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Petals and Wings

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The annual children’s fair is actually the women society’s thing. Every year the girls fundraise and organize a huge all day event at a local synagogue downtown. Children of all kinds are greeted with free sundaes and raffle tickets for bikes and scooters. They’re broken into groups and rotate between carnival-esque games and craft tables, only breaking for lunch which has been provided free of charge by a local catering company for the past 13 years. Courfeyrac really likes those caterers, they provide options that are kosher, vegan, halal… you name it. He’s recommended them to his parents to use for their events at least a dozen times.

Most years Cosette will just ask for one or two Amis to help out, mostly with security but they’ve grown so much that this year she asks for all of them. No one’s opposed to the idea but it’s Feuilly who really sells it. The redhead tells the other Amis all how much the kids will appreciate it, how most of the kids probably won’t attend any other attraction that summer. They paint such a beautiful picture about how work like this is what truly makes the world a brighter, more positive place that they’re all kind of left with a dazed look of hope on their faces. Feuilly does that to people. It makes Courfeyrac wonder if they’re actually a real person or just optimism personified as some kind of deity for the 21st Century.

Of course the dazed look of hope only lasts so long. It’s already 85 degrees when they arrive for set up at eight am and Cosette wastes no time in getting them all organized. Feuilly relays her instructions to him and he’s really impressed with how well his friend has picked up ASL, they’ve only known each other for a couple years after all and Feuilly’s never taken a class on it. Cosette assigns the two of them plus Grantaire to face painting. Once they set up their booth, Courfeyrac immediately sets to drawing designs he can do on a poster, then the kids can just point to what they want on their faces.

R is laying their paints and brushes out on the table, talking to Amis and other volunteers as they pass and he pauses in his work often to include Courfeyrac in the conversations. Joly showed up after a couple minutes bearing gifts in the form of sunblock, a regular bottle and a special ‘safe for tattoos’ for R’s arms. They take turns slathering each other in the stuff, R moving behind him to spread some cream on the back of his neck, over the Fraternité script there, careful not to get any cream in his fro.

As R works on his back, Courfeyrac watches as Feuilly exits the synagogue’s basement chattering happily with the Rabbi, they’re carrying a few mason jars full of water, baby wipes and stained cloths. The sun glints brilliantly off his friend’s orange undercut, which is braided over one shoulder. As they walk across the parking lot, Courfeyrac has the perfect view on Feuilly’s lithe, freckled legs beneath some cut-offs.

“Is there anywhere on you that isn’t freckled?” He asks.

“You’d like to know, wouldn’t you?” They reply with a wink.

The families arrive at ten am sharp and Feuilly immediately begins dancing in their seat, wiggling back and forth in half-contained excitement. Even Joly, from his post under the first aide tent, is grinning at their enthusiasm, offering bottles of water to everyone who passes.

Around eleven Courfeyrac’s hands start cramping and he’s discovered that even the cutest of kids can be complete brats. He stays positive but when they catch a break he leans back in his chair and massages his hand muscles.

“Tired?” Feuilly signs.

He nods. “Children are crazy. I used to think I wanted kids but now…”

He lets the sentence hang and goes back to massaging his hand, fingers rubbing over paint stains in every color.

Feuilly chuckles and shakes their head. “I think kids different when they’re yours. You know them and their patterns and you set the rules. Besides, these kids are all massively excited which impairs their judgement. Your kids won’t-” They pause, thoughtful, and Courfeyrac brings out his phone, offering to text their conversation if they can’t find the signs. Feuilly smiles crookedly before they continue. “No, it’s fine. I was just about to say that your kids wouldn’t be this hyper but let’s face it, your kids will be bouncing off the walls 24/7. It’s fate. Anyway, I think you’d make a great Dad.”

Courfeyrac hopes that if his cheeks are as red as they feel Feuilly will just chalk it up to the heat. R is shooting him a smirk though and Courfeyrac hides his face behind his bottle of water.

When they break for lunch, the three of them meander towards the tent marked for volunteers and join the rest of their friends at the too small card table. Feuilly makes themself comfortable in Bahorel’s huge lap as per usual and Courfeyrac focuses on Enjolras’ stories about running the pony rides. Apparently being a state champion equestrian didn’t prepare him for helping toddlers into their first saddle. They’ve been given an hour for lunch and Courfeyrac wonders vaguely about what the kids are all doing in this long break, but he appreciates the time with his friends. Soon they abandon the pretense of chairs and too small tables and stretch out on the asphalt. Joly reminds them all to take long showers tonight and passes out some vitamin C chewable tablets shaped like zoo animals while his partners demonstrate what they’d been doing at the music booth. Bossuet brings out his guitar and Musichetta begins singing.

R makes eye contact with him and lifts an eyebrow, asking for permission to translate. He considers this but shakes his head and brings out his paint set instead, beckoning his friend forward to let him paint his face. He does R up like a tiger and then writes I am WILD on his neck with sharpie, just above the collar of his t-shirt. R loves it and thanks him profusely.

Eponine raises her hand next and he paints at least a dozen different colored flowers across her cheeks, forehead and chin. When he’s finished he looks up to see Feuilly has joined in the fun and is attempting to paint rainbows up Bossuet’s arm while he strums the guitar and they’re doing surprisingly well. R is touching Enjolras’ shoulder very lightly as he paints a fluttering French flag on his face.

Once everyone is painted (Cosette and Marius are royalty and no one can even complain about that because they are the fairy tale couple and are too precious for words) it’s just Feuilly and Courfeyrac left. They sit cross-legged in front of each other, knees touching and the moment one of them tries to start painting the other, they stop to grin and look at the ground.

“Shit.” Courfeyrac signs. “Just tell me what you want? I can’t think of what to give you.”

Feuilly is thoughtful for a moment before tracing the letters, long fingers cool and steady, against the back of his hand. R-O-S-E

Courfeyrac nods. “Surprise me?”

They start painting and Courfeyrac almost uses up all his red and pink, creating large, full petals, turning his face into one giant rose with eyes and nostrils. It clashes with the bright orange of their hair in a beautiful way that only Feuilly can pull off.

When they’re both finished they take turns with Jehan’s compact to check out their reflections. Feuilly has done a lovely job making a brightly colored butterfly on his face, its body painted down the bridge of his nose. He grins and faces the rest of the group.

“Moth or butterfly?” Combeferre asks immediately.

“Butterfly.” Feuilly responds happily.

Combeferre waves them off, pretending offense but Feuilly just laughs and makes off for the bathroom.

“What’s going on between you two?” Combeferre signs.

Courfeyrac shrugs and smiles, not really sure how to answer and not really wanting to either.

“Good things?” He asks, a small amount of concern visible from behind his glasses.

“Yes.” He replies, trying not to look too pleased with himself. “Definitely good things.”

Days like this are days that make Feuilly feel alive. Part of them can’t believe that they were able to get off work for this and part of them knows that their body will revolt against taking this one free day to work their ass off in the heat but they don’t really care. They’ve spent the whole day squashed between R and Courfeyrac painting faces for little kids and older kids and even a couple of parents or grandparents. It’s a spectacular change of pace to back-to-back shifts. After lunch all the kids are soaked through and they assume that there had been some kind of water war moderated by the volunteer firefighters who are now showing a crowd of kids the mechanics of their fire engine. Incorporating fire safety into a day of fun? Feuilly highly approves and it looks like everyone else does too.

They're painting a Spiderman mask on a sweet little girl when she asked them if they were a boy or a girl.

“Both.” They replied easily with a smile.

“And your friend.” She continued, surprisingly unconcerned with their gender. “He can’t hear anything?”

“He can’t hear most things, that’s right.”

“You guys are like superheroes.” She replied, eyes wide.

The interaction was sure to be the highlight of Feuilly’s month.

“What am I chopped liver?” R joked as he put the finishing touches on some cat whiskers.

“They’d probably be really impressed with your sleeves but a lot of them probably just think the tattoos are face paint.”

“True.” R agreed then nodded in Courfeyrac’s direction. “Have to say I’m a little jealous of him though. I think he’s more popular than the art major.”

Courfeyrac was posing for a selfie with a group of teenagers he’d given matching Mardi Gras masks. When he grinned the butterfly they’d painted on his face stretches and they can almost see it flying away.

“Yeah, you should be.”

R snickered. “You ever gonna make a move on that or…”

“Or maybe you should mind your own business.” They motioned to the next kid in line. “Alright good citizen, what can I do for you?”

The day stretches on and on for infinity and they hope it lasts for even longer than that. They can see R getting cranky, even Courfeyrac’s good humor is growing stale and they don’t blame their friends for being tired but Feuilly thrives off situations like this. They glory in the stimulus that’s just bordering on overloading their system. Every smile from one of the children, every thank you from one of the adults, all the shrieking giggles, the smell of sweat and food and crafting glue and face paint and the way this entire block of the city feels like a fountain of joy.

Everyone here now knows the words to Florence’s Shake it Off thanks to Bossuet and Musichetta. Joly has found a tiny human with countless cartoon Band-Aids on their arms and legs and he’s carrying them around on his hip. They are, apparently, the best of friends and Joly is telling his new protégé all about the struggles of medical school but encouraging them to stick it out no matter what. Eponine is carrying Marius on her back while Jehan and Valjean announce the raffle winners. Cosette is racing around hugging people and thanking them and taking photos of everything. The triumvirate are huddled together, a few feet away, signing much too quickly and intricately for Feuilly to keep up. They don’t mind though. They’re taking mental snapshots, storing everything for bad days, for tired days, for low days, for god-fucking-dammit-why-do-I-have-three-jobs-plus-an-Etsy-shop days.

The crowd trickles away slowly and there are so many hugs Feuilly feels like they're walking on air. All the Amis stay to help Cosette and the rest of the women’s society with the clean-up and the sun is setting by the time they’re all finished. The caterers gave them some leftovers and no one feels bad about digging in, collecting stray folding chairs to sit on or spreading out blankets from cars on the ground.

R passes around some bottles of wine he’d saved in a cooler and Combeferre’s mother had sent him with large bottles full of her special iced tea with instructions to give it out as a reward at the end of the day. The conversation slides between sharing stories from the day to catching up on each other’s lives to movie quotes. It’s light, cheerful, it feels like sweet honey.

Cosette makes a speech thanking them all and goes around giving everyone hugs, it devolves into everyone sharing embraces and kisses, their sleepiness making the usually affectionate group even more expressive. Everyone shuffles about and soon Courfeyrac approaches and leans down to hug them right as Cosette shrieks at them to wait one moment because she needs to take a picture.

Feuilly ignores her and Courfeyrac doesn’t notice until he’s pulled away. Cosette calls Marius over to help translate and apologizes for shrieking.

“Sorry, just the sunset is right behind you Feuilly and the lighting is perfect. Can I take a picture of you two, please?” She asks. “The butterfly and the rose, it’s just so pretty. Would you two mind modelling for a quick photo? I’ve really been hoping to pad my portfolio over the summer.”

Courfeyrac agrees and Feuilly doesn’t see a reason to protest. Cosette quickly sets her boyfriend to placing a folding chair in the exact right position and asks Jehan if he has any make-up with him.

“Do you mind if I give you some make-up, Feuilly?” Cosette asks. “Just on your eyes, your white eyelids against the red looks a little funny.”

Feuilly consents and soon Jehan is standing over them, carefully brushing some dark pink eye shadow across their closed eyes.

Cosette positions them so that Feuilly is sitting in the folding chair and Courfeyrac is leaning over them, one hand on the back of the chair. They’re immensely glad that everyone is pretty much ignoring them and that the face paint will hide any kind of blush.

“Okay Feuilly, can you look towards me a bit?” Cosette directs as she adjusts the settings on her camera. “Like a three-quarter turn, perfect. Close your eyes. Excellent. Courfeyrac, I’d like you to lean in close to Feuilly so your noses are almost brushing. Yeah, the whole point is that it’ll look like your butterfly is going to land on his rose. No Feuilly, eyes closed for now.”

Feuilly obeys, trying to keep their heartbeat steady even as they feel Courfeyrac’s breath warm against their face. They hear Cosette’s shutter run a few dozen times and they wants this to end quickly and never. Because Courfeyrac might be their favorite person in the world and even though their friendship is very affectionate, friendly hugs just never seem enough. The times they spend studying and working together is never long enough. The language barrier is just present enough to be frustrating. Feuilly doesn’t consider themself a selfish person, in fact most of their friends would insist that they need to be a little more selfish. But with Courfeyrac they’re incredibly selfish. They want more and now and here and forever.

Cosette re-positions them a couple times and there’s a moment when Feuilly and Courfeyrac’s eyes locked, noses just a hair’s breadth apart when Feuilly wonders for the millionth time what it would be like to kiss Courfeyrac. Would it fill them both up with rays of gold or could it possibly be the biggest disappointment of the century? Dramatic, they know, but they can’t really help their extreme thoughts in this area.

“Alright, you two.” Cosette says, breaking into his thoughts. “Thanks ever so much for doing this for me. I’ll send you the photos once I’m done editing them and you can each have a free print of whatever copy you like.”

Feuilly leans away and signs. “Cosette says we’re done.”

Courfeyrac nods but doesn’t move away, if anything his grip on the back of the chair tightens. Feuilly counts three rapid heartbeats before Courfeyrac is leaning towards him again and Feuilly surges up and fits their mouths together in a light kiss. It’s a bit awkward, half-sitting/half-standing while kissing and he can feel paint scrape against paint as their noses brush. It’s perfect, like butterfly wings on rose petals.

Courfeyrac pulls away first and Feuilly thumps back into their seat, legs betraying them, confused and elated by the recent occurrence.

Courfeyrac is grinning and signs something Feuilly doesn’t understand. “Will you…?” Will they what?

Courfeyrac chuckles and it’s the best sound in the world. He brings out his phone and Feuilly follows suit, nearly exploding when they receive his text message. “Will you go out with me? Be my non-binary dating person?”

Feuilly pulls his arm until he’s kneeling in front of them and kisses him again, slowly, taking their time to steal all of his breath. Somehow they end up pretty breathless too. One of Courfeyrac’s hands ends up in their hair, softly stroking and tugging on their braid. Feuilly smiles against his mouth and pulls him closer, bringing their chests together. They can feel his heartbeat beat against their chest.

They nod rather enthusiastically when Courfeyrac finally opens his eyes looking dazed and jubilant and it’s Feuilly’s new favorite expression. They silently promise to make their boyfriend (their boyfriend) wear that expression just as often as they can manage.

“I like the word partner.” They text back. “Take me to that cute Polish restaurant near your apartment? I’m free on Wednesday evening.”

Grinning they join hands and they make their way back to their circle of friends and it’s funny to see the different reactions: the slightly embarrassed lowered gazes, the smirks, the thumbs up, the shit eating grins, the bickering over who thought they’d get together before anyone else. And there’s nothing much better is there? To sit with your side pressed against someone you’re falling for. To be surrounded by people you both love more than the universe has given any group humans any right to love, before or after now. It feels a little eternal, a little like heaven.