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Chapter Six

Combeferre woke up the next morning with a slight hangover as his only companion. It didn’t look like Courfeyrac’s side of the bed had been slept in at all. Which was strange, because he could have sworn that Courfeyrac came to bed with him last night.

Hadn’t he?

Surely he wasn’t drunk enough last night to forget that.

Maybe Courfeyrac had woken up and was in the shower. Maybe he made his side of the bed before he left the room.

Maybe Courfeyrac didn’t feel comfortable sharing a bed last night after whatever happened at the club.

Combeferre sighed and rolled out of bed. He felt guilty for leaving Courfeyrac like he had last night, but Courfeyrac hadn’t seemed to mind at the time and Blake, the best man, had just passed out in his own puke. Combeferre didn’t have it in him not to help in a situation like that.

It was early enough in the morning—Combeferre was always an early riser, hangover or no—and he hoped that maybe he could track Courfeyrac down before Diane woke up. He hoped maybe they’d have time to talk alone.

The kitchen was empty when Combeferre got downstairs, but the lights were all on and the coffee pot was on. He could hear Courfeyrac’s mom talking from the living room.

“Did you sleep on the couch?” she asked.

Courfeyrac’s reply was muffled.

“Is everything okay? Did you and Combeferre argue last night?” Before Courfeyrac even had the chance to answer, she kept talking. “Darling, things will work out. You two are so good together and you’re so happy with him!”

“We didn’t fight,” Courfeyrac said. Combeferre heard the rustle of fabric and the groan of couch springs. “Everything’s fine. I just…we just…we were both a little drunk and I didn’t want us getting carried away.”

It didn’t take much of an effort for Combeferre to translate that. Combeferre had been drunk last night and Courfeyrac was afraid that Combeferre would get carried away. On the one hand, it hurt that Courfeyrac would make that kind of assumption. Combeferre had never given him a reason to think he was even capable of something like that. But on the other hand, Combeferre knew that Courfeyrac probably had a reason to distrust his sleeping partners when they were drunk. Knowing that Courfeyrac had probably been hurt like that stung worse than the idea that his friend didn’t trust him.

“Oh, darling,” Diane said, “I appreciate your concern, but I understand that you’re an adult. It’s okay if you and Combeferre get carried away here. Personally, I think it’s a little silly of Gemma to be keeping Enjolras and his boyfriend apart at this stage—especially with how long they’ve been dating—but I don’t want you to feel like your sexuality is something you need to hide here. I mean, I certainly appreciate you keep things behind closed doors—as I’m sure you’ve appreciated me and my various boyfriends doing the same—”

“Mom!” Courfeyrac said, alarmed.

“But our sexuality and our desire to be with people in that intimate sort of way, well, it’s part of God’s plan for us. Man wasn’t made to be alone and God wants us to be able to share our whole selves with people—that’s what it means to become one flesh. I have met plenty of people who act like sex is some dirty, shameful thing, but I never want you to feel that way. I don’t want you to be ashamed of what your body wants. It’s normal to get carried away sometimes. You didn’t have to hide away on the couch.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Courfeyrac said. He sounded weary and Combeferre’s heart went out to him. His mom was trying to be reassuring, but by trying to normalize sexual desire, she had inadvertently shamed Courfeyrac’s lack of it.

“Why don’t you come to the kitchen with me and we can get breakfast started for when that charming boyfriend of yours wakes up?”

Combeferre quickly retreated to the staircase, where he’d be hidden from view. He wasn’t sure how comfortable Courfeyrac would be if he knew Combeferre had overheard all of this, and really all he wanted at this point was to make Courfeyrac feel better. He waited until the smell of eggs frying wafted up the stairs before he came down again, yawning as though he’d just woken up.

Diane welcomed him with a wide smile and a kiss on the cheek and assured him that the coffee was just about done. “You two certainly look like you need it!”

Combeferre took a seat at the island next to Courfeyrac, and it was obvious that Courfeyrac hadn’t slept well—if he’d slept at all. There were dark circles under his eyes, which were a little bloodshot. Combeferre wondered if that was from the drinking last night or if he’d been crying. He reached over to gently scratch Courfeyrac’s scalp, but pulled away when Courfeyrac tensed under his touch.

“Is everything okay?” he asked quietly, keeping his eyes on Diane to make sure she wasn’t eavesdropping.

“Yeah,” Courfeyrac said. “Everything’s fine.”

“Are you sure? Do you want to talk about last night?”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Courfeyrac said. He met Combeferre’s eyes for a fraction of a second before looking away. His eyes lacked their usual spark and he hadn’t looked this despondent since the end of his relationship with Christopher. “I think I’m going to go take a shower,” he announced.

“Breakfast is almost ready,” Diane said.

“I’m not hungry,” Courfeyrac said, getting to his feet. “Maybe I’ll feel up to it after I shower.”

Diane looked concerned, and Combeferre didn’t blame her. He was concerned too.

“Well,” she said. “Don’t take too long. We’re setting up the activity hall at the church in the afternoon  for the reception, okay?”

“Yeah,” Courfeyrac said. “Not a problem.”

When he was gone, Combeferre was almost certain that Diane would give him the third degree about Courfeyrac’s mood, but she seemed too preoccupied to bother with questions. She put a plate of fried eggs and toast in front of Combeferre and they ate together in silence. When they heard the water turn off upstairs, she turned to him and said, “Why don’t you go check on him, dear? I think he’d respond better to you than to his prying mother.”

Combeferre headed upstairs and knocked on the bathroom door. “Fey?” he called.

Courfeyrac opened the door and steam flooded out of the room. Just how hot had that shower been?

Judging by the red tint of his skin, too hot.

“Did Mom send you after me?” he asked. “She always does that whenever I get upset about something. She doesn’t like hearing what’s gotten me in a snit, so she always sent Enjolras or his dad after me to find out what’s wrong.”

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

Courfeyrac shook his head.

“Fey, we’ve been friends for years,” he said. “You can talk to me. I’m sorry for leaving you at the club last night, but Blake was in bad shape—”

“This has nothing to do with you leaving, okay?” Courfeyrac said. “I just…I’m allowed to not be a big ray of sunshine all the time, aren’t I?”

“Of course you are.”

“And just because I’m not bright and chipper doesn’t mean that something’s wrong.”

“Okay,” Combeferre said. “I was just checking. I was worried about you. I know this whole week hasn’t been easy for you, and I just wanted to make sure that you knew that I’m here for you.”

Some sort of emotion crossed Courfeyrac’s face, too quickly for Combeferre to interpret it. “I’ll be fine, okay?” Courfeyrac said. “I just…I just need to clear my head a bit.”

“Okay.”

“I should get dressed,” Courfeyrac said with a bit of a smile. Combeferre could tell it was forced. “If you’re lucky, there might be some hot water left.”

~*~*~

Courfeyrac was in trouble…and he knew it. Things with Combeferre had been good—so good—last night, even if he did panic about Combeferre’s obvious arousal for a little bit, but he felt safe with Combeferre. He always did. But then Combeferre had left and there’d been that grabby asshole who acted like every other grabby asshole Courfeyrac had ever met at a club. And no one had grabbed him like that since Christopher, and he had been doing his best to avoid having people call him things like a cocktease and he’d been doing so fucking well until it all came crashing down and then the next thing he knew, he was puking up his guts outside the club. (A small part of him was rather proud that he managed to get outside the club before vomiting. He thought he should get some sort of credit for that.)

He’d tried to go to bed with Combeferre last night, hadn’t wanted to do anything that would cause a scene or make anyone worry even more about him, but he couldn’t relax knowing that there was another person in bed with him. That was what it’d been like in the last month of his relationship with Christopher. He had tried so hard to be normal and to share a bed with his boyfriend, but he hadn’t been able to trust him after Thanksgiving. He didn’t feel like he could trust anyone anymore, not even Combeferre, who had never, not even once, given Courfeyrac a reason to doubt his honor or integrity.

So he slept on the couch. If he could call it sleeping. Mostly it was a lot of tossing and turning and watching nature documentaries on Netflix because normally the sound of soothing voices helped him relax. But when he did drift off, he had unpleasant dreams that jolted him awake. He could never remember these dreams upon waking, could never remember what was so terrible that it shook him from sleep, but the dreams always came with a lingering sense of unease and anxiety.

And this was where it got really bad—part of him wanted to go to Combeferre, to tell Combeferre everything that happened, and just let Combeferre hold him and stroke his hair because Combeferre was perfect at those things and Combeferre would make him feel better. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t do those things. He couldn’t let himself fall anymore in love with Combeferre because falling in love only ever ended in pain for him. He’d been madly in love with Christopher. So in love that he could hardly think straight some days, but that hadn’t been enough.

He hadn’t been enough.

At least he knew that now. His love wouldn’t be enough to meet Combeferre’s needs. His love wouldn’t be enough to sustain a relationship that most people built around sex. He knew he didn’t get to have those relationships anymore, so as badly as he yearned to just break down in Combeferre’s arms and let Combeferre piece him back together—because of course Combeferre would piece him back together, of course Combeferre would help him learn how to be a whole person again—he wouldn’t let himself.

Which, he thought wryly, was becoming increasingly difficult, since he currently had his hands on Combeferre’s shoulders, gently kneading them, while he talked with his mom and Gemma. They were supposed to be working on the centerpieces for the tables, but Courfeyrac didn’t have the patience for arts and crafts—especially when they involved pinecones and gluing on sequins—and instead had taken upon himself the job of distracting Gemma and his mom from all the things he didn’t want them to notice.

Draping himself over Combeferre distracted his mom from thinking that there was anything wrong. He knew her too well and he knew how she worried. She was a little paranoid about relationships. She’d get anxious and overbearing if she thought there was trouble in Combeferre Paradise, so despite the concerned looks he kept getting from Combeferre, he carried on the charade of being the perfect couple. It would make ending this charade harder in the end, but it was worth it for now.

Being charming and flirtatious and offering witty commentary about the centerpieces also distracted everyone from the fact that Enjolras and Grantaire seemed to be on the warpath this morning. Courfeyrac had no idea what was eating at the both of them, but it was festering like some sort of gangrenous wound. They were at the other end of the church activity hall trying to assemble and decorate a lattice-work arch over the door, but their voices carried when they got loud enough. The sharpness and bitterness in their voices worried Courfeyrac. The two of them argued all the time, but normally not like this.

“No, Taire, just stop,” Enjolras snapped. Courfeyrac glanced over his shoulder and saw Enjolras standing with his hands on his hips, scowling the ribbons Grantaire was trying to weave into the lattice-work. “Those colors look awful like that.”

“I think I know a bit more about color coordination than you do,” Grantaire said. It sounded like his teeth were clenched shut.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means if it were up to you, our entire apartment would be painted fire-engine red!”

Combeferre shook his head and reached for another stick of glue for the hot glue gun.

Gemma looked worried. “Should we go separate them?”

“Don’t worry about them,” Courfeyrac said. “You know Enjolras. Sometimes you just have to let him shout a bit. They’ll be fine.”

He didn’t mention that it worried him how personal the shouting was getting. Personal attacks between the two of them were always a bad sign. He distracted himself by burying his hands in Combeferre’s hair. He leaned forward and pressed kisses between his fingertips until Combeferre reached up to still his movements. Courfeyrac frowned until he caught his mom staring at him. He forced himself to smile. He could do this.

Supposing that he could perhaps find a better (and considerably less painful) distraction than Combeferre, he sat down at the table and started toying with the scraps of pinecones and twine and sequins to make little pinecone monsters. He chattered mindlessly at his mom and Gemma and Combeferre. He used to chatter like this when he was a kid, just after his dad left. He used words to fill the painful silence left in his wake. It was second nature to talk like that now, to use words and charm and humor to deflect the less-than-happy emotions that kept threatening to overwhelm him.

After a while, Lisette came to work on the centerpieces with them. She had been arranging the flowers with Paul. Considering she was getting married in two days, Courfeyrac thought she looked rather glum.

“Something the matter?” he asked.

She glanced over her shoulder at Enjolras and Grantaire. “Are they going to keep arguing like that?”

He forced himself to smile. “They just need to get their bickering out of the way now so they’ll be pleasant at the wedding,” he said. “And in the meantime, look.” He thrust his pinecone monster at her. “Combeferre doesn’t think my new design is an improvement on the old one, but I think it’s charming.”

His smile felt a little more genuine when he heard Lisette laugh. They worked like that for another half hour or so, with Courfeyrac using the scraps from the actual centerpieces to make a dozen more of his little pinecone monsters. Courfeyrac hadn’t noticed how dangerously quiet the room had gotten until he heard something crash to the ground behind him, followed almost immediately by the sound of Enjolras swearing.

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Grantaire said. Courfeyrac turned in his seat to see Grantaire bent over the broken archway, trying to reassemble it.

Courfeyrac and Combeferre were immediately on their feet to inspect the damage. He could hear his mom, Gemma, and Lisette not far behind them.

“Taire, can you just stop?” Enjolras snapped. “For fuck’s sake, you’re making it worse!”

“Would you back off? I’m trying to fix it!”

“You’re the one who broke it in the first place!”

“Enjolras,” Paul said. Courfeyrac recognized the warning tone.

Enjolras did not. “If you had just listened to me in the first place, this wouldn’t have happened! You always do this! You always ruin everything!”

Grantaire didn’t snap back this time. Instead he seemed to curl around himself. Shit. He looked like he was about to start crying any second.

“Enjolras,” Paul said again. “Why don’t you run out to Wal-Mart and grab something for us to eat?”

Courfeyrac winced and instinctively reached out for Combeferre’s hand, because he knew what was coming next. It was inevitable with the kind of mood Enjolras was in. When his temper snapped, he usually didn’t care how terrible his behavior was. He would just always say exactly what was on his mind.

“Wal-Mart?” he repeated. “Are you serious? Dad, I know you’re not much on ethical shopping, but I thought everyone knew how bad Wal-Mart was. Even if you disregard the way they treat their employees, their business practices alone—I can’t believe you’d actually give them your money!”

Lisette looked about ready to tear Enjolras’s head off—not that Courfeyrac could blame her because he was acting like an ass—but Combeferre stepped forward to defuse the tension. “Didn’t you tell me about that great deli nearby?” he said. “The one that only uses local produce? I bet they’ve got something we can go get and bring back for everyone. We’re all hungry, Enjolras. Let’s take a break.”

It was a testament to Combeferre’s master skill at handling Enjolras’s temper that Enjolras left with only the barest amount of grumbling. Courfeyrac wasn’t the only who sighed with relief once he was out of the door.

Courfeyrac dropped to his knees beside Grantaire, who was sullenly still trying to piece archway back together. “Looks like we’ll need a staple gun,” he said. “Or at least a hot glue gun. Are you okay?”

Grantaire didn’t look up at him. “It’s fine.”

“I’m here if you need to talk about whatever’s going on,” he said.

Grantaire sat back on his heels. “Any chance I can find a staple gun around here?” he asked.

“There might be one in the janitor’s closet,” Paul said, extending a hand to Grantaire. “Why don’t we go look for it together?”

Grantaire allowed himself to be pulled to his feet and he followed Paul out of the room. Courfeyrac hoped Paul would be gentle with him. Grantaire really couldn’t take another blow to his ego right now.

Courfeyrac got to his feet as his mom and Gemma went back to the table to work on the centerpieces. Only he and Lisette remained. She still looked furious.

“I could strangle him,” she said.

“I don’t think any of us would stop you,” Courfeyrac said. Enjolras’s best weapons were his words, which made him great in a debate but pretty toxic when he lost his temper with a loved one.

“I need a hug,” she said.

Courfeyrac was about to remind her that Nathan would be here soon, but she looked like she was about to start crying and he couldn’t ignore that. Despite the fact that he didn’t really want to touch or be touched by anyone right now, he opened her arms to her.

One day he’d have to learn to establish better boundaries between himself and the people around him, but until then, he’d just have to accept the pain that came with having those boundaries crossed.

~*~*~

The silence in the car as Enjolras drove to the deli was oppressive. He kept waiting for Combeferre to call him out and tell him to fall back in line, kept wanting Combeferre to press that button because it was easier to feel angry than it was to feel guilty and maybe if he could just shout a bit more, he could forget the look of devastation on Grantaire’s face.

It wasn’t until they had arrived at the deli that Combeferre spoke and by then, Enjolras’s temper had cooled significantly.

“That was uncalled for,” Combeferre said when they got out of the car and headed into the mini-mart.

“You think I don’t know that?” he snapped. His gut was already churning with guilt because he knew it wasn’t okay to talk to anyone like he’d just spoken to Grantaire, but he knew it was especially bad to talk to Grantaire like that. He knew all too well the paths his boyfriend’s mind would wander after a fight like that. He wanted to drive straight back to the church and make this right, but he honestly didn’t know if Grantaire wanted anything to do with him at this point.

“If you know that, why’d you do it?”

Enjolras dragged his hand through his hair. “Because Grantaire’s been driving me up a wall for days now?” he suggested.

“How’s that any different from normal? You two are always pestering each other. Grantaire told me once that it’s part of your charm as a couple.”

“I don’t know!” He led Combeferre to the corner of the store that had pre-made sandwiches for sale. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him!”

“Have you tried talking about it?”

“Yes, I’ve tried talking about it,” Enjolras said. “Every time I ask him what’s wrong, he lies to me and says everything is fine. I know I’m not the most perceptive person out there, Ferre, but I know when he’s lying to me about shit like this!”

“He’s got all those commissions for that children’s book,” Combeferre said. “And I know neither of you have been sleeping well. Maybe he’s just stressed.”

Enjolras shook his head. He knew when Grantaire was “just stressed” and he knew that wasn’t what this was.

“He’s been acting weird since I asked him to come to this whole debacle with me,” he said, conveniently neglecting that he hadn’t so much asked as he had demanded. “He fussed about my parents not knowing about him, but now he acts like he didn’t want to meet them at all—he doesn’t act like he wants to spend time with me!”

“You can’t honestly believe that,” Combeferre said, inspecting a sandwich in cellophane wrap. “Grantaire’s been devoted to you for years. I can’t imagine that that’s changed at all.”

“Did you see the way he was flirting with people last night? And the way he was dressed? He knows I don’t really like clubs like that and last night it was just like he thought I was boring so he was going to find someone more interesting to be with.”

“Enjolras, you know he loves you.”

“Yeah, but I don’t know why he’s acting like this!”

“Maybe an apology is in order?”

He gave Combeferre a poisonous look. “Of course I’m going to apologize,” he said. “Who do you think I am? Don’t answer that. He’s just been acting so…off and I’ve been worried about him, and then there’s this whole mess with Courfeyrac—I know this is harder for him than he’s letting on and I feel like a wretch for putting him in this position in the first place—but I can’t worry about both of them at the same time,” he said, looking up at Combeferre. “I don’t know how to prioritize one of them over the other. I love them both.”

“And they know that,” Combeferre said. “You try to sort things out with Grantaire. I’ll worry about Courfeyrac. That’s why I’m here.” Combeferre seemed to hesitate for a second, then said, “Do you know what happened last night? Courfeyrac wouldn’t say.”

Enjolras shook his head. “I saw him punch the guy and run out of the club. He was already throwing up by the time I caught up with him—and then you and Taire found us.”

“You should have seen him this morning,” Combeferre said. “He’s putting on a good show now, but he looked awful this morning. I haven’t seen him look that bad since he broke up with Christopher.”

“Don’t say that asshole’s name around me,” Enjolras said. Courfeyrac had moved on from whatever toxicity had ended that relationship, but Enjolras didn’t know if he could say that Courfeyrac had ever really recovered from it. He wasn’t the same man he used to be—and Enjolras blamed Christopher almost entirely for that.

“Did Courfeyrac ever tell you what happened between the two of them?”

“No,” Enjolras said. “About a month after they broke up, I told Courfeyrac that I was going to make him talk to someone—whether it was me or one of our friends or a therapist, that didn’t matter to me because I just wanted him to talk to someone—because it was obvious that whatever happened was eating him alive and I wasn’t going to let him suffer alone.”

“And did he?”

“He talked to Jehan.”

“And Jehan doesn’t betray secrets,” Combeferre said, sighing a little.

Enjolras understood the sentiment. “Jehan called me after he and Courfeyrac talked and he let me know that he knew what was going on and that he was going to make sure Courfeyrac got the help he needed and he said that Courfeyrac was hurting, but that as long as we supported him he’d be okay in time…but that’s the most I know.”

“I just wish he’d talk to me,” Combeferre said. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”

“You’re helping more than you know,” Enjolras said. “If you weren’t here, Diane—I love her, really, but she’s always been a bit of a nightmare when it comes to making sure Courfeyrac has a life partner or whatever. I mean, I get it. Her husband walked out on her, leaving her with an eleven-year-old boy and no savings, but she can kind of be overbearing about it. And when she gets my mom in on it…” He trailed off, shaking his head.

“I overheard his mom talking to him earlier this morning,” Combeferre said. “Kept going on and on about how Courfeyrac doesn’t need to be ashamed of wanted and having sex and the whole time I kept thinking about how awful he had to feel about that.”

Enjolras shrugged. He’d heard Diane say things like that before. “I mean, there is a reason why he hasn’t told her. I think she’d be supportive in the end, but it’d take her some time to get used to the idea.”

“I don’t get it,” Combeferre said. “There’s nothing wrong with him.”

“She just doesn’t want him to be alone for the rest of his life. She wants him to have a better relationship than she did.”

“Don’t you think it’d be different, though?” Combeferre said. “If she knew that he still loves people? I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with aromanticism, but Courfeyrac obviously does want to settle down with someone and we could be happy together—he could be happy with anyone he chooses. Not having sex doesn’t diminish that.”

“I know that,” Enjolras said. “And you know that and I’m pretty sure Courfeyrac knows that, but he’s not ready to have that conversation yet, I guess.”

He tossed a few more sandwiches in his basket and grabbed a bag of chips off the shelf. Combeferre still looked concerned when he looked back up at him. “You worry about Courfeyrac,” he said, “and I’ll worry about Grantaire and we can tag team when we need it, okay?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Combeferre said.

Enjolras nodded. It wasn’t much of a plan and it didn’t even scratch the surface of the type of apologizing and groveling he owed Grantaire, but it was a start—and once he started something, he didn’t back down.

~*~*~

Things didn’t get any better that night. Combeferre supposed he should be grateful that they all finished the decorating in one piece. Grantaire had taken his place assembling centerpieces, leaving Combeferre and Courfeyrac to do some of the more difficult grunt work with Enjolras and Paul. Once the decorating was done, Lisette and her parents had gone to meet with Nathan and his parents to go over some last minute plans, and Diane had called it a night early, leaving the rest of them to have a “boys night” at Enjolras’s parents house.

They had ordered pizza and Courfeyrac, at least, tried initially to put on a show of how okay they all were, but he gave it up as a lost cause not long afterwards. It was the quietest gathering of friends Combeferre had ever experienced—especially considering the friends involved. Courfeyrac, Enjolras, and Grantaire couldn’t exactly be described as quiet people.

Grantaire was in the kitchen with his tablet, trying to do touch-ups for some illustrations he’d done for a children’s book that was due to go to press next week. Enjolras had urged him to take a break and eat something when the pizza was delivered, but Grantaire snapped at him and Enjolras was either too tired or too annoyed with Grantaire to snap back. He just sighed and retreated to the living room, where he turned on a documentary about the widening wealth gap in America.

While he ate, Combeferre lingered in the kitchen with Grantaire, but he didn’t make an attempt at a conversation. He suspected it wouldn’t go well. Courfeyrac bustled into the kitchen about a half hour later, bringing with him the plates he and Enjolras had used. He glanced at Combeferre and his plate of half-eaten pizza.

“You can eat that in the living room, you know,” Courfeyrac said, depositing his dishes in the sink. “Gemma doesn’t mind if you eat over the carpet.”

“My parents practically beat it into me that food belongs in the kitchen,” he said, shrugging. “I guess after twenty-odd years, it’s not an easy pattern to break.”

Courfeyrac nodded before getting a glass of water from the fridge and setting it in front of Grantaire. “I thought you finished those illustrations ages ago,” Courfeyrac said, peering over his shoulder.

“I did, but the person in charge of layout made some last minute changes, so  have to make some last minute changes.”

Courfeyrac hissed in sympathy. “Well, how about some food to keep you energized?”

“I’m not hungry.”

“You barely ate at lunch.”

“Yeah, because I wasn’t hungry.”

“We’ve got pizza,” Courfeyrac said, turning his back to Grantaire and pulling open the refrigerator door. “Or I can fry you up some eggs. It looks like Gemma’s got some bacon in here too. Or quesadillas, I could do that. Whatever you want, really.”

“I’m not hungry.”

Courfeyrac pulled out a carton of eggs. “Breakfast fry-up it is,” he said.

“Drop it, Courfeyrac.”

“I’m not going to drop the eggs.”

Grantaire turned in his chair. “I’m under enough pressure to fix this stupid mess without you nagging me to take a break,” he snapped. “I’ll eat when I’m hungry—and until then, you can leave me the fuck alone.”

It was impossible to mistake the look of hurt on Courfeyrac’s face. The expression lingered for a second or two more before he pushed it aside. “Yeah, of course,” he said, putting the eggs away. “Sorry about that. I was just trying to help.”

“Well, don’t.”

“Right,” Courfeyrac said.

“Courfeyrac,” Combeferre said, trying to catch Courfeyrac’s wrist as he left the kitchen.

Courfeyrac jerked away from his touch. “It’s fine,” he said.

Combeferre didn’t believe that for a second, but he let Courfeyrac retreat to the living room anyway, where he curled up in the oversized armchair across from the TV. He rubbed his hand over his face, completely at a loss as to how he was supposed to deal with everything right now. When he and Enjolras had come back with lunch earlier that afternoon, Courfeyrac had been just as affectionate and flirty as he’d been all morning…right up until the point where Diane and Gemma left the room, at which point, Courfeyrac barely even looked at him. Combeferre tried to be patient and understanding. He tried to give Courfeyrac the space he seemed to want, but his behavior had been such a drastic change in such a short time that he couldn’t help but worry. He had no idea what triggered the difference, but he really just wished Courfeyrac would talk to him so he’d know what Courfeyrac needed from him right now.

He wanted to know what he was doing wrong, because the instant he knew, he’d stop it. He’d change his behavior. He was here to try to make things easier for Courfeyrac, but now he only seemed to be making it worse. And that hurt. It hurt to think that he was in any way complicit with anything that caused Courfeyrac the slightest amount of distress. There had been in a time in their relationship where he could have pulled Courfeyrac into his arms and held him until he felt better. There had been a time when he wouldn’t have thought twice about cuddling up next to him on a couch or in a bed because Courfeyrac used to be so receptive to that sort of affection. It’d been a hard adjustment for Combeferre when Courfeyrac started withdrawing. It’d been hard to establish boundaries that had never existed between them before, but it’d clearly been what Courfeyrac needed at the time. And over the last few days, those boundaries had started fluctuating again and Combeferre remembered how much he missed this aspect of his relationship with Courfeyrac.

It worried him more than he had words to say that Courfeyrac was pulling back again now. He worried that he’d unwittingly brushed against an old scar, he worried that he accidentally hurt his friend, and now all he wanted to do was hold Courfeyrac and kiss the problems away and shield him from the sort of heartbreak that had plagued him over the last five years.

Combeferre felt surprised when the pieces of this puzzle fell together, considering how obvious it should have been. The depth of his concern transcended what he normally felt for the other man and it had turned into something unexpected. Sometime over the last few days, he’d fallen in love with Courfeyrac.

He just didn’t know how welcoming Courfeyrac would be to that love.

 

Interlude—December, Three Years ago

Enjolras tried to focus on his family’s annual New Year’s Eve party. He really did. Courfeyrac’s family was here as well as a dozen or more old family friends who hadn’t seen Enjolras in “ages” and wanted to catch up with him. How was school? Was he ready to graduate this spring? What were his plans after graduation? Oh, law school? Did he have a school he really wanted to go to? Did he already apply? When would he hear back?

He took comfort in the fact that at least Courfeyrac would be dealing with the same questions—the very same questions, Enjolras knew, since they’d been on the same education plan for years now—but Courfeyrac didn’t have to handle these questions while fielding text messages from an increasingly distraught boyfriend.

He and Grantaire started dating a month ago, getting together just after Thanksgiving break, and while Enjolras felt so good having that relationship finalized, knowing that Grantaire was his and he was Grantaire’s, it meant that his investment in helping Grantaire deal with his issues had increased exponentially. He always would have cared, of course, but now that they were dating…well, he felt more involved in the problems.

And there were certainly problems. Grantaire had flunked most of his classes this past semester—which should have surprised absolutely no one because Enjolras knew that Grantaire could hardly be convinced to make it to class most days. His drinking was getting worse, and Enjolras had spent a good portion of finals week holding Grantaire’s hair out of his face while he puked in a toilet. His grandmother, the one member of his family was close to, was in the hospital and the current prognosis didn’t look good. He was spending Christmas with his mother, stepdad, and new half-brother for the first time since he started college. His depression—or whatever it was—was eating him alive.

Enjolras was out of his depth. He didn’t know how to fix this. He didn’t know if there was anything he could do to fix this.

But Grantaire was suffering and he wanted to fix it.

[Grantaire] Seriously, Enjolras, no one should be surprised if I don’t go back to school. I don’t think I’m likely to make it through the rest of the break

[Enjolras] Don’t talk like that.

[Grantaire] Talk like what? You have no idea what it’s like here

[Enjolras] I know. I’m sorry. I miss you.

[Grantaire] And you think I don’t miss you? Fuck, you’re not the one stuck with this madhouse for the rest of the holiday

[Enjolras] I’m so sorry that being home is so hard for you. Have you at least been able to visit your grandma?

[Grantaire] Yeah, for all the good that did. She didn’t even recognize me and then the stepdouche started in on how my “faithlessness” was the reason she was dying

[Grantaire] Like my faith could save her. Yeah fucking right. If there is a god—doubtful—he’s given up on my family. He didn’t save my dad, why the fuck would he save my grandma

[Grantaire] But tell that to stepdouche and he gets all crazy eyes on you and tells you that he doesn’t want such a godless sinner around his son

[Grantaire] Like I want to be around the fucking kid anyway

[Grantaire] Stepdouche is worried I’m going to turn the kid gay

[Grantaire] Don’t know why they even wanted me home to begin with. I can’t fucking deal with this. I’m going to go drink some more—if I’m going to go to hell for being a godless sinner, I may as well do it properly

[Enjolras] Please don’t, Taire. I nearly had to take you to the hospital when you drank like this during finals week

[Grantaire] Sorry sorry. You’re right. I’m such a shit boyfriend. You should just dump me already. You can do so much better than me

[Enjolras] I’m not breaking up with you. I’m just worried about you.

[Grantaire] I mean it was only a matter of time really. I knew you’d realize your mistake eventually

[Enjolras] You are NOT a mistake. Can I call you later? I want to hear your voice

[Grantaire] You mean you want to make sure that I’m not passed out in a bathroom somewhere

[Enjolras] Please stop putting words in my mouth. I just want to to talk to you. I miss you.

[Grantaire] What is there to miss?

Enjolras sighed and went in search of an empty room so he could call Grantaire. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do to deal with Grantaire when he was like this—when he was so mired in his own self-hatred that he was incapable of the slightest bit of optimism or hope. No one ever taught classes on what to do when your boyfriend was depressed and suicidal. But surely talking on the phone would be better than swapping text messages back and forth. Hearing Enjolras’s voice had helped calm Grantaire down in the past. Maybe it would help now.

He went upstairs to his bedroom, knowing it was unlikely for anyone to be there—although two years ago, he’d caught a pair of high schoolers making out in his bed and he promptly kicked them out—but when he opened the door and turned on the light, he found Courfeyrac laying on his back on his bed.

That was unexpected.

“What are you doing up here?” he asked. Parties had always been more of a Courfeyrac activity than an Enjolras activity. It was unlike him to hide away like this.

“Just needed a break,” he said. “Didn’t think you’d mind me hijacking your bed.”

Enjolras shrugged. “It’s fine. I’m surprised you’re not up here on the phone with Christopher,” he said, taking a seat at his desk. Enjolras knew that Courfeyrac and his boyfriend had hit a bit of a rough patch, but last time he talked to Courfeyrac about it, things seemed to be looking up. Courfeyrac certainly seemed happier with Christopher than he had in any of his previous relationships.

“That’s because we broke up,” Courfeyrac said, staring at the ceiling.

“What? When?” Enjolras asked. “Why?”

“Christmas,” he said. “We broke up over the phone.”

“How come you didn’t tell me?” He knew that he wasn’t anyone’s go-to person to talk about matters of the heart, but he and Courfeyrac had been friends their whole life and Courfeyrac had never hesitated to talk to him about his relationship woes before.

Courfeyrac propped himself up on his elbows. “You seemed busy enough trying to take care of Grantaire,” he said. “I wasn’t about to distract you from that.”

“You’re not a distraction,” he said. “What happened? I know you and Christopher weren’t perfect, but you had a lot of hope that things were going to work out this time.”

He flopped back on the bed. “Well, they didn’t.”

“Are you okay?”

“No.”

“Do you…do you want to talk about it?” Enjolras asked. “Did you guys break up because of the sex thing?”

Did he need to start drafting up plans to beat the shit out of Christopher because it wasn’t okay for people to keep hurting Courfeyrac like this?

“It’s complicated,” Courfeyrac said. He sounded close to tears now.

Enjolras moved to sit on the edge of the bed. He refrained from putting his hand on Courfeyrac’s leg because Courfeyrac was often touch-sensitive after his break-ups. Too many jackasses who used touch to try to pressure Courfeyrac into something he didn’t want. “I can listen if you want to talk it out,” Enjolras said. “I won’t even offer commentary, if you don’t want me to.”

Courfeyrac was silent for a long moment.

“It was supposed to be different this time,” Courfeyrac said in a low voice. “He’d been okay with everything and we were so good together.”

Enjolras frowned. “I know you guys started doing sex stuff together,” he said. “But that was your idea, wasn’t it? You were okay with it?”

“I was,” Courfeyrac said. “I was, but…I just…shit, I don’t know anymore.”

There was something in Courfeyrac’s voice that worried Enjolras. Something that made him think that what happened with Christopher was somehow worse than what had happened in Courfeyrac’s other relationships. “Fey,” he said gently. “If there’s anything you want to tell me, you know I’m here for you.”

“There’s just a lot of shit,” Courfeyrac said.

“And I’m here to listen to all of it.”

“I don’t really know what to say.”

“Whatever you think needs to be said,” Enjolras said. “And if you’d rather not say anything at the moment, that’s fine too.”

Courfeyrac sat up and he stared at the comforter for a moment before he started speaking in a low voice. “Christopher and I were having sex and it was my idea initially, but…I mean, sometimes it was just harder—more difficult—than others and sometimes it hurt. Not because he was, you know, forcing himself on me or anything, I just had a hard time relaxing and that was my fault. But we talked and I was pretty okay with things but then one morning—”

He was cut off by the sound of Enjolras’s phone buzzing against the desk. He reached back to grab it with the intention of silencing the call, but then he saw Grantaire’s number on the screen. Grantaire never called. He preferred texting. He wouldn’t call unless something was wrong.

“Shit,” he said.

“Is that Grantaire?” Courfeyrac asked.

“Yeah,” Enjolras said, conflicted. “I just—he never calls, Courfeyrac, and he’s been going through such a hard time—”

“Go,” Courfeyrac said. “He needs you now more than I do. I’ll be fine.”

“You sure? Because I can—”

“Don’t worry about me,” Courfeyrac said.

“We’ll finish this conversation later, okay?” Enjolras said. “I promise.”

Enjolras didn’t know at the time, but he and Courfeyrac would never finish that conversation and Courfeyrac wasn’t as fine as he claimed to be.

[
Part Seven]

 
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