. It's a new experience for her.

Abed nods. "He kissed me one time, a while ago," he says eventually. "But then he ran away and never mentioned it again, so I didn't know what to do."

"He kissed you," Annie repeats.

"Yeah. Troy kisses really sweetly. Like a movie star from the forties."

Annie can imagine. She spent years of her life imagining, actually.

She takes a breath. She can do this. "Do you think you should talk to him? Figure out what's going on?"

Abed's brow furrows and he sighs. "Troy's not so good at talking sometimes. And I – " he pauses, breathing out through his nose. "I think I'm not so good at whatever Troy does. I thought the roleplay would work but we can only do that handholding episode so many times and plus Troy's really bad at being Captain James . . . "

Annie nods, and he trails off. "I get it," she says. She really does, and she finds that she wants to fix it, wants to make this better for them. It's not as hard as she thought it would be, to want to share. "Do you want me to try to talk to him?"

Abed nods at her emphatically. "Sure. If you want."

"I think I do," Annie says quietly, thinking it over.

-

On Wednesdays Abed has his Judo class, but after biology and study group Annie and Troy don't have anything, so they always walk home together. Usually they have a lot to talk about – gossip about their friends, stories about their professors, anecdotes about Abed – they're both great at anecdotes about Abed – but this week they're quiet, tense. That in itself seems like a sign, so Annie takes a moment, rehearses her speech, and then nods to herself, making her decision to start the conversation.

As she does she has a kind of double-vision, of the world as she would've seen it three years ago and the world as she sees it now. The very fact that she's about to ask Troy Barnes whether he's interested in hooking up with her . . . boyfriend? sex buddy? makes her feel existentially dizzy. The books all say it's fine, and she believes them, and she wants this, she does. Even so, her throat wants to close up and she has to cough before she can speak.

"Troy, there's something I want to talk to you about," she begins. She's rehearsed these words so many times that she can almost see them on a teleprompter in her mind; so far, things are going according to plan.

Troy glances sideways at her. She's never seen that particular expression on his face before, pained and knowing. "Is it about Abed?" he asks.

The teleprompter in Annie's mind screeches to a halt.

"Yes?" she says. Then she gathers her thoughts, mentally re-starts the teleprompter, and continues. "Look, Abed told me some of what had gone on between you two . . . "

Troy laughs, and Annie thinks that laugh would sound bitter coming from anyone else. Coming from Troy, it just sounds exhausted. "How could he, when I'm not even sure what's been going on myself?"

Annie bites her lip. Troy starts walking faster, and Annie half-jogs a few steps to catch up. "Wait, wait, Troy – "

"I don't want to talk about it," Troy says, and boy can Annie see how this kind of thing didn't go over well with Abed with his love for explicit verbal negotiation. She puts her hand on his arm and spins him around to face her.

"Please," she says desperately, not knowing how else to make him stop. He blinks at her. She takes a deep breath; she's completely off script now, but she's Annie Edison, and she's been thinking about taking a drama course. She can improv. "Listen, I know that there's something between you two, I can see it. And that's okay!" she hastens to add, as Troy looks dismayed. She wishes she could remember any of the words she's learned to describe this, but her mind is blank. "I don't – I think it's great! And you may not know how to, to define it yet," she says, speaking over the beginning of Troy's objection, "and that's okay, because Abed probably doesn't either. But you don't have to run away from it."

Troy licks his lips, blinks a few times. He seems lost for words. "Annie, what are you doing?"

She frowns. "What?"

"Why are you – look, you guys don't have to keep sneaking around, I know the two of you are together – "

"We're not m-monogamous – "

" – and that's fine by me, okay? You're both, you're both so smart and so cool and you make a really great couple and I'm happy for you, I am. You just gotta give me some time to get over it."

Annie was about to interject, to voice another objection, to try to explain, but this stops her in her tracks. "To get over Abed," she murmurs, realising. Troy shrugs, refuses to meet her eyes.

"Whatever. I only . . . I want you guys to be happy, okay?"

"Okay, Troy, but you can have that too, that's what I'm trying to tell you! Look, I have a book I can lend you – "

"I don't need a book!"

Annie frowns, and Troy visibly deflates. He rubs his fingers against his forehead, then continues in a softer tone: "Annie, I appreciate what you're trying to do but – but Abed doesn't want – we don't want the same stuff."

"Are you sure? Have you actually talked to him about it? Because Abed is crazy about you, Troy, I know it, and you're both just – just being idiots! I – he doesn't always say things the right way, I admit, but he really cares. You know, in his – in his way."

For some reason this seems to make Troy's sad eyes even sadder. He sighs. "Are you done?"

Annie sticks her thumbs under her backpack straps defensively. "For the moment," she allows.

"Calling me an idiot doesn't really help your case."

Annie softens. "I'm sorry."

"And you don't have to tell me about how Abed is," Troy sighs.

Annie wants to tell him that he's got it wrong, or at least that she thinks he's got it wrong, that things are different, and can be different . . . but she can't find the right words, and Troy isn't listening anyhow, so they walk on together in tense silence. She wonders if she was wrong, if what Troy and Abed want might be incompatible, if she just got carried away by a theory.

After a few minutes, she slides her hand through the crook of his elbow, linking their arms, and puts her head on his shoulder. Beside her, Troy sighs deeply, seeming to relax a bit.

"I want to talk about this again," Annie murmurs, and Troy doesn't pull away. "When you're ready."

He doesn't say anything for a long moment, but eventually he says "okay," kind of regretfully. He's only agreeing to make her happy. She'll take it for now; she holds on to Troy's arm, Troy's acquiescence, and Troy's friendship, and waits.

-

While the three of them are cooking dinner the next evening, Annie sidles up to Abed and gestures for him to bend his head down towards her. Troy's on the other side of the kitchen peeking compulsively at the rice.

"You should kiss him," she says, as quietly as she can, standing on her tiptoes to put her lips to Abed's ear. Troy glances over at them for a second, then turns his attention resolutely back to the rice, pursing his lips. Annie winces.

"I should?" Abed asks, not bothering to even lower his voice.

"He doesn't think you're serious about him," she whispers. "Which is, I'm sorry, what you get when you begin relationships by offering casual oral sex all the time."

"Troy," Abed calls out, "you know I'm serious about you, right?"

"Yeah buddy," Troy replies absently.

There's a pause. Annie pokes Abed in the side.

"Romantically as well as spiritually," Abed adds. At this Troy looks up, startled.

"Wha – " he begins, but Abed's taken three quick steps across the kitchen and bent his head to Troy's, kissing his mouth. Annie sort of expected herself to feel jealous about it, because it's easier to be okay with an abstract than with people kissing right in front of you, and she was all set to master herself and be polite and share, but when she sees Troy's hands hovering just above Abed's ribs, aching to touch him but not quite daring, the feeling inside her chest is hot and tender and closer to pride than anything else.

She surprises herself by wanting this so badly for them.

When Abed stops kissing Troy, Troy still hasn't managed to land his hands on Abed's body, and his eyes shift over immediately to Annie.

"Uh, Annie?" Troy says, sounding like he's currently around a four on the Barnes Freakout Scale.

Annie skips over to stand next to them. "Yes?"

"I think I'll take that conversation now?" His voice is kind of squeaky.

"Um," Annie says, glancing up at Abed, who's working his puzzled face pretty hard. "I think maybe you and Abed should talk? I'll just . . . go . . . somewhere." She starts to back away, but Troy grabs her hand hard.

"No way," he says. "No way, Annie. You two have been – you've been – " he drops Annie's hand, then backs up and plunks down in a kitchen chair. "Will you just explain to me what's going on? My brain hurts, and, and my heart hurts, and I don't get it."

He sounds like he's about to cry. Abed casts a desperate, horrified glance at Annie, looking like he's at about a six on the Barnes Freakout Scale himself (the scale, which Annie designed, is logarithmic, so six is actually pretty high). Annie sighs and steps forward to crouch in front of Troy, taking his hand again.

"Abed, come here," she says quietly, and Abed is by her side immediately. She bites her lip, then speaks again, her voice coming out so quiet that even she almost can't hear it: "Kneel down." Abed does, sitting gracefully back on his heels with his palms on his thighs. She puts a steadying hand on his shoulder, and she can feel him relax against her, his muscles loosening. Annie's never given Abed a command when they weren't having sex, but she finds that she likes it this way too, likes the way that the lack of sexual anticipation lets her focus on Abed, on what he needs.

Troy glances between them, brow furrowing, maybe noticing Abed's sudden state of calm, but he doesn't say anything. Annie squeezes his hand, tries to let him know that it's going to be okay.

"Tell Troy why you offered to, to go down on him in the first place." Annie wills herself not to blush.

Abed blinks, then says, "I wanted to be closer to you," in that easy, matter-of-fact Abed tone that tends to throw people off. "I like doing it, and I wanted you. I wanted to make you happy."

It doesn't throw Troy off. "So why didn't you say that, Abed?" Troy asks plaintively. "The way you asked, you made it sound so cold, like it was – like it was just sex."

Abed frowns with one corner of his mouth, his eyebrows drawing together. "The way I feel about you isn't cold," he says quietly. Troy's expression softens immediately.

"I know," he sighs. "I know that, buddy." He reaches out, as if unconsciously, while Abed reaches up at exactly the same moment, and their fingers meet and slide together easily.

"I've never had friends like you guys before," Abed adds.

Troy snort-laughs the way he does when he's being cheered up after being sad, and Annie smiles tentatively, mostly to herself. "So, what, you just offered to go down on everyone instead of asking us out?" he jokes. Annie, kneeling slightly behind Abed now, nods her head seriously and emphatically at him over Abed's shoulder.

"Oh," Troy says, eyes widening as he catches Annie's meaning. "Oh."

"I – " Abed begins, and Troy nods.

"Right. Because – "

"Yes."

"So we – "

Abed's mouth twitches toward a smile. "Okay."

Troy leans down and kisses him, softly, sweetly. He really does look like an old-fashioned movie star or something. Like Cary Grant. Slowly, Annie gets to her feet and goes back to the stove to check on the rice, which is starting to burn to the bottom of the pot, but isn't too bad. The stir-fry looks almost done, so she adds the kale, biting her lip to keep from grinning too much, studiously not listening to the murmurs and soft kissing sounds behind her.

A minute later, Troy and Abed come up behind her. Troy takes her hand, and Abed kisses her temple, just brushing his mouth against her hairline.

"Dinner's almost ready," she offers, her body warm where they press against her.

"I'll get the plates," Troy says. But he doesn't move right away.

 

4. knit one purl one

"We're . . . polyamorous," Troy says, doubtfully. "Is that like being, um, bisexual?"

"Sort of?" Annie says. "In that it can be a sexual identity."

"I'm asexual," Abed volunteers. He's sitting on the floor at Annie's feet, leaning back against her chair. One of her legs is casually pressed against Abed's side. Troy reminds himself that he doesn't have to be jealous anymore. It's going to be a hard habit to break.

"I'm gonna need a dictionary before anyone can get freaky," Troy mutters.

Annie nods her emphatic agreement. "I know, isn't it deplorable? No one ever tells you about this stuff, and you think you're supposed to just – and it turns out there are a lot more options than you thought." At the end of this little speech, she's red in the face, embarrassed.

Reaching out, Troy takes her hand. "I didn't – I never thought we could have this," he says quietly, and she smiles at him, her blush fading. Maybe this won't be all that hard to get used to after all; if it's just this, just him and Annie and Abed, it might be easy.

Annie squeezes his hand, then lets go and nudges Abed with her leg.

Abed places his hand on Troy's knee, not caressing or squeezing, just offering the pressure of touch. "We can have whatever we want," Abed says, as if it's just that simple.

"Okay." Troy's voice sounds hoarse. He puts his hand over Abed's, rubbing gently with his thumb. "Okay." He wants very badly for Abed to kiss him, but doesn't know if it's right with Annie sitting right there.

Abed cocks his head. "Do you want me to kiss you now?"

"Yes," Troy breathes, and Abed does, coming up on his knees and shuffling over, then offering a tiny smile before leaning in and brushing his lips against Troy's. Troy surges forward and extends the kiss, pressing their mouths more firmly together, soft and warm and wet, before pulling back again.

Olivia Dunham comes on screen; Abed turns around promptly and sits back down to watch, but now he's in front of Troy's chair instead of Annie's. Troy sneaks a glance over at her; she gives him a shy grin and a nod, so he grins back.

By the time the first commercial break rolls around, Troy has his hand in Abed's hair and is carding through it gently. Abed has nice hair.

Speaking over a shampoo commercial they've all already seen 500 times, Abed says, "The question is whether we should tell the rest of the study group about us. Then we wouldn't have to sneak around if we want to have sex at school."

Troy snorts some Pepsi. "What?"

Annie blushes furiously. "It was just the once!"

"Oh my god," Troy says. "That's awesome."

Turning his head, Abed looks up at him for a second, speculatively, clearly gathering data on what Troy might like. It makes Troy feel hot, pinned down by Abed's careful scrutiny.

"Anyway, I think we should tell them," Abed continues, when he stops staring at Troy and looks back at the tv again. "That's what people in non-casual relationships do, right? It doesn't have to be a secret?"

"It doesn't have to be a secret," Annie agrees, and her voice sounds rough, strangled. Glancing over at her, Troy catches her eye and frowns. Annie makes a sad pouty face back at him.

"Definitely not," Troy agrees, still petting Abed's hair. "You're – it's not a secret, buddy." Troy's got butterflies in his stomach at the very idea of telling people, even just the study group, but he thinks he can do it for Abed. If it's what Abed wants.

"Cool," Abed says, and leans back a little into Troy's touch.

-

Abed starts kissing him a lot after that, maybe because he realises that Troy really likes it. They kiss in the kitchen, in the blanket fort, leaning over towards each other at the kitchen table, and one time outside on the lawn in front of their building, in the middle of a game of Blazertag, when both of them are bright and panting from exertion. Each time Abed asks first, just straight-up asks Troy if he wants to be kissed, and each time Troy says yes, yes, yes. Troy can feel Abed gathering the data, taking each yes into consideration as an indicator of future desires and behaviours. Having that intense kind of attention focused on him makes Troy feel good, hot inside, exposed but somehow not embarrassed. He wishes he knew how to return that feeling.

"Do you want – is this – is this okay?" Troy murmurs anxiously as they make out in the blanket fort, smushed together on the lower bunk. Abed pulls back a little and cocks his head, so Troy stumbles forward over the words: "Is – I hope this is okay for you," he says. "I don't want you to just do things because I want them."

Abed puts on his most puzzled puzzled face and pulls back a little. "That is what I want," he says, and he sounds almost hesitant. "I want to do the things that you want."

"But – " Troy objects, and now Abed's hand is on his chest, pushing him down to the bed.

"Relax," he says, and kisses Troy's mouth softly. "Just lie back and enjoy. I'm fine. You should really stop worrying."

Troy has to laugh a little at the idea of Abed telling him to relax and stop worrying, and as he laughs Abed kisses him again, and then Troy closes his eyes and lets his head fall back against the pillow and kisses back.

A couple minutes later, Annie comes home with take-out for dinner, and Abed springs up and off the bed. He's halfway to the blanket-door when he turns around and looks back, a little frown pulling his lips down. Troy sits up.

"It's okay to want things, Troy," he says, fast and completely deadpan. "Even just things for yourself."

"Okay," Troy agrees softly. Abed nods at him once, briskly, and walks out into the hallway. Troy lets out a long breath, closes his eyes for a second, then gets up to follow him.

-

In bio class the next day, Troy sits on Abed's left and Annie sits on Abed's right and they spend the first ten minutes doing little plays with their dead frogs. Annie says "ew" about six hundred times, but she giggles whenever Troy makes his frog do the can-can, so he figures it's okay. After a while she picks up her own frog, which bows to Abed's frog and Troy's frog, and they quickly establish a complicated plot about the first all-frog mission to the moon.

"That's not the assignment," Dr. Kane says as he passes by, and the three of them freeze mid-liftoff. There's a long pause. "But it is quite entertaining. And if there's one thing you learn in prison, it's how to take a joke." Then he walks past.

Troy blinks and slowly lowers his frog back to its dissecting pan. Abed and Annie do the same.

"Grow up, you guys," Jeff whispers harshly from the lab stool on the other side of the bench from Troy. "I don't want to get graded down by association."

"Shut up, Jeff, just because you have no sense of whimsy is no reason to take it out on them," Britta retorts. She's working from a laptop, dissecting an online frog model instead of a real one for moral reasons.

"Whimsy?" Jeff repeats, outraged, but Shirley, sitting on his other side, kicks him under the table.

"Shut up, Jeffery," she says harshly. Then, turning sweet again, she spins around on her stool and addresses Annie, Abed, and Troy. "I think it's nice to see you three getting along so nicely again. We were all worried for a while there."

Troy glances at Abed, who's glancing at Annie, who's glancing at Troy.

"What do you mean?" Annie asks eventually, in her suspicious voice.

Shirley smiles. "Well, you three were so weird around each other, all those long sad looks and intense silences and such, and Britta said it was roommate burnout and that you were all growing to hate each other – "

Britta hisses "hey!" in the way that means that's exactly what she said, but Shirley keeps going.

" – and Pierce said it was all sexual tension and Jeff said it was the inevitable loathing that all humankind has for one another, which now I think about it isn't that different from what Britta said – "

This time both Jeff and Britta object loudly.

" – but I just knew you three would get through whatever it was and stay friends." She narrows her eyes and her voice drops. "And that it had nothing to do with half-gay sexual tension, Pierce," she adds, before Pierce can get out more than a syllable.

"I think it's called bisexuality, Shirley," Britta puts in, her arms crossed in defiance now.

"Actually," Troy hears himself say, and he's so surprised that he almost looks around to see who's talking. Then he stops himself and checks in with his friends; Annie bites her lip nervously, but nods, and Abed quirks him a grateful smile, so Troy clears his throat and continues. "Actually, Annie and Abed have been having sex for a while now." The group gasps; Troy suspects that even Abed gasps, just because he loves the group-gasp trope so much. Annie buries her face in her hands.

"Involved, Troy, we said we were going to say that we were involved."

"Sorry, Annie. Um," Troy continues, wanting to get it all out, "and Abed and me haven't – we're not completely, uh, involved yet, but, um, we're going to be involving each other sometime soon. I think." He looks nervously to Abed, who nods a serious confirmation nod. Troy smiles in relief and they do their special handshake, clap-clap and everything's right with the world.

Now the room is kind of quiet, and Troy realises that everyone, even Starburns and Magnitude and Vicky and Dr Kane, has heard what he said.

He raises his voice a little. "Um, but no one tell my mom, okay?" he adds, looking around the silent classroom hopefully.

-

The fallout in the study room afterward is basically what Troy predicted. Jeff tells them to do whatever they want and keeps explaining loudly that he doesn't care, but Troy thinks he's just sad that he's not having a half-gay threesome. Shirley keeps insisting that someone ought to get married, but she seems a bit confused as to who that should be, and keeps getting sidetracked by Britta, who argues fiercely with her about DOMA and Proposition 8 and anti-polygamy rulings in British Columbia while blushingly ignoring all three of them and avoiding any kind of eye contact. Pierce clearly does not understand the situation at all, but keeps winking at Abed, who has a winking problem and can't help winking back and encouraging him no matter how many times Troy and Annie elbow him in the ribs.

After about an hour, when the conversation has degenerated into discussions of (1) whether Tara's death on Buffy was problematic (Abed and Shirley), (2) who ought to give who away in a threesome marriage ceremony (Jeff, Annie, and Pierce) and (3) which kinds of Fritos are the best (Britta and Troy), Jeff yells, "Anyway!" over the group's competing voices, then once there's silence looks at the three of them and says "Congratulations," with a wry but sincere half-smile.

" . . . honey barbeque flavour twists," Troy trails off before he realises that everyone else has stopped talking. Once he does, he shoots a desperate glance at Annie, who nods once. Moving in sync, they each grab one of Abed's hands and pull him the heck out of there before he can wink lasciviously at Pierce again.

"Good talk," Abed says sincerely as he walks backwards to keep up with them. He nods at Shirley, who nods back at him.

"Just don't go getting mixed up in any of that lesbian black magic," she warns.

"I won't," Abed promises, and then they're out the door and Abed spins around so that he's facing forward with them, walking in step.

"Families," Annie mutters, as they hurry down the corridor, and Troy can't help but wince and agree.

"Which one do you want to do next?" Troy jokes. "Mine, yours, or Abed's?" The three of them exchange terrified glances and then, perfectly synchronized, touch their noses for not-it.

"Maybe we'll work up to that," Annie suggests. Abed and Troy nod wide-eyed agreement.

-

He and Abed do have sex, eventually. Annie keeps finding excuses to leave the apartment, each time giving specific details about exactly when she'll be back ("Hours and hours! Sooooo much studying to do! Not till eight pm at least!") and after three or four times Troy starts to think that they should do something with their time alone other than just making out and watching Breaking Bad. But it's so nice to have their old easiness back, reading each others' minds and finishing each others' sandwiches, that Troy wants to bask in it a little.

They even play Inspector Spacetime in the Dreamatorium again, and this time when Abed holds his hand and whispers in his ear Troy does kiss him, pressed up against the side of the DARSIT and quiet as they can be while the zombie attackers go by.

"That's an element of the Inspector's friendship with Constable Reggie that I hadn't considered," Abed says, breathless, when the zombies have gone and the kiss has ended, and Troy laughs hard enough to break character. He decides then and there to ask Abed to have sex the very next time they're alone together.

Abed ends up beating him to it, though. Troy is washing the plates from lunch and placing them carefully in the drying rack (all of them facing the Annie-and-Abed-co-ratified westward direction, with the cups on a separate towel), when Abed comes into the kitchen and leans against the counter.

"Do you want me to go down on you?" he asks, quietly, when Troy turns to face him. He's not moving at all, except for his right thumb, which is rubbing nervous little circles against the side of his index finger.

"Yes," Troy says, as fast as he can.

Abed walks slowly over to him, still fidgeting. Troy reaches out to take his hand.

"It's okay," Troy breathes, "I'm nervous too."

"I shouldn't be," Abed protests. He looks annoyed. "I've done this lots of times before."

Troy makes an immediate resolution to make Abed tell him those stories sometime, and shrugs.

"It's different with you and me," he says simply. "It's always different." Troy doesn't say it, but in hindsight he's pretty sure that's why they got so tangled.

Abed blinks twice. "That's true," he says slowly. Troy kisses him, which is starting to get kind of familiar but hasn't gotten any less exciting.

When Abed pulls back, Troy shifts forward to follow him, but Abed's hand is spread across Troy's sternum, holding him back.

"Annie said I should tell you this in advance," he says. "So that we won't have any more misunderstandings. I told her that it's usually just easier to make someone orgasm and then slip out before they realise you're gone, but she insisted."

"Okay," Troy says slowly. He frowns. He doesn't want Abed to slip out after they've . . . after.

"Kissing is nice, and holding hands and stuff, but I don't really want to be touched much other than that."

"Oh," Troy says. That sort of makes sense. "Okay. Do you want to, to, o-orgasm?" he stutters and winces around Abed's word, wishing he'd said 'come' instead.

"No," Abed replies.

Troy shuffles a little closer as the force of Abed's restraining hand softens. He squeezes Abed's hand in his. "But you get something out of it?" he says, tentatively.

"I like it. Feeling useful."

"And making people happy?" Troy asks, starting to understand. "Like, making people happy in a way where you can tell they're obviously happy?"

"Yeah." Abed cocks his head, considering. "Maybe."

Troy nods. "That's what I didn't get before."

Abed kisses him softly.

"I'm sorry, Abed," Troy says sincerely, because his mom taught him to apologise when he made assumptions about people. His mom also taught him not to kiss other boys, but then Troy's mom always had a lot of rules, and Troy can't possibly follow them all.

"That's okay. I was wrong too. I failed to make my intentions clear, and I didn't understand how a long-term affectionate sexual relationship was different from a short-term casual one."

Stepping away from Abed, but still holding his hand, Troy tugs him toward their blanket fort. "Do you get it now?" he asks.

Obediently, Abed follows behind him. "Frankly, it still doesn't make much sense to me," Abed confesses.

Troy laughs. "That's okay," he says. "Me neither."

Ensconced in the blanket fort, the light is different; more diffuse, darker, like being in a womb. A gay sex womb, Troy thinks, then squinches up his nose at his own thoughts. He'll have to ask Annie for a better metaphor. Anyway it feels quiet and still, like their own safe, private world.

"Maybe we could make up our own rules," Abed suggests, pulling Troy down with him into the little nest of pillows and blankets.

"Like with the lease," Troy agrees, grinning. "Sex and relationship rules. In crayon."

"I bet Annie would really like that, actually. She likes it when things are written down."

Troy nods, snuggling in next to Abed and kissing him lightly on the temple. "For now we can just do it out loud," he says, and his heart is racing suddenly; he feels breathless, like the way he always does on that ride at the fair that drops you down fifteen floors in freefall. The anticipation is always Troy's favourite part, but he kind of hates it, too. It makes his stomach feel funny, like it does right now.

"Tell me what you want," Abed says, watching Troy carefully with his robot-eagle face, the face that says he's taking everything in, collecting information, collating, sorting, deriving hypotheses from observational data. Troy squirms. "I – it's better if you tell me what you want."

Troy licks his lips, tries to control his breathing. He's already getting hard. "Better for you," he clarifies softly, and Abed drops his head and nods against Troy's chest.

"Yes," he says, sounding a little hoarse.

Troy places his hand gently on Abed's neck and is surprised when he shivers. "I can do that," he says, even though in his brain he's trembling and nervous and at a loss for words. He smiles suddenly, struck by an idea. "It could be like on the Inspector Spacetime Boxing Day specials, when the Inspector lets Constable Reggie fly the DARSIT and make all the decisions," he says slowly.

Abed looks up at him, and there's something hot in his eyes that Troy's never seen before. "Yes," Abed says, and his voice is hot too, heated and eager. His hands are on Troy's waist, still, but Troy can feel him ready to move, ready to do whatever Troy wants.

"Kiss me, Inspector," Troy breathes, half-laughing, with just a hint of his Reggie accent, and Abed does, fast and wet and passionate, like he's got something to prove. Troy is pushed back into the pillows, and goes willingly. His lap is full of Abed's warm, solid body, and it feels good to finally have Abed on top of him, to feel Abed wanting to give this to him. To feel Abed wanting him.

"Mmmm," Troy moans, sort of into Abed's mouth. "Abed." And Abed pulls back a little. They're both breathing fast. Troy reaches up to touch Abed's face. Abed leans into his touch, and stares calmly at Troy, unblinking.

"I want," Troy says, and licks his lips. Saying what he wants is harder than he thought it'd be, but he tries to imagine Abed as just like the Inspector, kind and alien and accepting of humanity's flaws. He tries again. "You like how it feels to do this for me," Troy says hesitantly.

Abed nods.

Troy thinks about it. He wants this to be good for Abed. "Then let's go slow. Is it okay if I ask you to take off my clothes?"

"Yes. I'd like that," Abed says immediately.

"Okay, take them off," Troy says. "Slowly." And he lays back against the pillows and spreads his arms out, letting Abed take care of him.

The world narrows down then; Abed gets all quiet and focused, his fingers slipping slowly over the buttons of Troy's shirt, and it's like that's all Troy can feel, or see, or hear: the occasional brush of Abed's fingertips against his skin, the blue fabric parting for Abed's hands, the soft rustling sounds as Abed shifts above him.

"Touch me," Troy murmurs, then winces at how demanding it sounds. He's never said that kind of thing to another person in his life, but Abed just listens and accepts, dipping his fingers a little further into the space he's made, trailing down Troy's chest and along the defined muscle at the bottom of his pecs. His thumb hovers over Troy's left nipple.

Troy bites his lip. "Rub it," he says, and when Abed does he can't help but let his eyes flutter closed for a second, savouring the sensation of friction and the way it feels to have Abed trust him like this. "Suck it," he says then, in a low voice he's never heard from himself before.

Abed doesn't even hesitate, just bends his head and does as Troy says. Troy sighs in a kind of high-pitched way and arches his back, pushing himself up into the hot, wet pull of Abed's mouth.

There's still one button of his shirt done up, way at the bottom, and Troy sees Abed shifting his hands to undo it without taking his mouth from Troy's nipple.

"Yeah," he says quietly, "Put your hands on me." Abed spreads his hands slowly over Troy's belly, his ribs, touching slowly, thumbs just grazing over his belly button, dipping in then sliding out, skimming upwards so gently and firmly that Troy doesn't even feel tickled by Abed's soft fingertips against his sides.

Abed pulls his mouth off and looks up at Troy, still stroking Troy's body. "Is this okay?" he asks. "Is this what you want?"

Troy takes a deep breath through his open mouth and nods. "I want you everywhere," he says, which maybe doesn't make a lot of sense, but Abed seems to understand anyway. His lips twitch upwards and he nods.

Then his hands are skimming down Troy's arms, pushing off his shirtsleeves, and then his fingers are undoing Troy's jeans: his thumbs hook into the waistband of Troy's underwear to skim the rest of his clothes off, pulling down slowly, his fingernails just touching the skin of Troy's thighs, until Troy is completely bare.

Except for his socks, which look pretty dorky, scrunched up over Troy's bare ankles. But Abed pulls those off, too, one by one, and Troy's never thought of white sport socks as particularly sexy items of clothing but somehow Abed makes them that way, just by the sheer intensity of his attention, the way he skims them off slowly. His feet free, Troy wiggles his toes against Abed's hands. Abed runs a hard thumb over the arch of Troy's left foot, and Troy shudders and kicks. Abed holds him tight in his hand.

"Ticklish?" Abed asks.

"Maybe," Troy gasps. "Do it again."

Abed's thumb runs against the exact same spot with the exact same pressure and Troy almost can't take the way it feels, overwhelming like being tickled but not quite the same. His dick is hard, even leaking a little against his stomach, and Troy feels a sudden rush of embarrassment at being so exposed. He's never felt so naked with anyone before, not like this. Abed still has all his clothes on, and it makes Troy feel weird, sort of powerful, like one of those old-fashioned gods lounging and drinking wine and eating grapes.

"Abed, if I asked, would you peel me a grape?" Troy asks, as Abed's fingers trace over the skin of Troy's ankle.

"Sure," Abed replies. "But you like the way they pop when you chew them," he adds.

Troy nods, and almost wants to cry for some reason. He wants to feel Abed against him again.

"Come up here," he says, "Come back." As he moves up Troy's body, Abed drags his hands along Troy's legs, over his knees, firm and squeezing over his thighs, and then up to rub his belly and grasp his dick in one long, slow stroke, fingers working up from the base and then cupping the head but before Troy can even finish gasping at that Abed is moving on, touching Troy's abs, his chest, over his shoulders and down his arms and all over Troy's body until he's sensitive everywhere, until every touch makes him feel that intense almost-ticklish feeling, until he closes his eyes and gives himself up to the sensation of Abed's hands covering his skin, soaking him up, greedy. Troy licks his lips, swallows, lets his mouth fall open.

"Abed," he groans, arching against the touch, and he feels Abed still against him for just a second before continuing. Troy opens his eyes again and sees Abed staring at him, lips wet, eyes dark.

"I like it when you say my name like that," he reports, sounding almost detached, before he leans down and touches his lips to Troy's, just a light brushing of their mouths. It's weird, not really a kiss at all, and Troy accepts it with his eyes open.

"Abed," he says again, breathing into Abed's mouth, partly to see what Abed does and partly because he wants to. Because he wants to express what he's feeling but can't find words to describe it other than Abed's name. Because everything Troy feels right now is bound up in him, in his Abed-ness, in the way he looks so serious and focused as he runs his hands over Troy's naked body. At the sound of his name Abed's lips part, and his hands begin to drift steadily downward to Troy's dick. Troy digs his fingers into the blankets as Abed strokes him two-handed, sweet steady pulls that drag noises from Troy's throat, guttural choking gasps and moans.

"I've never had someone who was totally naked like this," Abed muses, matter-of-factly, as he dips a hand down to caress Troy's balls, and it makes Troy feel glad deep inside, glad that he can do this for Abed, be this, be open for him like this. It makes him want to find the words that he knows Abed wants.

"I trust you," he manages, between breaths. "I trust you to make me feel good." Abed quirks a little half-smile and twists his wrist just so and Troy half-laughs with pleasure because it feels so amazing, because Abed is so amazing. "You make me feel so good, Abed," he continues. Then, softly: "You're so good. You know me better than anyone."

Abed's strokes slow down, down, down, and he lifts one hand to his mouth, sucking on two fingers with loud, sloppy, wet noises.

"Yes," Troy says. "Yes, do it." Abed doesn't move, just waits expectantly, so Troy adds, "Put your fingers inside me," with a choked-off gasp.

And Abed does, reaches down and presses his fingers against Troy's asshole, warm wet pressure followed by the feeling of Abed pushing in, dragging his fingers against that hot tight spot inside him. Troy can't do anything but thrust down against the pressure and spread his legs wider and groan as the waves of feeling flood his whole body. He can't take his eyes off of Abed, off of his hands as they touch Troy just perfectly, and his hair where it's fallen into his eyes, and the expression on his face, the way he's focused on Troy, breathing heavy, lips just barely parted. Then, as Troy watches, Abed leans down, with Troy's dick still held in one hand, and takes him deep into his mouth.

Troy cries out with it, with the feeling of it, with the sight of Abed's lips wrapped around him tight and sweet. He writhes and bucks and rides Abed's fingers, and now Abed's name is the only word he can remember so he says it over and over again, says it on every stroke, says it until he can't make his voice work anymore, until he whites out and comes with Abed fucking him, sucking him, holding him steady.

He loses some time, like with those alien abductions on The X-Files, but when he opens his eyes he sees that Abed has curled around Troy's side and is lying with his head pillowed on Troy's stomach. He's still wearing all his clothes, even his hoodie, although he does have the sleeves pushed up to his elbows. Troy reaches down clumsily and seizes one of Abed's wrists. Abed watches him, waiting to see what he'll do. Troy lifts Abed's wrist to his mouth and kisses it, gently, just to have some part of Abed's skin touching his.

"Is that okay?" Troy asks quietly.

Abed nods against Troy's belly. "Just . . . no sex, basically. Or sex stuff."

"Okay." He kisses Abed's wrist again. "Do you ever want to get naked?" Troy's really enjoying being naked right now, even though it's starting to get a little cold. His body feels good, tingling, his blood pumping fast and joyful through his veins.

Abed hesitates. "I . . . never have," he says.

Troy stretches luxuriously, liking the way his muscles shift and his bones pop. "If you want to," he offers. "Sometime."

"Okay."

Just as Troy's about to shiver, Abed reaches down and hauls one of the blanket fort blankets up over Troy's body, tucking the edges carefully around him. Troy snuggles in. "Thanks," he says. He thinks about things for a minute. "If you ever want anything, you just have to ask for it. I'll do whatever you want."

Abed blinks at him for a few seconds. "Could we do this in costume?" he asks.

"Yeah," Troy breathes. "Sure." He smiles shyly. "I really like it when you wear your Batman outfit."

Abed's eyes light up, and he shuffles up to his knees, and his hands land on Troy's blanket-clad thigh in excitement. "You could be the Joker," he says. "No, no, wait – Harvey Dent. You'd be a great Harvey Dent. He's the real hero. At least in the animated series. And some of the comic books. Christopher Nolan didn't really do him justice."

"Okay," Troy agrees, grinning all over his entire face. "That sounds fun. And we could do – "

"Data and Geordi LaForge, right," Abed agrees. "But – "

"Only when they're dressed up as Holmes and Watson." Troy nods his approval, and Abed sighs with satisfaction and lays back down, his head next to Troy's on the blankets.

"Kirk and Spock," Abed adds.

"John Crichton and Aeryn Sun," Troy counters. They pause to consider that one. Abed's really got the face to play Claudia Black.

"We could do Kickpuncher and Punchkicker too," Abed offers, a moment later. "But it would take a lot of foil."

"Better save that one for special occasions," Troy yawns. "Annie gets mad when we use all the foil for robots."

"Yeah."

-

Later, when Annie comes back, Troy greets her at the door. "Hey Annie," he says. "Dinner's almost ready. Abed's in the bathroom."

"Great." Annie sighs and heaves her backpack up on the table. "I really need to get a laptop that was built this decade. This one weighs a ton. How was your day?"

"Uh, fine." He thinks for a second about how to phrase it, and then says, "I had sex with Abed."

"Omigod," Annie exclaims, clapping twice and doing a brief happy dance. "That's so great!" Troy shrugs sheepishly. A second later, Annie stops dancing and smacks Troy on the arm. "Wait, omigod. You mean you guys didn't have sex until today? Why have I been spending so much time at that coffee shop where the creepy macramé people hang out, if not to give you space to, to get it on?"

Troy can't help himself; he wraps his arms around Annie's small shoulders and hugs her, squeezing fiercely. "Thanks Annie," he says into her hair, which sort of fluffs out from her head when he breathes on it.

Annie squeezes back. "Oh," she says. They stand like that for a little while.

When Troy lets her go, she's a little flushed, and he remembers how she used to have a crush on him. Back when things were simple.

"Um," she says, brushing her hair out of her eyes, "but maybe tomorrow you could go hang out at the coffee shop for a little while?"

 

5. binding off

Annie knocks on the door to Troy and Abed's room, which technically means touching a bedsheet with her knuckles and making a loud clicking noise with her tongue.

"Come in," Troy and Abed say together, and Annie steps through.

"Annie," Troy grins, turning to look at her and bouncing where he sits, kneeling, on the floor. Abed is next to him, and their heads are together. "Look what Abed made!"

Abed is surrounded by a riot of coloured material, and it's only as Annie gets closer that she realises that it's all their squares and rectangles and trapezoids, all sewn together to make a blanket.

"I'm not quite done," Abed temporizes, still sewing on one of the edges. Annie kneels down, delighted, and takes it up in her hands.

"Oh, wow," she breathes. Her own purple and orange square – which ended up being much, much bigger than any swatch known to knitterkind – is smack in the middle of the blanket, forming the centre; Abed's purple and green squares, by far the most numerous, fill out the middle, and Troy's orange and yellow shapes make up the irregularly-shaped border. Abed is currently attaching what looks like the last of Troy's pieces, a sort of parallelogram done in stockinette stitch. All the sections of the blanket are done in different styles, some where Abed was experimenting with ribbing, some where Troy changed halfway through from knit one purl one to knit one purl two, and the overall effect is not . . . professional.

"I love it," Annie proclaims. She examines another section, this one defined by Troy's intuitive, if inconsistent, method of scalloping edges. "Abed, did you already block all of these?"

"I borrowed your book to figure out how, I hope that's okay."

"It's fine," Annie says. "But when did you do all this?"

Abed shrugs, not looking up from his sewing. "I can't spend all my time giving you and Troy orgasms. I have other projects." Troy laughs, and Annie laughs too, a second later, and Abed looks up at them briefly and gives them half a grin.

"Oh man, this thing is gonna be so warm," Troy says, sticking his legs under his side. "And look, we can all fit under it!"

Annie casts a critical eye over the blanket doubtfully. "Maybe if we squish," she says.

"Since we've been sharing new levels of intimacy over the last few weeks," Abed says, tying off his yarn and cutting it neatly so that it disappears into the blanket, "squishing seems narratively appropriate." He ponders this for a moment. "Just so long as – "

"You don't have to be in the middle," Annie and Troy say at the same time.

"Troy and I will take turns," Annie giggles.

Abed lifts his hands for a double high-five, bam bam, then unfurls the blanket so that it spreads over the three of them.

-

"Okay, I think I got everything," Troy pants, stumbling through the door and smashing his knee against the wall.

"Yay!" Annie claps, and comes over to help him carry the stuff in. The clay pot he got is giant, seems way too big for the tiny seeds they have, but Annie said that the Colorado Blue Columbine grows tall (to attract birds) and so needs a decent sized root structure to support itself.

They get all the stuff to the kitchen counter; Troy makes a little grunting sound as he finally puts it all down. Annie's already inventorying the haul.

"Okay, potting soil, fertilizer, watering can, pot. Excellent." She nods her approval.

"Wanna do it now? We've got some time before biology class."

Annie nods. "Sure, let me get the seeds." When they'd brought their seed harvest home last week, Annie had insisted on putting them away somewhere safe. "I don't want you or Abed mistaking them for food and eating them," she had said, and Troy had been forced to agree that this was a real danger. Now she retrieves them from wherever they were hidden, and holds them in the open palm of her hand, red-brown and shining, as Troy pours rich black dirt into the clay pot.

"Stop stop stop," Annie says, and Troy eases back. "No, wait, go ahead, more soil." Troy starts pouring again, and Annie immediately grabs his arm. "Stop!"

"Seriously, Annie," Troy says, laughing. "I don't know how you boss Abed around in bed, you're terrible at it."

Annie bristles at the suggestion that she's terrible at anything, and replies, "That's different. It's – sexy. This is not sexy."

"Well, let me do the unsexy potting soil pouring, okay?" He nudges her with his hip to let her know he's just kidding, and her expression softens.

"Okay."

Sitting down on the floor next to the pot, they get the seeds nestled into the dirt, giving them some water and then covering them up.

"Sweet dreams," Troy calls, gripping the edge of the pot and peering down at the place where they're hidden. Annie gives it one last gentle pat.

"Wake up soon," she says, and smiles at Troy. She has a smudge of dirt on one cheek, so he reaches out and rubs at it with his thumb, but it turns out his thumb is dirty too, so he just makes the situation worse.

"Oh – sorry," he says, and bites his lips to keep from laughing. "You've got something there."

"Oh, do I?" Annie demands, and narrows her eyes at him. Then, in a flash, she jumps at him, pushes him halfway to the floor, and manages to rub her dirty hands all over his face despite his attempts to fend her off.

"Annie, Annie, quit it!" he yells, but he's laughing too, helplessly, as she finishes by wiping the back of her hand against the side of his neck.

"Now I'm much cleaner," she says, trying for prim but laughing and ruining it.

"All right, all right," he grumbles, and stands. He holds out a hand, and Annie takes it immediately, letting him pull her to her feet.

"Where should we put it?" Troy asks, oofing as he picks up the pot.

Annie shows him the space she cleared over by the window. "I think it should get enough sunshine here, don't you?"

"Yup," Troy agrees, and sets it down. Right now it's just an empty-looking pot, but before too long, if they don't mess it up, it'll be full of life, blue and blooming.

-

"Oh, Abed," Annie breathes, digging her fingers into his shoulders as the last aftershock passes through her. She's tingling all over and he's resting his cheek against her inner thigh. His eyes are closed, and his mouth is swollen and wet. Annie feels unglued, like she's coming apart at the seams, the rush from her orgasm making her feel loose and disconnected. "That was so good, Abed, god, you're so good, such a – " she stops talking abruptly.

Abed looks up at her from under his eyelashes, just for a moment, and then flickers his gaze down again, breaking eye contact. Such a good boy, she'd been about to say, in exactly the same way she talks to her mother's little Yorkshire Terrier. Good boy, she wanted to call Abed, and it had felt right.

"You can say it," Abed says. His voice is flat and emotionless, his tone offhand like he doesn't really care one way or another. "Please," and Annie can see the tension in his shoulders, in his back, running along the taut tendon on the side of his neck. "Please, I want you to say it."

Annie's heart feels too big for her chest and too strong for her ribs; her lips part as she reaches out, runs her hand through Abed's hair, cups Abed's jaw with her palm. He doesn't lift his head, but he leans ever so slightly into her touch.

"Good boy," she says quietly. "You're such a good boy, Abed." Abed breathes in deeply through his nose, then out again, his lowered eyes fluttering closed. Annie strokes her thumb against his cheek.

"I love you," Annie hears herself saying. "I love you, and you're so good. My – my good boy." She keeps petting him, slowly, touching his hair, the shell of his ear. She hopes to god she's doing this right, is comforted by the knowledge that Abed would say something if she wasn't.

Abed turns his head just slightly to one side, kisses the skin of her inner thigh with a chaste closed mouth.

"Thank you, Annie," he says politely. She smiles at him, even though his eyes are still closed.

"You're welcome," she says.

-

"Inspector?" Troy asks, blinking his way to consciousness. He can't see Abed, and he panics for a moment until a bowler hat swims into view above him.

"Shhhh, Constable," Abed says, as he begins loosening Troy's collar, unbuttoning his shirt, touching him with firm alien hands. "You were affected by the Sergeant's confusion ray, and hurt yourself when you fell."

Troy squirms and tries to move, only to find his limbs too heavy, his head too dizzy. He collapses back down. "Is the Sergeant – is he still here?" he asks. He can't remember what happened, can't remember how their confrontation with the Sergeant ended. Is the Inspector hurt too?

"You're safe," Abed says quietly. "Lie back." He gently removes Troy's shirt, his shoes, his pants, laying him out naked and stroking his forehead.

"Is it bad?" Troy asks.

"I'm no doctor, but I think I can heal this," Abed replies, pressing his hand firmly against the wound in Troy's side. As he does so, he bends and places a soft kiss on Troy's forehead. "Don't worry. I'm going to look after you."