Combeferre's in the middle of emptying a box of spaghetti into a pot when Grantaire shuffles in through the door. He's been preparing for a date, or at least a semi-romantic night in that will serve as a makeshift date, seeing as he didn't quite think far enough ahead to actually set a date up. He doesn't have candles so he's set up a scented wax burner in the kitchen and cleared off the table, set two places after researching the proper way to do so on the internet, cleaned the apartment enough that it looks lived-in but not messy, and the water in the pot is just starting to boil.
For a moment, neither of them say anything.
"Shit," says Combeferre finally, blinking at Grantaire. Grantaire looks just as surprised as he does, and his mouth has barely started forming the inevitable 'what' question before Combeferre turns around fully and stands defensively in front of the stove, like it will prevent Grantaire from figuring out just what he's trying to do.
He sees the gears turning in Grantaire's head; sudden realization softens his features and he steps the rest of the way into Combeferre's apartment, closing the door behind him with blatant disregard for Combeferre's silent orders.
"Special occasion?" Grantaire asks. If Combeferre were wearing his glasses he would adjust them, but he's wearing his contacts so his hand drops down to the countertop instead, which he leans his hip against while Grantaire kicks off his boots and sets his bag on the ground against the wall.
Combeferre shakes his head.
"Were you expecting someone else?" Grantaire asks, still not fully grasping the scene before him. Combeferre wishes he didn't sound so genuinely curious, as though there could ever be anyone else that he would possibly have over for a scented-wax-burner-lit dinner.
"No," Combeferre says quickly, then clears his throat. "No. I just thought I had at least another twenty minutes."
Grantaire smiles a little. "Oh," he says, and more softly, "well... Sorry to disappoint." There's something in his voice that tells Combeferre that it's a genuine apology - though how he believes that he could actually disappoint Combeferre by showing up early, Combeferre will never know - and pads over to the table, resting a hand on the back of a chair while he inspects Combeferre's handiwork spread out over the tablecloth.
"So are you going to tell me what this is for?" Grantaire asks persistently. Combeferre's turned back to the stove now, keeping an eye on spaghetti sauce (out of a bottle, but he's added in some ingredients of his own so it can't be said that he didn't try) while it simmers. Behind him, Grantaire runs his fingers over the cutlery, rolled up and tucked neatly inside napkins. "I mean, you went all out here. There must be a reason."
Combeferre's mind floods with possible responses. I wanted to do something nice for you. I don't understand why you can't accept a simple thing like dinner without questioning it. I think you deserve far more than this but this is the least that I can do. I wanted to prove a point. I did it because I really care about you, maybe even more than you realize.
Grantaire pulls one of the chairs away from the table and lowers himself into it, keeping an expectant eye on Combeferre while he stirs the sauce. Finally, Combeferre turns around, crosses the kitchen area in three graceful steps, and kneels down carefully. Grantaire's face is a mask of curiosity, but something seems more appropriate about kneeling down and speaking to him eye to eye, rather than standing over him like a sort of wrathful god and asking why Grantaire doesn't appreciate all that he's done.
"We don't get much time alone together," Combeferre says softly. He rests his hand on top of Grantaire's and looks at him, searching his eyes for any sort of permission. Grantaire doesn't pull his hand away and Combeferre takes it, slowly, turning it over in his fingers, running his thumb along the creases of Grantaire's palm. His hands are incredibly warm under Combeferre's fingers, not as dry from constant washing and sanitization as his own, but Combeferre doesn't look away from his eyes. "You'd never forgive me if I made you dress up to go out for dinner at an expensive restaurant."
"So you're trying to impress me," Grantaire replies. His eyebrows raise when Combeferre doesn't try to deny it. "You don't have to impress me," he says softly, honestly. Combeferre smiles and lifts his hand, cups his palm against Grantaire's cheek. Grantaire's jaw is rough with stubble under his palm and it drags against the pad of Combeferre's thumb when he rubs it against Grantaire's skin. Grantaire tilts into the touch but his brows are knitted together now, the telltale expression of a man who wants to ask why but hasn't quite figured out how to phrase it. Combeferre's more used to this Grantaire's expressions now after spending so much time with him, more accustomed to deciphering which subtle shifts in his expression come shortly before Grantaire says something self-deprecating or expresses confusion at why anybody, especially Combeferre, would ever want to do something nice for him. He likes to think that those expressions come less often, now.
"I was aiming more for pleasantly surprising you," Combeferre replies with a small smile, "did I hit my mark?" Grantaire's fingers curl around the hand still grasping his. He squeezes and murmurs, "something like that."
Combeferre's smile widens and lets his hand slide from Grantaire's face when he stands. "I have to keep an eye on the spaghetti, but tell me about your day," he explains, and Grantaire does, telling him about struggling to stay awake in lectures that sound nothing like the ones Combeferre took when he was in pre-med, explaining that he was asked to assist in painting a community mural thing and that he has yet to accept their offer, and swearing colourfully when he checks his phone to find that his sister's called him twice and even called Enjolras, of all people, in an attempt to locate him. Combeferre leans against the countertop and listens, offering a sympathetic hum, although he has no troublesome siblings to deal with himself.
They lapse into a brief period of silence, during which all that can be heard is the bubbling of the water and the drone of the fan above the stove, when finally Grantaire speaks up again.
"I should've known you were planning something."
Combeferre raises an eyebrow, half-angled toward the stove to check the pasta. Grantaire doesn't respond, however, and Combeferre replies quickly, "And why's that?" after having remembered almost too late that he and Grantaire are still learning one another; where Enjolras understand enough to take Combeferre's silence as an invitation to continue talking (indeed, he understands mostly everything that Combeferre does, a side effect of the time that they've spent with one another over the years) Grantaire sometimes mistakes it for indifference or lack of attention. Combeferre's been trying harder to bridge those gaps in communication, recently, paying special attention to the way Grantaire talks and moves, how the way he speaks contradicts his body language and vice versa, watching him when they're in the company of their friends - and every once in a while he notices that Grantaire fits better with him now, a sure sign that he's learning too.
"You never have me over here," Grantaire replies. He picks up a glass that Combeferre has set on the table - a wine glass, although Combeferre will only be filling it with water - and turns it in his fingers. Grantaire's mentioned this before, using the fact that Combeferre lives all alone in a spacious apartment and yet never invites him over as some sort of proof to back up his argument that Combeferre can't possibly care too much - but Combeferre gently corrected him by pointing out that he'd essentially moved in with Grantaire and Éponine, that Combeferre's apartment was further away from the hospital, surrounded by apartments owned by elderly people who aren't as appreciative of the noise level that often comes with dealing with Grantaire, and that had settled the argument for the time being.
"I never have you over here because you don't have a car to travel here with," Combeferre replies. Grantaire snorts and says, not impolitely, "I walked here just now."
"Which means you built up an appetite, right?"
Grantaire looks at him, still holding the stem of the glass between his fingers. Combeferre taps a fork on the side of the spaghetti pot, to illustrate the point he's trying to make; the corners of his mouth turn up, and before either of them can stop it they're laughing, the sheepish sort of laughter of two people learning to dance together for the first time, neither at fault for their mistakes but completely appreciative of the company all the same.
They talk while Combeferre strains the spaghetti and orders Grantaire to remain seated so that Combeferre can serve it to him with a lamentably bad Michael Caine accent, and Grantaire ends up with spaghetti sauce on his face as Combeferre demonstrates what Grantaire jokingly calls an impressively bourgeois way of properly twirling spaghetti on a fork.
They find themselves with considerably lifted spirits by the time they've finished eating. Afterward, Combeferre brushes his teeth, and it surprises Grantaire further when Combeferre hands him a toothbrush of his own, because of course Combeferre would do something like that. Grantaire informs him, "You're worse than my mother, you know," and grabs the toothpaste out of Combeferre's hand.
Combeferre grins at him and squeezes past him out of the bathroom, tossing over his shoulder, "I hope you'd rather date me than your mother." Grantaire turns and opens his mouth, because there it is, dating. Combeferre smiles wider, and when Grantaire leans out of view to brush his teeth, he's smiling too.
Ten minutes later, they're settled on Combeferre's couch and Grantaire's taken off his hoodie to use as a pillow on Combeferre's lap. Both of them are too full to do anything other than lounge around and so they end up mumbling about food comas and flicking through channels on Combeferre's TV. There's a rerun of some hospital soap opera on and Combeferre smiles when Grantaire asks him whether hospital life is anything like the dramatic doctor shows that his sister watches.
"Sometimes," Combeferre replies. His fingers find their way into Grantaire's hair while he talks, telling Grantaire stories about hectic evenings in the ED and how you learn to tune out beeping machines and various emotional responses from patients and relatives and how the key to performing surgery is to imagine it like a very lifelike video game. He might have exaggerated a bit, but it makes Grantaire chuckle.
They doze off for some time, completely by accident, with Combeferre's fingers in Grantaire's hair and Combeferre's head tilted back and the television on low in the background. When Combeferre snaps back to wakefulness it's because Grantaire's abandoned his position on the couch and is settling instead on Combeferre's lap and his teeth are sharp points pressing against the exposed column of Combeferre's throat.
Needless to say, it doesn't take long for Combeferre to wake up.
He knows Grantaire notices the moment he becomes fully aware of what's happening because Grantaire's teeth scrape over the place where his pulse jumps; Combeferre slides his palm up Grantaire's arm and rests his hand on the back of Grantaire's neck, making a low sound of warning so that Grantaire stops before he has the chance to leave a mark.
"I have to work in a few hours," Combeferre murmurs; Grantaire's hand twists nervously in the material of his shirt.
"Sorry," Grantaire whispers. He settles down on Combeferre's thighs, and presses his lips against Combeferre's neck. Combeferre lets his hand slide down over Grantaire's jaw and tilts his chin up.
"Don't be sorry," Combeferre says gently, only loud enough that Grantaire can hear it in the small space between them. Grantaire doesn't meet Combeferre's eyes, choosing instead to gaze downward in the guilty manner of a scolded child.
Combeferre says, even more softly, "Look at me." Grantaire's eyes flicker up and Combeferre thinks he could sit here forever, just watching Grantaire's eyes, watching every bit of stubbornness and melancholy and burning passion in them betray the faces Grantaire puts on every day.
"You're beautiful," He whispers, and he's not sure if it's the right thing to say or if Grantaire will ever believe him, but it's honest and he's wanted to say it for some time; he presses his lips against Grantaire's for the briefest of moments and adds, "anything below the collar is fine."
He keeps his hand pressed against the curve of Grantaire's jaw, stroking with his thumb in a way that would seem fond - innocent, even - if he weren't thinking about how the stubble would feel scratching against the skin of his thighs.
"You bastard," Grantaire hisses, as if he can read Combeferre's mind, and kisses him firmly, scrabbling to get his hands under Combeferre's shirt so that he can pull it over his head and toss it aside and run his hands down Combeferre's chest. Combeferre loves it, the feel of those dexterous artist's hands mapping out his body like a canvas while his tongue traces wickedly over Combeferre's lip, but finds it a great injustice that Grantaire's still fully dressed.
He urges Grantaire back up onto his knees so that Grantaire, still straddling his lap, looks down at him, and a grin flits across Grantaire's face when he realizes what Combeferre wants. He tugs his t-shirt off slowly, not too shy to make a show of it in front of Combeferre, and Combeferre drinks it in greedily, running experimental fingers along the lines of Grantaire's stomach and the plane of his chest; Grantaire rests his hands on Combeferre's shoulders and watches while Combeferre leans forward and presses lazy, open-mouthed kisses to Grantaire's stomach. His fingers slide smoothly over Grantaire's ribs and when he bites down on the skin Grantaire sucks in a breath and Combeferre can feel the muscles shift beneath his hands.
He bites again like that, soft and deliberate and perhaps a bit possessive, up the solid line of Grantaire's sternum; Grantaire leans into it, arching his entire body into the heat of Combeferre's broad hands and twisting his fingers into Combeferre's hair. Combeferre tilts his head into it just enough to encourage Grantaire and when he tugs experimentally Combeferre groans and lets Grantaire pull his head back.
"I can't figure you out," Grantaire says, leaning down to tug at Combeferre's lower lip with his teeth. Combeferre shivers and slides his hands further down Grantaire's body, sliding his thumbs beneath the hem of his jeans and rubbing slow circles next to his hipbones. When his gaze starts to follow his hands Grantaire pulls at his hair again and Combeferre's eyes snap up, and suddenly Grantaire looks very interested.
"I can't tell if I want you to fuck me," he says, sounding bolder now, "or if I want you to suck me off."
They haven't gotten as far as actual sex since this thing between them grew more intimate, usually finding themselves lacking any sort of patience and settling for thoroughly exploring one another with talented mouths and hands; phrased by Grantaire like that, the very idea makes Combeferre flush and his mouth water.
"If I may make a suggestion," Combeferre breathes, already unbuttoning Grantaire's jeans with intent when Grantaire curls his fingers around Combeferre's wrist and hisses, "bed."
They've never used Combeferre's bed before, either, so when Grantaire sees it, a comfortable-looking king size with dark sheets, he pauses in the middle of shoving his jeans off to whistle and joke, "I feel like royalty now."
"Shut up," Combeferre tells him good-naturedly, and pushes him toward the bed while he sheds his own pants. He pulls Grantaire back to the edge of the bed once he's finished, and licks his cock from root to tip before swallowing him down while Grantaire arches up against him with a shaky moan, and it's not long before Grantaire's almost shaking under him, petting and pulling at his hair and expressing his approval in a broken string of curse words. By the time Combeferre lifts his head, Grantaire's panting and his thighs are trembling and he looks at Combeferre, flushed and wild-eyed and fully confused about why Combeferre's stopped when he's so obviously close to the edge.
Combeferre wraps his fingers around Grantaire's cock and, flashing Grantaire a wicked grin, breathes, "I'd let you fuck me," and Grantaire's entire body shudders when he comes. When Grantaire opens his eyes again, Combeferre's licking the last of his release off of his fingers and watching him like he's the most fascinating thing Combeferre's ever seen.
"You always do that," Grantaire murmurs, letting Combeferre nudge him further back on the bed and crawl over him. Combeferre ducks his head and mouths at Grantaire's throat, a hum of approval rumbling in his chest when Grantaire's hand wraps around him.
"You're the most incredible thing I've ever seen," Combeferre replies breathlessly, "fuck, you're -" then Grantaire's thumb rubs torturously over the head of his cock and he groans, rolling his hips into Grantaire's hand until he comes, muffling a moan against Grantaire's throat. Grantaire kisses his forehead and when he raises his hand, slick with Combeferre's own release, Combeferre grabs his wrist and swipes his tongue against the pad of Grantaire's thumb. It's worth it for the way Grantaire's eyes go a bit hazy, and Combeferre grins until Grantaire kisses him, firm and then lazy and altogether perfect.
They lie together afterward, Grantaire's arm curled around Combeferre's waist and Combeferre idly tracing formless shapes on Grantaire's chest; there are only a few hours left before Combeferre's shift at the hospital begins and his limbs are heavy by the time he drags himself out of bed. Grantaire declines a shower with him, already more asleep than awake, and Combeferre returns from the shower with a wet cloth to wipe him off anyway.
"Stay here for the night," Combeferre suggests when Grantaire moans about having to walk home once Combeferre leaves for work. Grantaire frowns at him but doesn't argue when Combeferre draws the comforter over him, which Combeferre thinks is at least a good start. "You can eat anything you find in the fridge and amuse yourself with whatever's on TV."
It reminds Combeferre of days when he nearly lived with Éponine and Grantaire, but it feels different, somehow. He'll come home to Grantaire sober, to an attempt at breakfast made by Grantaire in his own kitchen, and Grantaire will kiss him even though he smells like the hospital's soap brand.
If Combeferre's honest with himself - and he always is - it's the happiest he's ever been.