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 [Part One]

Chapter Two

According to the GPS in Enjolras’s car, the drive between Sacramento and Seattle would take them nearly twelve hours—more than that, if you factored in stops for meals and gas and traffic around the big cities. The one time Courfeyrac and Enjolras had attempted making the drive home overnight instead of during the day, Courfeyrac had gotten them home in just under ten hours thanks to so much Red Bull that he didn’t sleep for another day and a half and to the fact that he consistently drove at least twenty miles over the speed limit the whole way and somehow managed to avoid being pulled over.

That was also the reason why Courfeyrac was, under no circumstances, allowed to drive Enjolras’s car on their road trips home anymore.

The drive home for Lisette’s wedding was standard, as far as road trips went. Enjolras drove for the most part, only trusting the car to Combeferre on occasion (which Courfeyrac and Grantaire both pretended to take offense at), and they cycled through “Welcome to Night Vale,” “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” (the NPR quiz show podcast that Enjolras was not so secretly obsessed with), and classic rock (which was played loudly at Grantaire’s request). Enjolras and Courfeyrac had made this trip countless times and they stopped at all the regular places for food and gas, but on this particular trip, Courfeyrac could not get himself to relax.

It’d been a while since he’d been home for any length of time. He changed too much in the final year of his undergrad and he knew his mom would recognize those changes and ask questions he didn’t want to answer, so he avoided extended trips home. He made it home for Christmas each year, but he never stayed long. He always truncated his trips with excuses at how much work he needed to do—excuses that were always backed up by Enjolras, whether knowingly or not—and he left before his mom or Enjolras’s parents could notice that something was wrong.

He hoped having Combeferre along would help him avoid those questions, but at the same time, he was beginning to doubt his ability to keep up this charade with any level of convincingness. It’d been more than two years since he had dated anyone. He could barely even remember what being in a relationship felt like.

For most of the drive, he managed to do a pretty good job of distracting himself, so while he couldn’t relax (Grantaire, who was sitting in front of him in the passenger’s seat kept complaining that Courfeyrac kept kicking the back of his seat but Courfeyrac got fidgety when he got nervous and it wasn’t like Enjolras’s Prius was exceptionally roomy) he could at least occupy his mind with other matters—the work he needed to do for a case study he was supposed to be preparing for one of his law classes, or the fundraiser he and Enjolras were trying to organize for the under-funded community center that Grantaire worked at, or what he planned on getting his friends for Christmas, even if it was still eight months away. But when they were only a half hour away from home, they hit traffic on I-5—traffic that Courfeyrac warned Enjolras about every single time they made this drive and traffic that Enjolras still managed to hit regardless—and when they were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway, Courfeyrac could feel the anxiety start to build in his chest.

He couldn’t pull off a fake relationship. There was no way he could pull off a fake relationship. He’d be in relationships before. He knew how they were supposed to work. He was supposed to know everything about Combeferre—all sorts of silly little details like what his favorite dessert was or whether or not he liked olives on his pizzas—and Combeferre was supposed to know those things about him. And yeah, he and Combeferre were close, but they weren’t that close.

His mom was never going to buy this.

In an effort to feel that he had some sort of control over the situation, he started hounding Combeferre with questions. What was his favorite dessert? Did he like olives on his pizza? What about pineapple? What was his favorite childhood vacation? Who was his favorite elementary school teacher? Any question that came to mind.

This went on for nearly fifteen minutes before Combeferre asked him what he was doing.

“I need to know everything about you for this to work,” he said. He knew he sounded desperate, but there wasn’t much he could do about that now.

Grantaire undid his seatbelt (despite Enjolras’s protestations) and turned around his seat. “Let me get this straight,” he said, looking straight at Courfeyrac. “You’re worried that you don’t know Combeferre well enough to be in a pretend relationship with him?”

“This is a legitimate concern!”

“No,” Grantaire said. “It’s a bullshit concern. Courfeyrac, out of all our friends, you are the mostqualified to be in a fake relationship with any of us—and especially with Combeferre! You two have spent loads of time alone together while you’re scheming to keep this one out of trouble,” he said, jerking his thumb in Enjolras’s direction.

“I don’t need anyone to keep me out of trouble,” Enjolras said.

Combeferre and Courfeyrac both snorted.

“You’re giving me way too much credit here,” Courfeyrac said. “I barely know him!”

At that, even Enjolras turned around to give Courfeyrac a look.

“What’s his favorite color?” Grantaire asked.

“Blue,” Courfeyrac said. “But like a grey-ish blue, not blue-blue or turquoise-blue. It brings out his eyes.”

Combeferre had beautiful eyes, even if they were hidden behind ultra-practical glasses frames.

“When’s his birthday?” Enjolras asked.

“August 25.”

“And where was he born?”

“St. Cloud, Minnesota.”

“What’s he studying in school?”

“He’s in med school. He wants to be a pediatric surgeon. His hands are nice and steady for it.”

“And his proudest accomplishment?”

“He got that Academic Excellence and Achievement Award last year from the ASCP. He tried to downplay it, but I know it meant a lot to him.”

“And what’s his weirdest obsession?”

“Moths,” Courfeyrac said automatically.

“Moths are fascinating,” Combeferre said. “Being interested in them is not weird.”

“When I got you that moth book for your birthday two years ago, you spent the rest of you own freaking party looking through it instead of partying.”

“I regret nothing,” Combeferre said.

“See?” Grantaire said. “You’ve got this couple thing down pat. Now stop worrying.”

“So I know his birthday and his favorite color?” Courfeyrac said. “That doesn’t mean that we’re dating! I know all that shit about all of you. You probably do too.”

“Courfeyrac,” Enjolras said, “I can barely remember when your birthday is and we grew up next door to each other. The only reason I remember anything like that is because you make sure it gets written down on my calendar.”

“But that’s not the kind of stuff family asks when you’re dating someone!” Courfeyrac said. “They’re going to want to know how we met and when we started dating and what we did on our first date and who asked who out first and who kissed who first and are we serious and are we living together and you sure as hell know that some nosey fucker is going to want to know who tops in bed!”

Courfeyrac was slightly breathless at the end of that speech and it was impossible to hide the anxiety in his voice. Combeferre rested his hand on Courfeyrac’s knee.

“Courfeyrac, what happens in the bed of our fake relationship is absolutely none of anyone’s business, and I have no problem letting anyone rude enough to ask that know that it’s none of their business.”

“And the rest?” Courfeyrac asked.

“You asked me out first,” Combeferre said. “I was too buried in medical textbooks to see much beyond my own nose, so you would have had to ask me out.”

“You would have taken him to a museum,” Enjolras said. Traffic was picking up a little as they reached northern Seattle. “But a science museum, not an art one.”

“Probably one of those interactive kid museums,” Grantaire added. “Otherwise you’d have gotten bored.”

“And I spent most of the time watching you mess around with exhibits,” Combeferre said, “and laughing harder than I had in months. I was the typical med school student—dying under the weight of my course work—and you breathed life back into me.”

“That’s so sweet, it’s sickening,” Grantaire said. “I’m sure your mom will love it.”

“Are you guys really inventing a fake history for me and Combeferre?” Courfeyrac asked. “This is weird, even for you.”

Grantaire laughed.

Combeferre, Grantaire, and Enjolras continued to map out the fake dating history, and by the time they reached Lynnwood, the suburb of Seattle that Courfeyrac and Enjolras had grown up in, they had settled on a pretty plausible dating story. They’d dating each other for about six months but only made their relationship exclusive sometime in the last few months, which both Combeferre and Courfeyrac agreed to blame on the pressures of grad school. They had a story for their first date, their first kiss, their first fight, and with these details in hand, Courfeyrac felt more prepared to face his mom with this sham.

When they pulled off the highway, Courfeyrac called his mom to let her know they were close.

“Hey, sweetie,” his mom said. “Where are you guys?”

“We just got off the I-5,” he said. “Because Enjolras refused to take 99 even though we would have dodged traffic. Anyway, we’re a couple of minutes from home and we’re wondering who’s house we should go to first.”

“Just come to the clubhouse,” she said. “We just got done with Lisette’s bridal shower, so we’re all still here. There’s leftover food too, if you boys are hungry. We’re all so excited to meet your boyfriends.”

And that brought back a flood of anxiety. This was never going to work.

“Yeah,” he said tonelessly. “We’re excited too.”

“Is something wrong?”

“No,” he said. “It’s been a long day and we’ve been on the road since six this morning. I’m just tired.”

“Well, I’m sure I can reign Gemma and Paul in and we’ll let you boys go to bed early tonight. We’ll see you in a few, all right?”

“Yeah, sounds good,” he said, hanging up the phone. “Enj, just head to the clubhouse. Apparently, we just missed Lissie’s bridal shower.”

“See?” Enjolras said. “Getting stuck in traffic was a good thing.”

As they drove through town, Courfeyrac pointed out things he thought would interest Grantaire and Combeferre. The elementary school they attended, the park where they’d nearly gotten arrested after Enjolras started a fight with some homophobic loser from their high school who called them a pair of fags. On the way to the neighborhood clubhouse, they passed Enjolras’s home, which Courfeyrac pointed out.

“I thought you guys were neighbors?” Grantaire said when Courfeyrac pointed out the house but not his own.

“Not next door, though,” Courfeyrac said. “Our backyards are connected.”

The neighborhood clubhouse was nestled at the end of the road next to the pool and tennis courts. The adjoining parking lot was mostly empty, but Courfeyrac saw his mom’s Honda and Enjolras’s mother’s Kia parked right next to the clubhouse.

Enjolras parked right alongside their cars.

When they climbed out of the car, Grantaire looked up at the clubhouse with trepidation.

“Nervous?” Courfeyrac asked him.

“Not as much as you are,” he said as Courfeyrac wiped his unnaturally sweaty palms against his jeans. “You need to at least act like you like Combeferre.”

“Oh, shut up,” he said. “I know how to have a fake boyfriend.”

Grantaire snickered at him, but Courfeyrac looked over the top of the car and saw Combeferre giving him a reassuring smile. He took a deep breath and tried to reassure himself that he could do this.

~*~*~

Combeferre watched Courfeyrac closely as they entered the clubhouse. He knew Courfeyrac well enough to suspect that he was far more nervous than he was letting on and the whole point of coming along had been to be a support for Courfeyrac. So while Enjolras looked like he was bracing himself for some sort of onslaught and Grantaire looked like he might be walking to his death, Combeferre focused on Courfeyrac and the nervous half-smile on his face.

The clubhouse had been decorated for the bridal shower with lots of white lace and baby-blue streamers. A young blonde woman, who couldn’t possibly be anyone other than Enjolras’s sister Lisette, sat slumped in a chair, looking pleased but exhausted, surrounded by torn wrapping paper. Two middle-aged women—one tall and thin and blonde and the other shorter and darker and plumper—stood nearby chatting while they examined one of the gifts. Lisette spotted them first.

“About time you showed up,” she said. She sounded irritated, but she was smiling, so Combeferre assumed her irritation was the normal annoyance an older sister held for her younger brother and his friends. She hurried over to greet them, hugging Courfeyrac first and then Enjolras.

She was followed immediately by the mothers, and there was a lot of hugging and cheek-kissing and general fussing and Combeferre couldn’t help but notice that Courfeyrac was looking rather overwhelmed by all of it.

“Okay,” Enjolras’s mom, Gemma, said, taking a step back to get a proper look at the four of them. “Which boy belongs to whom?”

Enjolras groaned. “Mom, they’re not our pets. They’re people. They don’t belong to anyone.”

Grantaire stepped up and slid his hand into Enjolras’s. “I belong to this one,” he said with a smirk.

“Taire, you know how I feel about possessive language in relationships. It—”

But Grantaire ignored him and held out his right hand to Gemma. “I’m Grantaire,” he said. “And I’m sorry that your son neglected to mention my existence for the two and a half years we’ve been dating.”

“It just never came up,” Enjolras said.

“That’s why you’re supposed to bring it up, darling,” Gemma said. She turned to Combeferre. “So you must be Courfeyrac’s beau, then.”

“That’s right,” Combeferre said, smiling at her. He placed his hand on Courfeyrac’s back—low enough to look intimate, but high enough that he hoped it wouldn’t bother him. He felt Courfeyrac relax a little. “I’m Combeferre.”

“Oh, you talk about him all the time,” Diane, Courfeyrac’s mother, said to Courfeyrac. “Why didn’t you just tell me the two of you were dating?”

Courfeyrac tugged his hand through his hair, looking entirely uncertain how to answer that question. “It’s—uh—well—”

“Were you afraid I would be disappointed that you’re dating a man?” she said, suddenly very concerned. She reached out to squeeze Courfeyrac’s hand. “Sweetheart, surely you know that doesn’t matter to me—I just want you to find someone you can be happy with, someone you can start a family with—not that there’s any pressure, Combeferre,” she added with smile.

“But you boys must be starving,” Gemma said. She took Grantaire’s hand and pulled him into the room. “Let’s get you fed up.”

Combeferre moved to follow the others—road trips always made him hungry and years of living on a college student diet taught him to never pass up free food—but Courfeyrac held him back. “I don’t know if I can do this,” he said, quiet enough that only Combeferre could hear.

His eyes were wide, almost like he was frightened.

“You’re doing fine,” Combeferre said. “Let me know how I can help. I think everyone can tell that you’re feeling nervous about something. You’re so tense.”

“Ferre, I haven’t been with anyone since—”

“I know,” he said, taking both of Courfeyrac’s hands in his and giving them a comforting squeeze. “But I’m here for you, Courfeyrac. Whatever is going to make you feel the most at ease, okay? This isn’t about me and what I want—we’re not even dating.”

“Are you two coming?” Diane asked from near the food table.

Startled, Combeferre did the first thing he could think of. He pressed a chaste kiss to Courfeyrac’s lips—he regretted the action immediately when he felt Courfeyrac wince. Shit. They should have talked about this before he went and did something stupid like kissing. He pulled back and smiled at Diane. He and Courfeyrac could talk about this later. “We just wanted a quick moment alone,” he said.

Courfeyrac played along, chuckling a little. Combeferre wondered if the sound sounded hollow to anyone else. Courfeyrac wrapped an arm around his waist. “We’ve been locked in the car with those two for nearly fourteen hours by now. I think we deserved this.”

“There’ll be plenty of time for that later,” Diane said. “We want to get to know everyone.”

“So,” Gemma said after Combeferre and Courfeyrac had helped themselves to the leftover buffet spread and taken a seat at a table with Enjolras and Grantaire. “How did you all meet?”

“Remember all that housing drama from our first year at college?” Courfeyrac said.

“You mean when we learned—again—that my baby brother doesn’t play well with others?” Lisette said.

“Lisette,” her mother chided.

“Actually, I think I was the roommate that no one could get along with,” Grantaire said.

“I don’t know why everyone complained about you,” Courfeyrac said. “We got along great.”

“Fey,” Lisette said, “you could get along with anyone.”

“Anyway,” Enjolras said, talking over his sister. “Taire and I roomed together for the first two weeks, but we spent most of that time arguing, and Courf and Ferre were rooming together, so then Courf and Taire swapped places, because I knew I could live with Courf but—”

“But I wasn’t a good match for Ferre, either,” Grantaire said.

“But that was a sleep schedule issue,” Combeferre said. “We didn’t argue like you and Enjolras did.”

“You should have heard the shouting matches,” Courfeyrac said. “You could hear them from the other end of the hall.”

“But we don’t argue like that anymore,” Enjolras said at the concerned look his mother was giving him. “Taire and I just didn’t understand each other back then.”

“We’re fine now, though,” Grantaire said. “We haven’t argued like that since we moved—”

“Mom,” Enjolras said loudly, cutting Grantaire off before he could admit that they were living together. “What’s the plan for this week? What’s going on that was so important for us to be here?”

Combeferre wasn’t sure if Enjolras noticed the look of confused hurt that crossed Grantaire’s face. Enjolras was normally pretty in tune with Grantaire’s moods, but Combeferre had to wonder if the sudden colliding of his romantic life and his family life was disorienting Enjolras.

“Well,” Gemma said, “we have church tomorrow, of course.”

“Church?” Grantaire said, looking alarmed.

“It’s just an hour long service,” Diane said. “And our minister is very welcoming of same-sex couples, so you have nothing to worry about.”

“Right,” Grantaire said.

Judging from his tone, Combeferre figured that Grantaire’s reluctance came more from not wanting anything to do with any sort of religion than it did from fear of a homophobic congregation.

“After the service, we’re doing a late lunch with the Daltons—that’s Nathan’s family,” Gemma said. “Grantaire, we would love for you to come with us, of course. And then we’re doing tux fittings and maybe a picnic on Monday.”

Combeferre touched Courfeyrac’s knee to get his attention. He wondered if the gesture appeared intimate enough. “Maybe while Enjolras is busy with that, we could check out some of those museums you mentioned?” he suggested. “Just the two of us?”

“That sounds doable,” Courfeyrac said.

Combeferre smiled. He wanted to give Courfeyrac the opportunity to relax somewhere where he wouldn’t have to keep up these pretenses.

“About that, actually,” Lisette said. “Courfeyrac, I know this is super last minute, but we found out earlier that one of Nathan’s groomsmen has to have an emergency appendectomy and he won’t be able to make it to the wedding. We were hoping that you’d stand in for him as one of the groomsmen. I mean, you’re practically family anyway.”

Courfeyrac’s smile was warm and probably the most sincere it had been all day. Of course it was, Combeferre thought, nothing cheered Courfeyrac up like the opportunity to help someone. “Of course, Liss,” he said. “I’d love to.”

The warmth of his smile chilled as soon as Lisette was out of her chair and hugging him. She was practically in his lap and she kissed his cheek and Combeferre could see how stiff Courfeyrac was at the sudden display of affection.

On the other side of Courfeyrac, Grantaire snorted. “Yeah, family,” he muttered.

If anyone else heard him, they ignored him.

Gemma continued with the week’s schedule when Lisette sat back down. “So we have the tux fitting on Monday, and Tuesday is Lisette’s bachelorette party. On Wednesday, we’re going to need all of you to help set up the church for the reception—Courfeyrac, I certainly hope you have your mom’s knack for DIY projects—and then the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner are on Thursday and the wedding on Friday!”

Enjolras scowled. “And we really needed to be here for all of that?”

Lisette matched his scowl with one of her own. “Are you seriously going to complain about this all week?” she asked. “Whining won’t change anything. Grow up and stop complaining.”

Combeferre recognized the look on Enjolras’s face—the annoyed, take-no-prisoners look that usually preceded him digging in his heels about something—but so did Courfeyrac and he effortlessly redirected the conversation, making Combeferre wonder how much of his childhood had been spent playing peace-keeper between Enjolras and his sister.

“I don’t know what he’s complaining about, to be honest,” Courfeyrac said. “Law school sucks—literally, it’s sucking out my soul—and—”

“Literally?” Enjolras drawled.

“Yes. Literally. You must not be able to see the Dementors. Anyway, I for one am glad to have the break, and I know Combeferre’s excited to spend some time away from Sacramento.”

Combeferre jumped in with sights he wanted to see in Seattle while he was here and the possibility of Enjolras and Lisette arguing was quickly forgotten. They were still talking about non-wedding related plans when Paul, Enjolras’s dad, arrived. Like his children and his wife, he was tall and thin, though his hair was brown instead of blonde. He greeted them all with handshakes and made a few sly remarks about Enjolras and Courfeyrac being kept men now and Courfeyrac laughed hollowly at the joke.

After catching up with Paul, Gemma and Diane started cleaning up the decorations from the bridal shower. Courfeyrac was quick to offer his assistance—Combeferre figured everything would be easier for him if he kept busy—but when both women spotted the way he was yawning, Diane quickly suggested that the boys call it a night.

All four of them piled back in the car and Enjolras drove them over to Courfeyrac’s childhood home. Combeferre grabbed his and Courfeyrac’s duffel bags and followed Courfeyrac into the house and upstairs to his old room.

Combeferre wasn’t sure what he was expecting when Courfeyrac opened the door to his childhood bedroom, but when he saw the queen sized bed in the room, he knew it wasn’t that.

Just one bed.

For the both of them.

“Fey,” he said, “if you’re not comfortable sharing the bed, I can sleep on the couch. Seriously.”

Courfeyrac just shook his head and collapsed face first onto his bed. “I should have expected this,” he said, turning his head to the side.

Combeferre sat on the edge of the bed next to him. “Can we talk?” he asked.

“There’s nothing—”

“Please?”

Courfeyrac rolled over. He still looked distraught.

“I am so sorry about that kiss earlier,” Combeferre said. “We should have talked about it before I did anything like that, but your mom—I was caught off guard, not that that’s any excuse for putting you in that position. I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable.”

Courfeyrac sat up. “See? This why this is such a lousy idea,” he said. “None of this should be a big deal but you’re overthinking everything and I’m—shit, I’m just a mess and there’s no way my mom is ever gonna buy this bullshit relationship.”

Combeferre frowned, not used to hearing such a defeated attitude from Courfeyrac. “We just need to relax,” he said. “We can still make this work. But I do think we need to set some ground rules about what you’re comfortable with.”

“You don’t have to coddle me.”

“I don’t want to bring up any bad memories for you, either,” he said. “So we’re going to talk about this because we’re adults and that’s what adults do when they’re pretending to date each other.”

“Fine. But we’re going to have to keep kissing and shit because my mom’ll notice if we don’t.”

“Let’s start with kissing, then,” Combeferre said. “What are you comfortable with?”

“Hiding in a hole and never coming out?”

Combeferre gave him a look.

“Okay, fine. We can do chaste kisses—like what you did earlier. I was just—I was surprised, that’s all. It’s been a while. But, I don’t know, as long as the kiss isn’t really sexy or whatever, I’m fine. I’ve always been fine with kisses.”

“And hand holding? Cuddling? Hugging? What about things like that?”

“Look, as long as you don’t grab my dick, I’ll be fine,” he said.

“You promise?”

“Yes, I promise.”

“What about sharing the bed?”

“That’s going to be non-negotiable,” he said. “My mom will notice if one of is sleeping on the couch and she’ll think something’s wrong. She knows I had sex in high school. She’ll think it’s weird if I’m not sharing a bed with you now.”

“I promise I don’t snore.”

Courfeyrac snorted. “So already you’re a better roommate than Jehan.”

Combeferre grabbed Courfeyrac by the shoulders and turned him so he could massage his shoulders and neck. He knew that Courfeyrac carried a lot of tension in his back and shoulders. “You just need to relax,” he said. “You used to be one of the most physically affectionate people I know. You just need to channel that again.”

“Things changed,” Courfeyrac said.

“I know you used to worry about leading people on,” he said, “but you don’t have to worry about that with me. We’re on the same page here. I’m not going to be reading into anything that you do. And I know you worry about other people’s needs overstepping your boundaries, and that’s not an issue here either because as far as I’m concerned, my sole purpose right now is to help you through this. You have complete control over what we do or don’t do, and I won’t ask questions if you don’t want to do something. You can trust me, Courfeyrac.”

“I’ve always trusted you,” he said. Combeferre could tell by the softness of his voice that the massage was working and he was starting to relax. “You’re not the issue here. I am. I don’t remember how to do any of this relationship stuff. I’m going to screw it all up.”

“You’re not going to screw anything up,” Combeferre said. “And if you do, I’ll be there to run damage control.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

 

Interlude—March, Nine Years Ago

Enjolras knew he didn’t like girls as early as nine (which was, coincidentally, around the same time that Courfeyrac got his first “girlfriend”—which basically meant the girl played with them at recess and Courfeyrac held her hand and gave her his pudding cup every day at lunch). By the time he was twelve, Enjolras knew he liked boys in the way that most of the boys in his class liked girls.

By that time, Courfeyrac had met a boy their own age—shy, but clever—and Courfeyrac started holding his hand in the halls and bringing him around at lunch time.

But it was also around then that Enjolras also began to suspect that when Courfeyrac talked about liking girls—or liking boys, he didn’t seem to have a preference either way—he didn’t seem to be talking about the same things that everyone else was. At the time, Enjolras didn’t have the words to explain it, but there was something about the way Courfeyrac talked about the people he liked that just seemed…different than the way his peers talked about it.

It was only in the last year that Enjolras had some confirmation that his hunch was right. He and Courfeyrac had been over at a mutual friend’s house to work on a group project and the boy showed them a gay porn video that he had stumbled across earlier in the day. As far as porn went, it was tame. Anal and hand jobs, nothing fancy, but it was the first time Enjolras had ever really seen two men together and it’d gotten his attention. Later, though, when they were alone, Courfeyrac brought up the video again.

“Did you like the video that Nicholas showed us?” he asked.

“Yeah,” he said.                  

“Did it…did you feel something?” Courfeyrac asked. “Because it looked like you were feeling something and I just… I don’t know.”

Enjolras shrugged. “It made me kind of…excited,” he said. “And horny, I guess.”

“I didn’t feel any of that,” Courfeyrac said. “But everyone says porn is supposed to make you feel like that but I just thought it was kind of gross. The one guy had his fingers up the other guy’s asshole. He shits out of there, Enjolras. That can’t be sanitary.”

“I’m not sure sex is supposed to be sanitary,” Enjolras said.

For a moment, Courfeyrac was quiet. Then he said, “Do you think something’s wrong with me?”

“Of course not,” Enjolras said. Whatever he did or didn’t know, he knew that there wasn’t something wrong with Courfeyrac. “Maybe gay porn just isn’t your thing. That doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you.”

After that, in his usual fashion, Enjolras dedicated himself to researching the matter and he’d unearthed entire online communities of people who called themselves asexual and whose experiences sounded so similar to Courfeyrac’s. He’d been waiting for the right time to bring it up because he didn’t want to start handing out labels that Courfeyrac might not necessarily want or appreciate, but he was prepared with talking points and statistics and that ever-comforting message of you are not alone, you are not broken, here are other people like you.

He never thought that tonight, when his sister and the other cheerleaders were throwing a party at his house to celebrate the end of the basketball season, would be the night all his research would come in handy.

He had actually left the party more than an hour ago because loud music and crowded spaces and low lighting wasn’t exactly his definition of a good time, but he’d left Courfeyrac down stairs with a flock of his admirers—Courfeyrac always had admirers—when he retreated upstairs to the solace of his room and his laptop and his books.

Around eleven at night when the party was still in full-swing (his parents, the cowards, had retreated to the Courfeyracs’ for the night) and someone knocked on Enjolras’s door.

“Occupied!” he shouted because twice already half-drunk couples had stumbled into his room looking for somewhere private to continue their trysts.

The door opened anyway and Courfeyrac came in. “I thought I’d find you in here.”

Enjolras was often accused of not being very perceptive when it came to other people—a fact that he attributed to his interest in more important things—but it was impossible to mistake Courfeyrac’s expression for anything other than distress.

“Are you okay?” he asked, setting his laptop aside. “Have you been crying?”

“I just—I threw up just now. I hate throwing up.”

“Shit, are you drunk? Your mom is going to kill you!”

“I’m not drunk,” he said. “I wish I was drunk. I wish—I think I just had sex?”

“You think?”

“I mean, I was inside her, but I…it…sex is supposed to feel good, right? I don’t feel so good.”

“Shit,” he said again. “Shit, I’m sorry, Fey. C’mere.” He waved Courfeyrac towards the bed and Courfeyrac crawled on top of it, snatching a pillow from the head of the bed and cuddling it to his chest.

Courfeyrac looked even worse close up.

He hesitated before asking his next question. “Fey, did you—did you want to have sex with this person? Did you agree to it?”

“I just wanted to see,” Courfeyrac said. “I needed to know if I just didn’t get this sex stuff because I’d never had it. Everyone kept telling me I’d change my mind once I had it.”“And did it change your mind?”

He shook his head. “I don’t get it. I mean, it didn’t feel bad or anything, just…It wasn’t right. It didn’t feel right.”

“That’s okay, Courfeyrac.”

“No, it’s not. It’s supposed to be magical. I’m supposed to want sex all the time! What’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing is wrong with you,” he said. “There are plenty of people out there who don’t want sex or don’t like sex.”

Courfeyrac snorted with derision. “I appreciate the effort, Enj, but you don’t need to lie to me.”

“I’m not lying,” he said. “Seriously. I researched this.” He laid out the facts and statistics and anecdotes that he’d discovered over the last few weeks like he was preparing a case for the debate team. Courfeyrac looked skeptical until Enjolras started pulling up websites on his laptop.

“Asexual,” Courfeyrac said slowly, as though testing out the feel of the word in his mouth.

“And some people are aromantic—they don’t have romantic attractions,” Enjolras said, “but I don’t think that’s you, but that’s okay too, because all these websites say that your sexual orientation and your romantic orientation don’t have to match.”

“Asexual,” he said again. “I am asexual.” He hesitated for a moment, like he was mulling everything over, but then he nodded. “I like it. It…it fits.”

[
Part Three
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June 2015

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