Okay, so Courfeyrac had a problem.
Actually, scratch that, he had three problems:
Problem One was how Donna, the woman he worked with at University Events, had somehow drastically misheard him when he introduced himself last semester, and now she was convinced that he went by “Courgette,” like the fancy way of saying zucchini, presumably on the assumption he was some kind of New Age-y but bizarrely mundane flower child, and it was funny at first so Courfeyrac hadn’t bothered to correct her, but now it had gone on for a little too long and also he had heard her correct other people into calling him Courgette, and that was gonna be awkward if it ever got all the way to Payroll.
(Was Courfeyrac capable of endorsing a check in the name of zucchini if it got him paid? Of course he was, for the story, if nothing else. But, like, where did it end? Joly and Bossuet had taken to calling him “Zuke” for short, and it was cute, because pretty much everything they did was cute, but the more layers of mythology this took on, the more it felt like a weird, soggy piece of his destiny or something.)
The second problem was that just because Courfeyrac talked with his hands and preferred his colors Day-Glo and his coffee delicious ( extra cream, extra sugar, chocolate syrup if you’ve got it, please and thank you ), people--not his friends, of course, but people!--tended to assume he was kind of a basic bitch. Like it wasn’t possible to both harbor deep political convictions and crave half a pound of Gummy Bears, or something. Like that wasn’t Courfeyrac’s entire life .
“You’re not a basic bitch,” said Éponine soothingly when Courfeyrac brought this up during a warm September afternoon during which they were allegedly studying for German. “You’re a very complicated bitch.”
Coming from Éponine, that was essentially a hug.
“Aw thanks, sis,” said Courfeyrac, because in truth he had a strong suspicion that she liked it a lot. “Shove over.”
Éponine rolled her eyes but didn’t give him the middle finger as she scooted onto the next cushion, which was more or less an ode to his presence in her life.
It was almost embarrassing, how deeply Éponine valued his friendship.
“Man,” said Courfeyrac, flopping down on the couch, “ what is it about people who smile with their eyes?”
Combeferre glanced up from his laptop, dark eyebrows knitting together. “D’you mean personally or evolutionarily?”
Courfeyrac had more meant, ‘Why does a certain individual’s happy faces make my tummy feel funny?’ but who could pass up a chance to see their best friend go all Bill Nye the Science Guy?
“Wait!” said Courfeyrac, jumping up. “Wait wait! I’m pretty sure I’ve still got a bowtie somewhere!”
He did; he eventually found it wrapped around the plaster bust of Karl Marx that Grantaire had made for Courfeyrac’s 21st birthday. The Marx bust also had streamers glued to his beard. He was Party Marx. Whenever the household needed money for alcohol, they taped an envelope to the back of his head, passed him around, and well, from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.
In theory, it was meant as a reminder that A) capitalism sucked, so B) you only had to contribute if you were actually in a position to cough up a couple of bucks, although in practice Feuilly still had to be watched like a hawk.
Or maybe Courfeyrac just liked watching Feuilly.
And there it was: problem number three.
As if on cue, Feuilly stuck his head into the living room. Courfeyrac jumped. In theory, it shouldn’t have been a surprise, since they lived together, but the guy worked so many different jobs that he was gone much of the time. Mostly, you caught blurry glimpses of him late at night, like a clean-shaven, extremely handsome sasquatch.
“Hey,” said Feuilly breathlessly. He was wearing black slacks and a grey tank top. It was a good look on him. “Does anybody have a clean black button down I can borrow?” On his way to his catering job, then.
“What happened to yours?” asked Combeferre, as Courfeyrac sprinted down the hall again, eager to be his shirt savior.
“--thing that happened yesterday?” Courfeyrac caught Éponine saying as he rifled through his closet.
“--was I supposed to do?” Feuilly was saying in a low tone.
“-- donated his work shirt so he could use it to pick up an injured kitten. ” Éponine’s voice drifted clearly back to Courfeyrac, now digging through his dresser. He half-suspected she was making her voice carry on purpose, just to torment him with images of Feuilly carefully, tenderly scooping up a tiny fuzzy creature in his strong arms.
Black shirt located, Courfeyrac flung himself back down the hallway.
“I couldn’t leave him there like that,” Feuilly said. “He was just a little guy.”
“Wow, Feuilly, you are harrowingly close to Disney princess status,” said Éponine.
“If you want to give me a tiara, I wouldn’t fight it,” said Feuilly with as Courfeyrac skidded back into the room.
“Your shirt, your highness,” said Courfeyrac, presenting the garment with an appropriate flourish.
“Thanks, dude,” said Feuilly with a small grin. As he reached over for the shirt, their fingers briefly brushed, but Courfeyrac was very, very cool about it.
“Think nothing of it,” Courfeyrac told him. “For rescuing that kitten, you may have all the black button downs in the kingdom!”
“I’ll keep that in mind, good sir,” Feuilly said. Then, “Why do you have Party Marx’s bow tie?”
“Combeferre was about to explain some science,” said Courfeyrac.
Feuilly nodded. “Well, now I just feel silly.”
“You’re welcome to join us. Éponine will gladly make room.”
“Gotta go to work,” said Feuilly, sounding regretful. “Enjoy your science! Thanks again for the shirt!”
Combeferre was a real sport about wearing the tie, and he even tried to do the impression for about thirty seconds, but settled back into his own mellifluous tones pretty quick. Courfeyrac tried hard to pay attention--he had specifically asked for this, and given that he’d located the bowtie, even earned it--but then Combeferre got to microexpressions , and that was the thing about Feuilly: you really had to observe him closely sometimes, to appreciate just what his face was doing.
Feuilly’s expressions were like one of those poems you read in Lit class, where at first it just seems like a wall of words, and then you check the footnotes, and you look up a few references, and you research the context, and suddenly it’s singing, suddenly it’s there decoded before you and you feel like a fucking detective but the real prize is just seeing, just looking and grasping something you hadn’t grasped before. Feuilly’s face rewarded close study. Courfeyrac could’ve written a term paper about that slight upward flit at the left-hand corner of his mouth alone.
In a way, Feuilly’s jokes were like that, too. He didn’t shout to be heard, didn’t do the verbal equivalent of marching into the room with a trumpet, shouting, HEY EVERYONE I’M HERE AND I’VE GOT A DOOZY FOR YOU the way Courfeyrac did without even trying, without even wanting to, sometimes. You had to listen, when Feuilly spoke. You had to do the work, and the results--
Honestly, it had taken a while for Courfeyrac to work through his feelings for Feuilly, because he’d kind of been working under the assumption that everyone felt that way about him? Like, how could you not ? How could you not catch those dry asides and that wry curve of his lips (different and distinct from the corner-of-mouth flit), how could you glimpse those deep recesses of warmth and love and caring for the world and not get a little weak in the knees when he looked at you sometimes? What kind of ingrate wouldn’t respond by falling in love with Feuilly? Why have a crush on movie stars when Feuilly was right here with his soft brown eyes and his soft deep voice and his soft rough strong hands? Just what was people’s problem ? How were they missing this ?
“So you see,” Combeferre was saying, “in a way, responding to cues like crinkly eyes during a smile, that’s an evolutionary advantage.”
Courfeyrac nodded sagely. “Thank god for that.”
“No,” said Combeferre, “thank--”
“Science!” they shouted, in something like unison.
“You should keep that bowtie, man,” Courfeyrac told him. “Looks good on you.”
Party Marx didn’t have the skin tone to pull it off, anyway.
The obvious question here, and Courfeyrac knew it, of course--because it wasn’t actually that hard if you weren’t someone like Grantaire, whose major seemed to be making obvious questions hard, God love him--the obvious question was, “Why not just ask out this hunky, hunky human masterpiece and end your uncharacteristic misery, you charming devil?”
And the equally obvious answer was, “I’m trying .”
But a guy like Feuilly didn’t come along every week. He needed to be swept off his feet. And that meant putting in a little effort. A little capital-R Romance. (Or rather,
romance; Courfeyrac still had his card from the year Jehan did handmade Romantic Valentines for everyone. His said, “
Let’s scream fruitlessly at a storm together, Valentine!
” Had Feuilly decided to yell at a storm, Courfeyrac would’ve been right there with him, of course, but it wasn’t on Courfeyrac’s Top Twenty list of Dream Dates to go on with him).
Musichetta took one look at Courfeyrac’s face and then said “Aww,” with proper and correct sympathy as she opened the door of La Casa de Joly and Bossuet. “What happened, did Feuilly take off his shirt or something?”
“Y’know, he actually did?” Courfeyrac said, stepping inside. “And it was to rescue a kitten, Musichetta. A kitten .”
“With tiny paws and everything?” Joly bounced up from his chair.
“All of the standard kitten parts,” Courfeyrac affirmed as they hugged.
“‘M so sorry for your affliction,” mumbled Joly into Courfeyrac’s sternum.
“Your compassion is much appreciated,” Courfeyrac told Joly’s hair.
“How much longer is this hug going to last?” said Musichetta.
“Tell Bossuet to come and bring us snacks in case we get hungry,” said Courfeyrac. He gave Joly one last squeeze and then released him.
“So,” said Bossuet from the kitchen doorway (no snacks, but his presence was sustenance enough), “you saw Feuilly without his shirt. It’s understandable you’re in some pain.”
“No, but I had to imagine him without his shirt--”
“You don’t do that already?” Musichetta broke in, heartlessly.
“-- saving the life of a small and helpless creature ,” said Courfeyrac. “Surely, that’s worse. Kittens , Bossuet. The man I love in secret rescues kittens . It’s intolerable . He was already a certified dreamboat, what does he have to go and do a thing like that for?”
“The monster ,” said Bossuet gravely, wrapping Courfeyrac in another hug. Courfeyrac hiccupped a laugh. “D’you want a beer?”
“ Please ,” said Courfeyrac.
“I’ll get the bottle opener,” said Joly as he disappeared into the kitchen.
“I’ll get the whiteboard,” said Musichetta. “We are gonna solve this, Zuke.”
Courfeyrac smiled. He’d come to the right place.
The first thing they eliminated was locking Courfeyrac and Feuilly in a closet together until they worked something out, on the grounds that it raised some questions about true consent, and was maybe technically assault or kidnapping. (And beyond that, there was the lingering issue that if Feuilly didn’t like Courfeyrac back, it was bound to make for a painful afternoon. Courfeyrac didn’t see the point of false modesty; he knew he was one hell of a fucking catch, but still, Feuilly was Feuilly , and could do better.)
Next, the group ruled out bouquets of any kind, since Feuilly had once confessed, late at night, voice slightly cracking, that cut flowers just made him think of funerals. Potted plants meant additional watering chores, which given Feuilly’s current full-to-bursting schedule, felt almost mean. A picture of flowers was ruled too abstract. A bag of flour was too prosaic. A picture of a bag of flour--Musichetta wiped that one off the whiteboard as soon as she finished writing it, which, fair enough.
“I think he’d value experiences over objects, anyway,” said Courfeyrac. All his best memories of Feuilly weren’t about stuff you could buy. Doing laundry together at odd hours. Early morning heart-to-hearts on the fire escape as the sky went pink around them. Feuilly trying to teach him how to fold paper cranes out of old newspapers, the ink smudging onto their hands like they’d been fingerpainting.
“You could sing him something,” suggested Joly, and Courfeyrac sat up straight. Courfeyrac knew only four chords, but music was essentially about heart, right? And if there’s one thing he definitely had on lock, it was heart.
“Bossuet, can I borrow your guitar,” said Courfeyrac breathlessly.
“One step ahead of you!” Bossuet called, diving over the couch.
For a few days, Courfeyrac toyed with the idea of writing a song for Feuilly, but the trouble was, he actually wanted it to sound good, which was why it was maybe smarter to just play the one song Courfeyrac did know by heart, and just do it romantically as possible.
Courfeyrac’s one song was “Auld Lang Syne.”
“Can I play a song for you?” Courfeyrac asked.
Feuilly paused, forkful of cold noodles halfway to his mouth. “Sure,” he said, and Courfeyrac hopped up onto the dining room table, careful not to thwack Feuilly’s plate with the guitar.
Courfeyrac took a deep breath, summoned his courage, and began to play. At the last second, he decided to sub out the lyrics for something more romantic.
“ Feuilly ,” Courfeyrac sang, looking deep into those beautiful brown eyes, “Feuilly, Feuilly, Feu-illy / Feuilly, Feuilly, Feuilly, Feuill-y-y-y…”
When the song finished, Feuilly clapped. “That was beautiful,” he said, scratching the back of his head. “Can I ask, uh, what inspired that one?”
“I guess it’s a mystery,” Courfeyrac said, winking and shooting fingerguns in Feuilly’s direction.
Were Feuilly’s cheeks a little pink? It was hard to tell in the dim light of the dining room. “Thanks,” he said. “I really needed that.” There was a worrying melancholy to the words, and Courfeyrac set the guitar aside.
“Why,” said Courfeyrac, “what’s wrong?”
“Work,” Feuilly said with a sigh. “If I’m late to catering again, I might lose my job.”
“Oh shit,” said Courfeyrac, “shit, dude, that sucks. They’d be making a huge mistake, letting you go.”
Feuilly smiled crookedly. “Nobody out there can hold a tray quite like me.” He sighed again. “It’s late, I should go to bed.”
“I mean it,” Courfeyrac insisted as he collected his guitar. “Don’t sell yourself short.”
“I’ll get your shirt back to you tomorrow,” said Feuilly, “I’m sorry, I just haven’t gotten a chance to do a load of laundry in a while--”
“It’s fine, dude,” said Courfeyrac, twirling the guitar in his hands. “Keep it.”
Feuilly’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t believe in taking charity,” he started.
“And I don’t believe in wearing black when better, more neon colors exist,” Courfeyrac countered him. “It was a Christmas gift from an aunt who doesn’t know me very well. Honestly, put the thing to use."
“It really, really is nothing.”
“If you knew whether or not someone liked me, would you tell me if I was just wasting my time?” asked Courfeyrac.
“It depends,” said Enjolras. Of course he did, the pre-lawyer.
“Depends on what?”
“A number of factors. For instance, whether or not anyone had sworn me to secrecy.”
Courfeyrac flopped onto his bed. “And your best friendship with me wouldn’t outrank that?”
“Outrank my sense of right and wrong?” Enjolras asked, and fair, fair.
The ceiling was plain and white. Courfeyrac rolled over onto his stomach. “ Kittens , Enjolras.”
“I heard,” said Enjolras. “And I can’t tell you whether or not anyone has sworn me to secrecy about their feelings for you,” he repeated.
Courfeyrac sighed. Then he rolled over to face Enjolras. Something was off about his tone--
“I can’t tell you,” said Enjolras, both eyes wide open, “whether or not,” his left eye closed, “anyone has sworn me to secrecy,” his eye opened again, “about,” closed, “their feelings for you.” Open.
“Oh my god,” said Courfeyrac, “did you learn how to wink?”
“Did Grantaire teach you how to wink?”
The blush deepened.
“Oh my god, we are revisiting this later ,” Courfeyrac called as he leapt up and scooted out the door.
Courfeyrac was up at a disgustingly late hour that night, researching and bookmarking recipes for a surprise romantic dinner for two, when he heard a terrible clatter coming from the kitchen. He gently set down his laptop and then sprang into action, grabbing the fire extinguisher off the wall and sliding into the room in his stocking feet only to see Feuilly standing at the sink, elbow-deep in suds and scrubbing with an unusual degree of ferocity.
Courfeyrac had the presence of mind to put away the fire extinguisher before he circled back.
“What are you doing?” said Courfeyrac. “It’s gotta be 3 AM, those can wait until morning.”
Feuilly wiped one weary, sudsy arm across his forehead, leaving a sad streak of bubbles behind. “No they can’t , Courfeyrac,” he said over the hiss of running water, “because I have Photography in about five hours, and from there I go right to my office job, and from there I have class again, followed by a closing shift at catering, which I can’t miss without losing my job, and I also can’t let these dishes sit here for twenty two hours when I was supposed to clean them yesterday.”
Courfeyrac regarded the stack of plates and bowls and pots. It was developing a certain altitude. He’d honestly lost track of whose turn it was. Clearly, Feuilly had not.
“When are you gonna sleep?” Courfeyrac managed.
Feuilly’s laugh sounded unhinged. “Well, not for at least twenty-two hours.”
“You look exhausted, dude.”
“Been a long week.”
“Look,” said Courfeyrac, reaching over to turn off the sink. “Go to bed, man. Sleep as long as you can get away with, go to Photography, call in sick to the office--they’ll be super nice, I have literally called into University Events with a hangover before and they were an absolute doll about it--and then quit your godawful catering job, I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to make you work the kinds of hours they do.”
But Feuilly was already shaking his head. “No way. I need that job.”
“There are other jobs--”
“Nothing I could get fast enough to cover the loss of money.”
Courfeyrac set his jaw. “Listen to me, I will look over your resume and work my magic ‘til people are begging you to work for them. We will find you something better by the end of the week, and if we don’t, I can lend you the money. I mean, I know where you live.”
“I’m not taking your money,” said Feuilly quietly.
“It’s not a big deal--”
“It’s not a big deal for you,” Feuilly interrupted. “But can you get why it’s different from my end?” He took a step back from the sink, momentarily pinning Courfeyrac against the counter. Aw hell yes, said Courfeyrac’s hindbrain, but then Feuilly took another step and cold air rushed in to fill his place. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate it,” Feuilly was saying. “The--the shirts and the cheer-up songs, I mean, there’s a level where that’s all really sweet.”
He didn’t look like he thought it was sweet. He looked heartbroken. Courfeyrac reached out a hand, thought better of it.
Feuilly took a deep breath, looked Courfeyrac dead in the eyes. “I don’t wanna be your project,” he said.
“You’re not,” Courfeyrac babbled, “I swear, I swear you’re not, that’s never how I see you--”
“Are you sure?” said Feuilly. “Because our whole friend group cares so much about poverty and injustice and I love that about them--”
“About us,” said Courfeyrac, “you’re one of us, Feuilly. You are.”
“Okay,” Feuilly said with a sigh. “But all of you are so hungry for a cause, for a purpose, do you think there’s a part of you that sees me and goes, ‘Oh no, poverty! Right here and now! Better fix it’?”
“No,” said Courfeyrac, “and I’m telling you, the shirt wasn’t charity, and the song wasn’t to be nice.”
“Then what was it,” said Feuilly, unblinking. “What the hell was it--”
Feuilly’s feelings were more important, Courfeyrac realized, than whatever madcap notions Courfeyrac had been nursing about grand declarations and surprise intimate dinners for two and deconstructed carrot cake muffins for dessert. It mattered more, and so in the end, it was easy to say,
“Well, Feuilly, it was because I have a massive, all-consuming crush on you.”
“What,” said Feuilly, which could be a good sign or a bad one, depending. Courfeyrac studied his face carefully.
“I like you a lot, Feuilly, and if that makes you uncomfortable, I can find somewhere else to live, but you should probably know.”
“But--but you’re you,” Feuilly stammered.
“I have been all my life,” agreed Courfeyrac. “Come on, I haven’t been subtle. I try so hard to make you laugh.”
“You try to make everyone laugh,” said Feuilly dazedly, “because you’re a good person who loves his friends.”
“Well yeah,” Courfeyrac said, “but I don’t actively enjoy the thought of them wearing my shirts. I definitely don’t go around writing odes for them.”
That corner of mouth flit set in, and Courfeyrac’s heart sailed to new and exciting heights. “Is that what that was, you smooth operator?” said Feuilly.
“Like, do you know how hard your name is to rhyme with stuff?”
Feuilly laughed, and reeled Courfeyrac in with soapy hands. Courfeyrac’s heart did a fucking triple axel. Water seeped through his shirt and he did not care.
“Kiss me,” said Feuilly.
Tempting. Very tempting. But this close, the shadows were dark under his eyes. “If I do, do you promise to go to sleep?”
“Oh my god,” said Feuilly.
“I’m not kidding. You need to take care of yourself.” Feuilly opened his mouth to protest. “And not,” Courfeyrac hurried on, “because I pity for you, for Christ’s sake, but because you’re gonna need energy for our first date.”
“Is that a promise,” Feuilly asked in a low voice, and Courfeyrac’s hindbrain jumped to attention.
“Okay,” said Courfeyrac. “Okay! Here’s what will happen: I am going to wash these dishes, as a favor to my boyfriend. You are going to go to bed, blah blah, Photography, call in sick to the office and get some more rest, second class, and then, just for now, go to your catering job that doesn’t begin to deserve you. We can talk about the rest later, but I swear, with your skills, longterm you can get a job that pays better and treats you better. If you don’t wanna owe me, Combeferre can help instead, because he is your friend, and that is what friends do, comprende?”
“Okay,” said Feuilly slowly. “On one condition.”
“Tell my boyfriend when he’s done with the dishes, he should come up and join me.”
Courfeyrac couldn’t help waggling his eyebrows at that. It was instinctual, reflexive.
“Not like--I’m too tired to do anything,” said Feuilly, “but just--I want you near me.”
Courfeyrac swallowed around the lump in his throat. “Yeah,” he managed. “Same. Go to bed.”
Feuilly took a step closer, and Courfeyrac remembered their deal. When they kissed, it tasted a little like the spearmint gum that Feuilly chewed and a little like mountain-scented dish soap, but fireworks went off in Courfeyrac’s brain anyway.
Feuilly’s lips were soft and insistent, but sleepy. Eventually, though, he yawned right into Courfeyrac’s mouth, and Courfeyrac finally gathered the willpower to push him away. Well, first he kissed Feuilly a few more times, and then a couple more times on his cheeks and forehead, but eventually Courfeyrac did successfully separate himself, so it was still a triumph of willpower.
“Hey,” said Feuilly, when he was at the door.
“Can I get a copy of those lyrics?”
Courfeyrac grinned down at the suds. “I think I can manage that, yeah.”