Across the room Enjolras is talking animatedly to Combeferre, all hands and passion, while Combeferre is still and measured. He listens to Enjolras attentively, seeming hung on every word, with his only response being the occasional dip of his head or the purse of his lips. Eventually, when Enjolras has ended his point, Combeferre basks in a moment of silence. The laughable thing is Enjolras doesn’t interrupt this delicate pause, as he would, impatient with anyone else. He just lets Combeferre gather his thoughts before he replies and then their roles reverse. Now Enjolras is looking at him seriously, drinking in the words, and Grantaire is not jealous.
He is not jealous at all.
Combeferre and Grantaire are… difficult. Their relationship isn’t perfect, whatever it is they’re doing, unnamed and not spoken of. They kiss, fuck, and Combeferre spends too much time at Grantaire’s apartment again. When Combeferre doesn’t sleep beside him Grantaire restlessly tangles himself in the sheets. It’s hopeful, and Combeferre genuinely makes Grantaire get fucking butterflies in his stomach, and when he touches him his skin feels like a struck match. It’s tangible, this thing between them, an electric cord tugged between two bodies, humming and alive, but it’s stilted too, bridging on awkward sometimes.
They don’t know all their little habits. Grantaire will reply to something, offhanded and joking, and Combeferre will take it as seriousness, and get hurt by what is now Grantaire’s standard moroseness. Or Grantaire will ramble, stupid and nonsensical, forgetting Combeferre won’t butt in like Eponine would, sharply and with a bite, or Jehan would, without hesitation. They fit together on the sheets, splayed out in one another's arms, but sometimes they’ll bump into one another while moving around the kitchen, or not know how to move near to one another.
Meanwhile, Enjolras and Combeferre are like a well oiled machine. They don’t hesitate in talking, only if to evaluate a point. Instead, it’s an easy back and forth, with subtext and words other people can’t see or hear. Grantaire can see them reacting to one another’s little gestures. Enjolras sees Combeferre’s disapproval about a statement in the slight purse of his lips, and Combeferre sees Enjolras irritation when he begins tapping his fingers on his thigh. They interrupt one another without any hesitation, they stop one another’s interruptions without pettiness, they feed off one another, battling over politics Grantaire couldn’t give a shit about at a table of the Musain.
Grantaire is not jealous.
“I know,” Jehan says suddenly, plopping down in a seat beside Grantaire and causing him to jump out of his fucking skin. He turns to look at him, eyebrows raised. “About you and Combeferre.”
Grantaire feels his heart leap, surprised, but he doesn’t bother to deny it. Jehan and Grantaire have known one another for years. In fact, it was Jehan who introduced them to their friendship group in the first place. They were younger than all the rest (except for Eponine, who had befriended them through Grantaire), students, Jehan of literature, Grantaire of art. They argued the romantic period, and greek mythology, and shoved books at one another in silent command to “go and fucking read it”. Jehan had been there through the withdrawal process, reading him books in the day time when both Combeferre and Eponine were out, or dragging him out for a walk somewhere. They understood one another, deeply, without really thinking about it too hard.
It was infuriating, sometimes, yet mostly it just turned out helpful.
“How?” Grantaire asks, while Jehan sips his lemonade.
“I saw you two kissing in Combeferre’s car,” Jehan informs him, simply, looking fond. “It wasn’t that hard to guess, either.”
Jehan smiles, gently catching Grantaire’s hand under the table and holding it in his own. “I’m happy for you.”
Grantaire rubs his other hand over the back of his neck, and laughs sheepishly, although he’s grinning, just a little. “Thanks,” He tells him, offhandedly and not really looking Jehan in the eye, his gaze sliding restlessly over their friends.
“I haven’t told anyone, if you’re worried about that,” Jehan tells him, softly, squeezing Grantaire’s hand under the table. Tilting his head to the side Grantaire aims a fond look at Jehan, knowing Jehan would keep his silence without having to be told. Gently, Grantaire laces their fingers together and watches Jehan smile again at the movement, tenderly. “Unless you’ve told anyone else.”
“Only Eponine,” Grantaire replies, eyes back on Enjolras and Combeferre across the room. Enjolras is saying something to Combeferre, close to his ear, and Combeferre’s face is stoically serious, an expression he gets only when listening to something important. But, the expression breaks in a flash when he catches Grantaire looking, his frown more concerned, the shape of his lips softening and Grantaire ducks his head, heart in his throat, tightening his free hand around his bottle of coke and tilting it to his lips in a way that reminds him of another life. He can almost feel the burn of alcohol down his throat, phantom pains.
“Not Enjolras,” Grantaire makes sure he adds, glancing at Jehan, who is a steady pillar of understanding. That was the first rule Grantaire had laid down. He didn’t want Enjolras’ judgemental eyes following him for any other reason, he didn’t want Enjolras’ ridicule - He didn’t want Enjolras talking Combeferre out of wanting him. He could only imagine Enjolras’ adverse reaction to the news, he would likely say Combeferre was worth better, and he was right, except Grantaire was selfish enough to hope that Combeferre wouldn’t realise it any time soon.
Enjolras berating words and back-and-forth arguments were a sweet self-harm when Grantaire loved him. Now, they didn’t come so readily and Enjolras aims more smiles in his direction, but Grantaire doesn’t care. Whatever reason has Enjolras so set against Grantaire doesn’t matter to him, but Combeferre does, and Enjolras and Combeferre had been friends since they were children, before Enjolras knew what a political party was, and Grantaire knew Combeferre valued his word as much as he did Courfeyrac’s. One word from Enjolras, one stunning argument about why Grantaire was such a bad idea, and Combeferre could be ripped from him, in a breath.
Grantaire doesn’t know what Combeferre had thought when Grantaire had told him not to get Enjolras involved, and he hadn’t understood Combeferre’s expression well enough to read it. All that mattered was that Combeferre had consented.
At least until one of their other friends found out, and the truth tumbled messily out, as Grantaire knew it would.
He had him for now. That was all that mattered.
Abruptly, beside him, Jehan lets out a soft laugh and Grantaire smiles at him, curiously, at the sound. “What is it?” He asks.
“Courfeyrac still thinks you’re in love with Enjolras, you know,” Jehan grins, giving Grantaire’s hand a final squeeze and slipping it away, sitting so that he has his knees pressed to his chest, his arms wrapped around them. “Everyone does. They were talking about it the other day, actually.”
Just a little annoyed, Grantaire raises an eyebrow at him. “That’s just great,” He drawls, as Jehan props his chin up on top of one knee, smiling back at him, placidly.
“It does still look like you’re looking at him, if you don’t look too closely.”
Grantaire sighs, the weary side of irritated. “That’s because Enjolras is pretty much always with him.”
“Exactly,” Jehan returns, softly, eyes tracking Grantaire’s face.
Grantaire's eyes linger on Combeferre and Enjolras again, feeling oddly claustrophobic. This time, Combeferre doesn't seem to notice. Eventually, Grantaire throws Jehan a grin, lopsided and careless, and sinks down in his seat, crossing his arms over his chest. “What was the verdict?”
“Oh,” Jehan replies, only looking marginally surprised, thinking on the words for a moment before remembering. “Courfeyrac said we should lock you both in a room with drinks spiked with viagra-“
Grantaire laughs, surprising himself, and rolls his eyes. “He would.”
“-And not let you out until you had ravenous sex,” Jehan finishes, grinning, stretching out his legs and placing them back on the floor. “Feuilly suggested someone talk to one of you about it, and Joly suggested we just leave you two alone to deal with at your own pace.”
“And Combeferre?” Grantaire asks, sharply, but not looking Jehan in the eye, with the sudden feeling that he was somehow involved with this. “Was he there?”
From the expression on Jehan’s face when he finally glances at him, it would suggest he was. Jehan’s smile disappears but his face is still kind, soft all around it’s edges, even though Jehan has so many sharp angles. “Yes,” He admits, resting his hand next to Grantaire’s on the table. “He didn’t say anything.”
Grantaire lets out a sharp breath he didn’t know he was holding, and tips his head back, pinching the bridge of his nose and blinking too hard. He feels betrayed, suddenly, not by Combeferre but by everyone, all these people he loves.
Jehan places a hand on his forearm, and Grantaire looks at him without being asked, without Combeferre gently touching his chin, or his cheek, or his jaw and making him look. Jehan and Grantaire understand one another like this. Jehan sees the source of the hurt, and looks ridiculously apologetic about it.
“They don’t talk about you to be petty,” Jehan murmurs, voice low and private. “We just want you to be happy.”
Grantaire can think of over ten hurtful things he could snap back in response to that, but he keeps his mouth shut, shrugging Jehan’s arm away and staring down at the empty Cola bottle, tapping the glass with his fingernail. Next, Jehan touches his shoulder, and Grantaire can’t ignore him - he can’t.
“I’m sorry,” Jehan tells him, melancholy.
Grantaire looks at him, trying to summon a smile. “It’s okay.”
In reply Grantaire just squeezes his fingers over Jehan’s wrist, the one on his shoulder and shrugs. “It’s good enough.”
Then Jehan is suddenly hugging him, pulled close and awkward, and Grantaire clings back to him, feeling broken - worse, thirsty. Jehan doesn’t say anything else. He doesn’t say “I shouldn’t have said that,” because Grantaire would just say “We all say the wrong things sometimes”, and the conversation passes silently between them. By the time Jehan pulls back, the misunderstanding, the accidental slip up, is put to rest between them, and Jehan is smiling. Grantaire doesn’t feel much better, but it wasn’t like his mood was high to begin with.
“I’m gonna go home,” Grantaire says, and Jehan simply nods his head.
Grantaire’s not in a good place when he gets home. All he can think about is Combeferre fitting easily against Enjolras’ side, responding to something with the tap of his hand or a quirk of his lips, speaking before Enjolras’ has formed a question. The thoughts turn around and around in his head, and Grantaire feels stupid for being jealous, and he feels stupid for feeling stupid.
He pulls the sheets off the bed and changes them. He washes the dishes left on the kitchen counter, and when those are done he decides to wash the kitchen floor. Then he cleans the bathroom. Then he ignores Combeferre’s texts - who had to leave for work after meeting at the Musain - and goes through his entire set of art supplies, trying out pens, sharpening all the pencils, washing the crap out of his paintbrushes.
It was another coping mechanism, cleaning. Eponine had laughed at him when it had started, but that was back when Combeferre hadn’t really been around as much, and he’d grow so restless under his skin that he had to do something with his hands. She’d said “You get clean, and the apartment gets clean, win, win.”
He makes sure he gets into bed before Combeferre comes to his apartment, and curls up on his side and pretends to sleep. It’s only half a lie, really, he does dose, but his head’s alive, spinning and grappling and biting. He knows Combeferre won’t wake him up, and when Combeferre pads into the bedroom later than Grantaire was expecting him, he doesn’t say anything, just crawls into bed beside him.
Grantaire gets back up three hours later.
Grantaire feels wild, incandescent. His bones feel too close and too tight to his skin, and anxiety rests, nestled in his chest, squeezing his heart, making his stomach flutter from tensing without realising it. He feels like a traitor the moment his thoughts start fixating on the 24/7 supermarket just half an hour away.
He can picture himself there.
Grantaire traces the images of himself putting a shirt on over his sweat pants, throwing his coat over the top and taking the chilly midnight walk through the streets. He’d walk through the back of the houses, quicker that way, and then cut through to the path beside the main road. He can see the too bright lights of the store, sticking out like a sore thumb in the dark, and the lazy shop workers struggling to keep their eyes open. He sees the alcohol isle, the shining bottles-
It makes him feel like he’s failed. His thoughts snap at one another, snare, catch under his ankles and trip him up. Grantaire knows he can’t do it, especially with Combeferre sleeping in the other room. He’s tried so hard to stay clean, and he can just imagine Combeferre’s face if he found him with a bottle, the barely concealed heartbreak, the calm seriousness. Grantaire doubt he’d even peel the bottle away, just let him finish his disgrace without a word against it. But what if Combeferre was tired this time?
What if Combeferre decided they had gone through this twice, and he couldn’t stand a third time? What if “So, we try again” never came, or Combeferre finally saw him as despicable, helpless.
At least, in that sense, the loathing stops him from leaving the apartment, and instead Grantaire wanders around it, tucking himself into corners and not knowing what to do with his body.
He thinks about what Enjolras would say if he relapsed again. He thinks of Combeferre’s hand on Enjolras’ shoulder. He thinks, Christ, Grantaire you’re so fucking pathetic.
Combeferre finds him at 2:53am with an easel in the kitchen, painting by lamplight in sharp, angry reds and no clear goal.
Grantaire only hears the barest sigh in means of warning, and then Combeferre’s chest is plastered to his back, his arms wrapping tenderly around his middle and his mouth, brushing the side of his neck. With only a little hesitation, Grantaire puts down the paintbrush and leans back into Combeferre’s embrace, settling against him and letting Combeferre take some of his weight.
Grantaire’s not calm, he’s no where near calm. His breath tugs out of him, too sharply, and the physical symptoms of anxiety mock him while his head is scrabbling so desperately just to put an end to it. He doesn’t want to feel like this. Grantaire hates all his thoughts in his head and if he could he’d banish the self-doubt, the darkness, the fresh bite of jealousy. He’d cast it all on the floor and break it under his fists if he could. He doesn’t want to feel like he has a stomach ache because his stomach constricts with every breath, he wants to feel steady, just for a while.
Even Combeferre’s arms don’t help that much, he stills, his breath fighting to become more even, but his head’s still a mess.
Still, it’s a focus. Combeferre’s body is strong and steady, and close, like this, Grantaire can fool himself into thinking that Combeferre is his. His physical presence alone makes the thoughts of 24/7 supermarkets flee into the night, makes him feel guilty for debating it.
Combeferre’s voice is warm against the jut of his shoulder, curling tendrils of affection in the pit of Grantaire’s tight, tight stomach. “Do you know how I know you’re craving?” Combeferre asks, quietly.
Grantaire let’s out a barely amused breath through his nose. “How?” He returns, running his fingers down Combeferre’s arms, goose bumped all over, presumedly from the late night cold. Grantaire’s barefoot on the kitchen tiles and his feet are fucking freezing.
Combeferre kisses over his shoulder, slow, deliberating touches, until he reaches his ear. “Because I almost blinded myself on the bathroom taps,” Combeferre jokes, a laugh pulled out of him, ragged and warm. Grantaire closes his eyes.
When he doesn’t reply Combeferre doesn’t push it, instead moving his lips to his other shoulder and sliding his hands away from Grantaire’s stomach to smooth them up and down Grantaire’s arms. “Are you okay?” He murmurs, after a moment, and after dropping final kiss to the point where his neck meets his shoulder.
“Yeah,” Grantaire lies, blatantly, knowing he couldn’t hide it if he tried. If he was any semblance of alright he’d be curled up in the warm sheets, body carefully touching Combeferre’s, and sleeping.
Combeferre doesn’t sigh, but he lets out a breath and replies by curling one hand possessively over his hip, an “I am here”, while dragging the other gently over his stomach. Grantaire grabs his wrist and tugs it upward, then clumsily kisses Combeferre’s knuckles, thumb dragging over the back of Combeferre’s hand.
Eventually, Combeferre asks, “Can I do anything for you?”
“No,” Grantaire replies, voice a little harder than he meant for it to be, and shakes his head. “I’m just being stupid.”
Combeferre squeezes his fingers over Grantaire’s hip, and does that thing where he scolds him without scolding him. From Combeferre’s lips it still sounds nice. “You are not stupid, or being stupid, for that matter.”
“Can you read minds now?” Grantaire responds, meaning for it to be petty. It doesn’t come out as venomous as he wants it to, sounding more tired than anything else, as he drops Combeferre’s hand and gently tugs out of his grip. In an instant, Combeferre’s hands let him go.
“If I could I think I’d be a much better poker player.” Combeferre tries to keep his tone light, as Grantaire turns around and looks at him, but there’s a distantness to his words, preoccupied by seriousness. Grantaire drops his head against Combeferre’s chest and let’s him card his fingers through his hair, soothe a hand up and down the length of his spine.
Grantaire usually fights more than this, still stubborn and prideful, and it shows. He can feel Combeferre’s surprise at the movement and the absence of retaliation but Grantaire doesn’t care, he needs this tonight. He needs Combeferre close, touching him, because his thoughts are putting Combeferre further and further away. Thinking “What if Combeferre leaves?” and “What if Enjolras steals him from me?”. Even though the thoughts are broken and unrational, and Combeferre has stayed for months, and Enjolras isn’t a fucking heartless bastard but- But he still thinks it. Still repeats it over and over, a broken fucking record.
“Jehan knows,” Grantaire says after a moment, with Combeferre’s hands now sliding comfortingly over his sides, not knowing how to say the rest.
“Ah,” Combeferre breathes out above him, pressing a kiss into Grantaire’s hair. Grantaire shifts his head on Combeferre’s chest, listening to the steady beat of his heart, so less frantic than Grantaire’s own. “That’s what you were talking about?”
“Yeah,” Grantaire shrugs. “He said everyone thinks I’m still in love with Enjolras.” He says it lightly, a concealed “what the fuck”, but Combeferre doesn’t seem to notice.
That makes Grantaire lift his head up, eyes narrowing on Combeferre’s face. “What?” A flicker of hesitation runs across Combeferre’s features, and for once it’s Combeferre who glances away first, eyes cast down toward the floor.
“Are you?” He repeats, more tentatively.
Grantaire laughs a "No", soft, incredulous, and presses a kiss to Combeferre’s collarbone for good measure.
Beneath him, Combeferre deflates, just slightly, and hums as he buries his nose into Grantaire’s hair, just for a moment. “Come back to bed,” He says, fingers dipping into the low curve of his spine, whispering over his lower back and making Grantaire shudder.
“Just,” Grantaire sighs, splaying his hands out over Combeferre’s chest and biting down on his bottom lip. Already, he wished he hadn’t started that stupid sentence because now Combeferre is looking at him curiously, waiting for him to finish. If he blows it off, Combeferre will just say some shit like “Please tell me” and make Grantaire feel even shittier. “Tell me something?”
Grantaire squeezes his eyes shut, grappling with how to word it, with how to fucking say it. His heart feels constricted, too tight, and breathing feels hard again. “You and Enjolras,” He manages, finally, sounding stunted. “Did you ever-“ He doesn’t know how to finish, doesn’t know how to end that without it sounding both ridiculous and like an accusation.
It takes Combeferre a few seconds to catch up with Grantaire’s words, and fill in the blanks, but eventually he gets there, frowning around the question, “Were we ever romantically involved?”
Grantaire would have put it brasher: Did you ever fuck? Did he ever once kiss you and then pretend nothing of it? Have you ever spent too long looking at his lips and wondering? Did you ever used to feel like me? Do you still feel like I did?
Is this all a lie?
Combeferre must take Grantaire’s stony silence as having guessed correctly, because he doesn’t take long before answering his own question. “No, we weren’t.”
Grantaire curls his fingers into Combeferre’s skin, leaving crescent marks from his fingernails, painting the skin red. He wishes he didn’t sound so fucking needy when he murmurs, “Promise?”
He doesn’t look at Combeferre’s face when he replies, too scared of what he’ll see there. “I promise,” Combeferre affirms, touching Grantaire’s cheek. Grantaire just grins, pretending to be careless, and steps back from him again, grabbing his paintbrushes and throwing them haphazardly into the sink with some water.
“Let’s go back to bed.”