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Abed never really understood the phrase “holding a torch,” as in holding a torch for someone who’s gone. And then Troy leaves, and he does.

It feels less like holding a torch and more like holding a door, waiting. Holding a place in their lives open, so the leaver can step back in whenever they want, like cutting into a dance. He means it to be like that—Troy will go away on his trip, and when he comes back, he can slip neatly back into the space that he left; no muss, no fuss. Like it never happened.

Except the days trickle on, and trying to hold the door open feels more and more like trying to hold back the tide—exhausting and just not altogether possible. He doesn’t mean to move on without Troy. Not exactly, not at all. He just—moves.

It turns out it’s all really the same.

* * *

It happens in increments.

Troy isn’t around to watch movies with him or keep him up with snoring when he has an 8 a.m. class the next morning. There’s a silence around Abed that there wasn’t before, in all the spaces that used to be filled with Troy, with his chatter or just his breath. It’s disconcerting at first, like an entire winter falling exclusively on him. Everything is muffled.

Troy isn’t around to make him laugh anymore, so Abed smiles less. For the first couple of weeks, it would be fair to say he doesn’t smile at all, which is fine because this isn’t that kind of show anymore, if it ever was—he’d never quite nailed down the formula (one part buddy cop show without the cops or criminals, unless you counted Chang, one part risque sitcom with a heart of gold, two parts absurdist humor). But eventually he finds other things to smile about.

He throws a party with Britta and shoots a movie with his friends. It turns out Annie is funny—not in the same way Troy is funny, but in her own Annie way. It turns out Jeff has a heart after all.

He graduates with a degree in film, and his dad is there. Not in the front row, but sitting off to the side, somewhere in the middle. He nods, and the nod turns into a smile, turns into pulling Abed in for a hug that squeezes his ribs and startles the air from his lungs. He smiles.

* * *

He’s going to Los Angeles tomorrow.

His part of the apartment is already empty—they’ve taken down the sheets that hang from the ceiling, and all that remains of the blanket fort he’d shared with Troy is a bunk bed sitting awkwardly in the middle of the living room.

“I’ll keep it,” Britta says. “You know, in case you decide to come back.”

“Okay,” Abed says.

He’s pretty sure Britta will end up selling it on Craigslist, but he doesn’t say it. They’re living in the protective bubble of maybe, the one where they pretend that this isn’t goodbye, that any of this might still be preserved. That they’ll be like this, just like this, again.

Annie’s already gone. The apartment feels empty without her. It feels empty without his DVDs stacked on the TV stand, without his posters, without the Kickpuncher figurine Troy had given him on their third annual Kickpuncher marathon movie night.

“I’m going out,” Abed says abruptly. Sitting in the picked-clean husk of his home-for-ten-more-hours suddenly seems worse than being anywhere else.

“Oh. Okay. Did you want company?”

“No, I’m good.”

“Okay. Well.”

There’s a strange, watery moment that stretches out between them. It ends when Britta sighs and puts her arms around him. “Oh, Abed. I’ll miss you.”

He doesn’t say he’ll miss her back. It should go without saying at this point. He’s sort of getting used to all the hugging.

* * *

He doesn’t have a plan when he leaves the apartment, so he’s not exactly surprised when he finds himself at Jeff’s door. He’s a little surprised that Jeff is home, that he opens the door when he raises his hand to knock.

“Abed.”

He kisses Jeff, and that’s a little surprising, maybe the most surprising thing that’s happened all season without being stupid—there was really no lead-up to the story where Garret married his cousin; there was subtext that led them here, if he counts that time they bonded in the basement of the school cafeteria, Jeff’s hands around his neck, both of them on the floor.

If this was a TV show, this moment might be the culmination of some sort of plot arc. The critics would call it fan service, mostly due to barely-disguised homophobia, but it would mean something like personal growth. Like letting go.

Jeff’s lips are soft under his, just a little bit dry, and stubble prickles against his chin. His left knee itches, and he still misses Troy, and he feels so homesick it actually hurts like a stomachache. They kiss with their eyes open.

They don’t talk about it after. Jeff lets Abed into his house, and Abed flops on the couch, flicking through the channels on Jeff’s flat screen TV. Jeff gets up to grab a beer from the fridge. He comes back with two and sets one down in front of Abed without asking.

USA is showing reruns of Special Victim’s Unit again, and Abed lets it play. The formula is comforting, the way it always is. Things make sense on TV. The good guys win, and the bad guys get what’s coming to them. There’s rising and falling action. Mostly there’s resolution.

“Can you give me a ride to the airport tomorrow?” Abed asks without looking away from the screen. He picks up his beer and takes a sip, pursing his lips at the bitterness.

“Yeah, of course.”

Jeff sits on the couch so that he’s not touching Abed, but he’s not not-touching him either. Detective Stabler plays the bad cop, getting into a perp’s face with righteous anger, slamming his hands against the table and throwing a chair into the wall.

Abed already knows how it will end, and that’s the best part of all.