[This comes before all of A Wasps' Nest, but you don't have to read that to get this. The date is late 1825; the boys are a Combeferre and an Enjolras who do not yet know the meaning of the word angst nor of the word fellatio. That's another chapter entirely.]
On the day that we met, we talked until three in the morning. After that exhausting flow of words, he did not have the strength to stagger homeward, and I didn't have any desire to cast him out into the perilous night. We slept side by side as men in an inn might do, sharing my narrow bed with aplomb and no mention of the fact that he is startlingly beautiful, that I would not have gone anywhere with him or said anything to him, except that he caught my eye in the crush of students outside the lecture hall, and so I approached him.
I found it difficult to sleep beside him, for I was not then used to sharing a bed with anyone. I woke several times in the foreshortened night. In the morning, I woke before he did and got up so as not to make him feel uncomfortable. He slept on, his fine features relaxed in sleep, his cornsilk hair loose on my pillow. I had to supress the urge to wake him with a kiss; it would never do to lose this friend as quickly as I had made him.
It happened so frequently that we would be talking until well past the witching hour and collapse into the nearest bed, almost always mine that he hardly got the value of the rent he paid on his flat for three months. We talked about everything in the world from childhood to the afterlife, sometimes disagreeing, sometimes in complete accord, but the topic we spent the most time on was that of politics. In that field, we did not always agree, but there was always some point to discuss.
I don't suppose that I could have held his attention as much as I did if he had wanted me to leave him alone, but I felt as though I was responsible for the copious amounts of time we spent in each other's company. I realized not long after I met him perhaps the first night, perhaps the first week that I was in love with him, that I wanted to be near him not merely because he spoke well, not merely because he was one of the most intelligent people I had met, but because he was lovely, and because, for whatever perverse reason, I loved him. And so I would delay him, if he spoke of wanting to get home, if I could delay him at all. I wanted to be near him if I could, to sleep by his side and wake in the morning to watch the dawn lend its beauty to his face. I told him nothing of this; it was not the sort of thing I could have explained when I first realized what I felt. By the time I could articulate it, alone, speaking to myself in an undertone as if I were addressing my absent friend, we had known each other more than two months. I had begun to wake with him in my arms and a sense of horror at my own audacity. I felt certain that if he should regain consciousness before I did on any morning to find himself in my embrace, he would leave and sunder the intimacy that we had cultivated.
My patience ran out before my common sense failed me, and so I was able to approach him about my inconvenient attachment to him indirectly rather than immediately. In the dim hours that cannot decide whether they are night or morning, we sat in the safety of my room, he on my desk chair, I on the bed. I raised the subject of love not one we spoke about frequently, because we were both young and alone, and there was little to say. Somewhere in the discussion, before he managed to turn it to something else, I mentioned something about the love between brothers.
"I have never had a brother," he said, though I knew that. "But if I had one, I think I would want him to be like you."
It was simultaneously the highest compliment I had received and the worst blow to my hopes that I could have imagined. I said, "Thank you," softly, for I could not have said anything else without swearing my undying affection on the spot.
He put his hand on my shoulder; I was silently grateful that he could not know why that made me shiver. "In all sincerity, Audric " he faltered and blushed.
"Je t'aime." As soon as I said the words, I wished them back again, and then wished a childish cancellation to the first, for he embraced me.
"Je t'aime aussi." I thought I had imagined the words at first. It would not have been the first time that I pretended he would say such a thing to me, but he was in my arms, sitting beside me on my bed and smiling at me shyly. That was no daydream.
Perhaps if I had been imagining it, I could have imagined myself with more restraint than I possessed. We could have acknowledged the late hour, my dream friend and I, and gone to sleep with gentlemanly detachment, as we should have done. Perhaps I would have managed to give him a speech on the purity of brotherly feeling, if I had been in control of my wits, if he had not embraced me and quietly told me that he cared for me.
If everything had gone as I wanted it to go, I doubt that I would have kissed him then. I stopped and let him go as soon as I realized what I was doing. I stood and turned away from him. "Oh, God. I'm sorry I'm sorry."
He said nothing for a long moment. If I could have found more words of apology or words to explain why I had done what I did, I would have used them, but I had none. He stood up and put a hand on my shoulder. "I don't understand," he said, his voice soft in this admission not one he made often.
"It was a mistake," I said, and heard my voice tremble. "I shan't do it again, I didn't mean to I'm sorry."
"Audric " he cleared his throat. "You sound as though you've hurt me."
I looked at the floor. "Didn't I? God, I'm sorry. I'm a fool."
He stepped in front of me and touched my cheek. I looked up at him; he is only a little taller than me, but I felt as though I had debased myself in my idiocy, and he seemed more dignified than ever in comparison to me. "You needn't apologize. Truly mon frère," as though he had heard the words spoken, but never used them before. "You startled me, I suppose, and " He looked away from me, his fair cheek stained with a blush. "I didn't know quite how to respond." I shivered. There was a lock of his hair that had come loose from its fastening. It strayed across his cheek, and I wanted more than anything to brush it aside. I knew I shouldn't, but somehow I did, with one trembling hand. He looked at me, frowning a little in confusion. "I "
It was idiocy to kiss him, folly to compound that sin by caressing his face inexplicably, and madness to put my hand on his shoulder and kiss him again. But I was mad that night with a peculiar desire that I had not felt, or at least had not acknowledged before, and so I kissed him. I expected him to pull away from me in an instant. I knew with every fiber of my being that he was on the verge of leaving, and that if he left, he would never return.
He put his hand on my shoulder, first, as though to stop me, but I had decided that I had gone too far to stop at this gentle discouragement, although, in truth, I had not gone far at all. And when he then touched my hair, that was not meant to stop me, but I could not understand that in the midst of everything else, and so I paused and leaned back just a little to look at him. His face was flushed, and his eyes looked peculiarly unfocused. "Julien? I'm sorry," I said, tentatively, wondering whether he would accept my apology.
"No. Please don't say that." He embraced me. I took a deep breath for what felt like the first time in an hour. "I'm sorry."
"You've done nothing wrong." I hugged him tightly for a moment, then loosened my grasp so as to look at him. "We should go to sleep, I suppose."
He frowned. "I suppose. I " He kissed me again. It was not the practiced kiss of someone who is accustomed to having a lover, and neither were mine, but it was all the sweeter for our mutual confusion and the irony of it. We knew this was how lovers showed emotion, that this was what was expected if we were not only friends or only brothers, but rather lovers and yet we were not supposed to be lovers, and that knowledge was thick between us.
"Ah, God." When we broke the kiss, I sighed and smiled at him. "Will you spend the night?" I had assumed he would before this insanity began, as part of what had become our normal routine, but we had broken all of that. When I asked, I felt my cheeks heat with embarrassment, and he blushed at the question.
"If you like."
I embraced him, and admitted quietly, "I would be overjoyed."
He sighed and kissed my cheek.
That was not necessarily the best word to describe the way it felt to share a bed with him, especially at three in the morning after a long night. We began almost as we always had, except that we were both suddenly nervous around each other. It was more uncomfortable than anything to embrace him, not knowing exactly where to put my arms, being ever afraid of offending him. I didn't dare kiss him again, not after we had decided to go to sleep instead of talking more or anything else. It was strange to feel his breath on my face, though I had felt it before, strange to feel the heat of his body next to mine, though I knew that feeling. It took me hours to fall asleep. I was afraid that he would wake in the morning and decide that our friendship was over, or at least that this would not happen again. I wanted to memorize every sensation that night, I wanted to touch his skin and learn its texture, however I could convince him to let me do that, and yet I knew I needed to sleep.
In the morning we parted as congenially as we ever had, but before he left he kissed me again. That evening we did not have the ease with each other that we'd had the day before, as though we had suddenly stopped being friends and become something else not yet lovers, for lovers are not so uncomfortable around each other, and we had not been physically intimate. After dinner, when I couldn't say what I meant or understand what he wanted to say, I asked him, "Would you rather go somewhere else?" and he nodded, though he looked somewhat ashamed at that admission.
We went to my apartment. I couldn't think of anywhere else where I would have felt comfortable saying whatever it was I was going to say I was still not certain what that might be. I had no patience, no ability to concentrate on any sort of discussion. Once we arrived, I embraced him, hardly letting myself wonder if he would appreciate it or not.
He sighed and leaned on my shoulder, which he surely would not have done if he'd objected to the embrace, but I was still nervous. He said, "I'm sorry," into my ear, and I let him go immediately. He was frowning.
"What's wrong?" I asked, afraid I had offended him.
"I don't know, but I didn't mean you should stop." He spread his arms, tacitly asking for a hug. I was only too happy to be in his arms.
"I can't think clearly," I admitted.
He kissed my cheek. "Neither can I. I can't think, I can't talk what's wrong with me?"
I touched his hair lightly and smiled, half-embarrassed and half-amused at my own embarrassment. "I think I'm in love with you. And you probably aren't in love with me or, or anything, but I think that's what's wrong with me."
"Oh." He buried his face in my shoulder, and mumbled, "I see," into my jacket.
"Audric don't be." He looked at me, and though he had a blush fading from his cheeks, he was almost stern. "Everything's all right."
I nodded a little. "May I kiss you?"
He closed his eyes, and though he had been stern a moment before, he was almost meek. "If you like."
"I would love to."
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