It's a pleasant afternoon and it may not be one of their regularly scheduled meeting days but most of their friends are gathered at the Musain anyway. Enjolras is among the few that are absent, leaving just Combeferre and Courfeyerac to their usual table on the upper level of the café. Joly, towards the back of the room, has the attention of Bossuet, Jehan, Bahorel and Feuilly as he tries to regale them with the tale of something that happened to him today, only he's laughing too hard to actually speak in complete sentences.
Combeferre is about to turn around and remind Joly to breathe when Courfeyrac quietly says, "Hey, look. My tea is the same colour as your wings."
Combeferre's mind stutters to a halt and he looks at Courfeyrac who in turn, has his gaze fixed on the cup of tea he's mixing his milk into. He vaguely registers the sound of Bossuet bursting out into laughter on the other side of the room, but his entire world has been narrowed down to Courfeyrac, the pink tinge to his ears, the way his own wings are tucked close against his body, pale blue and fading from the last time they were dyed.
Wings are—personal, and there might be several good reasons as to why Courfeyrac, out of anyone, can get away with saying this to Combeferre. It makes Combeferre's face feel warm all the same.
"It's a nice colour," Courfeyrac continues, just as quietly. "I like it."
"So did I tell you about that guy in my class who made me want to set his law textbook on fire?" Courfeyrac asks, quickly changing the subject and Combeferre lets him, shaking his head even though he'd heard this story a few hours ago. He doesn't mind hearing it again, and keeps his gaze fixed on his hands, resting on the table in front of him.
Except then he notices Courfeyrac's hand slowly moving towards his as they talk, inching closer until they're both extending their index fingers, stroking against each other. Combeferre doesn't even remember how they got onto the topic of tuition fees, but now he finds he can't think about anything except for the warmth of Courfeyrac's finger against his own.
"It's ridiculous, though. They've shortened our semesters by a week and they're laying off staff, but the fees are going up?" Courfeyrac scoffs quietly, even as he takes hold of Combeferre's finger between his index and thumb. He strokes his thumb along the length of Combeferre's finger, his gaze fixed on their hands. Combeferre can feel his wings trembling, can see Courfeyrac's wings doing the same.
"Yeah," Combeferre agrees quietly, laying his hand flat on the table, palm facing upward. His heart races when he feels Courfeyrac's fingertips touching his own. They're not quite holding hands and Combeferre isn't quite why the thought of holding hands is so terrifying, why the fact that their fingers are touching at all makes it feel like they're crossing some kind of boundary.
That's a lie. Combeferre knows exactly why. Not that it helps at all.
"Courfeyrac," Combeferre says quietly, wetting his lips. "I—"
"Oh, wow, Enjolras!" Jehan exclaims, drawing Combeferre and Courfeyrac's attention immediately.
They follow his line of sight to the entrance of the room, where Enjolras and Grantaire are standing hand in hand. That in itself is not unusual, but what makes Combeferre gasp is the fact that Enjolras' wings have been dyed bright crimson with the tip of each individual feather painted gold. He knows that it's Grantaire's handiwork even before he sees the pleased look on his friend's face.
Enjolras is smiling so much that it's infectious. The hand that he isn't using to hold Grantaire's is fiddling with something and Combeferre takes another look, getting to his feet as he sees the ring on Enjolras' finger. "Oh."
Enjolras meets his gaze, the smile growing even wider. He looks at Grantaire, who smiles back, a faint sheen to his eyes. "Grantaire asked me to marry him."
The entire room bursts into cheering. Courfeyrac is the loudest, crossing the room and pulling both Enjolras and Grantaire into a tight hug. Combeferre walks over to do the same. He's utterly delighted by how happy they both look together and fascinated by Enjolras' wings. His wings are naturally a few shades lighter than his blond hair and he's never dyed them before unlike Grantaire, whose wings are always painted with a mix of colours to cover up their natural grey.
Jehan makes them sit down and tell everyone how Grantaire proposed. When they sit beside each other, Enjolras wraps a wing around Grantaire, the gold paint glinting in the light. Grantaire smiles, brushing his fingers over the feathers.
"I've asked Enjolras to let me paint his wings before. He never knew how he wanted his wings though, so we left it. Then he told me to do whatever I felt like, so I got everything ready and we did his wings last night. I—well, I had the ring already and I was just waiting for the right moment to ask. And last night felt like the most perfect moment, so I asked, and he said yes."
"That sounds so romantic," Jehan sighs, his chin resting in his hands. "Doing each other's wings just feels so wonderful and intimate."
Bahorel and Feuilly exchange glances, both going a little pink. They both collaborate on Jehan's wings, with Feuilly doing the outlines and Bahorel painting the colours in between. Bahorel's off-white wings are covered with greyscale paintings that go with the tattoos covering his arms. Feuilly takes one wing while Jehan takes the other, just as Bahorel and Jehan do the same for Feuilly.
Combeferre glances at Courfeyrac, meeting his gaze briefly before looking away. It's not as if they don't know what they're doing, the boundaries they've crossed while pretending not to. When Combeferre's wings are neatly brushed and trimmed, everyone just assumes that he does it himself. When people compliment Courfeyrac on the colour of his wings and comment on how difficult it must be to dye his wings on his own, neither of them make any attempt to set the record straight. It's a secret between the two of them and as long as it stays that way, they don't need to think too hard about what they're doing.
They're lucky that they're not trying to have an actual meeting, because everyone is far too distracted to get anything done. Enjolras and Grantaire don't let go of each other's hands once and their wings are constantly touching as well. Combeferre wants to return to Courfeyrac, to finish what he'd started to say, but the courage is gone now. They smile awkwardly at each other, sitting down with the rest of the group around Enjolras and Grantaire, discussing their vague plans for an engagement party. With everyone else around, the moment is gone anyway. Combeferre isn't quite sure if they'll get another, and doesn't even know if he should hope that they do.
Enjolras comes over during the week to discuss his plans for the engagement party, because they get more done here than at the Musain with all of its distractions in the form of their other friends. Enjolras is familiar with the apartment because the three of them lived together until he moved out with Grantaire a few years ago. His old room has turned into a room that functions as half-storage and half-common area, because Courfeyrac has a hobby of gifting Combeferre with books to supplement his steadily-growing collection. Courfeyrac bought two large beanbags for them and it's where they do most of their reading, within easy reach of each other, if they're not on the couch.
The thing that Combeferre notices about Enjolras coming over is that he and Courfeyrac touch less when they have company. There's space between them when there is usually none, they keep their wings to themselves, and it's odd that this should feel so wrong, so strange when they can't even bring themselves to have one particular conversation. It makes no sense that Combeferre can wrap his wings around Courfeyrac and downplay just how amazing it feels to have their feathers against each other when he can't even take Courfeyrac's hand into his own.
Sometimes, Grantaire comes along with Enjolras as well and it's simultaneously better and worse, because Combeferre quietly bears the constant contact and affection between his friends while keeping a safe distance from Courfeyrac, but at least Grantaire evens their numbers out which makes the distance a little easier to maintain.
One afternoon, Enjolras and Courfeyrac are out deciding on the decorations to use for the engagement party. Enjolras has insisted that it's going to be a surprise for Grantaire and so Grantaire has stayed back with Combeferre, both of them sitting on the couch with mugs of coffee.
"I haven't had the chance to tell you just how impressed I am with the way you've done Enjolras' wings," Combeferre speaks up with a small smile. "They capture attention no matter where he goes."
"Nah," Grantaire ducks his head with embarrassment. "Pretty sure he did that before anyway."
"No, I mean it. They're a work of art. You should be proud of yourself. I'm almost jealous. The most I can manage are simple dye jobs and even then I'm worried it won't turn out properly."
"Dye jobs?" Grantaire asks with a small frown, and Combeferre's heart sinks. "I… thought that you didn't dye your wings."
"I don't," Combeferre admits quietly because he's gotten himself this far. It's probably easier if he doesn't try and lie his way out at this point.
"…Courfeyrac," Grantaire realises, his eyes going wide. "Holy shit. Holy shit."
Combeferre cringes. "Please don't make a big deal out of it."
"Don't make a big deal?" Grantaire asks, his brows rising. "Out of the fact that the two of you have been secretly dating for—how long? Does Enjolras know?"
"Enjolras doesn't know," Combeferre replies and then shakes his head. "Because there's nothing to know. We're not dating."
"Dude." Grantaire stares at him. "What?"
"We're not dating," Combeferre repeats. "We're friends."
"Just friends. Friends that take care of each other's wings." Grantaire picks up his mug and drains the remaining coffee in it. "Dude. Do you even know how long Enjolras and I were dating before we stopped being weird about touching each other's wings? It took us a good three months. Three months of all kinds of contact except the wings. Wings are personal and you've been, what, dyeing and brushing and trimming each other's wings for how long?"
"Nearly four years, on a weekly basis," Combeferre admits. "We did it a couple of times when Enjolras lived with us but we kept it a secret from him because, well, because he'd react the way you are. But we couldn't keep it up when he was around because it just felt too much like…"
"Like a dirty secret?" Grantaire suggests. "Because that's kind of what it's sounding like to me. Nearly four years. Dude."
"I know," Combeferre sighs.
"I really don't think you do."
"I do, Grantaire, trust me, I do. You know what it's like to have your wings touched and I feel that. I feel it every time and I know that Courfeyrac feels it when I touch his wings but I don't know what to do about it. I love him so much, and I'm so afraid of fucking up."
"I know what that feels like too," Grantaire tells him with a small smile. He squeezes Combeferre's arm. "For what it's worth, I think you should take the risk. I think it'll work out. Nearly four years, fuck."
"It's not as bad as it sounds."
"How long have you been in love with Courfeyrac?" Grantaire asks, folding his arms across his chest.
"…Okay, so maybe it is as bad as it sounds."
"You need to talk to him."
Combeferre sighs heavily. "Yeah. I really do."
Tonight, however, Combeferre is just nervous. Courfeyrac looks equally nervous, but that doesn't make Combeferre feel any better.
"Are you ready?" Courfeyrac asks, chewing on his lower lip. He's already playing with the hem of his shirt, ready to take it off. Combeferre nods, his gaze not leaving Courfeyrac even as he unbuttons his own shirt.
They both put their shirts aside and Combeferre unfolds his wings to their full span with a soft sigh. Courfeyrac licks his lips, stepping towards Combeferre. For a brief moment, Combeferre forgets how to breathe.
"Sit down and get comfortable, yeah? I'll get the wing kit out." Courfeyrac's voice is pitched low and Combeferre would call it seductive, if it didn't fill him with so much hope.
"Yeah," Combeferre breathes, nodding. Courfeyrac gives him a lingering look before walking away.
He sits heavily on the ottoman in the middle of the lounge room, his shoulders slumped, wings brushing the floor. He knows what he needs to do, but has absolutely no idea how to go about it. Courfeyrac returns, carrying their bag of brushes and clippers, taking a seat on the couch behind Combeferre. Courfeyrac usually does Combeferre's wings first because they don't take as much time. Combeferre feels awkward as he waits, but then Courfeyrac touches the bend of his wing.
"I'm going to start brushing, okay?"
Combeferre nods, preparing himself for the bristle of the wing brush, and the strange pleasure that accompanies it. He focuses on breathing evenly, inhaling and exhaling through his nose. Nearly four years and this isn't any easier to deal with. Combeferre knows that it isn't going to get any better unless he talks to Courfeyrac but then when he draws a breath to speak, the feeling of the brush against his feathers makes it come rushing back out of him in a small whine.
Courfeyrac's hands go still. "Combeferre?"
Combeferre shakes his head. "It's fine. I'm sorry. I'm fine."
Courfeyrac hesitates, but goes back to brushing Combeferre's wing, even if the pressure is noticeably lighter. It's a lie and they both know it. The fact that Courfeyrac isn't doing anything about it isn't particularly encouraging. Except then Courfeyrac chooses that exact moment to put his brush down and clear his throat.
He can hear Courfeyrac take a deep breath. "Can I—is it okay if I don't use the brush?"
"Can I use my fingers?" Courfeyrac asks and the words come out rushed and nervous and at first, Combeferre is unsure if he's heard right, but then he nods.
Courfeyrac takes another deep breath and runs his fingers down Combeferre's wing, rustling quietly against his feather. Combeferre clamps a hand over his mouth because he's certain that otherwise, he's going to moan. Courfeyrac's fingers setting Combeferre's feathers flat and even feels a million times better than the plastic teeth of the brush and Combeferre doesn't know how he's going to survive this with his dignity intact. His breath hitches as Courfeyrac's fingers get closer to his shoulders, to the points where feathers meet skin.
"Is it weird that I think about this all the time?" Courfeyrac asks quietly, his fingers not stopping once. "Even though we do this once a week, I still catch myself thinking about touching your wings, like this, without a brush. Just my fingers and your feathers and I think about it all the damn time, Combeferre."
"So do I," Combeferre replies, turning his head so he can look at Courfeyrac over his shoulder. "All the time. It's distracting. I don't know what to do, Courfeyrac. I don't know what to say, and it's so frustrating."
"Can I…?" Courfeyrac asks as his fingers get closer to Combeferre's back.
With a light shiver, Combeferre purposefully brushes his wing against Courfeyrac, the tip of it caressing his side. "This is me giving you blanket permission to do whatever you like."
Courfeyrac takes another deep breath, his fingers brushing against the point where Combeferre's feathers meet his skin.
"Oh." Combeferre doesn't know whether to lean into the touch or away from it, because it's overwhelming. Courfeyrac jerks his hand away, only to bring it back, gently this time. He trails his fingers around Combeferre's shoulder blade and down his back, between his wings. Combeferre laughs breathlessly, ticklish and sensitive and oh, he's harder than he's ever been before when Courfeyrac has touched his wings.
"Combeferre," Courfeyrac whispers, then leans forward to press his lips to the nape of Combeferre's neck. He kisses along Combeferre's shoulder and then back again. "Turn around?"
Combeferre does, immediately pulling Courfeyrac onto his lap. They wrap their arms and wings around each other, cocooning themselves in until nothing else in the world exists except for the two of them. It's very apt, Combeferre thinks to himself, considering that this is the way Courfeyrac makes him feel whenever they're touching.
They're nose to nose, but Combeferre still can't quite bring himself to kiss Courfeyrac and change everything about their relationship, even though he knows that they've already reached the point of no return. It's frustrating to no end and it must show on his face because Courfeyrac simply smiles at him and rests their foreheads together.
"I'm not afraid of this," Courfeyrac whispers. "I'm not afraid of us."
When Courfeyrac kisses him, Combeferre kisses back with all that he has. They cling to each other, wings trembling against each other, and it's the most wonderful feeling in the world. They've wasted so much time, and Combeferre has no interest in wasting any more. He kisses Courfeyrac again, harder this time, until Courfeyrac is moaning into his mouth.
"Can we—" Courfeyrac asks as he pulls away from their kiss. "Bed?"
Combeferre smiles. "Lead the way."
Most of Courfeyrac's room is taken up by his double bed and he sits on the edge of it, beckoning Combeferre over. Combeferre is desperate to touch, but he doesn't even know where to begin. Courfeyrac pulls him down into another kiss and yes, okay, Combeferre can do kisses. Kissing Courfeyrac is wonderful, especially when he can feel Courfeyrac's smiling against his own lips. Combeferre places his hands on Courfeyrac's shoulders and before they know it, Courfeyrac is lying back on his bed, wings spread out beneath him as Combeferre straddles him, running his hands over Courfeyrac's chest, his stomach, his wings. Courfeyrac gasps underneath him and Combeferre smiles down at him, rocking his hips just gently.
"Combeferre," Courfeyrac whines. "You're not allowed to be so amazingly hot and drive me completely mad and smile while you're doing it, it's just not fair."
Combeferre laughs, shaking his head and leaning down for another kiss. "I have no idea what I'm doing."
"Well, just keep doing what you're doing," Courfeyrac replies, rocking his hips against Combeferre's in return. "This is good."
Combeferre moans softly and does exactly that. He and Courfeyrac wrap their arms around each other, grinding until they're panting into their kisses and Combeferre pulls away with a breathless, "I need you to be naked right now."
Courfeyrac grins up at him, tugging his pants down without getting up. Combeferre helps him, then strips out of his own, dropping them both to the floor before returning to Courfeyrac. They're both hard and already leaking against their bellies. Combeferre brushes his thumb down the smooth, warm length of Courfeyrac's cock before taking it in hand, stroking. They've come this far and there's no way to go back, no point in hesitating any more. Combeferre knows what he wants, what he's always wanted. If Courfeyrac isn't afraid, then neither is he.
They stroke each other as they kiss, off-rhythm and most of the time, it just feels like they're fumbling and making things up as they go, but nothing has ever felt more wonderful. Neither of them last long, not after years of denying themselves, moaning each other's names as they come.
Courfeyrac wraps his wings around Combeferre, pulling him close until they're lying beside each other. For the longest time, they just lie there, watching each other, unable to stop smiling. Combeferre traces his fingers over Courfeyrac's cheek, along his shoulder and down his arm. Courfeyrac's hand meets his, their palms pressed together, fingers interlocking. Combeferre's smile grows, bringing their joined hands up to his lips to kiss them.
"I love you," he murmurs and the words are freeing instead of trapping. He loves the way they feel on his tongue, the way they make Courfeyrac smile even wider. "I love you. I love you."
"I love you too," Courfeyrac replies. "I always have."
They pull each other into a deep kiss and Courfeyrac is chuckling as they pull apart. "I think that maybe we should get cleaned up. And we were meant to get our wings tidied up tonight, but they look all ruffled now."
"It's a good look on you," Combeferre murmurs, grinning. "One that I could definitely stand to see more often."
"Well," Courfeyrac says with a wink, reaching out to take Combeferre's hand into his own again. "I'm pretty certain that you will."
Combeferre kisses Courfeyrac hard. They don't get out of bed for a while and when they do, they look even more ruffled than before. Neither of them mind.