“Aaron, do you take Michel to be your legal, wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward?”
How did we get here?
What are we even doing?
“Michel, do you take Aaron to be your legal, wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward?”
This is it, isn’t it? Once I say, “I do,” there’s no turning back, no changing my mind. Unless we get divorced. Not that I’d want to get divorced. I wouldn’t. I’m not really thinking about getting divorced on my wedding day, am I? Wow, that’s seriously uncool. Courfeyrac took a deep breath. Who was he kidding? If one of them was going to end up asking for a divorce, it certainly wouldn’t be him. That was how he’d gotten into this situation in the first place.
Courfeyrac was a sucker for being needed. He always had been. And he was a particular sucker for Feuilly needing him, because Feuilly never needed anyone, or so he liked to pretend. Courfeyrac could count on one hand, with fingers still left over, the number of times Feuilly had actually asked for help in the years he’d known him. And this time, not only had he asked for help, but he had asked Courfeyrac for help. Courfeyrac never stood a chance.
And was this really such a hardship? To marry one of his best friends? No. No, it wasn’t. Courfeyrac took another deep breath, firmly told his racing thoughts and his racing heart to go take a hike and said, “I do.”
The clerk offered them a slightly harried smile before concluding, “I now pronounce you husband and husband. Gentlemen, you may now share a kiss to cement your union, if you so choose.”
Feuilly, for the first time since this venture began, looked as uncertain as Courfeyrac felt. Swallowing hard, he said, “It’s fine. We don’t have to—”
“No, I want to.” Courfeyrac had surprised Feuilly with that answer—given far too quickly and at far too high a pitch, judging by the wide eyes and raised eyebrows—and the truth was, Courfeyrac had surprised himself with that response, too. Kissing had never been high on his list of priorities before, nor did he expect that to change. Feuilly had made it very clear when he’d agreed to this that he didn’t expect it to change, either. It was part of why Courfeyrac had felt comfortable agreeing to do this in the first place. Still. When you got married, you kissed your groom, right? It was just what you did. And it would look weird if they didn’t, wouldn’t it?
…and maybe the idea of kissing Feuilly didn’t bother Courfeyrac nearly as much as he’d expected it would.
Feuilly’s voice was a quiet husk in response, dropping in both pitch and volume. “It’s really OK, Courfeyrac. I don’t want you to do something you’re not—“
However Feuilly was about to finish that sentence, Courfeyrac didn’t want to hear it. Before he could entirely lose his nerve, he lunged forwards, took Feuilly’s face in both hands and pressed their lips together. Feuilly’s lips were lax against his at first, his arms stuck straight out to the sides, his fingers practically in jazz hands, as though terrified that he might break something if he touched Courfeyrac in the wrong spot… or at all.
Just when Courfeyrac was starting to worry that he’d assumed too much in thinking that he was the only one who had a problem with the idea of kissing, Feuilly made this soft little noise in the back of his throat and all but melted into him, hands coming to rest on Courfeyrac’s hips and his body pressing in close. It happened so suddenly that Courfeyrac squeaked and staggered under the additional weight. Feuilly realized that there was a problem and attempted to compensate by leaning back, but Courfeyrac had already leaned forward into him and—
Shortly thereafter, the red-faced and laughing clerk was helping them back up off the floor. As they and their witness signed the appropriate paperwork, the clerk had this to say: “Gentlemen, I’ve been at this for quite some time. I believe this was a first. I guess there’s something to be said for the whole ‘not waiting for marriage’ thing, eh?” With a sly wink, he added, “I’d suggest getting in some practice!”
Feuilly ducked his head. Even so, the blush which had quickly suffused his cheeks was still visible. It went clear up to his ears. Moved by the moment and the fact that Feuilly was always far too adorable when he blushed, Courfeyrac leaned in to kiss the tip of one of those reddened ears before whispering into it, “Well… on the upside, it’ll make a great story for our kids, someday?”
A quiet snort was the only response Feuilly gave, but he did lift his head again afterwards. They were moved along quickly after that—busy day in the civil wedding business, after all—but just as Courfeyrac turned away, something in Feuilly’s face changed. His smile slipped, and that one dimple in his right cheek that Courfeyrac so loved disappeared. It was only for a moment, but Courfeyrac noticed. He just had no idea what it meant. After all, unusual circumstances aside, this was a happy occasion… wasn’t it?
Courfeyrac didn’t keep a car in the city and Feuilly didn’t even have a license, so Marius, their witness, drove them back to the apartment in the car he’d borrowed from Cosette’s father. There was a bit of awkward shuffling around once they got back. Technically, the apartment belonged to Courfeyrac’s family. They’d bought it when the tenement was first built, back in the 60s, and had rented it out ever since. When Courfeyrac had moved to the city for law school, they had gifted it to him for the duration. Courfeyrac and Marius had lived there together for over two years, but now… Courfeyrac winced. Everything had happened so fast and they really hadn’t thought this part through. Marius still needed a place to live, and Courfeyrac doubted that Feuilly would be willing to move in with both of them. The apartment was a decent size, but it wasn’t that big, and Feuilly tended to get a little touchy if his personal space was restricted for too long—a holdover from too many foster homes when he’d had no space at all to call his own.
“So… is this the part where I get kicked out?”
Courfeyrac pinched the bridge of his nose, already feeling a headache coming on. Trust Marius to push the awkward situation right out into the open. He opened his mouth to say something reassuring, but Feuilly beat him to it.
“Of course not. This is your home. Why would you expect that to change?”
Marius’ eyes widened, and his lips parted. It was almost a full minute before he managed to do more than splutter incoherently. “Because you just got married? And you’ll be living here? And want privacy? And— why are you shaking your head?”
Courfeyrac turned just in time to catch Feuilly rolling his eyes. “Why should that change anything? It’s not— we didn’t— Look, Marius, it’s not that kind of marriage. You know that, right? This is just… It’s just because I lost my scholarship. It’s just for the tuition and health insurance breaks. It’s not real, OK?”
In college, Jehan had gone through a phase when the only thing he would watch was anime. Having been his roommate at the time, Courfeyrac had watched more than his fair share. What had always struck him as odd was how, in a lot of the anime aimed at women, when a character was upset, their eyes seemed to grow ten sizes and would start to wobble in a really alarming manner before spewing virtual waterfalls of tears. Courfeyrac had scoffed at the time, because whose eyes really did that?
At Feuilly’s explanation of the true nature of the marriage Marius had just witnessed… Marius’ eyes wobbled.
Courfeyrac had to turn away at that point, busying himself with taking off his suit jacket and hanging it on the coatrack. He’d known, of course, that this was a marriage of convenience, only; that it wasn’t real. He’d known that when he agreed to it. He hadn’t thought much of it at the time. But hearing Feuilly say it, so nonchalant, like it was assumed… for just a moment, Courfeyrac couldn’t breathe.
Not wanting to draw attention to himself, Courfeyrac took a moment to fuss with the lay of his jacket on the coatrack, focusing on smoothing the lapels until they were perfectly straight. Under cover of that fussing, he forced himself to take deeper breaths, counting out the inhale and exhale along with his heartbeats: Inhale… 2… 3… 4… Exhale… 2… 3… 4… and again and again. After the sixth exhale, his lungs unclenched, finally allowing him to breathe more normally. Joly had taught him that trick.
By the time Courfeyrac got himself turned back around, Marius had moved into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee, leaving Feuilly standing alone in the living room, fingers twisted together and a small frown on his face. When he noticed Courfeyrac watching him, that frown deepened. He stepped closer, a look on his face that Courfeyrac wasn’t entirely sure how to interpret. When he got close enough to speak without Marius overhearing, Feuilly said, “I thought… I thought we’d agreed that this whole thing was going to be an on-paper/in-name-only kind of deal. But I can’t help but feel like I surprised you just as badly as I did Marius just now. And I don’t quite know what to do with that.”
Unfortunately, Courfeyrac wasn’t entirely sure, either. He shouldn’t have been surprised. He’d known exactly what it was he was signing up for when he’d agreed to this. Marriage didn’t have to be about love. He knew that. How well he knew that. But even so… it was an unpleasant moment when he realized that, even though on some level he’d known that… on a different level, entirely, he had still been expecting more than “Thanks for the legal status; see you at the ABC meeting on Wednesday!” He had no idea what he had been expecting, but he was pretty sure that co-habitation was on the list somewhere.
Clearly it hadn’t been on Feuilly’s.
There was nothing for it now, though. Courfeyrac took a deep breath and forced a smile onto his face. “Of course, not! I knew what I was getting into when I agreed to do this. I know that this isn’t a real marriage. I don’t expect you to give up your apartment or anything, and we don’t even have to tell my parents. Hell, we don’t even have to tell the rest of our friends. Marius can keep a secret,” Courfeyrac raised his voice as he turned towards the kitchen. “Right, Marius?”
“What?” Marius poked his head back out of the kitchen, eyebrows raised all the way up into his hairline, eyes wide, and a lopsided smile on his face that left him looking caught partway between amused and baffled.
Courfeyrac walked over and clapped a hand on his shoulder. “You can keep this a secret, right? This whole marriage thing?”
Marius blinked once or twice, the bafflement taking over the amusement on his face in a complete rout. Finally he blurted out, “Why?”
Watching the color slowly drain from Marius’ face at Courfeyrac’s silence, Courfeyrac realized that the ship had long since sailed on any attempt to keep this thing a secret, and he really should have figured that out before now. Cosette’s father had lent his car to Marius. That meant that Marius had already told Cosette. And if Marius had told Cosette, then it was all over. Not that Cosette couldn’t keep a secret. She could. But if Marius had told her, it was because he didn’t realize it was a secret and wouldn’t have told her that it was supposed to be a secret. She’d probably already planned a party. In fact…
On a hunch, Courfeyrac asked, “When exactly were you planning on telling us that we’re missing our own wedding party?”
The color returned to Marius’ face in a bright flush of red.
Courfeyrac sighed. “Yeah. That’s what I thought.”
Marius buried his face in his hands, muffling his words terribly, but Courfeyrac had had years of practice at deciphering Marius-speak in that condition. Marius said, “I’m always the last to know everything, so I assumed if you were telling me, then everyone else already knew!”
Courfeyrac sighed and turned to face Feuilly, trying to gauge his reaction to this news. Feuilly had one hand wrapped around his stomach and one lifted to his mouth, covering most of his expression. His brown eyes had a suspicious sheen to them and were crinkled slightly at the corners. Courfeyrac’s heart sank. Feeling mildly sick to his stomach, he offered Feuilly a small smile and extended his hand. “I… don’t suppose I can talk you into making an appearance at this thing with me?”
It was a moment before Feuilly dropped his hands, and, when he did, whatever expression had been on his face was wiped clean. There was an indecipherable look in his eyes, but he didn’t seem outright upset…
Feuilly’s warm hand slid into Courfeyrac’s. “I think…”
Courfeyrac held his breath as Feuilly met his gaze.
“I think I’d like that.”
Courfeyrac was made for situations like this, Feuilly thought. He had a natural verve and passion that easily made him the center of attention at every party. Feuilly had always admired that. Courfeyrac’s smile was a flame that could warm the darkest recesses of the coldest heart. It had people eating out of his hands before they’d even been introduced. Courfeyrac working a crowd was a thing of beauty, truly something to behold. And he enjoyed it, too. He really enjoyed connecting with people, finding out what they wanted, what they needed, and making sure they got it.
It was how Feuilly had ended up in this situation to begin with.
Feuilly sighed. Losing his scholarship had been a cruel blow, one that had caught him completely flatfooted. Still, he hadn’t planned on telling anyone. He’d intended to take a semester or two off, earn some money, look into other scholarship options. That was how Marius had gotten involved in the first place. He might have come from money, but since walking away from his grandfather, he’d become a wizard at finding scholarships and grants and all kinds of loopholes to make his life more affordable. He was the one who’d found that marriage tuition break in the university’s by-laws. Still, nothing would ever have come of it if Courfeyrac hadn’t gotten Feuilly talking about it, hadn’t convinced him that it wasn’t as ludicrous an idea as it had first seemed, that they lived in a state with marriage equality and he was sure that any one of their friends would happily marry him a little just to help out, that, hell, he’d be honored to do it if Feuilly asked him.
So, Feuilly had.
The words had slipped out before Feuilly had even had a chance to think about the potential consequences, the reasons why it would be a bad idea.
“Will you marry me?”
What had he been thinking? Feuilly dropped his head to the bar, burying his face in his folded arms. There was a part of him that still couldn’t believe he’d even asked the question, much less that Courfeyrac had said yes. He remembered watching Courfeyrac’s eyes, the small twitch at the corner of his lips, just waiting for him to declare that it had been a joke, that he took it back… but he hadn’t. In fact, he’d seemed thrilled with the idea, absolutely tickled to get a chance to take advantage of the institution of marriage in such a skewed way. And once Courfeyrac had the bit in teeth on an idea, well… there was no stopping him. One thing lead to another. There was a marriage license, then an appointment at city hall, then that disastrous kiss—something that was still making Feuilly’s face heat with embarrassment even three hours later—and now this. A wedding party.
Feuilly picked up his head, his eyes immediately locking on Courfeyrac’s form across the bar. He had a drink in one hand and his other arm was draped over Bossuet’s shoulders. Both had a flush in their cheeks that spoke of either overindulgence in alcohol or overexertion, and they were singing along with the jukebox. They were drawing the attention of every patron at the bar, whether they were part of the party or not, and Feuilly should have been embarrassed.
When someone’s arm slid slowly around his shoulders, Feuilly didn’t even have to look away from the spectacle of Courfeyrac and Bossuet to see who it was. There was only one member of their group that shampooed their hair in that particular combination of vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves. And he was just enough of a contrary cuss that whenever he got teased about it, his response was to cuddle up to the teaser and make sure they got a good whiff… and then smile knowingly when the person grumbled about now craving a cinnamon bun.
Enjolras tightened his grip, squeezing Feuilly lightly to him before leaning down to press a kiss to Feuilly’s temple. “You are so completely besotted.”
Feuilly finally jerked his gaze away from Courfeyrac, who was now punching in more selections on the jukebox—Broadway show tunes if the evil light in his eye was any indication—and turned to face Enjolras. “I am not.”
Enjolras dropped his arm and settled in on the barstool to Feuilly’s right. At least Feuilly was honest enough with himself to admit that he was relieved that Enjolras hadn’t sat on his other side and blocked his view. He still had an unobstructed view of Courfeyrac’s antics, if he wanted it. When a moment passed and Feuilly’s gaze proved more savvy than he was by slowly drifting back over to Courfeyrac, Enjolras laughed. “Of course, not. My mistake. What was I thinking?”
Feuilly let out a quiet moan and dropped his head back onto his arms. Enjolras lifted his hand and began rubbing circles around Feuilly’s back. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet, laced with the sympathy he hadn’t showed a moment ago. “What on Earth even possessed you to ask him? Hell, I would have done it. No one would even have blinked. And then you wouldn’t be in this predicament.”
Feuilly raised his head and turned to face Enjolras. His voice emerged as a soft wail. “I don’t know. He was just… being him. All sympathetic and kind and furious on my behalf that I effectively got kicked out of school, and, the next thing I knew, I was telling him about all of Marius’ plans to get me another kind of scholarship or grant or tuition break and then he was offering to marry me and I asked as a joke, Enjolras, but then he said yes and what am I supposed to do?” By the time Feuilly finished speaking, his heart was racing and that last question emerged as a high pitched whimper.
Enjolras just put his arm back around Feuilly’s shoulders and gave him a tight hug. “He has no idea, does he?” Another gentle squeeze. “How you feel about him, I mean?”
Feuilly really did whimper this time. “No. I don’t think he does.”
Enjolras snorted. “I love that man like a brother, Feuilly. I really do. But he has got to be the most oblivious person I have ever known. I mean… I know he’s not really wired to notice that stuff, but I’m not either, and I am nowhere near as clueless as he is.” Enjolras paused before huffing out under his breath, “At least, I sure hope I’m not.”
That finally startled a laugh out of Feuilly. He straightened, pulling out of Enjolras’ hold and rubbing his hands over his face before answering. “Apart from that debacle with Grantaire back in freshman year? No. You’re generally not.” He smiled. “Besides, I’d tell you.”
Enjolras bumped Feuilly’s shoulder. “I know you would.” He sighed. “But who’s going to tell him?” Enjolras said, nodding in Courfeyrac’s direction.
At even the mere thought, Feuilly’s blood ran cold. “No one.” At Enjolras’ raised eyebrow, Feuilly shook his head. “I’m serious, Enjolras. Please don’t tell him. We… we’re not moving in together, so he’s not going to see me on a daily basis, and once I’ve graduated, we’ll just… get a divorce or something. He doesn’t ever have to know.”
Enjolras was silent for just a moment too long.
Feuilly swallowed hard. “…why do I suddenly get the feeling that there’s something I don’t know?”
Enjolras ducked his head, not quite able to meet Feuilly’s gaze, at first. “You… you have to understand. When Marius told Cosette, and then she told us, we had no idea that… we just had no idea, OK?” Enjolras finally looked back up to meet Feuilly’s gaze. “And I wondered, but I knew how you felt about him and I guess I just let myself hope that maybe this was real, you know? So, when they had this idea for a wedding present, I just… went along with it.”
Feuilly finally looked around, taking in more of the Corinthe than just Courfeyrac. Courfeyrac… Bossuet… Joly… Musichetta… Marius… Cosette… Gavroche… Enjolras… how had he not noticed until now that Bahorel, Grantaire, Jehan, and Eponine were missing? A treacherous voice in the back of his mind whispered, Because you were focused on Courfeyrac to the exclusion of everything else…. like usual. Which might have been true, but still. Turning back to Enjolras, he asked in a horrified whisper, “…where are they? What are they doing?”
Enjolras hung his head. “Moving Marius’ things into his and Cosette’s new apartment and moving yours into Courfeyrac’s.” As Feuilly’s jaw dropped open, Enjolras let out a nervous laugh and said, “Surprise…?”
Feuilly never got a chance to respond to that because Courfeyrac finally seemed to have noticed that he was minus a husband and was calling him over to dance. And when Courfeyrac called, Feuilly knew he would always answer, even if he was cursing his stubborn, ridiculous heart the entire way.
Courfeyrac was far past buzzed by the time Marius drove him home. He was so far past buzzed—Pfft. Buzzed. You are drunk Monsieur de Courfeyrac. Stone blind drunk.—that he didn’t think anything of it when Feuilly came with them, or when he and Marius walked him upstairs and tucked him into bed. He was far enough past buzzed that it didn’t even seem out of place when Feuilly settled in next to him on the bed, running a hand through his hair as he lay curled on his side, firmly telling himself that puking was a really unromantic choice… even if you and your husband weren’t really married. Forget romantic. It was just bad manners. And he thanked any god who was listening that he was so far past buzzed that he fell asleep soon after having that thought… and before he could do or say something that he’d end up regretting in the morning.
By the time Courfeyrac woke up, someone had been kind enough to draw the blinds closed and to leave a glass of water and two aspirin on the bedside table. Probably Marius. It wouldn’t be the first time, that was for sure. Marius was thoughtful like that. Courfeyrac swung his legs over the edge of the bed and rolled himself slowly upright. As he sat up, he saw that someone had dressed him in his favorite pajamas—the blue fleece ones with the snowflakes on them and the accompanying blue shirt that was so worn from wear that it was half see-through—and his heart gave a hard lurch in his chest and started pounding when he remembered that both Feuilly and Marius had helped him home last night, but he couldn’t remember who had undressed him. Courfeyrac didn’t pray often, but he couldn’t help it in that moment. Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh fuck. If there is anyone listening up there, please, please, please let that have been Marius, too.
To Courfeyrac’s great relief, when he turned around there was no one in the bed with him, or anywhere in his room, for that matter. He took his aspirin and drank his water and made his slightly unsteady way to the bathroom. Halfway down the hall, though, he paused, squinting at a framed photograph that hung on the wall. It was a Japanese maple in full autumn colors from the local arboretum. Courfeyrac knew that photo. It was one of his favorites. Feuilly had taken it. He knew that because he was the one who had had it printed and framed for Feuilly for his last birthday. He also knew that it usually hung in Feuilly’s living room, so what the hell was it doing here?
Courfeyrac resumed his walk to the bathroom, trying to convince his now pounding heart to get out of the base of his throat, because that was not helping with the post-indulgence nausea. When he got to the bathroom, he made use of the facilities, then bent over the sink to splash some water on his face and brush his teeth. That helped significantly—the mint with the nausea and the cold water with the fog in his brain. It helped enough that once he’d gotten his contact lenses in and looked around again, he realized that there were changes here, too. All of Marius’ shower things were gone. So was that blazing pink electronic toothbrush that he loved so much—his mother had had one just like it and Courfeyrac hadn’t been able to resist the wistfulness in his eyes when he’d talked about it and had bought it for him shortly after he moved in. And now it was gone. All traces of Marius were gone from the bathroom. But someone else’s toiletries had replaced them, and Courfeyrac knew them, too. They were Feuilly’s.
Unable to take the suspense any longer, Courfeyrac left the bathroom and ran down the rest of the hall and skidded to a stop in the living room. The changes there were more apparent: bookshelves where they hadn’t been before, full of books that Courfeyrac didn’t own. More of Feuilly’s photographs and that one landscape he’d done when he’d dabbled in painting two years ago. The end-table that Jehan had built for Feuilly now sat in the corner created by Courfeyrac’s couch and the plaid couch Feuilly had found at a yard sale that looked hideous but was the most comfortable thing Courfeyrac had ever sat on. Evidence on top of evidence on top of evidence, all for a truth that Courfeyrac still couldn’t process.
It wasn’t until a warm hand slid into his that Courfeyrac realized that his own hands had gone ice cold. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears in counterpoint to the harsh rasp of his breathing. But it wasn’t until he realized that the soft murmur of reassurance being spoken into his ear was in Feuilly’s voice that he finally found his own again. Turning towards Feuilly, he clamped down on Feuilly’s hand with both of his own, locking their gazes and all but begging Feuilly to believe him with his eyes alone. “Feuilly, I swear this was not my idea. You said you didn’t want to live together and I would never have disrespected that. I wouldn’t… I just wouldn’t.” Courfeyrac’s head dropped onto Feuilly’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry.”
Feuilly freed his hand from Courfeyrac’s grip and enfolded him in a tight hug. “I know that, Courfeyrac. You are the absolute last person I would ever think would override my wishes like that. I would have told you about this last night, but you fell asleep before I could.”
Courfeyrac lifted his head, meeting Feuilly’s gaze again. “You… you knew?”
Feuilly nodded. “I knew. Enjolras told me at the party last night. No one realized that we weren’t planning to move in together, and this was their idea of a wedding gift for us and a belated engagement gift for Marius and Cosette.”
Courfeyrac’s heart finally gave up on the idea of pounding itself out of his chest and settled into a more normal rhythm. “They moved Marius’ stuff out and moved your stuff in?”
“Bahorel, Jehan, Grantaire, and Eponine did the actual moving. That’s why they were all so late to the party.”
“And you don’t mind?”
Feuilly face relaxed into a soft smile. “Having had a little time to get used to the idea… no. I don’t mind, at all.” When Courfeyrac’s eyebrows shot up in disbelief, Feuilly added, “The way I figure it, Marius would have been moving out soon anyway. He and Cosette found an apartment they love and they’re practically attached at the hip, already. And I know how you feel about living in this huge place by yourself, so it wouldn’t have been long before you started looking for a new roommate and… well we are married, so…” Feuilly shrugged. “It’s really the only thing that makes any sense.”
Courfeyrac finally allowed himself to smile. “So… we’re really doing this, then?”
Feuilly’s smile widened. “It wasn’t what I originally intended, but yeah. We’re really doing this.”
Courfeyrac finally managed to convince his hands to let go of the death grip they’d taken on Feuilly’s sleep shirt and allowed his tone to take on just a hint of flirting. “Well… in that case, husband mine… would you do me the honor of letting me prepare a ridiculously overindulgent breakfast for you?”
Eyes crinkling at the corners the whole while, Feuilly stepped back and swept Courfeyrac a short bow before rising and offering his arm in escort. “Husband mine… I thought you’d never ask.”
Considering how long Feuilly had lived alone, it never ceased to amaze him how easily he and Courfeyrac fell into a routine. It helped that Courfeyrac, for all his boisterous and larger-than-life personality, was the most considerate roommate Feuilly could even imagine. He was generous with his belongings and generous with his time and skills. He was endlessly considerate of Feuilly’s need for personal space.
The third bedroom—more of a half bedroom, really, but still an actual extra room—had been a shared study for Courfeyrac and Marius, a place for them to house their desks and jointly owned law textbooks. After Feuilly moved in, Courfeyrac had suggested that they do something new with the space. He’d suggested moving his desk into his bedroom and the armchair and its matching ottoman into the third bedroom, then suggested setting up Feuilly’s art supplies in there, as well. That way, if Feuilly wanted company, Courfeyrac could sit with him while he worked, and if he didn’t, Feuilly would at least have a comfortable place to sit if he needed a break. It had quickly become Feuilly’s favorite room in the apartment… especially with Courfeyrac quietly sitting and reading or messing around on his laptop in the armchair.
It meant something, that. It meant something that Courfeyrac had not only been willing, but eager to rearrange his living space to make Feuilly feel at home. And it meant something that Feuilly was not only willing, but eager to share that space with Courfeyrac. It was wonderful… and it was terrifying.
Feuilly had admired Courfeyrac from the first time he’d laid eyes on him. It had been Feuilly’s first ABC meeting and Courfeyrac had been giving the welcome speech to the new members. The way he’d raised them all up to a fever pitch of fervor had been incredible, because he’d made it look so easy. And that passion didn’t turn off when he sat down. It didn’t turn off when you talked to him one-on-one. If anything, it condensed, focusing entirely on the person he was speaking to.
Feuilly never stood a chance.
He remembered thinking that, surely, that level of passion must only be for show, for important events. Surely, Courfeyrac couldn’t be like that all the time. Except the better Feuilly got to know him, the more he realized that Courfeyrac really was like that all the time. Whatever topic had caught his fancy, whether it be a social injustice, a television show, a book, a music video, or something else entirely, Courfeyrac gave everything he had to exploring it, and he brought all that passion to bear when sharing it with someone else. If Feuilly had tried to live like that, it would have exhausted him in a heartbeat, but Courfeyrac seemed to thrive on that intensity.
Right now, Courfeyrac’s passion of the moment was of the less earth-shattering variety, but you’d never have known it to hear him speak.
“Feuilly, you have to come with me to see it again! The piglet is so cute. So. Cute. I can’t. I mean, the whole movie is great, but the piglet, Feuilly!” At this point, he turned his laptop around to show Feuilly a movie clip from Moana where the piglet in question was sitting on a boat with an oar in his mouth, crouched down and wagging his tail so hard it moved his entire back end, just like a puppy dog. And the eyes that Courfeyrac was turning on him reminded Feuilly not a small amount of a puppy dog, himself.
Feuilly laughed and said, “OK, OK. I was planning to see it this weekend, anyway. Yes, I’ll take you to see Moana. Again.”
After showering Feuilly in praise and excited squeals, Courfeyrac went back to staring at his gifsets and videos and Feuilly turned back to his blank canvas to start sketching the little pig Courfeyrac had so enthusiastically shown him a moment ago. It was Courfeyrac who’d talked him into trying his hand at painting, again. He’d enjoyed it when he’d taken it up a few years ago, but paints and canvases were expensive, so he’d eventually given it up. Of course, now that he was technically married to someone with far more disposable income than he knew what to do with, suddenly art supplies and canvases just seemed to show up in Feuilly’s room or in the hobby room. He’d tried to talk Courfeyrac out of it in the beginning, tried to convince him that he didn’t need to spend money on him like that, but he’d looked so… crushed. Feuilly had felt immediately as though he’d just smacked a puppy on the nose for doing something he’d thought had been a good thing. And really… was it such a big deal? He’d noticed long ago that Courfeyrac was never happier than when he was doing things for other people. So, if buying Feuilly art supplies made them both happy… wasn’t that a win-win?
So, Feuilly repaid those kindnesses in whatever small ways he could. Courfeyrac… he had a tendency to let a lot of the small things slip through the cracks. He’d mean well, but it would still happen. And sometimes he would just stall out on a task. He’d get as far as organizing the mail into piles based on importance… and then never actually read any of it. He’d get the dishes into the dishwasher and run the dishwasher… and then never get them back out again. It happened often enough that Feuilly was able to figure out what kind of tasks it would likely happen with and start putting systems in place to help Courfeyrac through them. Sometimes those systems helped. Sometimes they really, really didn’t.
For those tasks, Feuilly just started quietly taking them over. He helped keep the apartment tidy—left to his own devices, Courfeyrac would do things like letting his laundry pile up for weeks. Honestly, Feuilly wasn’t sure what disturbed him more, that Courfeyrac went for weeks on end without cleaning his clothes, or that he had enough clothes that he could go for weeks on end without cleaning them. He wrote up a household budget—and judging by the awe in Courfeyrac’s eyes, he’d never made one of his own before—because even though Courfeyrac’s parents had no problem funneling ludicrous amounts of spending money his way, that surely wouldn’t last forever. So, it was never too soon to learn to be smart with what money they had. Which wasn’t to say that Feuilly did all the work in the apartment. He didn’t. The kitchen was unquestionably Courfeyrac’s domain. Feuilly could put together the basic staples, but Courfeyrac was actually a good cook and he loved nothing more than sharing that with other people. Feuilly had never eaten so well in his life.
Then there were the other things. Feuilly had never noticed it before moving in with him—had probably never been let close enough to notice—but every now and then, he’d catch Courfeyrac locked up his thoughts, breathing too fast and too shallow, eyes glazed as his thoughts spiraled inward. It had happened the first morning they’d been living together. Looking back on it, Feuilly was sure it had happened the day before, too, when he’d announced that he wasn’t planning to move in. But Courfeyrac never seemed to want to talk about it, seemed perfectly content to pretend that either it didn’t happen or that he was successfully hiding it from Feuilly. So, Feuilly had a quiet word with Marius one day to try to confirm that he really was seeing what he thought he was seeing.
The trick, Marius had told him, was to stay calm and quiet and just do something to let Courfeyrac know that you were there. If he needed you, he’d notice you. If he didn’t, he’d eventually come out of it on his own. And that was easy enough, really. Feuilly could do that.
And so it went. Truth be told, Feuilly was almost disappointed at how easy it was. Then again… he supposed that was how relationships functioned if each party was so paranoid at offending the other that they talked any potential problems to death long before they could become problems. Even so, sometimes it felt like he was living his life waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Still, no one was more surprised than Feuilly when about six months into their marriage—three weeks before Christmas—it did.
Feuilly came home from classes that day to find Courfeyrac sitting at the kitchen table, the mail spread out in front of him, holding something that looked like an invitation to some kind of fancy party. Feuilly wouldn’t have thought much of it, except that Courfeyrac also had that glazed look in his eyes that often suggested an anxiety attack was imminent, if not already in progress.
Feuilly took a moment to hang up his coat and chafe the cold out of his hands before walking into the kitchen. He pulled out the chair that sat caddy-corner to Courfeyrac’s and eased close enough to rest a hand on Courfeyrac’s shoulder. It took a few minutes, but eventually Courfeyrac came around, wordlessly handing over the invitation. It was addressed to Mr. and Mr. Aaron and Michel Feuilly-Courfeyrac… and it was from Courfeyrac’s parents.
Feuilly read through the rest of the invitation. Past the shocker of the address line, there was nothing else surprising there. He’d heard, of course, of the Courfeyrac family’s extravagant Christmas gala, held every year on Christmas Eve, but he’d never imagined that he would rate an invitation, and certainly not like this!
By the time Feuilly finished reading, Courfeyrac had turned to face him, and his expression was like that of a man trying to figure out how to tell someone he’d just run over their child. Feuilly moved his hand from Courfeyrac’s shoulder to his cheek. Quietly, he said, “Whatever you’re thinking is so bad, it will be better if you just get it out in the open. Then, whatever it is, we’ll deal with it. OK?”
Courfeyrac took in a shaky breath, but when he spoke, his voice was steady. “I swear I never told them. I know… I know this marriage isn’t real. And you didn’t even want our friends to know, at first. So, I wouldn’t have— I swear, I didn’t—“
Feuilly put down the invitation so he could cup Courfeyrac’s face with both hands. The spate of words stopped as Courfeyrac froze, eyes wide, waiting. Feuilly allowed himself one moment to stroke his thumbs over Courfeyrac’s cheekbones, marveling, not for the first time, that Courfeyrac let him take such liberties. Then he said, “It’s OK. I know you wouldn’t have done that without talking to me first. Hell, you won’t even change brands of toilet paper without discussing it with me first! But we live in the same state your parents do. And, like Bahorel, your parents know everyone. It really was only a matter of time, when you think about it. And I find… I don’t really mind that they know. OK?” Feuilly leaned in and touched his forehead to Courfeyrac’s, thrilling just a little when Courfeyrac raised his hand to press Feuilly’s hand more firmly against his cheek in response.
Dangerous, a voice in Feuilly’s mind whispered. The worst thing was… that voice wasn’t wrong. If he’d been in too deep before, then the water was way over his head by now. Those gestures of affection were coming too easily, becoming too instinctive. And Courfeyrac was too responsive, by far, to those gestures of physical affection. They might sleep in separate beds, their marriage might be in name only, and Courfeyrac might never be attracted to Feuilly the same way Feuilly was to him, but Courfeyrac was a physically affectionate person. He welcomed every one of those casual touches, leaning into them like a cat begging for skritches in just the right spot. And that messed with Feuilly’s head something fierce, made him wish for things that could never be, for feelings that he knew Courfeyrac would never reciprocate. Still, he would take whatever he could get and be glad of it, no matter how much it might hurt him later on.
After another moment, Courfeyrac pulled away and picked up the invitation, again. He sighed. “It’s not just that, though. It’s that… if we tell her the truth, my mother will be devastated. She’s hoped I would someday bring a fiancé home ever since she attended her first PFLAG meeting. When I finally got up the guts to tell her I was aromantic and asexual, she did her best, but I don’t think she ever let go of that dream. I’m sure she’s built this all up in her head already. But if we don’t tell her the truth, and when you’re done with school, we… we get…” He swallowed hard.
Feuilly’s mouth went dry. It was the one aspect of this that they’d never actually spoken about: the understanding that someday this whole fake marriage was probably going to end. The understand that once Feuilly had graduated and didn’t need the tuition break or the health insurance or the tax break anymore, that they’d stop playing house and go their own separate ways. He couldn’t even say the word in his own head, so he couldn’t blame Courfeyrac for not being able to say it out loud. Feuilly reached out and took Courfeyrac’s hand in his. “I get it. You’re afraid that given years to get used to the reality of you being married, that if that gets taken away, she’ll be more upset than if she finds out now.”
Courfeyrac’s response was a cracked whisper. “Exactly. No matter what I do, I’ll end up hurting her. So, what do I do?”
Feuilly leaned in and pulled Courfeyrac into a tight hug, speaking his answer almost directly into Courfeyrac’s ear. “First things first. We RSVP to the party. Second… you remember that your mother loves you and that all she wants is for you to be happy, no matter what that looks like.”
When Feuilly finally got up to go order Chinese from Courfeyrac’s favorite take-out place for dinner, he did his best not to draw attention to the fact that the shoulder of his shirt was wet where Courfeyrac’s face had been pressed into it. Because he got it. He really did. Sometimes, having a family that loved you unconditionally could move you to tears in much the same way as having no family at all. And if Courfeyrac never called Feuilly out for the latter, than it was the least Feuilly could do to not call him out for the former… even if some small part of Feuilly wished that someday he’d be crying for the same reason, for being overwhelmed by the thought that he was so very loved by a family of his own.