They're in the middle of Biology class. Professor Kane is talking about the migration patterns of the northern pintail. Abed is paying close attention, absently doodling in his notebook while he studies the diagram pinned up on the board.
"Hey, Abed," Troy whispers, leaning in close so only Abed can hear. Professor Kane tends to keep a particularly close eye on the study group, so they have to be pretty careful when they want to talk during class. Abed enjoys the challenge.
Abed leans too, so their heads almost touch. "What's up?"
"Can you remind me to go pick up my new football kit from the sports office before we go home?" Troy asks. "I just remembered."
Abed nods. "Okay."
Troy goes back to listening to Professor Kane, and Abed picks up his blue ballpoint pen. He scribbles in his notebook to get the ink flowing, then he writes on the back of his hand, 'Troy's football kit'. He has to press down hard to make the words legible, and the rounder letters are pretty messy. He draws two lines along the side of his palm nearest his thumb, underneath the word 'kit', and goes back to the lesson.
His hand tingles slightly, like he can still feel the pressure of the pen tip on his skin.
At the end of the day, Abed reaches to pick up his backpack from the study room couch and looks at his hand, seeing the note he left for himself.
"Don't forget to pick up your football kit," he says, pointing a finger at Troy.
Troy's face lights up. "Oh yeah! Thanks, buddy. I'll go get it now."
"Cool," Abed says. He looks at his hand. The writing's a little smudged from the thumb war that he and Annie played over lunch.
He washes the writing off when they get home, rubbing at the letters until the ink flakes off and swirls down the drain, leaving his hand clean and blank again.
Troy asks him to remember more things after that - baking ingredients to pick up, assignments to submit, questions they want to ask Annie. At the appropriate moment, Abed tells Troy what it is he's supposed to remember, and Troy smiles and sometimes they do their handshake.
Abed starts writing himself little notes on his skin too. He has a neat and meticulously cross-referenced notebook where he stores important information like ideas for films and new observations about his friends' behaviour and data points for the question of who would win in the ultimate fight between pirates, ninjas, zombies, werewolves and vampires. But sometimes he highlights particularly time-sensitive notes by writing them down his arm, so he can pull back his sleeve and see important reminders like 'be extra nice to Britta', which he writes when one of her cats gets sick.
Abed makes a little tick on his forearm before he washes the whole thing off, ready for the next thing he wants to remember.
They're sitting in the study room in a free period and talking with Shirley about last night's episode of CSI when Troy suddenly breaks off. "The Avengers midnight showing!" he says, looking alarmed.
Abed nods. "Yeah, we need to book our tickets when they go on sale tonight."
"It's not until tonight?" Troy presses a hand to his chest and lets out a long breath. "I thought we missed it for a second."
"Don't worry," says Abed, putting out a reassuring hand. There's no way he's going to forget - both he and Troy have been bouncing with excitement over the approaching release of The Avengers for months, though Troy's a little sad that Spider-Man's not going to be in it.
But Troy still looks worried, like some calamity might befall them so they miss out. Abed digs out a pen and sticks out his arm. "Make a note so we don't forget?"
"Yeah, okay," Troy says, relaxing. He picks up the pen, uncaps it and presses straight onto Abed's arm, writing 'AVENGERS TICKETS' in big, bold capitals.
The ink doesn't flow right away, leaving pale lines where letters should be, so Troy presses harder, digging slightly into Abed's arm until the pen starts working. When he's finished, he pats Abed's arm. "Sorry," he says. "We should get some new pens."
"It's okay," Abed says. "Shirley, do you want to come with us? It's me, Troy and Annie so far." Annie hasn't seen all of the lead-up movies yet, but Mark Ruffalo is apparently an irresistible draw for her. Annie has good taste that way.
Shirley shakes her head. "Oh no, not at midnight, I'd probably just go to sleep in the movie theatre. But if you go see it again then I might come with you." She smiles. "I do like Captain America."
Abed nods. "Cool cool cool."
Annie buys new Sharpies at the weekend. Abed really likes Annie's commitment to stationery, and this batch is particularly good - Sharpies and little notebooks and a magnetic whiteboard they can put up in the kitchen so they can leave notes for each other.
"My mom never let me have these," Troy says wistfully, picking up one of the Sharpies, uncapping the lid and sniffing it.
"Troy!" Annie says indignantly, before her eyes dart around the room and she picks up another pen to do the same. She likes to let Troy and Abed be the first ones to do things she doesn't think they're supposed to do, so that she can follow their lead and claim that she's only doing it because they're bad influences.
"Mm, I love the smell of marker pen in the morning," Abed says, picking up his own Sharpie and doing the same. They all stand there sniffing pens for a minute, and then Troy gets a glint in his eye and jumps towards Abed, attacking him with the pen and drawing a line across his cheek.
Abed gasps dramatically as though his honour has just been insulted and leaps backwards, assuming a fighting stance. "En guarde!" he says.
Troy mirrors him, and makes a lightsabre noise.
"Guys!" Annie protests. They both pause and look at her. The deal is that if she asks them to stop then they'll stop, but Annie also says that she wants to be less uptight, so sometimes she just makes up some rules for whatever they're doing.
"Okay, well if you break them then you have to buy me new ones," she says firmly. "And don't get any on the floor."
"Agreed," says Troy.
"Absolutely," says Abed.
Annie smiles, and stands between them, putting her arm across their paths. "Then may the best person win!" she declares, flinging her arm up.
The fight is intense. Abed acquits himself well but in the end Troy gains the upper hand, pressing Abed into a corner and drawing a cross on his t-shirt. Abed collapses, clutching his chest as he is mortally wounded, and Troy claims his victory, pinning Abed down and looming over him.
Abed lets his head drop to the side, lolling slightly, which makes Troy and Annie laugh. His eyes are closed, and he feels Troy pick up his wrist and stretch his arm out along the floor. Then Abed feels the wet, thick press of the Sharpie along his forearm, the smell still strong and new. He tries to guess what Troy is writing but he's not sure, and it's only when Troy stands up that he sees the words 'Troy was here' running from elbow to wrist. His breath catches a bit, like the words have jumped off and are squeezing his chest somehow. He carefully doesn't touch the still-drying words, and stands up to help Troy and Annie make lunch.
Annie rolls her eyes at them both over her glass of water, in the fond kind of way that means she's finding them to be both immature and adorable at the same time. Abed wouldn't contest either of those assertions. He keeps his sleeve rolled back but doesn't pay his arm much attention until he spots that Troy keeps sneaking glances at it.
Interesting. Abed isolates that observation for further analysis, and follows Troy's gaze as it's drawn to the words and the way he follows that up with a small smile. Troy doesn't go for small gestures for the most part - his smile is usually wide and his happiness is usually plain to see, even for Abed back in the days when he didn't know Troy the way that he does now.
Abed struggles with people a lot of the time, because other people's body language and emotional cues and thought processes don't always make huge amounts of sense to him. Troy makes sense to him. After years of them learning together and learning each other, he understands Troy in a way he's never understood anyone else, and that's why they're best friends. Now he's compiling new data.
Abed doesn't bother trying to get the words off of his arm. Sharpie removal is kind of a pain and it turns out he really likes having it there. The words catch his eye unexpectedly when he's doing other things, causing him to pause for a moment and smile, before carrying on with making noodles or writing a Biology paper or researching grappling hook techniques. The words 'Troy was here' echo in his head.
That night, they're in the bunk beds reading comics. Troy's talking to himself in his bunk which means he's having an onslaught of feelings again over Miles Morales taking up the mantle of Spider-Man (Ultimate Spider-Man being the only good thing to come out of the Ultimates universe). Abed's been enjoying a reread of Frank Miller's run on Batman, but this evening his mind is on other things, and his eyes mostly glaze over the pages.
"Good night, Troy," he says, putting the comic on his bedside table and switching off his light.
"Good night, Abed," Troy replies.
Abed sleeps, and dreams good dreams.
"Inspector!" Troy's urgent hiss is loud in Abed's ear. They're trapped inside Blorgon territory with no way of escape that will avoid detection. It's been a long time since they have battled the Blorgons together, and privately, the Inspector is not sure he's got what it takes to defeat them this time. He just hopes he can get Constable Reggie to safety.
"What are we going to do?" Troy asks. "They're bound to discover us at any second."
"Don't worry, Reggie, I'll get us out of here," Abed says. "I do believe I have a plan."
Troy sighs in relief. "What do you need me to do, Inspector?"
"Here, take this frequency modulator," Abed says, handing over the device. "We need to calibrate the ioniser to disable the Blorgon mothership." He fumbles in the pockets of his coat - the pockets are always just too small to fit anything really useful, and he ends up with a fountain pen but no paper. It will have to suffice.
He uncaps the pen, pushes up his sleeves on one arm, and begins to write in the ancient and almost forgotten language of the Inspector's people, a script full of intricate and angular shapes. The pen feels cold and sharp, but it writes smoothly - solid black lines outlining the algorithm that Reggie will need to operate the modulator.
Abed holds his arm very still in order to keep the ink from smudging, and Troy watches him intently before beginning to run the calculations, eventually realising that they're going to have magnetise the electron flow and create an antimatter-tachyon hybrid in order to destabilise the Blorgon central command chamber.
"Constable, with me," Abed says. He grabs Troy's hand, and they start running to save the universe.
They nearly die in the attempt, but in the end the Inspector and Constable Reggie manage to defeat the Blorgons once more and make it back to the DARSIT in time for tea.
"You were magnificent today, Reggie," Abed tells Troy.
Troy looks shaken. "Inspector, when Blorgon Zorg had you in its grip, I thought -- if anything were to happen to you, I couldn't bear it."
Abed rests a hand on Troy's shoulder. "Never mind that now - as you can see, I am perfectly well."
He looks at his arm. The symbols have faded now, but they are still legible, and he takes a moment to grieve for the lost world that created them.
"There was a time when these words echoed across galaxies," Abed said wistfully. "In the songs sung in great halls, words of power and wisdom. And now all of that glory has faded away, remembered by no one except for me."
"And me," Troy says gently, reaching to take Abed's hand in his. "Perhaps you could teach me one day, Inspector."
Abed smiles, touched by Reggie's kindness. "Perhaps," he says.
They walk into the DARSIT together, still holding hands, and the credits roll.
It's quiet, back in the Dreamatorium, just the two of them in that big empty space that's nothing more than a room again.
Troy doesn't let go out of Abed's hand. They look at each other, and the expression on Troy's face is new to Abed but easy to identify. This is Their Moment, and in the absence of interruption or action, Troy is going to kiss him.
Abed takes a moment to absorb his surroundings - the things that are here now, and all the things that have led them to this moment, the long development of their relationship arc over the past few years. Although this is an unconventional direction for a relationship that Abed had considered likely to stay in 'bromance' territory forever, sometimes you need to break existing conventions to make the best stories.
Abed stays still and allows Troy to lean in and gently kiss his mouth, like it's a question.
Abed has kissed people before - eight people, to be precise, or twelve if you counted people he'd only kissed while playing a character. But he's never kissed his best friend, because he's never had a best friend to kiss before.
The kiss is soft and quick, and before Abed's really had the chance to process it, Troy is pulling back again. Abed keeps a firm grip on Troy's hand so he doesn't go too far.
Troy opens his mouth to speak, looking worried, and Abed cuts him off.
"Cool," he says. "Cool cool cool cool."
Troy's face relaxes, and he smiles. "Yeah?"
Abed nods. Then he tilts his head, considering. "It makes sense that one member of the group would start to explore their sexuality as a mid-series arc. They'd usually get a love interest introduced as a recurring character, though, not another lead. And conventions probably dictate that it should be Annie, though possibly that's just because she reminds me of Willow from Buffy sometimes." He shakes his head; he's getting off topic. "What I mean is, I'm not sure the network's going to for this. We're flouting the conventions of the genre."
"I guess," Troy says, sounding dubious, like maybe he thinks that's a problem for Abed.
It isn't. The truth of it is, sometimes real life conforms to the rules of television, and sometimes it is far more confusing and inexplicable. But there are rare occasions, occasions that Abed always savours, when events around him conspire such that the results are better than any script could hope to accomplish. There are limits to any medium, and sometimes real life steps up where TV leaves off.
Abed thinks that's happening right now. His director's eye and inner narrative voice are quietening down, just for a little while, leaving him alone with Troy and open to possibility.
"Screw the network," he tells Troy.
He touches Troy's arm with his free hand and leans in to kiss him again. He may not be good with communicating via body language but he knows how to kiss like he means it, and Troy responds like he's reading him loud and clear.
Although there are some important respects in which their relationship changes, in many ways they stay more or less the same. It certainly takes a while for the rest of the study group to notice anything - except for Annie, who noticed something was up the minute she got back from spending the weekend with her Bubbe.
Abed figures that the rest of them will catch on eventually, and in the meantime he amuses himself by watching their reactions - and lack thereof - to his and Troy's increase in physical contact. Jeff and Shirley are pretending not to have noticed, Britta genuinely hasn't, and Abed really can't tell whether or not Pierce is paying enough attention either way.
When it's nearly time to head to the cafeteria for lunch, Troy picks up a pen and writes 'lunch for Annie' on Abed's arm, because Annie's going around campus trying to harangue teachers and students alike into participating in a charity ping-pong-a-thon and she probably won't have time to get any food.
Abed goes very still as Troy writes, watching the words form and enjoying the feeling of Troy holding his arm down, the quick movement of his hand as he adds a smiley face at the end. He nods when Troy's done. He observes and catalogues the way the simple action produces a twisted knot of different emotions inside him. He can't pull it apart to put a name to each individual strand, but it's a rush of good safe happy loved and it builds beneath his skin and murmurs in the back of his mind.
He doesn't show it, and they all get up and start going to lunch. But when they walk past a classroom that Abed knows is empty at this time of day, he wraps his hand around Troy's wrist and leads him sideways, pushing open the door and drawing Troy in.
"What's going on?" Troy asks, laughing a little as he lets himself be drawn, following Abed's lead.
"I really want to make out with you right now," Abed explains.
"Awesome," Troy says, grinning and leaning up to kiss Abed.
They kiss slowly, hushed in the empty and echoing room. Abed is careful, focused, putting everything he knows about Troy into practice, dancing around ticklish spots as he runs his hands down Troy's arms, slipping his arms around Troy's waist and drawing him close in a way that makes Troy sigh into his mouth. This is the kind of body language that Abed can understand, action and reaction laid out in clear causal order.
Troy pulls back, his breathing shallow as he rests his forehead against Abed's. That's a good thing in this context, so Abed keeps hold of Troy's hand as they both centre themselves again.
"The writing thing really does it for you, huh," Troy says after a moment.
"You writing on my hand? Yes. It's the clear communication of written language with an added physical component. Plus it's a sign of intimacy that's appropriate for a public setting."
Troy thinks about that. "I guess it is. That makes sense. So I should do it more?"
"If you want to. I'd like it if you did."
Troy reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pen. He undoes the top button of Abed's shirt and pulls the fabric back. He runs his fingers across Abed's collarbone then draws a small heart underneath, colouring it in messily. He does up the shirt button again and readjusts Abed's collar so it looks how it did before.
"There," Troy says, hugging Abed. "That's one just for you and me."
"Cool cool cool," Abed says.
"I can't do it!" Constable Reggie cries out in frustration, screwing up another piece of paper and throwing it aside. "It's like the words just wander off and won't let me write them down."
"Hmm," says the Inspector. "Yes, I can see that. Perhaps you need a canvas a little sturdier then a piece of Terran paper. Come here." He peels off his coat and rolls up his sleeve so that Reggie can have at least half a chance of practicing the ancient tongue of the Inspector's people.
The Inspector produces a quill and a pot of ink. "Now, Reggie, you shall have to use me as your exercise book." He stretches out his arm. "Please start from the beginning."
Troy smiles at Abed. Abed smiles right back. Troy picks up the quill, dips it in ink, leans in to put the tip of the quill on Abed's arm, and begins to write.