This one wound up being less loosely based on the song and more loosely based on one specific line...
77. "Sophomore Slump or Comeback of the Year" by Fall Out Boy
Developing Combeferre/Grantaire, referenced one-sided E/R. Modern AU.
Combeferre didn’t bother looking up from his phone as he stepped up to the counter to order his coffee. “Extra large black coffee,” he said, the order so routine that he was already prepared with his credit card to swipe for the $3.16 the barista would tell him it cost.
Instead, he was greeted with a soft snort. “Really?” the barista asked, somewhat dubiously, and now Combeferre did look up, frowning.
The barista, a short, dark-haired man with tattoos peeking out from his shirt sleeves, grinned at him, seeming unfazed by his tone. “I just mean, it’s a bit boring, don’t you think? At least add in some cinnamon or a dash of sweet cream or something to liven it up.”
Combeferre eyed him suspiciously. “Are you genuinely in the habit of critiquing your customers’ coffee choices?”
“Are you generally in the habit of ordering your coffee the most boring way possible?” the barista returned, still grinning.
Thoroughly nonplussed, Combeferre frowned at the barista. “There’s nothing wrong with black coffee,” he said, defensive for reasons he couldn’t quite explain.
If anything, this seemed to amuse the barista even more. “No,” he agreed, leaning against the counter, “but that doesn’t mean you can’t branch out a little.”
“Sometimes I get a red-eye,” Combeferre offered, which was true. And also as far as he tended to branch out as far as coffee went. He was somewhat more adventurous with his tea choices, but he had a feeling that would inspire an entirely new round of mockery, and the caffeine deprivation was beginning to hit.
The barista nodded slowly. “So it’s more about the caffeine for you than the flavor.”
Combeferre shrugged. “Something like that.”
“Interesting,” the barista said, and to his credit, he looked like he really was finding this conversation fascinating, which Combeferre would find more endearing with his coffee in hand.
To that end, he cleared his throat. “So are you going to make my coffee, or—?”
The barista laughed, straightening and grabbing an extra large cup with a distracted grace as he turned to the coffeemaker. “A man with conviction who doesn’t back down in the face of adversity,” he said, giving Combeferre a grin over his shoulder. “I like that.” Combeferre felt suddenly tongue-tied, and hurried to swipe his credit card. “Oh, don’t bother, it’s on the house,” the barista told him, handing over the cup of coffee.” I don’t think I can openly mock your drink choices and then expect you to pay. Besides, this is undoubtedly going to end up being the highlight of my day, so that’s payment enough.”
“Really?” Combeferre asked doubtfully, taking as big a gulp of coffee as he could manage.
The barista watched that with amusement. “Yeah. I mean, how often do I get to flirt with cute professors who come in asking for black coffee?”
He said it casually, but Combeferre still managed to choke on his coffee. When he finally swallowed, he rasped, “This was flirting?”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he flushed, feeling like an idiot. The barista grinned at him. “And here I assumed you were smart.”
“Maybe it says more about your flirting skills than my intelligence,” Combeferre shot back, his tone saccharine sweet.
The barista’s grin widened. “Touché,” he said appreciatively. “I’m Grantaire, by the way.”
“Combeferre,” Combeferre returned. “And for what it’s worth, your flirting skills are fine, I’m just useless before my coffee.”
“I somehow doubt that,” Grantaire said, his voice pitched low. “Anyway, here you go, Combeferre, and before you ask, yes, this is my phone number and not actually a receipt.”
Combeferre took the proffered slip of paper and hesitated before blurting, “Look, I don’t normally do this because the power dynamics are questionable, but if you were inclined to see some more of my convictions, you could swing by a Les Amis meeting. It’s this social justice group—”
“Oh, I’ve heard of Les Amis,” Grantaire interrupted. “I know Joly and Bossuet.”
“Oh great!” Combeferre said. “So does that mean I can expect to see you there sometime?”
Grantaire made a face. “Activism isn’t really my cup of tea—”
“It doesn’t have to be,” Combeferre said eagerly. “We’re not going to force you to come out to a protest or anything like that. But it’s the easiest place to track me down, and besides, the way I see it, I owe you a drink now.”
“Well, if there’s free alcohol involved…”
Combeferre grinned. “I’ll take that as a yes?”
Grantaire shrugged. “Sure. I’ll stop by sometime.”
“Great.” For the first time that morning, Combeferre realized there was a line of people behind him waiting for coffee, and it was long past time he made his exit. “Well, uh, it was nice to meet you.”
Grantaire winked. “You too. Enjoy your coffee.”
“I will,” Combeferre said, knowing full well he would enjoy it all the more because of the unexpected conversation that had surrounded it.
Sure enough, his grin lasted all day and even carried through to the Les Amis meeting the following night. He was fully prepared to fill Courfeyrac in on the details, knowing that if there was anyone who would appreciate a good meet-cute, it was Courfeyrac. Instead, Courfeyrac launched almost immediately into a rant about his erstwhile roommate, which consumed most of the pre-meeting time, and when he paused to take a breath, it was to ask, “Who’s the new guy?”
Combeferre followed Courfeyrac’s line of sight, brightening when he saw Grantaire lingering in the doorway. Grantaire met his eyes, a small half-smile lifting the corner of his mouth.
Then he looked over Combeferre’s shoulder, and his mouth fell open, just slightly. Combeferre didn’t even have to look over his shoulder to know who Grantaire had just caught sight of; he knew that face all too well, and his heart sank.
“Did I hear we have someone new tonight?” Enjolras asked, and Combeferre closed his eyes for just a moment before turning to face him.
“Yeah,” he said, his voice sounding strange to his ears, and he cleared his throat before continuing, “A friend of Joly and Bossuet’s. And, uh, I met him at…”
He trailed off because Enjolras was already making his way over to Grantaire, shaking his hand as the two men exchanged words. Combeferre’s heart fell even further as he watched Grantaire grin at Enjolras, watched the way his eyes never once looked away from Enjolras’s face, watched the way he stood just a little too close.
That was what flirting looked like. And Combeferre was smart enough to know what that meant.
“Are you ok?” Courfeyrac asked him in an undertone, and Combeferre quickly forced his expression into something neutral, looking down at his laptop to avoid meeting Courfeyrac’s eyes.
“Fine,” he said. “I’m fine.”
He wasn’t. But he would be. This wasn’t the first time this had happened, after all, and given everything, it was unlikely to be the last time.
Besides, it was probably his fault for not specifying at the outset that he had invited Grantaire as a quasi-date.
But he didn’t tell Courfeyrac any of this, just concentrating on the meeting, and using the first available opportunity to leave for the night, not even bothering to say goodbye to Grantaire, who had spent the entire evening staring at Enjolras.
He didn’t blame Grantaire.
But that didn’t make it suck any less.
- - - - - - - - - -
“What happened to you last night?”
Combeferre had gotten up that morning with every intention of stopping by a different coffee shop on his way to work, but traffic had other plans, and his only option if he wanted to caffeinate before teaching was to stop by the coffeeshop where Grantaire worked, and, of course, Grantaire just happened to be working.
He was beginning to wonder if Bossuet’s luck was rubbing off on him.
“What do you mean?” he asked, playing dumb, even though he was pretty sure he knew what Grantaire was referring to.
Grantaire’s answering look told him that he wasn’t buying it. “I mean, I was hoping to talk to you after the meeting and you just kind of disappeared.”
“Oh. Right. Sorry, I forgot, I had a, uh, thing.”
Grantaire arched an eyebrow. “Not so good at thinking up a lie on the spot, huh?” he asked, and when Combeferre didn’t reply, he sighed. “Look, I’m sorry if I did something—”
“You didn’t do anything,” Combeferre said firmly. Because he hadn’t. It wasn’t like it had been a date or something. Combeferre had invited him to attend, he had, and everything else was just Combeferre projecting.
Still, Grantaire didn’t quite look like he believed him. “So we’re good?”
Combeferre smiled at him. “Well, we’ll be good when you give me my coffee.”
Grantaire laughed. “Fair enough.” He poured Combeferre’s coffee, casually asking as he passed the cup across the counter, “So what can you tell me about Enjolras?”
Combeferre glanced at his watch. “In the thirty seconds I’ve got before I have to get to class?” he asked, a little wryly. “Not much. Just that he doesn’t date. Anyone. And lots of people have tried.”
Grantaire looked briefly disappointed before brightening. “See, you say it like it should deter me, but unfortunately, I like a challenge.”
“Yeah,” Combeferre muttered, hating the way that Grantaire’s grin lit up his entire face. “So do I.”
- - - - - - - - - -
Despite his best efforts, it became a routine. Combeferre spent Les Amis meetings furtively watching as Grantaire tried every trick in his repertoire to woo Enjolras (or, barring that, annoy him, and he had significantly more luck in that regard), and then the next morning, he and Grantaire would debrief over coffee.
“Is he aromantic? Or asexual? Or both?” Grantaire asked, fairly early on. “I mean, if I’m completely barking up the wrong tree, I’ll stop, but…” He shook his head. “I mean, he was definitely giving off vibes, y’know?”
“I unfortunately do,” Combeferre said, blowing on his coffee, both of them taking advantage of a dead moment at the café. “And no, I don’t think he is. I just think he doesn’t consider romance or sex to be a priority.” He took a sip of coffee before adding, “Of course, he’s also an excellent manipulator, which I say with love, so maybe he’s using vibes to make sure you keep coming to Les Amis meetings.”
Grantaire barked a laugh. “Luckily, he’s not the only reason why I go, or else not even the vibes he gives off would be enough,” he told Combeferre, a little dryly. “But seriously, has anyone ever gotten close to dating him?”
Combeferre considered it. “Two people,” he said finally. “Closest I’ve ever seen, anyway.”
Grantaire propped his chin on hand. “And how did they get his attention?”
“One was someone who had the qualities and life experience that Enjolras admires,” Combeferre told him, a little reluctantly. “The other…” He trailed off. “They were very similar in passion and aims and beliefs.”
Grantaire made a face. “I thought opposites were supposed to attract.”
Combeferre shrugged. “Maybe it’s why things didn’t work out,” he pointed out. “Too similar.”
“Good point,” Grantaire said. “And Enjolras and I definitely don’t have that problem.”
“No, you don’t,” Combeferre agreed.
Grantaire’s grinned at him. “Nor do you and I.”
Combeferre laughed lightly. “Very true,” he said, lifting his coffee cup in a mock toast.
It was moments like that which kept Combeferre coming back, even though he knew it was probably hopeless. Well, that and he genuinely liked Grantaire. Past the bluster and bravado was someone whose knowledge base spanned almost as wide as Combeferre’s and who enjoyed picking intellectual arguments just for the fun of it. Not to mention that despite espousing complete nonbelief in anything, Combeferre has found that Grantaire was not lacking in convictions of his own, and he wanted nothing more than to get to the bottom of that seeming contradiction.
Still, watching Grantaire with Enjolras made Combeferre feel like he was the one barking up the wrong tree, even though he tried to ignore that thought and concentrate on Les Amis work.
He was so intent on pretending to be engrossed in a Washington Post article one evening that he almost didn’t notice that Grantaire slumped dejectedly across from him. “Hey, do you want these?” Grantaire asked, and Combeferre blinked up at him.
It took him a moment to realize Grantaire was holding out some kind of print out, and he frowned. “What are they?”
“Tickets to an exhibit at the art museum,” Grantaire told him. “They just opened a special collection of previously unpublished photographs from the civil rights and anti-war protests of the 60s and I thought…” He trailed off, glancing over at Enjolras before shaking his head. “Anyway, I won’t be using them, but someone should.”
Later, Combeferre wouldn’t be able to explain what came over him, but for the first and probably last time in his life, he threw caution to the wind. “Well, I’ll take one,” he said. “But maybe you could take the other. And we could go. Together, in case that wasn’t obvious.”
For a moment, Grantaire just stared at him, and just when Combeferre was about to blurt that he had been joking, a slow smile crossed Grantaire’s face. “Really?” he asked.
Combeferre shrugged. “Only if you want to,” he said, aiming for casual and missing by a mile.
“Yeah,” Grantaire said, his smile widening. “Yeah, I’d like that.”
So they went. Combeferre wasn’t ordinarily a fan of first dates, if this was actually a date, feeling like they had a tendency to stifle actual conversation, but with Grantaire, it felt like they’d been doing this forever.
He had such a good time that he tried to walk slower than usual as Grantaire walked him home. Their conversation came to a natural lull and Combeferre glanced sideways at him. “What are you thinking about?” he asked.
Grantaire looked over at him and shrugged. “Mostly wondering if you put out on a first date.”
Combeferre stopped so suddenly that Grantaire walked a few paces without him before noticing. “So, uh, this was a date?” he asked, feeling like an idiot for needing to ask.
Grantaire half-smiled at him. “Only if you want it to be,” he said, returning Combeferre’s words.
Combeferre started to return his smile before pausing, not quite able to ignore what he’d been witnessing for the better part of a few months. “And what about Enjolras?”
Grantaire took a step closer to him, cocking his head slightly. “What about him?” he asked
“Well, I know that you, uh, have a bit of a thing for him…”
He trailed off as Grantaire took another step closer, so close that Combeferre could see the flecks of gold in his eyes. “Combeferre?”
“Maybe let’s not talk about Enjolras right now.”
Combeferre would have been more than happy to agree, but he didn’t get the opportunity, since Grantaire leaned in and kissed him. But he supposed it was agreement in its own way, and in that case, he was more than happy to agree with Grantaire many times that night.
- - - - - - - - - -
Dating Grantaire, as it turned out, was a much better routine than watching Grantaire pine over Enjolras. Combeferre was very pleased to learn that his morning coffee tasted even better when it was accompanied by a quick kiss over the counter at the café, and even Les Amis meetings were better when he knew he would get to go home with Grantaire afterward.
The fact that he and Grantaire were dating caused a minor scandal at first, because their friends were, well, horrible people sometimes, but they moved past it relatively quickly.
Even Enjolras told Combeferre he was happy for him, which was as much approval as Combeferre needed.
And for a long time, everything was going fine, so much so that Combeferre was almost tempted to forget about the circumstances that precipitated their relationship in the first place. Almost being the key word, because as their friends moved on from the mockery and he and Grantaire moved on from the honeymoon stage, Combeferre couldn’t help but notice that while the tenor of their conversations had certainly changed, Grantaire still seemed to spend a lot of time talking to Enjolras.
And arguing with Enjolras.
And, on days when Combeferre was feeling significantly less charitable, flirting with Enjolras.
But everything between him and Grantaire was going so well that he didn’t want to make something out of it that it wasn’t. Because when it was just him and Grantaire, Grantaire looked at him like he used to look at Enjolras.
And six months after they started dating, after they had sex one night, Grantaire rolled over in bed and pressed a kiss to Combeferre’s shoulder before telling him, a little breathlessly, “I love you.”
He had sure as hell never said that to Enjolras.
Those three words were enough to sustain Combeferre, or at least, that’s what he told himself.
Until one night, when Grantaire didn’t show up at Combeferre’s after his shift like usual. Grantaired, they didn’t have anything scheduled other than their usual night of take out, TV and snuggling, but Combeferre couldn’t help but feel a little stung that he didn’t even get a courtesy text from Grantaire letting him know he was running late.
That sting had grown exponentially by the time Grantaire let himself in, whistling cheerfully as he dropped his bag at the door. “Hey,” he said, his smile fading slightly when he saw the look on Combeferre’s face. “What’s up?”
“Where were you?” Combeferre asked, setting the papers he was grading down on the coffee table.
“I was at the Musain,” Grantaire said, a little warily. “Enjolras asked me to come by when I was done with work to help him with the design for the flyer for Friday’s protest.”
Combeferre rolled his eyes. “Oh, of course,” he scoffed. “Enjolras asked you.”
Grantaire’s eyes narrowed. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing. It means nothing.” Combeferre stood, picking up the papers and striding over to his bag to shove them inside. “I just didn’t realize that being around Enjolras made it so that your phone didn’t work or your thumbs were broken and you couldn’t text me to let me know.”
He couldn’t see Grantaire’s face but he could hear the incredulity in his voice as he said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize we had plans.”
“And I didn’t realize that we had to have plans for you to let me know that you weren’t going to be coming home at a normal time.”
“What is this actually about?” Grantaire asked, a hard edge to his voice as he crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Because I really don’t think it’s about me being home an hour or two later than usual.”
For a moment, Combeferre was tempted to deny it, but he knew if there was a moment to finally have this out, now was as good as any. “You’re right. It’s not about that. It’s about the fact that I know I was your second choice, but it sucks to be reminded of it sometimes.”
“Wasn’t I?” Combeferre asked, a challenge in his voice.
Grantaire swallowed and looked away, and Combeferre’s heart sank. But then Grantaire looked back at him, his eyes dark. “No,” he said. “You weren’t. Because that implies that I chose Enjolras, and I didn’t. I didn’t choose him, I sure as hell didn’t choose my feelings for him. They just kind of…happened.” He hesitated before slowly crossing to Combeferre, reaching out to lace their fingers together. “But you…I chose you. I chose to pursue my feelings for you, and I chose to try to make this work.” He raised an eyebrow. “I’m still choosing it, in case you’re wondering.”
Then, without warning, he dropped Combeferre’s hand, his expression twisting slightly. “Besides,” he added with a deliberate sort of casual, “second choice doesn’t always mean second best, right? At least, that’s what I’ve always told myself.”
Combeferre stared at him. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking you and Enjolras,” Grantaire said flatly, and Combeferre flinched. “I’m talking about the second person who was closest to ever dating him. Because that was you, right?” He didn’t wait for Combeferre to answer. “So if we’re being honest, I’m not the only one who was in love with Enjolras and chose to be with someone else.”
“That – that’s not – what Enjolras and I had, if we ever had anything, that was over long before you and I—” Combeferre stammered.
Grantaire’s expression didn’t change. “Sure. But just answer this for me: were you jealous of Enjolras tonight, or was there a part of you that was a little bit jealous of me?”
Combeferre’s heart pounded heavily in his chest. He wanted so badly to tell Grantaire that he had this completely wrong, but he knew that he couldn’t. Not truthfully at least. Instead, he shook his head slowly before meeting Grantaire’s eyes. “Enjolras,” he said firmly. “I was definitely jealous of Enjolras.”
Grantaire searched his face for a long moment before he leaned in and kissed him. “Ok,” he said simply. “Do you mind if we call it an early night tonight? I’m exhausted.”
This was Grantaire’s way of tabling an argument, though both he and Combeferre knew that they’d have to come back to it eventually. But Combeferre wasn’t ready to continue down that road tonight any more than Grantaire was. “Sure,” he said instead. “I’m pretty wiped as well.”
But despite both men claiming to be tired, Combeferre could tell he was not the only one lying awake long after they got into bed that night. He stared at the wall, Grantaire’s arm heavy where it was draped over his waist. He felt Grantaire’s stubble scratch against his back as he shifted to kiss Combeferre between his shoulder blades. “I love you,” Grantaire whispered.
Combeferre closed his eyes. “I know,” he said. “I love you, too.”
He didn’t doubt Grantaire’s sincerity any more than he doubted his own.
But that didn’t mean he wasn’t lying there wondering if Grantaire, too, was thinking about how either man would leave in a heartbeat if Enjolras ever returned their feelings.