Abed does not collapse. He does not fall to a pile and wait for someone to come sweep him up. He has spent his whole life feeling like a burden, and he’s not going to let anyone be right about him.
The first few months are hard. Partially because he’s just had a figurative appendage cut off, but also because of how the study group tip-toes around him. They leave lingering palms on his shoulder in a way that he can’t shrug off in good conscious. They speak to him in high, steady tones. They make it very clear that they know he’s turbulent and reckless, and that they aren’t going to address it in a way that helps.
He takes to spending his free time writing. There’s still a lot to do (every day Frankie finds a new OSHA violation on campus), but since they really aren’t studying together, he can tuck himself into his pillow fort and type until his fingers shake too violently to keep clicking.
He works on Police Justice, but the more he finds out about how law enforcement works in real life, the harder he finds it to make the main character sympathetic. He writes a lot of half-baked shorts, sci-fi with history too complex to be fleshed out in twenty minutes. Sometimes he leaves his camera running while he writes, tastefully angling it so it looks like he’d forgotten it was running. He watches the footage later. His posture is monstrous. He can’t find it in him to worry about it.
Pierce’s energon pod is in the empty bedroom. Annie has placed it on Troy’s nightstand, next to his orange alarm clock. Neither of them ever enter that room. The door remains ajar, up until a particularly unfriendly winter that forces them to cut off the heat where it’s not needed. Annie wonders, briefly, if the low temperatures will harm Pierce’s vapor. She decides that she really doesn’t care.
When he isn’t writing, Abed is watching Inspector Spacetime and Kickpuncher and, on his lowest days, Star Trek (every time Geordi is on screen he feels like he’s going to throw up). Annie joins him, sometimes, but he’s no fun to watch with anymore. He sits and looks at the screen. His lips move in time with the dialogue he has memorized. It’s much easier to say other people’s words than to try and think of his own. What could he say? It’s nothing the audience hasn’t already guessed.
He’s watching the reunion episode. Annie’s in the kitchen making some spaghetti. Some people felt pandered to with this infamous two-parter, the executives finding weak excuses to reintroduce Reggie to a notoriously sentimental audience. Abed never felt that way.
“Constable, I could never ask you to leave,” The Inspector says on screen, in time with an otherwise stock-still Abed. “You have a family now. You’re doing good things for the earth. You can’t lose that. Not for me.”
Reggie’s chin quivers, as it always does. The two of them are locked on a meteor, rocketing around Earth’s atmosphere, only held stable by the DARSIT’s gravitron neutralizer. He clenches and unclenches his fists. Then, he cries out, closing the distance between himself and the Inspector with an embrace.
“Nothing is loss with you,” Reggie says, and Abed finds his mouth shut. This isn’t his line. He tries not to imagine warm brown hands clutching a boat’s railing, miles and miles away, lips moving to form words they’ve shouted dozens of times. “You’re the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. I can’t go back down.”
The Inspector raises a tentative hand to Reggie’s back, then another, then clutches the back of Reggie’s coat. His eyes are wide, mouth open. He closes it and swallows. He’s smart about it, of course. He times it with the vast vacuum of debris ricocheting the meteor. He lifts his foot and spins Reggie around, pinning him to the DARSIT. He holds him there by his shoulders. It’s a gorgeous shot; purple and pink and green light speeding behind their heads, breathtaking yet out of focus. All that matters is the Inspector and his Constable, eyes locked.
“You have to,” The Inspector says. Reggie sobs. The Inspector remains stony. Abed does the same.
“No,” Reggie insists, “I’m not losing you again.”
“And I won’t let you lose the chance to be the man I know you are.” The Inspector grips the back of Reggie’s neck and nods. Abed grips his knee. Stealthily, though his fingers visibly shake, The Inspector opens the Dimensionizer’s door. “Reggie, I... I know you’ll be great.”
“Inspector?” Reggie breathes. He’s pushed backwards, into the deck of the X-7. He stares at the Inspector.
“I’m sorry,” The Inspector whispers, and he closes the door. As it begins to phase away, Reggie presses his palm to the window. His mouth is open in a shout the audience can’t hear. The Inspector raises his hand, but the DARSIT is already gone. Abed hears the chair next to him dip.
“Critics hated this episode,”Abed says without looking away. “They said it was too fan-service-y.” He turns his head. Annie offers him a dish of noodles. He accepts it and slurps some into his mouth.
“I always liked this one,” Annie says. “Well, I mean, I hate it because it makes me cry like a baby. But I thought it was well written.”
Abed shakes his head. “The reunion is unrealistic. Reggie wouldn’t have returned to the Inspector. He left because he wanted to live a normal life. He can’t have both, and the choice was always too obvious for it to be really believable.”
Annie is silent. Then, she says: “Why couldn’t the Inspector just, like, visit him sometimes? He’s harnessed the power of time. I always thought it was weirder that they never reconnected like that.”
“In television, actors can only stay on a project for so long. They have lives. It would be incredibly frustrating to constantly be called back to a project you’ve already paid your dues to.”
“Maybe,” Annie says. The episode is winding down. Reggie is hugging his wife. The Inspector watches from a rooftop. Abed eats more pasta.
When he has a free weekend, Abed takes the bus to Lake San Cristobal and sits on the dock, shoes and socks back on shore so he can get his toes wet. He watches families on paddle boats and canoes, splashing each other and catching fish. From where he sits, he can’t see the other end of the water. He imagines. He leaves once he’s the only person there, feet pruny from the cold water. He tries to stop imagining.
There’s a day in late April when he’s going to mosque. He’s not very religious, but he tries to be more focused during Ramadan. Britta finds out, and insists that the group joins him to pray.
“Abed’s religion is important to who he his,” she says, and he supposes that’s true. “We should make a point to learn more about his culture.”
He doesn’t really feel like explaining Salah to his friends. He asks them to wait near the back of the room as he brushes off his knees and begins to recite from the Qur’an. He can hear Britta whispering something about the beauty of humanity’s differences. He tunes her out. He remembers, as he takes into account his life and its intersections with religion, going to Kingdom Hall with Troy and his family over the summer. He had listened to them talk about Jesus, and sin, and forgiveness. Troy sat stiffly. Their knees were pressed together between their chairs.
“Is there singing?” Abed had asked. Troy nodded.
“Kingdom songs. You wanna share my lyric booklet?” Abed popped a thumbs up. Troy grinned.
The songs were beautiful. Abed didn’t believe in them, but he believed in how Troy’s eyes fluttered closed as he sang and his hips swayed seemingly despite themselves. On his way out, a young woman in a long skirt shook her head at him.
“I’m praying for you, sir,” she said, and he wondered if she meant that because he was Muslim or because he was visibly in love with a man. He decided not to ask. He had taken Troy by the arm and they walked to the car to go get ice cream.
He returns to himself in the mosque. Troy had never joined him here, seeing as how he went so rarely and it wasn’t a piece of himself he often talked about. He stands, kneels, recites, easy as breathing. When he finishes, he turns to his group.
“We can go now,” he says, and they do.
Sometimes he drives past the Kingdom Hall. He looks out the window at it, sometimes seeing people inside with hands raised, sometimes seeing no one at all. He thinks about Troy, off at sea, humming an old Jesus tune from his childhood to LeVar. Every once in a while, Abed will put on a Kingdom song and try to learn the words. He doesn’t know what he expects from it. Usually, he stops, asks Annie to sing him something from the Torah. It helps keep him present.
When he moves to Los Angeles, he rents a tiny apartment as far away from the coast as he can get. He goes to work, he masks for a few hours, he goes home, he writes, he sleeps. Police Justice has changed a lot since its conception. He’s working on other things, too: films about cosmic travel and elaborate dances and ancient monasteries. His leading men are strong and emotional. They follow the Hero’s Journey and rise above their circumstances. They always get what they want.
He likes being a PA. His coworkers are patient and sarcastic in a way that Abed can read, probably because they’re all washed-up theater kids who never got a taste for subtlety. He waves at actors as they pass each other in hallways. He visits the lot Cougar Town was filmed on, sometimes. He remembers his day there. He focuses on the positives, and thinks of his Pulp Fiction party.
His coworkers invite him to a movie night. He thinks it’s nice that they’re really in this field because they love it. He thinks about saying so, but he’s learned a lot about sounding pretentious.
They watch Legally Blonde the first time they meet. Most of his coworkers are people of color, so while they can appreciate the writing, they don’t go long without discussing the invented oppression of conventionally attractive white women and how it undermines the struggle of women of color and visibly LGBT women in the professional world.
“Movies about minorities don’t sell,” Abed says. One of his coworkers, a Puerto Rican woman named Julia, bumps his shoulder with hers.
“Certainly not with that attitude,” she says.
“But they aren’t relatable to the general public. No one would be interested in a brown, neurodivergent, bisexual leading man.
“Are you kidding?” Chimes another coworker, a short Filipino guy named Riley. “I would watch the fuck outta that. I’d go bankrupt watching it so much!”
“That’s just you,” Abed says. He stares at the screen until it’s just a smear on his vision.
He’s at home. He’s hunched over his laptop, Googling facts about southern Chile for a current project, when his intercom buzzes. His hand goes instinctively to his nose. Being as how he lives alone, this makes him both the winner and the loser. He scribbles that thought onto a Post-It note and heads to press the button.
“Nadir residence,” he says.
“Abed,” says Troy. His voice is crinkled over the microphone, and if his voice crack is anything to go by, he’s dehydrated. It’s him, though. He buzzes him up. He stands, still facing the buzzer, vocal chords tightening in what he only realizes is a high whine as there’s a knock on his door. He squeezes his nostrils shut, briefly, and gets himself under control. He opens the door.
“Hi,” Troy says. He has a full beard, and his hair is longer than he used to wear it. His coils are shining black and look as healthy as Abed’s ever seen them. He’s wearing a Peruvian tourist shirt tucked into some rolled-up jeans. He’s Troy. Abed lurches forward, whining again, and his arms are around Troy’s neck.
“You’re real, right? This would be a super narratively unsatisfying point for me to start hallucinating. Wow. I mean, hi. Sorry, that was rude.”
Troy laughs and pushes Abed away slightly. Abed frowns, but Troy’s smile is huge and his eyes are shining. He has a gold tooth in his molars. He’ll have to ask about that later. “Abed,” Troy says. “I missed you so much, buddy.”
Abed goes back in for another hug. Troy steps forward into the apartment, moving Abed with him. “You need to start telling me about your adventures right away, so I can start filling in the gaps in our relationship arc.” Troy laughs and presses his head into Abed’s chest.
“Can I start out of order? There’s something I really, really need to tell you.”
“Wouldn’t it make more sense for you to save the most exciting moments for the climax?”
“This is the climax, Abed,” Troy says, and Abed stills. Troy looks at him, pins him like a butterfly on a board. “I’m in love with you!”
“Oh. I can see why you said that first, now,” Abed says, and pulls Troy in by his collar for a kiss.
It’s not the big, orchestral-swelling, waves-crashing reunion Abed had been envisioning, but the sunset casts the room a bold orange and Troy smells like sea-salt over his layers of sweat and Abed thinks, wow, why don’t more movies end this way?
And when Troy pulls away and licks his lips and says, “I can’t wait for our spin-off,” Abed thinks, oh! This is only the beginning.