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 [Part One] [Part Two]

Chapter Three

Courfeyrac woke to the sound of someone knocking at his door. He groaned. He didn’t know what time it was, but it was too early.

“What?” he croaked.

“Courfeyrac? Are you and Combeferre up?”

“Are—what?” Combeferre? What the hell? He sat up and saw Combeferre sprawled face down on the bed next to him and remembered the convoluted predicament he was in. And Combeferre wasn’t wearing a shirt. When did that happen? Courfeyrac hauled himself out of bed and opened the bedroom door. He blinked blearily at his mother.

“I tried to let you boys have a bit of a lie in,” she said. “I know Enjolras must have had you on the road before dawn yesterday, but church is in two hours and Gemma made breakfast for everyone next door.” She peered past him to Combeferre, still shirtless in the bed. “Unless you would rather…”

He could feel his face flushing. Having his mom make insinuating remarks about his sex life had been embarrassing enough when he’d actually had a sex life. “We’ll head over in a few minutes,” he said.

She winked. “Take your time,” she said.

When Courfeyrac closed the door, still reeling from the fact that his mom was winking at him and that she thought that he and Combeferre were going to get frisky while she was still in the house, Combeferre rolled over and sat up. His hair stood at odd angles to his head, and in another circumstance, Courfeyrac would have been tempted to smooth it down. It wasn’t a temptation he allowed himself right now.

“You’re blushing,” Combeferre said.

“You’re shirtless,” Courfeyrac retorted.

“I’m not used to sharing a bed,” he said, reaching down to grab his shirt off the floor. “I overheated. Did you sleep okay? You were tossing and turning a lot.”

It wouldn’t do either of them any good for Courfeyrac to admit that it took him nearly two hours to fall asleep last night. He hadn’t shared a bed since Christopher and even though he knew—he knew—that Combeferre wasn’t going to do anything or try anything when Courfeyrac was asleep, he couldn’t stop thinking about the times when he didn’t have that guarantee.

So he shrugged. “Couldn’t get my brain to shut up.”

“If it’d make you more comfortable, I can—”

“I’m not going to make you sleep on the floor,” he said. “I’m sure it’ll be better tonight.”

And if it wasn’t, he was sure his mom still kept that nighttime Benadryl in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, and that always did a good job of knocking him out pretty quick.

Combeferre studied him for a moment. “If you’re sure,” he said. “Did your mom say something about breakfast?”

“Next door,” he said. “Our moms take turns doing breakfast on Sundays. Don’t bother showering or getting dressed—it’s not expected. You might want to comb your hair though.”

He flattened his hair with his hand as he yawned. “Will there be coffee?”

“It’s Enjolras’s house,” Courfeyrac said. “Of course there will be coffee.”

They both put on shoes and, after a slight hesitation, Courfeyrac asked to borrow the sweater Combeferre had worn in the car yesterday. The mornings were chilly here and borrowing Combeferre’s sweater seemed like a boyfriend sort of thing to do. Combeferre agreed, of course, and Courfeyrac led him through the gate in the fence to Enjolras’s home. Everyone except Lisette was already in the kitchen by the time they arrived and Courfeyrac endured knowing looks from his mom and Gemma and one dirty joke from Paul about morning sex.

Diane laughed, remarking that they couldn’t make these sort of jokes when the boys were younger.

Courfeyrac ignored them as best as he could and helped himself to breakfast—French toast made of cinnamon bread and whipped cream and fresh fruit—and Combeferre stuck close to him the entire time. He wasn’t sure if it was because Combeferre needed to be shown where the plates and silverware were kept or if it was because he felt the need to protect him from Paul’s inappropriate jokes, but he appreciated it either way.

Enjolras and Grantaire were already seated at the table while the parents milled around the island in the kitchen. Both of them looked wretched and grumpy. Of course, Enjolras normally looked that way in the morning, but Grantaire usually only looked like that when he was hungover. Grantaire, at least, was picking at his food. All Enjolras could seem to manage was glaring at his coffee mug.

“You know, Enj,” Courfeyrac said, sitting down, “that coffee works better when you drink it instead of just staring at it.”

Enjolras flipped him off.

Combeferre looked between the two of them. “Are you two okay?”

“Didn’t sleep well,” Grantaire said.

Enjolras managed to roll his eyes. “Understatement,” he said. “Mom didn’t let us sleep in the same room and neither of us are used to sleeping alone.”

Combeferre looked startled. He glanced back at the parents before saying, “Is it because you’re both men?”

Courfeyrac shook his head. “It’s because they’re not married,” he said around a mouthful of French toast. “She probably doesn’t let Lisette share a room with her fiancé when he’s over, either.”

He wished his own mom had that same hang-up—it would have made everything last night a hell of a lot less complicated—but she had resigned herself to the fact that her son had a sex life when he was a teenager and, instead of acting horrified or ashamed that he wasn’t waiting for marriage, she made sure that she had a series of very frank discussions with him about safe sex and consent. Enjolras’s mom preferred to pretend that her son wasn’t having sex at all, even when all the evidence indicated otherwise.

When Courfeyrac was half-way through with his French toast, Lisette emerged from the second floor. Unlike the rest of them, she had actually bothered to shower before breakfast—Courfeyrac suspected it was an effort to get hot water while she had the chance. Her hair was wrapped up in a towel and she wore a fluffy purple bathrobe.

Knowing Lisette, it was unlikely that she was wearing anything more than a towel underneath.

She draped herself along the back of Courfeyrac’s chair and reached around him to snatch a raspberry off his plate. She ate it, then grabbed another and fed it to Courfeyrac.

“You boys look happy to be alive,” she said dryly. To Grantaire, she added, “Make sure Enjolras didn’t take the decaf on accident, otherwise he won’t wake up properly until this afternoon.”

Grantaire smirked. “Ten steps ahead of you.”

“Aw, you’re such a good fit for him,” she said. She nuzzled Courfeyrac, not unlike a cat, as she reached around for another raspberry.

 He accepted the attention because this was Lisette and this was just what she did and it wasn’t like he hadn’t lapped up this sort of attention for years when they were younger. To protest now would make it look like something was wrong. Still, he couldn’t exactly help the way his body tensed she did stuff like that. He’d started withholding his own physical affection years ago when he got sick of people taking more than he was willing to give, and now this sort of familiarity just made him uncomfortable.

Lisette kissed the top of Courfeyrac’s head and went to get a plate of breakfast herself. He hunched down his chair, pulling Combeferre’s sweater tighter around him.

“I don’t know if you noticed,” Grantaire said to Enjolras, “but your sister seems to like Courfeyrac a shit ton more than she does you.”

“They’ve always been of a more similar temperament,” he said. “Same interests and all that. People used to think they were dating in high school.”

Courfeyrac snorted because Enjolras had no idea how close to the mark the assumption that he and Lisette had dated actually was.

Regardless of their past, though, he really wished Lisette would keep her distance a little better now.

Combeferre leaned in close, his fingers tangling in the curls at the nape of Courfeyrac’s neck in a way that made him want to purr like a cat. “You’re tense,” Combeferre said in his ear. “Are you okay?”

He nodded, acutely aware that his mother was watching the pair of them.

“If I need to act like the rabidly possessive boyfriend to get her to keep her distance,” Combeferre said gently, “I will.”

Sometimes he forgot how freakishly perceptive Combeferre could be. “Thanks,” he said. “But it’s fine, really. She’s just…” He shrugged. “She’s just Lisette.”

And there really wasn’t any other way to describe her. When they were little kids, people often thought that it Lisette and Courfeyrac were siblings—always teasing each other and draping themselves over one another—and if it weren’t for the undeniable family resemblance in the Enjolras family, Courfeyrac would have entertained the notion that he and Enjolras had been swapped at birth—never mind the fact that Enjolras was a good five months older than him. As teenagers, he and Lisette had grown closer. Where Enjolras had been preoccupied with various pet causes, Courfeyrac had been going to parties and running in the same crowds as Lisette.

They were practically family and Lisette was affection with the people she cared about. She’d probably hang on Enjolras the same way if he’d tolerate it.

“Well,” Combeferre said, “Just Lisette should learn to keep her hands off other people’s boyfriends…especially if she’s going to be getting married at the end of the week.”

~*~*~

Combeferre hadn’t been raised in a particularly religious home. His mother was a neurologist and his father was a chemical engineer and both of them put their faith in data rather than any sort of deity, but they’d both been supportive of Combeferre in his own quest to figure out if a spiritual life was something he wanted for himself. As a teenager, he’d read endless books on different faiths and had dragged his parents to dozens of different churches. He treated it like a science experiment, trying to find correlations and weed out contradictions. He never did find a faith that he felt at home with and these days, when people asked, he described himself as agnostic. He didn’t necessarily believe in any sort of higher power, but he couldn’t prove that one didn’t exist either.

For him, going to church with Courfeyrac and his mom and Enjolras and his family wasn’t anything that was particularly onerous or burdensome. It was a typical nondenominational Christian church and, next to the front door of the church, hung a rainbow flag bearing the words, “God loves all His children.” It made sense to him that his friends’ parents would find a faith-home in a place that was so welcoming.

The sermon was on service and loving thy neighbor and Combeferre found the minister’s take on philosophy interesting enough to pay attention to, which was more than he could say for his friends. Courfeyrac’s head kept bobbing as he slipped in and out of sleep, and Enjolras was doing that thing where he stared blankly ahead of him. Some people might mistake his expression for mild interest, but Combeferre knew Enjolras well enough to know his mind was on anything but the sermon. As for Grantaire, not five minutes into the service, he’d pulled out a small pocket notepad and was scribbling in it. From what Combeferre could see, the drawings seemed to be caricatures of various people in the congregation.

The only time Courfeyrac looked alert was during the hymns. He perked up immediately when the piano started playing and he could sing each hymn perfectly without looking at the hymnal, despite the fact that he sang a different line of harmony with each verse. Combeferre had never really heard Courfeyrac sing before—at least not seriously, because he’d heard Courfeyrac sing in the car or the shower plenty of times before—and he was surprised at the smooth, pure quality of Courfeyrac’s voice.

“I didn’t know you could sing that well,” he whispered at the end of an intermediary hymn.

Courfeyrac smiled smugly. “I was star of the youth choir here ever since my voice dropped. The choir director nearly cried when I left for college—said he’d never find another kid who could sing ‘O Holy Night’ for the Christmas service as well as I could.”

Before Combeferre could respond, a grey-haired old lady from the pew in front of them turned around to shush them. Courfeyrac offered up a contrite smile and said, “Sorry, Mrs. Donahue.”

Immediately after the service, Enjolras and Grantaire were swept off to attend the family luncheon, and Combeferre turned to Courfeyrac. “So…what now?” he asked.

“We’re going to be stuck here for a while,” he said. “Mom’s going to want to talk—if we’re lucky she won’t show us off to everyone—but she’s got the car, so we’ve got to wait for her.”

“I don’t mind,” Combeferre said. “Are you doing okay?”

“You don’t need to coddle me, you know.”

Combeferre smirked. “I’m just being an attentive boyfriend.”

Courfeyrac rolled his eyes. “Try over-attentive,” he said. He looked up across the chapel and then groaned.

“What’s wrong?”

“You see that soulless looking snake with the fake smile?”

A man, maybe a year or two older than them, fitting that description was headed their way—although Combeferre had the distinct impression that the man was stalking them out like they were some sort of prey. He turned back to Courfeyrac. “Who is he?”

“His name is Roy. He’s an asswipe Enjolras and I went to high school with,” Courfeyrac said. “He was the president of our school’s GSA when I started ID-ing as ace and he essentially told me that if I wasn’t into dick then I was just a straight ally.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I didn’t go back to the GSA until after he graduated, and Enjolras got suspended for three days after he broke Roy’s nose for saying that to me.”

Combeferre narrowed his eyes at Roy, who was still stalking his way through the chapel towards them. “Let’s go prove him wrong, then.”

“What? No, Ferre, you don’t understand. This guy is a condescending, gate-keeping asshole and I do my best to avoid him every time I come home.”

“Well, he’s headed right toward us,” Combeferre said, “so I don’t think we have a choice on the matter.”

No sooner were the words out of his mouth when Roy caught up to them. He took a seat in the pew in front of them and turned around so he could talk. “Courfeyrac,” he said. His voice rang with falsity. “Who is your charming friend?”

Courfeyrac’s face settled into a stubborn expression. “This is my boyfriend,” he said. “Combeferre, this is Roy.”

“Boyfriend?” Roy asked. “You’ve finally come out, then?”

“I’ve been out since I was fourteen.”

Roy laughed. “Oh yeah, you’re straight but without the sex.” His tone made it evident that he thought that was some sort of joke. “I mean really out, Courfeyrac. We all knew you were gay back then. There was no reason for you to stay closeted for what—ten years? I’m glad that you’re finally comfortable with yourself.”

“But he’s not gay,” Combeferre said, cutting in before Courfeyrac could say anything more. “He’s asexual.”

“You mean he’s celibate,” Roy said.

“No,” Combeferre said slowly, as though he were talking to a small child. “I mean he doesn’t experience sexual attraction. Courfeyrac and I are dating, but we don’t have sex—not that that is any of your business. He doesn’t want it and I’m not interested in having sex with someone who’s not interested in having sex with me.”

“Then you’re not really dating.”

Combeferre turned to Courfeyrac. “Fey, love, did I miss the memo that said people have to be having sex in order to be dating? Are we officially not boyfriends every time we’re not having sex? Because that just complicates things.”

Courfeyrac smirked. “If you missed that memo, I did too.” He turned to Roy. “Love and sex are not one and the same.”

Combeferre gave Roy a concerned look. “Are you seeing anyone?” he asked. When Roy shook his head, he continued, “You know, maybe you might want to reconsider your own stance on sex and love. The pressure to constantly be performing sexually can really tear apart a relationship. Maybe if you let your heart lead instead of your dick, things will work out next time.”

Roy’s face turned an awkward shade of red—whether from embarrassment or anger, Combeferre wasn’t sure. He managed to smile, though it looked more like a grimace. “Well, I’ve got to get going,” he said. “But it was nice to meet you, Combeferre. I hope you and Courfeyrac are very happy together.”

When Roy was out of earshot, Courfeyrac started laughing. It took him several minutes before he could breathe well enough to talk. “Shit, Ferre,” he said. “That was amazing! Did you see his face?”

“Liked that, did you?” he asked.

“You have no idea how long I’ve waited to put that condescending jerk in his place. Seriously, Combeferre, I think you just made Christmas come early.”

Courfeyrac’s face was a perfect picture of delight and he looked far more at ease than he had in nearly a week. Combeferre was inordinately pleased that he could contribute to that delight.

“Oh, look,” Courfeyrac said, getting to his feet. He took Combeferre by the hand and tugged him up. “There’s that the girl who told me I was appropriating queer culture because I was just an ally. Can I show you off to her too?” Courfeyrac pulled him from the pew and into the aisle, glancing back with and adorably mischievous expression on his face. “Just don’t tell my mom,” he said. “She’ll say this terribly un-Christian of me.”

Combeferre laughed and allowed himself to be pulled along.

~*~*~

After enduring more than an hour of bible thumping, Grantaire was ready to go home. He wasn’t feeling well. Not mentally, at least. He and mental wellness had a perilous relationship but he was at the point that he could recognize in himself the signs that he was about to tank. He couldn’t sleep at all last night, and had chastised himself while he streamed Netflix and tried to work on some of his commissions that he shouldn’t be that dependent on Enjolras in the first place because it was unattractive.

It had been a small balm to learn that Enjolras slept just as poorly as he had.

He needed sleep. He needed to exercise to flood his body with endorphins. A few years back, he’d been on antidepressants and those little pills had done a wonderful job of stabilizing his mood, but the long-term side-effects didn’t sit well with him and with the help of his therapist and Enjolras, he learned other ways to cope and to stabilize his mind. Sleeping regularly. Eating regularly. Exercising more. Meditation. Cutting back on the drinking and eliminating the smoking all together. Avoiding refined sugars and excess caffeine and keeping track of his daily moods and sorting out what things were likely to make him feel glum and which things were likely to set him off in a spiral of shame and self-doubt.

The location of the lunch did absolutely nothing to help the matter. Grantaire wouldn’t say that he grew up poor, necessarily—he knew he had a lot more than a lot of kids he went to school with did—but finances were tight enough that he and his mom rarely went out to eat when he was a kid. Even after she remarried and their finances were a bit more stable, a fancy night out was a dinner at Applebee’s. This place was several ranks above that. It was swank. A privately owned little place where it was expected that patrons be dressed in suits and dresses.

Grantaire decided that any venue where it wasn’t acceptable for him to wear jeans and a t-shirt wasn’t a place he wanted to be.

They had arrived at the restaurant before the Daltons and were seated at a long table in a secluded corner of the restaurant. While Enjolras’s parents talked about the church service and the upcoming nuptials, Grantaire fiddled with napkin at his seat, folding it and unfolding it and wondering how long it would take to teach himself origami. Enjolras reached over and gently brushed the hair out of his face. “Are you okay?” he asked.

“Didn’t sleep well,” he responded automatically.

Enjolras nodded, studying him carefully. Grantaire knew a lot of people didn’t think that Enjolras was capable of focusing his passion on something so small as a single person, but Grantaire knew otherwise. Enjolras treated his relationships with the same fervor that he did his causes—but the effect of having such a passionate man focus all his energy on a single person was often…overwhelming, to say the least.

“We don’t have to stay,” Enjolras said. “I know my family can be kind of…overbearing and if you’re not up to that right now, we can go.”

Part of Grantaire—the part that was still annoyed with Enjolras—wanted to be offended at the assumption that he’d be set over the edge with something as simple as a lunch, but it wasn’t an unfounded assumption. Not in the least. Enjolras was all too familiar with his moods and knew that his mind was usually just a few short steps away from destructive. On a good day, a night of poor sleep was a minor inconvenience, but on a bad day, it could be devastating. The concern in Enjolras’s eyes was real. Whatever else, Grantaire knew that much.

He put his hand on Enjolras’s knee. “I’ll be fine,” he said. “I can make it through lunch. I’ll probably go for a run when we get back to your parents’ place.”  Hopefully the endorphins would jolt him back from whatever edge his mind was determined to crawl its way towards.

“Want me to go with you?” Enjolras asked.

Enjolras was a decent runner, though he hated running if he didn’t have a good reason to do it. He could bolt away from the cops in record time at a protest gone wrong, but recreational running was not a favored pastime. It was thoughtful of him to offer.

“I’ll be fine on my own,” he said.

“Are you sure? I really don’t mind.”

He must be worried.

Grantaire was saved from having to remind his boyfriend just how much he hated running by the arrival of the Daltons.

Grantaire had long believed that Enjolras was the sexiest man in the history of sexy men, but when he removed his own biases, he had to admit that Nathan Dalton ranked fairly high on the list of sexy men. He lacked Enjolras’s perfect bone structure and the endless blue eyes, but like Enjolras, he was classically beautiful. The sort of man who wouldn’t look out of place next to a Michelangelo sculpture. Grantaire supposed that, given a few years, if Lisette and Nathan were still together and, assuming that he hadn’t accidentally screwed up his own relationship, Grantaire would be a de facto uncle to some remarkably pretty babies.

Lisette made the introductions. The parents all knew each other at this point—after months of wedding planning, Grantaire would have been astounded if they hadn’t met—but Nathan had two younger sisters, the youngest still a teenager, and of course, Enjolras and Grantaire needed to be introduced as well.

“This is my brother, Julien,” Lisette said. “And that’s his boyfriend, Grantaire.”

Nathan reached across the table to shake Enjolras’s hand, then Grantaire’s.  “Lisette didn’t mention you were seeing anyone,” he said.

“Yeah,” Lisette said, “that’s because we didn’t know. He and Courfeyrac threw off the entire seating chart with their secret boyfriends.”

Enjolras rolled his eyes. “Like finding two extra seats is that big of a deal.”

Lisette sighed. “You have no idea the amount of work that goes into this.”

“Besides,” Enjolras said, speaking over her. “If Courfeyrac and I had had our way, this wouldn’t be a problem. You’re the ones who insisted they come.”

“That’s enough,” Paul said. “Let’s all sit down before you two start World War Three over here.”

A waiter came along shortly thereafter to take drink orders. Other than Nathan’s teenaged sister, Grantaire, and Enjolras were the only ones who didn’t order wine and Grantaire knew Enjolras only passed on it so Grantaire wouldn’t feel left out. Over drinks and appetizers, everyone relaxed and the parents at the table asked polite get-to-know-you questions to everyone. Grantaire didn’t miss the way that Enjolras seemed to scrutinize every word out of Nathan’s mouth, as though he were looking for faults or trying to prove that this man wasn’t worthy of his sister. But Nathan seemed to be a good guy, someone that Enjolras might actually, genuinely get along with in the future.

When the conversation about blood relatives had dried up, the attention turned to Grantaire.

“So,” Richard, Nathan’s father, said, “are you in school too, Grantaire?”

Grantaire looked up abruptly from his salad—salads were good, for all they were rabbit food, but they helped keep him stable. “What?” he asked.

“Are you still in school?”

“Ah—no,” he said shortly. “Grad school wasn’t for me.” He neglected to mention that college in general wasn’t for him. He never finished his undergraduate degree and had no desire to change that.

“Are you working, then?”

“I teach art classes at a community center in Sacramento,” he said, shrugging. “And I do some contract work for illustrations for children’s picture books for a few publishing houses. It’s not much, but it pays the bills.”

“Grantaire is a brilliant artist,” Enjolras said quickly. “And a great teacher. You should tell them about the webcomic, Taire.”

“They don’t want to know about that,” Grantaire said. People like this never wanted to hear about something as plebian as webcomics.

Allison, Nathan’s youngest sister, looked intrigued though. “You do a webcomic?” she asked. “Which one?”

“It’s called Panaceum,” Grantaire said. “It’s really no big thing. And our friend does most of the writing. I just do the art.”

“I’ll have to check it out,” she said.

Jehan would be pleased. He always liked getting new readers.

“Taire has actually been contacted by an editor in New York,” Enjolras said. “They’re looking into publishing the webcomic as a graphic novel.”

Everyone around the table made vague noises of interest, but Grantaire felt his face flush a little. Neither he nor Jehan had any serious interest in traditional publishing. Grantaire didn’t want to deal with the deadlines and Jehan didn’t want to give up creative control, and Grantaire was relatively certain that Enjolras knew all of that. To hear Enjolras bring it up now…well, it felt like Enjolras was trying to leverage the prestige of traditional publishing to impress the Daltons and his own family—like Grantaire wasn’t good enough on his own to impress them.

“Probably nothing will come of it,” he said. “And I’m not sure if that’s what I’d even want, anyway—we’re doing just fine off the ad revenue from the website.”

Luckily after that, the subject of his employment dropped, but they quickly moved on to questions about his family, which Grantaire didn’t find any easier to handle. He never liked the looks of pity he got when people found out his dad died when he was only six, and he never liked the looks of judgment he got when he explained that his mom remarried when he was fourteen and that he didn’t have much to do with his family any more even less. People always seemed to think that he was the reason he didn’t get along with his stepdad and never stopped to consider that maybe it was because his stepdad was a raging asshole.

By the end of the meal, Grantaire was certain Enjolras’s family had more than enough details to condemn him as an unfit boyfriend and he could only hope that things were going better for Courfeyrac and Combeferre.

 

Interlude—October, Five Years Ago

In all honesty, it wasn’t Grantaire’s first time being kicked out of a bar or a club or anything like that, and he doubted this would be the last time either. Judging from the show Courfeyrac was putting on, though, this was the first he’d ever been kicked out.

He was rather indignant about it.

“They kicked us out!”

Courfeyrac was just drunk enough that he stumbled when he threw his arm out in a wide gesture towards the club. He wasn’t coordinated enough for that kind of momentum at the moment.

Meanwhile, Grantaire massaged his hand. Decking that son of a bitch in the face had hurt. Why did no one ever talk about how much it hurt to punch people? “Yeah, they did,” he said.

“And you punched someone!” Courfeyrac said, rounding on him now. “You got us kicked out!”

“Won’t be the last time,” he said. “Do you think my knuckles are going to bruise?” He thrust his hand under Courfeyrac’s nose in a demand for him to inspect it.

Courfeyrac just swatted it out of the way. “What’d you go punching that guy for?”

“He was trying to shove his hand down your pants!”

“Well, yeah—he was a grabby bastard, but you didn’t have to punch him! Now what are we supposed to do for the rest of the night?”

Grantaire cocked his head to the side. “It doesn’t bother you?”

Courfeyrac looked like Grantaire had just asked a stupid question. “Of course it bothered me, but what the hell am I supposed to do about it? I tell him I’m not interested and then he gets grabby and then I let him know that I’m reallynot interested and then he tells me I’m some sort of cocktease or some shit and then we part ways and I can go back to dancing! You didn’t have to punch him—now we don’t get to dance!”

After that night, Grantaire didn’t bring up the punching incident again. He’d shared a dorm room with Courfeyrac last year and he knew that Courfeyrac didn’t like people making a big deal out of his asexuality—“It is what it is,” he always said—and even though Grantaire thought the punching had more to do with some stranger acting like a rape-y asshole than it did with Courfeyrac being asexual, he thought it best not to mention it.

But he did keep an eye on Courfeyrac whenever they went out clubbing together. Grantaire went more for the drinking and for the escape—he was becoming increasingly desperate for anything to distract him from the dark (and, at times, violent) thoughts that threatened to swallow him whole—but Courfeyrac loved the dancing and he loved the attention he got from other people. He even liked the touching—the close press of bodies on a dance floor—as long as it didn’t cross into sexual territory. But every time they went out together, there was always at least one asshole who didn’t believe Courfeyrac when he said thanks but no thanks. And when that happened, Grantaire was on hand to remind the offender that no really did mean no.

Plus it was always fun to watch Courfeyrac splutter at him after he got them kicked out of another club.

“If you keep this up,” Courfeyrac said after one particularly memorable night that ended with Grantaire needing stitches, “we’re going to get banned from every decent club in town.”

All of this changed, however, when Courfeyrac started dating. Her name was Jessica and she was a pleasant enough girl. Courfeyrac had met in her at a club one night and then it ended up that they were in the same stats lecture at school and they hit it off.

Grantaire knew that Courfeyrac occasionally fooled around with the people he dated, so he supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised to come home one night to the sounds of Courfeyrac and his girlfriend carrying on in the other room. All their other roommates were out and the walls in the apartment were thin. Grantaire could hear the faked enthusiasm in Courfeyrac’s voice. It was painful to listen to. Knowing better to intrude, Grantaire retreated to his room, put on his headphones, and waited until Courfeyrac’s girlfriend went home in the morning before he emerged from his room.

Grantaire was at the kitchen island pouring himself a drink—vodka and orange juice, a perfect way to start the day—when Courfeyrac emerged from the bathroom.

“Morning, R,” Courfeyrac said, towel drying his hair. “Anyone else home?”

“Just you and me.”

“Good,” he said. He poured himself a bowl of cereal and his eyes lingered on Grantaire’s mug. “Is that—shit, Grantaire, are you drinking vodka? It’s not even noon!”

“Yes,” he said, “and it’s also Saturday. It’s not like I have anywhere to be. Besides, the whole notion that you shouldn’t drink during the day is contrived bullshit—not to mention, I think I deserve a little something to help me forget the sounds of your little sexcapade last night.”

Courfeyrac winced. “You heard that?”

“You weren’t exactly being quiet.”

“Sorry about that. We, uh, got a little carried away—and before you say anything, yes, the whole thing was completely consensual, so don’t you even start on that whole thing. It’s bad enough having Enjolras second guess me every time I decide to have sex.”

“Was it though?” Grantaire asked.

“Was it what?”

“Was it consensual?” he said. “I mean, yeah, I believe that you said yes or whatever, but it didn’t really sound like you were enjoying yourself. Not genuinely, at least.”

“So what? Now you’re a judge of my sexual performance? I enjoyed myself, okay? End of story.”

“Yeah, that’s just not what I was hearing through the walls. I can tell when you’re faking enthusiasm, okay?”

Courfeyrac shrugged. “Okay, so the sex wasn’t mind-blowing. It never is for me. But Jessica wanted it and she enjoyed it and my enthusiasm—faked or not—was meant to be a reassurance for her. People get self-conscious about sex. I didn’t want to make her feel insecure just because I’m not wired right.”

“You’re wired just fine,” Grantaire said. “I just want to be sure that you’re not being pressured into something you don’t want. If you want to have sex because you like the way it makes your partner feel even though you don’t get anything out of it, that’s fine. But I’m not okay with you doing something because you feel it’s expected of you.”

“Love is about meeting people half-way,” Courfeyrac said. “If I’m not willing to do that, I shouldn’t be seeking out relationships like this. I know what I’m doing.”

Grantaire studied him for a long moment. Courfeyrac looked happy enough. He didn’t look like he was feeling pressured or coerced, and Grantaire supposed that would have to do for now. “Just make sure that she’s meeting you half-way too, okay? You have the right to expect that from people.”

“Consider it noted,” Courfeyrac said.

[Part Four
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June 2015

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