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There is a problem, Troy discovers quickly, with dating Britta.

It's not the sex. The sex is definitely not the problem--in fact, the sex is so not the problem that it manages to distract Troy from the actual problem for almost six days, and is then more than enough incentive to go ahead and willfully ignore it for another two weeks. Troy'd kind of figured Britta would be intense and angry in bed, which is probably because Britta is usually intense and angry in, you know, life, but no. No, in bed Britta is adventurous and funny, and non-judgmental enough to make up for how judgmental she is the rest of the time. In bed, Britta says things like, "A healthy sexual relationship is dependent upon honesty, Troy," and then doesn't laugh when he tells her about that fantasy with the football field and the feather boa and the hats from Kickpuncher 3. In bed, Britta is in into butt stuff.

Really, really into butt stuff. Troy doesn't even know the names for half of the things she's pulled out of what he's come to think of as the Drawer of Wonders, but he likes the things she does with them, and he definitely likes the places they tend to get put. Troy isn't dating Britta for her Drawer, but he's not not dating her for her Drawer, either.

So, yeah, the sex isn't the problem. The problem is Abed.

Which, okay, fairness time: Troy knows that that's not Britta's fault at all. Things with him and Abed were weird before Troy and Britta started dating--hell, things were weird when Troy left for air conditioning school, and even weirder when he got back. That first afternoon was pretty good, normal, but then there was…everything else. He's pretty sure Abed saying, "I think we should just make the Dreamatorium your room. I was wrong before, it's not really meant for two people," takes the number one spot for sucking, but, then again, the fact that Abed wouldn't tell him why he made that call might have been worse. And obviously the resulting situation--Troy, in a big empty room that used to be able to take him anywhere, alone on his bed without his best friend to talk to--is pretty much the lamest thing that's ever happened. Or, at least, it would be if everything else wasn't even lamer, because Abed's also more or less stopped talking to him.

The worst thing about that part--the Abed not talking to him part--is that no one else has even noticed. Which makes sense, really, since it's not like Abed is giving him the silent treatment or anything; they're still watching Inspector Spacetime on Thursdays and Voyager on alternate Tuesday afternoons, following the awesomeness ranking system they came up with during first year. They're still hosting bad movie marathons for the group and doing their handshake, and they're still best friends…

…except. Except something is weird now, and Troy can't explain it, but he knows he's not making it up. He can't be making it up, because a few weeks after he got back to the apartment he stared up at the ceiling in his awful new bedroom in the awful new silence listening to the hum of the previously-awful-and-now-awesome air conditioning unit until he thought he was going to go crazy, and then he got up and went out into the hall. Abed was in the kitchen, making himself a bowl of buttered noodles, and looking at him in there made an ache start up in the base of Troy's spine. It crept higher and higher, kind of like a zombie virus making for his brain, until eventually he figured out what it was--Troy felt like he had in the annex, like half of him had been cut off and left behind, like he was only part of a person.

"I miss you," he said, before he even realized it was what he was thinking.

Abed turned around with the bowl in his hand and stared at him, head cocked, for a long time. "I miss you too," he said finally, and then walked off into the blanket fort without another word, leaving Troy to stand like an idiot in the middle of their kitchen, wondering why the hell he was trying so hard not to cry.

He started dating Britta because he was lonely, and that's the truth. If he thinks about that, he feels pretty bad about it, so he mostly tries not to--Britta is awesome at sex, and awesome at butt stuff, and she's always been awesome to hang out with. She's kind of the worst, but in a good way, and it's not her fault the problem with dating her is Abed. If things were normal with Abed, dating Britta would be perfect, with no problems at all. Troy's sure of it. Pretty sure, anyway. At least mostly positive.

Anyway, there are probably better places to think about this than, uh, actually in Britta's bed, so Troy refocuses on the boobs in front of him. He's been sleeping at Britta's apartment a lot lately, because a) sex and b) it's better than his big empty room and c) sex, and he knows he's gotten pretty good at the boob thing. He'd slept with girls before Britta, obviously, but mostly in an "I kissed you and you kissed me and now this bit goes in that one," sort of way, and Britta's been really great about teaching him foreplay. She talks a lot in bed, which is how Troy knows she likes it when he rubs her nipples between his lips; he pulls one in, presses down around it, and is rewarded with a breathy moan that definitely leaves him hot.

At least, he's hot Britta cries, "Oh, Subway," and freezes. Then he's hungry. Then he's mad.

"Wait," Troy says, pulling away and staring. Britta's wincing already, which is a bad sign. "Do you mean the sandwich place or the dude?"

"Why would I mean the sandwich place?" Britta says.

"Why would you mean the dude?" Troy cries. He scrambles away from her, his boner going from completely normal to half-assed and weird as she pulls a sheet up to cover herself. Troy doesn't really get why--it's not like he doesn't totally know exactly what's under there--but that's not really the problem right now. "You're dating me! You can't be dating me and thinking about Subway--or, I mean, you can, but only if it's sandwiches. Sandwiches only!"

"Troy," Britta says, in that slow, careful voice people use when they think Troy's being an idiot. Troy scowls, because really hates that voice, even if he's had to get used to it--of everybody he's ever met, the only person who's never used it on him is Abed. Thinking about that just makes him miss Abed more, which is why he's already kind of half-crying when Britta continues, "We're, uh…we're not dating."

"What?" Troy says. "What do you--but we've been--what?"

"I thought you understood!" Britta says, as Troy jumps out of bed and grabs wildly for his boxers. "I thought we had an arrangement!"

"Why would you think that? What arrangement? You gave me a lock of your hair!"

"It was a gesture!"

"A gesture of what?"

"I don't know!" Britta says, widening her eyes and waving her hands. "Gestures don't have to mean anything!"

"Yes they do!" Troy says, and, yup, he's definitely crying now. At least they're just confused tears--the way he figures it, confused tears don't count as being emotionally broken. "That's what makes them gestures!"

"Well, I didn't know that. And I didn't think it mattered, because of the arrangement!"

"Well…well you should have!" Troy says. As comebacks go, it's kind of lacking in pretty much everything, but it's the best he's got right now. "And what arrangement? What are you talking about? We didn't arrange anything--I asked you out!"

"Troy, you said 'Hey, so do you think we should kiss and stuff,'" Britta says. She sounds less angry than she did a minute ago, which would be great if she hadn't also switched back to the slow-and-careful voice. Troy's boner has abandoned being weird and settled firmly on being absent; he hopes, wherever it's gone, that it's in a happier place than this bedroom right now. "And you….you know what arrangement. Don't you?"

"I think," Troy says, with as much dignity as he can manage, "that it's pretty clear that I don't," and Britta goes even paler that she is normally, which actually makes her look kind of like a vampire. Troy's weird boner waves hello from the middle distance, but doesn't come back--Troy doesn't really blame it.

"You know," Britta says, placating now, "about how--don't look at me like that! When you've got two people who are obviously in love with other people, and they start hooking up, there's just an implied arrangement! And since I've obviously been in love with Subway since he was cruelly taken from me--"

"No you haven't!" Troy snaps. "Obvious things are obvious, that's what that means. Hair!"

"Gesture!"

"Yeah, of being creepy!" Troy says. "Creepy in love! With me! And not Subway-the-dude! And anyway the arrangement wouldn't make sense unless I was in love with someone else too, and you know me and Annie aren't like that."

"Who's talking about Annie?" Britta says. She stands up on the other side of the bed, still wrapped in the sheet, and points an accusing finger at Troy. "I can't believe, after all this, you still don't trust me enough to be honest with me."

"I can't be honest with you if I don't know what I'm being honest about."

"Oh come on, Troy," Britta says, and rolls her eyes. "I'm talking about Abed, obviously."

"I'm not in love with Abed!" Troy snaps on instinct. Except…well, it would kind of explain some stuff, wouldn't it? If Troy was in love with Abed, it would make sense that he can miss him in the same room; if Troy was in love with Abed, there wouldn't be any mystery as to why his bedroom feels so empty and lonely without him. If Troy was in love with Abed, the way his heart beats sort of funny around him sometimes wouldn't be cause for concern. Ditto the sweaty palms. Ditto the way he dreams about the Don Draper impression sometimes, now that Troy thinks about it.

And there's the other stuff, too, the stuff Troy's always just dismissed as part and parcel of how much better being friends with Abed is than being friends with anyone else has ever been. Troy knows what Abed's palms feel like--cool and smooth, with little callouses by his thumbs--because they'd hold hands sometimes, during movies or in the study room, before things went wrong. Troy knows what Abed feels like asleep on his shoulder, too, because sometimes when they stayed up late watching movies he'd lean over and nod off; it never quite made sense, now that Troy thinks about it, the way he always stayed carefully still to make sure Abed wouldn't wake up and move. Abed's a guy, so Troy's never really looked at him that way--he's always liked girls, which has always been good, because he's supposed to like girls. Now that he's looking at it, though, his boner's back, and it's not weird at all. Abed is Troy's best friend, and Troy's favorite person on earth, and the coolest guy Troy has ever met. He's also really, really hot.

"Oh my god," Troy says, sitting back down on the bed heavily, "I'm in love with Abed."

"Duh," Britta says. "Oh, don't make that face. I'll get the scotch."

***

Troy decides to walk home in the rain.

Or, well. Troy decides to walk home--the rain is responsible for its own choices, but Troy can't say he minds it. It's November in a kind of vaguely confused way, bouncing between global-warming style heat and bitter cold, and today's been on the ridiculous heat end of the spectrum. Also, the rain suits his mood. Also, he's maybe a tiny bit drunk; Britta wasn't kidding about getting the scotch.

So. He's in love with Abed. That's okay; that's good, even. It's possible, actually, that it's great. His family will hate it, but it's not like he necessarily has to tell them, so he's not going to worry about it right now. It makes him kind of gay, but that's alright--he's fine with gay people, and also he's not sure it counts as gay if he's only gay for Abed. The entire study group has been operating under the impression that they were in some kind of tragic romantic movie for the last eight months, and, before that, the impression that they were happily but secretly doing it all the time. That part sucks, but only because it might have been nice if someone had, you know, mentioned it to Troy before now.

There's really only one way this could be a bad thing, and that's if Abed doesn't love him back. Given that Abed sort of isn't talking to him right now, Troy's stuck on that one; there's a decent chance that he's walking back home to heartbreak, which isn't a very comforting thought. He'll have to tell Abed right away, of course--they made a deal about lying, and Troy's not sure, but he thinks his breaking that deal was what started the whole avalanche of weirdness in the first place. Also, Troy's really not the world's best liar. Also--and, if Troy's honest, most importantly--Abed is his best friend, and keeping being in love with him on the down low is probably at least one specific flavor of creepy. Not quite Dictator Chang creepy, but at least Dean Pelton's aggressive crush on Jeff creepy.

Oh, god. What if Troy's been treating Abed like the Dean treats Jeff without even realizing it? What if things are weird because Abed noticed it and decided he didn't like it? What if Troy's wrong, and he's actually been Dictator Chang creepy this whole time? What he's been Pierce-hitting-on-anyone creepy, a nightmare Troy had enough times when they lived together that it had, until now, finally quit Scary-Town and landed firmly in The Village of the Desensitized? Troy imagines an ancient version of himself, leaning into Abed's space and waggling his eyebrows suggestively as he does a weird, arthritic hip thrust, and whimpers.

"Please don't let me be Pierce creepy," Troy says, not sure who he's talking to. Then he realizes he's walked three blocks past his apartment without noticing, swears, and turns around.

He's soaking wet and more than a little freaked out by the time he gets upstairs and realizes, too late, that he left his keys at Britta's apartment. He could turn back, but he thinks that's probably the coward's move; also, he's not sure how wet jeans can get before they become too heavy to stay on his legs, but he thinks he's almost at the limit. Screwing up his courage, he raises his fist and knocks on his own front door.

And knocks again.

And knocks again.

"Abed!" Troy yells after four knocks, fear forgotten in the face of frustration, the way his jeans are starting to slide dangerously low, and the stupid working hallway air-conditioner he never should have fixed so well. "Abedddddd, Abed, Abed, Abed, Abed, I'm cold and I'm wet and my jeans are going to fall down and I only like being pantsed when you do it, Abeeeeeeeeeeeeed!"

The door opens, and--shit. Shit, shit, shit, there's Abed, in his green pajamas and his fleecy brown slippers, hair mussed up like he was sleeping, and Troy is totally, completely in love with him. Of course Troy's in love with him, and you know what, maybe it makes sense that people use the slow, careful voice on him after all; just now, Troy feels stupider than he's ever felt in his life, and he once stuck a fork in an electrical outlet on a dare.

"Hey," Abed says, and this is definitely the part of the conversation where Troy should say something, but he can't. He opens his mouth and all that comes out is a high-pitched squeaking noise; he can't even move, so he just stands there, hands hanging limp at his sides, dripping water onto the carpet.

There's a long moment of silence, and then Abed looks him up and down, cocks his head, and says, "Are you going to tell me you're in love with me?"

Troy feels his eyes go wide in shock. He makes the squeaking noise again, but this time it's got enough inflection in it to sound, at least a little, like the word "How?"

"Well, the lead-in kind of demands it," Abed says, nodding at Troy's soaked clothes. "You're going to have to tell me which movie, though, it's too common a trope to narrow it down without guidance. Not The Notebook, right?" Troy shakes his head, his voice still unavailable in the face of this new, terrible turn, and Abed nods his relief. "Cool. Set-up for the Spiderman kiss? A different rom-com? There's that scene in--"

"No," Troy manages, and then, to his own horror, he starts shifting from one foot to the other fast enough that he's basically jumping and down. It's just…it's too many things to feel at once, and also he doesn't know what he's supposed to do. He would ask Abed, but he can't, and he would ask someone else, but they wouldn't get it. Britta told him to "Just go for it, I'm sure he already knows," which was pretty much the least helpful advice ever, for all she meant it well. He wonders if he could get Abed to do that thing where he pretends to be Troy for a little while, and then nixes the idea at once and keeps freaking out. Of all the people Troy could talk to about this, he thinks Troy is probably the least qualified to answer him.

"Okay, wet clothes, declarations of love, and jumping--that definitely narrows it down," Abed says, like he's reading it off of a checklist. He looks really interested now, the angle on his cocked head tipped back a little further, lips pursed out slightly, the way they always get when he's working on a problem. Troy wants to lick them, and finds himself wringing his hands together in agitation--still jumping--until Abed shakes his head and says, "You got me, I'm stumped."

"Not a movie," Troy says, and actually has to jump around in a full 360 degree circle before he can add, "Not a movie, Abed, for real."

Abed stares at him for a second. Then his eyes go wide and his eyebrows hit his hairline, and shit, that's the bad surprise face. No, check that, that's the really bad surprise face; the last time Abed made that face, it was after Mr. Rad confessed to killing the Glee Club. Troy stops jumping, because, as it turns out, the realization that your love is the equivalent of sending a group of college students to their fiery, bus-crashy death? Not a lot of help in the continued-ability-to-move-through-the-heartbreak department.

"Oh," Abed says, his eyebrows still all the way up, his eyes still all the way wide. Troy wants to go back outside and get struck by lightening; his uncle lived through it, after all. Maybe it would just make everything brighter. "I…don't think that's a good idea."

"Right," Troy says. He feels hollowed out and empty inside, like one of those books that only looks like a book but turns out to be a secret box when you open it. Only those are awesome, so many he feels like that book Shirley told him about with the hollow spot sized for a gun--no, still awesome. A grape, Troy decides. A grape that someone squeezed all the jelly out of. "Right. Okay. Sorry. Night."

He pushes past Abed, who is still standing with the door in his hand, and walks into his room. It's as big and stupid and empty as it was when he left it this morning, which is disappointing for all it's not a surprise. Troy shuts the door behind him and leans against it, taking deep heaving breaths and wishing he could cry. The thing about crying easily, he's discovered, is that it's a double-edged sword; he'll burst into tears at the drop of a hat, but when big stuff happens, stuff where he's supposed to cry, he almost never can. He tries for a minute or two anyway, making half-assed little choking noises like maybe he'll trick himself. When that doesn't work, he tries thinking about sad things, but all that does is make him wonder if clubbing baby seals actually means hitting them with clubs, or if baby seals have a really active, glittery social life. Troy thinks it's probably the latter, since he can't imagine anybody evil enough to hit a baby seal in the face, or someone with enough stamina to drag a whole club across the Arctic.

This is why it takes Troy five full minutes to realize he skipped over getting some necessary information, and he wrenches his door back open only to find that Abed hasn't moved at all. He's still standing at their front door, knob in hand, staring out at the hallway where Troy was with his head titled to one side.

"Wait," Troy says, "why?"

Abed doesn't say anything; he just points at the spot where Troy was in the hallway and then turns on his heel, pointing at where Troy's standing now, one eyebrow up. A few years ago, Troy would've assumed this was Abed for I don't want to talk about it; a few days ago, Troy would've assumed this was Abed for You broke me. Since everything's been screwed up for awhile now, Troy thinks about what past-Troy would've thought past-Abed meant, back when they could pretty much read each others' minds. He decides this is probably Abed for, You have to ask that question in smaller pieces, because the answer's too big, and he takes a deep breath and squares his shoulders.

"I mean," Troy says, "do you think it's a bad idea because you don't like guys? Because if that's why, I have to know, because otherwise I might try to change your mind and that'd be creepy. If you didn't like dudes, I mean. And if you think it's a bad idea because you just don't like me and I tried to change your mind, I think that might be even creepier? And if it's a third reason then you should probably tell me so that I'm…not…creepy by accident?"

This is the worst declaration of love ever. Troy is really, really glad Annie's door is shut; he knows this will be all the study group's talking about tomorrow in any case, but it's good not to have a visible eyewitness while he crashes and burns.

"I told you living together would be a bad idea," Abed says. "You didn't believe me. Then you did. Then you didn't again. You changed my mind, but I was right."

"What are you talking about?" Troy says. "Living together is awesome, it was totally the best thing we ever did."

"At the beginning of this year our friendship was perfect," Abed says, and shuts the door. He fans out his fingers and spreads his hands in front of him, a setting-the-scene gesture that Troy starts to smile at before he remembers that his heart is broken, and he can't. "Troy and Abed were on the top of the world--best friends, ideal roommates, a surprising lack of kitschy misunderstanding plotlines. But it didn't stay that way. Darkness came upon them, and then chaos, and--"

"Can we do this in…not voiceover?" Troy says. "Because I'm, I've kind of got too many things going on to keep track of…"

"I think we jumped the shark, Troy," Abed says, very quietly. "There's no saving it with a romantic arc; that never works anyway. It's too late."

"Right," Troy says again, and this time he only goes into his room for a second before he realizes he's not done, and goes back out into the living room again. "Wait, no. That's--no."

"You can't argue the signs," Abed says, and starts ticking them off on his fingers. "One: fewer scenes together. Two: a certain forced quality to those scenes we do have together, as though the magic has vanished. Three--"

"This is reality, Abed!" Troy yells. He doesn't mean to yell it, but he's freaked out and terrified and Abed is saying really, really horrible things. Abed's eyebrows go up over rapidly widening eyes, and Troy should backpedal, but he can't. "We can't jump the shark because people don't do that in reality, that's not how it works, you can't just decide things like that!"

"Actually," Abed says, cocking his head, "people jump the shark in reality all the time. There are just other names for it. 'Growing apart,' seems to be popular, as does 'falling out,' and I've gotten the impression that there are some people who just don't ever give it a name. Which makes sense, I guess--it's not like characters ever declare themselves shark-jumpers. It's probably more natural not to bring it up. Sorry."

"I, you," Troy says. "Abed, fuck."

"No, that won't work, I said," Abed says. His eyes are wide, probably because Troy doesn't swear unless he really, really means it, which means he almost never swears at all. "We can't save it with a romantic--"

"Not what I meant!" Troy throws his hands in the air, because he knows what's happening here, because it happens all the time, lately, with Abed--he's talking, and Abed's talking, but somehow neither one of them is saying anything the other one can understand. Troy's not sure how or why that's started happening, because they used to be able to understand each other without talking at all, but he knows that he hates it. "Okay. Okay. Can we just…can we…what if I fixed it?"

"How?"

"I don't know," Troy snaps, "I don't--look. Abed. We can't jump the shark, because if we jump the shark I don't think, I don't want to…can't we just walk around the shark? Or ride the shark? Or get a bunch of other sharks and make them all be friends and then when they're friends everything will be okay again?"

"I don't think that's how it works," Abed says, cocking his head.

"Well, fine, then let's try this," Troy says, because he's desperate and exhausted and very slightly drunk and totally in love with Abed and he's screwed, isn't he, screwed even worse than he'd thought. "I don't--I'm not in love with you because I think it'll like, un-jump us. Or whatever. At all! And I can be not in love with you if that's what you want me to be, or if that's what I need to be to un-jump us, but we can't just stay jumped because that can't happen. I can't do that. Being your friend is like…like pretty much the important thing ever, in my life, at all, and the reason people jump the shark in reality is because they stop caring, I think, and I'm not going to do that! I don't think I even know how!"

And that's true, Troy realizes--he doesn't know how to stop caring about Abed. Even that one time, that time he doesn't like thinking about, when he'd tried? It hadn't even worked for two days. Troy doesn't think there's any version of him, anywhere, that could figure out how to not care about Abed, and that's pretty terrible. Not, of course, because Abed isn't worth caring about--because there's the possibility, the really serious possibility, that Abed doesn't care about him.

"What do you propose?" Abed says, because of course he does. Of course that's what he says, and Troy's brain is crying and the rest of him is trying to cry, but he's not letting it; the last thing he needs right now is to make this worse, to give Abed another reason not to like him.

"Can I," Troy says, "what if you like. What if we gave it a couple of days, and I tried to figure out how to fix it, and maybe you could help me fix it? If you…want to fix it? Because I think we have to both want to fix it if it's going to get fixed. I don't think it's the kind of thing I can fix just by myself."

"I don't not want to fix it," Abed says, which gives Troy half of a heart attack before he actually realizes what Abed said. "I just don't know that it can be fixed."

"But you said we were still best friends!"

"So did you," Abed points out. "I think saying it and having it be true aren't exactly the same, but I'm not entirely sure on that."

"Abed, I," Troy says. He tries for a smile, and is pretty sure he fails; on the other hand, he's pretty sure a failed smile is not the kind of thing Abed's going to mind, one way or the other. "You--you know you're my favorite person ever. Right?"

"Yes," Abed says. "But knowing that doesn't feel like enough anymore."

"Why not?" Troy says. Abed cocks his head and doesn't reply, and Troy could scream from how frustrated he is, how scared, how totally out of his depth this entire mess turns out to be. He doesn't, though, because it won't help; instead he takes a deep breath, and then another one, buries his fists in his pockets and tries to hold on. "Look. I just, I need you to--can we just agree? To try and fix it? I seriously, I don't care about the other stuff, but if you don't--if we're going to jump the shark it's not going to be because we just decided that was what was happening, because that's not fair. I don't quit on stuff that matters to me."

"You quit on football. The pressure became unbearable. You told me."

"This isn't football," Troy says, "and this isn't about…about pressure, Abed, or anything. This is just…I don't know what this is, but I think if we agree to try then maybe whatever it is can be something else. Or can go back to being what it used to be. Or something! There's got to be something in between 'best friends but not really' and 'not friends at all anymore,' doesn't there?"

"I have no idea," Abed says. "You'd know better than I would. I'm not opposed to making the attempt to fix our friendship, though, if that's what you're asking. I'd say I'll try, but I've learned it's better not to."

"Not to try?"

"Not to say I will," Abed says. He scuffs a slipper against the floor; Troy doesn't think he even notices himself doing it. "Based on observation, that doesn't mean what people think it's going to mean, from me. But I don't object to the concept."

That breaks Troy's heart a dozen ways, and he's not even sure why. It's like going back to when he and Abed weren't properly friends yet, to that time Abed was trying to mess with him--Troy laid awake for hours the night that all went down, staring up at his ceiling and wondering why he was hurting. Abed hadn't seemed hurt, after all, and it wasn't even that he'd gotten the whole messing-with-people concept so wrong that bothered Troy. It was something about the way Abed said, "But this is what friends do," like he really hadn't known, and even later--when Troy had gotten to know Abed well enough for Abed to tell him about junior high and high school, all detached like he was talking about somebody else's life, when Troy had watched enough of Abed's films to have a pretty good idea of what his childhood was like--he still hated thinking about that moment. Thinking about that moment made Troy wonder how many people had disappointed Abed by sucking, and now he's starting to wonder if he, himself, isn't one of those people. It's awful. It's worse than awful. It's worse than worse than awful, because now Troy's got all these other feelings that have probably always been there, that he was just too stupid to see, and that makes all of this so much bigger and more terrible somehow.

"Okay," Troy says, "well, I am gonna try. I promise. And I'll come up with something, or you will, or we both will. Or we'll ask Annie to do it, if we can't."

"Hmm," Abed says, and then he sticks out his hand. "Deal."

Troy shakes Abed's hand, and that's awful too, because they have a handshake and it's not like this, not all boring and careful and business-y in the dead of night. Still, Troy gets the impression that a real handshake is what's needed here, so he doesn't say anything, doesn't argue it; he does hold on for a couple seconds too long, but he figures that's probably alright. Abed's palm is warm against Troy's, a little unfamiliar because they don't usually touch this way, and if they really have jumped the shark, Troy should be paying attention to this sort of thing. It might stop, after all. He might lose it, so he can't take it for granted. That's probably what got them into this mess in the first place, taking things for granted; Troy's not sure yet, but it wouldn't surprise him.

"Cool," Abed says when he steps back, even though Troy hasn't said anything. "Goodnight."

He vanishes into the blanket fort, and Troy stares after him for a second before he goes into his room again and shuts the door. He locks it this time, mostly because it feels like a barrier between him and the world--the world is loud today, so many feelings flying around that Troy can barely see straight, and he's going to need some quiet if he's going to sleep on this and figure it out in the morning. It helps, sort of, and Troy gets into bed, closes his eyes.

***

The next morning, Troy and Abed drive to school together. Tuesdays are the days Annie takes the bus to make her yoga class, and Troy wishes, grimly, that he'd considered that fact before he chose to accost Abed with his declarations of love on a Monday night. It's an awkward drive for the first five minutes, Troy tapping his thumbs against the steering wheel arrhythmically while Abed scrapes one fingernail too fast against the glove compartment. If Troy knows that the arrhythmic tapping must be driving Abed crazy, that's okay, because there's no way Abed doesn't knows that the scrape of his nail against the plastic is Troy's kryptonite.

And, yeah, okay, so maybe Troy's kind of angry--or, well, not angry, exactly. It's just that he wants to lean over and kiss Abed at every stoplight, and in between stoplights he mostly feels like somebody showed up and kicked his puppy, and--

"Do you think that if Kickpuncher was Puppypuncher, it would be better or worse?" Troy says, before he can think to filter it. Abed stops with the scraping, so Troy adds, "I mean, obviously it would be worse that he was kicking puppies, but, on the other hand, I think puppies might make it more watchable."

"If Kickpuncher was Puppypuncher, it would change the entire character arc," Abed says, and Troy's insides go cold for a second, thinking it's a dismissal. Then Abed adds, "Because punching a puppy is more or less a universal bad, Puppypuncher would automatically be an anti-hero story at best. At worst, he'd have to be a titular villain."

"Ha," Troy says, "titular."

"Titular," Abed agrees, "titular, titular, titular," and they lose what would, undoubtedly, have been an interesting conversation about Puppypuncher to saying that word back and forth in increasingly hilarious voices. By the time Troy's parked the car, they've got kind of a rhythm going; when they reach the library and push through the study room doors, they've drifted into rapping it, Abed beatboxing while Troy tries to decide if "tubular" is close enough of a rhyme to use when he runs out of other options. It's…great, actually, Abed doing that little invisible turntable thing with his hands and Troy walking with his shoulders rolling back to the beat, and it occurs to him that the heartbreak thing won't be so bad, maybe, if he can just work out the friendship part. He can deal with Abed not loving him, Troy decides, so long as Abed still loves him.

Of course, when they actually get into the study room, the entire group is ringed around the table staring at them. Well, everyone but Jeff is staring at them; Jeff's got a newspaper up and covering his face, which is always what Jeff does when he knows they're going to talk about something he definitely doesn't want to get involved in. Abed's slight smile slips back to his typical neutral expression, and he steps cleanly away from Troy, sliding his hands into his pockets.

"Your newspaper's upside down," Abed tells Jeff, sliding into his seat. Jeff turns it right-side up without pulling it away from his face, and Abed graciously waits until he's finished to add, "And from three days ago."

"Old news is good news," Jeff says from behind his veil of safety. Over his head, Troy scowls at Britta, who widens her eyes at him in an expression that's either badly faked innocence or totally real outrage; it's hard to tell, sometimes, with Britta.

"Hey," she says, "don't look at me. I'm not the one who lives with you!"

"Is something going on?" Abed says, when Troy turns his glare from Britta to Annie, who glares back with a sort of haughty defiance. "You guys are acting weird."

"Tr-oy," Shirley says, and oh god, it's the sing-song voice, they're definitely doomed, "A-bed, is there something that you maybe want to tell us? And…and God?"

"Shirley!" Britta hisses.

"What?" Shirley says. "I didn't do any judging, I just asked if there was anything they wanted to share with the Lord, lots of people have things they want to share with the Lord!"

"There is definitely some stuff I want to share some people," Troy says, glare still flicking uncertainly between Annie and Britta, "about their business, and minding it."

Annie sniffs and turns her gaze away. "I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about."

"Yeah, Troy," Britta says.

"And even if I did know what you were talking about," Annie continues, "we're your friends, and we love you, and you shouldn't keep secrets from us. Because keeping secrets from your friends is wrong outside of very specific circumstances, isn't it, everybody?"

"Yeah, Troy," Britta says again, and then blanches. "Wait, no, I take it back--"

"Too late," Jeff says, gleeful, "put a dollar in the hypocrisy jar," and Britta slinks, muttering darkly, over to the jar they keep on the counter. "And an extra dollar for complaining about the hypocrisy jar, since it was your idea to start with."

"Is this about Troy telling me he loves me?" Abed asks. The room goes quiet, and Abed turns to Troy, brow furrowing. "Sorry. Was I not supposed to mention it?"

"No, buddy, you're fine," Troy says. He reaches for Abed's hand before he remembers that he's not sure if he's supposed to, and stops himself. Raising his voice, he adds, "Especially because it seems like everyone knows anyway."

"Wait, you two are gay now?" Pierce says, waggling a finger between Abed and Troy. "I thought Troy was dating Britta!"

"Me too," Abed says, which shuts everybody up again.

"Oh, crap," Troy says, because…well, because oh, crap. He should have mentioned to Abed last night that he and Britta weren't together anymore--hadn't ever been together to begin with, apparently--and how is it, exactly, that he manages to get up and tie his shoes in the morning when he is so, so, so stupid--

"It's fine," Abed says. "I kind of figured you two had broken up after we talked last night. It would be out of character for you to cheat on a significant other, and out of character for Britta to react well to being cheated on. I'm not mad you forgot to explain that part."

"Troy and I weren't dating anyway," Britta says, in a voice bordering on manically chipper, while Troy tries not to let himself grin any bigger or dopier at Abed. "We were solving our individual pain with mutual pleasure."

Everyone except Abed, and very much including Troy, groans in unison.

"Britta," Jeff says, "really?"

"Hypocrisy jar," Britta says, smirking at him--or, at least, at the newspaper that's currently concealing him. "You, arguing against two people distracting themselves from their agony--"

"Whoa," Troy says.

"--absolutely deserves a hypocrisy dollar," Britta finishes gleefully. "Possibly two. Maybe even ten."

"She does have a point, Jeff," Shirley says.

"She really does," Annie says.

"I was not in agony," Troy says, "I was in…in…confused! And not aware of all the parts! But you totally should put a dollar in the jar," he adds, because Jeff's newspaper is twitching, so he's probably going to give in. At this rate, they might be able to get hypocrisy pizza before the end of the week.

Jeff sighs, pulls a dollar out of his pocket and slaps it on the table, lowering his newspaper enough to glare at all of them in turn. "When we have to upgrade this thing to a hypocrisy bank vault, don't say I didn't tell you so."

"What do you mean?" Abed says to Britta, ignoring all of this. "You and Troy were definitely dating. He bought you flowers. He slept over at your apartment. He told me he was going to ask you to be his girlfriend. You were dating."

Troy should probably step in here, but Britta's looking uncomfortable, and honestly--for all he turns out to be in love with someone else--he's annoyed enough about the whole situation to enjoy seeing her squirm. She seems to have noticed this, because she sticks her tongue out at him before she says, "Yeah, well, he was…misinformed, Abed."

Abed cocks his head. "How?"

"Mostly I didn't inform him of some stuff," Britta admits, shrugging and wincing at once. "I sort of thought it was implied."

"Hypocrisy jar," Jeff says, dropping his newspaper and staring at Britta, mouth open. "Hypocrisy jar forever."

"You didn't tell me that part," Abed says, turning to Troy as Jeff, Britta, Annie, Shirley and Pierce start arguing about whether a forever sentence on the jar invalidates the purpose of the jar. Abed's got his entire back to Britta now, is holding himself more rigid than he usually does, and Troy's not sure if that's a jealousy thing or an anger thing or a staging thing or not a thing at all, so he tries not to notice.

"I was distracted," Troy admits quietly. "By. Um. The other stuff. The other stuff was really, really distracting."

"You should have told me," Abed says.

"Would it have changed anything?" It's a hopeful question, but also, it's not--Troy's not sure he can take any more emotional whiplash without bursting through the windshield on whatever kind of car you have to be driving to get emotional whiplash. The Toyota Agony, Troy decides; after all, it seems to be the word of the day.

Abed takes a minute to consider his question, and then nods. "Probably not. No, I don't think so. Definitely not anything I said about you and me."

"Oh," Troy says, and it hurts, but also it doesn't. The Toyota Agony is probably going to be getting a lot of milage for the next few weeks; he'll just have to resign himself to his fate. "So…are you mad I didn't tell you?"

"No," Abed says. He furrows his brow again, and it occurs to Troy that he distinctly remembers a time when they didn't have to reassure each other they weren't mad about something ever, let alone twice in one conversation. "I might have handled it differently, that's all. But actually, I don't think so, so it's a moot point. You kind of surprised me."

"Yeah, well," Troy says, "I kind of surprised me, too."

There's a squeaking noise from Annie, something between shock and "awww," and Troy knows what's going to happen next without having to think about it. Pierce is going to say something horrible, and Annie's going to argue him with well-intentioned kindness that's going to turn out to be kind of horrible too; Shirley's going to make a couple more badly disguised come-to-Jesus comments, and Britta's going to start in about oppressive religions and gay rights. Jeff will pick up the newspaper again, using it as a buffer until he comes up with a speech that wraps up the morning, and Abed will watch the whole thing like it's an episode of Inspector Spacetime while Troy tries to run damage control on his own life. Troy sighs, wonders if other people's families are like this, remembers that he does have an actual family with whom this is going to be much worse, and sighs again.

It's kind of a relief, actually, when the doors open and the Dean bursts in, wearing what looks to be a Carmen Miranda costume. "Come on, shake your body, do the Dean-ga," he sings, shimmying his way into the room.

"That," Jeff says, at a loss for once, "you--I--what?"

"You're walking a dangerous line with that one," Abed says. "Carmen Miranda resented her roles in the American film industry for being overly cartoonish; also, she was Brazilian, and the conga is technically a Cuban dance. Crossing those things means you risking alienating a pretty solid number of viewers."

"Well, Abed," the Dean says, and shifts uncomfortably. Some of the fruit in his hat shifts with him; Troy wonders if it's real fruit, and then if the Dean would notice if he grabbed a piece. He's hungry. "I suppose that's a risk I'm just going to have to take."

Abed nods. "Just wanted to make sure you were aware."

"Although," the Dean says, contemplative now, "I did have another costume I was considering…"

"Might be better," Abed says, and looks at Troy. "I'm pretty sure they're not real fruit. Lame."

"Lame," Troy agrees, as Jeff drops the newspaper, stares at all of them in outraged disbelief, and then turns to the Dean.

"Since no one else seems to be willing to ask--"

"Yes, Jeffrey?" The Dean bats his eyelashes, and Troy thinks it's kind of mean, actually, the way Jeff and the Dean deal with each other--mean of the Dean to keep pushing it when Jeff's not interested, and mean of Jeff to not just talk to him about it. He's not planning on saying anything, though, so he slumps down in his chair a little and makes a notch for something to do.

"Why," Jeff continues, "are you in here wearing a potential lawsuit?"

"Well, as I'm sure you all know," the Dean begins, "we've finally raised the money to fix the track after that terrible fire--"

"Wasn't all that terrible," Pierce says, casting a sidelong glance at Shirley. Troy closes his eyes; if he pretends not to have seen it, maybe he'll never have to find out what it meant. "Could've been much more terrible, that's all I'm saying. Very lucky it wasn't considerably more terrible. Some people might even be called heroes, if, of course, we even knew which fire you meant. Isn't that right, Shirley?"

"I am sure I do not know what you are talking about," Shirley says. It's half sing-song and half murderous; Troy keeps his eyes closed.

"Let's cut to the chase," Abed says. "Conga line competition. Right?"

***

Four hours later, Troy is still hungry. He's also sweaty, sleepy, grumpy, and really, really ready to go home. It's just their team and Rich's team left on the track, and Jeff, at the front of their seven-person conga line, has the crazy eyes. Troy's not sure what it is about Rich that makes Jeff go off the deep end, but at least it's pretty consistent.

On the speaker in the center of the track, Gloria Estefan's "Conga," starts for the--the--

"What time is this," Troy says, trying for weary and managing half-sobbed in frustration, and hears Abed sigh behind him. There's a camera balanced on Troy's left shoulder, and it's nice to know that Abed's annoyed about this too--then again, it's equally possible that he's annoyed with the way Troy's been whimpering for the last six revolutions of the track. It's just, Troy thinks defensively, that man was not meant for conga alone. Anyone would be going crazy (except Jeff, who is clearly crazy already).

"Fifty-nine," Abed say. "I think if you let go at the far corner, there's the chance we can get away before Jeff notices."

Troy brightens at this for about half a second. Then Jeff screams, "IF ANYONE LETS GO I WILL END THEM, DON'T THINK I CAN'T HEAR WHAT YOU'RE THINKING," and Troy's good mood is, once again, over.

"I have children to get home to, Jeff!" Shirley yells, from her spot in front of Troy. She'd tried to get the spot between Troy and Abed, clearly in a make-room-for-Jesus sort of way, but Abed insisted it be him, then Troy, then everyone else. Troy was encouraged by this until Abed pulled out the camera; even then, it was still pretty encouraging. Playing steadycam for Abed with his shoulder is a normal thing for them, and Troy's got to figure out a way to get them back to normal if he's got any hope in the love department.

Jeff shouts something back that Troy mostly tunes out, because….because, well. Abed's left hand has been on his hip this whole time, in accordance with the rules (all team members must maintain contact at all times or forfeit the competition, the prize for which is, as far as Troy can tell, bragging rights). And Troy's been aware of that since the competition started, in a this-is-great-don't-think-about-it-definitely-think-about-it-oh-god-has-it-always-felt-weirdly-white-hot-when-Abed-touches-me sort of way, but now…now he's thinking about the camera resting on his shoulder. He's thinking about the camera resting on his shoulder and the way Abed keeps asking him to repeat things he's saying, and how different this would have been a few months ago. A few months ago, Abed would have been really directing him, coaxing him into doing mini-confessionals and whispering into his ear about how he was going to cut this together into a vaguely dark documentary on the human condition. Troy wouldn't have been able to follow all of it, but that would've been okay. Abed would've known that, and he would've stopped and explained the parts Troy wasn't getting without Troy having to ask, and….

"I know what to do," Troy says, stopping dead in his tracks. In front of him, Shirley stops too, apparently stilled by feeling his hand pull away from her waist; in front of her, everybody but Jeff grinds to a halt. Abed, by all laws of comedic timing, should run into Troy's back, but he doesn't. He just lifts the camera from Troy's shoulder and scurries up to the front of the line, trailing behind Jeff for the few steps it takes him to realize that nobody's behind him anymore.

"I know what to do," Troy repeats, because it's big news, and he feels like someone should hear it.

"That's nice," Shirley says, as Jeff falls to his knees and shrieks his rage to the heavens. She's right, Troy thinks. It is.

***

"I have an idea," Troy says that night. He's had a shower, a pizza, a nap, and an episode of Twin Peaks, because Abed's really, really not okay with the fact that Annie's never seen it; he'd like a hug, but other than that, Troy's back to feeling pretty alright with the world.

"What kind of idea?" Annie asks. "Is it an all of us idea, or a just you and Abed idea?"

"Kind of a just me and Abed idea," Troy says. "Sorry, Annie."

"Oh, no, don't be!" Annie says, suddenly unnaturally cheerful, "don't be at all," and then she vanishes into her room with a spring in her step. Troy will figure that one out later. He's got bigger fish to fry.

"What kind of idea?" Abed says, and Troy grins at him.

"I think you should do a documentary about us. Like, a movie about you and me trying to do...whatever we're doing. I think that's how we fix it."

There is a long pause. Then, in a weirdly distant voice, even for Abed, Abed says, "Why?"

"Duh," Troy says, "because it would awesome?"

"Okay, but why?" Abed still sounds weirdly distant, and Troy frowns at him. This idea is obviously brilliant; he wasn't expecting to have to sell it. Abed cocks his head. "You think that because I connect to people better through television and film, getting you doing exactly what you're doing on camera is going to make this magically work out. But it isn't. That's not how it works."

"Um," Troy says, because it's easier than saying I can't believe that's what you think I think, or I hate having to explain stuff to you that I wouldn't have had to explain before because words are hard and I usually get them wrong, or Why don't you like me anymore? "Abed, I know that. I…really, really know that. That's totally not why this is an awesome idea."

"Then why is it an awesome idea?"

"Uh, because I know director Abed and he's a pretty cool dude?" Troy says, ticking things off on his fingers as he lists them. "Because sometimes it's easier to talk to him about stuff than it is to talk to regular-Abed, because he's all, uh, imparticle--"

"Impartial."

"Right, that too," Troy says, waving his hand. "Because we could put cameras all over the living room and then if anybody broke in we could have their face on camera and you could Batman them?"

"I am the night," Abed says in the Batman voice. "The night has eyes everywhere. And ears. And fingers. I could be the nightfingers, but being the night is more cool. I don't need cameras. But I don't not need cameras either."

"Because you could be a character and a director at the same time, and I know you like that," Troy says, still listing things even though the Batman voice is kind of distressingly sexy from this side of the love-awareness equation. At least Abed looks interested now; he's sitting up in his chair and staring at Troy, nodding along. "Because sometimes the air conditioning school people come over and say really weird stuff and I know you want to film that." Abed nods vigorously at that, and Troy can't help but grin at him. But he can't help but be honest, either, and he feels his smile falter as he ducks his head and adds, "And because you used to make documentaries around the apartment all the time and now you don't and I…miss you. Them. It. Whatever! It's awesome! It'll be awesome!"

"I do like being a character and a director at the same time," Abed admits eventually. "And you're right about the air conditioning school--that's it's own film. If this works, can we do that one after?"

"Sure," Troy says, his heart in his throat. "Does that mean yes?"

"I'll put cameras up in the common areas, but I won't tell you where they are," Abed says, almost as if to himself. Troy grins; he's missed this too, the moments where Abed loses himself to a project and just trusts that Troy will still be there when he comes back. "I'll still know, but that's fine, it'll be my job to know--dual nature of being the subject and the observer. And Annie will want to know, I guess, we agreed that I wouldn't film without telling her again. I'd want to start tomorrow; can we start tomorrow?"

"Yeah," Troy says, and it's stupid and breathless and too fast, but it doesn't matter, because Abed grins at him like he used to, and it's the best thing that's happened all week.

"Cool," Abed says. "Cool, cool, cool."

***

When Troy wakes up the next morning, his room is as empty as ever. He leaves it as quickly as possible, which is why he's half-awake, shirtless, and making caveman noises when he gets to the kitchen table. Abed's already there, sharply dressed and eating a bowl of Count Chocula, with a camera resting on the table next to him. The lens is pointing at the chair across from him, where another bowl of Count Chocula, a glass of special drink, and a spoon are waiting. Abed gestures at the seat, and Troy sits down without a word; he's clearly dealing with director Abed, who won't mind delaying the scene a few minutes while Troy remembers how being awake works. Director Abed is pretty awesome, generally. He wants to be a fly on the wall, which means Troy can act exactly the way he feels like acting without worrying about judgement.

He eats half the bowl, drinks half the glass, wipes the milk mustache off his upper lip, and grins at Abed. Abed smiles back, professional, and nods at him. "I thought we'd start with some background information, Mr. Barnes, if that's alright with you."

"Certainly," Troy says, crossing his arms over his chest and tilting his chin up in what he assumes is an extremely dignified fashion. "Ask away."

"The purpose of this film is to examine your relationship with Abed Nadir," Abed says, fiddling with a setting on the camera. "Can you, in your own words, give me a little bit of history on that relationship?"

"Sure," Troy says. He leans back in his chair, kicking his feet up on the next seat over, and grins. "I met Abed during our first year at Greendale Community College; we were in a Spanish class together, and he invited me to join a study group with him."

"And you did?"

"Yeah."

"Why?" Abed says. He cocks his head, and just for a second he's real-Abed, nothing professional about his gaze at all. Troy blinks and it's gone. "If I recall correctly, you hadn't exchanged two words with the man before that point--what prompted to you accept his invitation?"

"Uh," Troy says. That's--there are a lot of words to that answer. Then again, this is a film, one of Abed's films, so honesty is important. He offers up a hesitant smile. "I was, uh. I'm still not--all that smart? And I hadn't talked to Abed before that because you didn't--he didn't, I mean--really talk that much? To me, anyway; I heard him talking to Britta. He sounded smarter than me, and I didn't…like that. When I first got to Greendale, I mean. People who were smarter than me made me nervous."

"Why?"

"Because I thought they were going to make me look stupid," Troy says, "and I couldn't look stupid, because I was supposed to be not stupid. I didn't have to be smart, but I had to be not stupid, because if I was stupid then a bunch of people were right about me, and I'd already given up on football. But then I thought, if this guy wants me to be in his study group, and he's smarter than me, maybe his study group will help me be…not stupid? Is this making sense?"

"Don't worry about making sense," says Director Abed, with a placating smile that would never, ever show up on real-Abed's face. "Just be honest, that's all that matters here. You didn't think Abed was weird?"

Troy has to think about that one for a second. Eventually he decides on, "Yeah, I guess I did, kind of. I thought he was…different. He didn't sound like someone who would be in a class with me, you know? Neither did Britta, I guess, but that was a different kind of different."

"Can you elaborate?"

"Sure," Troy says, and struggles with the wording for a minute before he decides on, "Britta sounded like the kind of girl that yells at me when I get a protest mixed up with a car wash? Which really isn't my fault, they've both got signs and people jumping around and it's hard to read while you're driving."

"And Abed?" Abed asks, and Troy can't tell which one he is now, so he smiles.

"Abed sounded like he should be on my TV," Troy admits. "Abed sounded like the kind of person who's so real you don't ever meet them in real life. Is that an okay answer?"

"They're all okay answers, Mr. Barnes," Abed says, and he's smiling.

***

"Hey," Troy says half an hour later, keeping his eyes on the road so he doesn't betray his nerves, "can I do a like, reverse interview?"

He sees Annie shoot him a weird look, which is fine. Annie's in the passenger seat because Abed won't ride shotgun if there's more than two people in a car, even if that means leaving Troy alone in the front--it's one of those quirks he's never really explained, and, since it doesn't matter, Troy's never really asked. As a result of this, though, Troy's gotten almost as used to getting weird sidelong glances from Annie as, he guesses, Annie has getting caught in the middle of conversations that don't make sense. He gives her an apologetic half smile, and she pats his shoulder and looks back to her Sociology notes.

"You mean why did I ask you to join the study group?" Abed says. He's real Abed now, not meeting Troy's eyes when Troy glances back at him in the rearview mirror and talking a little too fast. There's a camera balanced on his lap, and Troy can see him fiddling with one of the settings as he says, "I selected everyone based on whose story lines I thought were going to mesh well."

"Really?" Annie says, putting down her notebook and turning around in her seat to stare at Abed. "Before you even knew us?"

"I knew enough," Abed says. "Characterization-wise, the pilot never really counts anyway. You were supposed to be the Monica of the group."

Annie looks like she's not sure if she's supposed to be offended by that or not; she opens her mouth like she's going to make that noise Abed always loves imitating, and then closes it again, contemplative. "So we were Friends?"

"No," Abed says. "We didn't know each other. I thought we were going to be like the show Friends a few weeks in, but we couldn't hack it--I think that's Jeff and Britta's fault. The Monica Gellar archetype isn't exclusive to Friends, though; she's Type A, controlling, easily startled. It's the straight man role. The square."

"Hey!" Annie snaps, and Troy glances in the rearview mirror just long enough to see Abed blink twice. He would step in, but Abed is more than capable of handling himself, and also Troy's pretty sure this isn't the full story here in any case; he's known Abed long enough to be able to tell when he's holding something back.

"Are you angry?" Abed says to Annie. "You shouldn't be--I told you, we didn't know each other. You are easily startled, I was right about that part, but the rest of it was way off. I thought Pierce was going to fill the role of Jeff's father, and it didn't work out like that at all. Nothing did, actually. Real life is sloppier than television."

"So what about me?" Troy says, as he pulls into the Greendale parking lot and cuts the engine. "I wasn't Joey, right? Because--"

"--you hate Joey," Abed finishes for him. He flashes Troy that one grin, the grin Troy thinks means Abed's got an inside joke with himself, as they get out of the car. Troy's a little jealous of Abed, sometimes, for getting so much of Abed's attention--it doesn't make sense, but neither do Bugles, and that's never stopped Troy from eating them. "I know. You weren't Joey."

"Then who was I?"

Abed doesn't say anything for a minute; then he glances over the top of the car at Annie, who is watching them both with amusement in her eyes. Eventually, Abed turns back to Troy and says, "I thought you were cute," with no inflection in his voice at all.

"You," Troy starts, but Abed's already taken off towards the school, walking twice as fast as usual. Abed's got long legs, like a stork or one of those other birds that always look like storks until Troy says, "Look, a stork!" and someone starts laughing. Normally Troy likes that about Abed, because Abed pulls off skinny jeans really well and also Troy's always wanted a tall friend, except right now it means he's got a huge lead on Troy.

Abed asked Troy to join the study group because he thought Troy was cute. Three years ago, Abed thought Troy was cute. That's…amazing. Awful? Amawful? Whatever it is, it's wrinkling Troy's brain, but not in an unpleasant way.

"Go on," Annie says. Troy blinks, and she's smiling at him gently from across the top of the car--something, Troy decides, is definitely going on with Annie. She's been way too low-key lately; he'll have to look into that when he and Abed work their stuff out. "You're not just going to let him walk away, are you?"

Troy summons his courage, tells his weird boner to cool it, and grins. "Yep," he says, "but only 'cause I know where he's going."

***

Abed has three thinking spots on the Greendale campus that Troy knows about. The first, and most obvious, is the roof above the back entrance to the library; Abed goes up there when he wants to feel like Batman, or when he wants other people to think he feels like Batman, or, usually, when he just doesn't want to have to talk to anybody who isn't really, really motivated about talking to him. The second one is the breakroom in the campus bookstore, because the actual employees of the campus bookstore pretty much all spend their break time smoking, so it's almost always abandoned and full of comfortable couches. The third one is a storage space in the AV lab, but Abed usually only goes in there when he's working on a movie and people won't leave him alone.

Troy doesn't even have to think about the way Abed thinks to know where he is--he just takes his time about going up to the roof, climbs the fire escape on the other side of the building, so he doesn't freak Abed out too badly. Abed is, as expected, up there, sitting down on the cold concrete with his legs pulled up to his chest. He tenses when Troy drops his backpack to announce himself, which means Troy probably didn't give him enough time after all; oh, well.

"You were supposed to look here last," Abed says, without turning around.

"Because it's the most obvious place and you assumed I would know to check the most obvious place last?" Troy says. "Sorry, buddy, but I figured you'd think I'd think that."

"I don't want to talk to you right now."

"Okay," Troy says, shrugging. He sits down next to Abed and legs his legs dangle over the edge of the building, kicking them out a little for no particular reason at all. After a minute or two, Abed scoots forward and does the same, and Troy smiles down at his hands, just slightly. "Is it okay if I talk to you?"

"I can't stop you." Abed doesn't sound angry, and Troy's learned to tell when he is. He just sounds…resigned, probably, if Troy was going to hazard a guess. "You can do whatever you want."

"You could leave."

"I got here first," Abed says, and Troy's pretty sure--not 100% sure, but pretty sure--that that means Abed wants Troy to talk to him, but can't say that.

Troy sighs and bumps his shoulder against Abed's very slightly, just to see if Abed will bump him back. He doesn't, so Troy steels himself and says, "It doesn't like, bother me or anything, Abed. That you thought I was cute, I mean. I like it. It makes me feel less creepy about the whole, uh, declaring my love thing, and also about feeling the way I feel. And it's…flattering. And I am cute, so. You know. You don't have to be weird about it."

"I'm not being weird about it."

"You kind of are," Troy says, making a doubtful face out at the vista view of campus. From up here, Greendale looks…well, dirty and falling apart and gross, really, but at least in less detail than it does from the ground. "I mean, you're up here instead of going to class, for one thing."

"I don't have class yet, we were running early this morning." Abed's feet kick out into empty air, one after the other. "I wasn't going to skip it. I just wanted to think."

"About what?"

Abed doesn't say anything for a long, long while; Troy does have a class, one that starts...three minutes ago, actually, but he figures he can be a little late. Eventually, Abed says, "You know, I never ran the simulations for Troy/Abed."

Well, at least now they're speaking a language Troy understands. He's been in the Dreamatorium enough times, and had enough conversations with Abed-as-their-friends in there, to know exactly what that means. He tries not to let it hurt, because that would be ridiculous and not helpful and also he doesn't think he'd necessarily be able to stop letting it hurt, so. "You didn't?"

"Nope," Abed says. "I tried pretty much every other combination--Annie/Abed, Jeff/Abed, Britta/Abed, Shirley/Abed, even Pierce/Abed, although admittedly only because the circumstance demanded it. Just the physical, of course; it wouldn't have made any sense to simulate a romantic relationship between me and anyone in the group, since the likelihood of those circumstances arising was so limited. But I never ran Troy/Abed. It didn't seem like a good idea."

"Um," Troy says, because it's getting harder not to let it hurt now that he knows Abed's simulated sex with everyone in their group except him, "why?"

"Mirror of Erised," Abed says quietly. "You know I have mixed feelings on the Potter franchise, but even I can't miss a life lesson when it's being shoved down my throat. 'This mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.' Pretty simple, really."

"Oh," Troy says. There's a weird, fluttery thing happening to his heart, because he's read the Potter books, and he knows exactly what that means. It's the kind of thing that sort of makes him want to break into song, but the thing is, Abed's not dancing. Abed's acting really freaked out, actually, and Troy doesn't want to get excited for no reason, or get excited and have it make everything worse. Instead, he tries to think about how that would've felt, to be Abed and be in that spot. Eventually, he says, "Dude, that must have sucked."

"Why?" Abed sounds a couple of worlds removed from this conversation, and Troy bites the inside of his cheek and tries to think. He used to do this a lot, ask Troy why he thought Abed felt something and then confirm or deny as Troy went; it used to be easier, sometimes, than Abed trying to explain it himself. They haven't done it in a long time, though, and Troy's not sure if he remembers how.

Still, a man's gotta be brave, so Troy sorts through his thoughts for awhile and says, "Well, because it would suck to want something so much that you like…couldn't want it at all, right? I think I was kind of doing that too, maybe, only not really. It didn't really suck for me, because I didn't know I was doing it, but it would've sucked if I'd noticed."

"How could you not notice?"

"Sometimes I just don't notice stuff," Troy admits. "Even when it's really big stuff--especially when it's really big stuff, a lot of the time. But if I had noticed, I wouldn't have been able to think about anything else, probably ever. Maybe that's why I missed it; my brain maybe knew that, even if I didn't."

"That makes absolutely no sense," Abed says, but it's not harsh, just a little confused.

"Yeah, I know." Troy puts a hand to the back of his neck and scratches for a second, just to give himself something to do. "But I don't think it's supposed to. Isn't that what everybody always says? That love is like, blind and crazy and doesn't make sense?"

"I don't think that's what that means."

"Do you know what it does mean, then?" There's a telling silence, and Troy makes a noise that's half-laugh, half-sigh. "Yeah, me neither. Maybe nobody does, though."

"That's not usually," Abed says, and then he stops. There's another pause; Troy uses it to see how high he can kick his legs out. It's pretty high, if he says so himself. When Abed speaks again, he sounds a little different, sounds warmer, somehow, than he did before. "I still don't know if us getting romantically involved is a good idea."

"Me neither, I guess," Troy says. He bumps his shoulder against Abed's, and this time Abed bumps him back. Troy grins; he can't help it. "I think you're cute too, you know."

Abed's head is ducked, but Troy thinks he can see a very small smile out of the corner of his eye. "Well, I am pretty adorable."

"Yeah, you are." Troy bumps his shoulder against Abed's one more time and then sighs, checks his watch, and sighs again. "Are we cool? Because when people are more than ten minutes later for Intro to Harsh Reality, Professor Whitman takes ten points off their grade."

"If you tell him you were exploring your previously unexplored bisexuality, the seize-the-day thing might kick in," Abed says. "But we're cool. You can go."

"Awesome," Troy says, and stands to grab his stuff. "You coming?"

"Think I'll stay up here for awhile," Abed says, but he waves over his shoulder, and he doesn't seem like he's upset. Sometimes Abed likes being by himself; that's one of those impulses that makes almost no sense to Troy, but there are almost definitely things about Troy that make no sense to Abed, so he's going to call it even. "See you later."

Troy is, in fact, more than ten minutes late to Professor Whitman's class. When he tries Abed's suggestion and explains about the bisexuality thing, he gets hugged way too hard, spun around, and given a passing grade for the entire semester. Greendale, Troy decides, is a weird place; on the other hand, Abed Mirror-of-Eriseds him, and he's not going to have to make the Harsh Realities diorama, which was almost guaranteed to be a bummer. All things considered, stuff could definitely be worse.

***

Annie sends Troy a text at the end of the day that says Going out, have a ride, see you guys later! which Troy reads aloud on the walk to the car. When he's done, he frowns at the screen, frowns at Abed, and says, "Hey, do you think…"

"Annie and Jeff are secretly dating?" Abed says as he climbs into the car. "Absolutely. They're even less subtle than Britta and Jeff were when they were secretly dating. Also, I saw Jeff sneaking out of our apartment on Thursday night."

"Damn," Troy says, blinking. "I was gonna ask if you thought I should change my text message alert noise, but--damn."

"I like the light-saber sound," Abed says. "You should keep it."

Troy grins down at his phone; he'd set that alert noise months ago, when things first started getting weird, in the hope that Abed would notice and appreciate it. Abed never said anything, though, and Troy'd only kept it because it made him feel like a Jedi. Well, more of a Jedi than usual. Well, more of a Jedi than he'd felt since he and Abed stopped actually playing Jedi, anyway. "Pizza and a movie?"

"Cool," Abed says, "cool cool cool. You pick the toppings and I'll pick the movie."

"Can I get banana peppers?"

Abed considers this for a second. "On half," he decides, "but only if we get olives on the other half."

"We can get olives on both halves," Troy argues, "and banana peppers on just one half, and double cheese, and double mushrooms."

"No pepperoni," Abed says, and Troy has to snort, because duh.

"And no sausage, and not from that Papa John's on 3rd Street that doesn't clean its counters, and extra dipping sauce, yeah, I know. I have ordered a pizza with you before, you know."

"It doesn't feel that way, though," Abed says. "Have you noticed that? I know we've been in the same timeline this whole time, otherwise I'd be worried about it. It's a like we're getting a reboot, I think. I know you know how to order a pizza I'll like, but I feel like I have to tell you anyway."

"Yeah," Troy says. It's all he can say for a minute; he's not hungry anymore, because now his stomach hurts. He knows he's the one who strapped himself into the Toyota Agony, but Troy's kind of moved past whiplash and into triage. He wonders if his intestines are tying themselves up in knots for real, or if that's just in his head. It doesn't really matter (unless he falls down dead from tied-up intestines, anyway), but it's easier to think about than anything else.

"Stop," Abed says. It's a harsh enough voice, for Abed, that Troy turns to look at him; he's wringing his hands together in his lap, and he won't look at Troy.

"Stop what?"

"Doing that," Abed says. "Going quiet. It's not fair. If I say something that's not the thing you wanted me to say, or not the thing I was supposed to say, you have to explain why. Otherwise, I'm going to keep doing it. I thought we were supposed to be fixing things."

"We are!" The Toyota Agony, Troy thinks grimly, better have a high trade-in value, that's all he's saying. "We totally are, I don't know what you mean."

"No, I don't know what you mean," Abed says. "Because you don't say anymore. You used to, and then you stopped, and I can't help fix it if you don't explain why it's broken. And you can't fix it by yourself--you said so. So you have to explain."

Troy wishes they'd thought to wire the car with cameras too; Abed's hand-held one is in his bag, and this is one of those times Troy thinks Director Abed might be easier to be honest with. But, Troy reminds himself, Director Abed is just Abed with another hat on--just because the cameras aren't here doesn't mean he isn't in there somewhere. "Abed?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm scared," Troy admits, "okay? Because when you say stuff like about how--how even ordering a pizza feels like we never did it before, that's scary! For me! Because I don't want to forget how to order a pizza with you, because if I forget how to order a pizza with you that means that we're not even regular friends anymore, because I know how to order a pizza with Annie, or Jeff, or even Pierce--"

"Tell him it's double cheese and ask the restaurant to hide vegetables underneath," Abed says, and Troy grins, shakes his head to stop himself bursting into hysterical laughter.

"Exactly. So it's not that you're saying things that are wrong or bad, it's just that some of it…scares me. Like, Paranormal Activity scares me, because it's scary while it's happening and then it's scary after too, because I miss you a lot and also I love you a lot and I feel stupid anyway, you know, for not figuring it out before and…" Troy trails off, frustrated.

"And you don't like feeling stupid," Abed finishes, almost a question, but not quite. "Right?"

"I'd rather feel stupid than scared," Troy says. "Stupid's easy--you just learn some stuff, and then you're not stupid anymore. Scared you're stuck with."

"Oh," Abed says. After a long pause, he says, "Is that why you yelled the other night?"

"About us jumping the shark?" Troy says, even though the words kind of stick in his throat. "Yeah. That's…sometimes it's easier to make scared into mad, even when I'm not really mad."

"You never told me that before."

"I'm not scared a lot," Troy says. Abed frowns at him, probably because that's a huge lie, and Troy quickly amends, "Or, no, I am, but not like…not life scared. Just stuff-scared. It's different."

"You're scared of growing up," Abed points out.

"I'm scared of growing up wrong," Troy corrects. Then he thinks about it. "But actually, not so much anymore. I'm starting to think that being an adult is a lot like being a kid, only the problems are bigger and the surprises are worse."

"Hmmm," Abed says. "That's probably true. Did you want to order the pizza, or do you want me to do it?"

"Crap," Troy says, because they're halfway to the Papa John's on 8th and he totally forgot about calling in their order. Abed gives him a small, close-lipped smile and pulls out his phone, and they get lucky; Alex, the new chef there, likes Abed and promises to rush their order.

Twenty minutes later, they've got their PJs on, sodas in hand, and the pizza balanced between their armchairs on one of the folding trays Shirley got them as an apartment-warming gift. Troy doesn't know why those things are called apartment-warmings, really; as far as he can remember, it was pretty cold that night, and it's not like folding trays do much good as heaters. Unless, of course, there was a need for a fire.

"Hey," Troy says, "if it was an ice age right now and all we had to survive off of what's in this apartment, what would you burn first?"

"The folding trays," Abed says, automatic. "Then all of Annie's pillows, then my cereal box collection. Then your bed. Then any unnecessary clothing. The carpet last--most heat is lost through the extremities."

"What if we had shoes?"

"You said whatever was in the apartment," Abed says. "You running shoes that you like to wear until the soles get thin--not good for retaining heat. I have extra socks that would fit you, and extra warm shoes, but my feet are too big for you to borrow my shoes. If we burned the carpet first, you'd have a higher chance of freezing."

Troy can't help the grin that spreads across his face, big and warm and sappy like you wouldn't believe. "Okay. What if I had warm shoes?"

"Still the carpet last," Abed says, without even stopping to think.

"Shoes not warm enough?"

"I just really don't want to see what the floor looks like underneath," he admits, shrugging a shoulder when Troy laughs. "Maybe the ice age would end before we found out--although, actually, there's the decent chance I'd prefer freezing to death. Underneath the carpet is something I try not to think about. Yeah, I'd rather freeze to death. Though I reserve the right to change my mind in the event we actually are on the verge of freezing to death."

"Deal," Troy says, and they reach over the pizza and clink their sodas together in the toast version of their handshake.

"Pizza pizza pizza," Abed says, the same way he always does, as he reaches for a slice. "Hit play, Reggie. We haven't the time to waste."

"Don't you mean…the space?" Troy grabs for the remote and hits the button; given that lead-in, he was expecting Inspector Spacetime, but the Disney castle floats onscreen to the shortened version of the Toy Story music instead. Then the Pixar lamp hops into view, and Troy bobs his head along with it, knows without looking that Abed's doing the same thing. He's not sure what it's going to be until the Pixar logo fades out an underwater view, and then Troy grins, grabs a slice of pizza, and says, "Finding Nemo. Nice."

"I know it's your favorite," Abed says, "and since Annie won't watch it, I figured we might as well."

"I don't understand why she doesn't like it," Troy says through a mouthful of pizza. He's glad Abed okayed the banana peppers; they're pretty awesome, if Troy says so himself. "I mean, it's like, the perfect movie."

"She over-identifies with the clownfish," Abed says, nodding along with the opening score. "Everyone thinks he's too uptight, but he just wants to make sure everything goes the right way, because that's how he makes himself feel safe. At the end, he loosens up; that's an unsatisfying arc, for Annie. It makes her feel like a failure, because she's not good at that."

"Oh," Troy says. "Guess that makes sense. Why do I like it so much, then?"

"You identify with Nemo," Abed says. "For you, it's a movie about adventure, intrigue, and love mattering more than small mistakes."

"And the turtles."

"Tubular, dude," Abed says in the turtle voice. Then, for good measure, he makes the turtle face. Troy, who hasn't seen the turtle face in months, ends up spitting soda out through his nose; Abed, who hasn't seen Troy spit take in just as long, cracks up. He laughs too hard, Abed, when he thinks something is really funny--Troy's pretty sure he knows that, since he basically never does it in front of other people. Troy likes it, though. He likes almost everything about Abed, and especially the stuff he doesn't have to share with anyone else.

They watch the movie in relative silence, each of them jumping in occasionally to quote along with their favorite parts, and it's really nice, for awhile. It feels just like it used to, and Troy's glad; he really can handle it if Abed decides they can't date, because this, right here, is more important.

Of course, then they get to the part where Nemo's playing dead in the plastic bag, and Troy…shit. Troy forgot about this part, because Troy always forgets about this part, because this part is so sad it shouldn't even be allowed. It's not that Nemo playing dead is sad; it's how close they come to reconnecting, and the way he says "Daddy?" and actually it hurts even worse, this time, than it did last time. Troy is starting to really get the whole missed-your-window brand of heartbreak, and he bites down on the inside of his cheek to keep himself from crying even as Abed reaches across the gap between them, snatches the remote, and pauses the movie.

"Hotseat," says Director Abed, appearing out of nowhere. "Why don't you feel comfortable crying in front of Abed anymore?"

"I don't not," Troy says, which isn't really very convincing, given how much of it is sobbed. "I don't! That's not real!"

"Those spiders that live in bananas," Abed says, and Troy gives it up and does actually burst into tears, because, honestly, what the hell.

"It's their houses," Troy cries, through sobs he's trying very hard to muffle, "why would you bring that up, they have to just go anywhere, of course they're mean to people who want to eat bananas--"

"See," Abed says, "you're doing it right now."

"Doing what?"

"Trying to stop crying," Abed says. "You didn't used to do that--you did, when we first started hanging out, but then you stopped. Then you started again. Why?"

And just like that, Troy's drifting into the part of his brain that he doesn't go to, the part of his brain he doesn't even like, the part of his brain Abed would probably call Bat Country. The thing about being Troy is that real men don't cry, and maybe that means Troy will never be a real man; the thing about being Troy is that, before Abed, there were rules and laws and no safe way to break them. Troy's got feelings, has always had feelings, that are too much to handle or carry or live through--he doesn't hold onto anger because anger's not worth it, and he doesn't hold onto hurt because that only makes it hurt more. But that doesn't mean, hasn't ever meant, that he doesn't feel those things, and sometimes Troy thinks his brain is a lot like that trampoline before it turned out to belong to a racist--he jumps and jumps and jumps, and spends so much time in the air that he only has to brush his feet against the cold, hard truth every once in awhile.

The truth, just now, isn't cold and hard: the truth is, in fact, hot and soft, like Troy always imagined lava might be when he hopped from blue linoleum square to blue linoleum square at day care as a kid. The truth oozes and stinks like rotten eggs and burns his insides as it splits up and out of his heart, and if that's too gross to make sense, well. There's a reason Troy doesn't go to this part of his brain; there's a reason Troy sticks to the bright side. He knows exactly why he doesn't like to cry in front of Abed anymore, but that doesn't mean he wants to say it, or think about it, or admit that it's true.

But he made a promise, didn't he, and here's the thing about real men: Troy's probably never going to be one, but he's pretty sure that doesn't mean he can't be a good man, and good men keep their word. Abed's looking at him like he's a ticking time bomb, like he's waiting to see if he should have cut the blue wire instead, and Troy feels his fit hit the rubber of that trampoline, forces himself not to jump back up.

"You wrote that list," Troy says. It comes out flat and exhausted, which isn't really much of a surprise. "And it…spoiled some stuff for me. Ruined it. Or, no, I guess it didn't--I just, there were things in there I didn't know, and now I do, and so that makes some stuff harder."

"You're still angry," Abed says. He sounds confused. "You said you weren't. After we put on--"

"The magic friendship hats, I know." Troy reaches up over his head and fingers the edges of where that hat would be; he imagines it as a black bowler, with a big blue peacock feather drooping low on one side and sparkles around the rim. "And I'm not still angry--no, I am, I guess, but not in the way I think you mean."

"I think you mean you're angry about my betrayal of your trust."

"Yeah, that's not right."

"Then what are you angry about?"

Troy thinks about the list Abed sent; he doesn't remember all of it, because his brain hasn't ever really worked that way, but he remembers enough. Abed said that Troy was easily distracted, that Troy wasn't hard to break emotionally, that Troy's biggest weakness was how easy it was to make him cry, and it wasn't that any of those things weren't true, exactly. It's just that…

"You weren't supposed to think that stuff," Troy says quietly. "You were supposed to be the person who didn't think that stuff about me, and then you did, and now I know you do. And you have to…not, right? Because you're my best friend, and--and I need you not to think that stuff! I just do!"

"I don't understand," Abed says. He cocks his head, and just for a second, Troy hates him; this would be so much easier, all of it, if Abed noticed less, or if Troy knew how to explain more. "Everything I said in that email was true. You weren't supposed to see it, because I knew seeing it would hurt your feelings--it would be proof that I had betrayed your trust to serve my own ends, and exploited our friendship for the sake of winning the war. Your being angry about makes sense--I shouldn't have valued a victory over our relationship, and I understand that. But the rest of it isn't logical at all. I don't think those things about you: I know them. They're facts."

"Thanks," Troy snaps, and Abed narrows his eyes.

"Sarcasm?"

"Yeah." Troy crosses his arms over his chest and focuses his eyes on the far wall; Abed's Firefly poster is pinned up there, and Troy wonders how Zoe would handle this. She's kind of his hero, even though he knows it's supposed to be Mal--Zoe's tall and badass and scary as hell, but she's got a big heart, too, and she's not freaked out about it the way Mal is about his. Troy kind of wants to grow up to be her, because he thinks it might be nice to be fearless everywhere, instead of just in the places where it doesn't really matter all that much.

He's not expecting it when Abed slams his hand down on the folding tray. He jumps about a foot in the air even as Abed says, "You have to explain more," in as frustrated a voice as Troy's ever heard from him. The last time Troy heard Abed sound like that, they were doing a bottle episode.

"What do you--"

"I need you to tell me why," Abed says. "Why is it bad that I know those things about you?"

"Because you're not supposed to!" Troy says. Then, when Abed raises his eyebrows, he sighs and adds, "Look, it's--it wasn't supposed to bother you. I thought you didn't mind, and now I know you do, and I get that they're weaknesses and I get that I should have started being, like, you know. More grown-up and stuff, I guess. I should've gotten good at that a long time ago. But I didn't and I always felt bad about it and then you didn't care and then it turned out you did, so now I try not to show you! Because I get that I'm not supposed to with anyone! Okay? Is that enough explanation yet?"

Abed's brow is so deeply furrowed that Troy kind of wants to poke it, just to see if it feels as bumpy as it looks. He manfully resists the urge as Abed opens his mouth, shuts it again, cocks his head, frowns, and finally says, "But that's not right."

"What part of it isn't right?"

"They're character traits," Abed says, almost (but not quite) as if to himself. "Why would you…they're not weaknesses, that's not how it works. In the situation we were in at the time, they were weaknesses; your emotional vulnerability is a less than ideal trait for a commander in a battle situation, because it's easy to manipulate. But in other situations--in most other situations, actually--everything I listed could be considered an asset. The fact that you're easily distracted is part of your appeal to me as a friend, because it makes you easier for me to follow; it's also arguably the only thing that keeps our group from imploding with tension three out of every six times. Your tendency to cry easily marks your willingness to invest emotionally in the people and events around you, which is terrible in a war, but is widely considered a positive quality in reality. Your shame about that tendency is indicative of both a deep self-awareness and an awareness of the discomfort certain behaviors cause in others--why would you think any of it bothered me? Or, more accurately, why would you think it bothered me now? My stating it was the result of observing your behavior; it's not as though I stopped being friends with you when I noticed those things."

That's…a lot of words to take in. Troy blinks, and blinks again, and Abed stares at the stitching on the armrest of his chair and doesn't say anything else. Eventually, after Troy's pretty sure he's worked through all of it, he says, "Oh."

"Yeah," Abed says.

"So," Troy says cautiously, "you…didn't stop talking to me because you were annoyed about how I get?"

"I didn't stop talking to you at all," Abed says, but he's still staring at the armrest. As Troy watches, he finds a loose thread and worries it between two fingers, tugging at it lightly. "I'm talking to you right now."

"You know what I mean," Troy says, folding his arms. "There's a difference between talking and talking, you know? You stopped being you, but only sometimes."

"You mean I toned it down," Abed says, and nods. He's still not looking at Troy. "That's true. It seemed like the right thing to do."

"Why?"

"Let's put the movie back on," Abed says, and reaches for the remote. Troy lunges across the space between them and grabs it, and that does get Abed to look at him. For a second, he looks…well, he looks like Abed always looks, but Troy's known him long enough to recognize the subtle differences between totally calm and freaking the fuck out, actually, thanks.

"Abed," Troy says, "it's just me."

Abed gives him a look that, even for Troy, is more or less indecipherable. "You know, our friendship is the longest relationship I've ever had with anyone, discounting blood relatives. Well, and the rest of the study group, technically; I guess I mean the longest close relationship."

"Yeah, I know." Troy twists around in his armchair, pulling his feet up under him and resisting the urge to reach out. He's not sure how much touching Abed does or doesn't want here; he'd ask, but he gets the impression that now's not a good time to do that. "So?"

"So, no one else would have your patience with me," Abed says, and points a finger at Troy when he opens his mouth to argue. "You said. Friends don't lie to each other, we agreed, so I know you meant it. Annie says that I'm afraid of being alone, and maybe she's right, but the thing is, Troy, I'm not stupid. People get fed up with me eventually, even blood relatives. It matters to me that you don't, so I toned it down. It was the only logical thing to do. You weren't supposed to notice."

Abed's not looking at him again, and Troy is, just now, pretty damn grateful for that. He feels sick to his stomach, like that time with the giant cookie but so much worse; he feels like someone punched him, or, if he's honest, like he punched himself. Selfishly, he wishes he'd let Abed put the movie back on after all--he's glad to know this, glad to understand, but he wishes he could sponge it out of his brain at the same time. Troy's spent the better part of a year getting more and more sure that Abed was sick of him, that his value as the sidekick, the Reggie of their relationship, was finally starting to wane. It occurs to him, now, to remember where that thought came from in the first place. It was Vice Dean Laybourne that started him thinking that way, wasn't it? Vice Dean Laybourne, not Troy, and definitely not Abed--Abed, who's told Troy a dozen times that his function in their group is to be the outsider. Abed, who made Troy promise that even if they stopped being friends, he'd still at least call on December 9th.

Troy hurt Abed. That's what happened here; Troy hurt Abed, and not even the way he meant to when he was angry and confused and hurt himself. Troy hurt Abed and didn't know, didn't do a single thing about it, and that's worse than a giant cookie stomachache or a zombie invasion or Britta's Jon Stewart impression. That's…pretty much the worst thing ever, actually, and Troy doesn't know what to do about it at all.

"Abed," Troy says, and then realizes he's not going to be able to have this conversation with Abed as he is, picking at that loose thread and wearing the expression Troy's come to associate with closing credits on an unsatisfying film. He's never in a million years going to be able to figure out what he wants to say, let alone how to say it to Abed; he needs help, and that was the whole point of this, wasn't it? "I…can you be Director Abed for a minute?"

"Yes," Abed says. "Why?"

"Because I don't want to talk about this," Troy says, "but I have to, because you think some stuff that isn't what I wanted you to think and I…I need you to make me talk about it. Because I feel bad. And I don't like to talk about things when I feel bad about them, even when I have to. Even when it's the right thing to do, or the…the important thing to do, I guess. I need you to interview it out of me."

Abed tilts his head, clearly considering it. Then he…changes, a borrowed calm settling over him as he lifts his hands to frame Troy in a tiny, invisible screen. Troy knows there are cameras in here the same way he knows that this isn't like earlier, when Abed pulled the hotseat card on him just because he could; this is a full switch, a complete slide into someone else. It's a comfort, in a way--Abed doesn't know how to deal with this either. At least Troy isn't alone.

"Troy," says Abed, "can I call you Troy--who am I kidding, of course I can. You're my star, after all. Let's just jump right in; can you tell me a little bit about the text message you sent to Abed Nadir at 8:45 PM on March 15th of this year?"

"Uh," says Troy.

"Sorry, perhaps you need a little bit of context," Abed says, "I'm sure you send a lot of text messages. The one in question read--"

"Don't." Troy knows exactly what the text message said, has run over it in his mind during late night moments where he couldn't quite keep himself afloat. If he hears Abed say it aloud, confirms the perfect recall of every stupid word that Troy's known was there all along, he won't be able to say anything at all. "Ah, I'm sorry. This is…"

"A sensitive topic, yes, I can tell." Abed purses his lips in faked consternation, and then smiles, the sort of smile that he clearly ripped from a DVD extra somewhere. "Stubborn actors, well. I know how to deal with that. The section in question was the statement, 'No one else will ever have my patience with you,' directed, of course, at Abed. Let's start there--what did you mean by that, exactly?"

"I," Troy says, and sighs. He finds that, even when it's Director Abed he's talking to, he still can't bring himself to meet his eyes. He keeps his gaze on his lap, rubs his thumb into the center of his palm, and tries to imagine this whole conversation as the underside of the sink in their kitchen. If he just thinks about it hard enough, maybe it'll work--he'll know where to apply pressure and when to back away, what bolts to twist and which ones are fine on their own. "This…this is going to make me sound like a jerk, I think. But I think it's going to make me less of a jerk to explain and we agreed not to lie to each other and--"

"Deep breaths, Troy," Abed says. "Just tell me what happened as you recollect it, in your own time."

"I didn't mean what you think I meant," Troy bursts out, instead of taking the time he knows he needs. He can feel the pressure of all this emotion building up inside him, and maybe he's figured out the sink thing after all; just now, he feels like he's going to spring a leak at any moment, like this is all going to hiss out of him at dangerous, painful speed and flood the whole damn building. "Or what…what Abed thinks I meant, I guess, since I asked you to switch. And I guess I did mean it, but not--fuck. Okay. The thing is, I was really upset with you? Like, really, really upset with you."

"Because you wanted to build a blanket fort for the world record, and Abed wanted to continue your pillow fort," Abed says, nodding. "Yes, the conflict is well documented."

"Yeah," Troy says, "except…not really? I mean, yeah, I was mad about that, but mostly that was because I wanted to do something different and you shot me down without even thinking about it. And actually, honestly, you know what, Abed, that's not even true, because what I was really mad about was the impersonator guys."

"You said you weren't mad about that anymore," Abed says, breaking character for a second and then, smoothly, picking it back up. "I mean, according to the data--"

"I wasn't, except I kind of was, too."

"I'm going to need you to elaborate a little there," Abed says, and fiddles with a setting on his camera. "For the viewers."

Troy does look up at that, can't help it; he smiles slightly at Abed, who looks back at him, impassive. "I was…you scared me, okay? And then I was still scared, even after I wasn't mad anymore, because if something happened to you it would…I don't know what it would do, but I know it would hurt. A lot. And I didn't really sleep for a couple of days because I kept thinking about all the stuff that could happen to you, like, what if you went to get pizza and a piano fell on you, or even smaller stuff, like what if you got hurt somewhere and your phone was broken and I didn't know, or if you kept hiring the celebrity impersonators secretly and they broke your legs after all."

"You didn't tell me that," Abed says, and he's fully out of character now, but Troy doesn't care. Now that Troy's talking about this, he can't actually stop talking about it; he wasn't expecting that, though he guesses it maybe shouldn't be such a surprise. Build-ups always crack something eventually, after all.

"Yeah, well, it was kind of crazy, Abed," Troy says. "Like, nuthouse crazy. 'Hi, buddy, I'm not sleeping because I keep thinking about ways you could die,' is kind of not the sort of thing you say, you know?"

"No," Abed says, "but I'll take your word for it."

"It's not the point anyway. Because it wasn't--the thing is, Abed, the thing is I was so scared and I was so tired and I was worrying about you all the time--"

"But you didn't have to," Abed says, tilting his head. "I wasn't doing anything dangerous."

"I know," Troy says, and throws his hands in the air. "That's what I mean, that's what made it so crazy--but the point is, I was worrying about you all the time and then you didn't even want to listen about the pillow fort and it sort of felt like you didn't care at all, and then I saw that email and I. Um. I wanted to hurt your feelings, I think. Because my feelings were really hurt, even though you didn't mean to do that."

"You're right," Abed says, "that does make you sound like a jerk." Troy shuts his eyes and tries to breathe through the sensation that his whole brain is crying; he knows the word for it is panic, but that's never really done the concept justice. But then Abed clears his throat and adds, "But I knew that already," and Troy's eyes wrench themselves open without his say-so.

"You did?"

"Of course," Abed says, nodding. "You mentioned three different things that I've told you, in one way or another, are sore spots for me. Your emotional availability is something I was trying to exploit; there's certainly nothing surprising about the fact that you attempted to work it the other way. But you haven't answered my question: what did you mean, no one else would have your patience with me?"

"I didn't," Troy says, and punches out a long, hard breath. "Right. Okay. So--like, my mother, right? My mother takes a lot of my patience. Pretty much every time I talk to her I want to bang my head against a wall until everything she's said like, drains out of my ears."

"Is this relevant?"

Troy smiles down at his hands, very slightly. "Yeah. I'm getting there, just--everyone takes some patience to deal with, you know? Like, that's how people work, for me. The people I like the best are the people who take the least patience for me to deal with, and I like you better than anyone I've ever met. I…I wanted you to see that I was important, I think. Like, important enough for you to tell me I'm important."

"But you know I'm not good at that," Abed says. "And it's never been a problem before."

"I know!" Troy cries. "I know, I know, but it was--it was a really bad week, and I didn't even feel like you liked me and I just, I kind of lost it a little. I didn't mean you try my patience--you do, sometimes, but like. Everybody! Does! And you so don't most of the time that the times you do don't matter. I meant 'I'm an awesome friend and you should tell me so,' except that by meaning that I sort of automatically disqualify myself from being an awesome friend. I'm…stupid, sometimes. I can't help it."

"Oh," Abed says, and he sounds so small and shocked that Troy almost wishes that he didn't know him so well, almost wishes that he couldn't tell.

But it's only almost, and suddenly Troy is bubbling over in that way that's never kind enough to just manifest as tears, in that way that always comes out as something rawer and more embarrassing and worse. He takes a deep breath, or tries to; it catches in his throat and his mouth is opening and his voice breaks around it as he says, "But then you stopped…you stopped being you or, or toned it down, I guess, and I hated it, Abed, I hated it so much, because you know what? I'd rather you never told me I was a good friend and kept being you then…then what happened, I guess, because being your friend is amazing. And I think I've been in love with you the whole time but I didn't, I couldn't tell, because being friends with you was that amazing. So it's even stupider, isn't it? Like, getting to be friends with you is so amazing that I didn't even realize that I wanted to…and so what was I think about, really? Why would I need you to tell me I was a good friend? Because getting to be your friend at all should have like, like said that anyway, because only people who are good friends would get to be--"

Troy's voice stops breaking then, slips into broken, and he's relieved when he chokes on it and has to stop talking, because at least it means he's not saying anything else. He covers his face with his hands and folds up small in his chair and tries to shut it down, but he can't; he's fucked this up so bad, and he hadn't even realized how bad, and if they've jumped the shark, well. It's Troy that threw them over it.

But then there's pressure on Troy's back, and that's…that's impossible, isn't it, because Annie's not home and Abed doesn't, with the touching. He's fine with Troy touching him, and so Troy does (or did, anyway)--Troy does kind of a lot, actually, which is just another one of those clues he should have picked up on before. Still, there's pressure on Troy's back, heavily, solid, immobile pressure, like Abed put his hand on Troy's back and then wasn't sure what to do with it, and that kind of makes sense, when Troy thinks about it. So he does think about it, Abed's hand and the sense it might make, until his brain stops crying for long enough that the rest of him does and he can lift his head again.

"What we've got here is failure to communicate," Abed says, and he's smiling a little, and he sounds so much like Strother Martin that Troy can't help but laugh.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah," Abed says. "But it's okay, I think. Now we know. You want to finish the movie?"

Troy nods, and Abed grabs the remote from him, hits play, and then passes over the box of tissues he keeps hidden underneath his chair in deference to Troy's tendencies when they watch sad movies. Troy had kind of thought he'd gotten rid of it, actually, but he takes it gratefully and wipes himself off, loses himself in Nemo's triumphant return to his father until the movie's over. Abed nods at him once and turns the television off, stands up without a word and heads into the blanket fort. Troy's still sitting in his chair, wondering what the hell he's supposed to do now, when Abed comes out again, stalks up to Troy, stands between his spread legs and gives him a considering look.

"What's up?" Troy says, craning his neck to look up at Abed.

"I think this is the scene where I kiss you," Abed says, and then, before Troy can even get excited, he does, bending low and bracing his hand on the chair behind Troy's head. His lips are cool and dry, and holy shit if he's not the best kisser Troy's ever met; his tongue swipes over Troy's lower lip once, twice, and they pull apart and lean back in twice before Abed pulls away.

"Right," Abed says, "goodnight," and he leaves again, disappearing into the blanket fort.

It's been kind of an emotional night, but Troy allows himself an low, triumphant "What," just because.

***

To say Troy spends the next day and a half in a blissed-out haze would, if he's honest, be an understatement. He knows it should be embarrassing, but he doesn't really care; he's happy, and he's going to be happy, and that's just the end of it. It's sort of like those first few weeks of being friends with Abed, actually, just sharper and more obvious--Troy remembers this feeling, like there are friendly bees buzzing just underneath his skin, like the whole world is smiling back at him for a little while. The first time around, it was joy and surprise behind the feeling, because the first time Troy hadn't known it was possible to have friends like Abed, hadn't realized he could connect with another person that way. This time, it's joy again, but relief too, and love, and some fourth thing that Troy's having trouble quantifying. It feels, he thinks, like finally coming home after a really awful day, like that moment where you fall into your bed and think I live right here, and thank god. He's not sure if there's a word for that; he's noticed, before, that sometimes there aren't words for the things that matter the most.

"For the sake of clarity," Abed says, on Thursday night, "and learning from Britta's mistakes, I want to make it clear that we're not currently in a romantic relationship."

"I know," Troy says, trying for indignant. His mouth is full of candy corn, though, bought in bulk because the best thing about November is that Halloween candy is cheap, so it comes out garbled and slightly orange. He swallows, and tries again. "I meant, I know, dude. We're like…still kissing and stuff, though, right?"

"Yes," Abed says, "obviously."

"And we're still--" Troy isn't sure how to finish that sentence, and he also wants some more candy corn, so he tips the bag back into his mouth and holds out a hand to do their handshake. Abed goes along with it, smiling at him slightly, and Troy grins at him as he thumps the candy bag twice against his chest.

"Yeah," Abed says.

Troy shrugs, easy now that they've worked out the big stuff; it's so nice to have the weight of all that hurt gone, all the shame talked out and shrunk down, that he can't really see any point in sweating the small stuff. "Then I'm cool. We can be like…boyfriends, I guess, if you want to later. Or we can just keep being us, but plus kissing and stuff. Whatever's fine. We can work it out as we go, if you want."

"Cool," Abed says, "Cool cool cool. Your teeth are kind of orange, by the way. So you know."

"Sweet," Troy says, "do you think my mouth tastes orange?" and then Abed's kissing him again, five full minutes against the kitchen counter before he steps away cleanly and goes back to finally explaining the plot of Good Will Hunting.

Kissing Abed, it has to be said, is pretty incredible. It's not like Troy is any stranger to kissing, either; he hasn't had a lot of serious relationships or anything, but Troy has done a lot of kissing, with a lot of different people. Mostly girls, though there was that one time with that one running back…anyway, it doesn't matter. The point is, Troy has kissed a lot of people, and he gets it, how kissing is supposed to go. It's wet and warm and sometimes really sloppy, and sometimes it's hot, and sometimes it's sad, and sometimes it's just kind of business-as-usual, the sort of thing people do without really thinking about that.

But Abed…well, Abed's kisses are a little different every time, and Troy's never kissed anyone like that. He'd assumed, until Wednesday night, that people just kissed how they kissed and that was the end of it, but Abed's always been better than everybody else Troy knows, so maybe he shouldn't be surprised. Sometimes Abed kisses like he's been practicing it for years and sometimes he kisses like he's never done it before; sometimes he's curious and sometimes he's hungry; sometimes, in the middle of the sort of kiss Troy'd have to call predatory, he'll stop, pull away, and then kiss Troy slow and careful, like something out of a movie. And the thing about Abed is that some of these kisses probably are from movies, or started out that way, anyway--Abed, Troy knows, has had a lot more sex than people tend to guess, and he knows it's entirely possible that he's perfected some of these moves on a whole slew of other people. That's cool; Troy feels kind of bad for those people, because kissing Abed is decidedly better than pretty much anything else has ever been and it would suck to have it and lose it, but mostly he's glad they weren't awesome enough to hold Abed's attention very long.

They've been doing this for two days. They've kissed like six times; they've only kissed, because Abed's the one who wanted to go slow on this, and Troy is definitely not going to push his luck. They've been kissing and only kissing for two days, and it's already the best sex of Troy's life. He is, he's pretty certain, justified in being a little floaty for awhile.

He knows it's showing, too, knows his friends can see it, because by Friday's group meeting everybody's giving Troy weird looks. At least, they're giving Troy weird looks whenever he chances to look at them; he's kind of mostly looking at Abed, but whatever, they can just deal with that if they don't like it. Abed is really, really nice to look at, especially now that Troy knows how he kisses, and can let himself drift into envisioning circumstances where they might get to kiss again. If reality were a factor, Troy would have to limit himself to thinking about their kitchen, his bedroom, the blanket fort, their living room, and possibly his car, though he can't be sure, since he hasn't been alone in the car with Abed yet. The thing is, though, it's not like Troy's spent three years being friends with Abed and learned nothing. In his head, they're on top of the Eiffel Tower, and leaning across their horses in cowboy gear, and breaking for makeouts as they fight their way through the Matrix.

He's been hard for the better part of two days, only finding relief when he locks himself in his bedroom or one of the Greendale bathrooms to jerk off sharp and fast and imagining Abed's hand on him. That's okay; that's pretty hot, actually. Even hotter is the way Abed keeps catching his gaze, across the table or from the other side of a classroom and looking at him like he can totally tell. Which he probably can, which just makes the whole thing hotter, and Troy would really be fine with just kissing and this forever, if he's honest. Anything else that comes along will just be a happy bonus.

Troy smiles at Abed. Abed raises his eyebrows, but smiles back.

"Oh my god," Jeff says, "this is horrifying."

"No," Annie corrects, "it's sweet. And very romantic."

"Creepy," Jeff says, and then makes a high-pitched squeaking noise, like Annie kicked him under the table. Troy wrenches his gaze from Abed for long enough to cheek that out, and sure enough, there's Annie's smug smirk and Jeff's pained wince. "Fine! I take it back! Sweet, romantic, you got it."

"I'm sorry," Shirley says, sounding thoroughly exasperated as she points from Annie to Jeff, "but are we ever gonna talk about the fact that you two are together? Because I know I am getting really damn sick of acting like I don't know."

"Me too," Abed says.

"Hear hear," says Pierce.

"Agreed," says Britta.

"Whatever," says Troy, smiling over at Jeff and Annie, who are attempting to look outraged and innocent, respectively. "I'm just happy you guys are happy."

"Man, you really need to get a handle on it," Britta says, looking him up and down. "At this rate, you're going to walk into a pole or something."

"Abed wouldn't let me walk into a pole."

"That's true," Abed says, nodding. "Unless it was absolutely necessary for comedic timing reasons. We have an agreement."

"We really do," Troy says, and gives Abed what he, personally, thinks of as the "Troy and Abed In The Morning" smile.

"Okay, for real, I'm either going to need you two to leave or limit the number of cartoon hearts circling Troy's head," Jeff says.

"Metaphor," Abed says, in an undertone, before Troy can look for the hearts. Then, louder, "We can go, though. I wanted to get to lunch early anyway."

"Jeffrey Winger," Shirley says, as Troy and Abed both start packing up their stuff, "if you think you can get out of telling the truth with misdirection, you've got another thing coming." Then she stops, stands up, walks up to Troy, and adds in a forcibly cheerful voice, "I am very happy that you are both so happy." Then she hugs Troy. Then she hugs Abed. Then she sits back down, glares at Jeff and Annie, and says, "Go on."

"What was that about?" Troy says, when they're in line at the cafeteria. Troy's in line, anyway; Abed's standing next to him without a tray, eating Raisinets from a box he pulled out of his backpack. "Shirley, I mean. That was…weird."

Abed shrugs. "She's struggling a little bit; she's never been confronted with the reality of people she cares for going against what she believes to this degree. She's coming out of it nicely, though. It's kind of the B-plot this week."

"Oh," Troy says, as he accepts his plate and follows Abed to a table. He sits down on one side, and Abed perches on the top of the other bench, still popping Raisinets in his mouth. Troy loses a couple of minutes to just watching that; Abed's got a very nice mouth, and Troy's got years he could have spent staring at it to catch up on. "Are we the A-plot, then?"

"No, that'd be Britta and Subway," Abed says.

"What, really?"

"Yeah," Abed says, and shrugs. "You've kind of missed that; I think she thinks it's a sore spot for you, though possibly not so much anymore. You're not missing much, anyway--it's sort of two parts spy movie and three parts You've Got Mail, plus or minus some Brittaing. Weird combination. I think we would be the A-plot, but I have it on good authority you're kind of unwatchable right now."

"Oh," Troy says. He says it happily, because the world is beautiful; then he thinks about it for a second. Abed's still looking at him, head cocked to the side, a small smile on his face, the box of candy in his hand… "You're watching me."

"I like cartoons," Abed says. "Also, I've never made anyone this happy for this long before. 'Unwatchable' is relative."

I love you, Troy thinks. It's definitely not the first time he's thought it this week, and it's far from the first time he's felt it, whether he was aware of feeling it or not; it is, however, the first time in his whole life it's hit him quite like this. It feels, Troy thinks, like being hit with a giant flyswatter, but in a good way. It feels like breathing in and realizing you're never, ever going to need to breathe out again, or like watching a movie and realizing halfway through that it's going to be your favorite movie, even if the ending turns out to be crap. It feels like being sunshine.

"Welcome to the sweet life," Troy says, grinning so big his face hurts, so honest he's surprised the whole cafeteria doesn't turn around. Abed smiles back and reaches across the table for their handshake, and they spend the next fifteen minutes in amicable silence, drifty joy on Troy's part and warm observation on Abed's.

Jeff slides into the booth next to Abed just as Troy's finishing his pizza. Abed nods at him and puts the Raisinets away, dropping down into the seat next to him instead of remaining perched on top. That just makes the sunshine that's replaced Troy's insides glow ever brighter, the idea that this is just for them; he wonders if somebody can melt from being happy. He wonders if he'd even mind.

"Sorry if I was kind of a jerk before," Jeff says. Abed nods, and Troy waves a hand at him absently, too relaxed to bother saying anything. Jeff eyes him, and then, to Abed, says, "I don't look at Annie like that, do I?"

"Sometimes you do," Abed says. "Only for awhile it was a little creepier. Don't worry, though, she already knows."

"God," Jeff says bleakly. "That's…god."

"I think it's awesome," Troy says. "You're happy, Annie's happy, I'm happy, Shirley's happy, Pierce--well, Pierce is Pierce, but he's not making anyone unhappy so that's pretty cool. Abed, you're happy, right?" Abed gives him a finger gun and a pew-pew, which Troy takes for the confirmation it is, inching ever closer to the critical melt point. "So it's just Britta, and I guess she's the A-plot."

"The…you know what, I'm not even going to ask," Jeff says, rolling his eyes. "That is what I wanted to talk to you guys about, though. We're going to the bar tonight to be moral support in case Subway doesn't show for their, uh, big showdown or meeting or whatever it turns out to actually be. You guys in?"

"I haven't been paying all that much attention to that one," Abed admits. "Is it more likely to turn out heartwarming or pathetic?"

"Well, it's Britta," Jeff says. "But even so, I actually kind of think heartwarming. There's something weird in the air this week."

"Then we're in," Abed says, nodding confirmation with Troy. "Sorry to ask--I wouldn't, normally, but I'm trying not to kill Troy's buzz."

"I don't think you could kill his buzz with a Mac truck," Jeff says. He makes a weird face at Troy, which Troy makes right back at him, because he can't see any reason not to. "This isn't going to turn out to be mind-control, right? You'd tell me, if it was going to turn out to be mind-control."

"I would," Troy says, "unless I was mind-controlled not to tell you I was mind-controlled."

"A built-in safety mechanism," Abed says, titling his head. "Interesting angle, but you'd have to have some kind of structural fail-safe, otherwise the plot would never move forward. A third party could figure it out, I suppose, but there'd have to be a visible sign, I think."

"What about a tattoo?" Troy says. "Like one of those bar code tattoos--ooh, no, wait. Aliens or government?"

Abed purses his lips, considering. "Aliens, I think. It's been done, of course, but the government version means you have to work in at least some intense political explanation, and that gets boring unless it's done very carefully."

"Then I think a crop circle," Troy decides, smiling at Jeff. "On my forehead. Or maybe my butt. That'll be the signal--otherwise I think you're good."

"Nothing about this conversation has been good," Jeff says, sliding out of the booth. It's an obvious lie, so Troy doesn't worry about it. "See you guys tonight."

Abed nods at him; once he's gone, he pops back up onto the top of the bench and pulls out the Raisinets.

"I love you," Troy says, because he has to. "Like, a lot. Just…a lot."

"I know," Abed says, and pops a Raisinet in his mouth. "It's almost better than cable."

***

When they get to the bar that night, Annie slips effortlessly into her Texas accent the minute they walk through the door. Troy knows she knows she doesn't have to now; based on the way she and Jeff exchange glances, he's guessing it's probably a sex thing. That's cool--Troy and Annie aren't like that, but if they were like that, he could totally see the appeal of playing that game. He can already see the appeal of playing it with Abed, after all, not that he's planning on pushing his luck. Everything in good time, Nana Barnes used to say, and if thinking of Nana Barnes effectively kills Troy's boner, that's okay. It was starting to hurt a little bit anyway; it was a long ride here in the backseat of Jeff's Lexus, pressed up into Abed's side to make room for Pierce, and it's not like he was going to jerk off in the bathroom.

Well. Okay. He might have had to do that, actually, if thinking of Nana Barnes hadn't helped the problem. There's only so long a dude can let a situation like that go, and also it would suck if he ruined things with Abed by accidentally like, losing control and rubbing against him after a few drinks.

In any case, it turns out not to be a problem. Abed peels off toward the pinball machine the second they get inside, and everybody else piles into the nearest booth. It's Shirley, Jeff and Annie on one side, Troy on the other, and Pierce in a chair he pulls up because he "doesn't trust the booths in this joint." Britta said she'd meet them there, and Troy doesn't see her around; he figures she'll show soon enough, and stops worrying about it as Annie jumps up and beams at all of them.

"Can I get anything for y'all while I'm up?" Annie says, batting her eyelashes and winking over at Abed. Abed stops playing pinball long enough to wink back, and Troy would bet good money that they've practiced this once or twice. "Water? Cocktail? Mint julep?"

"Xanax," Britta mutters darkly, emerging from a door that must be the bathroom. She looks…great. Like really, really great, with her hair curly and loose, in a red cotton shirt that scoops down low and a pair of dark, tight jeans. "Maybe ten of them, oh, god, what if he doesn't show? What if he doesn't like me anymore? What if The Man got to him?"

"He'll show," Troy says, throwing a comforting arm over her shoulders and squeezing a little. "Or he'll be missing out, right, guys?"

Everybody nods vigorously, and Britta ducks her head, slanting a small smile at Troy. "So you're not…I don't know, mad about this?"

"'Course not," Troy says easily, because, well. He was mad a week ago, sort of, but he figures it was the sort of situation anybody might've Brittaed. Also, everything's awesome now. Also, Jeff and Annie gave him a rundown of the Subway backstory that everybody else has apparently been tuning in to this week, and, all things considered, Troy's pretty sure he got the least dramatic end of the stick. "I hope you and Subway get to be happy, because that'd be great."

"His name is Rick, really," Britta says, in an undertone. Jeff's gotten up to follow Annie to the bar, and Troy can see them flirting over there; Abed's still playing pinball, and Shirley and Pierce are arguing about that fire they maybe (probably) started. Troy still doesn't want to know about that, so he ducks closer to Britta, who says, "We've been emailing for awhile now."

"Oh," Troy says. He feels vaguely guilty all of a sudden, and winces. "Sorry, I probably should've like, asked more. When we talked the other night."

Britta laughs, a slight edge of nervous hysteria to it. "Don't worry about it. You were in crisis, I get that. Anyway, if I'd realized it was all going to blow up like this, I probably would've talked about it whether you'd asked or not."

"Yeah, about that," Troy says. "Can I ask questions, or is your brain crying?"

Britta makes a face. "My brain is…kind of crying, but yeah, you can--"

"How have you been emailing him?" Troy says. "I thought he was replaced with another, less attractive dude! "

"God, you know, everyone has asked me that?" Britta shakes her head, and one of her soft curls brushes the side of Troy's face; he's glad, after all, for everything that happened between them. Troy's in love with Abed, and definitely took far too long to realize he was in love with Abed, but he can't say he's not glad to have had sex with Britta. Abed'll probably say it's the relief of resolved sexual tension when Troy tells him, but it's good to feel all the same. "Which, I mean, I get that it was heat of passion in the moment and everything, but it's not like he didn't know my real name, and he got fired, not killed. He worked for a sandwich company; it's not like he was a spy or anything."

"Then why are you still calling him Subway?"

Britta shifts in her chair, her shoulders moving in discomfort under Troy's arm. "Uh. Well, the thing about that is…I don't know, really. You know how sometimes things are, oh, I don't know--less scary, I guess? When they don't exactly feel real?"

"Sure," Troy says, looking over at Abed bent over the pinball machine in concentration. "Yeah, I think I get that. So it was easier to call him Subway then Rick?"

"I guess so," Britta says, and sighs. "It's just--I don't know, Troy. We had this crazy couple of days and then he was gone and then he sent me this Facebook message, and I gave him my email, and he said he couldn't do more than email because he was in talks for another job, and that…worked for me, actually."

"Because real relationships are scary?"

"Something like that," Britta admits, and sighs. "I'm not even really sure if I want him to show up tonight or not. Which sounds awful--that's awful, right? But I kind of think of him like…there's Subway, my passionate affair, and then there's Rick and he's kind of my best friend, and if Rick turns out not to like Britta as much as Subway did…"

"Whoa," Troy says. Britta looks up at him through her lashes, and he knows she's probably fishing for a compliment here, but he can also feel her shaking next to him, and Troy knows Britta pretty well, all things considered. Not as well as he knows Abed, but definitely more than well enough to be what she needs for a minute or two. "Look, Britta, I know we call you the worst and everything, but you're not really. You care about people, and you're way smarter than I think you give yourself credit for, and you're totally hot, and Subway would be really, really stupid if he didn't see that. Plus, I think Rick probably does see it, or he wouldn't have kept emailing you. So that would make it extra stupid if he turned out to suck."

"I….thank you," Britta says, and there are tears in her eyes. Troy gets that, too; he gives her a cheerful smile and tugs her closer against his side, resting his chin on the top of her head when she tilts it onto his shoulder. She's comfortable and soft and familiar against him, and Troy's glad that he can still touch her, even if he doesn't really want to touch her touch her anymore. When she speaks, her voice is a little choked, but teasing, too. "Is this okay? I wouldn't want Abed to get jealous."

"I'm not the jealous type," Abed says, sliding in on Troy's other side. Troy gives him a look, because that's an absolute lie, and Abed corrects, "At least, I'm not the illogically jealous type. Britta, you're experiencing stress due to the impending reappearance of your absent paramour, which you've been displaying in increasing amounts all week; Troy, on the other hand, has spent the last few days more or less blissed-out on my interest in him. Being jealous would be insane."

Britta seems to take this at face value, nodding against Troy's shoulder; Troy looks Abed up and down, frowning. "Did you have a drink?"

"Yeah," Abed says. "Shot of Jack. Why?"

"Because you don't drink unless something's wrong," Troy says.

"Everything's fine," Abed says, "look, Annie's back," and Troy lets it go, figuring he can find time to push at it later.

"Jeff has something he'd like to say to everyone," Annie says, beaming as she puts down the tray she must have requested from the bar. Troy grabs his Seven&Seven and Abed's cream soda out from behind Shirley's vodka tonic and Pierce's scotch, and then looks up at Jeff, who is frowning. At least, he's frowning until Annie elbows him in the side and hisses, "Go on!" After that, he mostly looks like he wants to die.

"Howdy, y'all," Jeff says, in the absolute worst Texas accent Troy has ever heard. "Didja know that if you make a bet with this little lady here, she turn out to be a hell-raising nightmare?"

"Yes," says everyone, in chorus.

Annie makes an offended little noise, crossing her arms over her chest, and Jeff smirks. "There's your just desserts, milady."

"I'll give you just desserts, milord," Annie returns. She's walking the line between badass and flirtatious; it's a good line for her, Troy thinks. "You want a little sugar with your spice, that it?"

"I'd be much obliged, ma'am," Jeff says, leering.

"Oh, that is it," Shirley says, pointing a finger from Annie to Jeff to Troy to Abed to Britta. "From now on, I'm bringing Andre with me when we do this, this is ridiculous. I never thought I would miss the goggly eyes."

"You can't bring Andre!" Pierce says. "What about me? I'll be the only single person here if you do that, you can't leave me!"

"You are already the only single person here," Shirley says, in the voice that Troy privately thinks of as the Pants-Wetter. He's met Shirley's kids; they are loud, disobedient, and brave as hell, because Shirley is seriously scary when she wants to be. "Just because my husband isn't here doesn't mean I'm not a married woman!"

Pierce mutters something under his breath that Troy doesn't catch. Based on the expression on Shirley's face, though, she did catch it, and whatever it was is probably going to go down in history as The Last Words of Pierce Hawthorne. Troy glances over at Abed, because it's always pretty awesome to watch Abed watching their group implode, but Abed's not looking at Shirley. He's looking at the bar, where a scruffy-looking white guy is glaring into his beer.

"Abed," Troy says, even as Britta lifts her head from her shoulder and starts demanding the moral support she was promised. Abed shakes his head slightly at Troy--not now--and they both join in on the half-hearted chorus of Britta-boosting. Jeff seems to be actually saying the words moral support over and over instead of offering any, and after two or three minutes Annie and Shirley make the joint decision that they'll just have to go to the ladies room and talk through it there.

"Will you guys keep an eye out for," Britta starts, standing, just as the front door of the bar bangs open. That's pretty weird, actually, the front door banging open--a lot of people have come into this bar since they got here, and the door hasn't banged for them. Troy will worry about it later, though, because a familiar looking man is striding into the bar, scanning the room, and then walking directly to their table.

"Britta," says Rick, tears in his eyes, "I've thought of nothing but this day for so long."

"Oh, Subway," Britta whispers, and Rick dips her low, their eyes locked.

"Call me Quiznos," he murmurs, and then…

"Wow," says Troy.

"Um," says Abed.

"That's…" says Annie. "That's…well. That's quite, um, passionate. For being. Right in front of us. Guys?"

"Is she," says Jeff, "is either one of them even…breathing…?"

"I could be at home," Shirley says, darkly and to herself. "At home with my husband and my babies and none of this nonsense. Moral support, she said. Does this look moral to you?"

"I knew this would happen," says Pierce. "None of the rest of you heard them having sex; I did. Freaky."

"Shut up, Pierce," Britta says, pulling her mouth from Subway/Rick/Quizno's for a moment. "You're just jealous of what we have."

"I think everyone's jealous of what you have," Jeff says, wry. "I mean, who wouldn't be? Public indecency is very in this season. But if what you're going to have is sex in the middle of this bar, please tell us, so we can go be jealous of it somewhere else."

"Agreed," says Abed.

"Oh, come on, guys," Annie says, in that voice she uses sometimes that sounds like she means it, but doesn't really mean it. "I'm sure we all want to be…um…supportive…"

"No, I'm sorry," says…Troy's just going to think of him as Rick, because he thinks that's probably how Britta thinks of him when she's really being honest. "I just got a little carried away."

"Me too," Britta admits.

"I'd forgotten," says Rick, in a low voice, "how gorgeous you are."

Troy's never actually seen Britta blush before. It's kind of worth it, actually, that he had to watch her try to eat a dude's face first--if eating people's faces makes Britta happy, then Troy is all for it.

"I," Britta says, and ducks her head. Rick takes her hand, and she smiles at him, and then at the table. "Everybody, you remember…should I make them call you Quizno's, really?"

"No, not really," Rick says. "I mean, other people will have to, but my new contract is much less restrictive than the one at Subway was. I may have negotiated some stuff based on Subway trade secrets--the basic point is, my driver's license says Quizno's, but so long as I keep it quiet, I can be myself the rest of the time. I'm sorry I was so off the grid," he adds, just to Britta, "there was a testing period, and--"

"I know," Britta says. "You told me, remember?"

Rick smiles at her, and it's a smile Troy recognizes from Britta's face like fifteen minutes ago. "Yeah. It's just…it feels a little different in person, doesn't it?"

"Totally," Britta says, sounding relieved. "But in a good way! I mean that in a--"

"Good way, me too." Rick's smile firms up into a grin, and even Jeff looks a little touched. "I can't wait to finally meet your cats."

"Oh my god," Jeff says, "Britta, did you make him in a lab," and the moment is effectively killed. Annie smacks Jeff on the shoulder and Jeff steals the lime from her cranberry vodka while Shirley tries to make small-talk with Rick and Pierce scowls into his glass. Troy goes back to watching Abed, who is, just now, silent in an inward way, and not an observing way; he's learned to tell the difference, by now.

"You wanna play pinball?" Troy asks, and Abed nods at once, sliding out of the seat and waiting for Troy to follow. They settle into their typical position for pinball--Troy on the left flipper and Abed on the right one, their free hands in each others' back pockets to allow maximum joint movement--and Troy thinks, again, that he really should have figured some of this stuff between them out sooner.

"That guy at the bar threw a drink at my face on your twenty-first birthday," Abed says after ten minutes. It takes Troy a second to react to that, because he sinks into kind of a rhythm when he and Abed play pinball, a combination of the focus he needs to play the game and the warm, rough feeling he's always felt when he's this close to Abed, even back before he worked out the details. When it does process, he jerks hard enough that he hits the paddle just as the ball sinks into one of the holes on his side; the machine explodes in lights and offers of bonus rounds, and Troy opens and shuts his mouth soundlessly for a second, because what.

"Did you time that out on purpose?"

"Yeah," Abed says, shrugging a shoulder. "I figured if I was going to tell you about it, I might as well get some bonus points out of it."

"I, what?" Troy's running over that night in his mind--stupid fights about stupid bars and all the drinks he wanted to try and Abed looking so sad at the bar, god. He hadn't asked; he'd been so frustrated there hadn't been room for feeling anything else. "Why didn't you tell me before?"

Abed shrugs again. "It was weird. I didn't really want to talk about it."

"What happened?"

"He wanted to talk about Farscape," Abed says. His eyes are still fixed on the game, and Troy's doing his utmost to focus on it too, and kind of failing. He can tell Abed can tell; all his shots are ricocheting back to his own paddle, like he's giving Troy some breathing room. "Only then it turned out what he really wanted to do was have sex, and I didn't want to do that, but I did want to keep talking about Farscape, and that seemed like the best way to deal with it. Then he asked me if I wanted to have gay sex with him--I still don't know why, actually, that part confused me. Isn't the fact that it's gay sex implied, when one man asks another man to have sex? Why wouldn't he have just said sex?"

"I…I don't know, Abed," Troy says, because he really doesn't. "I've never actually had sex with a guy, though. I mean, I want to, with you, at some point, when you feel like it, whenever is fine, but I don't actually know the like, rules or anything."

"Me neither," Abed says. He sinks a shot, and the machine lights up crazily again, casting his face in faintly blue light. He's still not looking at Troy. "I never have. I've always thought about it--liking guys and girls, I mean--but the codes of behavior are really hard to follow, and if you make a mistake, especially with guys, people get really angry. Pop culture isn't actually much help on that topic, and I don't like being in situations where I don't know what the rules are, if I can help it."

Troy can't help himself; he rubs the thumb of the hand in Abed's back pocket over the denim there, hard enough that Abed will be able to feel it. He thinks maybe it was dumb for a second, but then he sees the corner of Abed's mouth twitch up in a slight smile and relaxes a little. "Yeah, buddy, I know. So what happened after that?"

"I told him I did not want to have gay sex with him," Abed says, toneless. "He asked me what was wrong with me, that I couldn't notice a man was hitting on me. I told him I had noticed, and just really liked talking about Farscape. Then he threw his drink in my face and left."

"Huh," Troy says. He looks over his shoulder, and the guy is watching them with narrowed eyes; Troy narrows his eyes back, angry in a way he doesn't usually let himself get. He must look pretty scary, because the man's face pales, and he hastily looks away. "Well, okay, I officially hate him. Do you want me to go murder him? Or punch him, at least? Or throw a drink in his face, because I feel like--"

"Please don't," Abed says, and he's gone so stiff next to Troy that Troy's back kind of hurts in sympathy. "I just don't know what to do, because he's here, and I don't want him to be here, and we're here, and I don't want to leave, but I don't want to be here while he's here, but I don't know what to say to him. I just want it to all go away, but I don't know how to do that."

"Okay," Troy says. "Well, I do, I think, especially because I don't want to be in a bar with people who are assholes. Is it okay if I make him leave? Without telling him why? Or punching him, even though I totally want to punch him?"

Abed frowns, considering. "Can you do that?"

"I can totally do that," Troy says. "I'll have to borrow Jeff, but I don't think I'll have to explain it to him, and if I do I'll come up with a better plan. Does that sound okay?"

"Yes," Abed says, and there's still no tone in his voice, and he's still super stiff. Troy sighs and rubs his thumb against Abed's back pocket again, and then disentangles himself and steps away.

"Okay," Troy says, because he knows how this works--sometimes there are so many things going on in Abed's head that he needs stuff in pieces and steps, or, every once in awhile, to shut off until everything gets quieter. Troy knows how that is, even though he doesn't really; sometimes there are so many feelings in Troy's body that he feels like he's going to die, and Abed always knows how to shut that down, even if shutting it down is just kind of jabbing at Troy until everything spills out. Abed's kind of the reverse, because he doesn't need things to spill out. He needs things to fit back together, and Troy can do that for him, no problem. "So, here's the plan: you keep playing, because I want to break the record so we can immortalize Annie's Boobs in this pinball machine--"

"Like on the one at the arcade on 4th Street?" Abed says. "And the one at the Papa John's?"

"Yup," Troy says, grinning, "we're gonna make that monkey famous. So you do this, okay, and I'll go do that, and when I come back he'll be gone, I promise."

"Okay," Abed says, and Troy pats him on the shoulder and then goes over to the table. Britta and Rick are deep in conversation, and Andre seems to have shown up, and Pierce is over at the bar flirting with a middle-aged waitress, who--shock of all shocks--seems to be flirting back. Jeff is sprawled across most of one side of the booth, his arm around Annie's shoulders. She's leaning across the table and talking to Shirley; Jeff looks pretty put out about it.

"Hey," Troy says, jabbing him in the arm, "wanna help me scare someone into running out of here and never coming back?"

"Is it my birthday already?" Jeff says, springing to his feet.

"Be gentle," Annie says. Then she looks at Troy, and her eyes widen a little bit. "Actually, I take that back. Be yourself."

"Aye, aye, captain," Jeff says cheerfully. He slings an arm around Troy's shoulders, humming under his breath. "So, who's our target, and what's his deal? Do we know anything about him, or is it a free for all? Do I get extra points if he cries?"

"Guy at the end of the bar, his deal is he sucks, and yes," Troy says, through gritted teeth. "Just don't tell Abed I said that. Or anything that happens. Or even mention it to him at all. Or to anyone, really."

"Deal," Jeff says. "That's actually pretty much my perfect scenario on all fronts, this is gonna be fun."

They stop next to the man's stool, Troy with his arms crossed over his chest and Jeff with his hands stuck jauntily into his pockets. The man turns to look at them, rolls his eyes, and sighs. "What, really? Did he," he jerks a thumb over his shoulder at Abed, "send you over here to make amends or what? Because I thought I made it clear last time: I'm really not interested in whatever he's selling, thanks all the same."

Troy's never actually felt his blood boil before. He didn't think that happened to real people; he thought that was something that only happened in movies. If he were less angry, he'd hold a hand up to his ear to check for steam. As it is, he glances at Jeff, who holds a hand up to the asshole, turns to Troy, and smiles. It's really not a nice smile.

"Troy," Jeff says in that voice he's got, the one that's sunny like an apocalyptic heat wave is sunny, "correct me if I'm wrong, but are we--might we be engaging in this little task because sad, plaid, and dangerous here was mean to Abed?"

"Threw a drink in his face," Troy says, over the sound of the guy's squawked protest. He's so pissed that it comes out flat and emotionless. "Because Abed didn't want to sleep with him."

"Because he didn't want to sleep with me after I listened to him talk about Farscape for an hour," the guy starts. Without looking away from Troy, Jeff does that little zip-it gesture with the magical powers; the guy shuts up, but manages to sound like a dick about it.

"So what you are telling me," Jeff says, "just so we're entirely clear, is that this stunning example of human decay assaulted Abed with a corrosive alcoholic beverage as a response to spurned sexual advances?"

"I hate it when you talk like a lawyer," Troy mutters, and Jeff's scary grin gets even scarier.

"Doesn't everyone?"

"What are you," the guy says, glancing between them, "his minders or something?" and that, really, that's it for Troy. He hears himself make a snarling noise as he starts to step forward, but he runs into Jeff's hand, fingers splayed across Troy's chest.

"Easy, tiger," Jeff says. "There's more than one way to skin an asshole. You in the ugly shirt--you got a name?"

"Robert," says Robert. "And you know what, I really don't appreciate--"

"Robert what?" Jeff's eyes are starting to go dark and crazy, which is pretty awesome, all things considered. Troy's still glad for the hand on his chest, though; for all he trusts Jeff's ability to eat people's souls, he's pretty sure he'd break his promise to Abed and hit this guy in the face if it were gone. "I'm going to go ahead and strongly advise that you tell me; you really don't want me to make up a last name for you, trust me. I'm the kind of guy who can make that sort of thing really stick, you know? So I'm going to need you to fill in the blanks here, Robert…?"

Robert scowls. He is, Troy notes, starting to look kind of freaked out; that's good. Troy doesn't normally enjoy other people's misery, but he's willing to make an exception. "Fine. It's Peterson."

"Great," Jeff says, "that's great. Very nondescript, a certain air of wouldn't-be-surprised-to-find-it-living-in-a-dumpster, it works for you. I dig it. Now, Troy, is there anything you want to say before I start?"

Troy opens his mouth. What comes out isn't words so much as a low, scary, Darth Vader sort of breath; even Troy's a little surprised, honestly. Robert's eyes widen, and Jeff laughs, only betraying his own uncertainty by pushing his hand a little harder into Troy's chest.

"Excellent," Jeff says, "thank you for that contribution. And now, Mr. Peterson--Robert, if I may--let's talk."

What happens next would, if it weren't for the cloud of rage Troy can more or less feel hovering around him, be one of the cooler things Troy's ever seen. Without taking his hand from Troy's chest, Jeff leans in, his mouth about an inch from Robert's ear; Troy can't hear what he's saying, but he can see that smile, getting sharper and wider with every passing second. Jeff's eyebrows are rising and falling, and his free hand is making gestures Troy can't follow, and the blood drains from Robert's face until his mustache is pretty much the only color on his face.

"You think about that," Jeff says, stepping back. He pulls his hand away from Troy's chest at last and pats Robert's cheek twice, hard enough that it makes a little noise on impact. "You think about that real hard, Robert. And hey, you know what, maybe you think about it somewhere else, what do you say? And then maybe you keep thinking about it somewhere else, because if I ever lay eyes on you again, I might have to get nasty. And I'm a nice guy, Robert, I really am. I'll even pick up your tab if you get the hell out of here right now, that's how nice a guy I am. That's how nice a guy I can be. You really want to see what I'm like when I'm mean?"

Robert's gaze flicks from Jeff to Troy, who narrows his eyes so far he can barely see through them. Then he swallows hard, stands up, and walks to the door stiffly, without looking back at them once.

"Bye, Robert!" Jeff sings out. He looks very, very pleased with himself; Troy can't really blame him. "Mmm. Still got it."

Troy looks over his shoulder; Abed's still bent over the pinball machine, hasn't yet turned around, but he almost definitely heard Jeff's parting shot. Troy'll give him a minute. "What did you even say to him?"

"They used to call me the Wrecking Ball," Jeff says in misty tones, like it's a memory he holds close to his chest. "Or sometimes just Him, I always loved that. He won't be coming back."

"Sweet," Troy says. He rolls his shoulders back once, twice, trying to shake off the anger. He remembers, now, why he doesn't let himself get this way very much--anger is heavy and loud and sits like a lump inside his chest, making it hard to think about anything else. Also, once he's stumbled into it, it can be hard to climb back out again. "Sorry."

"What're you sorry for, that's the most fun I've had in years." Jeff's clearly riding the high of being horrible, grinning like he's so proud of himself he might just burst, but he gives Troy a doubtful look after a second. "Uh. You okay, buddy?"

"Yeah," Troy says. He shakes his head, feels some of the anger move around a little bit, start to dislodge. "Yeah, it's…I don't like it when people are mean to Abed."

"Well, that makes two of us," Jeff says, eyebrows still up. "Luckily, I think our dear Robert will think twice before he's mean to anyone ever again. Or, actually, before he hits on anyone ever again; I may have gone a little wide on it."

"Good." Troy means it, too; being angry is the worst. "Hey, Jeff?"

"Yeah?"

"Can you like," Troy says, and waves a hand. "I mean, I know I said before about not saying anything to Abed, but like, really don't. Don't tell him what happened and don't tell him what you know about why it happened and just…don't tell him, okay?"

Jeff's face flickers for a second; Troy almost doesn't catch it, the way he goes from pumped up on his own evil to weird and frowny and back again. "Tight, heavy lid," he says, "you got it."

He strolls back over to the booth then, grabs Annie's hand and pulls her to her feet, twirling them both out to the half-assed little dance floor in the far corner. She laughs and goes along, smiling big and happy as his hands settle on her waist, gesturing for Shirley and Andre to follow them; Andre grabs Shirely, who grabs Britta, who grabs Rick, and Troy's anger melts down into something softer and warmer and kind of scarier, watching them. He can't remember a time when the people he loved the most all seemed more or less okay, which is the part that's soft and warm. The scary thing is that it probably won't last--but, then again, maybe it will. Or maybe it'll turn out like being friends with Abed has, for Troy; maybe sometimes things'll be great and sometimes things'll be awful and sometimes things'll be in-between, but they'll have each other regardless.

He walks back over to the pinball machine, and Abed smiles at him, just a little quirk of his mouth, without looking away from the game. When Troy steps up to resume his place at the left flipper, Abed's hand doesn't slide into his back pocket, and Troy spares half a second to worry that he's done something wrong before he feels Abed's arm snake around his waist. His hand slips into Troy's front pocket, and Troy grins down at the glass surface of the machine and settles his own hand against the small of Abed's back, under his sweatshirt but over the soft fabric of his t-shirt. Abed's smile gets bigger; Troy's would too, if it was possible.

"We're winning," Abed says.

"Yeah," Troy says, "I know we are."

***

The rest of the night goes surprisingly great, all things considered. Troy's kind of worried for awhile that it's going to be one of those times when Abed goes quiet and stays that way; he knows that sometimes stuff takes a lot out of him, and Troy doesn't ever mind when that happens, but he does sort of miss him sometimes. Instead, they immortalize Annie's Boobs with the high score and rejoin everyone at the table, and Abed's silent for three seconds before he turns to Rick.

"So what are the exact stipulations of your contract?" he says, cocking his head.
"I'm an amateur documentarian, so I need to know if I'm allowed to use your image without getting sued."

What ensues is a long conversation about copyright infringement, the superiority of Quizno's toasted sandwiches, and the possibility of getting Abed some corporate sponsorship. Troy doesn't quite follow most of it, but Abed's really into it, and Rick seems to really like him. When Britta joins in they all start talking about 1984, and Troy excuses himself to go get another drink, because he loves Abed and everything, but that story creeps him out.

Annie's leaning up against the bar when he gets there. Troy can't tell if she's waiting on a drink or tactfully avoiding the argument Pierce, Jeff, and that waitress from earlier seem to be having, but he's glad to see her either way. He puts an arm around her shoulders, and she turns around enough to grin at him. "Hey, stranger."

"Hey," Troy says, grinning back, "I'm not a stranger."

Annie pouts, but only slightly, like she's mostly doing it as a joke. "I feel like I haven't seen you all week."

"I know," Troy says, pulling a face. The bartender drops Annie's drink in front of them, and Troy takes the sip of it he's offered, orders his own drink, and then laughs. "Abed said last night that we should go on a roadtrip to reconnect with you, so it's not just you and me. I think we need to bump up the roommate time."

"Totally," Annie says. "I think it's my fault, really; Jeff and I got so caught up in sneaking around that I kind of forget how to do the roommate thing, you know?"

"Yeah, well, me and Abed have been kind of…busy," Troy admits. Something terrible occurs to him then, and his eyes widen. "Wait--Annie. It's not going to be like, weird for you, is it? That me and Abed are…doing stuff now?"

"You can say dating, Troy."

"But we're not!" Annie gives him an exasperated look, and Troy shifts on his feet. "Well, okay, yeah, we sort of are, but we're not like--I don't know, it's just us plus some other stuff."

"I guess that makes sense," Annie says. "Since you were dating already, more or less. And no, Troy, of course it's not weird for me, don't be stupid. It's not weird for you that I'm dating Jeff, is it?"

"Course not," Troy says. "Unless he starts walking around the apartment naked, that'll be weird. And please don't tell me and Abed anything about him. Like, sex things. We don't wanna know that stuff."

"Who do you think I am, Britta?"

"We've learned to be gun-shy," Abed says, leaning up against the bar on Troy's other side. Annie makes a finger-gun at him, and Abed bites at it in that joking way he has with her and then hooks his chin over Troy's shoulder. He's so much taller that the effect must be sort of weird, but Troy doesn't care, even when he sees Annie hide a laugh behind her hand. "Did you tell her about the road trip?"

"I did," Troy says, leaning back into Abed a little bit. "But I think we just need more roommate time."

"We could do a marathon of road trip movies?" Annie suggests. "Gas is expensive, and every road trip I've ever been on has turned out kind of terribly."

"Cool," Abed says, and Troy doesn't even have to turn around to see the expression on his face. "Cool cool cool. We'll make a list--start with Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and then..."

"Easy Rider, I haven't seen that in like two years," Troy says. "And then Eurotrip."

"We watched that last week," Abed points out.

"When has that ever stopped you guys before?" Annie says, dimpling. "I'm up for anything except the National Lampoon movies, honestly. Something just…doesn't feel right about those now. I'm not sure why."

"Me neither," Abed says, "but I know what you mean. National Lampoon: off the table. Cannonball Run?"

"Only if we can do Little Miss Sunshine after." Troy gets a little caught up in the 80s sometimes, if they don't break it up; Abed, knowing this, nods against his shoulder. "And then Thelma and Louise."

"Ooh, yes," Annie says. "Hey, do they Lord of the Rings movies count as road trip movies?"

"That depends," Abed says. "In terms of structure, yes; in terms of genre, not at all. But I haven't watched the trilogy straight through in too long anyway, so I'm okay with counting them."

Troy winces. "Ughhh, does that mean I have to watch Two Towers?"

"Your unwillingness to watch that film is why I haven't watched the trilogy straight through in too long," Abed says. "I know you don't like Gollum, but you're going to have to get over it eventually. They're meant to be viewed as one work."

"He's creepy," Troy says, standing his ground because Gollum is totally creepy. "Also, he kind of reminds me of Chang. Also, we have enough movies now that we're gonna have to do a whole weekend marathon, so I think we should just not watch Two Towers for time reasons--"

"No."

"Fine," Troy says, rolling his eyes at Annie, who grins at him. He mouths I'm gonna sleep through the whooooole thing at her, and she laughs, shaking her head.

"If we're doing a whole weekend, is it okay if Jeff comes?" She glances over her shoulder, and Troy sees Jeff see her looking; his face goes sort of funny, and behind Troy Abed sighs in that small, satisfied way he does when a plot arc resolves the way he wanted it to. "It's okay if you say no, I don't mean for the whole thing, I want to do roommate time, I just…"

"I've been trying to talk Jeff into doing a movie marathon with me for three years," Abed says. "It's fine."

Annie beams at them, and everyone decides to call it a night a few minutes later. They pay their tabs with money from the hypocrisy jar, which was definitely the best idea they ever had, and then proceed with varying degrees of steadiness out of the bar. Jeff's ever-so-slightly too drunk to drive, so Troy gets to be on Lexus duty for the second time in his life. It is as awesome as he remembers it being, except for how it's even more awesome, because this time he's not pissed off and Abed's giving him a running commentary on weird pedestrians from the backseat. They drop Pierce off first, and then Annie says they should just go straight back to their apartment, and Troy remembers again that Jeff and Annie are actually, for real dating now. He watches Jeff dirty like half their dishes trying to make them all toasted banana and peanut butter sandwiches, which Abed loves, Troy hates, and Annie's clearly suffered through before. Then they all say goodnight and drift towards their own rooms to go to bed.

Troy's kind of jealous, he realizes, of the way Jeff just followed Annie into her room a minute ago. He wants Abed to follow him in here, or to follow Abed into the blanket fort--he gets lonely in long showers, let alone during long nights, by himself with no one to talk to. He's still not sure what they're doing, though, him and Abed, not sure what he's allowed to ask for, what it's okay to want, so he pulls on his pajamas and climbs into bed.

Fifteen minutes later, the door opens. Half asleep, Troy props himself up on one elbow and blinks at the sudden swell of light; when his vision clears, he can see Abed standing in the doorframe, head bent towards the floor. Troy smiles before he can even think about why, because Abed's wearing the green pajamas Troy knows he considers battle armor, and there's something pretty adorable about that. "Hey. What's up?"

"I…want to sleep in here," Abed says. "But not have sex, I don't think. Just sleep. Can we do that?"

"Yeah," Troy says. He flips back the covers, pats the spot next to him, and sinks back into his pillows. "Sounds awesome. C'mere."

Abed shuts the door behind him, and the whole room goes dark again as he pads over to the bed, sits down on the edge for a second while he kicks off his slippers. Then he slides beneath the sheets and pulls the covers over him, and for a few long moments they just lay there, not touching. Troy'd broken the bank and sprung for a double bed when Abed suggested they take the Dreamatorium, figuring he might as well be comfortable in his abandonment; he kind of regrets it now, because if he'd stuck with a twin bed, there wouldn't even be room for the few inches between them. They feel like miles--no, that's not right. They feel like an ocean, Troy decides, lapping up against him so he can't forget they're there, and while he's a stronger swimmer, he doesn't want to choke on salt water.

"This is weird," Abed says after five minutes. "Isn't it."

"Kind of," Troy admits. "Still better than being in here alone, though."

There's another long pause, which Troy mostly spends staring at the ceiling and listening to Abed breathing. Then Abed shifts very slightly, moving the sheets under Troy just a little as he says, "The rules on touching between friends don't make a lot of sense to me."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." Troy thinks maybe Abed's tapping his fingers against the mattress now; he can definitely still feel fabric moving, but only a little. "That's why I mostly don't. Do a lot of touching, I mean. Sometimes it's because the idea of touching people is kind of like thinking about the floor under the carpet, but usually it's not. It's just that the when doesn't make sense to me. Also, the degree. I can't usually figure out how people tell when, and how much, other people want to be touched--that's why I usually follow their leads. It's easier that way. Now that things between you and me are romantic, there's a lot more information to go off of; casual touching between romantic partners is well-documented in film and television. But outside of specific situations I'm not really sure what I'm doing. Or what you want me to be doing, I guess."

"Oh," Troy says. He considers it for a second and then rolls over on his side, so he's facing Abed on the bed. Abed's still staring up at the ceiling, cast in shadows, and Troy props himself up on an elbow and smiles at him. "Abed?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm not really sure what I'm doing either. Or what you want me to be doing. Like, at all."

"Oh," Abed says. He moves his head against the pillow, just slightly, like a new section of the ceiling has somehow become more interesting to him. It probably has, too; Troy's not sure, but he wouldn't be surprised to find out that Abed sees the world through like, a permanent version of spy googles. "I hadn't considered that. It makes sense, though--you said you'd never slept with a guy before, earlier. That you didn't know what the rules were. I thought you were just trying to be…but I guess you're not usually like that, are you. Hmm."

"We could make up rules," Troy suggests. "Like, just-for-us rules. They probably wouldn't be the same as everyone else's rules, but that kind of wouldn't matter, right?"

"Right," Abed says, and nods once before he sits up. "Okay, rule one: sometimes I won't want you to touch me, but I might not be able to tell you why."

Troy thinks about that one for a second. "That's not really a rule, though. Like, there's nothing there I could really…follow. Could you maybe tell me that you don't want me to touch you, even if you don't tell me why? Like, even if it's just a word you say, and whenever you say it, I stop."

"It would have to be a word that would never come up in regular conversation," Abed says. "Otherwise we could stumble into the kind of sitcom situation that's less funny in reality. I hate those."

"Oooh," Troy says. "Pizza!"

Abed cocks his head. "We say pizza all the time."

"I know," Troy says, dejected. "Y'know how sometimes it's like, you're supposed to not pick something and then it's the only thing you can pick?"

"Don't think about elephants," Abed says, pulling a finger-gun, and Troy points an accusatory finger at him.

"Not fair! You know I didn't--"

"Get Inception, yeah, sorry." There's a long pause, and then: "Oodleplex."

"Oodleplex," Troy repeats, "oodleplex, oodleplex, oodleplex. That is fun to say, Abed."

"I know," Abed says. "That's why I picked it. Your turn."

"For a rule?" Troy's still propped up on one arm, so he rubs his palm against the bottom of his chin, going over his options. "I…kind of can't think of any, really. Like, if we're in front of people we don't know, I guess there are times I'll want to use oodleplex too, but otherwise…yeah, I kind of can't think of any way you could touch me that would bum me out. I mean, other than like, rubbing your feet on my face or anything, but I don't think you'd want to do that anyway, so we're good."

"Really?"

"Yeah."

"Oh," Abed says. He blinks three times in rapid succession, and then furrows his brow. "I guess I should have expected that. You've always hugged me a lot."

"I like hugs," Troy admits. "And shoulder rubs, and holding hands. And sitting too close to you. And like, I don't know, Abed. It's…sometimes when I'm too full of stuff, touching helps. Sometimes it helps a lot."

"Hmm," Abed says. "So I should err on the side of touching you too much, as opposed to the reverse?"

"Yeah," Troy says, and Abed flops back down on the bed. He's not staring up at the ceiling this time, but curled on his side like a question mark; Troy's glad. It looks a lot more comfortable.

"I might not be good at this," Abed says. "At first, anyway. Sometimes it's hard to make my body move exactly the way I want it to move. It gets better, once I've done something a couple of times, but it frustrates people. Or has frustrated people in the past, anyway. I try to avoid situations that make it worse now." He says it like it's a confession, which is weird; Troy totally knows that. It occurs to him, though, that he knows it because he's seen it, and not because Abed's told him--he wonders how many things there are about Abed that Troy knows without Abed realizing he knows them. He hopes it's not a lot; he kind of feels like it's lying, even though he's not doing it on purpose.

"That's okay," is what Troy says, because it's easier, and also because it is okay. Troy doesn't mind if Abed needs some practice with some of this stuff--there's lots of things Troy needs practice with before he gets good at them, after all, and Abed never seems to mind. "You'll tell me if I do something you don't like, and I'll tell you if you do something I don't like, and we'll get good at it as we go. It'll just be like learning anything else, I guess."

Abed's smile just slants one side of his mouth up; Troy wants to kiss it, so he does, careful and hesitant and giving Abed time to pull away. Abed doesn't, though, kisses back soft and close-mouthed for a few seconds, until Troy finds himself grinning too big for kissing to make sense anymore. He leans away, and Abed's still smiling when he says, "Cool."

"So do you wanna," Troy says, "I mean, I can come over there, or you can come over here, or we can stay like this. Whichever."

Abed seems to consider this for a second. Then he tugs at Troy's arm and Troy rolls over towards him, scooting his way across inches that don't feel like an ocean anymore. It's awkward for a minute or two, Abed's elbow digging into Troy's stomach and their knees knocking together three times, but eventually they settle into a comfortable position. Troy's head is in that spot between Abed's neck and his armpit, and his arm is tossed over Abed's stomach; Abed's left hand is on Troy's back, and one of Troy's legs is between both of Abed's, just their thighs touching.

"Good?" Troy says, and Abed nods. His chin bumps against the top of Troy's head, and Troy grins into the folds of the green pajamas, just because. "Good. Night, Abed."

"Night, Troy," Abed says, and Troy closes his eyes.

***

"Um," Troy says, "what?"

He's in a room, only not really. It's not really a room, because there aren't any walls; if he really looks, he thinks he can see gridlines, but they're gone when he tries to focus on them. It's sort of like the reverse of being in the Dreamatorium, which is how Troy figures he must be dreaming. In the Dreamatorium, you couldn't look too hard without the illusion falling apart--it only makes sense that in an actual dream, the opposite would be true.

It makes sense to Troy, anyway. Maybe it only makes sense because it's a dream, but that's still okay. It's not like it'll really matter when he wakes up.

"Hey," says someone behind him. Troy turns around, and sees…himself, sort of. Himself, but with a cool-looking and kind of scary metal thing around his whole neck, a little staple under his lip, and silver tips to his fingernails. "Nice to meet you, Lame Troy."

"Who are you calling Lame Troy?" says Troy. "Also, who are you? Are you the future? Am I a Terminator in the future?"

"I'm calling you Lame Troy because I'm Evil Troy," says Evil Troy. "And Abed says that being evil means everybody else is lame because of the human condition--or he used to, anyway. And I think your question sort of depends on what you mean by future."

"Hold up," says Troy. "Is this like the thing Abed said happened with the bone saw?"

"I don't know," says Evil Troy. "Your Abed isn't the same as my Abed anymore. That's like, the whole point. But probably, yeah. Abed was really mad at Lame Abed a few months ago; that might've been why. He didn't say."

"Okay, you do not get to call Abed lame," Troy starts, and…stops. Evil Troy is smiling at him, and it's a smile Troy remembers from his bedroom mirror when he was a kid, the smile he practiced until he got good at it. It's the look-I-don't-care-see-how-much-I-don't-care-no-I'm-not-crying-look smile. He swallows. "Is this real?"

Evil Troy crosses his arms over his chest. "It is for me."

"Okay," says Troy. "Why're you all metal?"

"You remember that troll that used to watch you while you slept?"

"Yes," Troy says, shuddering. "Ugh, why would you bring that up?"

"I swallowed it," says Evil Troy. "Because--"

"--it's the only way, yeah, I don't need you to tell me how you beat a troll," Troy snaps. "So what? Did you beat him?"

"Kind of," says Evil Troy. "Mostly he beat me, but then I fixed it. Mostly. I'm much better this way, though. Abed said."

Troy narrows his eyes; Evil Troy narrows his eyes back. Troy takes a step to the left, and Evil Troy takes a step to the right. Troy lifts one hand, and Evil Troy lifts the other.

Can you read my mind? Troy thinks. Because you're me?

"I can't read your mind just because I'm you," says Evil Troy, and rolls his eyes when Troy's go wide. "But I can guess what you're thinking. Because I'm you."

"That's pretty much the same thing."

"Not really," Evil Troy says. "But sure, if you want."

"Are you really me?" Troy can't help but doubt that; even aside from the metal thing, there's something in Evil Troy's eyes that Troy doesn't recognize at all. "Because you look kind of…meaner than me. No offense."

"I told you I was evil, didn't I?"

Troy thinks about that for a second. His brain isn't crying, but it's definitely not doing anything normal, either; sizzling, maybe. Or whatever you'd call the step up from wrinkled. "But we don't really believe in evil--I mean, if you're really me, you should know that. Because people kind of aren't good or bad, really, they're just people. Right?"

"Do you believe in Lame Abed?" Evil Troy presses his metal fingertips together, and they make a little clicking, hissing sort of sound. It's cool enough that Troy has to grin at him, and Evil Troy grins back, just for a second, before he makes his face all hard and angry again. "Like, if Lame Abed told you to do something, or told you something about the world that you didn't think was true, but that he really, really needed to be true, you would play along, right?"

"Well, yeah, but--"

"And then if you kept playing along," Evil Troy says, "and kept playing along, and Lame Abed kept being really good at explaining why the thing he needed to be true really was true, and then actually showed you how to make it true for real…don't you think that you'd change your mind about some stuff? Wouldn't believing in Lame Abed be more important than believing in you?"

"Uh," says Troy, blinking. "Is that…is that what happened to you? Because honestly, dude, I think my answer's kind of no. Not if what Abed was telling me was to be, well. Evil, I guess. I don't think Abed would even want me to believe in him more than I believed in me. That's not really how it's supposed to work."

"He's right," says Evil Troy, and there's relief on his face all of a sudden, which Troy doesn't understand at all. "It is too late. Oh, man, that's so awesome, I thought I was going to have to lie to him."

Troy narrows his eyes. "Friends don't lie to each other. You agreed."

"I know," Evil Troy snaps, "some stuff changed, okay? I'm just trying to keep it all in balance, because he doesn't…he won't stop, and Jeff doesn't know how to stop, and Annie's--I just want them to be happy, but Abed thinks that we have to fix the timelines, but he doesn't get that you can't just. You can't replace stuff! That's not how people work! And I think he's jealous, honestly, but it's not like he'd ever say that, and if I'd found the in I would've had to lie to him. And you don't get to judge me. You're lame."

"Dude," Troy says, "you are--"

"Wrinkling your brain, yeah, I know, I'm doing it on purpose." Evil Troy tilts his head, and he looks a lot like Abed, just for a second. "Are you still worried you're not grown up enough?"

"No," Troy snaps. "Are you?"

Evil Troy laughs, and the sound is…not right. His voice hasn't been right either, not this whole time, but Troy thought maybe it was that thing people tell you about where you sound different when you hear yourself recorded; that is not the case. Something is seriously, heavily wrong with the way Evil Troy sounds, and he laughs so hard tears pool at the corner of his eyes as Troy watches, his fear getting sharper and sharper in his stomach. When he finally quiets, the smile he gives Troy looks borrowed; one of Jeff's, maybe. Definitely not one of Troy's own.

"Oh, Troy," Evil Troy says, "that's the least of my worries," and Troy lets go of being in a dream and being freaked out and being himself, drops down into the lower levels of his brain, and takes a step forward.

"You're going to explain now," he says, and Evil Troy's eyes widen. It's…mocking, Troy realizes, which is pretty horrible. He's only ever used that expression for surprise, or something fear; it's not meant to be used to laugh at people. That wouldn't be right.

"Or what," Evil Troy says, and Troy punches him, just to see what will happen. His fist goes right through Evil Troy's face, leaving a flickering shadow for just a second; then Evil Troy makes Annie's offended noise and he steps away, shakes himself all over.

"Dude," Troy says, and then Evil Troy is stepping close to him and grabbing him by the shoulders.

"Listen," he says, and for a second he doesn't sound weird or mean or evil. He sounds like Troy, and Troy knows better than to ignore himself; that never works out well in the long run. "There are multiple timelines; that's real, or it's real for us, anyway. I'm from the darkest one, and I don't know if it's real for you or not, but it could be, if you let things get dark. And it is you that lets them get dark--Abed always thinks it's him, but it's you, Troy. He wants to control things, to make people happy, it's like the chicken thing but much bigger, do you understand? And the portal to you guys opens in here, because you pushed on it a little too hard with the Dreamatorium. Abed things Lame Abed already knows that, though, so you don't have to worry about it. Right now, we can only get through if your timeline gets really dark--me, here, is going to kill it until then, I think. So just…don't let it get dark, okay?"

"Why are you telling me this?" Troy says, and Evil Troy shudders again, like he's having trouble holding himself together. "I mean, it doesn't even really make sense, but if you can get through right now, why wouldn't you just--"

"He can't be happy," Evil Troy says, and shakes Troy again. "My Abed can't be happy, because he's too busy trying to steal from your Abed, and that's not fair! Your Abed already got to be in the good timeline; he shouldn't get my Abed too. That's not how it should work."

"That…does sound pretty unfair," Troy admits. "So that's your game? Make sure I do what you need me to do so that you get what you want?"

"I'm not playing games." Troy lifts an eyebrow, and after a second Evil Troy grins. "Alright, maybe I am. God, you know, I remember you--I remember being you. I was so sure that we could get through anything, that so long as we were alive and fine shit would work itself out."

"You should hate me, then," Troy says. "If that's not how it went for you."

"I do hate you. But also, I don't. I'm just jealous, I think."

"Because I got to have the life you wanted?"

"Because you got to stay you," Evil Troy says, and it's not even angry, just sort of heartbroken. "Look at you, you're still exactly the same dude you were that night."

Troy gives himself a second to think about that; then he gives himself a second to think about what he would be thinking, if he was Evil Troy. Evil Troy's life sounds…less than great, really, even if he is wearing a suit that makes Troy wonder if this version of him didn't get to make the "Rich people? I'm joining you," phone call for real. But Troy doesn't think he would trade being rich for being as sad as Evil Troy looks, under the mad and the scared and the metal. Troy gets Evil Troy; he gets him because he gets himself, and he knows there's only so long he can stay out of the dark, dangerous part of his head when things get really awful. And if what Evil Troy needs is some help…well. It's probably the least Troy can do.

"I'm not, really," is what he says, eventually. "The same guy I used to be, I mean. I haven't changed as much as you, but I think maybe that's because the world hasn't changed as much for me as it has for you. I don't know if I can keep things from getting dark, but I want my friends to be happy, and I guess I want your friends to be happy, since they're just us. I'll try, okay? I can't like, promise anything, because I think sometimes things just…"

"…get dark on their own," Evil Troy says, and he flickers again. As Troy watches, the well-dressed, metal-clad version of himself goes entirely translucent, and Evil Troy steps out of it completely, leaves it to one side. He's wearing Troy's orange and blue pajamas now, nothing to distinguish them as different except for that little staple in his lip. When he smiles, Troy knows he's being honest. "Yeah, I know."

"Good luck," Troy says. "With your Abed, I mean. And your…everybody. Is my mom okay?"

"Yeah, she's great, I made sure." Evil Troy looks down at his hands and smiles, kind of sad and kind of not. "We kind of own like…the whole planet, actually. I thought everything would get better once he had all the control he wanted, but they haven't, really. Maybe this'll fix it, and maybe it won't, but at least it's better than ruining more stuff."

"Things get better, too. On their own, I mean. Just like things get dark on their own, sometimes."

"I remember knowing that."

"Well," Troy says, with a forced cheer he doesn't really feel, "maybe you'll know it again someday."

"Thanks, Troy," Evil Troy says, and when he smiles this time, Troy wants to cry. He's thirteen and kissing a girl for the first time under the big, ugly oak tree at the end of his street, someone else's initials carved just next to their bent heads; he's sixteen and leading Riverdale High to victory, none of the pressure that would come to spoil everything bearing down on him; he's twenty-two and looking at Abed, not even a week ago. That's hope on Evil Troy's face, hope Troy's seen a hundred times and felt a thousand more. It breaks his heart and stitches it up all at once, but he guesses that how hope always works, one way or another. "Don't tell Abed, but maybe you're not so lame after all."

"Don't tell Abed," Troy says, smiling back, "but I don't think you're all that evil."

***

Troy wakes up in that awful way where his eyes slam open and his heart's beating too fast but he can't quite remember what's wrong. He freezes, because every time this happens to him he's pretty sure it's going to be the time where he's accidentally wandered into the plot of a scary movie--nothing rears into his vision or starts cackling maniacally from the corner, though, so he lets himself relax a little, take a few slow, deep breaths. The dream comes back to him in one big piece, not kind enough to trickle in slowly, and Troy sets it aside for now. He's not even really awake yet; one thing at a time.

On the plus side, he and Abed are still tangled together; as plus sides go, Troy's pretty sure you can't get any more plus than that. He's moved a little during the night, scooted down lower so his head is pillowed on Abed's chest, and Abed hasn't moved so much as sprawled out a little wider. Troy rubs his face against the soft green flannel of Abed's pajamas, closes his eyes again, and tries to go back to sleep, because he figures that more or less counts as fending off darkness with awesome. It doesn't work, though, and after ten minutes Troy gives it up and starts trying to extricate himself.

Anyone who has ever compared Abed to a computer, Troy thinks wryly as he lifts his head, has never shared a bedroom with him, let alone a bed. Abed sleeps hard and angry--well, no, it's not that he sleeps angry, exactly. It's more that if he's woken up before he really wants to be woken up, the only parts of him that come online are the parts in charge of making sure he stays asleep. He threw a shoe at Troy one time, just cast around for it without opening eyes and whipped it in the direction of the noise being made; he'd felt bad about it when he'd really woken up, Troy could tell, so he hadn't really worried about it. He's worrying about it now, though, even though he can't help but smile at Abed's messy hair and faint snoring as he carefully slides out from under Abed's arm and away from his chest, as he tries to get his leg out from under--

"Why," Abed says, without opening his eyes. It's not a question; it's the kind of Why people say in movies when great tragedy has befallen them. Troy's grin gets bigger for all he feels guilty, because of course Abed can pull that off half asleep. Of course he can.

"Sorry," Troy whispers, "it's just me, don't wake up, pretend I'm not even talking, I'm just gonna leave and you can wake up when you wanna wake up."

"Kay. Not…kissing," Abed mumbles, rolling over onto his side and freeing Troy in the process. "Because…umm…teeth."

"That's a good reason." Troy rubs his hand over Abed's back a couple of times instead, and Abed makes a pleased little noise and rubs his face against the pillow before he starts snoring again. Troy sits there for a second and stares at him, which would feel a lot creepier if he hadn't done it more than once when they first started living together. Abed asleep is worth looking at, Troy thinks, like stop-motion animation or those magic eye things in newspapers: it's not like it ever really changes anything, or shows him anything but what he's already seen, but it's cool to stare at all the same.

Evil Troy said his Abed couldn't be happy. It was just a dream, Troy knows, but he can't stop thinking about it as he stumbles into the bathroom and brushes his teeth; the idea of Abed unhappy, like permanently unhappy, reminds him of the Toyota Agony. It makes Troy feel like his insides are in knots, and Evil Troy looked like that, when he wasn't looking like Annie or Jeff or Abed or versions of Troy Troy's always tried not to be. He wishes it could be like some of his other dreams, the kind where he tries to think about them and they run away--he'd like to forget about this. He'd like to forget about it a lot, if he's honest.

On the other hand, though, maybe wanting to forget about it isn't very adult of him. Troy thinks about that he hops in and back out of the shower, as he rubs his face with shaving cream, as he runs his razor under warm water and starts clearing the stubble from his cheeks. Even if it was just a dream, all it wanted him to do was help keep his friends happy. And that's not a bad thing, Troy knows--that's something he wants to do anyway, pretty much all the time, so it doesn't make sense that it's still bothering him.

Unless it wasn't just a dream, of course. If it was real…but Troy can't think about that, can he? If Troy thinks about that, he'll have to tell Abed about it, and he's got the feeling that Abed probably shouldn't know about what happened in his head last night. Troy's pretty sure that, real or not, that was the sort conversation that's meant to be kept between a man and the evil version of himself.

He's still thinking about it when he leaves the bathroom just in time to run into Jeff, who's shutting the door to Annie's room behind him. Troy freezes for half a second--if he's the only thing that keeps them all from getting dark, does that mean he has duties here, and what are they, and what if he thinks he knows what they are but really doesn't, and what if that ruins everything, and what if he has to get a big metal thing around his neck and Abed's sad forever--before he remembers that there's only one way he'd handle this in any universe.

"Um," Troy says, crossing his arms and raising his eyebrows, "are you trying to sneak out on Annie? Because if you are, I'd like to say two things. One: no. And two? No."

"I'm not sneaking out on anyone," Jeff hisses in a furious whisper. "Can we have this conversation not in front of her door? Because she's awake, and she listens."

"I heard that!" calls Annie's door, and Jeff raises his eyebrows.

"See?"

"Fine," Troy says, and takes three steps to the left, arms still folded over his chest. "Now we're not in front of the door. Where are you going?"

"Oh my god, she's awake," Jeff says, "she obviously knows I'm leaving, where would I even go, it's not like she couldn't find me, are you the apartment police? Is this always what things are like here? Do you and Abed lurk in the hallways waiting to interrogate guests?"

"Okay, so, I'm gonna stop you now," Troy says, and narrows his eyes. "Because now I really wanna be the apartment police, and that's not cool, because I can't be. Also, you're doing that thing you do where you try to talk until people don't notice what you're doing because they're too busy noticing the talking, which means something's wrong with you. Or with something. We know that trick now."

Jeff's expression goes from vaguely worried to mouse cornered by cat, and not in the Tom and Jerry sort of way, where the mouse is obviously going to win. "I don't do that, what makes you think I do that, name one time I have done that--no, I take it back, one time is not enough to establish a behavior pattern. Name ten times I have done that, preferably times with witnesses who can corroborate--"

"Dude," Troy says, "I told you, I know that one," and Jeff deflates like a balloon someone popped.

"I'm going to my place to get a," Jeff says, and winces. He lowers his voice again, so far Troy almost can't hear it when he finishes, "a toothbrush."

Troy gives him a doubting look. "Is it a toothbrush of doom?"

"What? No!"

"Exploding toothbrush?" Troy guesses, getting more excited as he goes. "Spy toothbrush? Toothbrush that only looks like a toothbrush, but is really a gun? Is the toothbrush alive?"

"It's just a normal toothbrush!" Jeff throws his hands in the air like the whole world is against him; Troy thinks that's not really fair. He's the one who got excited for nothing. "Jesus, you guys are weird."

"I'm not the one freaking out about a normal toothbrush. What's scary about a normal toothbrush? You just brush your teeth with them, unless--"

"I'm not a ninja trained to murder people with toothbrushes, Troy," Jeff sighs, and Troy's shoulders sag again. "Although, for the record? It upsets me in my soul that I knew where you were going with that."

"Look," Troy says, "I guess if you're gonna be sleeping with Annie and stuff you should probably just like, know this about me: I am not smart in the morning. Like, really not smart. Also I'm having kind of a weird time today, so could you just--"

"It's just a--a thing!" Jeff runs his hand through his hair once, twice, and then gives Troy something that Troy imagines is what a hairy eyeball would look like if it was being held at gunpoint. "A…couples…thing. A committed coupley thing, because first it's toothbrushes and then it's clothes and then you blink and suddenly you're in a Pier One holding six kids and being asked for your opinion on wicker chairs. Wicker, Troy! Wicker!!"

"How would you hold six kids at once?" Troy kind of moves around a little bit, trying to figure it out--one in each hand, you could probably fit two in one of those baby backpacks if they were small, and there are those slings people have, but that's still only five--

"Not the point, Troy!!" Jeff's eyes are all the way crazy now, and it occurs to Troy that it's probably good for all of them that Jeff has such a distinctive losing-my-shit face. If he didn't, they could be in some real trouble. "The point is, two days ago this was all a big secret and now it's--it's--toothbrushes!!"

"Annie doesn't even like wicker," Troy says. When Jeff just waves his hands in the air, Troy sighs and adds, "Okay, man, look. I don't know how to tell you this, but I think it's…probably just a toothbrush. Annie's awesome because she doesn't play games with people, remember? I mean, shouldn't you know that? And anyway, just because something was secret for awhile doesn't mean that it's gonna be secret forever, that's not usually how secrets work. Unless they're state secrets, and if you and Annie sleeping together is a state secret then we need to talk about what is up with the state, because what."

"I guess that's not…not true," Jeff says slowly. "I mean, she's got a toothbrush at my place, but that was different. That was to make the secret more believable, and also because Annie likes to brush her teeth after…uh, never mind."

"Um," Troy says, holding up a hand, "what?"

"What, what?"

"What do you mean Annie has a toothbrush at your place?" Jeff's freaked out expression mutates horribly until it's more of a cocky smirk, and Troy feels his eyebrows his his hairline. "Annie's never slept over at your place, dude. We'd've noticed."

"You know her early morning yoga class?"

"Yeah?" Jeff smirks gets bigger, and he just stands there, watching Troy. Troy doesn't get why until… "Oh."

"Yeah." Jeff shrugs when Troy glares at him, looking much more at peace with the world now that he's wrinkling Troy's brain. "She said she didn't want to tell you guys until she was sure I wasn't going to freak out like an idiot."

"Like you're doing now?" Troy says, because forget pulling punches, Annie's been going to a fake yoga class that was really sex since the beginning of the semester. "You officially don't get to be weird about toothbrushes, like, at all. You guys have been dating long enough to plan evil schemes. Stop being weird."

"Huh," Jeff says. His eyes go unfocused and sort of…gooey, actually, just for a second. Then he smiles, claps Troy on the shoulder, says, "Thanks, buddy," and heads for the door with a spring in his step.

"Hey," Troy says, before he can leave. "Can I ask you something weird?"

"Shoot."

"Do you think I'm the only thing standing between this group and terrible forever darkness?" Troy asks, because, well. If anyone would know.

Jeff's brow furrows, and then his face gets…sarcastic. Troy can't even explain it; he's never seen anybody else's face do that before, but Jeff's does it all the time. HE shakes his head and steps outside, throws, "Wow, self-centered much?" over his shoulder as he leaves, rolling his eyes as he pulls the door shut behind him.

It makes Troy feel better, actually. He's not really sure why.

***

Troy thinks about going into Annie's room and having a big fight with her about the lying thing, but he decides against it. For one thing, Troy hates fighting with Annie; she's stopped using the Disney face as a weapon, but that's actually turned out to be a bad thing, because Annie is really good at arguing. Also, he doesn't like making her unhappy, or making himself unhappy by making her unhappy. Also, he sort of gets it--he and Abed probably wouldn't be able to pull off the secret thing, because Abed's really good at keeping secrets but only if you give him exact specifications, and Troy's really bad at keeping secrets unless not keeping them is going to hurt someone's feelings, but he can see the appeal. Being in a secret relationship would probably be sort of like making your life into a spy movie without getting shot at, and Troy can't really be mad at Annie for wanting to enjoy that for awhile.

There's also the fact that Annie gets kind of scary if you interrupt her Saturday morning novel, but that's definitely not why Troy's not going in there. He's not going in there because he is a mature adult, definitely not because he's scared. At all. Not even a little.

He decides, in the end, to do the dishes. The chore breakdown of their apartment was a point of contention for awhile, because Annie wanted to have a complicated written schedule and Abed wanted to have an even more complicated points system and Troy just wanted to never, ever have to scrub a toilet, but they worked it out in the end. Annie vacuums, Abed straightens, Troy fixes stuff, and they do everything else whenever they notice other things need doing. Ignoring a chore that clearly needs to be done is a punishable offense, and since the punishment is usually being the person who hangs out with Pierce when he starts complaining, they tend to be pretty good about not breaking rules.

Troy likes doing the dishes, actually. It was always his chore when he was a kid, because his older sister thought touching stuff other people had eaten was gross and his younger brother tended to break plates by accident and Nana Barnes was not kidding around about them needing to get done. Troy'd spent a lot of nights scrubbing things when his was little, and when he was a teenager, the radio playing and whatever spoon was nearest acting as a microphone--he got to liking it, eventually, found the repetitive motions helped him think. When he'd started taking dance classes, he'd started thinking of it as a good time for practice. It's sort of the reverse now, because Troy mostly uses the stuff he learns in his dance classes to class up his dance breaks--the point being, he's always glad when there's a big pile of stuff in the sink and a lot on his mind, because then he's got an excuse to dance it out.

Abed's still sleeping, so Troy doesn't turn on the radio, just hums to himself as he works through the first layer, imagining music until it's almost like listening to it. He goes from feeling too many things to feeling confused and slightly amazed that Jeff managed to make this much of a mess just grilling sandwiches; their pasta strainer is in the sink, and Troy stares at it, wondering, for a full two minutes. Then he shrugs, washes it, and puts it to one side, figuring he can ask Jeff what the hell happened there when Jeff gets back.

He's been at it maybe ten minutes when Abed comes into the kitchen, dressed now, and sits down on the nearest counter with his legs folded up under him. "Hey."

"Morning," Troy says, and waves a soapy hand at Abed. "You sleep okay?"

"Yeah. You were gone when I woke up." It's not an accusation, not even a question, just a statement of fact; Troy winces anyway.

"Yeah, sorry. I had kind of a weird dream."

"Is that why you're dancing it out?" Abed says, and when Troy nods, Abed nods back. "Cool. Cool cool cool. You can turn on the radio if you want. I'm awake, Annie's awake, I assume Jeff is awake--"

"No, he left to get a toothbrush." Remembering that conversation, Troy folds his hands over his chest, recalling too late that they're wet and soapy and then deciding he doesn't care. "Did you know Annie's 'early yoga class' was actually a 'sleeping at Jeff's apartment' class?"

"They offer classes in that?" Abed says, and then blinks twice. "Oh. No. I guess it does make more sense then Annie doing yoga, though. I always thought that was a weird character choice."

"Well, now we know the truth," Troy says, and glances back over his shoulder at the dishes. "D'you mind if I finish these up? It's only that I started already, so I kinda wanna get through them. And also I really wanna know what else Jeff managed to get dirty, because this is kind of amazing."

"No, you should finish," Abed says. "And turn on the radio. I said."

"Okay," Troy says, and flicks it on, cranks the volume up a few notches when Abed nods at him. That's weird, because Abed usually doesn't love the sound quality on the old-school boombox Troy'd stolen from his sister's old bedroom when they moved in here. He wonders about it for a second before he remembers for the first time in days that, oh, right, he and Abed agreed to put this whole thing on film; he feels his brow wrinkle and then smiles at Abed, kind of embarrassed to have forgotten for so long. "Is this for the movie?"

"The you and me movie?" When Troy nods, Abed shakes his head. "No, I stopped production on that days ago."

"Wait, what?"

"Yeah," Abed says, while Troy stares at him, bug-eyed. The radio's playing a Katy Perry song that Troy hates, because Katy Perry's got the kind of voice that reminds him of fingernails scraping against plastic--he focuses on that instead of the shockingly empty feeling in the pit of his stomach until Abed says, "It became obvious pretty quickly that I'd be incorrect in my initial assessment of the situation between us. The documentary format has proven to be a less than ideal vehicle for a romantic comedy. I left the cameras up, because I've been thinking about the use of sped-up static footage to mark the passage of time, and, given how often we film in this apartment, I thought it couldn't hurt to get some b-roll. Also, I wanted to be able to change my mind if I was wrong. I'm planning on taking them down tomorrow, unless you object."

"Oh," Troy says, and then, because he has to check, "so, just to make sure, you didn't stop filming for like…a bad reason? Like the sort of reason where you didn't want it on film because it was awful or you didn't like it or--"

"If you're going to stay insecure about me wanting to be romantically involved with you, it's probably going to cause issues for us down the road," Abed says. It's clinical, considering, but kind of nervous too; Troy feels something that had gone all tight and scary in his stomach relax again. "I'm not going to get better at expressing that."

"But you do want to be romantically involved with me?"

"Yes."

"And you'd tell me if you stopped?"

"Yes," Abed says, raising his eyebrows at Troy like Troy's crazy. "I don't think it's particularly likely, but you'd have to be told, if I wanted you to stop. Otherwise you wouldn't stop. The question answers itself."

"Then we're cool," Troy says, grinning big and sunny at Abed before he turns back to the dishes. He sinks back into the rhythm of it for a minute, scrubbing the burnt banana bits off a frying pan and shaking his butt along with the terrible Katy Perry song in a half-assed attempt to get into it, before he thinks of something. "Abed."

"Yeah?"

"Why didn't you tell me? About stopping production, I mean." Troy's not mad about that--he thinks, actually, based on what Abed just said, what he knows about how Abed connects to people, and how awesome things have been between them the last few days, that it's probably a good thing. He's curious, though. It feels like the kind of thing he should know.

Abed's quiet for long enough that Troy shuts off the water and turns around; he looks contemplative, and Troy leans back against the counter and watches him as the radio switches to a song he doesn't know, waiting.

"You needed the crutch of the narrative format at first," Abed says eventually. "And you needed it more than I did--that doesn't usually happen. I wasn't expecting that. It was interesting; I toyed with the idea of turning the film into an examination of why, but I decided I wasn't qualified. I wasn't sure how long you'd need it."

"Why didn't you ask?"

"I thought you'd tell me," Abed says. His left shoulder jerks, but it's more a twitch than a shrug. "And I considered that the possibility that you might always need it. I wasn't willing to risk it."

"So, what," Troy says, starting to smile even though he can't believe this, "you would've just…let me think you were making a movie about me? Like, forever?"

"If that was necessary," Abed says, inclining his head.

And that, Troy thinks…well. That's just Abed all over, isn't it? Abed who thinks he knows better than everyone around him, Abed who says that the world makes more sense through a camera lens, Abed for whom reality is something that gets shrugged off and on like Inspector Spacetime's trenchcoat--Abed thought Troy needed the movie to figure him out, to figure them out, so he let him have it. Abed would have let him have it forever, and that's…Troy knows it's not really romantic, not by other people's standards, not according to whatever the actual definition of that word is. But Troy doesn't work like that, hasn't ever worked like that; Troy's got his own dictionary, and it's more pictures than words, because even when he knows the words, they don't quite get it right. And romantic's a dumb word anyway, because it means something different for everybody--it's like hope that way, or fear, or darkness. Romantic means what you want it to mean, even if you're the sort of person Troy used to dream of being, the sort who thinks in words first: romantic's what you ask it to be, or what you believe it is, and right now Troy's pretty damn convinced it means "Abed would've pretended to be filming me forever because he thought it'd make it easier for me to date him."

"I'm gonna kiss you now," Troy says. "Okay?"

"Don't get my shirt wet," Abed warns, but he unfolds his legs and scoots forward, spreads them wide, lets them dangle off the counter so Troy can step between them. Troy does, bracing his soapy hands on the counter and pushing himself up on his tiptoes, and Abed's even taller than him like this than he usually is. He has to bend down a little for Troy to reach him, but Troy does, easing his lips slow and warm and happy over Abed's mouth. Abed tastes like chapstick, just like every time they've kissed this week--the cherry kind, never mint, that brand with the labels that peel off cleanly--and after a few seconds Abed's opening his mouth against Troy's, bracketing Troy's face with his hands. That's great, because it means Troy can ease down off the balls of his feet a little and trust that Abed will follow; he does, wraps a leg around Troy's waist to nudge him closer.

They kiss until Troy's palms kind of hurt from how hard he's grabbing the counter. When he steps away, Abed's mouth's still moving around a little, like he's not quite sure what he's supposed to be doing with it; that's tempting in a way Troy wasn't expecting, so he kisses Abed again, and then again, and then again. Abed makes this soft little noise into Troy's mouth, the sort of pleased sound Troy has, until now, thought could only be produced by really good television. The realization that kissing Troy is the equivalent of really good television leaves him kind of soft and fuzzy inside, which is funny, since he's more hard that soft in pretty much other aspect. He forgets about the counter, forgets about not getting Abed's shirt wet, forgets about pretty much everything except kissing Abed, until eventually they hear Annie's door open and break apart.

"Morning, guys!" Annie says sunnily as she comes into the kitchen. She stops, probably because Troy and Abed are staring at each other and, if Troy's mouth is as bruised and wet as Abed's is right now, both looking pretty well kissed. "Oh my god, am I…am I interrupting something?"

"Uh," Troy says, at the same time Abed says, "Yes."

"Oh!" Annie says. It's funny; Troy's never heard somebody sound hesitant and like they just found a puppy before. He bets her expression is pretty awesome; he'll check. In a second. Just as soon as he stops looking at Abed. "I'm sorry! I'll just--"

"It's fine," Abed says. He blinks, and blinks again, and then his gaze settles on Troy's neck. Troy knows this because he's still staring at Abed's face--he can't help himself. It's right there and everything, and also the parts of Troy that are in charge of looking at other stuff seem to have been broken by kissing. Maybe Abed ate them; Troy should be more or less worried about that, he's pretty sure. It's just that he can't be, because Abed's looking at his neck, and there's this weird crumply crinkly sort of smile on his face, only it's not really his whole face, just his eyes. That, Troy decides, is even better. That's a smile that's just for him.

"Are you sure?" Annie says. That is what Troy has privately started identifying as the wheedling voice, if only because he only found out a few months ago that wheedling, contrary to his own popular belief, was not actually the process of racing tiny bugs called wheedles. Abed said to remember that the bugs are weevils and being wheedled usually bugs him; it's actually helped a lot. "Because I'm just, you know, getting a GoGurt, didn't mean to spoil your morning rendezvous."

"Troy was going to do the dishes anyway," Abed says. He's still looking at Troy's neck, but he's definitely only talking to Annie; Troy's good with that. "Since you're reading a romance novel this morning, we should talk later. I'm still trying to find an angle for next week's Community College Chronicles--I've got a guy to play Rick, I think, but your romance scenes always get better reviews than mine, especially after you've been reading in the genre."

"How did you know I was--"

"Rendezvous," Abed says. His moves his head a little, like he needs a better angle on Troy's neck, because he is still looking at Troy's neck. It should be probably be vampirish, but mostly it's giving Troy a boner. "I want to start the road trip marathon this afternoon--yes? Yes?"

"Sure," Annie says, grinning at the finger Abed's pointing at her. "Troy…?"

"Yeah, that's, sure," Troy says, because it seems like he should probably say something, and he can't exactly stare at Abed forever. He pulls his eyes away, taking in the warm, amused look Annie's giving him; it helps, sort of, but also it doesn't. Not that Troy needs help--Troy would happily stay floaty and full-up happy like this forever, if that was an option--but since it's kind of not, he makes himself start thinking again. "Only I've got a thing later. This afternoon."

"What thing?" Abed, who has always been better at switching gears than Troy, lifts his eyebrows. "Did you take another messiah job?"

"Kind of," Troy admits, because, well. The air-conditioning school is really, really weird; Troy knew that even before he told Abed about it, but telling Abed about it had kind of cinched it. Troy knows there are people who think Abed's a little crazy, but Troy knows better--Abed's the sanest guy Troy's ever met, plus or minus a couple of stumbling blocks, and his reaction to the full details of the air-conditioning school had been less than great. There'd been a lot of the bad surprised face. There'd been a lot of leaning away from Troy like Troy had the scent of crazy somewhere on his body. There'd been a lot of discussion about film crews, and Troy's known Abed long enough to recognize that he usually only wants to film something when it's going to explode into terrible chaos.

On the other hand, being the One True Repairman (Troy thinks it in Capital Letters, because everybody who says it somehow manages to say it that way) has some serious perks. Most of them are that he keeps getting job offers, and while he has to turn down a lot of them--he'll have time to work full-time when he's not in school, for one thing, and he's got a policy about not taking money from people who look like they want to wear his skin as a jacket, for another--some of them are worth taking. Troy's not exactly going to be joining rich people anytime soon, but he's making a lot more money than he ever has been before. It's comforting in a way he wasn't expecting it to be, which is weird. It's not like Troy has ever been hugely worried, or hugely not worried, about money; he's always lived in the in-between space he guesses most people probably do, where he thinks about his bank account more than he's maybe supposed to but less than he maybe should. Being rock-solid sure he's going to be able to pay his rent, or buy his books, or come up with a way to bail Abed out if he does that thing where he forgets that money matters to other people more than it does to him, is turning out to be a really good thing for Troy, even if it's because crazy people think he's their sort-of-god.

"A messiah job?" Annie says, glancing between them with an eyebrow up. "I thought these part time gigs were doing air-conditioning repair."

"They are," Troy says. "It's…complicated."

"It's not really." Abed kicks his legs against the cabinets as Troy turns back to the dishes and starts dancing again; Abed can explain it. That'll be easier for everyone. "The air-conditioning school has anointed Troy as the first, or possibly second, coming of their messiah. They call him the One True Repairman. Sometimes people offer him jobs, I imagine via referrals from the more fanatical of his believers. One time while you weren't here--"

"Yoga sex," Troy says darkly.

"Oh, you know about that," Annie says, "well, you know, things happen, people say things, let's just put it all behind us--"

"One time while you weren't here," Abed repeats, slightly louder, "someone in a jumpsuit came to the door and asked if they could have an audience. Then Troy told him he didn't have an audience, just him and me. Then the man groveled. There's a Twitter account tracking his air-conditioning miracles. It's all very unhealthy."

"That sounds," Annie pauses, like she's looking for a tactful way to say it, and then gives up and says, "Oh my god, Troy, that is so creepy."

"I know," Abed says. "He's not very concerned about it, which concerns me. On the other hand, the Twitter account does have 200,000 followers. @OneTrueRepairman, if you want to look at it, but it's mostly written in code."

"I," Annie says, "what?"

"Apparently air-conditioning repairmen have a world-wide secret brotherhood." Troy's still washing dishes--their corkscrew is in the sink, what did Jeff do--but he doesn't have to turn around to know Abed's head is cocked to that half-interested, half-worried angle. "Although it's possible that it's all repairmen, and the air-conditioning angle is simply because that's what he's doing right now--again, most of it is written in code. I've worked out a decent translation system, but it's slow going, especially because the fact that Troy can't understand the code seems to be part of what makes him the messiah to begin with."

"Troy!" Annie says. She slugs him lightly in the shoulder, and Troy, who feels like this conversation would probably be bumming him out more than it is if he wasn't still warm all over from kissing Abed, flicks some water at her. "How could you not have told me about this?"

"It's a secret," Troy says. "Or it…kind of isn't, I guess, because I get to decide everything now and they just kind…do it. It's weird. But I like having jobs, and they're not bad people just because they're creepy and think I'm air-conditioning Jesus. Or repairman Jesus. Or whatever."

"I don't know what to tell you," Abed says, when Annie makes a shocked little noise. "I do think we should buy another lock for the door."

"Yeah, or three." Annie smacks Troy again, and Troy grins at her over his shoulder and flicks her with more water. She makes a face at him that looks like she wants to smile but doesn't think she should; he flicks even more water at her, and wins a slight sliver of a grin. "I mean, I guess it is good that you're getting jobs, but…but I can't believe you didn't tell me!"

"Yoga sex," Troy says again. "Yoga sex since the beginning of the semester."

"Secret sex is not the same as having a cult following! Like, an actual cult! That is following you!"

"Cult," Abed says, "that's the word I was looking for."

"I can't believe you're letting this go on," Annie says.

Abed's feet are thunk-thunk-thunking against the cabinets, and Troy makes one last attempt to get into the rhythm of that, or of the song playing on the radio (Rihanna, he thinks, but he's not sure). He fails when Abed says, "Which one of us? Troy can do whatever he wants."

"But--" Annie starts, and Troy sighs and turns off the water, turning around and leaning against the counter.

"Annie," he says, "it's just a thing. That people are doing. I don't think it's even about me, exactly, it just kind of smells like it is because that's probably easier. Like, I'm guessing they'll stop at some point? Maybe they won't, but it doesn't really matter. I don't take the jobs if they seem like they're going to turn out like the first five minutes of a crime show--"

"Good rule," Abed says.

"--and I'm not planning on using it for," Troy stops, swallows, continues, "evil, or anything. There's not going to be a great uprising of repairmen, and nobody's going to break into our apartment, and if they do we'll deal with it. It just means I can bring home food later, because I'm getting paid for stuff! Don't get weird about it."

"Well," Annie says, clearly waffling, "I guess if you're…not weird about it, there's probably no reason for me to be weird about it. But it's really weird, Troy!"

"Yeah, I know. So what?"

"So," Annie says, and shifts around on her feet for a second. Troy widens his eyes, prompting more than anything else, and eventually Annie throws her hands up a little and laughs. "Alright, fine, I don't know. It's not really my business, I guess, just--be careful, okay? Because these people sound a little crazy."

"More than a little crazy," Abed adds. "But Troy's always careful."

"Yeah, totally. Careful is my middle name. Can we stop talking about this now?" Troy says, and throws in some puppy eyes at Annie for good measure. "Because you guys are making it kind of hard to finish this, and Jeff made everything dirty."

"Yeah, he does that," Annie says, rolling her eyes. "Sorry, I'm done, no more grilling. Just gonna get my yogurt and head back to my bedroom and shut the door and let you guys get back to…um…whatever it is you were doing before."

"The dishes?" Troy says, because even though he knows that's not what she means, this conversation has successfully dropped him back into the weird headspace he was in before Abed went and kissed it away. They're kind of right, Abed and Annie, about the cult thing--it's making Troy think a little more than he really wants to about Evil Troy in his dream, about how he'd said they owned the whole planet.

"Yes," Annie says, winking at him. "Right. The dishes."

Abed watches her go to the refrigerator with his brow furrowed, and he tracks her progress back to her bedroom carefully before he cocks his head at Troy. "She winked because…?"

"I think she meant that we were going to have sex," Troy says. "She and Britta both think it's really adorable--I guess everybody used to think we were dating, and that the pillow fight was our breakup? Or something? I don't know, Britta told me the other night but I was kind of freaking out and not really listening all that much, which was bad of me. But they're definitely whispering and stuff; I think it's sort of like that time everybody wanted you to date that girl that turned out to be dating White Abed? They're…invested, I guess. Anyway, you don't have to worry about it."

"Why would I worry about it?" Abed says. "We are going to have sex."

Well, that's Troy's bad mood vanished again. "We are?"

"Not right this second," Abed says, nodding, "but maybe after the dishes are done. Or maybe later. You were dancing it out, before--you should do that. You're a good dancer, and it makes you happy."

"Oh my god," Troy says, "you want to watch, don't you?"

"Yes," Abed says. He's entirely unembarrassed about it, which is amazing to Troy for reasons he can't quite fit together in his head. Not, admittedly, that he's trying all that hard.

"That's kind of dirty, Abed."

"In a bad way or a good way?"

"Good way," Troy says, grinning at him. "Definitely good way."

Abed folds his legs up under him again, leaning back on his hands. "Cool. Cool cool cool."

Troy turns back to the dishes and tries not to think about the fact that Abed's watching him. It's something he's gotten pretty good at, since Abed asks him to do it a lot--there's the whole fly on the wall aspect of his documentaries, and also sometimes Abed just wants Troy to do stuff like Abed isn't there, presumably for reasons of his own. It's harder now than it usually is, because this time he knows Abed's watching him because Abed wants to be watching him, and that's distracting in a really, really good way. Troy has to turn up the volume twice before he really manages to lose himself to the music, and he's just finished with the last plate when he hears the opening notes of Call Me Maybe start flowing into the room.

And…well, the thing is that Call Me Maybe is pretty much the most ridiculous song Troy's ever heard, and Troy and Abed have spent hours watching YouTube videos mocking it, but right now? Today? Troy kind of gets it in a way he's never gotten it before, because it's ridiculous but really catchy, too, and happy in a way that's more than a little bit like an infectious disease. Also, it's kind of about missing somebody before you met them and being really glad you don't have to do that anymore, and that's…well, it's spot on, really, for Troy's life right now.

He should be embarrassed that he knows all the words; he should be embarrassed that he likes it so much. Troy knows there was a point in his life where he would have been, and that that point might even be right now, if anyone was around to see him. But it's just Abed in the room, Abed who wanted to watch him dancing it out for almost-definitely-sexy reasons, Abed who knows him better than anyone; Troy can be a little ridiculous if he wants. Troy can be a lot ridiculous, probably, because he has been before and Abed's never cared, never judged him for it--even that one time Troy thought he had, he hadn't really. That's such a good thought that Troy forgets about darkness entirely, puts the dish to the side and starts mouthing the words, doing a body roll against the counter before he turns around and starts more-or-less shimmying towards Abed. When Abed raises his eyebrows, Troy starts singing along.

"I'd trade my soul for a wish, pennies and dimes for a kiss, I wasn't looking for this, but now you're in my way," Troy belts out, and it's the big bright smile he's giving Abed, the we're-on-tv smile, the public smile, the boy band smile. He and Abed had talked about turning the study group into a boy band, once, and after deciding they'd have to put Britta in charge of coming up with a less misleading and/or sexist name for them then a boy band, they'd agreed that Troy would do all the choreography. He'd thought about it, after, the kind of steps that would work for that sort of bubbly pop, because Troy was a Cub Scout for a few weeks when he was a kid and they'd taught him to sell popcorn and be prepared. It's easy enough to break into those moves now, simple, repetitive rolls and turns that fit the beat.

It's fun, and funny; Troy's kind of singing the song to Abed, but he's also kind of singing it for Abed, putting on a show for the sole reason that Abed likes shows and Troy likes performing. He hits the chorus and, without really thinking about, does a sort of mid-air version of their handshake along with the first heavier bass beat, one hand pounding over his heart without actually hitting it and the other reaching out into empty space. He's not expecting Abed to do it back, exactly in time with him; he's not expecting how hard the love hits him in that moment, like a whole water tower just breaking and dumping all over him, like an avalanche or the rolling ball from Abed's Indiana Jones model. And he's really not expecting the way Abed's eyes go shocked and wide and stunned, because that's not the sort of thing that Abed would--

--except. Troy just barely avoids the impulse to stop dancing and gape, because a memory comes back to him all in one big piece, drops into his head like Abed planted it there. He'd forgotten what it was like to be able to really almost read each other's minds, and this is even better than that, because…because it was just after the whole Abed is Jesus now thing, which had been awesome, but also kind of not, because Abed had been bummed out for like three weeks after it, even though he wouldn't tell Troy why. Eventually Troy'd spent the night in Abed's bottom bunk and Abed had explained, kind of; he'd mostly said he hadn't had enough distance, and he'd been blinded by that, and that that had sucked for him.

But then Abed had sighed and added something else, and it's the something else Troy's thinking of now, because what he'd said was, "And now I've got a pipe dream, and I hate those." And then, after they'd established that a pipe dream wasn't actually a dream about a pipe, Abed had explained: "I liked being a character and a director simultaneously, and obviously that's something I can achieve again without much difficulty. The documentary format alone allows for it; it's not particularly difficult. But that sense of…self-perpetuating miraculousness, I guess, even though that's not really quite right. The way people were reacting--it was spontaneous human behavior, but because it was following the arc of a very popular story, it was spontaneous human behavior that I could predict on a large scale while simultaneously living it. I think it's what blinded me, how addictive that was, but that's the problem, now. I'd like that to happen again, to be able to capture a miraculous human event on camera while living it at the same time, but it would have to be completely spontaneous if I didn't want my ego to get involved. And that's impossible; even if I spent my entire life on camera, I'd always know the cameras were there, so I'd always be trying to manufacture it on some level."

"Okay," Troy had said, "so you…want to be in a movie that happens on its own?"

"I want to direct, and be in, a movie that happens on its own," Abed had said, and sighed. "It's impossible. Sometimes things are impossible; that's the problem with reality."

Troy had been sure he was right, at the time; it had hurt him a little, because Abed wanting something he couldn't have didn't seem fair to Troy, not even back then. But now, looking at the expression on Abed's face, Troy knows what's happening--the cameras are still up, and they didn't plan this at all, and they can read each other's minds again, which means that it's actually going to work. They're doing an impossible thing. They're doing an impossible thing before breakfast, which makes it even better because references always do; Troy's going to get to give this to Abed, and Abed's going to get to have had this, and that's amazing. He keeps dancing, grinning huge and stupid as Abed pulls out his phone and sends a text--probably to Annie--before he jumps off the counter and starts following Troy's steps.

Once he's picked them up--which takes exactly no time, because he's been watching from the start--Abed meets Troy's and then nods at six different points in this kitchen and the living room. Troy figures that's where the camera are hidden, and he nods at Abed, who jerks his head towards Annie's door; they parade over to it, Troy in front and Abed a few steps behind him, both of them still dancing. Troy does an exaggerated knock and Annie flings the door open from the inside, somehow having managed to change from pajamas into a dress and heels in the 45 seconds since Abed texted her.

They just…go for it, if Troy's honest. It's almost unreal. There's only about half of the song left, and Troy follows Abed's cues for where they should go; since Abed and Annie are both following him in terms of the choreography, Annie goes where Troy leads them. Troy dips her at one point, and she comes up grinning and spins over to Abed, and then, surprising everybody, dips him--it works, which it maybe shouldn't, but Abed looks pleased. When they hit that line about all the boys trying to chasing her, Annie struts up to the front of the room and holds a hand up in Abed's face first, then Troy's, and it's like they practiced it, even though it really shouldn't be. By the time the song is over, they're in a line in front of a vase Troy's only just figured out has been a camera all week, standing shoulder to shoulder, grinning big and dancing in time. They freeze on the last real note, stand stock-still with their smiles fixed firmly in place until the song changes, and then--

"What the hell," Jeff says from the doorway. "I just…what the hell."

Troy's not sure which one of them starts laughing first. It might be him, but it might be Annie, too, there's kind of no way to know. It doesn't really matter, because after a second both of them are leaning into each other in the sort of crazed, ecstatic giggles that you sort of can't help, sometimes, when things are amazing in a pretty insane way. Abed's not laughing, just standing really, really still in the middle of the room, but Troy knows that he's probably freaking out in a good way about the fact that that just happened; Jeff's not laughing, but Jeff's broken and thinks that he's too cool to feel things. Also, he didn't see all of it, so he doesn't know how awesome that just was.

"Best. Morning. Ever," Annie wheezes out eventually, and Troy nods, wiping tears from his eyes that are, for once, from laughter. "You guys are the best roommates in the history of time, oh my god."

"What am I," Jeff says, "chopped liver?"

"You're not in the running for best roommate, I don't live with you," Annie says. "And, unless we scheduled that conversation for today--"

"We scheduled that conversation for the first of never," Jeff says, and then backpedals immediately. Troy's glad to know Annie still uses the Disney eyes on somebody; they're pretty diabolical, especially now that he knows she can do them at the drop of a hat. "I mean, for the first of…not…until…it's a responsible…conversation to have? Or the first of when I'm not…when you're not…um."

"Don't hurt yourself," Annie says, rolling her eyes. "C'mon, let's go get that breakfast, I'm dressed now."

"I…um," Jeff says, blinking. Troy feels for him, but not really all that much. Jeff's not in the Toyota Agony, he just always thinks he is, and while Troy guesses that's pretty exhausting, it's also pretty much Jeff's own fault. "I thought you wanted to read…?"

"I can finish it later," Annie says, and glances from Troy to Abed--still blinking at the camera--with a twinkle in her eyes. "We'll be gone for, I don't know, an hour or so? You boys have fun."

"What is happening," Jeff says, even as Annie starts pulling him out the door. "Whoa, Annie, stop--hey! This coat will stretch if you--"

The door slams behind him, cutting off a rant Troy can use his imagination to fill in and leaving him and Abed alone. It's weird, but suddenly Troy's nervous in that sick, all-over way he doesn't usually get, that way that makes his palms sweaty and his shoulders tense. It's not a good feeling, not like the sort of bubbly, jumpy rush that Troy's come to recognize as excitement, but it's not so bad as to merit the title of his brain crying, either. This is the sort of nerves always makes it a little hard for him to breathe, the kind of thing that makes him feel like he can't move too far in one direction or the other without falling off of a huge, invisible cliff. His hands are shaking, which is ridiculous--it's just Abed. It's just being in the apartment alone with Abed. It's just the possibility of having sex with Abed, after helping Abed realize a dream, and those things are both awesome things, so this shouldn't be happening at all.

Except, the thing is, Troy doesn't love people the way he loves Abed very often--that is to say, he does, but usually he's pretty careful not to let it get out of hand. When it gets out of hand, Troy can end up in the bad place, the Levar Burton place, the I'm-so-afraid-of-disappointing-you-that-my-everything-hurts-from-trying place. That, Troy realizes too late, is probably why the whole list thing got to him the way it did, why it stuck with him the way it did. Troy loves Abed enough that the thought of Abed not loving him back, even just in a little way, even just for awhile, makes him want to crawl out a window or hide under a table or something. And now they're here, and it's just them, and Abed said they were maybe going to have sex after the dishes, and he's still staring at the vase camera, and what if Troy does the wrong thing, or says the wrong thing? What if they do have sex and Abed hates it, or Troy's really bad at it, or Abed hates it because Troy's really bad at it? It would be easier, Troy thinks, to go into his room and shut the door, or run after Jeff and Annie, or do anything that would get him out of here right now.

But it wouldn't be what he wanted to do, and Troy's pretty sure it wouldn't be what Abed wanted him to do, either, and maybe growing up is just learning how to do things because you know you have to do them, even when--especially when--they're really hard. He takes a deep breath and walks over to Abed, and he thinks about saying something, but he's nervous enough that he might cry, so he does the first thing he can think of: he reaches out for their handshake, bridging the gap between them with his outstretched palm.

Abed blinks and reaches back, and their palms crash together twice, in time with the hands they're pressing over their hearts. Only this time, they don't let go; this time they don't pull their hands apart after the second time they meet, and Troy's pulling Abed into a hug before he can even think about it. He's got too much in his heart right now for anything to make sense, but hugging Abed always makes sense, always makes everything in his head a little less loud and crazy. Troy tucks his face into the curve of Abed's neck and Abed lets him, put the hand that isn't still holding Troy's and crushed between them on Troy's back, doesn't say anything while Troy takes a few deep breaths. Abed smells like fresh laundry and buttered noodles and that shampoo he uses, the stuff that comes in an all-black bottle with grips on the sides and looks like a spy gadget. It's good and familiar and, right now, kind of hot, but maybe that's just because he can feel Abed's boner poking out from beneath his skinny jeans.

"That's the coolest thing that's ever happened to me," Abed says into the shell of Troy's ear. He's not saying into the shell of Troy's ear to be Don Draper sexy or anything--Troy could tell if he was doing that, he's almost sure--but because his mouth just happens to be there, right now. Troy shivers anyway, because Abed's breath is warm and he's always been sensitive there, and he can feel Abed's fingers flex against the back of his shirt.

"I know," Troy says into his neck. "It was pretty cool for me too."

"I think we should have sex now," Abed says, and this time it is Don Draper sexy, except that it's not. It's Abed's normal voice, and Abed's normal delivery, and Abed's normal habit of jumping right into whatever it is he wants to say. It just feels Don Draper sexy, Troy decides, because Abed being normal (Abed-normal, not normal-people-normal, Troy's learned that Abed being normal-people-normal makes him feel a little dead inside) is Don Draper sexy, to Troy. That's why he's so nervous, probably: he's never cared this much about having sex before. He's never cared this much about the person on the other side.

"Me too," Troy says, "but I'm really. Um. Nervous? Like not because I don't want to nervous, but because I don't want to screw it up nervous."

"I don't think sex really works like that," Abed says, after a pause. He tilts his head and his chin hits Troy's cheek; he's not sure why, but that makes him shiver again. "Not when both people involved are having sex with the intention of having sex again. I've pretty much only had one-night stands, and only with women, but presumably there's a learning curve. Still, I think it's a good idea that we be as open and above-board about this as possible."

"That," Troy sounds kind of faint, even to himself, "that sounds like a good plan. Very…good. And plan-like."

"Cool. Cool cool cool." Abed steps away, which sucks; then he looks Troy up and down, his gaze settling again on Troy's neck. That sucks a lot less, at least until Abed says, "So, you don't have any sexually transmitted diseases?"

"What?" Troy…well, he sort of squawks it. "No!"

Abed nods like he's filing that away for future reference. "Good, me neither. Wanted to check first. I was thinking we should start with blowjobs--since neither one of us has ever had sex with a man before, we probably shouldn't get overly ambitious, but in my experience handjobs are less fulfilling than just cutting to the chase and masturbating. So: blowjobs?"

Troy can't help it; he grins at Abed, big and goofy and trying not to laugh. He's still nervous, but it's starting to feel more like the excited kind; of course sex with Abed is going to be like everything else with Abed, laid out all clear and easy to follow, no unstated expectations Troy has to scramble to meet. "Yeah, totally. Blowjobs sound awesome."

"I know," Abed says, and smiles slightly at Troy. "Your bedroom? All laws of comedy suggest that if we try this in here, or in the blanket-fort, Annie and Jeff will come back earlier than expected and catch us in a compromising position."

"Can we," Troy says, putting a hand on the back of his neck and feeling kind of stupid about it, "can we maybe…kiss a little first? Out here? And then go in there?"

Abed cocks his head, considering. "Is this like what you said last night? About touching being helpful when you're overly full?"

"Sort of," Troy admits. "Also I sort of just…really want to kiss you for a minute."

"Okay," Abed says. Then he changes just a little, slips into Han Solo or The Dread Pirate Roberts or Indiana Jones or somebody else who isn't exactly Abed Nadir, who's the type of guy to take two steps forward, put his hand at the base of Troy's neck, look deep in his eyes, and kiss him like they're the only people left on earth. Troy takes a huge, half-stunned breath of Abed's air, and Abed's tongue darts into Troy's mouth like he's trying to steal the breath back. He kind of manages it, is the funny thing, because Troy's pretty sure he's not breathing, that his body has somehow learned how to substitute kissing for oxygen.

Not, it should be said, that Troy's complaining. Troy is definitely not complaining at all.

It takes Troy a minute or two of following Abed's lead, of registering nothing but the soft, wet press of his lips and the warm hand on the back of his neck, to remember that kissing is something he's good at, too. Maybe not the way Abed's good at it--Troy's pretty sure nobody's good at kissing the way Abed's good at it, like he's been studying the art for years--but definitely good enough at it to hold his own. He lets his hands settle at Abed's hips, two fingers sliding up under the hem of Abed's t-shirt on each side, and doesn't quite take over so much as start really taking part. He eases his mouth over Abed's until he feels Abed stop being whoever he was, until they're kissing slow and a little sloppy and familiar. Troy's glad; he wants to kiss all the people Abed can be, all the versions of Abed out there that might be interested in kissing Troy, but not this time. This time he wants it to be just them, because first times should be like that, and he pushes his left hand all the way up under Abed's shift, fingers fanning out against warm skin. Their tongues keep bumping together, which Troy thinks probably shouldn't be hot the way it is, and then Abed's making that noise from earlier again, and Troy forgets how to think anything at all.

"Is that enough kissing out here?" Abed says after maybe ten minutes, pulling back just enough to get the words out. He sounds a little breathless, and there's this whine starting at the back of Troy's throat just from that, one he's not quite ready to let out yet.

"Yeah," Troy says, "yeah, we should definitely, um. Do some stuff. In the bedroom."

"Blowjobs," Abed says, and gives Troy a finger-gun before he turns around and just starts walking, and seriously, Troy is going to break his face from grinning. It's just going to split in half one of these days, and his whole body is going to split in half around it, but not in a gross way, really. It'll be like a cartoon, like everything but Troy's smile just stops existing. Maybe, Troy thinks as he follows Abed into the bedroom, that's how the Chesire Cat happened. Troy's pretty okay with being the Chesire Cat, if it means he and Abed get to do impossible things before breakfast and have sex. That feels like a decent trade.

Of course, then he pulls the door shut behind him and he's nervous all over again, because this is totally going to happen right now and Troy totally doesn't have any idea what he's doing. He's so hard that it sort of hurts, but he can't just listen to his dick and do what it tells him to do, because it mostly just wants to be inside Abed's mouth as quickly as possible. It's as confused as Troy is on how to facilitate that happening, though, and he rubs one ankle with the other foot, slightly at sea.

"So…what now?" Troy says, and Abed cocks his head, considering.

"I think we should get naked," he says. "Logically, that's the next step."

"Okay," Troy says, because that does sound pretty logical. He has a weird moment where he's not sure if he's supposed to get naked in a sexy way or not, but then Abed's pulling off his sweatshirt and folding it over a chair like he would if they were getting ready for bed, and Troy relaxes. He pulls his shirt up over his head and tosses it towards the hamper, kicks out of his socks and pants and rocketship underwear. When he looks over at Abed, Abed's staring at his dick, which Troy takes half a second to find flattering before he notices Abed's dick, and has to stare himself.

Troy pokes his tongue against the inside of his cheek a couple of times, just to test what he already knows. Then, because it has to be said, he offers, "Abed, you're…um, I mean this in a really good way, but I don't think I'm gonna be able to fit that in my mouth."

"Me neither," Abed says. "But I was expecting that, so I did some research. You should go first, I think. Should suck me first, I mean. I can talk you through it."

"I," Troy says, because Abed's dick is really big and really hard and really, really distracting, "you were…expecting…?"

"Well, I assume most people can't fit an entire erect penis in their mouths, excepting situations where the penis in question is unusually small," Abed explains. He sounds…totally able to explain this, which is really great, since most of Troy's brain has kind of short-circuited around the desire to lick Abed's dick right away. "And since I know from observation that neither of us are unusually small, I thought research might be a good idea."

"Observation?" Troy says faintly, and Abed makes a slightly exasperated noise.

"It's atypically easy to make you get hard," he says, "and it's noticeable when you are. Especially during that month where you were wearing break-away clothing every day. I've had a vague idea of your size and shape since then."

"Yeah, okay, you are definitely," Troy says, through the sensation that all of his skin has been set on fire in a way that is somehow positive with how fucking hot that is, "definitely, definitely getting your dick sucked now, Abed."

"Cool," Abed says, "cool cool cool." He sits down on Troy's bed, close enough to the edge that he has to spread his legs out to keep himself balanced. When Abed jerks his head, Troy walks over to him and settles himself down on the floor. His mouth is an inch from Abed's dick, and it's hard to resist the urge to just go at this without any guidance; he stops himself, though, because Abed's almost always really good at teaching Troy to do stuff.

"We won't do it this way every time," Abed says, "but since it's the first time, I thought it would be easier. When I finish, we'll switch."

"Abed?"

"Yeah?"

"Please tell me what I'm supposed to be doing," Troy says, shifting around a little on the floor. "Because otherwise I'm gonna just do it."

"Wrap your right hand around the base of the shaft," Abed instructs, like he's reading it off of cards. That somehow makes it hotter; Troy's not going to question why, not when his whole body feels sort of like it's thrumming. He does what he's told, and Abed makes this funny little noise even as he corrects Troy's grip, a sort of choking, squeaking sound. Troy doesn't blame him--the sight of his hand wrapped around Abed's dick like that is definitely making that whine at the back of his throat more eager to make an appearance. "Good, that's….good. And now you're just supposed to put the rest of it in your mouth and suck on it. Apparently you should develop a rhythm. No teeth, obviously, and I've read some places that if you squeeze your left thumb your gag reflex goes away."

Troy tries that, squeezing his thumb hard and swallowing, and sure enough, it feels like there's somehow less throat in there than there was before. "Hey! That totally works!"

"I know, I tried it too," Abed says.

Troy grins up at him, only then he kind of has to stop grinning, because Abed's shirtless and pantsless and everythingless, and that's not something to grin at. That's too gorgeous to grin at, because Abed's all sharp angles and hard lines and slightly visible ribs, and Troy kind of thinks about letting go of his dick in favor of putting his mouth everywhere else instead. Then Abed's dick, hot under his fingers, twitches a little bit, and Troy figures there'll be time for putting his mouth everywhere else later.

He opens his mouth wider than he's maybe ever opened it before, which probably looks pretty stupid, but whatever. Whatever, because then he's pulling Abed between his lips, rubbing his tongue along the bottom of Abed's dick, and he can't think about being stupid or being nervous or being scared anymore. He can't, because he's never felt anything quite like this before; maybe it's just that Abed's dick is somehow warmer than he was expecting it to be, even with his hand already wrapped around it, but he kind of doubts it. This is…this is the most fragile part of Abed, or the most fragile part that isn't buried inside of him, anyway, and it's inside of Troy's mouth. It's inside of Troy's mouth and warmer than he was expecting it to be and sort of salty-tasting, but just at the end, and Abed was right; there is kind of a rhythm to this, an up-down with his hand keeping time, that Troy doesn't have to learn at all. He just knows how to do it, and yeah, it's kind of sloppy, and yeah, he's maybe not great at it yet, but it's pretty simple, pretty self-explanatory.

Troy sucks at Abed's dick for five minutes, and he only accidentally drops it out of his mouth once. He drops it out of his mouth on purpose a couple of times after that, though, because the sound Abed made the first time was really encouraging, and Troy guesses--from the blowjobs he's gotten before, and based on the evidence in front of him--that the cool air of the room is probably a good sort of shock. Abed's got one hand on Troy's left shoulder, gripping tightly, but not so tightly that it hurts; he's not talking, which doesn't surprise Troy very much, just breathing harder and harder and--

"I'm going to come," Abed says, and his voice is all wrong in this way that's so totally right. Troy doesn't even think about it, just starts sucking harder, and then his whole mouth is full of that salty flavor from before. He's pretty sure he makes a face, because it's….kind of a surprise, even if it's not necessarily a bad surprise. Then he pulls off and swallows, smiling slightly as Abed tips over onto his side on the bed.

"Good?" Troy says. His voice is hoarse, which makes him shiver, and then it makes Abed shiver, which makes Troy shiver harder. "You don't really have to answer. I can kind of tell."

"Your turn," Abed says, "five minutes," and then he goes quiet in the inward way, but not the bad inward way. Troy can't see any reason not to climb up onto the bed and wrap himself around Abed, so that's what he does. Abed curls towards him, rubs his cheek against Troy's bare chest, and takes his five minutes just like that. Troy's boner is getting kind of impatient, but the rest of Troy--the really important bits of Troy--is too happy to care. That was awesome sex, because it was sex and Abed liked it, and Troy's whole goal was to make Abed like it, which makes it entirely awesome. Troy is awesome at sex with Abed, and that is, in general, really amazing news.

"Okay," Abed says eventually, "now you sit like I was sitting before."

"We don't have to do it that way if you don't want," Troy says. "I mean, if you want to just stay up here--"

"No, symmetry. Go."

"Kay," Troy says, breathes it, really, because there's something about Abed bossing him around for sexy reasons that he and his boner are both excited about. He scoots over to the edge of the bed like Abed was before, and Abed stands up, walks around, and settles himself on the floor.

"Tell me if you want me to stop," Abed warns, leaning in as he says it so his lips brush against Troy's dick. Troy's whole body tries to jerk forward at the weird, whispery lightning-white sensation that gives him, but he stops himself, if only just. "If you don't tell me, I won't know."

"Okay," Troy says, and it's high-pitched and babbly, but he doesn't really care. "Just do it, I'll tell you, I promise, friends don't lie, we agreed. Abed, please, I'm, I really, really want you to like. Right now, because it's, I sort of think I might explode if you don't?"

"Gotcha," Abed says, "don't warn me before you come, I want to see if I can guess," and then he wraps his hand around the top of Troy's dick, pulls the rest of it into his mouth, and…

…and holy shit, sucks so hard that Troy feels his eyes roll into the back of his head. The whine that's been building in the back of his throat finally comes loose, and it starts low at first, but it gets louder and louder because Abed just keeps sucking harder and harder and impossibly harder, and his tongue is doing stuff to the bottom and sides of Troy's dick that Troy has never felt another tongue do before. He can hear himself, the growing volume and pitch of the noise that's just pouring out of him like Abed's yanking it loose, which, honestly, he kind of is. He'd be worried about it, but he can't be, because he's mostly worried about trying not to come, because when he comes this is going to be over and Troy never wants that to happen, ever.

Except that of course at some point it is going to have to be over, and as much as Troy doesn't want that to happen he's pretty sure he'll probably die if he tries to stay like this forever. His whole body is tensing like it's getting ready to go to war, and Troy's never had sex like this before, where it's like he's running up a mountain and down it at the same time; Troy's never had sex like this before, where every single part of him feels like it's going to burst out of him at once. Abed sucks at him again, hard and sharp and flicking his tongue against the very end of Troy's cock, and Troy can't help himself--he shouts, all the air punching loose from his lungs, and comes harder than he ever has down Abed's throat.

"You're a screamer," Abed says, when he's pulled off and Troy's fallen backwards on the bed. Troy nods, his gaze fixed on the ceiling, even though Abed probably can't see it. "Did you know that before?"

"Nope," Troy says, but then he decides he's going to maybe have to stop talking for a second, because hearing how torn up his voice is just makes him start shaking. He feels really good, and also kind of like skin does after you pull a Band-Aid off of it--glad to breathe, but a little overexposed. "Can you…uh. Be up here?"

"Oh. Yes," Abed says. He clambers up onto the bed and sits cross-legged next to Troy, who scoots himself around a little until he can fit his head in Abed's lap. That should be weird, since it basically means that his face is all up next to Abed's dick, but Troy figures he and Abed's dick are on a first-name basis now. He rubs his face against Abed's thigh, and Abed taps his fingers against Troy's back for a minute. When Troy makes a satisfied little noise at that, Abed presses his palm into the skin he was tapping and just…rubs, back and forth, these tiny circles of pressure. It feels amazing, and Troy lets himself drift for awhile, until he feels a little bit less like he could hurt if he was pushed on too hard.

"That was really good," Abed says. It's an objective observation, which just makes it better. "Better than I was expecting, given that it was our first time. There are things we could be doing better, of course, but overall: really good. Definitely at least three and a half stars, but maybe four, actually. Which is really impressive; conventional wisdom argues that it should have been awful."

"Ten stars," Troy argues muzzily. "Fifty stars. A million stars."

"There isn't a star rating anywhere in the world that goes up to a million stars."

"Invented one," Troy mumbles. "'S the Trobed System. Very advanced."

Abed clicks his tongue; Troy's eyes are closed, but he'd bet good money that Abed's making a disapproving face. "Do you always get less rational after sex?"

"Usually I sleep," Troy admits. "I've never had sex during the day, really, except for that time in the Greendale bathrooms, and I had to have a nap on the study room couch after."

"You could take a nap now," Abed offers. "I don't, usually--sleep after sex, I mean--but you can. I could wake you up in an hour."

"Love you," Troy says, "because…best. Everything. An hour?"

"Maybe an hour and a half," Abed says. "Since you didn't get much sleep last night. What time is your job starting?"

"'S….later."

"When?" Abed presses, and Troy yawns into his thigh and tries to think.

"One…thirty?" he says eventually. Abed doesn't say anything to that, but he does climb out of the bed; Troy doesn't open his eyes, but he feels the pillow Abed tucks under his head, the blanket Abed pulls over him, hears the light switch flick off.

***

Abed ends up letting Troy sleep for two and a half hours, wakes him up at noon by poking him in the arm with slow but increasing insistence. It takes Troy awhile to shake himself out of the fuzzy cloud of pleasant exhaustion, but he makes it out the door fed, clothed, and looking vaguely professional by one. It's a half hour's drive to his job, which Troy mostly spends singing along with whatever's on the radio and feeling good about his life. Evil Troy, Troy thinks, was pretty stupid to be worrying like that; Troy obviously lives in a world where light eventually balances out darkness every time.

The job is at this huge office building in central Boulder, the kind of place that's probably going to have an entire series of rooms that are just for holding their air conditioners. Like always on jobs like this, Troy introduces himself to a receptionist who looks extremely unimpressed by him, and is then greeted by a guy in a jumpsuit who is so impressed by him that Troy feels bad about it. Sometimes his greeters are at least able to have a basic conversation, but this guy is definitely having a intimidated-nearly-to-death sort of reaction to Troy; it's pretty bizarre, but Troy's also gotten pretty used to it. He smiles at the guy a couple of times, but quickly gives it up and just follows him down into the bowels of the building, because he knows from experience that it's better to just leave that alone. Any attempts on his part to make it better could end up being like that time Levar Fucking Burton sang Troy the Reading Rainbow song, and Troy still has nightmares about that and all the emotions it broke inside of him.

"The Truest Repairman," someone whispers from a vent. Then all the other vents start whispering; Troy ignores it. He's pretty sure that it's a good thing that it was him, and not any of his other friends, that ended up with a cult following--Troy loves them and everything, but he's pretty sure if this happened to anyone else he knew, it would go to their heads.

Not, it has to be said, that it hasn't gone to Troy's a little. It's not like he's not going to start an uprising of repairmen or start thinking of himself as a god or anything, but…well. He doesn't expect Abed to get it, or Annie to get it, or anyone to get it, because it's not really their thing and he wouldn't really want it to be. But the truth is, Troy likes being so good at something that people worship him for it. Troy likes being special, even it does come along with some really strange religious stuff; he thinks that's probably okay, so long as he doesn't start thinking it make him better than anybody.

"So," he says, when he's been lead into, as expected, a gigantic sub-basement full of machines, "what's the problem?"

"Um," says his greeter. His nametag says Jonathan, but Troy can't call him that--he learned the hard way that calling air conditioning people by the names written on their jumpsuits tends to make them bow before him, and that bums him out for reasons he can't exactly explain. "It's…um."

He points at one of the machines, and Troy nods, walks around it once, pulls off his sweatshirt so he won't overheat, and crawls beneath it. He can hear more whispering outside, footsteps, probably people who want to see him in action; that's great, because it means there will people around to get him stuff when he yells for it. Assured of this eventuality, Troy more or less turns off all the parts of his brain that aren't his eyes. Then he looks for awhile.

And, see, this is part of the reason that it's not all that weird being the One True Repairman or The Truest Repairman or whatever it is they're calling him this week: Troy lives inside of his own head, and he, of all people, can buy it. He's never been book-smart, never been word-smart or numbers-smart or any-of-the-things-everyone-said-he-was-supposed-to-be smart. He thinks he does okay on people-smart, but he didn't even really realize that was a thing until Abed told him about it was one, and he only did that to explain to Troy that he himself wasn't. But this, looking at stuff and knowing automatically how it should and shouldn't fit together, what needs adjusting and what doesn't, whether he's ever seen it before or not--Troy knows this isn't exactly normal, isn't really any kind of smart at all. This is just how things should be, and while he's really surprised everybody can't see it, he's also pretty certain there's something a little amazing about it. People brain's, according to the world around him, don't usually work the way Troy's does, and maybe it's just that it's nice to be on the good side of that truth for once, but Troy's not going to argue it.

It doesn't take him long to find the problem: there's a thing that should obviously be hooked to a second thing but is hooked to a third thing instead, and two different screws that want to be tighter and looser, respectively, and a wire that isn't wired back to where it's supposed to go. Also, there's a crack. He sighs. "Did you guys have somebody else try this before me?"

"Yes, sir," comes a trembly voice from outside--Troy thinks maybe it's Jonathan, but it's hard to be sure. "Last week, sir. He didn't fix it, sir."

"You don't have to call me sir," Troy says, which makes the whispering start up again. "But could somebody get me a wrench? Like, a small wrench and also a big wrench? And," Troy stops, here, because the crack is something he'd fix with gum if he was by himself, but he's learned not to Break The Code by suggesting that sort of thing. "Um, some of that…epilepsy stuff, I guess."

There's silence from outside. It's the kind of silence that means Troy said something that wasn't what he meant enough that he confused people. He winces up at the bolt he's checking with his fingers--too loose, called it--until someone says, "Um, sir?"

"You know," Troy calls out, "the stuff that's all sticky, and then it gets hard?"

"…Epoxy?"

"Sure, whatever," Troy says. "Just the wrenches and that and then just like…back off for a little while, I guess. I can fix it, I'm just gonna have to move some stuff around."

They do what he told them to do, the same way they always do, and Troy spends the next three hours rooting around the inside of the machine. He finds more problems as he goes, and can't see any argument against fixing them; when he finally crawls out from beneath the machine, soot-streaked and feeling pretty gross about it, the entire room is filled with people in grey jumpsuits.

"Water?" Troy says, in a carefully non-demanding voice. Seven people trip over each other trying to get it to him anyway, and Troy sighs, shakes his head, and takes a long sip. "Thanks. It's really dusty in there."

"You," someone says, pointing at him, "you--you rerouted--it's running on its own power! On the power it's generating by running! I, how, that's not--that's impossible, you can't--"

"Please ignore the nonbeliever," says someone else. "By the five winds--north, south, east, the one we keep secret, and west--you are undoubtedly the Truest Repairman, and you shall repair man. We are grateful to witness your miracles."

"Uh, great," Troy says, "where do I go to for my paycheck?"

He goes where he's told to, up through another labyrinth of hallways where the vents whisper at him into the accounting department, where he's handed an envelope by a woman who's hot in a cold way. Troy is going to bring Abed with him the next time he takes one of these, he decides; this job kind of gave him the willies.

On the other hand, when he gets in the car and opens the envelope, the number on the check is for more money than Troy was expecting. It's also kind of for more money than Troy's ever had at one time in his whole life, and he sits there, staring at it and listening to himself take ragged breaths, for like fifteen minutes before he can get himself together and start driving. He's halfway back to Greendale when his phone rings, and Troy answers it without looking, because he's trying to keep his eyes on traffic.

"Are you okay?" Annie says, before Troy can even say hello. "Because Abed says your cult's twitter account is panicking."

"I didn't say that," Troy hears Abed say in the background. "I said they're enthusiastic. I told you not to call him."

"I'm okay," Troy says, still kind of boggled. "I'm…richer. Then I was before. Um. By a lot. Can you give Abed the phone?"

There's a sort of skittering sound, and then Abed says, "Did you really create a self-sustaining air conditioner in less than three hours?"

"I guess," Troy says, "I just made it work the way it wanted to work, Abed, they paid me so much money."

"If this account is accurate, that's not particularly surprising," Abed says. Then, after a considering pause, "How much money?"

Troy tells him. There is a longer pause.

"…You should bring Chinese food," is what Abed says, eventually. "And try not to think about it. And tell Jeff when you're not likely to cry about it, he'll know what you do."

"What if I have to get one of those people," Troy says, not without panic, "who does accounting things? What if I'm like those people who win the lottery and they're really happy and then they're not because their lives get ruined? What if I have to invest stuff? Abed, what if he tells me I need a stock portfolio?"

"Then we'll get it in cash and put it a suitcase and bury it somewhere," Abed says, sounding completely unfazed. That shouldn't be as calming a thought as it is, but Troy feels his shoulders relax anyway.

"Promise?"

"Yes," Abed says, "go to the place by campus, get moo goo gai pan," and then, without ceremony, he hangs up.

Troy gets moo goo gai pan. He gets other stuff too, although he's not really sure what; he forgets to order before he gets there, and then just kind of picks some stuff on the menu at random. They tell him it's going to be twenty-five minutes, so Troy gets the zombie survival kit he and Abed made for the car out of his trunk, walks across the street and up the two blocks to Greendale, and takes a shower in the locker room. He feels a lot more like himself once he doesn't smell like dust, and he changes into the jeans and t-shirt the kit had waiting for him, pulls his sweatshirt back on, picks up their dinner, and goes home.

"Perfect timing," Abed says when Troy gets inside and drops the food on the table. He stands and comes over to start rifling through the bag; Jeff's asleep on the couch in the living room, and Annie's bent down in front of the entertainment set changing a DVD. "We just finished Two Towers."

"Aww, you watched Fellowship without me?"

"You and I are going to watch it again later this week," Abed says, pulling out the moo goo gai pan triumphantly and setting it to one side. "This way, I get to watch them in order, and you get to skip Two Towers. Plus, Fellowship is a different viewing experience when you're fresh off Return of the King."

"Oh," Troy says, and smiles. "Well, that's awesome then."

Abed nods. Then, without ceremony and or changing expression at all, he steps forward and hugs Troy around the waist. It only lasts for about a second, not even long enough for Troy to hug Abed back, before Abed steps away and goes to get a Diet Squirt from the fridge. Troy understand a little more about what Abed meant before, about not understanding the rules--if Troy didn't know him so well, he would've been confused by that, would've, at the very least, said, "Hey, what was that for?"

But he does know Abed that well, and he remembers what Abed said about erring on the side of touching him more instead of less, and he's got a pretty good idea of what that was for, actually. He grins down at the surface of the table, happy enough that the panic about what the hell he's supposed to do now that he might actually be joining rich people dies away, until Abed pokes him in the side and says, "Come watch the movie. Bring the food."

Troy grabs the bag and goes over to the living room, and there's an awkward couple of seconds where Annie offers to get out of his chair and Troy offers to sit on the floor before Abed says, "Annie, stay there. Troy, sit with me," and solves their problem. Jeff wakes up about 20 minutes into the movie and makes a fuzzy-sounding sort of argument about having places to be and parties to go to; Annie doesn't contradict him, just tells him to have fun, and he actually leaves for a full fifteen minutes before he slinks back inside.

"I decided to stay," Jeff says, "out of solidarity and friendship, even though I'm missing lots of important social engagements to do so."

"Sure you are," Annie says, "c'mon, have some dinner," and, against all odds, Jeff actually does.

It's a good night, Troy's stomach full and his whole right side warm against Abed's left one, his head resting on Abed's shoulder and their hands tangled together. Jeff spends the whole movie snarking and arguing with Annie about snarking and arguing with Abed about the merits of said snark, and Troy mostly watches and listens and over-identifies with Sam and doesn't talk very much. He's tired, but it's a good sort of tired, the kind of tired you get when you've worked out a bunch of stuff you didn't think you were ever going to work out.

When they go to bed, Jeff follows Annie into her bedroom and Abed follows Troy into his. Something, Troy thinks as he falls asleep, will probably explode tomorrow, but just now? Things are pretty damn alright.

***

"You know," Abed says on Sunday afternoon, "I thought that was going to take longer to wrap up."

Troy's been at his desk watching the rough cut of the Call Me Maybe video for the last ten minutes; Abed's done this really cool thing where he's chopped it all up, using the footage from the multiple camera angles to fit everything together differently than expected. He wants Troy to take the original track and rip it up to match, which is awesome both because working with Abed is always awesome and because Troy's been seriously itching for an excuse to play around with that song for awhile. He marks down one more cut timestamp, just because he might as well, before he pulls his headphones off and turns around. "What?"

Abed's sitting on Troy's bed, leaning back against the headboard and reading his textbook for Introduction to Fishing. It's called Are You An Angler? and Abed claims it's hilarious; Troy's not asking, mostly because he'd decided not to take the class based on the really gross fish on the cover of the book. "I thought that was going to take longer to wrap up."

"Right, no, I heard you, I meant--you thought what was going to take longer to wrap up?"

"You and me," Abed says, closing the book around his index finger. "And Jeff and Annie, and you and Britta, and Subway and Britta. Everything. I thought you and Britta alone would be a seasonal arc at least."

"Huh," Troy says. "Is that a…bad thing?"

"Might be," Abed says, cocking his head. "Trying to fit it all into one week is probably a little forced. On the other hand, it's not like there isn't a significant amount of history to play off of. Or like we haven't had crazier weeks." He pauses, considering. "I'd think it was a special episode, but that's not quite right either. Definitely not what I was expecting, is my point."

"Okay," Troy says, and something terrible occurs to him. "Wait, this isn't like--like one of those things where the circumstances demanded it so you did it, right? Like, it's not going to stop…uh, I know I said I'd stop being like, insecure and things, and I have mostly, but this isn't like when we're playing around and then we stop playing around and it's over, right? Because I'm definitely not playing around."

"Me neither," Abed says, "that's not what I meant. Things have tied up the way I wanted them to, so it's not unsatisfying; I'm not complaining. I'm just not entirely sure why we didn't get there the way I was anticipating we would. After I stopped anticipating that we wouldn't, I mean." He frowns, going distant for a second. "Maybe Annie was right about the simulations. Hmm. Anyway, it wouldn't make sense to stop, not when we're about to get to my favorite part."

"And what's that?" Troy says, grinning, amused despite himself now that he knows this isn't all going to fall out from under him. The way Abed looks at reality is way, way more interesting than the way anybody else does; he's missed this part, the part where Abed's willing to tell him about it. "Your favorite part, I mean."

"It's happening right now," Abed says, and smiles, very slightly, at Troy. "This is the part where it's just us."