Author's note: I've been wanting to write explicit acefic for ages, because the fact that everything I touch is basically unspoken acefic doesn't count as proper visibility. So here is the first attempt, which feels a bit clunky still but I think mostly works.
Courfeyrac has been avoiding him. He's good at making it seem accidental, but Combeferre has known him for years and he knows better than to believe the litany of - admittedly perfectly plausible - excuses that fall from Courfeyrac's lips each time Combeferre attempts to engage him in conversation. While it's true that the revolution requires much of men, Courfeyrac has always been adamant that first among those requirements is the cultivation of friendships, the planting of new seeds and the maintaining existing rows in the garden of human connections. More than any other, Courfeyrac not only cannot but will not untwine his human needs from his spiritual ones. And so, despite the perfect validity of Courfeyrac's apologetic references to pamphlets that need distributing or speeches that need writing or cartridges that need making or any of the hundred other necessary tasks he offers as explanation for rushing out the door, Combeferre knows them to be nothing but excuses to avoid his company.
He lets it continue for nearly a month, busying himself with other matters and hoping that Courfeyrac will offer an explanation of his own volition. Running from his problems is not Courfeyrac's style, no matter the cause of those problems, and Combeferre has never known his friend to remain cross with anyone short of General Lafayette for long. But the days trickle past and, as though by magic, Courfeyrac manages to always evade Combeferre's questioning glances and refuse his invitations to dinner, and it becomes clear that Combeferre will need to take a more active role in things if he wants to resolve the situation.
He corners Courfeyrac after a meeting in early February, pulling him towards a secluded area of the room. "Might I have a word?"
The question is greeted with a beautifully genuine expression of regret. "I'm terribly sorry but I've an appointment that I absolutely cannot miss. Perhaps later?"
Combeferre crosses his arms over his chest, fixing him with a stern look. "You don't have a mistress currently and I know there is nothing pressing to do for Enjolras. Do you mean to tell me that you have other business that absolutely must be conducted at nearly midnight?"
A terribly apologetic shrug. "Far be it from me to explain the whims of men. If you will excuse me?"
As he tries to edge past, Combeferre reaches out to touch his shoulder. "Courfeyrac."
Courfeyrac stops, trying and failing not to look uncomfortable.
"You have been avoiding me for weeks now," Combeferre says.
"I have?" Courfeyrac asks.
"Assiduously." Combeferre lets his hand drop back to his side and swallows a sigh. "Tell me what's wrong?"
"There's nothing wrong," Courfeyrac insists. "I have been busy, that's all. As have you. Working to overturn one's king has a habit of taking up frightening amounts of time, after all. And we see each other nearly every day! I hardly think that qualifies as assiduous avoidance on my part."
"This is the longest conversation we've had since Christmas," Combeferre returns.
"Yes." This time Combeferre does sigh. "I had hoped that you would trust in my friendship enough to tell me if I had offended you."
This wins him a blink of surprise that, as far as Combeferre can tell, is completely honest. "You haven't offended me in the slightest," Courfeyrac assures him.
"Then what's wrong?"
"I..." Courfeyrac begins, then stops. For a moment he seems about to deflect some more, then he too sighs. "I would prefer not to discuss this in public, if that is all the same to you."
"My rooms are nearby," Combeferre says, a little wary that this might be another evasive tactic from his friend. But Courfeyrac only nods.
"Lead the way." He sounds rather as though he has agreed to a trial instead of a conversation between friends. Combeferre does so, trying not to keep glancing at his friend as they walk. Now that he has instigated the conversation he finds himself nervous nearly to the point of regretting the whole thing. His mind wanders back to that last conversation, which had ended rather abruptly. Were Courfeyrac someone else, Combeferre might have expected the ensuing awkwardness, but Courfeyrac has as little shame as Bahorel or Bossuet. Indeed, he considers this a point of personal pride.
Combeferre unlocks the door to his lodging house and lets them both into his rooms, waving Courfeyrac to a seat. "A drink?" he asks.
Pouring them both drinks takes under a minute and soon the two are sitting across from each other, not quite making eye contact. After a moment Combeferre says, "You kissed me."
"I did," Courfeyrac agrees.
When he does not add anything further Combeferre prompts, "I did not dislike it."
"You didn't," Courfeyrac confirms, thereby ridding Combeferre of the thought that perhaps Courfeyrac had misread his unspoken signals.
"Did you dislike it?" Combeferre wants to know. "You needn't be afraid to tell me if you did; I won't take offense. Far be it from me to dictate the whims of the heart."
This speech does not appear to reassure Courfeyrac any. He takes a long sip from his drink, still not looking Combeferre in the eye. Finally he says, "I didn't dislike it either." He shakes his head when Combeferre makes to speak again. "And I am not worried in the slightest for either the law or my reputation." A sigh. "But I should not have done it and I ask your forgiveness."
"Of course I forgive you," Combeferre says. "Though I'm afraid I don't quite follow your reasoning. Why do you ask me to forgive something both of us found pleasurable?"
"I am... very fond of you," Courfeyrac says. "In, as you have no doubt gathered, a less than brotherly fashion. I am not ashamed of that - you are a remarkable man, though you inexplicably persist on denying it."
Combeferre, on the cusp of doing just that, shuts his mouth.
"But I know that I cannot offer you what you not only desire but truly deserve in such a partnership," Courfeyrac continues. "And, as I was aware of that at Christmas, it was unjust and manipulative of me to kiss you, and for that I most humbly apologize."
Combeferre frowns. "What, precisely, is it that you are incapable of offering me?" he asks. "I will confess that I cannot see it, myself."
To his shock Courfeyrac actually blushes a little. "Satisfaction," he says. "In the, ah, biblical sense." He finally meets Combeferre's gaze, looking not just regretful but faintly ashamed. "I have tried, but repeated experimentation seems only to make the situation worse."
"Physically or emotionally?" Combeferre wants to know.
"Emotionally," Courfeyrac says. "The machine works as it should; it is the technician who is defective."
"Don't say that," Combeferre says automatically. "You aren't defective in the slightest." Most of his mind is taken up with exploring this new concept, but despite that he does not miss the bitterness in Courfeyrac's answering laugh.
"It's kind of you to say that, but you needn't spare my feelings. I have made my peace with the situation, more or less."
"I'm not sparing your feelings," Combeferre says, drawing his mind back from the purely theoretical. "No one as full of warmth, passion, or wit as you can possibly be defective."
"I have neither the urge to copulate nor an inclination towards the priesthood," Courfeyrac says. He takes another long drink, nearly draining his glass. "I rather think that speaks towards a more fundamental defect in my character than wit or passion can repair."
"Enjolras has no interest in pleasures of the flesh," Combeferre points out.
"Enjolras is a priest in all but name and is married to our work," Courfeyrac says. "He is hardly an appropriate counter-example."
"Perhaps," Combeferre says. "But he is not a priest, and thus relevant." He sees that Courfeyrac is not convinced and adds, "And in any case, do you not think it a little presumptive to make decisions concerning me without giving me a say in what they are?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"You stated your... aberration from the norm, let's call it, as the reason why you did not want to pursue a more intimate relationship with me," Combeferre says. "You did not, however, give me a choice in the matter. If you don't desire more than friendship with me then, by all means, let us continue being friends, but please refrain from making such decisions on my behalf without consulting me." He hesitates, then reaches out to touch Courfeyrac on the knee. "Because the choice you made for me is not the one I would make for myself."
"What do you mean?" Courfeyrac asks.
"I mean," Combeferre says, "that I am also fond of you. Extremely so. Far fonder of you than I am of any carnal pleasures or physical satisfaction." He squeezes Courfeyrac's knee, hoping to convey through touch what his words cannot say. "Though I did rather enjoy kissing you."
"So did I," Courfeyrac says. Then, "You are certain? I would not... I mean please do not feel that you must compromise your desires for my sake."
"What is companionship if not compromise?" Combeferre wants to know. "I will confess to not entirely understanding your perspective, but that changes nothing of how I feel towards you."
Instead of answering, Courfeyrac stands and, without waiting for Combeferre to follow suit, closes the distance between them and pulls Combeferre into a fierce embrace. Combeferre returns it, rising without letting go so that Courfeyrac does not have to bend awkwardly.
"Thank you," Courfeyrac says, head pressed into Combeferre's shoulder.
In response Combeferre pulls him closer.
Finally Courfeyrac raises his head. "We really should discuss this further, if this is the path we mean to take," he says. "But would you object if I kissed you again first?" He smiles, and the expression makes Combeferre's heart sing. "I really did enjoy it."
"Of course," Combeferre says, and grins as Courfeyrac does just that.