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Courfeyrac's greatest fear is being alone. Not being alone for a few moments, or a day, or even a weekend. And all right, he gets antsy after a few hours by himself; sometimes he goes out to run errands not because he actually needed more toothpaste but because it's an excuse to talk to clerks and bus drivers and random people walking their dogs. But it's not because he's actually afraid--he just gets bored.

But being alone in a more fundamental way--having nobody in the world who knows you or really cares about you or will stay with you--that's what scares him. He did an internship at a nursing home during his master's program, and he'll never forget the way some of those old people lived: Sitting alone in their rooms all day long, the only voices or laughter in their day what was piped in on the scratchy TV. Shuffling down to the common area on Mother's Day or Thanksgiving to sit alone by the window and listen to other people talk with their families. Waking up in silence, eating in silence, going to bed in silence. He doesn't want to end up like that.

He reads news stories online about people found dead in their apartments, their bodies only discovered because a neighbor noticed a funny smell or because the landlord wanted to check the smoke detectors. One man was found seven months after he passed away, and that only because his bank account eventually drained and his automatic rent payments stopped coming. When he reads these stories, Courfeyrac sometimes has to stop and figure out, with brutal honesty, how long it would take people to find out if he were to drop dead then and there. Usually it's a safe answer--"when I didn't show up for work tomorrow," "a few hours after I stopped answering texts," "when I didn't make it to the picnic on Monday."

But even that's not comforting, because that's just now, and who's to say that things won't be different in a year? In ten years? In fifty? Logically, he knows that it's not likely that he'll end up completely alone and isolated--he has a big family who love him, he's good about staying connected with friends even when they live in different cities or even countries, cities are full of community groups that you can become a part of simply by showing up and starting conversations with people--but the prospect terrifies him all the same.

Maybe in part because that's a kind of being alone that says, "You're not enough."

 

* * *

 

It's been One of Those Days--angry doctors who despite their years of med school can't do anything about the aging population, angry receptionists who are fed up with the health insurance system's bullshit, angry lab techs who are underpaid and overworked, angry patients who don't understand why they're sick. Courfeyrac understands their frustrations. But when they all end up taking it out on the nurse, it gets a little hard to handle.

He gets home exhausted, his tongue sore from biting back nasty retorts, his skin buzzing with the tension of having so many people mad at him. He takes a shower, but even the cold water can't wash away all the emotions he brought home with him. It's too bad it's a Monday; it's another two days before the next ABC meeting. That's what he needs--to get out of the apartment, to be part of a group of people who are all working together instead of competing against each other, to be surrounded by people who like him, who appreciate what he does.

He needs to do karaoke.

But when he floats the idea with Feuilly, Feuilly groans. "Courf, it's a Monday."

"So?" Courfeyrac feels how thin the smile is stretched on his face, but Feuilly is cleaning out his lunch bag and doesn't see. "The power of Adele is not limited to the weekends."

"I have to be up at five," Feuilly says. "I have to supervise breakfast tomorrow."

"We can go home at nine, I promise." Courfeyrac does his best Bambi-eyes face--not because it has ever actually swayed Feuilly's opinion, but because it makes Feuilly laugh. "Come on, Feuilly, let's do it; it'll be fun."

But Feuilly shakes his head. "Sorry, Courf, I don't have the energy tonight. And I have some reading I wanted to do. Why don't you see if Joly and Bossuet want to go?"

Courfeyrac doesn't want to go out with Joly and Bossuet; he wants to go out with his boyfriend. But if his boyfriend wants to stay in and read, he supposes he can tamp down the ants crawling under his skin and go for a quiet night inside.

While Feuilly spends the entire evening reading The New Jim Crow, Courfeyrac screws around on facebook and listens to the new Beyoncé album for the sixteenth time.

"Oh my god, Feuilly, this one's amazing," he says. "You have to hear it."

Feuilly obligingly looks up from his book, shutting it with one finger tucked between the pages to hold his place. "It's pretty good," he agrees when the song is finished, but he's already turning back to the book.

And Courfeyrac knows that Beyoncé isn't really Feuilly's thing--he goes for either stuff with cellos or really fast Spanish rap--but really? He can't take a few minutes from his book to enjoy something simply because it's important to Courfeyrac?

And in that moment, the seed is planted.

 

* * *

 

Once the idea crosses his mind, it's hard not to see the pattern everywhere. Feuilly asking for a raincheck on the museum trip they'd planned, because he's got a wicked stress headache from work and wouldn't be good company. Feuilly passing on the movie Courfeyrac got from the library, saying he wants to get to bed early for once. Feuilly turning down Courfeyrac's suggestion of a lunch date--he always has paperwork or phone calls or something that he's working on over lunch, there's no point in Courfeyrac coming all the way in to school just so he can sit in Feuilly's office for half an hour while Feuilly keeps popping into the hallway to wheedle kids to go to the cafeteria where they belong. (It seems worth it to Courfeyrac, but whatever.)

He always has a perfectly good excuse, an eminently valid reason for saying no on that particular occasion . . . but that's just it. He always has an excuse not to spend time with Courfeyrac.

They've always had boundaries in their relationship, and until now they've been pretty good at it. Giving each other space is healthy; it's something Feuilly absolutely needs in a relationship, and something Courfeyrac has known from the start he needs to work on. He's done his very best not to be too clingy, to give Feuilly room to breathe and to remember to give himself to be his own person and not to be defined by his partner.

And of course he knows that Feuilly's a pretty solid introvert, especially compared with Courfeyrac's extreme extroversion. He knows that Feuilly needs time to himself to recharge, that where going out fills up Courfeyrac's reserves of energy, it drains Feuilly's, that while they have a lot in common they don't share all their interests and there are going to be some things he wants to do that Feuilly has no interest in and vice versa.

But Feuilly doesn't seem to have any trouble getting up the energy to go to ABC meetings or lectures at the university with Combeferre and Enjolras. He stays up until ten or eleven most nights reading. He's all fired up about an all-night Bernie Sanders rally. It's only when it comes to Courfeyrac that his enthusiasm seems faint.

And it's no wonder, Courfeyrac thinks in the silence of the apartment at eleven-thirty, when Feuilly's been asleep for two hours and Courfeyrac's still sitting up at the kitchen table in the dark, hunched over YouTube videos of cats dubbed over with silly voices: Feuilly could do so much better than Courfeyrac. Feuilly is so smart and brave and committed; he cares so much about the world and about the people around him, and his work ethic when it comes to the things he cares about is just incredible. He's kind and strong and adorable and sometimes Courfeyrac is giddy with amazement that someone this amazing is into him, a goofy five-foot-nothing with perpetually messy hair and wild unrealistic schemes, who cries over spaghetti sauce commercials and never managed to get a minor in college because he couldn't make up his mind on anything. Sometimes it seems too good to be true.

Courfeyrac tries to put a different spin on the facts: Feuilly's comfortable enough in their relationship that he doesn't feel the need to be tethered to Courfeyrac all the time. It's a sign of a mature relationship that they can each pursue their own separate interests and still come back together. But lately, even when they're together, Feuilly seems distracted, his mind on work or ABC stuff or whatever's next in his endless list of books to read. And it's hard for Courfeyrac to find any way to read that other than the one he's been dreading all along (from the very first time they went out on a Real Date, if he's honest with himself).

The inevitable is happening: Feuilly is losing interest in him.

 

* * *

 

It comes to a head the day Feuilly comes home late.

Courfeyrac had been planning to suggest they go out to dinner; he feels like he's coming down with a cold (again--the third one this summer--he was supposed to be past this after his first two years) and he wants a good spicy curry to snap him out of this foggy, half-asleep feeling and open up his nasal passages. But five o'clock comes and goes, then six o'clock. Feuilly's not back.

Eventually, Courfeyrac resigns himself to leftover enchilladas. He puts the pan in the oven to warm up, sure that Feuilly will get home any minute. After all, he hasn't texted (Courfeyrac's checked his phone like six times in the last half hour).

The enchilladas are getting crunchy around the edges and Courfeyrac is sliding deeper into a youtube spiral when Feuilly's keys rattle in the lock and he comes in with his arms full of mail and shopping bags and

"Sorry I'm home so late," he says, stopping on his way into the kitchen to press a kiss to Courfeyrac's forehead. "I stayed late at work to finish up some paperwork, and then I had to stop by the store to pick up stuff for the honor roll party tomorrow, and I had library books due back."

Courfeyrac pushes down the irrational feeling of betrayal and hopes Feuilly doesn't notice. "Change quick, dinner's in the oven," he urges, and Feuilly's eyes light up.

"I love you."

Over dinner, they bring out the kitchen timer again; each of them gets three minutes of work-related ranting before it's lights out on work and the subject is off-limits for the rest of the evening. It's something Courfeyrac had suggested last year, when Feuilly's school was dealing with a lot of gang-related violence and he was having trouble leaving those problems at work. It's not a hard-and-fast rule--when either of them needs to vent about work, they let the rule slide--but it's a little reminder to be present with each other. They hardly need the rule very often lately; things have been going better than usual for both of them the past few weeks, and sometimes their nightly rants are just accounts of funny or interesting things that happened that day. But Courfeyrac is glad they're sticking to the ritual, to the explicit decision to put their relationship--each other--first for a few hours every day.

Courfeyrac doesn't have much to say: Work was fine, the new interns are finally getting the hang of things, the hospital's benefits department is doing a healthy living competition-style promotion for the staff and the second-floor nurses are going to form a team. "What about you?" he asks, dismissing the last minute of his time and resetting the timer for Feuilly. "How was your day?"

Feuilly shrugs. "Same stuff as always," he sighs. "We spent the morning doing conflict resolution circles for the same kids we circle up with every single week. Another of my tenth-graders is pregnant . . . DeAnte is refusing to go to Alegra again and I had to spend forty minutes talking him down and reminding him he needs it to graduate . . . tomorrow we're going to have another useless staff meeting where everyone argues about test prep." He sighs again, then grins thinly. "So you know, about an average day."

Courfeyrac hovers a hand over the timer. "Do you want to go into overtime?"

But Feuilly shakes his head. "No, I'm good. It wasn't a particularly stressful day or anything. I'm just tired of the same old shit coming up over and over." He shuts his eyes for a minute. "Let's talk about something that's not work--in fact. . ."

Feuilly gets up from the table to get a handful of pamphlets from his bag. "These were at the library," he says, sliding one across the table to Courfeyrac. "It's a new tutoring program for the GED; the adult programs department is partnering with the children's library to offer story hour programming during all the tutoring sessions so that people have free childcare right there, isn't that a great idea?"

Feuilly brushes the hair out of his eyes--it's getting too long again--and Courfeyrac makes a mental note to tell him again how cute he finds the gesture. "I was just thinking about my kids when I picked them up--I have a few that are trying really hard to graduate but it's just not going to happen this year, and then they're going to be too old for public school, so I want to give them options. But then on my way home I thought, 'what if I volunteered as a tutor?' They need people, they had a sign on the front desk about it."

"You would be really good at that," Courfeyrac says at once. Then something in the flyer catches his eye, and his stomach sinks. "It's in the mornings. And . . . on Tuesday nights."

"You sign up for either the morning sessions or the night sessions," Feuilly says. "I wouldn't be able to do the morning sessions during the school year, obviously, but I think that would be okay. It's not the same group of students, so it wouldn't be a problem for me to just do the night sessions."

That's not what Courfeyrac meant. He glances over at Feuilly, who is eating enchilladas unconcernedly. "Tuesdays," he says again.

"Yeah, one night a week. That's not too much, right?"

Be good, be kind, be understanding, Courfeyrac tells himself. He doesn't say anything; he turns his attention back to his plate and cuts another bite of enchilladas. But he doesn't have any appetite left.

With the fork halfway to his mouth, he changes his mind and puts it down. "Um. Tuesdays are pub trivia? Remember?"

Feuilly frowns. "Yeah, we'd have to find somewhere else that does it."

That's reasonable. Yep, completely logical. The Angry Walrus cannot possibly be the only bar in the city that does trivia nights, and it's not as if the questions at their regular spot are anything special. You could probably pay $5 to guess the capitals of Southeast Asian countries and the top songs from specific years in the 90s at almost any bar in the city. Or even if not--it's not like drinking shitty beer and answering useless questions in a too-loud, too-hot room is such an important experience that they can't live without it. It makes perfect sense that tutoring struggling students should outrank Pub Trivia Night on Feuilly's list of priorities.

Still. All the logic in the world can't convince Courfeyrac's eyes not to start watering.

He tries to hide the emotion in a sudden and intense interest in his enchilladas, but his nose is running and he can't help but sniffle a little bit.

Feuilly looks up, startled. "Courf, are you . . . what's the matter?"

He shakes his head. "Nothing." He pretends he's wiping enchillada sauce off his face, not blotting at his eyes; everything's fine, there's nothing to talk about.

"You're crying." Feuilly frowns. "Did something happen today? Or did--did I say something to upset you?"

God, he hates being so emotional sometimes.

"It's not a big deal," he says creakily. "I'm overreacting." He wishes it didn't have to be a whole thing; he doesn't have the energy or stability for that right now. He is upset, but he doesn't need to drag Feuilly into his mess.

But Feuilly seems determined to be dragged in. "Please, Courf. Tell me what's wrong."

"It's stupid," Courfeyrac sniffles. "It's just. Trivia night."

"Trivia night," Feuilly repeats flatly. He sits back in his chair. "That's what you're upset about."

"No!" Courfeyrac snaps angrily. It's not just Trivia Night; it's everything. All the little slips over the last few weeks that betray how Feuilly is getting tired of him.

But at the same time, it is Trivia Night--or rather, it's the fact that Feuilly doesn't seem to care whether they hang onto that tradition or not. Courfeyrac wouldn't even mind if they had to stop doing the pub quiz--if only Feuilly would show a little disappointment at losing their weekly date night.

"It's important to me," he mutters bitterly, staring down at his plate.

Feuilly makes a frustrated spluttering noise. "I said we'd do it another time," he says. "I just wanted to do something that mattered to me, something where I could do some actual good. I thought you might . . ." He trails off, then shakes his head. "I'm not asking you to give up your precious pub quiz."

Your pub quiz. Courfeyrac's stomach goes cold.

"Never mind," he mutters. He picks up his fork and pushes the food on his plate around randomly, his vision all blurry with hot tears, then realizes he might be sick if he tries to eat anything else. He stands up abruptly, tossing his knife and fork on the plate with a clatter much louder and more angry-sounding than he intended. Feuilly looks up, startled.

"I have to leave--I, I have a thing at eight," Courfeyrac lies. He doesn't want to make it seem like he's walking out on this--but he can't handle being here right now. He needs to get out of the apartment, to go talk to Enjolras or Combeferre or somebody--anybody. "I would've told you earlier . . . but then you didn't get home until almost seven."

That was nasty, and Courfeyrac regrets saying it as soon as he steps out into the hallway. He can apologize--he will apologize--but it was still mean and rude. Maybe Feuilly is right to want to be done with him.