Chapter 1: simple twist of fate
“You know,” Courfeyrac says, for about the third time tonight, “I think you should ask him out.”
Enjolras, half curled into the couch and the Politics textbook next to him, does know this. He knows all about Courfeyrac’s opinions. The man never stops voicing them, for God’s sake. He sighs and sinks a little further into the upholstery. “I’m not doing that.”
“But you should!” replies Courfeyrac insistently, his enthusiasm making him wobble. He’s standing precariously at the top of Mme. Houcheloup’s rickety ladder (borrowed with faint permission) still in his odd socks and wrestling with the same lightbulb he was five minutes ago. They don’t dust up there, and it shows. Courfeyrac shakes the lampshade, sneezes a little, then continues, “You know that, don’t you? You’re certainly getting along better.”
He sinks down further. “Ferre?” he calls in the direction of the kitchen, somewhat desparately. “How long until dinner?”
The reply is disappointing. “Twenty minutes,” Combeferre answers back. Then he adds, “Courf, stop teasing him where I’m not around to witness it, would you? I swear, if that lightbulb isn’t fixed by the time this pasta is cooked I’m going to have to do it myself.”
Enjolras, disgruntled, snaps his Politics textbook shut and leans on it, fingers idly thumbing the page corners. There’s a moment of silence before Courfeyrac tries again, “Hasn’t R been working on some campaign posters, though?”
“He’s been very helpful,” Enjolras says diplomatically, despite the slight spasm in his chest at the mention of Grantaire’s name. There are times when he wonders why he ever bothers confiding in Courfeyrac, firecracker that he is – it’s the sort of thing he would prefer talking about over tea with Combeferre, him being the most sensible out of the three of them. But then, Courfeyrac lives for feelings. Really, he can’t possibly not tell the both of them about anything. They are not singular. They are Enjolras-Combeferre-Courfeyrac. Most days, he wouldn’t have it any other way. But today he just feels tired. It’s the kind of day where just having the lightbulb fixed for him is enough, really. He sighs and stands up.
“I’m going for a walk,” he says, as Courfeyrac opens his mouth to say something else. He’s shrugging on his coat and out of the door before either of them can even protest, bare hands shoved into his pockets in an attempt to ward off the chill fall air. He can barely see the sidewalk for leaves, masses of them; a riot of triumphant reds and dandelion yellows bleeding into amber and ochre. He fishes his phone out of his pocket and makes for the park.
Courfeyrac has never, in all his life, meant anything but the best for those around him, but that doesn’t mean he understands. Enjolras isn’t even sure he understands himself. Only, he thinks, as the caller ID flashes up on the screen, that he wants to keep this – it – for as long as he possibly can.
“R?” he asks, quickly, before the other man can speak. It’s late October and Enjolras feels as restless as he always does at this time of year. It’s nothing more than that, really. Damn Courfeyrac for thinking anything else. “Are you busy right now?”
Twenty minutes later, (damn dinner, he thinks, perhaps a little more viciously than needed) he’s sat with Grantaire inside one of the little cafes hidden within the arteries of the fifth arrondissement, a slight frown on his face as he watches Grantaire spooning sugar into his coffee with an awkwardness that seems strange even for him. Eventually, he puts down his spoon and looks up at Enjolras, or maybe a little past him, gaze fixed somewhere above his left shoulder. Enjolras resists the urge to turn around and look where he’s looking – it’s a habit Grantaire has, and even now he’s not sure if it’s because he makes Grantaire nervous or if it’s something he does to everyone. He’s never thought to ask – never dared, really, because who would?
This is one of his problems, he thinks: being honest. He takes another sip of his coffee and tries to feel less self-conscious. It doesn’t work. Grantaire raises an eyebrow at him.
“Bad coffee?” he asks. Enjolras looks at him blankly.
“You look like you want to spit. I thought you liked this place?”
Enjolras shakes his head, sets the cup down. “I do. I’m just – nothing. Feeling stressed. How are you?”
Grantaire smiles the smile that’s been tormenting Enjolras at night every night for the last several months. He isn’t sure how he manages it; that careful balance between tiredness and chivalrous concern, the smile that makes him look so much older than he really is. What Courfeyrac said before, he thinks, is perfectly true: he is getting along better with Grantaire now, but not because Grantaire has changed in any way – no fundamental way, at least, not as far as he can see. Enjolras just started seeing him, that’s all. He’s ashamed to admit it, in some ways – his surprise at finding Grantaire is a different person when it’s just the two of them. Or maybe, he thinks, just a different version of the same self. Enjolras isn’t interested in answering that mystery. Now, he’s just happy to have him here. Grantaire and his smile.
They’re just friends, and he’s okay with that. He really is.
Something of his thoughts must show on his face, because Grantaire hesitates a moment before he answers. “I’m doing all right,” he says, without saying much of anything at all. He looks down at the coffee between them, a frown flickering across his face like the shadow of a light, there for just a second before it’s gone again. “Been working on those campaign posters, actually. I can bring them down to the meeting tomorrow, what d’you think?”
Enjolras nods, though secretly he feels a little sad at the thought that Grantaire took asking about him to mean asking about work. He’d forgotten tomorrow’s meeting, in all honesty. He hopes Combeferre has more planned than he does. His speech is unfinished and he doesn’t know where his head is.
“How’s uni?” he asks, after the silence between them stretches just a moment too far. Grantaire blinks at this, then leans back in his chair. His cool grey eyes drift across Enjolras’ face as if searching for a secondary meaning. Finding none (or so Enjolras hopes) he says, “It’s going good, actually. I’ve got a collection of mixed-media pieces due in at the end of this month – style comparisons, stuff like that. You get to choose the subject, so that’s cool. It’s mostly portraits though.”
Enjolras threads his fingers through the handle of his coffee cup, lifting it to his lips for another sip. “Self-portraits?”
Grantaire laughs dryly, turning his face away. “No, thank God. Who would want to see that? I’ll ask Éponine, probably; she’s modelled for me before, but it shouldn’t matter. Maybe do a Arcimboldo and turn her nose into a banana or something.”
Enjolras snorts in spite of himself. “I’d like to see that.”
“So would I. Though, saying that, she’s not a great fan of surrealism. Bossuet would be better.” He laughs, and Enjolras smiles back again, ignoring the deep ache in his chest that has arrived out of nowhere. A kind of forward nostalgia keeps catching him unawares, but he doesn’t know how to rid himself of it. Out of options for the moment, he drinks the rest of his coffee in interior silence, with Grantaire talking wistfully across the table about the kinds of projects he wants to get through this year; spilt canvas, modelling classes, a head-start on perspective landscapes for next year. He’s pushing himself, and Enjolras is happy for him – he nods at all the right intervals, asks questions where he should, but even then…
Grantaire breaks off mid-sentence, catching him by surprise. “Enj, are you sure you’re all right? Weren’t you supposed to be having dinner with Courf and Ferre tonight?”
“I needed a break,” he answers honestly, as honestly as he can without saying the word fallout, except judging by the fold of Grantaire’s eyebrows he seems to hear it anyway. He continues doggedly, “And I wanted to see you. It’s been a while and I – I missed you.”
Grantaire looks at him seriously for a moment, reaching across the table as if to take Enjolras’ hand in his – only to snatch it back at the last moment and reach for his coffee instead. The sadness reaches a little deeper into Enjolras’ stomach, a new kind of fear and hesitance. “Is that all?”
Enjolras smiles and nods. “Yeah,” he says, “That’s all.”
It’s late when he gets back – later than planned, really, with time spent wandering aimlessly near the Seine, both by Grantaire’s side and without, and when Enjolras finally lets himself in the apartment is empty and cool and quiet, no lights on except for the bare bulb swinging above the kitchen table, arctic and impersonal in its coldness. Combeferre sits beneath it, his laptop and a cup of tea sat out in front of him. He doesn’t look up when Enjolras comes in, which can only mean he’s in trouble. He sighs and turns to hang up his coat.
“Are you OK?” Combeferre asks, thought it’s less of a question and more of a statement; an assessment of facts. He picks up his tea from the table and gestures towards the other chair. “Courf went to bed. I said I’d wait up for you.”
Enjolras slumps down in the chair. Combeferre never raises his voice, doesn’t have to – he has other ways of holding Enjolras to account. The patient, tired look on his face says enough. He’s hurt them. He didn’t mean to, but he has. The cavity in his chest yawns ever deeper.
“I’m sorry,” he says, which is inadequate, but it must be what Combeferre wanted to hear because he stands up, sighs too and crosses over to the sideboard where they keep their tea and the funny little kettle Feuilly bought for them from an antique shop. He fills it with water and turns on the stove, reaching for Enjolras’ mug, still perched where he left it. Silence for a moment, then:
“Courf has your best interests at heart, you know.”
“He wants you to be happy.”
“I know that too.”
The kettle starts to whistle; Combeferre takes it off the stove and pours him a coffee, carefully, methodically, dark fingers bright against the white china of the mug. He would be so much less without the both of them, Enjolras thinks. They make him better. It’s something he’s known for years, but he forgets, sometimes. His fault is pride.
Combeferre sets down the mug in front of him with a faint raise of the eyebrows, then sits himself. “Can I ask you a question?” he says. The lightbulb burns bright white above him, throwing everything into sharp relief, hyper-real; dinner plates glinting in the silence of the small hour, still damp, drops of water shining like sweat. It’s so late that Enjolras feels sick with it. Combeferre can take the conversation where he will.
“Go ahead,” he mumbles numbly. He thinks of one of Grantaire’s records, then, the lyrics of the song falling into his head like a puzzle piece. Then take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind / Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow. He sighs inwardly and shakes it away. If only he could forget about today until tomorrow. If only.
“You’re angry still. Why are you angry?”
Enjolras sinks a little lower into the table, the palms of his hands pressed into his eye sockets, blocking out the light. Courfeyrac’s teasing, he thinks, even despite Enjolras’ confiding in him, is nothing, and it shouldn’t annoy him. It is just a suggestion – nothing more than that. Logically, he knows this. But emotionally…
Enjolras lifts the coffee to his lips, takes a long sip then sets it back down on the table with a heavy thump. Every action assumes its own kind of drama under this light. The fact that he’s making a big deal out of nothing only adds to his frustration.
“I don’t…” he says, slowly, carefully, words stuttering like a draughty candle flame, “I can’t ruin it.”
He hugs his elbows. “I’m friends with Grantaire, Ferre. For the first time since we met. And I don’t…” He leaves the end of his sentence hanging, half-hoping Combeferre will step in to give him the words he needs. He’s almost surprised when he doesn’t, sitting back instead to look at Enjolras, head up, head down, his black wireframes glinting in the light. Enjolras needs to stop noticing the light, he thinks to himself. It’s making him feel ill.
“Why do you assume,” Combeferre says slowly, at last, “that asking Grantaire out would change that?”
“Because he doesn’t like me,” Enjolras replies bluntly, hotly. He sounds like a petulant child and hates himself for it. “How would that look? Finally, we start hanging out together and then—”
Combeferre sighs and takes off his glasses, cleaning them with the edge of his sweater. Enjolras doesn’t understand why he hasn’t gone to bed yet. Why he waited up at all, in fact. He’s irritated with himself and wants to break something, probably himself, and he’d rather do it alone. Go out for another walk. See where the winding road takes him. He’s not bothered at this point. It’s walk or sleep.
Combeferre interrupts these thoughts by pushing the coffee forwards across the table with his elbow. He blinks at Enjolras once before putting his glasses back on – it’s an owlish look. “Drink,” he says. “Breathe.”
They drain the lest dregs of their cups together; Enjolras sets his mug down just behind the open lid of Combeferre’s laptop. Multi-coloured fish are dancing across the screen. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” he says. He voice comes out far tenser than he means it to – meaner, too. He closes his mouth.
Combeferre, because he is Combeferre (and also an invaluable friend) ignores this statement and asks instead, “How long have you felt this way? About R?”
Enjolras drags his eyes away from the dancing fish on the screen, forcing himself to look up at Combeferre. He’s standing before he knows it. Enjolras has never felt this tired before – it weighs him down like a cancer. He needs to go to bed. “I don’t know,” he says, “I’ve lost track.”
He’s upstairs and into bed before ten minutes have passed. It always seems foolish to say ‘forever’ but the more he thinks about it, the more he realises there probably hasn’t ever been a time where he hasn’t been charmed by – this. Whatever ‘this’ is. Whatever Grantaire is to him, he thinks bitterly.
Enjolras rolls onto his side and tries to sleep. He doesn’t dream.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave a comment or some kudos, it really makes my day. :)
He surprises both of them by being up early the next day; by the time Combeferre and Courfeyrac come down for breakfast, the table is set and Enjolras has bacon, eggs and sausages sizzling in oil in a pan atop the hob. Toast is waiting in the toaster. The tomatoes he already burned by accident. He’s not a good cook, not by a long shot, but he tries. He’s trying now.
Combeferre stops in the doorway, rubbing his glasses on the hem of his pyjama t-shirt. “What are you doing?” he asks, as Courfeyrac steps around him to fill up the kettle with water. Enjolras points him to the cup of tea already on the table, then flicks his eyes back to Combeferre. “Making breakfast?” he says. Combeferre’s reply is stolen from him by Courfeyrac’s opening of the fridge.
“Did you buy croissants? When?” His hair is a riot of curls as he leans forward to tug them out of the crisper. He gives Enjolras a sideways look. “Why are they in the fridge?”
Enjolras shrugs, studiously avoiding Combeferre’s eye. “I ran out of room,” he says, gesturing to the grocery bags sprawled across the far counter. For all his logic, he’s never been so good at doing things in order. “Meant to put them away before you came down.”
Courfeyrac shrugs and sticks the croissants under the grill, like the heathen he is. He’s never been one to ask awkward questions. Combeferre, however, is another story. “You went out shopping? It’s only eight.”
Enjolras copies his friend and lifts a shoulder, turning off the gas before getting out the plates. “I wanted to say… I’m sorry.” The grill clicks off. Courfeyrac looks up at him; Combeferre just blinks. “I love you both. I’m sorry for getting angry at you,” he adds, to Courfeyrac in particular. Both of his friends look at little helplessly at each other. It’s not like him to say sorry, not properly – this is something Enjolras knows. But he has to get better at it. He must. He doesn’t deserve them otherwise.
“Here,” he says, setting down the plates. He motions at Courfeyrac to leave the croissants alone. “I’ll do that.”
Five minutes later, they’re crowded around the dining table eating and talking about nothing in particular, but Enjolras can feel Combeferre’s eyes on him as he eats – waiting, he knows, for something else. An explanation. If only his feelings were so easy to explain.
“Jesus, that was good.” Courfeyrac announces, leaning back in his chair. He leans sideways and steals the remaining half of a croissant still left on Enjolras’ plate. He lets him. It’s an incurable Courfeyrac habit. Chewing thoughtfully, he adds, “I thought you couldn’t cook?”
Enjolras glances at the small green food bin beside the veg rack. “There were several attempts,” he says lightly. The smell of burnt tomato is going to haunt him for years. “Are you guys full?”
Courfeyrac nods, but Combeferre doesn’t answer, frowning down into his tea. When Enjolras stands up to clear the table, he says abruptly, “You didn’t have to go to all this effort, Enj.”
Enjolras pauses at the sink, his back to them. “I wanted to,” he says quietly. It was more for Courfeyrac’s benefit than Combeferre’s, he thinks, but he was hopeful his friend would see the point of the gesture all the same. “I was wrong and… and you can’t beat a good breakfast,” he finishes lamely. Combeferre sighs a sigh that suggests he understands perfectly but still doesn’t see the point of the gesture. But then, he has never had his boyfriend’s appreciation for food. Courfeyrac drapes himself like a cat across Enjolras’ shoulders just as he reaches for the washing up liquid, his dark curly hair tickling his cheek.
“You really can’t,” he sighs, and hugs Enjolras quickly from behind. “I forgive you, ami. You just made my morning lecture one hundred percent better.”
Courfeyrac exits the kitchen, whistling. Combeferre sighs and reaches for a tea towel.
“I’ll help you dry up,” he says, like the not-argument they’re having is finished, but Enjolras knows it isn’t, not really. He risks a glance at Combeferre as he reaches for a plate, trying to discern his expression. It’s never been an easy task.
“Enj,” he says, as Enjolras’ eyes dart sideways again. He adds another plate to the stack. “Enj, I’m not cross at you, you know. You don’t have to be worried.”
“I’m not worried,” Enjolras says automatically, reaching for a cup, but his hands betray him and he nearly drops it. Combeferre grabs it by the handle and coughs. Still not looking at him, Enjolras amends, “It was just a gesture. For Courf.”
Combeferre raises an eyebrow. Somewhere above them, Courfeyrac is still whistling – something Enjolras recognises, dimly. Combeferre nods at his soapy hands. “You’re shaking.”
Enjolras bats a hand at him and returns to washing up. “It’s nothing,” he says. “Just tired. Can we leave it now? Are you getting a cab later?”
Combeferre bites down on his lip. “No,” he says. “The metro.” He gives Enjolras a chance to reply, then says, “Are you coming?”
Lack of sleep has made him edgy and paranoid, Enjolras thinks. He knows Combeferre is worried, but can’t help but mistake that worry for something else. He puts the last of the mugs on the drainer and moves to dry his hands. “Can’t,” he says. “Still need to plan for tonight’s meeting.”
Thanks for reading! Sorry for the lack of updates; expect any progress on this fic to be pretty sporadic until about July because most of my free time right now is focused on trying to pass my A-Levels haha. This fic is not turning out how I thought it would so it's also gonna take some extra time to try and figure all of that out. But no fear! I published it, so I will definitely finish it eventually.
Please leave kudos or a comment if you feel so inclined! Makes my day <3