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[personal profile] kingess
 [Part One] [Part Two] [Part Three]

Chapter Four

As Courfeyrac pulled the suit coat off the hanger to pull it on, he could hear Enjolras complaining from the fitting room next to his.

“Tuxes, Lissie?” he said. “You’re making me wear a tux?”

Lisette ignored him, as she had been doing whenever Enjolras started complaining about the wedding plans. Courfeyrac wasn’t sure if Enjolras was really this annoyed by the wedding—though opulent displays of wealth normally annoyed Enjolras, so Courfeyrac wouldn’t have been surprised if that were the case—or if this was just some petty attempt to make Lisette and their mother regret making him come home for the wedding early (which wasn’t the most mature reaction, but Enjolras had a hard time being mature where Lisette was concerned). For his part, Courfeyrac thought a tux fitting was the least of his concerns. He was a bit feeling better about this whole pretend boyfriend mess. Combeferre was going out of his way to be sweet and charming towards Courfeyrac’s mom and supportive and understanding toward him—and Courfeyrac knew he shouldn’t have expected anything different. Combeferre was constant and steady. Combeferre was pretty much the definition of “good boyfriend material.” Smart and kind and funny and shit—how was he supposed to explain to his mom that they “broke up”?

Because while he’d forgotten how nice it was to have someone who’d hold his hand or give him a hug when he wanted it, he had no misconceptions that this fake relationship was going to last any longer than it absolutely needed to.

And that stirred a certain sadness in him.

He shoved the thought out of his head and straightened the suit coat over his shoulders and stepped out of the fitting room. It was a simple black tux with a baby blue waist coat and tie. The color did nothing for him really—much more suited to Enjolras’s complexion than his own—but the tuxedo fit well over his shoulders and even though it was a rental, the fabric and tailoring indicated that money had been poured into this suit. It was probably shallow, but he thought it was hard to feel bad in clothes this nice.

“It’s a bit long in the sleeves and the pants,” he said, stepping in front of a mirror when one of the store workers waved him forward.

“Nothing a little hemming won’t fix,” Lisette said. She was practically beaming, clearly pleased to see some aspect of the wedding going smoothly. Courfeyrac was sure having a groomsman drop out last minute had caused her no small amount of stress. “Mom, doesn’t he look perfect?”

Courfeyrac looked into the mirror, but instead of looking for Gemma, he saw Combeferre sitting with Grantaire. Combeferre was watching him with a look in his eye that Courfeyrac couldn’t quite place, so he quickly looked away. Even still, he could feel his face flushing. Shit, this was embarrassing.

“I don’t get what the big deal is,” Enjolras said, coming out of his fitting room. Where Courfeyrac was built along shorter and sturdier lines, Enjolras was taller and lankier. The sleeves of his suit coat were a touch too short and when he walked, Courfeyrac could see his bright red socks. “Marriage should be about commitment to another person, not flowers and tuxes and fancy dresses. Do you have any idea how many better uses I could put this money to?”

Gemma flicked the back of his head, which made Grantaire snort. “It’s a big deal because marriages are something to celebrate. Your father, Lisette, and I have the money matters well in hand, so why don’t you follow Courfeyrac’s example and stop complaining.”

“Mom, I saw the price tag on this thing,” Enjolras said. “It’s completely overpriced considering I’m probably only going to wear it once—”

“Which is why we’re renting it, dear,” Gemma said.

While Enjolras continued to complain about the opulence of weddings to his mother and sister, Combeferre got up from his seat and stood behind Courfeyrac.

“Come for an inspection?” Courfeyrac asked, standing at attention while the store worker pinned the hem of his pants.

“You look amazing,” Combeferre said. “I should have known you’d clean up well.”

“Ah, well, everyone looks good in a tux,” Courfeyrac said. “We should get you and Grantaire one. Then we can be a matching set.”

“Oh, I’m sure Enjolras would love that,” Combeferre said.

Courfeyrac smirked at him. “I want to see if Lisette can make his face as red as his socks.”

The store worker stood and gave Courfeyrac instructions to go change back into his clothes.

“Poor man,” Courfeyrac said as the worker went to go pin Enjolras’s tux. “If Enjolras doesn’t stop squirming, he’s going to get stuck with pin.”

“I’m not sure he wouldn’t deserve it.”

“I’m surprised Grantaire hasn’t come around to calm him down,” Courfeyrac said, shrugging carefully out of the jacket so he didn’t stick himself with a pin. “He’s normally pretty good at that.”

“Grantaire stepped outside for some fresh air,” Combeferre said. “You didn’t notice?”

Courfeyrac glanced behind him and sure enough, Grantaire was gone. He frowned. “Was he okay?”

“I think he was getting sick of listening to Enjolras whine about money, to be honest,” Combeferre said. “It’s nothing you need to worry about.”

Courfeyrac wasn’t so sure about that. If he didn’t worry over his friends, then who would? “He was looking kind of glum yesterday. Are we sure he’s okay?”

Combeferre grabbed his hand and squeezed it and Courfeyrac was startled at the warmth that spread through his body at the gesture. “I’m sure he’s fine,” Combeferre said.

When Combeferre let go of his hand, Courfeyrac’s heart was pounding oddly and he wasn’t sure why.

~*~*~

That afternoon, Gemma wanted to do some family pictures—informal photographs of her family to go along with the formal wedding photos at the end of the week. Combeferre was amused that Gemma’s idea of family photos meant including Courfeyrac and his mom, but she absolutely insisted on it. Courfeyrac and Enjolras both offered up half-hearted protests—“We’re not really related. You know that, Mom, right?”—but Courfeyrac didn’t act like this was all that unusual.

“Enjolras and I went in together to get her a Nikon camera when we left for college,” he said. “My mom was already well on her way to becoming a DIY queen, but Gemma needed a hobby and she’d always liked photography. We were just trying to be thoughtful—we didn’t know we’d be creating a monster.”

The weather was nice and they were gathered in Enjolras’s backyard, which was meticulously tended by Enjolras’s father, Paul. For all people complained about Seattle weather, Combeferre hadn’t found it overly cloudy or dour. Granted two days of experience hardly made him an expert, but he could see why Courfeyrac and Enjolras were so fond of their home town.

Across the yard, Courfeyrac was laughing and joking as he posed for pictures with his mom. He seemed much more at ease now that the novelty of him having a “boyfriend” had worn off on his mother, which was what Combeferre had been hoping would happen. Over the last few years, Courfeyrac had trained himself to be restrained with his affections, but when Courfeyrac was relaxed and among friends, glimpses of his old effusive self weren’t uncommon. Combeferre was glad that Courfeyrac was relaxed enough for that to happen now. He knew how worried Courfeyrac was that his mom would start asking nosy questions, but Combeferre hoped that as long as Courfeyrac could act like his old self, Diane wouldn’t even think she needed to ask those questions in the first place.

Meanwhile, Enjolras and Grantaire were bickering—which was absolutely nothing new. Bickering was one of their primary forms of communication, and Combeferre had once seen them heckle each other one morning in their apartment while preparing breakfast and coffee in the kitchen in complete synchronization. An outsider would think that there was something wrong, that they were an unhappy couple, but an outsider wouldn’t see the fire in Enjolras’s eyes nor the pleasure in Grantaire’s at having Enjolras’s attention focused on him. Combeferre—and the rest of their friends, for that matter—had learned to tune their bickering out years ago. It was impossible to get anything done if you didn’t.

But Combeferre had also trained himself to listen for the slight signs and deviations that indicated that this was more than their habitual bickering. More sharpness, less exasperation. More nitpicking, less logic. They were subtle shifts, but learning to recognize them had been a necessity in the early days of Enjolras and Grantaire’s relationship. Recognize the signs and you could divert the argument before one or the other said something truly hurtful.

Combeferre didn’t know all the details, but he knew that Grantaire had been going through a rough time when he and Enjolras started dating, and while their relationship was a source of stability for Grantaire during that time, the drama in his life had caused him to lash out indiscriminately at those around him. Instead of talking about the root of his problems, Grantaire would instead instigate brutal, no-holds-barred arguments with Enjolras that almost always ended with Enjolras saying something cruel or thoughtless and Grantaire storming out of the room

Combeferre and Courfeyrac had learned pretty quickly the most effective ways to run damage control on those nights.

Eventually, Enjolras learned to recognize the signs that Grantaire was spoiling for a fight and learned to divert those arguments himself. That was, of course, unless he was stressed or under too much pressure, in which case, he was usually as eager for a fight as Grantaire was.

As it was now, Combeferre thought there was no reason to be worried about Enjolras and Grantaire yet, but there was a certain amount of sharpness in their voices that seemed to indicate something was beginning to fester under the surface.

Courfeyrac, finished with the pictures with his mom, strolled over. He picked a bit of grass off Combeferre’s shirt and smoothed his collar.

“Gemma wants to do couples pictures,” he says, jerking his head to where the blonde woman was herding Enjolras and Grantaire to a different patch of grass where the lighting was better. Enjolras and Grantaire were still bickering. “We’re on up next after those two—though, whether they can shut up long enough to get a decent picture is still up for debate.”

Combeferre laughed. “So are you going to cut my head out of all our pictures together when we ‘break up’?”

“No, but Mom will. You have her completely smitten. She thinks you’re the most wonderful man in the world, and I think she might already be planning our wedding.”

“Sorry about that.”

Courfeyrac shook his head. “I knew that when I brought you home—you’re every mother’s dream for her kid. I think she might like you more than me, at this point. When I dump you, she’ll probably call you up and the two of you can trash talk me for hours and go on and on about how I was never good enough for you.”

“Oh, you’re going to dump me?” Combeferre said, smiling. “Who says I’m not going to dump you?”

Courfeyrac assumed a lofty expression. “I’m the heart-breaker, my dear Combeferre. Not the heart-breakee. I’m afraid you never stood a chance.”

“Well, then, I’ll be sure to act properly devastated when your mom calls to console me after you break my heart.”

“She’ll probably send you cookies,” Courfeyrac said. “I expect you to share them with me.”

“If I get cookies because my fake boyfriend dumps me,” Combeferre said, “then I am damn well going to keep them for myself. If you want cookies, then you’re just going to have let me dump you.”

Courfeyrac laughed, a bright and loud sound. “This is really messed up, isn’t it?”

“A little,” Combeferre admitted.

Across the yard, Enjolras and Grantaire’s bickering tipped over its boiling point when Grantaire’s cell phone started ringing.

“It’s that publishing house in New York,” he said bitterly, checking the caller ID. “See? This is why I don’t want to publish the stupid webcomic! These people interrupt everything!”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Enjolras snapped, calling after Grantaire as he stormed away to answer his phone.

“Are they always like that?” Lisette asked. She had emerged from the house and she wrapped an arm around Courfeyrac’s waist and pulled him close.

“This is par for the course,” Combeferre said.

Lisette rolled her eyes. “Should have known he’d end up with someone he could argue with,” she said. “He’d be bored to tears if he couldn’t dig in his heels and shout about nonsense every so often.”

“You should see them when they really get going,” Courfeyrac said. His tone was light, but he crossed his arms over his chest and Combeferre had to wonder just how comfortable he was with Lisette being so affectionate with him. “What you’re seeing here is Enjolras-and-Grantaire Lite. Is this fiancé of yours ever going to show up, Lissie? I’m beginning to think he doesn’t exist.”

“Oh, aren’t you cute,” she said. “He just got off work and he’s on his way over. I want you to meet him. I think you’ll like him.”

“Enjolras seemed impressed yesterday.”

“That’s because my darling baby brother thinks that all the men I’ve ever been with are idiots,” she said. “So he just expected Nathan to be the same.”

Her phone rang and she pulled it out of her pocket to check the caller ID.

“That’s Nathan,” she said, leaning in to give Courfeyrac a kiss on the cheek before smacking his butt. “I’ll just leave you two to it, then.”

Combeferre waited till she was out of earshot before he turned back to Courfeyrac.

“Is she always like that with you?” Combeferre asked. Courfeyrac roughly rubbed his hand over his cheek where Lisette had just kissed him.

“Yeah, I guess.” He shrugged. “We were each other’s firsts, and after that, touching like that just seemed normal.”

“Firsts?”

“You know,” Courfeyrac said. “We lost our virginity to each other.”

“Enjolras told me once that you threw up after the first time you had sex.”

Courfeyrac looked surprised that Combeferre knew that. “I did.” Something of Combeferre’s indignation must have shown on his face, because immediately Courfeyrac said, “Look, it was completely consensual. She didn’t…take advantage of me or anything, if that’s what you were thinking. I was fifteen, and I’d had a beer, which was enough to make me stupid, and we had sex. I just…I wasn’t prepared for what that meant for me and I didn’t feel right afterwards, so I puked. Probably had more to do with the beer than anything else, to be honest.”

“Does Enjolras know about this?”

“Do you honestly think he would let her touch me at all if he knew? Look, Combeferre, this happened nearly a decade ago. And yeah, it was kind of lousy—but I’ve felt that way about most of my sexual experiences. She was just the first, that’s all. It doesn’t bother me.”

“But it does bother you.”

“What?”

“Fey, you stiffen up like a board every time she touches you.”

“I didn’t used to be like that,” he said. “I’m just not used to it, that’s all.”

“I think this is more than just not being used to it,” Combeferre said. “You can talk to me, you know that.”

Courfeyrac was saved from coming up with a satisfactory lie—and from the expression on his face, it was obvious he was about to lie—when Lisette ushered Nathan over.

“Nathan,” Lisette said, “this is Courfeyrac and his boyfriend, Combeferre.”

 “Liss has told me all about you,” Nathan said, smiling as he shook Courfeyrac’s hand. “Thanks for stepping up to be my groomsman.”

“Anything for Lissie,” Courfeyrac said.

“You’re coming to the bachelor party tomorrow night, right?”

“I didn’t know there was one,” Courfeyrac said, laughing a little. “But I’d be happy to come along—I’m not one to pass up a party.”

“Great,” Nathan said. “All the groomsmen are coming—and boyfriends are more than welcome.” He nodded toward Combeferre. “My best man has it all sorted out. I guess we’ll be hitting up some dance clubs and maybe a strip club or two.”

 “Wait, what?” Enjolras said. He’d been lingering on the fringe of the conversation as he watched Grantaire talk on the phone across the yard. “I didn’t agree to this.”

Nathan looked a little uncomfortable, but Lisette just rolled her eyes. “You agreed to it when you agreed to be his groomsmen, you twit,” she said.

“I didn’t know at the time that being a groomsmen would involve being dragged around to clubs to watch a bunch of women dance around in their underwear!”

“Well, luckily for you, you’ll be going to gay strip clubs,” Lisette said.

“What?” Enjolras and Courfeyrac said at the same time.

“I’m bi,” Nathan said. “We’re treating this as my last hurrah to dick.”

Courfeyrac snorted, but Lisette gave Enjolras a cold look.

“Way to succumb to heteronormativity,” she said icily. “Now how about you get off your moral high horse and accept the invitation without acting like a douchebag.”

“It doesn’t look like I have much of a choice,” Enjolras said.

“Glad to see we understand each other,” Lisette said.

~*~*~

That night, Courfeyrac couldn’t take his eyes off Combeferre in the kitchen with his mother. Everyone was gathered at his house—Paul and Nathan watching the Mariner’s game on the TV while Enjolras and Grantaire bickered in hushed tones. Well, mostly hushed tones. Whenever their volume got too loud, Paul barked at them to be quiet. Lisette and Gemma were also at the table, discussing last minute wedding plans for what Courfeyrac assumed to be the four hundredth time. And Courfeyrac sat at the island in the kitchen while Combeferre helped his mom bake cookies.

His mom was clearly taken with Combeferre—more so than she already had been this morning. They’d been at their baking for a half hour now and she had already invited Combeferre to come back for Thanksgiving and Christmas—with or without Courfeyrac. Combeferre, in typical, diplomatic Combeferre fashion, had easily deflected her invitations and redirected the conversation to baking, which Combeferre had only dabbled in before, but was clearly good at. It would figure. Baking was a science and Combeferre had aced all his chemistry classes back during their undergrad.

Courfeyrac hoped that maybe this would mean he could talk Combeferre into baking his mom’s sugar cookies during the school year. Not that Combeferre really had spare time to be baking cookies for anyone, but Courfeyrac wasn’t above begging. Not for cookies. Besides, that was what boyfriends were supposed to do for each other, right? Bake cookies just because the other one asked?

A chill swept over Courfeyrac as he realized his mistake. Combeferre wasn’t his boyfriend. They were good friends—the best of friends, really—but that was it. Friends. Full stop. Combeferre had only agreed to this mad charade in the first place because Courfeyrac had been desperate and Combeferre was something of a saint. He had no right to expect anything more than friendship with Combeferre after this week—and he felt guilty and anxious all at once that part of him even entertained the idea of carrying on this charade longer. He had years of experience to know that he couldn’t do relationships. It always got to the point where his partner expected more of him than he was willing to give. Always. He was wrong to try and trap Combeferre in a relationship like that—even if it was just a passing thought—and it was wrong to think that he could have a relationship without sex.

He had learned that lesson well enough.

But this was nice. It was so nice. To share this part of his life someone. He’d never taken any of his romantic partners home to meet his mom, had even stopped talking about them to his mom after his junior year of college when it became apparent that she didn’t think marrying at twenty was too young. He didn’t want to get her hopes up. But Combeferre fit in his family so nicely—perfectly, really. And Combeferre had gone above and beyond in this whole fake boyfriend thing to begin with. He was warm and affectionate and every time he touched Courfeyrac, Courfeyrac wanted to melt into the sensation. He’d always enjoyed physical and even sensual touching, but too many people couldn’t understand that he wanted that without it becoming sexual so he’d stopped accepting touch at all.

But that wasn’t quite true. It couldn’t be quite true, because he was still fairly physically affectionate with Jehan. For whatever reason, the combination of Courfeyrac’s romantic asexuality and Jehan’s aromantic sexuality left them in a position where they were perfectly comfortable with each other. They were operating on opposite ends of the spectrum, but Jehan understood Courfeyrac instinctively in ways that most other people struggled to grasp even after Courfeyrac explained it to them. When Courfeyrac felt lonely, he sought Jehan out, knowing that he was going to get some cuddles and probably some tea and that he’d walk away feeling a bit better and more relaxed, but likely covered in cat hair. Their relationship was purely platonic and Courfeyrac liked that.

But it was different with Combeferre. Combeferre’s affection and attention didn’t make him feel relaxed or merely content, it made him feel safe and strong. It made him feel like he could fly and—oh, fuck.

His realization must have shown on his face, because Combeferre wiped the flour off his hands on his apron (a “flirty” apron with blue ruffles around the edges that Courfeyrac had gotten his mom as a gag gift years and years ago) and he brushed the hair out of Courfeyrac’s eyes. “You okay?” he asked.

“What?” Stupid, stupid thing to say.

“For a second there, you looked like you just watched a dog get hit by truck,” he said.

Courfeyrac forced himself to laugh, not caring that it probably sounded fake and that Combeferre could probably see right through him. “I just realized I forgot to mail in the electric bill,” he said. “I’m gonna go call Jehan to see if he can take care of it for me.”

“Okay,” Combeferre says. “First batch of cookies will be out in a couple of minutes, so don’t take too long.” He leaned in for a quick kiss—perfect Combeferre, always keeping up appearances for the public—and Courfeyrac pretended that his heart didn’t stutter at the gesture.

Safely in his bedroom, Courfeyrac put his back against the wall and sank to the ground. Well, he was thoroughly and properly screwed. He fished his phone out of his pocket and dialed Jehan’s number.

Jehan picked up on the third ring. “Prouvaire’s House of Grading Horrors,” he said. It sounded like he’d had more than one glass of wine tonight. “How can I help you?”

“Grading?” Courfeyrac asked. “I thought your class was doing state testing this week.”

“They are,” Jehan said. “But I scheduled it so that their big end-of-the-year paper would be due before testing so afterwards we could waste time watching The Lion King because it’s really just an adaptation of Hamlet, when really we all know that’s just something English teachers say so they have a reason to watch The Lion King in class. Little did I know, though, that my students really could have benefited from the extra time.” He gave a strange sort of laugh, almost a choking noise. “Courfeyrac, I just read a five page paper about the oppression of white men in To Kill a Mockingbird. Five pages! And I can’t even give the kid points for proper MLA formatting!”

“How about this,” Courfeyrac said. “We can switch places. I’ll do all your gross grading, and you can come take my place here.”

“Are things going that poorly?” Jehan asked. His voice sounded noticeably more grounded. “I thought Combeferre would be a good fake boyfriend for you.”

“He’s a little too good,” Courfeyrac said, resting his head back against the wall. “Shit, Jehan, I think I’m falling in love with him.”

There was silence on the other line, then, “Oh, Courfeyrac.”

“I know, I know, this is a fucking mess,” he said. “It’s not my fault he’s so fucking perfect.”

“Have you…have you talked to him about this?”

“And say what?” Courfeyrac wanted to know. “Hey, Combeferre, I know we’ve been fake dating for three days, but I think I might be falling in love with you and would really like to turn this fake dating into real dating, if you don’t mind. But oh, wait, we’re still not going to have sex. Sorry, not sorry?”

“Or you could tell him that the fake dating is playing with your emotions a little and that you want to set better boundaries,” Jehan suggested. “Or you could say that you didn’t realize that you two would make such a nice couple until you started fake dating and, if he feels the same way, you wouldn’t be opposed to giving this a shot.”

“Stop being so reasonable,” Courfeyrac said. “I just—I can’t, Jehan. I can’t do relationships anymore. I tried and every time was a failure. I can’t put myself through that again.”

“Are you worried that if Combeferre was interested in real dating, you’d run into the same problems you’ve had in the past?”

“Yes—no—fuck, I don’t know. I mean, I know Combeferre would never try to pressure me into anything. I mean, shit, he’s been willing to sleep on the floor the last two nights because he’s worried I’m uncomfortable sharing a bed with him, but—”

“You two are sharing a bed?”

“Yeah, it’s—it’s complicated,” he said. “And it doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day, Combeferre will always want something out of a relationship that I don’t think I can give anymore!”

“Courfeyrac, if you’re really feeling this anxious about it, you need to talk to him,” Jehan said. “Tell him you need to set up better boundaries for the rest of the week. You don’t even have to tell him why, if you don’t want to. You know he won’t pry if you don’t offer up the information.”

“Yeah, because he’s perfect.”

“Would you rather I talk to him? Because I will for you. You know that. I can explain about Chri—”

“No,” Courfeyrac said. He had his reasons for keeping his secrets. To unearth them now—well, that was drama that none of them were currently equipped to deal with.

“Are you sure?”

Courfeyrac nodded. “I’ll figure it out,” he said. “It’ll be fine. I just need to…not be in love with him anymore.”

Jehan sighed—and communicated in that simple noise just what a bad idea he thought not talking about this with Combeferre really was—but he didn’t push the issue. “If you need to talk about this,” he said. “You can call me. Anytime. I’ll keep my phone on me at work and I’ll step out of class if you need me.”

“I’ll be fine,” Courfeyrac said. “You don’t need to worry.”

“I think I’ll worry anyway,” he said. “Good luck with everything and take care of yourself, Courfeyrac. I don’t want to see you get hurt again.”

After he hung up the phone, Courfeyrac stayed in his room for several long minutes. He felt better now that he’d gotten some of his anxiety of his chest—Jehan was always good for that. And Jehan was also always good for imparting unintentional bits of insight. Courfeyrac thought maybe it was a poet thing. Because Jehan’s question about whether or not he worried he’d have the same problems with Combeferre that he’d had in his other relationships made him realize something.

He trusted Combeferre in a way that he hadn’t trusted anyone in years. He trusted Combeferre not to overstep any of the physical boundaries they’d set for themselves. He trusted Combeferre with his body.

And maybe, just maybe, it’d be okay to trust him with his heart, too.

 

Interlude—April, Three Years Ago

Freshman year, Combeferre had hit it off with Enjolras immediately. After the initial shuffle of roommates had been taken care of and Enjolras and Combeferre ended up in the same room, it had taken about one hour of conversation before Combeferre realized he wanted his roommate as a best friend—and over the years, that had happened. Enjolras made him feel alive and made him feel passionate, made him want to change the world, and everyone said that he balanced Enjolras out. He provided stability to Enjolras’s wild passion. It was a balanced friendship and it worked, but you couldn’t become friends with Enjolras without also becoming friends with Courfeyrac.

Combeferre didn’t like to admit this to himself, but his initial perceptions of Courfeyrac had been wrong. Completely wrong. They had roomed together for two weeks at the beginning of their freshman year—back when Enjolras and Grantaire had been rooming together and their floor was liable to erupt in vicious shouting matches at two in the morning—and Courfeyrac had seemed…well, he’d seemed like a party boy. The sort of kid who’d be more at home in a frat house than in the dorms. He was loud and he was always flirting with someone. He never seemed to sleep but still managed to have endless energy. He was exhausting to be around—and because he was exhausted, Combeferre hadn’t bothered to look past Courfeyrac’s exuberant exterior.

But then he’d made friends with Enjolras and Enjolras just about refused to do anything without Courfeyrac—and Combeferre saw a different side of Courfeyrac. And, to be fair, this was the greater and more substantial side of Courfeyrac. He saw the parts of Courfeyrac that were just as passionate and intelligent and articulate as Enjolras. He saw how much Courfeyrac was driven by his compassion and his heart. He saw how Courfeyrac never refused to do someone a favor, no matter how burdensome or inconvenient. He saw how Courfeyrac could read people on emotional level and how he always knew just what his friends needed from him.

Combeferre had no idea how he had missed all that—but he was glad that he saw it eventually, because if he considered Enjolras his best friend, then Courfeyrac was…well, Courfeyrac was his other best friend. Enjolras was the friend he turned to for intellectual stimulation and shared causes, but Courfeyrac did all of that and more. Courfeyrac was the one he turned to at the end of a hard day, when he was exhausted and 100% done with everyone’s shit. Courfeyrac was the one he sought out when he had relationship problems and also when he had relationship triumphs—because as much as Courfeyrac liked to be there to console his friends, Combeferre knew that Courfeyrac liked it more when he could celebrate with his friends instead. Courfeyrac was his confidant, his emotional support.

Everyone deserved a Courfeyrac in their life, and Combeferre considered himself blessed beyond measure to have his friendship.

Especially since having Courfeyrac as a friend meant that there were two people to take care of Enjolras. Two people to balance him out and keep him from getting overzealous. Two people to keep him grounded and to restrain his vision and his passion into small, workable feats. Two people to bully him into eating and sleeping when he was caught up in something. Two people to diffuse the tension between Enjolras and Grantaire. Two people to pick Enjolras up from the police station—if they weren’t both locked up with him. Two people to wait for Enjolras when he was in the Emergency Room—again—because he’d gotten into another fight with some bigot who didn’t know when to shut up.

Which is where they were now.

“Sorry I’m late,” Courfeyrac said, collapsing into a seat next to Combeferre. His face was flushed, as though he had run here. “What is it this time? Broken bones? Internal bleeding? External bleeding? Please tell me he doesn’t need stitches again.”

“No stitches need,” Combeferre said, “but apparently his chest is pretty bruised and at least one of his ribs is broken. The doctors are worried about internal damages.”

Courfeyrac hissed in sympathy. “They’re going to need to do an x-ray for that, aren’t they?”

“A CAT scan, actually.”

“Good thing he’s finished with exams, then, yeah?” Courfeyrac said. “Imagine having to take tests with that sort of pain.”

“As though being done with exams is going to slow him down at all.”

“I’m okay with drugging him up so he can’t move if you are.”

Combeferre laughed. “We can drug his coffee. He’ll never notice.” He covered a yawn with his hand—his own finals schedule was wearing on him—and asked, “Are you done with finals then? I was worried that you were in the middle of one when I called.”

“Oh, no. I finished yesterday. Christopher and I were out celebrating the end of finals when you called,” Courfeyrac said. His grin was wide and his eyes bright.

“Things going well, then?” he asked. Courfeyrac had met Christopher about a month ago while volunteering at a booth on campus handing out pamphlets of health resources for the LGBT community and the two of them had hit it off immediately. And Combeferre was happy for him. Courfeyrac was at his best when he had someone to love—romantically or not—and there was always room in Courfeyrac’s heart for just one more friend, just one more romantic partner. His capacity for love was endless. Courfeyrac had been hesitant around Christopher in the beginning, had been reluctant to show so much affection so fast because he had a history of people misconstruing what he meant by that affection. By now, Courfeyrac had been hurt enough times that he was trying to be careful.

It hurt, sometimes, watching Courfeyrac trying to be so careful around other people when his natural instincts were urging him to do differently. Combeferre hoped that one day Courfeyrac would find someone who would love him in the way he deserved to be loved—without demands and without reservations.

“They’re wooooooooonderful, Ferre,” he said, grinning brightly. “We’re officially dating now.”

“You are? Congratulations!”

“Thanks,” he said. He was a little breathless and Combeferre wondered just how long Courfeyrac had been waiting to tell one of his friends this. “And the best part is—he already knows.”

“Knows what?”

“About me,” Courfeyrac said. “And my ace-ness or whatever. We were talking about maybe being exclusive and taking things to the next level and I just flat out told him that I’m asexual.”

“And what’d he say?”

“Well, he didn’t get it at first,” Courfeyrac said, rolling his eyes a little. “But that’s nothing new. Fuck, I’ve had that conversation with so many people by now that I can anticipate their questions—asexual? Isn’t that a plant thing? So does your…you know…does it work?—seriously, you’d think people could be a bit more creative, but I just explained to him what it meant to me and that I’m just not interested in sex and that if we were going to date, I needed to know up front that he was okay with that.”

“And he was?”

“It was perfect, Ferre. He was perfect. He told me that he didn’t really understand it and that he would love to share that kind of intimacy—he called it intimacy, not fucking or sex or anything, isn’t that cute?—with me, but only if I wanted to. He said he didn’t ever want to do anything that would make me feel uncomfortable and that he hoped we could talk more about this later because he wanted to understand where I was coming from.”

“That’s great, Courfeyrac. I’m so happy for you.”

Courfeyrac smiled and ducked his head. “I think…I think this is going to work out this time.”

Combeferre reached over and squeezed his hand. “I hope it will. You deserve this.”

[Part Five
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