“Y’know ‘ferre looks really good in that sweater,” Grantaire says.
Enjolras has no idea how he ended up on the couch next to a very relaxed Grantaire sprawled quite impossibly in an armchair in Courfeyrac’s living room. He only knows that they’re throwing a party and that Courfeyrac encouraged him to drink something that definitely wasn’t virgin. So naturally, because he’s a notorious lightweight, Enjolras is quite tipsy. Drunk, whatever. An that makes communicating with Grantaire much easier. Wait, what did Grantaire even say?
“Uh… come again?”
“Oh well… I was just saying that ‘ferre looks good tonight,” Grantaire repeats but he sounds different this time, Enjolras thinks. Why? He looks over at Grantaire whose face is kind of upside down hanging over the armrest of the chair. That makes his face pretty hard to read so Enjolras does the only sensible thing he can think of which is to tilt his body until he’s at roughly the same angle. Doesn’t really help much. It mostly makes him dizzy but now he thinks he can read defensiveness and… embarrassment? Trying to replay what Grantaire said—third time’s the charm—in his head he can’t find any reason to feel either of those feelings. In fact he agrees with Grantaire.
“He does,” he just says and maybe he sighs a little. Combeferre never looks anything but on point. Right now he’s sitting at Courfeyrac’s dining table chatting with Joly and Musichetta.
It takes a moment for Enjolras to notice that Grantaire is staring at him. He didn’t do or say anything to warrant that, did he? Before he can ask about it, Grantaire collects himself and then he smirks.
“He’s got that sexy librarian thing going for him.”
“A librarian with tattoo sleeves?” Enjolras can’t help the dubious tone. Grantaire just laughs.
“What? Never seen a librarian with tattoos? You, my friend, go to the wrong libraries,” he says.
“Excuse me,” Enjolras protests and he tries to sound dignified—it’s difficult to do while partly upside down—“I go to positively perfect libraries.”
“Yeah, yeah whatever, there are probably too many philosophy books involved as well,” Grantaire dismisses but he’s smiling just a little bit. It’s kind of weird to see a smile that isn’t actually dripping with sarcasm.
“Combeferre likes those philosophy books you’re talking about,” Enjolras says, “much more than me.”
“Of course he does, does that guy ever stop consuming knowledge?” Grantaire throws out his hands in exasperation.
“Not as far as I know.” Then, straightening, he adds on a whim, “did you know that that whenever he gets too burned out studying he does this thing where he starts scrunching up his nose and pushing his glasses way too hard onto his nose as if that’s going to help him concentrate better. In reality it just makes him look like a grumpy cat and it’s a sign that he should put down the books.”
“In what reality does either of you two know how to stop studying?” Grantaire asks rolling around so he’s the right side up too.
“We can relax.” Enjolras can’t help the indignant tone. They’re not actually robots. But Grantaire just laughs and props himself up on his elbows.
“Pray tell, how do you two workaholics relax? By reading Rights of Man for fun? Bonding over how you already have everything figured out about your theses unlike any of us mere mortals? I’m really curious to what it’s gonna be.”
Normally it annoys Enjolras when Grantaire does this kind of thing but right now Enjolras doesn’t really care as much about the goading words as the the teasing smile that is curling around Grantaire’s mouth. Does he always smile like that when he’s antagonizing and Enjolras just doesn’t see it? Or is this just friendly teasing because the have landed in some strange dimension where they can actually talk to each other? Either way, the smile makes Enjolras chuckle instead of snap at Grantaire.
“If you must know, R—and I’m sorry to disappoint you because it’s pretty boring—we usually watch mindless TV shows or take a nap.”
“That is pretty boring,” Grantaire agrees and he actually looks kind of disappointed. “I expected better of you two. Like overthrowing the government in you free time.”
“That wasn’t what you just guessed,” Enjolras points out because he’s pretty sure Grantaire didn’t.
“I was keeping it as an ace up my sleeve,” Grantaire just says with a conspiratorial smile and Enjolras doesn’t know what to say to that so he keeps quiet. The silence stretches between them but it doesn’t feel tense or awkward or even boring. It feels alright to not talk, nice even, Enjolras thinks. He sits comfortably in the recliner and lets his gaze drift over his friends in the room. They’re all seeming to have a good time. That’s nice. He’s having a good time too. That’s also nice.
“Did you know that the first passengers of a hot air balloon ever were a sheep, a duck and a rooster?” Grantaire suddenly says, breaking the silence. It’s pretty out of nowhere if you ask Enjolras, but before he can even respond or express his confusion Grantaire continues. “Combeferre told me that. So you know, I believe it’s true.”
“Why, why would he tell you that?” Enjolras asks and he doesn’t even think he’s being unreasonable. That’s a rather weird thing to tell anyone.
“Oh.” Grantaire seems to realize this because he laughs. “Sometimes we do trivia wars, Combeferre and me, where we try and up each other on who knows the most useless and random facts Combeferre usually wins because he’s nerdy like that.”
“And you were ribbing on me for my choices on how I spend my free time?” Despite the way his eyebrows rise Enjolras smiles.
“Well, what can I say, you take the fun out of being intelligent,” Grantaire grins and shrugs. “You’re all seriousness and no fun. You could learn something from Combeferre.”
“I’m offended!” Enjolras exclaims but there’s barely any heart in it. “But I suppose you might be right. He is quite excitable, isn’t he?”
“Like a puppy,” Grantaire agrees, “a puppy in sweater vests and glasses. It’s positively cute.”
“Soo cute,” Enjolras says and starts giggling. Grantaire joins in and it’s awhile before the giggling has died out. Now Grantaire has adopted a thoughtful look.
“You know what I love about Combeferre? The way he’s just there for people. Like, if you need someone, Combeferre is there and he’s not pushing or too much. I don’t even get how he does it but it’s just so cool.” Enjolras wants to ask Grantaire for what Combeferre has been there for him but he realizes that that’s probably private.
So instead he just tries to remember the times Combeferre has been there for him. The list is long of course since they’ve known each other since forever. There’s the time when they were seventeen and Enjolras came out to his parents and he was kicked out for a week. He barely had to call Combeferre before he was picked up at the curb of his house by Combeferre and both of his mums. He was positively smothered in affection and care. After that, even when Enjolras' parents begrudgingly took him back he spent more time in the Combeferre household.
Or the time that the first project they did as Les Amis that they had been working on for months was shut down because some important rich person on a board decided against rallying for the rights of MOGAI people. Enjolras had been crushed when he found out. He and everyone else had put their lifeblood into the project and it had just been swiped away. And again Combeferre had shown an eerie ability to show up before Enjolras even had to ask for it. This time with Courfeyrac and they had taken the evening to recuperate and then started fighting back the next day.
Basically there is no human as perfect as Combeferre at least in Enjolras’ mind. He says as much to Grantaire who just nods in agreement. But Enjolras can’t stop at that for some reason.
“I mean he’s so thoughtful and caring. He’s funny and nerdy and gets too easily excited. He’s the most intelligent person I know but he manages to never be condescending. He’s dedicated to everything he does whether it’s Les Amis business or making sure that his friends take care of themselves. He’s wonderful.” He feels his cheeks flush from the impromptu speech he just gave but Grantaire doesn’t seem to notice. He’s looking at something with his chin in his hand. Enjolras follows his line of sight till it lands on Combeferre, the very subject of their conversation. He’s still at the table with Joly and Musichetta only now it seems the friendly chatting has turned into a deep conversation judging by how they’re sitting so close their foreheads are almost touching.
“I just love that guy,” Grantaire sighs and suddenly, almost violently, something clicks in Enjolras mind.
It’s the word love that does it. Because yeah, of course Enjolras loves his best friend but it’s not just that is it? He’s in love with Combeferre. He has actual romantic feelings for Combeferre and he has never noticed until now. The date and kiss and hold hands sort. The more than that, things he can seriously not thing about right now, sort. He’s so screwed.
Enjolras has to look away from Combeferre right this second or he might stalk over there and do something drastic. He looks back at Grantaire instead whose eyes are wide and still fixated on Combeferre. He looks just like Enjolras feels right now; like he just realized something monumental. Like he’s overwhelmed. Like… he has feelings for Combeferre.
“Oh.” As soon as the sound leaves Enjolras’ lips Grantaire whips his head around. He stares at Enjolras for what seems like an eternity and Enjolras can’t help but let his gaze flicker toward Combeferre before returning to Grantaire. And just like that Grantaire’s expression changes and he let’s out a snort.
“Hah, it it isn’t just my luck,” he remarks in that self-deprecating tone he so often manages.
“What du you mean by that?” And maybe it comes out a little harsh, but Enjolras is too taken aback for politeness. Grantaire doesn’t seem to take offense anyway. He just smiles a toothy smile that’s not really that warm.
“I just mean that between you and me there’s not that much of a question. I’m just not as,” he makes a vague gesture at Enjolras, “you know, as you…”
“I resent that thought,” Enjolras says immediately. He’s never had much of a penchant for Grantaire’s self-deprecating ways. “Why would you have any notion of you being worth less than me?”
That seems to rub Grantaire the wrong way more than the harsh tone just before for some reason.
“I don’t know, maybe because of the fact that of course Combeferre appreciates you more. You’re best friends for crying out loud! You know each other inside out and you actually share most of your opinions on the world situation. In short: You’re a perfect match and meanwhile I’ll just be sitting here getting drunk to celebrate my bad luck in life.” Grantaire punctuates the last sentence by raising his beer and taking a swig. He immediately winces which is probably an indicator of how long they’ve been sitting here talking.
“That’s bullshit, R,” Enjolras says, “we know each other well, yeah, but we’re friends and Combeferre doesn’t have feelings for me. And it’s not like you don’t have things in common with him. That thing with sending useless but fun trivia you mentioned earlier? He never does that to me. And I don’t share his love for tattoos like you do. Don’t sell yourself short, R.”
Grantaire doesn't seem convinced of judging by the way he looks at Enjolras. Enjolras, however, is convinced that Grantaire is way too hard on himself. He has an infinitely better chance of Combeferre actually liking him back. True, Combeferre is like a brother to Enjolras but that just makes these feelings he's feeling all the more inappropriate. There's no way Combeferre would ever return them.
“In fact,” Enjolras continues because he has an urge to make Grantaire believe him, “I’m willing to bet that he’d choose you any day.” Grantaire’s eyes widen in shock and then he’s laughing.
“I’m really not. I’m quite earnest and I really don’t think he’d ever consider me anything but a friend. You however I could see him liking in a more romantic way.” It’s not easy to convince Grantaire of something he’s sceptic of, Enjolras knows this better than anyone, but he’s willing to try.
“So you say you’re willing to bet on it?” Grantaire asks and now his face lights up in an amused way.
"I-" What's he supposed to say to that? He's got himself trapped because that was exactly what he said. But he doesn’t– "is that what you want? To bet on our friend's romantic life?"
"You don't have to look so concerned, Enj, I'm not suggesting betting with money or even anything that makes it a real bet. Maybe it's not even a bet but just a... challenge. Yes, it's a challenge!" As he says it, Grantaire jumps up and his voice cuts through a little louder. Heads turn to look at them and for a moment Enjolras almost panics because he really doesn’t want to Combeferre to realize what’s going on over here. But Grantaire just sits—this time beside Enjolras on the couch—and smiles sheepishly. People lose interest almost immediately enough for Enjolras to dare ask a question.
"A challenge for who?"
"Both of us," Grantaire says and the 'duh' is tangible, "since we're both convinced that Combeferre would choose the other.”
"So you want us to try and compete in seducing Combeferre?" Of all the ideas he has ever heard Grantaire come up with, this is surely the most absurd. But Grantaire shakes his head with great emphasis.
"No no no nonono, that would be stupid. You can't convince others of something you don't believe in yourself after all. You should know.” He nods at his own words as if he said something very clever. Enjolras is not following well enough to judge that. “No, we do the opposite."
"What, we try to repel him?"
"Sometimes I seriously wonder how you are simultaneously so intelligent and so unbelievably thick," Grantaire says and pats his cheek. Actually pats his cheek, what the fuck?
"Then what?" Enjolras asks and he doesn’t know whether to be annoyed or intrigued now. Grantaire seems to be sure of his plan’s brilliance. So much in fact that his face splits in a grin before he answers.
"If you believe so wholeheartedly that Combeferre would want to date me, then it should be a small feat of convincing him, shouldn't it?" Again Enjolras is trapped by his own words. He curses Grantaire for his ability to do that before he realizes just what Grantaire is saying.
"Are you saying we should play match makers for each other? With the same guy?"
"Sure, there's no way it could go wrong. I mean if Combeferre chooses one of us the other will have been right all along and the other… well, the other will have a date with Combeferre which I suppose wouldn’t be so bad.”
“A win-win,” Enjolras muses as he plays with the thought. It sounds crazy, but what’s the harm in trying? After all he is convinced that Combeferre could like Grantaire. He doesn’t exactly know why, but he supposes he can come up with some reasons.
“Exactly, you’re starting to unfold that brain of yours,” Grantaire says and this time it’s Enjolras shoulder that he pats. “So… are you in?”
Enjolras looks at Grantaire for a long time before nodding. Now he just needs to show Combeferre how great a guy Grantaire is. Okay maybe he’s got his work cut out for him.
Even after they both sober up it doesn’t seem like the worst plan imaginable so they agree on some ground rules before actually starting to talk to Combeferre.
They cannot wittingly obstruct the other’s tries by being deliberately unpleasant toward Combeferre. They are to behave like they normally would, as normal as they can be now that they’ve realized they’re infatuated with him at least. That is Enjolras’ rule because he wouldn’t put it above Grantaire to actually try to be less attractive because of how much he wants to prove Enjolras wrong.
They cannot involve or tell any of the others of the seduction competition. That is Grantaire’s rule and he says it is because quote: “Enjolras is so fucking brilliant at planning grand things and with the help of his friends it would be an unfair advantage”.
One last rule they come up with together is that they cannot lie to Combeferre or each other like pretending to send roses for the other. Except for those clauses they can do whatever they want.
It’s Enjolras who suggests meeting up regularly just to keep each other updated. Grantaire begrudgingly accepts. Already a few days after Courfeyrac’s party Enjolras sends off a message to Grantaire.
Coffee at Musain tomorrow? 2 pm alright?
He hasn’t even had much of a chance to make any moves on Combeferre on Grantaire’s behalf but that doesn’t mean they can’t meet up anyway. Combeferre did comment on how he had spent a lot of time with Grantaire at the party and Enjolras took his chance to say a few words on how Grantaire is perfectly good company and he has really interesting things to say. If the fact that the corner of Combeferre’s mouth twitched upwards is anything to judge by he’s already off to a good start. Then again, the fact that a tiny smile from Combeferre made Enjolras feel like butterflies had taken residence in his belly, probably means that he’s in too deep.
A text pings in shortly after from Grantaire.
Grantaire is already there, sat at a table with his coffee, when Enjolras rushes through the doors of the Musain a quarter past two. He does a little wave in recognition and motion for Enjolras to just get his coffee first. It’s almost as if he knows that Enjolras’ day has been hectic and draining and that coffee is going to be the first good thing to happen. More likely is it that Grantaire doesn’t really care, Enjolras thinks as he tells the barista his order and tries to at least not snap. Luckily he gets his coffee quickly and before too long he’s sitting down at the small table Grantaire has chosen.
“Hi, sorry I’m late, everything went kind of crazy today,” Enjolras hurries to say before anything else.
“It happens to everyone,” Grantaire says, shrugging and showing a flash of a smile before quirking an eyebrow. “Soo…?” And yeah right it was Enjolras who called this meeting. Only he doesn’t really have a reason for it.
“Tell me something about yourself,” Enjolras improvises. Considering how he usually starts political debates when he has to think on his feet, he thinks this is a success. But apparently Grantaire doesn’t think so.
“Nuh-uh,” he grins and wags his finger at Enjolras. “That’s cheating, Enjo.”
“How is it cheating?” Enjolras asks, a defensive edge to his tone, but Grantaire shakes his head, still smiling.
“You were so sure you could sell me to Combeferre and if you’re so sure it must be because you know something I don’t about myself. It means that you don’t need any help.”
“There were no rules that said we cannot talk to each other about ourselves,” Enjolras protests. “Besides, it wasn’t to get ahead on our bet. I was just curious.” It’s true, he didn’t really ask to get usable info about Grantaire although he wouldn’t mind too much if he got it.
“Oh really?” Grantaire seems a little surprised by this and it makes Enjolras want to shake him just a little bit.
“I’m not that terrible a friend,” he says instead and procures the first real smile today for Grantaire.
“Friend. No of course not,” Grantaire mutters but he still seems a little unsure. Enjolras decides to make it his mission to chase that look from Grantaire before he leaves.
It’s not until they part ways after three hours and just as many coffees (the last one decaf on Grantaire’s insistence for the love of his sleep cycle) that Enjolras realizes that they didn’t even talk about Combeferre or their bet once after that first mention.
“Did you know that Grantaire dances and fences too?” Enjolras asks as casually as he can manage a few days later while at the library with Combeferre. They’re having one of their weekly study dates that they instated early on at university even though they rarely have to study for the same things. It seemed like a good place to start using some of the things he learned about Grantaire at the Musain. But it doesn’t seem to work very well because Combeferre doesn’t even look up when he shrugs.
“Sure, he doesn’t really keep it a secret,” he says and hums before he scribbles some note in the margin of his book.
“Oh, well I didn’t know until recently,” Enjolras says. He didn’t know it was common knowledge for everyone except him. “But I still think it’s admirable that he finds time to do things like that besides his art degree and showing up to every single Les Amis meeting.” Now Combeferre looks up at him with a puzzled expression. At least that means Enjolras has his attention. Combeferre’s attention has never felt this significant to Enjolras before he figured his feelings and he has to keep himself from squirming. He does alright, he thinks. Maybe his cheeks are a little pink.
“It is indeed,” Combeferre says and he keeps looking at Enjolras like that for a moment, like there’s something to decipher. Then something in his face shifts imperceptibly and he shows just the hint of a smile. “He is quite admirable in that way.”
“Exactly!” Enjolras says just a little too happy that Combeferre agrees to notice that he has exceeded a normal indoor voice. He looks around to see people who turned to look at him disapprovingly. “Sorry about that.”
When he looks back at Combeferre it is to that see his smile has faded and a tiny frown has formed that Enjolras somehow doesn’t think is about the notes he’s staring at.
It goes like that for a week where Enjolras tries to slip in comments about how absolutely wonderful Grantaire is to Combeferre with mixed results—sometimes they’re wholehearted laughs or even just smiles but other times they’re a strange look or even a frown. He meets up with Grantaire almost every other day, usually for coffee and usually with the intent of discussing their respective progress but they always get talking about other things immediately. That ends when Grantaire turns up at the Musain with a large flat packet wrapped in brown paper under his arm.
“What is that? A uni project?” Enjolras asks as soon as Grantaire is within earshot. He doubts it because he knows that Grantaire has his own tiny studio on campus and why would he bring a project with him to a coffee shop?
“Nope, something much better,” Grantaire says smirking as he juggles his coffee cup, bag and packet to sit down at Enjolras’ table. “It’s my ticket to win this thing.” The self-confidence he shows has Enjolras thrown for a second. And then he’s incredibly curious just what is in that packet that Grantaire is certain will make Combeferre choose Enjolras.
“What is it?” he asks, twisting to get a better look at it, but Grantaire just shakes his head.
“Oh wouldn’t you like to know? It’s for Combeferre and I’m not showing it to you before him so you can stop bothering me for it.” He sounds decided so Enjolras gives up on trying to see what it is. But he’s not giving up on getting more knowledge about this important thing if Grantaire’s the judge.
“How is you giving something to Combeferre helping you? Wouldn’t it be more of a advantage for me?” he asks. When someone gives you a gift it’s not really a repellent factor.
“You’ll see, I’m certain,” Grantaire says and drinks from is coffee as if to mark the end of that conversation. “Now, onto more pressing matters. Have you noticed anything strange about Combeferre lately?”
“Strange how?” Enjolras frowns. He can’t think of anything just now but he feels that the fact that he can’t look at Combeferre without wanting to kiss him hinders his ability to notice much else.
“Just how he acts around me and like, especially whenever I say anything about you,” Grantaire explains and now Enjolras thinks about it, he can remember Combeferre more than once sending him strange looks when he’s talked about Grantaire. But he sort of just attributed it to his own changed perspective.
“I think I know what you mean,” he says, tracing his fingers around the lid of his coffee, “do you think we should stop?”
“I don’t think he’s actually uncomfortable or he would say it to us. Let me give him this,” Grantaire says gesturing to the packet, “and we’ll judge by his reaction. If he thinks it’s inappropriate or anything like that, we’ll stop but if he likes it, I don’t see the harm.”
Enjolras nods, thoughtfully, but his thoughts are split between wondering about Combeferre’s reactions and just what is in that packet.
Enjolras gets to see what Grantaire gave to Combeferre later that same day. Combeferre calls him with a happy voice and asks him to come over, there’s something he needs to see. He knows immediately that it’s Grantaire’s gift and wonders why Combeferre thinks he needs to see it. Well, it’s supposed to make Combeferre fall in love with Enjolras so it’s probably not so surprising he’s somehow involved. That thought keeps him occupied all the way to Combeferre’s apartment.
He’s not entirely sure what he’ll even do if Combeferre actually reciprocates his feelings. Be happy, he supposes. That’s what he’s supposed to right? If he’s completely honest with himself he hasn’t really thought further than this bet Grantaire and he made. It’s much easier to not think about this as having an end. He’s comfortable with the arrangements as they are now, Enjolras decides.
That conviction wavers as soon as Combeferre opens his door. He’s positively beaming and there’s an ache in Enjolras’ chest. Why can’t he just have this kind of feelings for someone who is actually attainable and not his best friend?
“So what is it I need to see?” Enjolras asks, suppressing his urge to just blurt out everything right now and kiss Combeferre. He’s still terribly curious and tries to channel that instead of his misery. Apparently, it works because Combeferre keeps smiling and shoos him inside. Closing the door behind them, Combeferre places a hand on Enjolras’ back and Enjolras’ brain in turn shorts out. He just lets himself be guided forward while focussing on the warmth and weight on that single spot.
All too soon they’re in Combeferre’s living room and the hand drops, leaving him longing for more contact. Enjolras can’t help but follow it with his eyes to where it ends at Combeferre’s side.
Combeferre clears his throat. Enjolras’ eyes fly up. There’s that strange expression on Combeferre’s face again. He shifts, uneasy. Just one more hint that he definitely doesn’t want Enjolras.
Tearing his gaze away from Combeferre, Enjolras spots the thing he’s here to see. He doesn’t quite get how he missed it in the first place. Maybe something to do with the fact that his mind was concentrated solely on Combeferre.
It’s a painting alright, he had a suspicion of that in the café with Grantaire. But it’s more than that. It’s a painting of Enjolras and Combeferre.
They’re next to each other, arms over one another’s shoulders, pressed close enough for Enjolras’ curls to be all over Combeferre’s face. It looks like they’ve been caught in the middle of a laugh with bright smiles and pink cheeks looking not at each other but out to viewer. The painting simply radiates happiness. Someone who knows anything about art could probably go on to consider how the colors and the brush strokes contribute to that ambience but all Enjolras can think of is that it feels somehow familiar.
“Wait, is this…” he asks as something crawls it’s way to the forefront of his mind.
“Yeah, it’s a remake of that photo of us from when we were what, twelve?” Combeferre says, pulling that memory out from the depth of Enjolras’ mind.
“I remember it. It was your mum that took it right?” he says and Combeferre nods. “But we don’t look twelve here.” He gestures to the painting that… that Grantaire actually made. He can’t really wrap his mind around that yet.
“That’s the part that’s quite brilliant isn’t it?” Combeferre says with enthusiasm pouring out of him. “That Grantaire didn’t just copy the photo. He did something with it, painting us as we are now, and quite well if you ask me. It’s really life-like don’t you think?” And it really is. There’s no doubt that it’s a painting and not a photograph, but somehow Enjolras thinks it portrays them better than any photo can. It has a realness that photographs lack however weird that sounds.
“It’s really good,” he says in absence of anything better to say. He’s really not an art critic. “It looks like us.”
For a long moment Combeferre doesn’t say anything and they stand staring at the painting next to each other in silence. It’s as if the longer Enjolras looks at it, the more of its details seem to reveal themselves to him. But it isn’t the details—like how Grantaire managed to get Combeferre’s eye color just right or the glimpse of Enjolras’ favorite red coat—so much as the entirety of the image that has Enjolras kind of breathless. He can practically see the passion, adoration and attention paid to the way Combeferre is painted. Which makes sense, because he knows how Grantaire feels for him. The only thing that strikes him as strange is that he sees the same kind of feelings in his own portrayal. The rosy cheeks, golden curls almost made of light and the capture of Enjolras’ genuine smile. Grantaire has made him as beautiful as he can without painting someone else entirely. But Grantaire is in love with Combeferre. He doesn’t get it.
His train of thought is interrupted when Combeferre clears his throat and Enjolras turns his head to look at him.
"Enj, do you have any idea why Grantaire would do this for me?" He asks. Of course, Enjolras does but he can't really say. He can't tell Combeferre that the reason Grantaire gifted him with a painting was to make him fall in love with Enjolras. That would be a very awkward conversation. And of course, that’s it! Grantaire didn’t paint him so beautiful for any other reason than that Combeferre should be captivated by it. Obviously Grantaire does not have any such lingering feelings for Enjolras. That would be absurd.
“Uh, no not a clue…” he says and shrugs. Combeferre doesn’t seem to notice anything and instead invites him to stay for dinner but Enjolras begs off. He’s not sure he can handle staying in the same flat as both Combeferre and that wonderful painting.
It’s clear that Enjolras has to step up his game after Grantaire’s gift. So he does. Of course he has the advantage of Grantaire putting himself in a very good light with such a thoughtful and personal gift. It’s not like Combeferre is going to be repulsed by that and Enjolras grabs any chance to play on that. One of them is when they’re at the library an afternoon. Enjolras is talking about how much work it must have taken and how sweet of Grantaire it is to do when Combeferre cuts him off.
"Hey, Enj, could you maybe tone down the gushing a little bit?"
Enjolras stops in his tracks.
"I'm sorry, what?" He's pretty sure his confusion comes across but it isn't helped by the way Combeferre sighs and sends him a pained smile. Averting his gaze to look down at his books, Combeferre continues.
"I mean no offense and I know by now in fleshed out detail just how much you love Grantaire..." Combeferre shuffles a few of his papers before looking up at Enjolras again. Enjolras in turn has decided that Combeferre makes absolutely no sense. "But it's just getting to be a little too much, you know. Maybe just assume that I know you love your boyfriend.”
The words whirl around on the inside of Enjolras' head not really connecting but just almost...
"What? love- boyfriend- Grantaire- why would you-" Enjolras says bewildered but then it hits him. "Oh." He's in love with Grantaire. Shit. He's in love with Grantaire and Combeferre. And Combeferre thinks he and Grantaire are dating. That’s one big mess of misunderstandings and inconvenient or maybe convenient truths.
He jumps from his seat and starts gathering his things, shoving them into his bag. He misses the way Combeferre frowns until he speaks up.
"I really didn't mean to offend you," Combeferre says and he looks positively unhappy. It nearly breaks Enjolras' heart to see him like that.
"No, no you didn't, not at all ‘Ferre. It's just that... I'm not really sure but I– I need to go do something."
He wishes he could stay and explain it all to ‘Ferre but he's too much of a coward and it feels urgent to get to Grantaire and... do what exactly? Confess the feelings he was not aware of ten minutes ago? Demand to know if Grantaire feels the same? No matter what it is he intends to do-or what he ends up doing– he needs to do it now. So he swing the bag over his shoulder and puts a hand on Combeferre's shoulder in reassurance.
"Really, you didn't. I'll talk to you later." And then he's out the door.
Enjolras knows where Grantaire should be at this time. They've been seeing a lot to each other since whatever this mess is started. And he has gotten to know Grantaire much better in that time as well. Hell, he has developed feelings for Grantaire. Every time that thought crosses his mind it seems so strange but so right too.
So he heads for the art department. Grantaire mentioned something about working on an assignment yesterday when Enjolras texted to ask if he could meet up for coffee. It has become quite a routine and at first Enjolras didn’t get why he kept seeking Grantaire’s company. Now it seems a little clearer. He has really been inching closer and closer to these feelings toward Grantaire.
On the steps of the art building Enjolras hesitates. He hasn’t actually ever been in there, only met Grantaire outside a few times. He knows Grantaire has a workspace or studio but he doesn’t know how to find it. He could try his luck and hope to find it himself or someone who can point him in the right direction but instead he pulls out his phone.
Outside the art building, could you come outside? There’s something I need to tell you. It’s important
He sends it off as soon as he’s finished typing and before he changes loses the courage. Once the text is sent there’s nothing to do but wait and try not to overthink everything. Which isn't exactly Enjolras strong suit. What if Grantaire just laughs at him? Or gets angry or uncomfortable. He doesn't know what would be worst. But what if– what if Grantaire actually feels the same?
It seems impossible but maybe it isn’t. And there’s only one way to find out. If Grantaire would only check his damn phone.
Enjolras’ phone pings.
Sure. is it about the bet?
Not knowing what to say, Enjolras just replies:
In a way
Ok give me 2 min and I’ll be out
Since he doesn’t have anything better to do, Enjolras starts counting seconds. It keeps his mind from worrying enough to make him run before Grantaire appears.
He has just reached seventy three when Grantaire emerges from the front doors. He spots Enjolras almost immediately and starts toward him. Enjolras mostly focuses on breathing. Grantaire must have been in the middle of something because he’s got paint splattered clothes on, a few streaks of color in his hair and a pencil behind one ear. He smiles at Enjolras as he dries his hands on a dirty rag that goes in a back pocket so he probably doesn’t mind being interrupted. Yet.
“Are you here to tell me that Combeferre finally asked you out? Because then I’m in my fair right to say I told you so,” Grantaire says as soon as he’s in earshot.
“What– no I’m–“ Enjolras stutters, thrown for a second. Now he’s here with Grantaire and he has no idea what to say.
“Oh.” Grantaire sounds disappointed but also kind of… relieved? “Then what is it?”
And this is it. It’s now that Enjolras explains himself with eloquence and convinces Grantaire to like him back. Except his eloquence eludes him and still he has to get it out because Grantaire is standing there and starting to look at him with impatience. So here goes.
“IhavefeelingsforyouGrantaire,” Enjolras says, the words leaving him in a rush of air.
“I’m sorry, what?” Grantaire asks. There’s shock on his face, though, so he must have understood.
Squeezing his eyes shut, Enjolras tries to find to the courage to say it again.
“I– I’ve realized recently that uhm… I have feelings for you. Romantic ones.”
When seconds pass and Grantaire doesn’t say anything, Enjolras cracks one eye open. In front of him Grantaire looks completely stunned. He just stares at Enjolras, jaw dropped.
“Romantic– shit you have–“ he shakes his head “romantic feelings… for me.” It’s not even a question, he’s just repeating what Enjolras said. Apparently it’s that derisible, Enjolras thinks with a sinking feeling in his stomach. He grabs the bag slung over his shoulder with tight fingers all ready to leave Grantaire alone.
“I’m just gonna– since you know, you don’t–“ he says, shrugging and turning to go already biting back the tears that threaten in the corner of his eyes. Of course Grantaire wouldn’t feel the same, but he didn’t have to be so rude about it. A hand grabbing his arm stops him.
“Wait.” The tone of that single word makes Enjolras turn back. Grantaire still looks taken aback like he can’t really believe it but there’s a smile on his lips. A smile that makes Enjolras’ heart jump. And when Grantaire steps closer it starts beating like crazy.
“Shit, I don’t even know what to say,” Grantaire says, still reducing the space between them. His hand loosens its grip but stays where it is. The other snakes around Enjolras’ waist. “I just– can I kiss you?”
“Please,” Enjolras all but breathes and leans forward. Grantaire’s lips are chapped and warm against his own when they meet halfway. Enjolras is suddenly happy that Grantaire hold him because that whole standing on your own legs business is rather difficult right now. Just as Enjolras puts his arms around Grantaire’s neck Grantaire chooses to suck in Enjolras’ lower lip and roll it between his lips. The sensation makes Enjolras gasp and pull back in surprise. Not bad surprise, but Grantaire’s widened eyes shows he thinks so. Enjolras leans in to peck him on the lips just to quell any fears Grantaire might have.
“So, you don’t hate me?” he says when he pulls back again and he wouldn’t want to get rid of the grin on his face even if he could.
“Quite the opposite.” Grantaire looks like the skies have fallen down around him. But he’s also grinning and he kissed Enjolras so everything ’s good. Definitely. “And just to be clear, I have feelings for you as well.”
Enjolras had sort of figured that out by now but it still feels all tingly to hear Grantaire say those words. “When did you–“
“When did I know?” Grantaire finishes for him, glancing up and biting his lip. Enjolras has to restrain himself to not lean in to do the biting. “Some part of me probably knew from the first time I saw you, but I guess I just didn’t realize until the painting. You know, it’s hard not to notice how you feel about someone when you’re staring at their face for that long, trying to portray them.”
“I suppose so,” Enjolras agrees because isn’t it the same thing he did with Grantaire just with words to Combeferre. “Speaking of Combeferre…”
“What about him?” Grantaire says a little too nonchalant to fool anyone. Enjolras twirls his fingers in Grantaire’s hair. It feels steadying and Grantaire leans into the touch so Enjolras keeps on with it as he speaks.
“I mean, I still have feelings for him and I guess you do too but I’d much rather try out this–“ he nods to indicate the two of them–“than risk it for some maybe, maybe not reciprocated feelings. I don’t want him to choose between us anymore.”
“Me neither—or me too—or you know, I agree,” Grantaire says and chuckles before regaining a sincere expression. “But I think we maybe owe Combeferre an explanation and probably an apology too.”
“Yeah,” Enjolras says because Grantaire is right. “You know, he thought we were already together. He told me today because apparently I was gushing about you too much.”
“Aww you gush over me? That’s so cute.” Grantaire grins and Enjolras tugs at one of his curls.
“Shut up, you painted him a giant picture.”
“I did,” Grantaire admits, smiling not so begrudgingly. “We really should go explain it all to him. Do you know if he’s free now?”
“I can text him to see if he’s still at the library,” Enjolras says but makes no move to do so. That would mean he’d have to let go of Grantaire and he’d rather not.
“Are you gonna do it anytime this week?” Grantaire asks
“Fine.” Enjolras sighs and goes in for one quick kiss—just because he can—before extricating himself from Grantaire and then his phone from his pocket. He types the quick question and sends it. When he’s done and lets his free hand fall to his side, he feels Grantiare’s hand slide into it, squeezing lightly and staying there. Just as Enjolras looks up from the phone to smile at Grantaire, it vibrates.
No, went home after you left. Do you want to talk about… today?
Enjolras sighs, a little bit relieved. He doesn’t know if he was worried that Combeferre would be mad at him but at least Combeferre wants to talk.
Yes. Is it okay if R comes with?
He can feel Grantaire reading along over his shoulder before he sends. The warm press of his body feels nice.
“Normally I’d say that one confession of feelings per day is enough, but I guess it’s gonna be two for both of us today,” Grantaire mutters close to Enjolras’ ear. Enjolras just nods while looking at the phone screen. It’s taking Combeferre awhile to answer. It’s a simple question and Enjolras knows that Combeferre has his phone close. He waits all of twelve seconds before a message goes in.
They make the trip to Combeferre’s flat mostly in silence, holding hands the whole time and trading kisses now and then. When they reach his building and Enjolras reaches for the intercom system Grantaire stops him.
“I think we should just make sure we’re on the same page before we go up there. So we don’t say something to Combeferre that’s not– that we don’t agree on,” he says, not quite looking at Enjolras’ face. “You know, about us.”
How he can go from confident and happy to so unsure on a ten minute walk, Enjolras can’t wrap around his head but he doesn’t need to understand. He just needs to assure.
“Grantaire, I want to be in a relationship with you if that’s what you want too and a talk with Combeferre isn’t going to change that,” he says and it’s his turn to give an assuring squeeze of hand. Even as he says it, his heart flutters at the words but he’s determined to project assurance to Grantaire. It seems to work because Grantaire looks up and his smile is as brilliant as the sun.
“Yes, good… me too,” he says. Enjolras holds his gaze just a second longer before nodding firmly and then turning to press the button at the door. Combeferre buzzes them in without calling down.
“Do you have any idea of what we’re going to say to him?” Grantaire asks on their way up the stairs.
“I only know that he deserves the truth,” Enjolras says. “Other than that I guess we’l just go along with it.”
“Sounds… doable.” Grantaire knocks Combeferre’s door as soon as they get to it. They’re not backing out now.
It takes less than five seconds for the Combeferre’s to open it. He looks at the two of them with an expression that Enjolras can’t read.
“Come in,” he says and leads them into the living room. Sitting down in an armchair Combeferre gestures for them to take the couch. They do.
“So… you wanted to talk,” Combeferre says.
Put on the spot Enjolras feels all the words escape him. What is he supposed to say? This is even worse than with Grantaire because he wasn’t even that close to Grantaire until a few weeks ago. Combeferre is one of his dearest friends. What if he ruins everything now?
Enjolras doesn’t even know he’s fidgeting until Grantiare’s hand settles on top of his. It does wonders to restore at least some of his calm. The way Combeferre’s eyes flicker down to their hands tells Enjolras that he doesn’t miss the gesture either. Enjolras takes in a deep breath.
“First of all,” Enjolras starts, “I think we’d both like to apologize.” He looks at Grantaire who nods. Combeferre looks a little confused but doesn’t say anything so Enjolras continues. “We’ve been acting strange around you, I’m sure you’ve noticed.” Combeferre nods slowly.
“Well I though you were just a little too over-sharing of your new relationship,” he says and frowns when Grantaire huffs out a laugh.
“The thing is, ‘ferre, that we aren’t in a relationship, well weren’t until today,” Enjolras explains. “We…” He falters, unsure of how to put it.
“We made a bet,” Grantaire finishes, “or a deal or a competition.”
“A competition of what?” Combeferre asks, still pretty calm about everything.
“Uh… you?” Enjolras is so not helping because Combeferre just blinks at him.
“Look, okay here’s the deal,” Grantaire says and Enjolras can feel his grip tighten. “Remember the party at Courf’s last month? Well, we were both a bit drunk and we somehow kind of realized that we both fancy you.” Combeferre is surprised by this, that much is evident, but Enjolras doesn’t spot any anger or disgust on his face. Grantaire goes on, apparently not able to stop now he’s begun.
“And we were both convinced that you would be much more likely to like the other back. So I got the brilliant idea that we should try to seduce you, just not for ourselves. A kind of competition. That’s why we’ve been acting as we have the last few weeks.”
“But then we spent time together too and kind of fell for each other too,” Enjolras adds. “It just wasn’t until you said that to me today about me and Grantaire being boyfriends that I actually realized.”
“We felt like we owed you and explanation and an apology since it was kind of a shitty way to do things. Yeah, so there’s that.” When Grantaire stops speaking, silence falls, For the longest time Combeferre just stares at them Enjolras can basically hear the gears turn and creak inside Combeferre’s head.
“So, just to get things clear, you have feelings for each other and you both have feelings for me too?” They nod. “And you wanted me to choose between you?” Another, slightly more embarrassed nod. “Okay alright… It seems that I need to tell you something too.” Enjolras can’t possibly think of anything that Combeferre would need to tell them, but there’s a tiny smile on his face now. “First, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before the two of you got together. So you can understand why I just wrote it off as boyfriend-gushing in the beginning. But then it got a little more excessive and weird. Like the painting—don’t get me wrong, I love that painting, but I just couldn’t fathom why you would give it to me—and the way Enjolras, you just couldn’t stop talking about Grantaire. And it got less and less fun to listen to because well… I have had feelings for the both of you for quite some time now.”
Enjolras has to replay that in his mind because yes he did just hear Combeferre say that.
“So… we all like each other?” Grantaire asks, sounding faint in the way Enjolras feels right now.
“It would seem so,” Combeferre replies.
“This is getting more ridiculous by the minute,” Grantaire remarks and Enjolras agrees silently. Then, it seems, his brain starts working again.
“What do we do now then?” he asks.
“Well, it seems you have already figured something out,” Combeferre says, with a glance at where they are still joined by the hand, “but if you want to, we could possibly make an arrangement.”
“With all three of us together?” Grantaire asks and the moment he does Enjolras knows it’s the right thing.
“Yes,” he says and then his brain catches up. “I mean, I’d like that, I think.” He feels his cheeks warm when Grantaire and Combeferre chuckle at his enthusiasm. Then he looks at Grantaire to see what he has to say. He might not want to try this and they did make an agreement.
“Two boyfriends instead of one? That sounds like twice the fun,” Grantaire says, almost casually, and he might have fooled them if it wasn’t for the way his breath quickens. “I’m not really familiar with the logistics of it though.”
“I don’t think any of us are, but I’m pretty sure we can figure it out,” Combeferre says and he beams at them.
“I kissed Grantaire earlier,” Enjolras blurts out before he gets the chance to think it through. Combeferre’s eyebrows shoot up but then he smirks.
“Did you now?”
“I just– I want to kiss you too… if you want,” he stutters and feels a little better when he sees Combeferre swallow and lick his lips. “You could come over here.” He shifts there’s space between him and Grantaire. Combeferre looks at the free space and then glances at Grantaire who nods so quickly he might pull a muscle. It’s adequate permission fro Combeferre because he comes over to sit down. It’s a tight fit between them and they end up pressed close from shoulder to knee. Combeferre feels solid and warm beside Enjolras and he knows he should be saying something or doing something. Only, he’s not actually able to do anything but hold his breath while his heart gallops.
In the end it’s Grantaire who breaks the silence.
“Oh, Enj, you can’t say something like that and then do nothing. You’re an absolute tease.” Enjolras whips up his head. Grantaire is smiling.
So he does. Leaning even closer he places a hand on the side of Combeferre’s face and meets his eyes one more time before closing his own. And then they’re kissing. The kiss is chaste, a simple press of warm lips against each other. It’s sweeter than the one he shared with Grantaire but it still makes him tingly, soft and happy in the same way.
When they break away Combeferre looks dazed and happy and again Grantaire speaks first.
“Yeah okay, that was… good, yes good,” he mutters and his voice has gone rasp. Like he’s not really breathing. Enjolras laughs, giddy with the realization that this is in fact completely real.
“What I think Grantaire is trying to say is that he would like a turn too,” he says, staying close and grasping Combeferre’s hand.
“See, we’ve already got a nice queue system worked out. We’re gonna be fine.” Grantaire grins at Combeferre when he turns. And before anyone can say anything Combeferre has captured Grantaire’s lips in a kiss that’s definitely not chaste. Enjolras thinks he can glimpse tongues and immediately he can see what Grantaire meant with good, yes good. And he knows that they’re gonna be okay and they’ll figure everything out.