Somewhere down the hall, Courfeyrac was getting angry.
Combeferre could tell because his voice had been steadily growing in volume, until it could easily be heard over the general cacophony of the classes on either side of his room. He could work through the noise of students, there was no way to survive as a teacher otherwise. But he always kept an ear out for the sound of a political debate getting out of control, in case Enjolras needed to be prevented from getting himself fired.
There was no way he was going to be able to tune Courfeyrac out the same way he would the students. He was too curious, and just a little bit concerned. Courf was excitable, but usually more in the bouncing off the walls, no caffeine after lunch sort of sense. But he had a temper, and the entire faculty remembered the fire alarms going off in January after he’d set fire to a particularly bigoted letter from a parent.
At least it would be a new excuse for his calculus students. He’d never used “had to prevent a history teacher from setting fire to the school” as a reason why he hadn’t finished grading their tests. Maybe they’d believe this one more than they’d bought “saw an interesting bird on the way home from school and followed it five miles in the opposite direction of his house in the process of trying to figure out what it was.”
He pushed away from his desk, rolling several feet before he stopped himself (when he’d asked Eponine if she couldn’t do something about the sticky wheels on his desk chair, she’d really out-done herself), and ambled out into the hallway. It wouldn’t do to look too worried. He didn’t want to give any students that were out in the halls the wrong idea. Everything was fine. Nothing was the matter. They were definitely not in danger of having to go stand around in the field outside because the smoke alarms went off when you started burning papers in the trash can.
Courfeyrac’s voice got clearer as he made his way down the hall. Combeferre winced. It was a good thing he didn’t have students, with the kind of language he was using.
“...frankly, sir, fuck you if you think history isn’t important. Did it ever occur to you that current events are shaped and driven by our past? And that the only way to move forward is to understand where we came from so we don’t make the same colossal cock-ups as our parents did? Did you ever stop to think? No. You’re convinced that you’re better than me, and that I could have nothing to teach your precious baby, and that I should give your angel an A just because you don’t care about knowing where you came from.”
Oh crap. It’s a parent.
Combeferre sped up slightly, and managed to get to Courfeyrac’s classroom just as the red-faced father was storming out. He wanted to call something like ‘he doesn’t really mean that’ but he hated lying to parents.
Instead, he poked his head cautiously into Courfeyrac’s classroom. Thankfully, apart from his friend fuming behind his desk, nothing seemed to be amiss. “So, another ‘your class doesn’t matter so why won’t you just pass my kid’ parent?”
Courfeyrac perked up from where he was dramatically half-slumped across his desk, hopped to his feet, and dragged Combeferre into the room before he started to pace. “None of them care, Ferre, why don’t they care?” And Courfeyrac must be genuinely upset if he wasn’t cracking up about the rhyme he’d made, as if Combeferre had needed more evidence that his friend was hurt.
“We’re doing something important for their kids, because who else is going to make sure they know where the mess this world is in came from? And all they care about is whether or not they can play football.”
Combeferre was reasonably certain that the football season was over, but he was even more sure that this wasn’t the time to point that out. When he spoke, it was after a moment of careful deliberation to make sure he picked the right words.
“You know, half of your third period government class is in my fourth period algebra two class,” he said instead. “And they always come in talking about whatever you’re teaching them that week. And some of the time they’re being teenagers, but mostly? They’re excited. You make history exciting for them. They care about what you’re teaching.”
Courfeyrac’s smile was far from his usual brilliant, cheer-filled beaming, but it was still a smile. “How do you do that?”
“That thing you do where you stare at someone for a few seconds like you’re looking at the inside of their head and then tell them exactly what they need to hear.”
Combeferre shook his head. “You’re welcome, Courfeyrac, but I didn’t tell you anything that you wouldn’t have told me if it had been an angry father in my room complaining about how nobody really needs to know trigonometry anyways.”
“I’m not convinced that you wouldn’t just turn into a dragon and eat any parent that tried. I’ve heard you get excited about trig.”
Thankfully, Combeferre was saved from deciding whether to ignore Courfeyrac’s ridiculous comment, burst into laughter, or cross the classroom and kiss him by the bell ringing. He didn’t have the chance to excuse himself before Courfeyrac was waving him out of the room. “Go on, you’ve got calc kids to not give a test back to.”
“I could have finished my grading on time,” Combeferre protested, but his inability to return an assignment inside of a month was well-known among staff and students alike, and he knew it. He didn’t mind. There was always a very important reason.
It went something like this:
Gavroche, who had been in Mr. Courfeyrac’s US history class, kept a running tally of how many times Mr. Combeferre found a reason to wander in for a visit. Out of 180 days in the school year, excluding the week that Mr. Combeferre had been out with the flu, he had visited the classroom while Gavroche was there a grand total of 197 times.
(People liked to call Gav ‘precocious,’ which he had looked up once, and had been surprised to learn that it didn’t mean ‘someone who sticks their nose into things a lot,’ because that was what people usually meant.)
He had presented this tally proudly to his sister, who had left it on her desk. There, it had been discovered by Bahorel when he'd come in to borrow a screwdriver to fix one of the pull-up bars (before it could fall off the wall and hit someone on the head this time, he'd explained with the sort of sheepish look that usually followed an extended lecture from Musichetta in the nurse’s office). And naturally, from Bahorel, copies had spread to the rest of the faculty.
The plot to get Courfeyrac and Combeferre to realize that they were dating each other had grown organically from there.
Because it wasn't just classroom visits. It was the fact that Courfeyrac bought two coffees every morning on his way in to work, knowing that Combeferre would have made a cup and forgotten it on his kitchen counter. It was the fact that Combeferre had a standing invitation from Courfeyrac’s grandmother to all of their family dinners, and a monthly phone date with Courfeyrac’s mother. It was the fact that they had a standing ‘dinner meeting’ at the pizzeria around the corner after Courfeyrac’s forensics team and Combeferre’s mathletes finished their meetings on Wednesdays, and the fact that every single member of the pizzeria’s staff had asked them at some point when they were getting married.
Combeferre and Courfeyrac were dating. They just hadn't noticed it yet.
Something had to be done.
Combeferre found the tickets in his mailbox on a Tuesday. Two tickets to the Star Wars marathon playing at the local discount cinema, in a white envelope that was unmarked, apart from the name typed on the outside. His name.
He took them to Courfeyrac, of course. Who else would he ask about mysterious presents but his best friend, the self-proclaimed King Of Gifts?
“Secret Santa, maybe?”
“Courfeyrac, it’s March.”
“Well,just because some people feel constrained by the arbitrary whims of the calendar…” When Combeferre only shook his head in fond exasperation, Courfeyrac continued “Fine. Secret admirer, then.”
“Courfeyrac, all of our friends are dating each other.”
“A fair point, but consider: Bossuet being courted by Joly and Musichetta.”
Combeferre only shook his head again. Polyamory or not, he seriously doubted both the likelihood that any of their friends would be pursuing him and the likelihood that the group, collectively, could keep something like that a secret.
“Suit yourself, but that leaves random act of deity of your choice, and an improbable series of mishaps involving your long-lost evil twin, three goats, and a small car full of clowns.” Courfeyrac shrugged. “So, plans for the tickets?”
“None,” Combeferre said thoughtfully. “Unless you wanted to go? I'd ask Enjolras, but it's the same weekend as that conference Valjean wants him to go to.”
Courfeyrac smiled, but shook his head. “Nah. I'm more of a Trekkie.”
(“Well shit. Star Wars, Star Trek, I always get the two mixed up,” Bahorel told Bossuet, who had heard the news from Marius who heard from Cosette who had been shamelessly listening outside the window while she took her lunch break out on the front lawn of the school.
“It was a good idea, though,” Bossuet reassured him.
“Fucking right it was. All my ideas are good ideas.”)
The next Friday, Joly invited their entire group of friends out to dinner to celebrate the fact that it was finally Spring Break. The plan was for them to meet at a nice-but-not-too-nice-to-afford restaurant after work for drinks and food.
Over the course of the day, the cancellations rolled in slowly. Grantaire dropped by to tell Courfeyrac that he and Enjolras wouldn’t be able to make it, because they were expecting a plumber. Eponine had Gavroche relay the message to every teacher he saw that she hadn’t been able to find a sitter (“And,” Gavroche had added cheerfully, “she doesn’t trust me home alone after that one time with the stove and the pillows.”). Musichetta poked her head into Combeferre’s office to let him know that Joly’s bad knee was acting up, and she and Bossuet were going to take him straight home at the end of the day. Feuilly had a night class to attend, according to Bahorel, and all Bahorel would tell Courfeyrac was that he had a ‘thing.’ Cosette told Combeferre on his way out of the building that she and Marius were on the way out of town with her father, and hadn’t been able to reschedule their flight.
Neither Courfeyrac nor Combeferre got the full picture, of course. The conspirators were all very careful about that. The entire event was planned, down to the restaurant staff who would be happy to give the two teachers a more private table when it turned out the rest of their group wasn’t coming.
What they couldn’t have planned for was Combeferre’s sandwich.
Courfeyrac’s phone rang as he was on his way out the door.
“I’m not going to make it tonight.” Combeferre, despite his best efforts, couldn’t quite keep a hint of pain out of his voice.
“Are you okay? No, wait. Obviously you’re not okay, you sound like someone’s jabbing you in the stomach with dull knives. What’s wrong?”
“It is possible that my tuna sandwich was a little bit...off,” Combeferre said, as casually as he could.
Courfeyrac made a sympathetic noise. “As someone who roomed with a nurse for a while after college, I prescribe saltines, ginger ale, and Disney movies. I’m coming over.”
Who was Combeferre to argue with that? Even if he’d wanted to, he wasn’t fast enough to get a word in edgewise before Courfeyrac hung up.
Courfeyrac didn’t bother knocking. He hadn’t for years, he’d had Combeferre’s spare key for almost as long as Combeferre had owned a house. As he locked the front door behind himself, he yelled “Reverse burglars, here to break into your house and leave you presents!”
“Don’t make me laugh, I’m nauseous,” came the reply from somewhere towards the back of the house.
Courfeyrac meandered through the house, dropping his bag of groceries and hastily-gathered DVDs in the kitchen as he looked for Combeferre. Not surprisingly, he found him in the bathroom, curled around the toilet. He blinked blearily up at Courfeyrac as he entered, pushing sweaty hair out of his face.
“Come on, sunshine. You can be miserable under a nice warm blanket, with some water and a movie and a trash can,” Courfeyrac cajoled, holding out a hand to help Combeferre to his feet. Despite having a doubtful look on his face, Combeferre took it.
Courfeyrac had to all but drag him down the hall. ‘Ferre must have felt as exhausted as he looked. He shuffled down the hall after Courfeyrac, and allowed himself to be manhandled down onto the couch, where Courfeyrac piled three blankets on top of him, brought him a can of ginger ale, and plopped down on the couch by his head with the remote.
The hand he rested in Combeferre’s hair was completely instinctual. He rested it there for several long moments, only relaxing when Combeferre took the light touch as an invitation to pillow his head against Courfeyrac’s leg. He patted Combeferre’s head lightly, and turned on the TV, flipping rapidly through the channels until he settled on some kind of interior design show.
Combeferre was asleep by the time he’d picked something to watch.
He texted Joly to let him know that neither of them would be making it to dinner, then tossed his phone onto Combeferre’s coffee table and settled in for a night on the couch.
(“So, you and Combeferre, huh?” Cosette wiggled her eyebrows.
Courfeyrac gave her a puzzled look. “Yeah, we spent a thrilling night on his couch. With him sick, because he gave himself food poisoning.”
After that was the trip to the zoo, which almost worked, as Combeferre spent a blissful fifteen minutes pointing out different species of butterfly to Courfeyrac in the insect house, until Bossuet had to be rescued from the penguin exhibit.
Then there was the game of “I Never” at their summer break party. That was, admittedly, not one of the better schemes they had come up with, although they were successful in that when Combeferre fell asleep after the combination of a too-early morning and several too-strong drinks, he fell asleep on Courfeyrac’s shoulder.
The less said about Jehan’s picnic lunch, the better. (Courfeyrac, as it turned out, was very allergic to bee stings.) And his flower deliveries didn’t do much better, though Combeferre did spend an afternoon watching children at the YMCA while very solemnly wearing a crown of daisies, and Courfeyrac did make the picture of it his phone’s background.
Plans came, and plans went, and the summer rolled on until, the night before the first day of school, Courfeyrac threw himself down onto Combeferre’s couch with a dramatic groan. Combeferre, on the other end of the couch, leaned out of the way just in time to avoid being kicked in the stomach, then patted Courfeyrac’s ankle sympathetically. In the kitchen behind them, he could hear the argument over what sort of pizza was appropriate for their last night of freedom brewing, but for the moment, the house was calm.
“So, how much longer do you think they’re going to keep this up?” Courfeyrac’s voice was somewhat muffled by the couch cushion he was speaking into.
Even though he couldn’t see it, Combeferre gave him a puzzled look. “Keep what up?”
“You haven’t noticed yet?”
“If I say ‘noticed what?’ does that make the answer to that question relatively obvious?”
Anything that Courfeyrac might have said in response was drowned out by the shout from the kitchen of “Pineapple? On a pizza? You blasphemer!” They were absorbed into the argument as it spilled out of the kitchen a moment later.
Combeferre spent the rest of the night staring at Courfeyrac consideringly whenever he wasn’t looking. What was it that he was meant to have noticed their friends doing? They’d certainly been considerably more social this summer than they ever had before, which was a significant statement considering that he never managed to go more than a week without seeing one or more of them. He supposed, now that he considered it, that something had been a little off about the impromptu get-togethers. What it was, exactly, he couldn’t put his finger on.
He cornered Enjolras when he went out to pay for the pizzas, under the guise of helping him to carry them into the kitchen. Out of all of them, he was the least likely to attempt to hide the truth. “Would I be wrong to assume that you all have been carrying out some sort of plot involving Courfeyrac and I?”
Enjolras, to his credit, seemed completely unsurprised by the question. “I would like it stated, for the record, that I told them you’d figure it out before it worked, and that I was not involved, except as an incidental witness.”
“I haven’t entirely worked it out,” Combeferre told him, in the spirit of honesty.
“You will.” Enjolras shrugged. “It isn’t as though any of them have been particularly subtle.” Which was really the only hint he needed to start putting the pieces together.
“It isn’t subtle...and we’ve been seeing each other considerably more often than usual. Except that somehow it usually ends up being just Courfeyrac and I.”
“Please tell me they aren’t trying to…” Enjolras nodded again. “Do they realize how much of an invasion of privacy that is?”
“I believe the general consensus was that you were already dating, and just needed help realizing it so that you could, in Marius’s words, ‘ride off into the sunset together.’ Of course, we both know our friends view the production of happy endings as their civic duty.” Enjolras gave him a wry smile. If any of them knew about their friends’ tendency to meddle, it was him. Combeferre had been the one, in fact, who had taken him aside and quietly asked him to consider his feelings for Grantaire before their friends staged some sort of intervention.
Combeferre finished setting out pizzas, plates, and napkins in contemplative silence. Part of him was displeased. How could he not be? He liked a certain amount of privacy, and apparently he hadn’t had that for some time. But at the same time, it was difficult to be angry with people who had, however misguidedly, been trying to make him happy.
And it was even more difficult to be angry when there was a tiny, fluttering feeling beginning to grow in his stomach that felt suspiciously like the sensation of butterfly feet on exposed skin.
“We should get dinner.”
Combeferre had felt like his skin was a size too small all morning. He hadn’t been able to sit still, and he’d decided, when he accidentally started administering a calculus pre-test to his Honors Algebra class, that enough was enough. Once he’d sent his students to lunch, he paced the length of his classroom several times while he worked out what he was going to say, then set out for Courfeyrac’s classroom.
“Sure, I’ll probably be ready to devour a small city by the end of today.” Courfeyrac looked up from a stack of essays, tucked his pen behind his ear, and smiled.
“A nice dinner. Not pizza. That Thai place Cosette keeps recommending.”
Courfeyrac frowned slightly, but nodded. “Alright. I’m not in the habit of saying no to good curry.”
Before he could lose his nerve, Combeferre continued. “I would enjoy holding hands with you, if that can be managed while we eat. Kissing would also be perfectly acceptable, though I’d prefer to save that for after the meal, or possibly before it.”
It took Courfeyrac a moment to answer, and when he finally managed to say something, his voice was oddly hesitant. “I think you’re going to need to run that one by me again, ‘Ferre.”
“We’re dating,” Combeferre explained. “Or all of our friends think we are. And they’ve been trying to set us up for months now, which hasn’t worked, and I think it may have been because I was oblivious enough that I didn’t notice, but I feel a little bit like I’m riding a roller coaster when we talk, and I want to spend every night grading papers on my couch next to you, and I love all of our friends, but I think I’m in love with you.”
It should have been a grand romantic moment. Instead, it was a moment of Courfeyrac looking at him in amazement, before the door to his classroom opened and a flood of students poured in.
Combeferre fled back to his own classroom. He would just have to wait until the end of the day, and try again then. Assuming Courfeyrac stayed around. Would he leave without giving Combeferre an answer? Possibly, if he thought it would be kinder. What if he didn’t feel the same way? Had he made a mistake?
He didn’t realize he was pacing again until Courfeyrac caught his wrist with one hand, bringing him to an abrupt halt. He’d been so absorbed in what-ifs that he hadn’t heard him come in.
“Yes,” Courfeyrac said emphatically.
“Yes to dinner. Yes to holding hands, very possibly the entire time. I can eat left-handed, we’ll make it work. And definitely yes to kissing, before dinner, after dinner, and right now, if you want. Unless you’re about to have students. Please tell me you’re not about to have students.”
“I’m not about to have students.” He was confident, a moment after the words had left his mouth, that he could have said something more romantic than that. As far as pick-up lines went, it was somewhat lackluster when considered objectively.
From the way Courfeyrac was pulling him close, though, he thought that subjectively, he probably hadn’t done too badly.