In Les Amis, the word “traditional” is hard to come by, and that’s just the way they like it. They gracefully sidestep the norm whenever possible, or maybe it’s the norm that eludes them, because none of them can be fucked to go looking for it. They carry on same as always, like they did in high school; that was when they first formed their rag-tag social justice club, holding meetings in cafés and public parks after school, where they spun dreams of changing the world. In the fashion of youth whose ambitions had not yet been tempered by cynicism or the harsh truths of reality, they named themselves The Friends of the People.
Since most of them began their university careers, the club dissolved, but the moniker stayed. They are still Les Amis, and still as non-traditional as it gets, apart from their own, personal traditions. One of those traditions is Friday nights. Combeferre really shouldn’t have been surprised that it all started there, and, true to form, it started in the most bizarre way possible.
It can be difficult, with a group of friends as large as theirs, to find the time to all get together very often. With their huge spectrum of lifestyles and responsibilities, coordinating schedules is very nearly impossible; so, over the years of their strange and colorful relations, they have come to the unspoken understanding that Friday nights are their nights. For a few precious hours every week, those of them who aren’t tied down to inescapable obligations make the pilgrimage to a fluctuating venue (often decided on last-minute), and partake in the sacred tradition of getting drunk together.
It’s nice, being able to laugh and relax with the people you consider family, and maybe even forget the outside world exists for a while. Combeferre treasures Friday nights, tries to commit them to memory and never let them fade. Somehow he knows he’d regret it one day if he didn’t.
Tonight errs on the slim side, attendance-wise, with just Combeferre, Courfeyrac, Jehan, and Bahorel kicking back in Marius and Courfeyrac’s apartment. Everyone else has either schoolwork or actual work to deal with, but Combeferre and Jehan were lucky enough to have their exams early in the week, Bahorel’s been out of school for years and his activities are generally a mystery, and Courfeyrac, with a touch of pride that Combeferre can’t help but smile at, never misses a Friday night hangout. The beers are quickly passed around and they bicker amicably over which board game to play, until finally Courfeyrac stands to retrieve Scrabble.
Marius and Courfeyrac keep their vast collection of board games stacked tightly in the space between the top of the kitchen cabinets and the ceiling, for no reason other than they fit there, and in their student budget-sized apartment, every inch of possible storage space must be taken advantage of. With an air of familiarity, Courfeyrac drags a chair into the kitchen and climbs on top to reach where the game is wedged between Settlers of Catan and a Harry Potter version of Monopoly.
Bahorel is regaling them with one of his many elaborate jokes (of which the punchlines are usually embarrassingly bad or incredibly sexual) while Combeferre attempts to toss cherry tomatoes into Jehan’s mouth. It’s comfortable and routine, the way they settle into each other’s space. Soon Combeferre will be pleasantly warm from the alcohol and entirely too engrossed in the game. Courfeyrac will spell out fake word after fake word just so he can argue with Combeferre over it. Bahorel will quit in favor of being the commentator, narrating the game as if it were professional football, and will bellow out a long, drawn-out “Goal!” when Jehan inevitably grinds them into the dust with several seven-letter words.
But Courfeyrac is balancing precariously on a chair in the kitchen, and Combeferre is a very long ways away from drunk, and that’s when everything changes.
It all happens very quickly, as these things tends to do, and Combeferre would stop to wonder at the relative nature of time if it weren’t for the ice freezing in his veins, or the stone dropping heavily in his stomach. The game is apparently difficult to pry from its resting place. The effort it takes to pull it out knocks Courfeyrac off balance, and he utters a startled cry that makes all three heads turn in unison to watch him topple backwards, too late to do anything to help.
Jehan gasps audibly when his head cracks against the kitchen counter, and Combeferre is out of his seat and rushing forward before anyone else has the time to react. He’s at Courfeyrac’s side in seconds, hands flying to his shoulders, his face, his wrist, his medical training kicking in and checking vitals on autopilot, even while his brain can’t think through the haze of blind panic and adrenaline. He’s only vaguely aware of Jehan calling for an ambulance, and Bahorel kneeling beside him; all he can see is Courfeyrac, out cold on the linoleum, and he has to refrain from trying to shake him awake, because that is the absolute worst thing he could do in this moment. Instead he sits and grips Courfeyrac’s limp hand and sporadically checks his pulse every few minutes until the ambulance finally arrives.
Two very stressful hours later, they’re in the ER, joined by an exhausted-looking Enjolras, who was writing a paper at the library when he got the news, and Feuilly, who left work mid-shift without so much as a “be back soon” to his manager. Everyone else was unable to make it down to the hospital, but Feuilly has them on stand-by, ready to send out a mass-text alert of any change to the situation.
The group huddles together in the waiting room, staring at nothing and not speaking to each other, just pressing their shoulders together in mute solidarity. They somehow share the innate knowledge that Courfeyrac is the proverbial glue that keeps them all together. Enjolras may be the unofficial leader of the pack, but Courfeyrac is the heart and center, the sun in their strange little solar system. Life is unimaginable without his warmth.
Enjolras keeps a grounding hand on Combeferre’s shoulder as they wait. The distant beeps of machines and squeaks of sneakers on the hospital floor are the primary sounds in the otherwise desolate little room, sounds which Combeferre usually finds comforting and familiar, but tonight they’re like the background noise in a horror movie. Every ring of a telephone or beep of a pager send sends a jolt through Combeferre’s bloodstream, like jump scares in a thriller.
He’s the first to notice the doctor making his way to them, scribbling something on his clipboard as he walks. Before long they’re all on their feet, waiting for the news.
“Well, he hit his head pretty hard,” the doctor says, and if he’s surprised at the eclectic group of people gathered around him like ducklings, he doesn’t show any indication of it. “It’s just a mild concussion, nothing to be terribly worried about, and nothing we need to keep him overnight for.”
The doctor smiles as a collective sigh of relief and un-tensing of shoulders ripples through them, and Combeferre feels like he can breathe for the first time in hours.
“That being said, you should keep an eye on him for the next few days,” the doctor continues. “He’s awake now, but I should warn you, there could be some temporary memory loss and confusion, and we have him on pain medication, so he’s pretty out of it.”
Bahorel snickers and gets out his phone, presumably to record any potential blackmail material, but the doctor holds up a hand to stop their shuffling towards the door.
“We’ll have him released in a few hours, but for now, only two visitors at a time, please.”
They look between themselves for the briefest of moments before the others are stepping away, leaving just Combeferre and Enjolras, and Combeferre, not for the first time, is infinitely grateful for his friends. Then Enjolras nudges him gently, and they enter the room with an approving nod from the doctor.
Courfeyrac looks tired and a little pale under the fluorescent lights, propped up against the hospital’s stark-white pillows, but Combeferre’s heart skips a beat looking at him as it always has, and as it probably always will. Enjolras charges ahead first as per usual, his hair a golden halo even in the harsh lighting, and Courfeyrac offers him a dopey, dimpled smile as he grasps his hand.
“Hey,” Enjolras murmurs, mindful of keeping the noise level down. “You scared us there. How are you feeling?”
“I’m amazing,” Courfeyrac says with almost-clarity. “I also can’t remember the word for those things, the noodley bits on your shoes, where you… move them around and they keep your shoes from falling off. What are those?”
“Shoe laces,” Enjolras says, smiling now. “Those are shoe laces. What did they give you?”
“I don’t know, but you have to try it,” Courfeyrac says, giggling.
“That’s probably more from the concussion than the meds,” Combeferre says, stepping around Enjolras and coming to the other side of the hospital bed. “But I’m glad you’re feeling better.”
Courfeyrac’s eyes snapped to Combeferre when he began speaking, and haven’t left him since. There’s a strange spark in them that Combeferre has never seen before, and it’s vaguely unsettling.
A wide grin suddenly spreads on Courfeyrac’s face, pure like sunshine, and Combeferre couldn’t be paid to look away.
“Hi,” he breathes, reaching for Combeferre’s hand, still smiling.
“Hi,” Combeferre says, smiling back and gently squeezing his hand.
“Are you a doctor?” Courfeyrac asks, and Combeferre freezes for a moment before temporary memory loss echoes in his head. He exhales sharply.
“No, not yet,” he says kindly. “I’m still in school, same as you.”
“So we know each other?”
If anything, Courfeyrac’s grin gets even wider.
“So we must be dating, right?” he asks innocently.
Combeferre blinks. Enjolras makes a choking noise.
“What,” Combeferre says faintly.
“We’re definitely dating,” Courfeyrac says resolutely, still not letting go of his hand.
“No, I. We’re not – what?” Combeferre stutters, trying to think over the pounding in his ears. “No, Courf, we’re – no. Friends. We’re friends.”
Courfeyrac gives him the most suspicious look he can probably manage, given the drugs.
“That’s impossible,” he says, with the same baffling certainty.
Combeferre stares at him, utterly at a loss for words. Enjolras is suspiciously silent. Courfeyrac looks like he’s starting to get frustrated, as if they’re being purposefully obtuse.
“You’re way too beautiful,” he says earnestly. “For me to ever, like. Not kiss you.”
Enjolras abruptly turns on his heel and leaves the room, coughing uncontrollably, while Combeferre just. Stares at Courfeyrac. While Courfeyrac stares (a little unevenly) back. He realizes his mouth is hanging open, and he quickly snaps it shut. At this point, he isn’t sure which one of them is more mentally present.
“You,” he says weakly, then stops. “That’s the drugs talking. And… The concussion. Definitely.”
Courfeyrac shakes his head adamantly, then stops with a groan, relinquishing Combeferre’s hand to weakly paw at his head.
Combeferre gently takes his hands and lowers them, and, unable to help himself, brushes a curl off Courfeyrac’s forehead. His eyes are large and pained and beautiful.
“Don’t move your head so much,” Combeferre instructs. He sounds off, even to himself.
Courfeyrac’s grin is back. “You really shouldn’t stand so close, it’s offensive.”
Confused, Combeferre snaps his hand back from where it was hovering above Courfeyrac’s cheek and shuffles back half a step.
“It’s offensive because I can’t kiss you,” Courfeyrac elaborates, still smiling.
Combeferre doesn’t know how to respond to that, having never been on the receiving end of Courfeyrac’s flirting.
Flirting. God. His hands fidget by his sides, and he rolls up his sleeves to the elbow just to have something to do. He tenses when Courfeyrac makes a distressed sound, wondering if he should call a nurse to administer more pain medication.
“You have tattoos,” Courfeyrac says, and Combeferre belatedly realizes it isn’t physical pain that made him groan. “And they’re nerd tattoos. How are you real?”
Combeferre has absolutely no idea what is going on.
“I think maybe you should rest,” he suggests after a beat, trying to subtly inch away. This is all becoming too much for him to handle.
“Wait,” Courfeyrac protests, seizing Combeferre’s hand in a vice-like grip. “Don’t go. You haven’t even told me your sign.” He pauses, frowning at himself. “What’s my sign?”
It’s impossible for Combeferre not to smile at that.
“You’re a Libra,” he says, acutely aware of Courfeyrac’s palm resting against his own.
“Huh,” Courfeyrac says noncommittally. He turns pensive, gazing at their linked hands through half-lidded eyes. “You still haven’t told me yours.”
“Aquarius,” Combeferre replies, wondering if Courfeyrac can even recall anything about the zodiac in his state. For his part, Combeferre only knows a decent amount of astrology for two reasons; one, he likes to know a little bit about everything. And two, Courfeyrac loves it.
Astrology, that is. Not Combeferre’s quest to become a “walking encyclopedia,” as Courfeyrac so fondly calls it. Courfeyrac has many hobbies, some more ironic than others. He can’t really tell if astrology is one of the ironic ones.
He’s beginning to get worried, watching the way Courfeyrac suddenly grows somber as he continues to stare at their hands. The hospital will be discharging him within a few hours, and Combeferre is nervous his very concussed friend won’t get any sleep in the interim. Which would completely be Combeferre’s fault.
He’s also desperate to get out of the room and forget their conversation ever happened, but that’s beside the point.
“You really should rest,” he says again after clearing his throat, kindly prying his hand away. The absence he feels when Courfeyrac lets go is unfairly cold.
When Courfeyrac looks back up at Combeferre, his expression is grave and infinitely sad.
“Leaving so soon?” he says quietly, and Combeferre can’t comprehend the sorrow in his tone.
“I…” Once again, Combeferre is at a loss for words. “We’re going to take you home in a few hours. I just really want you to get some sleep before then.”
Courfeyrac is silent.
Combeferre hesitates, then leans down and presses his lips to Courfeyrac’s cheekbone, just below his eye. He feels the sweep of eyelashes as they flutter closed.
“I’ll see you soon,” he whispers, because Courfeyrac already appears to be drifting out of consciousness.
Combeferre casts him a long, searching look before mechanically gathering his things and leaving, shutting the door as quietly as he can behind him with shaking hands.
Enjolras is the only one in the waiting room, leafing through a magazine while his foot taps absently on the navy blue carpet. There are two cups of coffee on the small table beside him, and when he sees the look on Combeferre’s face, he hands him one.
“I told the others to go home,” he explains. “It won’t take an army to get him back to his apartment, and he needs to rest, anyway.”
Combeferre nods and sinks into the chair next to him, feeling numb. They pass a few minutes in silence, until Enjolras apparently deems it an appropriate enough length of time for courtesy. He switches gears with a speed that gives Combeferre whiplash.
“So,” he says behind the rim of his coffee cup, eyes wide and innocent. “When were you planning on telling me about your committed partnership?”
“Oh my God, Enjolras,” Combeferre groans, rubbing a hand over his face.
“Who am I supposed to give the ‘if you break his heart I’ll kill you’ speech to?” he continues as though without interruption.
“Fuck you,” Combeferre says without venom.
“Now that would complicate things,” Enjolras quips, and Combeferre lets out a huff of laughter despite himself. In turbulent times, Enjolras always knows exactly what to say and when to say it. He is incredibly good at reading social cues, almost as good as Courfeyrac; but unlike Courfeyrac, Enjolras has no qualms with making people uncomfortable for all the right reasons, or with expressing his displeasure in any given situation. It can make him seem cruel sometimes, but after so many years of friendship, Combeferre has no idea how anyone can think Enjolras is cold-hearted.
Another minute passes between them in silence, until Combeferre asks soberly, “What am I going to do?”
Enjolras studies him pensively.
“What do you want to do?”
Combeferre tries to think about it, and finds that he can’t, so he makes a strangled noise instead of responding.
“Okay, let me rephrase. How do you feel about Courfeyrac?”
Combeferre looks at him, surprised, but Enjolras’s gaze is unwavering.
“Why does it matter?” he asks, genuinely confused. “He didn’t know what he was saying. He’s concussed, and drugged, and probably won’t remember any of that conversation.”
“That’s true,” Enjolras says. “But that doesn’t mean it isn’t really how he feels. And now you know, and he probably won’t remember that you know, so. It matters.”
Combeferre remembers the distinctly sober way Courfeyrac looked at him just before he fell asleep and tries to swallow down the sudden lump in his throat.
“How do you know that’s how he really feels?” he asks desperately, setting the too-hot coffee down and raking his fingers through his hair.
“I don’t,” Enjolras says simply. “But I know how you feel about him. And now that you’ve heard those words coming from him, you can’t keep those feelings to yourself anymore. It wouldn’t be fair to him, and it definitely wouldn’t be fair to you.”
The lump, quite possibly, gets even larger. The pounding is back in his ears. All he can think about are impossible eyes, and a wide, dimpled smile. How many nights has he gone to sleep with the memory of Courfeyrac’s smile etching itself painfully into his heart? How many times has he listened to him reciting a bad joke, drinking in the sound of his laughter like a dying man?
“How long have you known?” he says to Enjolras, looking down at his hands.
Enjolras sighs deeply.
“Combeferre, I’ve known you for a very, very long time,” he says seriously. “And I have never seen you look at anyone the way you look at him. I think I knew the moment I introduced you two.”
“That’s pretty perceptive of you,” Combeferre says, cracking a smile in his direction. “I don’t think I knew, myself, until a few years ago.”
Enjolras huffs in exasperation. “I’m not completely clueless. I can tell when my best friend’s in love.”
Combeferre ignores the way that word buries itself in his gut like a stake and frowns instead.
“Courfeyrac is different,” Enjolras says dismissively. “He’s really good at hiding his emotions when he wants to.”
Combeferre almost wants to be offended at the implication that he isn’t very good at it, but Enjolras has a point. Part of Courfeyrac’s magnetic charm is his ability to give people exactly what they want to see. Above all other things, Courfeyrac wants his friends to be happy, even if it means hiding his own negative feelings. The unsettling feeling in his stomach grows as he thinks about all the times Courfeyrac has probably sacrificed his happiness for the sake of keeping a cheery façade in front of his friends. How much pain has he stubbornly suffered through alone?
“You should tell him,” Enjolras says.
“Which part?” Combeferre asks, knowing the answer.
“All of it.”
Combeferre leaves soon after that, after Enjolras assures him he can get Courfeyrac home safe by himself. He takes the metro home, changes into his pajamas, and tries to get some sleep. When he hears the quiet click of the door signaling Enjolras getting home, he realizes he’s been wide awake for hours, staring at the black expanse of his ceiling and running over the night’s events in his mind, over and over, like a song on repeat. Resigned to a night of insomnia, he turns on his bedside lamp and reaches for his glasses.
And then he does what he always does in times of uncertainty: he makes a list.
Possible Outcomes If You Tell Courfeyrac:
- He feels the same (ideal)
- He doesn’t feel the same (more likely)
- - After a few awkward weeks, everything goes back to normal (most likely outcome)
- - He stops being friends with you (highly unlikely)
- - You back out of the friendship because it’s too hard (possible, but not permanent, who are you kidding)
- - You continue being friends, but it is never the same (probability: unfortunately high)
Combeferre stares at the list, feeling a bit nauseous. He doesn’t assign a probability to the first outcome; even now it seems ridiculous to even entertain the idea that anything could happen between them. He stopped daydreaming about would-be scenarios like that a long time ago, because he had realized how unhealthy and pathetic it was. It was a bad habit, spending idle hours imagining the way Courfeyrac’s hair might feel tangled in his hands, how the soft swell of his lips might taste, what sounds he might make when Combeferre sucks a bruise onto his neck…
Fortunately, Combeferre has always been good at kicking habits.
Submersing himself in his school work had not been particularly challenging, considering his field of study. He locked those fantasies away in a box, treated them like they were illegal, shameful, poisonous things he had to deny himself, for his own good. During the day, he kept them at bay with the frantic enthusiasm of a zealot, until it became second nature to squash them in the embryonic stage.
Nighttime is a different story, even now. When the sun dips below the horizon and the stillness of night settles over him, in the security of darkness and the solitude of his bedroom, he still occasionally falters. He conjures up an image of Courfeyrac’s face and allows himself to fully feel the deep ache in his bones, the longing that would be unbearable in the light of day but is somehow made more tolerable under the blanket of night, like a secret between him and the stars.
But he doesn’t play out those fantasies in his head anymore. They were made forbidden, and the rigor with which he held himself to his own rules was enough to permanently seal them away behind closed doors.
Entertaining those thoughts now, dragging them out of their cage and forcing himself to reevaluate them in light of the day’s events, overwhelms him. He actually thinks he might throw up, and he spends a few solid minutes with his head between his knees, breathing deeply, before the feeling fades.
He wishes he had never heard Courfeyrac’s half-conscious confessions. He wishes he had stepped aside and let someone else visit him in the hospital, or that he had been holed up in a library somewhere, writing a paper, with his phone turned off so he could focus. Whether or not he meant any of the things he said, Courfeyrac was not, by any stretch of the imagination, in control of his words. Combeferre is fairly certain that he would have never said any of those things in a sober state, and that makes him wish all the more vehemently that he could turn back time and never hear them.
He had no right to hear them.
But he did, all the same. And the implications open old, scarred-over wounds, break open doors he’d bolted shut years ago, for the sake of preserving his friendship with Courfeyrac.
If it doesn’t happen now, if he confesses his feelings for Courfeyrac and is faced with rejection, he doesn’t know if he can shut that part of himself away again. It could break him. Combeferre takes off his glasses and rubs the bridge of his nose wearily. As much as he doesn’t relish the thought of confronting Courfeyrac about this, not knowing would probably be even worse. And he knows, deep in his soul, that even in the likely event that Courfeyrac’s feelings were entirely drug- or concussion-induced, and Combeferre falls apart from the ensuing heartbreak, the pain wouldn’t last forever. One day he would be able to look at Courfeyrac without his heart ripping apart, and they would be friends again, because Courfeyrac is kind and caring and good and would never let their friendship fade without putting up a fight. And Combeferre would heal and put his pain aside, because being friends with Courfeyrac is one of the best things about his life.
He stares at the list with a sense of clarity he didn’t have before. Mind significantly less cluttered, he finally feels the weight of exhaustion drooping his eyelids, and he settles down in bed for a night of deep, dreamless sleep.
Courfeyrac stays home for the next few days, under Marius’s (surprisingly) careful watch. Luckily, it’s the weekend, and by the time Monday rolls around he’s deemed well enough to attend class – by Joly, because Combeferre isn’t brave enough to face him. In fact, Combeferre doesn’t see him until the following Friday night, a full week after the accident.
All thirteen of them are packed into a family-sized booth at the Corinth, with an extra table and chairs added to the end. Separate conversations rise and swell over the ‘80s hits that perpetually play in the bar, and Combeferre is pretty sure they’re making enough noise to run out any potential customers who aren’t familiar with them; the owner, Mabeuf, has always been fond of them though, and gives them no trouble. Besides, between them, they probably consume the amount of food and drink the bar sells weekly in one sitting.
The universe clearly isn’t giving Combeferre any breaks tonight, because he somehow ends up sitting directly across from Courfeyrac, and he catches the other sending him looks more than once over the drinks and plates of finger food littering the table. With their volume, it’s impossible to speak to anyone not directly next to his seat without shouting, and Combeferre takes solace in that. He keeps his eyes trained on his side of the table, smiling politely at passing conversations but staying mostly silent. His nerves may be frazzled, but sitting with his friends fills him with a familiar sense of peace and belonging nonetheless.
“Are you alright, Combeferre?” Cosette eventually asks from where she’s squished beside him. “You’ve been quiet all night.”
Combeferre gives her a reassuring smile. He’s always liked Cosette. She’s honest and sweet in the way someone with her past has every right not to be, and Combeferre admires her for that.
“Yeah, it’s no big deal. Just some stuff going on, you know,” he lies easily. “Did you get that Vivien Leigh poster framed yet?”
Cosette has an immense love for old Hollywood movies, something anyone can tell just by looking at her studio apartment, which is decorated floor-to-ceiling with silver screen icons. A huge canvas print of Audrey Hepburn takes up an entire wall, and the last time Combeferre visited, he counted three James Dean mugs.
Cosette shoots him a knowing look but graciously allows the non sequitur to slide.
“Not yet, I’m still trying to figure out where to put it,” she says. “I was thinking over my desk, maybe, but then I’d have to move Marilyn…”
Someone kicks Combeferre’s legs under the table, and he turns to see Courfeyrac holding up his phone and pointing to it significantly.
He hopes his panic doesn’t show too well as he shrugs apologetically at Cosette and fishes his phone out of his pocket, checking his messages. The Can we talk? that flashes at him from his screen fills him with a cold sense of dread, but he quickly types out a response before he can think of an adequate excuse.
“I’m gonna step out for a minute,” he tells Cosette, holding up his phone as explanation. “Sorry, I do want to hear about the Marilyn dilemma later.”
“Don’t come back unless it’s with a vodka cran,” she replies mock-threateningly.
Two minutes later, he’s waiting outside the bar, watching the snowflakes drift lazily in the soft glow of the street lamps. They’re close enough to the nearby university that most of the passerby are students, merry with the prospect of the weekend, their laughter catching on the breeze and whispering past Combeferre. The din of the bar gets louder for a moment before being muffled again by a door shutting.
Combeferre breathes steadily.
“Hey,” Courfeyrac says, coming to a stop beside him.
“Hey,” he echoes, finally turning to face him. Their breaths form wispy clouds in the frigid air. “How are you feeling?”
Courfeyrac considers him for a moment, then gives him a small, ironic smile.
“Fine, have been since Tuesday,” he says. “Not that you’d know.”
He doesn’t sound angry, just confused. Combeferre imagines he sees disappointment lingering in the set of his eyes, but it vanishes before he can be certain.
“I’m sorry,” Combeferre says honestly. “I’ve had kind of a crazy week.” That part is less honest, because Combeferre’s weeks are always crazy, but that never stops him from making time for his friends. He sent Courfeyrac a few I-hope-you-feel-better-soon texts over the weekend, but that was the extent of their communication up until now.
Courfeyrac calls his bluff easily, as Combeferre knew he would.
“Too busy to check in for, like, ten minutes?” he says, his smile growing. “Concussions aren’t contagious, you know.” And then, to lighten the blow, “Don’t you Combe-care?”
He sounds playful, but Combeferre can hear the accusatory undertone, can see the hurt behind the false mirth in his eyes. Guilt settles over him, a heavy, dark thing that clenches its fingers around his throat.
“I really am sorry,” he says again, putting as much weight into the words as he can. “I can’t tell you why I didn’t visit you, but… there’s really no excuse for it anyway, is there?”
After a beat, Courfeyrac relaxes into a more genuine smile, and Combeferre feels himself growing warm despite the cold. The word “grudge” has never been in Courfeyrac’s vocabulary.
“No harm done,” he says casually, and just like that, everything is fine. Combeferre can almost pretend the events at the hospital never happened. Caught up in the moment of comradery, he even lets himself believe that maybe he could forget the entire affair, just move on and brush the memories away like dust that had settled in his mind.
‘You’re way too beautiful for me to ever like, not kiss you.’
There is snow in Courfeyrac’s hair. It glows a soft orange in the lamplight, like a fine layer of gold on his dark curls. A Klimt painting in the flesh.
“Hey,” he says, eyebrows furrowing. “Are you okay?”
Combeferre has the distinct feeling of déjà-vu.
“Yeah,” he says, somehow managing to muster up a smile. “Let’s go back inside?”
Courfeyrac still looks dubious, but when Combeferre opens the door for him, he silently yields. Combeferre can tell the conversation is far from over, but Courfeyrac is willing to let it go for the time being.
The warmth and bustle of the bar greet them like old friends, and after stomping their feet free of snow in the foyer, they follow the booming sound of Bahorel’s laughter back to their group, where Grantaire and Bossuet both have straws protruding from their mouths like fangs. Enjolras is visibly trying not to look fond, but when Grantaire turns to him and mocks biting his neck with the long ends of the straws, he lets out a bubble of laughter and squirms away, blushing.
So they’ve reached that point in the evening.
Everyone is in various states of inebriation. By Combeferre’s estimation, Joly is about half a beer away from standing on a chair and rapping Eminem (and dissolving into infectious giggles at “arms spaghetti”). Bahorel and Jehan are decidedly sober, but Bahorel is the type to get drunk on the energy in the room long before alcohol has anything to do with it, and it shows. Everyone else falls somewhere in between, but Combeferre would bet his life savings they’ll all be fall-over drunk by the end of the soirée.
Friends don’t let friends party sober.
“Do you like my tattoos?” he hears himself asking, looking sideways at Courfeyrac.
“Uh,” Courfeyrac says, giving him a weird look. “Yeah, they’re very ‘you.’”
The unspoken why is incredibly tangible, but Combeferre doesn’t say anything else. He’s kind of horrified he even mentioned it to begin with.
“Courfeyrac!” Grantaire hails, spitting out his “fangs” and grabbing two shot glasses from the table. “Drink with me!”
Courfeyrac tosses his head back and laughs, and with a parting pat to Combeferre’s arm, climbs dexterously over laps and half-empty bottles to squeeze in between Grantaire and Bossuet. Grantaire looks impressed.
Cosette is shooting Combeferre concerned glances, and Combeferre really can’t handle this right now, so he mutters something about getting the next round of drinks (“A true hero!” Bahorel bellows) and makes his way to the bar instead.
He orders what he hopes is a sufficient amount of alcohol for the time being, and adds a vodka cranberry for Cosette as a last-minute thought. It only takes a minute for his card to be processed, but Combeferre finds himself unable to leave the bar. His feet are one hundred percent glued to the heavily scratched and stained wooden floor.
“I can take those out,” he tells the bartender, who looks perplexed but doesn’t protest. Less work for him.
Combeferre slides onto a barstool and folds his arms on the counter, fiddling with the frayed sleeve of his sweater. He thinks somewhat hysterically that he identifies with the loose thread he’s pulling at. Slowly unraveling.
He’s obviously in desperate need of another drink.
“I don’t know if you knew this, but you’re sitting at the wrong end of the bar.”
Combeferre lifts his head to find Feuilly offering him a small wave.
“The rest of us are over there.” He motions with his head to their group, tucking his hands into his pockets. “Just FYI.”
Combeferre sighs and shifts his gaze forward again, taking stock of the various bottles of liquor stacked against the wall. He feels Feuilly take a seat beside him, a friendly, non-evasive presence.
“Did Enjolras send you?” Combeferre asks him.
“He’s not a general,” Feuilly says light-heartedly. “And we’d be the worst troops, can you imagine? But no, he didn’t. I was on my way back from the bathroom and happened to see a misplaced ami, so I came to investigate.”
“I’m just waiting for our next round of drinks.”
“I’ll help you carry them back, then.”
He doesn’t ask why Combeferre is the one carrying the drinks, and not the staff. It’s hard not to like Feuilly.
“Thanks,” Combeferre says. “I hadn’t really thought about how I was going to carry everything back.”
“Seems like you’ve been spacing out a lot recently,” Feuilly comments. “Not that I’m judging. You’re okay though, right?”
“Why is everyone asking me that today?” Combeferre says, with a touch of annoyance he immediately regrets.
Feuilly’s eyebrows shoot up. “My bad, are we bothering you with our friendship?”
“Sorry, I just.” Combeferre sighs. “I’m fine, honestly. I just have a lot on my mind right now.”
“More than usual?” Feuilly whistles lowly. “It’s not something bad, is it?”
I wish I knew.
“I don’t think so. I’m working through it.”
Feuilly nods understandingly. The bartender is almost finished lining two trays with bottles of beer and wine, and Feuilly reaches out to balance one on his forearm.
“Well, whatever it is, good luck, man,” he says.
He has no idea how Feuilly did it, but Combeferre leaves the counter feeling significantly better and more present in the moment. He remembers Courfeyrac telling him once with a faux serious expression that Feuilly was magic, and now he’s not sure he was entirely joking.
They’re met with raucous whoops and cheers as they pass the drinks around the booth, and Combeferre plucks a drink off his tray as he takes his place next to Cosette.
“Vodka cranberry for the lovely Cosette,” he says, presenting the cocktail with a flourish.
“Can I try some?” Marius asks from his place on Cosette’s other side.
Cosette rolls her eyes affectionately and passes him the drink.
“You look better,” she says to Combeferre, warm and pleased. “Did something happen?”
Combeferre shrugs, claiming a beer for himself.
“Honestly, no, but I’ll deal with my crap later,” he says. “Tonight I’m having drinks with friends. That’s what matters.”
“It’s rare that everyone can get together like this,” Marius says, leaning forward to look around Cosette at Combeferre. “It’s really nice! Also, this is delicious.”
“Oh my God, you drank, like, half of it,” Cosette exclaims, laughing.
Marius blushes but gives Cosette the most doting smile, clearly pleased he made her laugh. His devotion is completely transparent.
Combeferre abruptly feels like he’s intruding on something and looks away, settling back against the upholstery of the booth. He sweeps his gaze across the faces of his friends, noting that Bossuet is beatboxing for a flushed Joly, who is slurring his way through a Nicki Minaj verse, too drunk to really make out half the English words and just approximating sounds. Grantaire and Jehan are way too into it, practically headbanging along. Musichetta and Feuilly are laughing hysterically at something, and Bahorel and Eponine are engaged in an intense battle of thumb war, encouraged rather enthusiastically by Enjolras and Courfeyrac, who are pounding their fists on the table, making the glasses rattle and clink together in a dissonant metronome.
When his gaze reaches Courfeyrac, he’s in the process of glancing away, as if he’d been looking in Combeferre’s direction. It’s then that Combeferre realizes he’d been mindlessly rolling his sleeves up.
He grimaces at his beer and decides he needs something stronger.
“Pass me the highlighter, please?”
Combeferre pauses his typing to reach into the pile of pens and markers on the coffee table and tosses one to Enjolras, who snatches it out of the air without looking up from his notes. He sits within a fortress of political science books and study packets, the old, faded armchair barely visible beneath the stacks of paper; the sleep-deprived, begrudging ruler of a kingdom of color coded notes and flashcards. Half his hair is pulled back into a small knot to keep from falling in his eyes, while the other half has already come loose and defiantly hangs over his eyes anyway.
“You look like one of those ghosts in Korean horror movies,” Courfeyrac comments from where he’s seated next to Combeferre. He’s sitting cross-legged on the couch, his knee bumping against Combeferre’s thigh. “Except, you know, blond.”
Enjolras snorts humorlessly and runs a hand through his bangs, only disheveling them more.
“I’m too tired to be a vengeful spirit,” he says.
“You, too tired to be vengeful?” Combeferre says. “That’s new.”
“Blame International Post-Modern Political Theory,” Enjolras says with as much venom as anyone surviving on caffeine and four hours of sleep can muster.
“You need a break,” Combeferre gently chides. Enjolras just grimaces and highlights something in his notes.
“Yeah, I feel like I definitely can’t complain about English in front of you,” Courfeyrac says. “But I’m going to anyway. Because relative pronouns are draining my life force.”
Enjolras and Combeferre give him sympathetic looks.
“Can’t Marius help you?” Combeferre asks, tapping Courfeyrac’s knee with his pencil. “He’s pretty fluent, right?”
“I love Marius, but he couldn’t teach a goldfish to swim,” Courfeyrac says solemnly. “Explaining concepts is just not his forte, spongey brain or not.”
Combeferre beats down the urge to smile and keeps his face neutral. “Spongey brain?”
“Yeah, his brain is a sponge,” Courfeyrac explains, still keeping the serious tone. “And not just any old kitchen sponge, it’s like, a Shamwow-level sponge.”
He’s interrupted by Enjolras’s phone buzzing insistently from somewhere in the Political Science Kingdom. Enjolras curses under his breath and spends a solid minute digging through the debris to find it.
“I have to go, guys,” he says, capping his highlighter and beginning to shut all the open books around him, using his notes as bookmarks.
“Booty call?” Courfeyrac asks, smirking.
“No,” Enjolras says a little too quickly, even as he pulls his hair loose and rakes his fingers through it to make it more presentable.
Courfeyrac scoffs. “Yeah, okay. Tell Grantaire I said hi.”
“You could use a little stress relief,” Combeferre says meaningfully, and Courfeyrac wolf-whistles to emphasize the point.
Enjolras shakes his head at Combeferre as he shrugs on his coat and ties a bright red scarf around his neck.
“Et tu, Bruté?”
“There’s a really dirty Caesar salad joke I could say to that,” Courfeyrac says, grinning. “But I won’t, because I respect the boundaries of friendly teasing.”
He looks extremely pleased with himself when Combeferre covers his laughter with a coughing fit.
“In describing the joke you essentially told it,” Enjolras says, unimpressed. “I’ll see you guys later.” He stops at the door and says to Combeferre as an afterthought, “Italian for dinner?”
“I’ll order gnocchi for you,” Combeferre says, and Enjolras gives him a thankful smile before leaving, the door shutting quietly behind him.
Combeferre suddenly realizes he is completely alone with Courfeyrac, something he’d been strategically avoiding for a while. He tries not to look too tense.
He’d managed, up to this point, not to think too much about the ever-looming confrontation with Courfeyrac he knows is on the horizon. Focusing on studying and just enjoying the company of his two best friends proved to be reliably easy, because that’s what he usually turns to when he needs a distraction from the whirlwind in his mind. With Enjolras gone, he feels himself slowly but surely slipping away from the eye of the storm and back into the tumult.
There is a very slim amount of couch cushion separating him and Courfeyrac.
“So, those relative pronouns…” Courfeyrac phrases it like a question, folding his hands under his chin and batting his eyelashes imploringly. “Do you think maybe you could help me? You’re such a good teacher.”
Combeferre feels his face grow hot. Like he could ever say no to Courfeyrac.
“Stop that,” he says and snatches the grammar book from where it’s balanced on Courfeyrac’s thigh. “I can’t say no to that face.”
He ignores the way Courfeyrac’s expression melts into a warm smile and flips back a few pages until he finds the examples.
“Okay, so ‘who’ refers to a subject, and ‘whom’ refers to an object,” he begins, singling out a good example to use. This is okay. Maybe he can actually do this. “Like here, see?”
Courfeyrac leans against him to better peer down at the page, and Combeferre’s heart pounds out a quick staccato in his chest.
“So.” Combeferre tries to quietly clear his throat. “So, ‘which’ and ‘that’ get kind of tricky, but, um…”
Courfeyrac looks up at him, diligently focused, and he is very close.
“You generally use ‘that’ more,” Combeferre says, looking into his eyes. “And…. Uh.”
Courfeyrac nods slowly.
Combeferre has no idea what he was talking about.
“Er,” he says, taking a deep, steadying breath. “Sorry.”
Courfeyrac carefully lays a hand on his arm.
“’Ferre?” he says cautiously, moving back so he can get a better look at him. “Is everything…”
“Fine.” Combeferre sighs and shuts his eyes for a moment. Regroup. “I’m fine.”
Courfeyrac’s hand doesn’t move from his arm. Instead, his fingers begin to trace gentle patterns on his skin, moving between the lines of his circuit tattoo. It’s both soothing and really, really not.
When he opens his eyes, Courfeyrac is studying him silently with a strange expression. The expected concern is there, but he seems more calculating than anything, and Combeferre doesn’t know what to think of that. The weight of his gaze throws him completely off-balance.
“I have to go,” he says abruptly, sliding his arm out from under Courfeyrac’s fingers. He needs to leave before he does something stupid, like smooth down the small line of worry that has formed between Courfeyrac’s eyebrows.
“I forgot, I promised I’d study with Joly,” he lies smoothly enough.
Courfeyrac frowns, but doesn’t protest as Combeferre scoots farther away and rolls down his sleeves, looking anywhere but at him.
“I guess I’ll go then,” Courfeyrac says reluctantly. Combeferre nods, standing up with him.
Courfeyrac shoves his English book unceremoniously into his school bag and slings it over his shoulder, shooting another look at him. Combeferre rubs the back of his neck and tries not to feel too guilty.
“We’ll pick up where we left off later?”
“Sure,” Courfeyrac allows kindly.
Combeferre holds the front door open for him, but Courfeyrac pauses in the threshold and looks back at him like he wants to say something. Or like he’s waiting for Combeferre to say something. Either way, the air is thick with something viscous and demanding.
Courfeyrac takes a deep breath, opens his mouth, then appears to reconsider and deflates.
“Nevermind,” he says. “See you later.”
Combeferre smiles reassuringly and shuts the door behind him, then wonders what just happened. He lets his gaze slide across the now empty apartment, preoccupied with questions he can’t even begin to put into words, and decides he needs some fresh air. The atmosphere in the small space still has traces of the tension between Courfeyrac and himself, and he’s desperate to escape and clear his mind.
He grabs his coat and keys and makes for the library, where hopefully the quiet, studious atmosphere will inspire the same focus in him. It’s a blindingly clear day in Paris, the sun doing absolutely nothing to warm the frigid air. Combeferre squints at the impossibly blue sky and wraps his scarf tightly around his neck, starting down the street. The smell of freshly baked bread wafts over him in a plume of warmth and sweetness as he passes a bakery. He remembers Courfeyrac claiming it’s among the best in the quarter, and, still feeling guilty about lying and kicking him out of the apartment, Combeferre sighs and darts inside. Maybe he can buy Courfeyrac’s forgiveness with pain-au-chocolat.
It’s warm inside and smells amazing. The paper snowflakes dangling from the ceiling make him smile.
“Combeferre!” a familiar voice calls, and he looks away from the festive decorations to see Marius waving amiably.
“Hey,” Combeferre says, joining him by the glass-covered display of baked goods and grasping his hand in greeting. “What are you doing here?”
Marius blushes and laughs self-consciously. “Ah, I’m meeting Cosette later at the station. I thought I’d get us some macarons to share.”
“But… Isn’t this in the opposite direction from your apartment to the station?” Combeferre asks curiously. “There must be a good bakery that’s on the way.”
“Hah, yeah, well,” Marius shrugs, like it’s no big deal he took the time to go a mile out of his way for some macarons. “Courf is always raving about this place, and he’s usually right about these things.”
Combeferre smiles at the sweetness of the gesture. Marius really is among the best of them.
“Yeah, he’s usually spot on,” he agrees.
“Why are you here?” Marius says, eyebrows furrowing. “You’re less of a baked goods guy and more of a chocolate guy, right?”
That takes Combeferre aback.
“Er, yeah,” he says, trying to recall a conversation with Marius where the subject of dessert preference ever came up. “How did you know that?”
Marius visibly pales.
“Ah, er,” he flounders, waving his hands in a way he must think is nonchalant. Combeferre is pretty sure his voice has gone up by an octave. “I guess I must have just… heard, from. Somewhere. Courfeyrac probably? Not that we, like, talk about you, or anything… um.”
He ducks his head and rubs the back of his neck.
“Don’t, ah, tell him I told you that,” he mumbles to the floor.
“Why would I…” Combeferre shakes his head and laughs awkwardly. “Um, I don’t see why it’s a big deal? But okay.”
Marius raises his head and, apparently satisfied with Combeferre’s expression, relaxes again. Combeferre thinks it’s probably best he forgets whatever just happened and move on.
“You’re right though,” he says, just to change the subject. He looks over at the stacks of golden-brown pastries crowding the display case. “I’m actually getting something for Courfeyrac. I may have suddenly kicked him out of my apartment in the middle of helping him with his English. He’s a fan of amandines, right?”
He knows the answer is yes, but he asks anyway so as not to seem suspicious. Marius, however, remains strangely silent, and Combeferre looks back to find him tilting his head in polite confusion.
“Did you say you were helping him with his English?” he asks.
Marius shakes his head in disbelief. “Courf’s English is excellent. He’s top of his class.”
“We watch Downtown Abbey together,” Marius says gravely. “He quotes Pulp Fiction at me daily. His English is almost as good as mine.”
Combeferre knows Marius isn’t bragging, just stating a fact – and one that is well earned. But the information and the logic of the day’s events don’t line up, and trying to process it all is shaping up to be a losing battle.
“Then,” Combeferre says, trying to put the pieces together. “Why would he ask for my help?”
Marius’s smile falters. He purses his lips as he stares at Combeferre, looking like staying silent is the worst form of torture. When the woman behind the counter leans over and hands him a small box, presumably filled with macarons, he snaps out of whatever inner debate he was having and practically flees the bakery, uttering out a quick “See ya!” over his shoulder.
Combeferre watches his hasty retreat and wonders, for the second time that day, what just happened.
“Can I help you, sir?” the woman asks cheerfully, jerking him back into the moment.
“Oh, yes, uh.” Combeferre’s phone buzzes insistently in his pocket, and he glances distractedly at it, then double-takes at the multiple messages from Courfeyrac. “Sorry, just a moment.”
He turns away from the counter and pulls the text message up, holding back a groan.
12:32: You’ll never guess who I just ran into on the metro!
12:33: Who definitely doesn’t remember anything about a meeting with you today haha.
Combeferre starts and erases three different replies before giving up and pocketing his phone. He adds it to his growing list of Things To Do Later and, after saying an apologetic bonne journée to the employee, leaves the bakery.
Almost exactly one week later – and he really should have seen this coming – the list explodes in his face.
The hot spray of the shower instantly soothes Combeferre’s tired muscles, and he sighs as the water washes away the last vestiges of sweat from his workout. He and Enjolras used to go to the gym practically every day after class, but their courses this semester have proved too grueling to take off more than a few hours a week; but today is Thursday, his shortest day, and one of his classes was cancelled, so for the first time in about a month Combeferre had a solid two hours to spare before dinner.
Something has been building in the past few weeks, a steady rise in pressure that he feels could burst the pipes any minute. It made working out all the more stress-relieving. The tension melts off his body in waves under the water, and when he finally steps out, he feels more relaxed and put-together than he has in a long time.
It’s all the reprieve he can afford, however, as he remembers the monster of a paper he has to edit for next week, so he pulls on a clean pair of sweatpants and exits the bathroom, a cloud of steam pouring out behind him.
“Ah, you didn’t happen to take a shirt in there with you, did you?” Enjolras asks from where he’s buried in schoolwork at the kitchen table. There’s a half-empty coffee pot at his elbow with no actual cup in sight.
“Uh, no?” Combeferre shoots him a look, growing wary.
“That’s a shame,” Enjolras says without inflection, looking back to his notes. “Courfeyrac is waiting for you in your room.”
So much for that tension being gone.
“Of course he is,” Combeferre says darkly. “Why is he in my room?”
“He said he needed to talk to you,” Enjolras says, shrugging. His eyes briefly flicker back up to Combeferre. “Privately.”
Combeferre’s heart rate kicks up a notch.
“Great,” he says relatively calmly. “Okay. Well, maybe I’ll just stay out here for a bit. What are you working on?”
“Stop avoiding him,” Enjolras says firmly while he writes something down in the margins of his notes.
“You’re sending me to the gallows and you don’t even care,” Combeferre deadpans. “That’s cold, Enjolras.”
“Well, this exam isn’t going to study for itself,” Enjolras replies with the same monotony, not bothering to look up. “It’s been nice knowing you.”
Combeferre tries to think of a way out of this. Maybe he can make a break for it, hide out Grantaire’s or Jehan’s for a while.
Then he remembers he’s shirtless. Right.
He steels himself, taking a deep breath and letting it slowly back out again, then resolutely marches to his bedroom. Courfeyrac is sitting on the edge of his bed, staring down with a blank expression at an open notebook Combeferre instantly recognizes.
He feels oddly numb as Courfeyrac looks up from the list he made that night, weeks ago, after Courfeyrac’s hospital stay. Possible Outcomes If You Tell Courfeyrac.
The ground tilts under his feet. There are a million thoughts running through his mind and he can pin down exactly none of them.
And now Courfeyrac is staring at him with a question in his eyes, the dreaded list held loosely in his hands, and Combeferre is shirtless and his hair is starting to drip on the carpet.
This is fine.
They look at each other for a long time. Combeferre feels like he should definitely be doing something, but he’s afraid if he moves he might actually fall over, like a marionette with its strings cut.
“Tell me what, Combeferre?” Courfeyrac says quietly, breaking the heavy silence. Combeferre can’t decipher his expression.
He swallows thickly, forcing his mouth to work.
“That was private,” he says hoarsely, even when he knows he thoughtlessly left the notebook open on his bedside table for anyone to waltz in and see. “Why are you here?”
Courfeyrac stands and slowly advances toward him, desperation suddenly lighting a fire in his eyes.
“I came to talk to you, since about a million texts aren’t enough to get your attention,” he says, smiling humorlessly. He stops a few feet in front of him. “You’ve been ignoring me, and things have been so weird between us, and I thought I’d…”
He takes a steadying breath and holds the notebook up, as if Combeferre needs to be reminded what is written there.
“Combeferre,” he pronounces deliberately. “Tell me what?”
He should probably just quit attempting to understand anything when it comes to Courfeyrac. Try as he might, Combeferre is always caught off-balance in his wake, questioning everything he thought he ever knew, awake and alert in his presence like he’s submerged in ice water. Every nerve tingles. The molecules in the air vibrate with the drumming in his ribcage.
Then, without any pomp or build-up, the pieces fall surely and quietly into place, and Combeferre realizes with abrupt clarity that Courfeyrac knows. He’s probably known for a while. He just wants Combeferre to actually say it.
The pipe bursts.
“That I love you,” Combeferre says, not breaking eye contact. He sees Courfeyrac catch his breath, and the words keep pouring out, overflowing and flooding every instinct that tells him to shut his mouth.
“I love you, and I want you, every part of you,” he says. He finds he can move again, so he steps closer until they’re practically toe-to-toe. Courfeyrac stares up at him intently. “I love you so much it terrifies me. But I’ll be anything you want me to be, Courf, whatever makes you happy. Because you’re…”
He struggles to find the right words to express the tidal wave inside him.
He finally stops, feeling lightheaded. It’s probably (definitely) more than he should have said, but it’s also the most honest he’s ever been with anyone, including himself, and he can’t bring himself to feel an ounce of regret. So with the odd comfort of knowing everything has changed and there’s really nothing he can do to fix it, he waits for a reaction.
Courfeyrac studies his face for what feels like a long time, and Combeferre never gave him enough credit for his poker face because he doesn’t have the slightest clue as to what he might be thinking.
Then he shifts on his feet, licks his lips, and says, “Prove it.”
It takes a moment for Combeferre’s brain to process that. But only a moment.
Then he’s pulling Courfeyrac across what little distance they have left between them and kissing him, kissing him with all the force of years of want, biting at his lips and licking his mouth open and consuming him. He wraps one arm around his waist, his hand sneaking under his shirt to feel warm, smooth skin, and tangles his other hand in his hair. It’s oasis, it’s nirvana, it’s the most addicting thing he’s ever experienced, and a steady chorus of more more more sings in his veins and makes his blood boil.
Courfeyrac moans and Combeferre hungrily swallows every sound and shudder. He feels arms snaking around his shoulders and a hand cupping the back of his neck, drawing them even closer together, until Combeferre’s senses are drowning in Courfeyrac’s heat, his smell, his taste. It’s everywhere and it’s still not enough. Combeferre wants and wants.
He pulls away from Courfeyrac’s lips and nips at his jaw and neck before finding his pulse-point, beating frantically like a hummingbird’s wings, and bites and mouths wetly at it. Every breathy sigh and whimper is committed to Combeferre’s memory.
“You know,” Courfeyrac says shakily between gasps for breath. “It’s really unfair of you, standing there, ah – saying all those things, without a fucking shirt on, oh Christ, don’t stop.”
Combeferre hums and sucks another bruise onto his skin, relishing the way Courfeyrac groans and trembles against him. Heat begins to pool in his stomach, urging him forward, demanding reprieve.
He wants and wants.
He maneuvers them toward the bed and follows Courfeyrac down onto the duvet, and when Courfeyrac grinds up against him he forgets his own name for a moment. Courfeyrac’s nails indent his back as Combeferre kisses him deeply, grips his waist with bruising force and loses himself in the feeling of Courfeyrac’s thighs bracing his hips.
“I love you too,” Courfeyrac pants in his ear. “Take your pants off.”
Combeferre pauses, smiling against his cheek. A wild thrill courses through his bones.
“I feel like I’m at a distinct disadvantage here,” he says, teeth scraping against skin. Courfeyrac moans again. “You still have all your clothes on.”
Courfeyrac laughs giddily, and Combeferre thinks his heart might burst.
“I can fix that, if you let go for a second,” he tells him. The thought of even a centimeter of space between them right now is impossible, offensive, even. Combeferre only tightens his grip in response.
“Hmm, looks like we’re at a stand-still, then,” Courfeyrac says, carding his fingers through his hair. His gentle caresses turn to scratches when Combeferre rocks down again.
They spend an immeasurable amount of time kissing, mapping each other’s mouths eagerly. Courfeyrac’s hands roam over his shoulders, down the planes of his chest and abdomen, leaving goosebumps trailing behind his clever fingers.
When they pull apart, Courfeyrac’s lips are red and swollen, his cheeks are flushed, and the locks of his hair twist and curl on the pillow like a baroque angel’s. Combeferre barely notices that they slowed their progress, too swept up in Courfeyrac’s radiance. He sweeps his thumb across Courfeyrac’s bottom lip, watches in a trance as Courfeyrac sucks at the tip playfully.
Courfeyrac, Combeferre thinks reverently, is a force of nature.
Their next kiss is slow deep and sweet, a molding of lips and tongues and breaths. Combeferre breathes in Courfeyrac’s essence until he feels drunk on it, bathing in his light and love and sweetness. He never, ever wants to let go.
Eventually, Courfeyrac reluctantly pulls away and reminds them both of a cruel fact. “Enjolras is in the other room.”
“Fuck Enjolras,” Combeferre says with feeling. He plants kisses in his hair and on his eyelids, refusing to budge.
“Grantaire would kill me,” Courfeyrac instantly replies, and Combeferre feels very, very fond.
He’s warm, and more comfortable than he’s ever felt, like he’s in that stage between being asleep and fully awake, wrapped in a cocoon of blankets and completely at peace.
“I still want you,” he mumbles into Courfeyrac’s hair. Clarity and recognition of his surroundings come slowly back to him, and he remembers something very important.
“You have me, ‘Ferre,” Courfeyrac promises. “You have me.”
“No, I mean…”
“…I also don’t have any lube,” Combeferre admits regretfully. “Or condoms.”
Courfeyrac pulls away just enough to give him an incredulous look. It’s adorable.
“Well, I haven’t been particularly active lately.”
“But what about emergencies?” Courfeyrac asks, aghast. Combeferre raises a very unimpressed eyebrow.
“What, exactly, constitutes a lube emergency?”
“This, right here,” Courfeyrac insists. “What if we were alone? What then? A romantic trip to the convenience store to buy sexual accoutrements?”
“Sexual accoutrements,” Combeferre repeats, grinning. “God. I love you so much.”
Courfeyrac beams and blushes sweetly. “I’m serious.”
“Okay,” Combeferre says, and pretends to think about it. “I guess then I’d just have to take you apart with my mouth.”
Courfeyrac gapes at him.
“Are you a dirty talk kind of guy?” he asks, and looks for all the world like he just won the jackpot. “Like is that actually going to be a thing?”
Combeferre smirks and leans down until his lips are brushing Courfeyrac’s ear.
“The first thing I’m going to do when we’re alone,” he says lowly. “Is work you open for hours, tease and suck you off until you can’t speak.”
Courfeyrac groans and laughs somewhat hysterically.
“How dare you,” he says. “There’s no way I can leave this room and face Enjolras now.”
“Enjolras can hear a pretty good chunk of what you’re saying,” comes a disgruntled voice from the other side of the door. “These walls are pretty thin.”
They look at each other and wince.
“Sorry, Enj!” Courfeyrac calls, winking conspiratorially at Combeferre. “We’re keeping it PG-13, I swear! Well, mostly.”
“I really, really don’t want to know,” Enjolras replies. “About any of it. At all. In fact, I’m going to go spend the night at Grantaire’s, so please, feel free to continue doing whatever it is you wanted to do, but for God’s sake, never ever tell me any part of it.”
“Is that so,” Courfeyrac says. His smile turns predatory, and Combeferre feels some of the fire return to his stomach, the ache beginning to form again.
“Leaving now,” Enjolras says, punctuating his words with a jingle of keys. “By the way, I left some condoms in the bathroom, okay, goodfuckingnight.”
Combeferre mouths ‘But what about the lube’ and Courfeyrac laughs so hard he cries.
The next night, when they gather at the Musain for a Friday night get-together, Courfeyrac is wearing a scarf, and Combeferre tries not to look too smug.