What people don’t seem to understand is that Combeferre and Courfeyrac are widely different. So different, in fact, that they shouldn’t work together.
Courfeyrac is white, but likes to sunbathe every once in a while to have a sun-kissed glow to his skin. He also pays attention to his physique by going to the gym twice a week, at the very least. He knows he’s an attractive person, and isn’t afraid to cultivate and flaunt it.
Combeferre’s skin is effortlessly smooth and rich, thanks to his Indian ascendance. He’s one of the gifted few that have no trouble at all with acne, unlike his partner, who perpetually struggles with blackheads and the occasional zit. Even though he doesn’t go to the gym, he keeps himself fit by taking a morning run, but doesn’t mortify himself by it. His own grooming products are few and very basic; he doesn’t strive to be as attractive as he has the potential to be—he leaves that part for his boyfriend.
Courfeyrac is loud. He is boisterous, theatrical, extroverted, zesty and open. He starts conversations with people at the queue and compliments the cashier on her funky haircut. He readily offers his couch to acquaintances—even though he has no acquaintances. To Courfeyrac, all people who’ve ever come in contact with him are his friends. He laughs loudly and passionately; he pranks and jokes, and buys people drinks. He’s persistent, dependable, motivated, casually competitive, courageous, unafraid, and unwaveringly loyal. He likes to call himself the heir of Godric Gryffindor.
Combeferre is an observer. Everything about him is quiet: his immense passion, his numerous thoughts, his opinions in class, his deep happiness, his surprising amount of pride, his ambition, his curiosity for people, his curiosity for knowledge, his curiosity for more. He is calculating and more rational than emotional, true, but those are only the most visible aspects of him. At plain view, nobody would think that Combeferre is one of the happiest people to walk this planet, or one of the most passionate activists, or one of the most ambitious of his group of friends. Nobody would think that while his entire family (save his parents and he) is Indian, he despises Indian food, but loves Mexican. Nobody would guess that, with his group of friends, his silent chuckles become booming laughs.
He is what people describe as an iceberg: it seems small, but there is a giant beneath, hidden from plain view. Courfeyrac, on the other side, is an open book, but his most delicate, loving details are only visible to those who spend time with him.
When Courfeyrac fights, he fights. He shouts, broods, mopes, reacts easily, flushes, cries, flees, picks sides, and forgives and forgets. Since he has his heart in his sleeve, he’s hurt easily, and it shows, but he refuses to be any other way. He fully embraces his emotions and lives them out until there’s nothing else to give. His anger is therefore explosive, though very much in the moment. Try as he might, Courfeyrac is unable to hold grudges. Often, he’ll apologize first, or forgive the other party even without them asking for forgiveness. After that, he’ll move on and continue in his happy path.
When Combeferre fights, he thinks. His immediate reactions are always visceral, but internalized. If his heart is broken, it implodes, not explodes; he isn’t easy to read. When he argues, he gives himself a few hours of silent rage, and then thinks, and thinks, and thinks until he cannot rationalize the situation any more. Then, he will find a way to fix the situation justly. It would be wrong to say, however, that once the problem is fixed, Combeferre is content once more. No; Combeferre forgives, but doesn’t forget. He can hold grudges, and he can be displeased long after the problem has been solved.
Courfeyrac is fiery; he unconsciously seeks to start arguments. Combeferre’s rationality counterbalances this and doesn’t often rise to the bait. But when they do fight, which isn’t as often as the author is making it sound, everyone knows about it. Courfeyrac won’t hide his anger, but in a way, neither will Combeferre: he will draw away and fume in silence, speak little, and glare plenty. Courfeyrac will be deliberately problematic, brash and despairingly sad.
Depending on the pettiness of the fight, it might take them days to get back to their routine despite both their regret and longing, which comes much sooner than their apologies.
Beyond these few differences, the trait that shows the most juxtaposition is their sensuality.
Courfeyrac is an undeniably sexual creature. He’s unabashedly physical, coquettish, flirtatious, coy, indulgent, and teasing. He seeks, offers and promises; he presents himself and requests your name with such confidence that you feel like you’re talking to a salesman. He climbs and kisses and hugs as freely as he smiles, and as freely as he loves.
Combeferre seems, for all intents and purposes, like a celibate. Before Courfeyrac and he got together, only the latter and his other best friend could doubtlessly shake his head when asked if Combeferre is asexual. Even after Courfeyrac and he got together, no one could say for sure what his orientation is. Combeferre would later learn of this running debate and, after laughing heartily, he’d say that he doesn’t particularly care to find a label.
Perhaps it comes as a surprise, then, how their moments of intimacy and coupling seemingly contradict their personalities.
It’s Combeferre who pushes and it’s Courfeyrac who pulls. It’s Courfeyrac who begs and pleads and it’s Combeferre who allows and controls. It’s Combeferre who’s a fan of choosing, experimenting, playing, teasing and biting, and Courfeyrac who delights in surprises, being tested on, being played with, being tortured and bitten.
While it may seem contradictory to the rest of their personalities, at the end of the day one notices that it isn’t a glitch, but consistency: Courfeyrac likes attention; he likes getting, receiving, claiming and earning. Choosing is a hard task for him; he’d rather go with the flow, so long as the flow goes with him. It only makes sense that he’s the same way in the metaphorical bedroom. Combeferre’s passion is mostly hidden from view; his aggression, ambition and dominance hide beneath the calm, quiet exterior. While he is never quite aggressive, he does need an outlet for his passion—be it his passionate love, his passionate appreciation, his passionate need, his passionate cluster of feelings. The one way he can show the depth of his love to Courfeyrac is by giving, giving, giving in the one area where there’s no place for calculation, rationality, nor silence.
It’s Courfeyrac who kisses Combeferre first, seated on the couch and alone in the apartment, because he knows that Combeferre is shy about displays of affection. It’s the muscular, assertive, exuberant, confident, strong, sexually charged party of the couple who asks tentatively, and it’s the introverted, quiet, private, weaker, shy other half who responds, most unwaveringly, yes.
Courfeyrac pulls them both to the bedroom but Combeferre backs him up against the bed. Courfeyrac pulls him in for another needy kiss, but Combeferre changes the angle, slows him down and takes control of the kiss. Courfeyrac’s fleeting hands are everywhere at once, but Combeferre’s steady palms are anchoring him in place. Courfeyrac pushes Combeferre down to the bed and climbs atop him, but Combeferre pulls him down so they’re in contact from head to toe.
Courfeyrac pushes off of him and unbuttons his pants, and pulls his shirt and pants off skillfully, requesting action by selling himself. Combeferre pushes him down to the mattress again and starts giving, and giving and giving, without letting go of his control over the situation.
Courfeyrac lies back, eyes closed, and revels and basks in his love’s careful attention. Combeferre mouths and licks at every hill and valley encountered on his way down, appreciating the way his partner’s breathing grows more ragged. He feels Courfeyrac’s fingers in his hair and takes for granted the way they’re only holding on, not guiding. He pays special attention to every contour of the sculpted body for so long that not even Courfeyrac would be able to call it foreplay, or teasing.
When Combeferre finally deigns it enough and places his mouth on him, doing his earnest best to please and satisfy (and hence pleasing and satisfying himself), Courfeyrac is loud, unabashed, honest, appreciative, and openly blissful.
Combeferre knows what he’s doing, and he continues doing it very deliberately; his actions are calculated, precise, logical, and correct. The way he swirls his tongue is carefully designed; the moments he hollows his cheeks are strategically placed to have the most effect; the pace at which he bobs his head up and down is consistent, because he is nothing if not consistent. And in a way, so is Courfeyrac: he’s consistent with his moans and sounds of appreciation, consistent with his wordless pleading, consistent with his openness.
When they’re done and there’s no more passion in immediate need of attention, Courfeyrac lies there still and in silence, for once. Combeferre fills the silence with sweet nothings, and openly expresses his love by pulling his boyfriend to him and hugging him from behind, nuzzling his neck and his rich curls, pressing chaste kisses and words of devotion to the skin. Courfeyrac bares his neck and shows his love by listening.
People don’t seem to notice that Courfeyrac and Combeferre are so different, that they shouldn’t work together. However, their differences are consistent: one is high where the other is low; one has a gulf where the other has a peninsula.
They counterbalance each other and work together like clockwork, Combeferre would say. Courfeyrac would word it differently; perhaps he’d call it yin and yang.
Combeferre says say po-tay-to and Courfeyrac says po-tah-to. Same difference. The meaning doesn’t change.