catherine's corner


The room I shared with Courfeyrac had its disadvantages. Drafts stole in through the floorboards and around the edges of the windows that overlooked a lonely courtyard. The ceiling slanted abruptly at the end of the room, giving the place a shadowy look even in broad daylight. But it was convenient in its location, and the windowed alcove made a pleasant place to study.

I had fallen asleep there, curled up in the afternoon sunlight with my book open on my knees. When I woke it was full dark, and lamplight shone through the curtain we had hung over the alcove in the winter. A light rain was pattering against the glass. I was about to stand when I heard a spate of laughter, intermingled with a sigh, and a voice that was not Courfeyrac's said, "Cheri."

"My God, you're handsome like that."

"Like what? Damp and debauched?"


I sat up a little, carefully. Through the worn curtain I could dimly see Courfeyrac sitting on his bed, and another, slighter figure leaning against him. "You are a wretch," and with a shock I recognized Combeferre's voice.

"I've never denied it." Courfeyrac drew him close and kissed him. They clung to each other, their hands pushed through one another's hair with a strange urgency. I should have stood then, before it went farther, but I was transfixed by bewilderment.

Even from this shrouded vantage I could see how Combeferre's rain-soaked shirt clung to his shoulders, and how the light gleamed on his damp skin as Courfeyrac divested him of it. "Are you sure--" he said breathlessly.

"Enjolras? he's never home this early." Courfeyrac's voice was low and rough. "Kiss me."

It was disconcerting to see how deftly they undressed one another, hardly pausing for breath; how familiarly their hands moved on each other. How long had this been going on, that I had had no inkling? How many trysts had been kept here, in this room, perhaps in my bed -- it would be like Courfeyrac not to mind where he pushed his lover down, with that swift sure movement, and kissed him...

And could this be Combeferre, my sober, gentle friend? Stretched naked on the coverlet, one leg crooked about Courfeyrac's waist, fingers clenching his shoulder, gasping between kisses?

"God, cher," Courfeyrac said, half a sigh, and sat back on his heels. Though his back was toward me, it was clear that his caresses were having an effect. Combeferre shivered at his touch, reaching toward him.

I shut my eyes, as if that could block the sight of them from my mind. Motionless as I was, I could not shut out their sighs, the slight creaking of the bed, the sound of skin brushing skin. My face was hot with the shame they had clearly forgotten.

When I dared to look again, they were entangled once more, impossibly close, rocking slightly in a rhythm I could not fathom. Combeferre's hands moved slowly, lingeringly over Courfeyrac's back, pressing him closer still. Courfeyrac stifled a moan against his shoulder, and for a moment their movements grew almost violent. Then Combeferre caught his breath in a sob, shuddering, and fell still.

They kissed, long and languorously. Combeferre ran his fingers slowly through Courfeyrac's hair, and murmured something in his ear that made him chuckle.

"Sweet friend."

Then they were quiet. I leaned against the window, hoping the cold touch of glass would clear my head, and tried to think of harmless things; but the image of that impassioned embrace kept returning to my mind. Presently, when it seemed clear that they had fallen asleep, I parted the curtain and stood up.

I was halfway to the door when I heard Courfeyrac say drowsily, "Julien?"

I stopped, horrified, as stricken with guilt as if I had been the one caught in the act. I could not look at him. "How long have you been here?" He kept his voice low, but I could hear Combeferre stirring nevertheless, and a moment later, "Oh, God."

"I was just going out," I said as steadily as I could manage.

"No. No, I'll go. God, I'm sorry." Out of the corner of my eye I saw him struggle out of bed, reaching for his clothes.

"Mon ami," Courfeyrac began.

Combeferre shook his head, and dressed in silence. On his way out he paused, laying a hand timidly on my arm. "I'm sorry." Before I could think of what to answer, he had gone.

"So much for that," said Courfeyrac into the silence.

I swung around to face him. "What did you--" But words failed me. I did not know what to say, whether to accuse him or of what, whether to pretend ignorance or denounce him out of hand.

"What did I what?" Unlike Combeferre, he showed no sign of embarrassment or of shame; he lay there, stark naked, with his hands behind his head, regarding me quizzically. I looked away.

"I don't understand."

"My dear man, it's not so very complicated."

"I'd noticed." Instantly I wished I had kept silent, but I had the satisfaction of seeing his eyes widen.

"Did you--"

"I was in the window," I said stiffly, since there was no help for it.

He had the grace to blush. "God. We must have been a spectacle."


"You ought to have said something."

It was my turn to blush. I turned away again, hoping he would take the hint and drop the matter. Behind me the floorboards creaked as he got up, presumably to put his clothes on. I drew a breath of relief.

But in the next moment he was embracing me, still naked, and his lips brushed the back of my neck. I stood still, too stunned even to pull away. He ran a hand down my arm. "Julien," he said softly, his breath warm against my ear, and I shivered. "Lovely Julien. Don't hate me."

"I don't." My voice shook.

"I should be desolate if you did."

I tried to force myself to calm. "It's nothing to me who or what you -- dally with. So long as you do it in decent privacy."

"Julien--" His voice took on a note of pleading. "I swear I didn't realize. I wouldn't..." His arm settled familiarly around my waist. "Forgive me?"



Distracted, disconcerted, I could only nod. Courfeyrac gave a soft sigh. "Shall I let you go?" but his free hand was loosening my collar as he spoke, and he kissed my ear lightly, and I could not find the words to protest. I felt dizzy. Not a quarter of an hour ago, he and Combeferre--

I shuddered. He had a hand under my shirt now; he was whispering in my ear, fragmented words, nonsense. His touch was gentle, warm and dry, and my skin prickled under his fingers. This was folly, madness, outrage. "God, Julien, please," and I should have shaken him off then, but the passion in his voice undid the last of my common sense. I leaned back against him, let him pull off my shirt and unfasten my trousers, yielded to his kisses as though I were drugged. It felt like that, like a confused dream: the murky light, the feverish heat, the nameless sensations and the racing of my heart.

I cried out finally, overwhelmed, in terror and pleasure, and Courfeyrac caught me against him and held me tightly. "Oh, Julien, beautiful-- brave Julien, lovely one, lovely one, it's all right--"

"Do stop that," I protested, with what breath I could find.

He laughed, and kissed my hair. "Mon ami. If you knew how I've been longing to do that."


"To see your face lit up like that."

I lacked the strength to scowl at him. Instead I buried my face in his bare shoulder. "You are disgraceful."

"Am I?" he said idly.


"Were you watching -- before?" He ran a hand down my back.


"Were you?"

"I could hardly help it." I felt my ears burning again.

"And if you had it to do over again-- would you?"


He was laughing. "Come to dinner. We'll speak of it later."

I went, determined that he should not have the better of me. If the dream returned that night, or nights that followed, I did not tell him so.