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Not a Rom-Com

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The door slams open abruptly.

"Hi!" A young man pops his head in, chest heaving. "I'm here to see my kid's teacher. His name is... Uhm." He scratches his beard. "Shit, I don't even remember."

"Are you Frank Grantaire's father, by any chance?"

He nods enthusiastically, smiling. “Yeah, that would be me. Grantaire Senior.”

Why is he smiling?, Enjolras thinks. He's fifteen minutes late .  Says, "I’m Frank’s teacher. Mr. Grantaire, please, come in."

He steps in, closing the door behind him. “Uh….Just Grantaire is fine. ‘Mister’ makes me feel a million years old.”

"Of course. And it's Enjolras, by the way. My name. Which you couldn’t remember. It’s Enjolras, just so you know."

Grantaire grins and they shake hands like proper adults.

'Adult' isn't quite the word Enjolras would use to describe him. An unruly mess of pitch-black hair falls around his shoulders. His beard is so dark and thick, spreading down his chin and almost reaching his neck, it seems like he hasn't shaved in a couple of weeks. The shirt is rumpled, buttons in the wrong holes, and-- is that blue paint on his cheek?

"Sorry I’m late. Time kinda got ahead of me, you know."

"Hm. I can imagine." Enjolras clasps his hands on the table, eager to get through this quickly. "Mr. Grantaire I'd like to preface this by saying that your son is impressively smart and is making very quick academic progress, which is a really good thing."

"Woah. That sounded like a great compliment. I have feeling that the 'but' is gonna hurt as hell."

Enjolras shifts in his seat, uncomfortable. "It isn't something particularly bad, but I have a feeling that if it's not something dealt with now, we may lose the window guide him through this in a healthy way. Francis has been having some socializing issues."

Grantaire sighs. "Yeah, I figured." He shakes his head. "How bad is it?"

"So far it's not anything too compromising, but I’ve noticed some red flags along the way.”

“Is he biting things? He used to that when he was nervous, but he’d gotten better…”

Enjolras shakes his head. “It’s not anything like that. He’s just been having some problems… Well, to put it simply, making friends .”

“Yeah, but he’s the new kid. Isn’t that normal? Like, maybe he just hasn’t gotten used to the school yet.”

“A few days before he adjusts is expected, but it's been two weeks and he still barely talks to any of the other children. Last week he ripped another child's picture in an anger fit. I don't mean to make this process any more awkward than it has to be, but this is the point where I usually start to think that maybe this isn’t just ‘shyness’."

Grantaire tilts his head back. His voice comes out a little hollow when he says, "Yeah, uhm. About that." He rubs the back of his neck. "I guess this is the part where I ask you to be patient with him and assure you I'm gonna talk to him about it, huh?"

"Mr. Grantaire, I can tell that he’s a good kid and that with the right incentive, Frank could really flourish. He's wildly creative and learns fast, he just needs to come out of his shell a little bit. I don't think he meant to cause any harm, but something is definitely eating at him, so if I knew the context for that kind of behavior it'd be easier to help him through it..."

"I don't think there's much you could do to help, but thanks, anyway."

"A lot of parents feel that way. I'm not trying to pry, but--"

"His mother died last year." Grantaire cuts him off abruptly. He tips his head forward again and Enjolras realizes that even more noticeable than the blue paint smudge, is the dark circles under stark blue eyes.

"I'm sorry about that." Enjolras says, quietly.

"Yeah. He's, uh-- Well, 'not handling it well' is understatement, I guess."

"We have a great counselor here that would be more than glad to talk to him about it."

"Yeah, no, of course. I'm sure he's great, and I appreciate the concern, but I'd like to talk to my kid first, see if that pans out. I don't wanna scare him out just yet, you know?"

"I completely understand, but we've dealt with other cases like this before. A lot of the time, those children just to be listened and have a solid structure, a routine to feel safe, and the counselling of a stable adult is the best way to--"

Grantaire frowns, leans closer. "My son has a solid structure."

Enjolras attempts a polite smile.

"Mr. Grantaire. Frank was the last to be picked up twice this week, and he's been consistently late to class."

" We're adjusting . I'm trying to work around a schedule that’s good for both of us and I slipped up, but it's not like--"

"I'm not accusing anyone, I'm just saying that it's a delicate moment for Francis and he needs all the support he could get."

"No one supports this kid more than I do, believe me." Grantaire says, voice thick and low. He inhales heavily and looks away. When he speaks again, he no longer sounds vulnerable. On the contrary, it’s very cold. "Tell me, Enjolras, do you have any kids of your own?"

"No, but I have years of experience as a teacher--"

"Trust me, those are two very different things."

Enjolras feels his cheeks burn. “Look, what I’m trying to say--”

“No, I mean, how fucking arrogant do you have to be to think you know more about my son than I do?”

The awkward silence stretches on for so long, Enjolras is actually glad when Courfeyrac knocks on his door.

"Enj, are you dead? Is that why you're late?" He calls from the hall. "I know you're in there, the lights are on."

Grantaire sneers at him. "I'm sorry. I took too much of your time." Gets up. "Thank you for your concern, I assure you I'm gonna take care of it."

"I didn’t mean to offend you. I only have Frank's best interests in mind," Enjolras says, but Grantaire is already by the door. Courfeyrac is staring at him.

"Uhm, hi." Courfeyrac smiles tentatively.

Grantaire nods at him. "Sorry to make your friend late, we were having a discussion about what a shitty parent I am."

"This is not what I was saying, please, try to understand I was just trying to--"

"--to shove your pretty college theories down my throat, yeah, I got that." Grantaire finishes. "But if you'll excuse me, I have a child to fail now. Bye."

Courfeyrac frowns. "Wow, you really pissed off Sexy Jesus, there, huh?"

--

“Thanks again, man.”

Bahorel waves him off. “Don’t worry about it. He was no trouble at all. But I feel like I should admit that I had to google a shit ton of things. I kinda just panicked when he started talking about Creedence and that cartoon about a guy that’s a grandpa and an uncle at once. What the fuck is up with that? Such weird shit.”

Grantaire chuckles. “Sorry. I should’ve given you the head’s up about that.”

“Yeah, that would’ve been great, thanks. How did the P-T thing go, by the way?”

Grantaire groans. “Ugh, awful. His teacher is a major asshole.”

Bahorel grimaces sympathetically. “What a shitty thing to be when you’re kids’ teacher, huh?”

“Don’t mention it.” He shakes his head. “Alright, you gotta go now, I have a six-year-old to put to bed.”

Bahorel bump fists him, and then leaves.

Grantaire goes up the stairs and knocks on the door. He doesn’t wait for a response, just turns the knob and very slowly walks in. “Hey, Champ, I’m coming in.”

Frank is pulling the top of his pajamas down his head. It makes his “okay” come out muffled and all too awkward.

“Here, let me help.” Grantaire rushes to him, but by the time he gets there, the soft shirt is already in place.

“That’s alright, Dad.” He sits by his bed, head bowed. “Am I in trouble?”

Grantaire sits on the tiny bed and picks his son up on his lap. “I don’t know… Should you be?”

Frank doesn’t say a word, just keep his head down, tiny hands held together on his lap. Grantaire sighs.

“Come on, buddy, you gotta talk to me. I thought we’d had this conversation before: you’re a big boy now. We can talk man to man.”

“Okay…” He says softly, head still bowed. “Mr. E. is mad at me, isn’t he?”

“He’s worried.” Grantaire corrects. “And I’m not gonna lie, me too. He told me you did this really bad thing to a buddy of yours. He said you tore up a picture when you got mad and I said to him, ‘what, no way! Frankie would never do that! He knows it’s not nice and it’d make the other kid super upset.’ But you know what? He says you really did that.” He gently tips the little boy’s chin up with his fingers. “Is this true? Did you really do that?”

Frank nods, still not looking his father in the eye. “I’m sorry…”

“I know you are, but it’s not me you need to apologise to. Did you say you’re sorry to your friend?”

Frank finally cuts his eyes to Grantaire’s. “She’s not my friend! She’s mean and she’s ugly and I hate her!”

“Woah, easy there, Champ. What did she do?”

Frank crosses his arms over his chest, brows knit together and an impressive pout on his lips. “She’s just mean.”

“That’s not good enough, Frankie. If this girl is being mean to you, I need to know how mean so we can do something about it. What did she do?”

He climbs out of Grantaire’s lap and into the bed, hides under the blankets and says, between sobs. “She said Mr. E. wasn’t gonna hang my picture.”

Grantaire gently pushes the blanket down until Frank’s head pokes out. “Why not?”

Frank rolls over on his stomach and says, mouth pressed against his pillow, “Because I didn’t draw mom, and she said family pictures need a mom.”

Grantaire’s throat closes up and the corners of his eyes burn. He licks his lips and breathes in deeply a few times before he attempts, voice a little hoarse, “She’s wrong, Champ.”

Frank grunts something inaudible and buries his head even deeper into the pillow. Grantaire turns him around. “Frankie, look me in the eyes.”

Frank aggressively closes his eyes shut.

“No, don’t do that. Come on, look at me.”

Frank finally opens his eyes, but the anger is still clear in the set of his jaw and brows.

Grantaire says again, slower and firmer this time. “ She’s wrong , okay. Family is everyone who loves you and wants to be with you and see you happy. Families come in different sizes and shapes. Ours is a little different, but it’s still as good as any.”

He runs his knuckles over his son’s soft cheek. “Some people don’t understand that and they say things we don’t like, but you can’t just tear everything down when you’re upset. Did you feel good about what you did?”

Frank shakes his head. “Mr. E. told me to tape it back together, but… but it was still ugly.”

“See? When you destroy something, sometimes you can’t put it back together. It just makes everyone upset. Next time that happens, what you do is: you take that picture and explain it to her, okay? Just ‘cause your family is little it doesn’t mean it’s not good.”

“Okay…”

“Okay, good. And you’re gonna apologise to her tomorrow. Show ‘em you’re a nice boy.”

Frank rolls his eyes, but nods. “Okay…”

“Good.” He kisses Frank’s hairline. “Are you ready to sleep?”

Frank shakes his head. “You didn’t tell me a story yet.”

Grantaire smiles. “Right, of course. Silly me.” He pretends to slap his own forehead. “But you know the rules.”

Frank squirms a bit and settles under the covers. “Okay, I’m ready.”

“Okay, here we go. This is the story about a brave little boy who used to feel so scared and sad all the time, he would sometimes be mean to the other children around him. He wanted to be a knight one day and go on adventures and make his kingdom proud, but he knew he still needed to learn a lot of stuff.

“So one day he met a Lord who wanted to teach him the ways to become the best knight that ever lived! And so, when the Lord told him that he should be nice to his buddies - even the ones he didn’t like -, he listened and each day he got closer and closer to getting his own sword and horse. Lord E of Jol Ras--”

Frank giggles. “Dad, is the Lord Mr. Enjolras?”

“Yes. And the king to that kingdom is me, which makes you the prince.” He tickles his son’s tummy. “Prince Frank of Niceland. Gotta give your subjects a good example, right?”

“Alriiiigght.”

Grantaire leans down and smacks a kiss to his cheek. “Okay, Champ. Ready to sleep now?” Francis nods enthusiastically. “Okay, time to say goodnight, then.”

“Goodnight, Daddy.”

“Goodnight, Champ.”

Grantaire walks out, turns the lights off but leaves the door open so that the light from the hall can leak in.

He’s sobbing before he gets to the living room, desperate for a drink. He dials with shaky fingers. Luckily she picks up on the second ring.

“Ép, can you talk?”

--

“That bad, huh?” Courfeyrac grimaces sympathetically over the brim of his wine glass.

“Worse, actually.” Enjolras complains passionately as he stirs the sauce. “He’s one those parents that are so far up their asses with their own problems, they’re incapable of recognising the child’s needs!”

“I see.”

“No, you don’t, because that’s really fucked up! He had the audacity of getting offended when I pointed out his son needed some structure! As a parent, shouldn’t that be obvious?”

“I suppose so, but--”

“And if you can’t provide it yourself, shouldn’t you be grateful for whatever help is thrown your way?”

“Okay, I’m sensing these questions are rhetorical so I’m just gonna go ahead and not answer.”

Enjolras huffs impatiently. “That’s the part I hate most about this job. I wish there was some way to just get into parents’ heads that we’re not the enemy.”

Courfeyrac licks lips and places his glass on the sink. “You’re someone else telling him how to raise his son,” he says softly. “I think I can see where the defensiveness is coming from.”

Enjolras glares at him. “It’s not what I’m doing. We want the same things here: to make sure he grows up well and mentally healthy. Why can’t he see that?”

Courfeyrac shrugs and Enjolras just rolls his eyes. This is one of the times he wishes Combeferre was there too.

Chapter Text

The alarm goes off at seven A.M. and he groans, turning his back on it.

Three minutes later, it goes off again.

Enjolras sighs, annoyed. He blindly palms his nightstand for his phone and turns it off altogether and, just like every Saturday, wonders why he does that to himself.

Why don’t I just buy the fucking DVDs , he thinks, bitterly, before slowly getting up.

---

“Rise and shine, Frankie.” Grantaire gently shakes the little boy visibly pretending to still be sleeping.

“Hhnnnghhh.” Frank complains and tries to swat his father away.

“Come on, breakfast’s ready and we need to go soon.” Grantaire shakes him again, more exaggeratedly, comically even. “I made you pancakes!”

“Don’t wan’ ‘em…” Frank whines, turning his back on Grantaire.

Grantaire inhales deeply and tries to remain calm. He forces himself to remember this is just a child and children have no concept of responsibility and schedules. Besides it’s freezing outside. Can’t blame the child for wanting to sleep in late.

“Alright. You don’t want the cocoa and banana-pancakes I made for you, I guess I’ll just have to eat them myself…”

Frank doesn’t even stir.

“Frankie, I’m serious. Breakfast’s going cold and we need to to your Aunt Éponine’s. Don’t you like playing with her?”

Frank shakes his head. Grantaire gasps dramatically. “You don’t like Aunt Ép? Oh, man, she’s gonna be so sad to hear that… She likes you so much and she was just telling me, last night, all the fun games she and Gav were planning to play with you.”

Frank curls up in on himself even further. “Go away…”

He can’t get late to work; he’d missed two days this week. If he’s late, there’s no way his supervisor will just let that slide.

And, ok, granted, that part-time job wasn’t the greatest thing in the world, but it paid the bills. And boy, were those piling up.

Suddenly, he’s struck with an idea. A terrible, terrible, awesome idea. He grins wickedly before promptly collapsing on top of Frankie.

“Daddy!” Frank yelps.

“No, no, you’re right, dude. This is the best idea ever.” He comments, rubbing his back against his son’s. “Ahhhh, so much better.”

“Dad, get off !” Frank grumbles, trying to push himself up.

“No, I totally see what you mean. It’s super cold outside and it’s so comfy in here…. You know what? Let’s just stay like this all day.”

“No!”

“No? But I thought you wanted to spend the day in bed.”

“Dad, no! Get off me!”

“Nope. I’d only get up to take you to your Aunt Ép, but since we’re not going--”

“We’re going! I wanna go play with Aunt Éponine!”

Grantaire cackles. “But didn’t you say you didn’t like her?”

“I like her better than you!”

“Well, obviously. Who doesn’t?” He sits up. “So. Are we ready to put on some big boy clothes?”

“No.” Frank grumbles, but kicks his feet off the bed and grumpily pads into the bathroom.

---

Enjolras is happily munching down his cereal, hair still wet from the shower, when his phone beeps.

Ferre: Marius has an important announcement to make. 

Me: That would explain the FB event notification i got at 1A.M. 

Ferre: That was Courfeyrac, actually. Did you read it? 

Me: No. 

Ferre: He’s gathering everyone at the Musain for a sort of Reunion Brunch, as he calls it. 

Me: Is the musain even still open for business? 

Ferre: Apparently, yes. 

Ferre: I’m asking because I was told to do so, but I guess we both know the answer already: are you coming? 

Me: It’s so cold outside and it’s in the city… besides, marius and i have never been that close. Not worth it. 

Me: But, please, do tell me all about it later, if it’s a life altering event. 

Me: It prob isn’t, though. 

Ferre: If you’re sure… 

Me: Oh, i definitely am.

 

It’s less than five minutes when his phone starts beeping again and for a few seconds, it just doesn’t stop. He’s not all that surprised to see Courfeyrac’s name blinking in his screen.

 

Courf: Y  

Courf: O  

Courf: U  

Courf: A  

Courf: B  

Courf: S  

Courf: O  

Courf:

Courf: U  

Courf: T  

Courf: E  

Courf: A  

Courf:

Courf: S  

Courf:  H  

Courf: O

Courf: L  

Courf:

Courf: DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA JUST HOW HARD WAS IT TO PUT THIS TOGETHER?? 

Courf: DO YOU??? 

Courf: I HOPE YOUR LAZY ASS DIES ALONE AND YOUR REMAINS GET EATEN BY ALL THE CATS THAT’LL BE YOUR ONLY COMPANY IN THE LONG RUN, BECAUSE YOU PUSH EVERYONE AWAY. 

 

Enjolras rolls his eyes and tosses his phone aside. He presses play again.

Two minutes later, it beeps again.

 

Courf: Okay, I’m sorry, that was overly dramatic. I don’t want you to get eaten by cats or die alone. 

Courf: But would it kill you to haul your ass off that couch and come see the guys? It’s been ages.

Me: I know, i’m sorry. But we can do something else next week, maybe? promise i’ll come then. 

Courf: Marius will be devastated. 

Me: He’ll get over it. 

Courf: Fine. I just hope you’re not ditching us for Disney musicals. That’d be humiliating. 

Me: It’s job research. i’m doing this for the kids. 

Courf: I hate you so much right now. 


---

When he and Frank walk up to Éponine’s porch, she’s already waiting for them by the door, steaming mug in hands.

Grantaire has the unpleasant realization that she looks exactly how he feels: drained . Smudged mascara just beneath her eyes, hair tied in a careless bun and pale as hell. He almost feels bad about this. Girl looks like she could use a week of sleep, but he’s fresh out of options at this point.

“Hey, little one.” She smiles fondly, ruffling Frank’s thick black hair. “Gav got this new game about some war, I guess, that I’m sure you’re gonna love.” Frank’s eyes go wide and he dashes inside.

“Hey, remember how he’s six years old?” Grantaire fake-laughs. “Cause I was under the impression you were gonna let my pre-schooler kill pixelated soldiers. Wild.”

“Yup. Guaranteed to fry his brains out.” She takes a sip of her beverage. “Hi. Anything I should know about him? Diseases, medication, etc.?”

“Nah.” He hands her Frank’s backpack. “He’s pretty chill.”

“Well, that’s good to know. Gav is a nightmare sometimes. He only eats one specific brand of cereal--”

“No, I mean, when you put it like that, just usual kid stuff, I guess. He’s not a gremilin, you know?”

“So he can eat anything?”

“Uhm, that depends. You see, he just ate breakfast, so in about 4 hours he’s gonna be hungry again. I’ve put a tupperware with an apple and a banana in his backpack, he really likes those, but the apple needs to be peeled and he won’t eat the banana unless it’s sliced - oh, and if you have peanut butter, that’s even better. Ahm, he’ll eat anything for lunch, really, but he has this way of giving you the puppy eyes to skip lunch and go straight to the soda and dessert - don’t fall for that! I have this trick I pull on him to cut that out: just stare at him for a whole minute and he’ll eat it all up. Oh, and he hates baths. Hates them . So you’re gonna have to bargain with him; I’ve also put his Toy Story DVD in the backpack, so you can tell him I said he wasn’t allowed to watch it until he’s showered.”

Éponine raises an eyebrow. “Is that all?”

“Oh!” He runs back to the car, opens the passenger seat, grabs another bag and rushes back. “Forgot about this.”

Éponine takes a peek. “Oh, wow, toys. Because we don’t have those here.”

“No, trust me, you’re gonna thank me. Frankie gets a little possessive.” He hands her the bag. “And this,” he fishes out a small teddy bear. “is Charlie. He won’t sleep without it.” He fidgets with the tips of his scarf. “Just a heads up: I’m probably gonna call every half an hour to check up on him, so don’t take it personally, okay?”

Éponine rolls her eyes. “R, relax . This ain’t my first rodeo, Cowboy.” She flicks his nose. “Call as many times as you want, but I’ll bet he’ll be so busy playing that fucking game he won’t even notice you’re gone.”

Grantaire’s eyebrows go up and his mouth opens wide in mock-sock. “ How dare you ? Are you implying my son won’t even care I’m not there?”

“Pfft. Not a bit.”

He glares. “Fuck you. Anyway, change of subject ‘cause I’m running late: is there anything I should know? About work, that is.”

“Yup. Lars hinted he might wanna switch our weekend shifts by next month, so there’s that to look forward to.”

“Oh, great. Life keeps getting better. I assume I have no choice?”

“Sure you do.” She sips her coffee. “Quitting.”

Grantaire flips her off, but then kisses her cheek. “Ok, gotta go now. I’d say ‘take care and get some sleep’, but if anything happens to my kid I’m gonna be forced to murder you, and that’d just be tragic.”

---

By 11A.M. the morning cartoons are over and Enjolras has a respectable 15-pages worth of notes to work with. He’s outlined 3 different projects to try out with his students that’ll render him creative and exciting classes for at least a month.

Pleased with himself, he gets up, stretches and jumps in place a few times. Having been sat for so long, he feels like he needs to move, needs to feel in motion. Lazy Saturdays are only ever appealing when he’s either sick or not in the mood to drive for hours in the snow.

He cleans up the living room, puts everything back where they belong, does the dishes. Makes himself some tea and ponders on what to do next.

He doesn’t particularly feel bad for not attending Marius’ “meeting”, but he does wish he could’ve seen his friends. A part of him is still nostalgic over those idealistic college years when they thought they’d change the world if they shouted their principles loud enough.

Alas, the real world is a little less indulgent, and they each had to go their separate ways. But nostalgia actually gives him a great idea and after a few quick swipes and taps on his phone, he gets the information he needs. He pushes himself off the counter, put on some warmer clothes and drives off to the local homeless shelter.

---

Saturday mornings, thankfully, aren’t quite as busy as weekdays - mostly early morning joggers and aspiring writers scattered around a few tables in the back - and so Grantaire and Bahorel allow themselves the luxury of actually taking longer breaks before noon.

Grantaire had been in the back alley, blissfully enjoying his only smoke of the day - self-restraint, a hard learned lesson - when the loud roar of excited voices and what sounded like violent drumming coming from inside the Café startled him. He runs back inside, hoping it wasn’t a fight he’d have to break up. Some of those writers were known to be… Intense.

As soon as he steps into the shop he realizes the roaring was cheering . Five men at a table in the mezzanine were cheering, screaming, punching the table and stomping their feet against the wood floor. Grantaire felt like starting a fight of his own. Fucking yuppies.

“You know, there are bars for that kind of shit. Why can’t they just go there?” Grantaire complains, tilting his head back and glaring up at the oblivious group.

Bahorel grunts. Grantaire notices him aggressively washing the blender’s cup. “I fucking know, right? One of those fuckers had better won the fucking lottery, or so help me god.”

Grantaire snorts and saddles up next to his friend. “Fucking assholes.” They fist bump. “Here, let me take care of that. You can take five, if you want.”

“Nah. It’s all good.” He dries the cup and places it in its slot. “So. How was the talk with the kid?”

“It was okay, I guess. I mean, I’m pretty sure he was just glad he didn’t get in trouble and by Monday he won’t remember any of it, but… Yeah. Could’ve gone worse.”

“Children are smarter than that. He knows you’re onto him, so I think he’s gonna wise up. Before you know it, he’s gonna be begging to have sleepovers with his new bratty friends.” Bahorel says, shoving him lightly. Grantaire squints at him.

“He’s six. I don’t think he’s that socially developed yet.”

“Yo!” Someone shouts from above them. They look up to see one of the loud customers bent over the railing. He looks somewhat familiar to Grantaire, but, then again, dark-haired, broad shoulders and leather jackets aren’t exactly strangers to him, so he just ignores the spark of recognition. “We want your best alcoholic-anything!”

“Sure! Which one of you is coming down here to get it?” Bahorel shouts back.

Grantaire is sure that’s the kind of thing that could very well throw his ass out in the street, but to his endless relief, the half-bent guy just giggles, shouts “Sorry!” and runs down the stairs.

“Our friend is getting married!” He exclaims at them when he gets down, drumming against the counter, as if it’s all the explanation they needed.

The annoying part, which Grantaire will never admit to anyone, is that it just might be.

Bahorel busies himself by making the drinks, the traitor. Grantaire is left to make the awkward small-talk while the client waits.

“Huh.” He says, eloquently. “Congratulations?”

“Thanks!” The customer beams, nodding enthusiastically. He looks up at his friends in the mezzanine and he looks genuinely happy. Grantaire can’t help but smile at that; looks like a real happy moment for those guys. When the guy looks back down, Grantaire realizes he might be staring, so he quickly looks away.

“Hey, don’t I know you from somewhere?”

“Shit,” Grantaire thinks. Just as he feared. He shook his head, shrugged it off. “Nah, I don’t think so. I mean, do you come here often?”

‘Do you come here, often? What the fuck is wrong with you, R?’ , he thinks and mentally kicks himself.

“Not anymore, but me and my friends used to come here every other day almost a decade ago.”

“Ah, I see. Yeah, no, then I don’t think so, man. I’ve only been working here for a couple of weeks.”

“Pretty sure I’ve seen you before, though.” He leans closer. “What’s your name again?”

Grantaire points at his name tag.

The man frowns, looking away for a second, then, suddenly, his face lights up and he’s grinning back at Grantaire. “Right, of course!” And he offers his hand. Uncertain, Grantaire shakes it. “Courfeyrac.”

Grantaire nods. “Right.”

Bahorel arrives with the drinks right at that moment, and Grantaire silently thanks the universe.

On his way up the stairs, Courfeyrac says “I hope everything’s worked out well with your son, by the way.”

Grantaire watches him climb up the stairs with an unpleasant feeling thrumming under his skin.

“What was that about?” Bahorel asks, drying his hands on his apron.

“I don’t know. It was weird as fuck.”

---

Ferre: Marius is getting married! 

 

Courf: MARIUS IS GETTING MARRIED TO THAT GIRL HE USED TO STALK IN COLLEGE!

Courf: SEXY JESUS WORKS AT THE MUSAIN, BY THE WAY! 

Courf: YOU SHOULD’VE BEEN HERE! I LOVE EVERYONE IN THIS BAR. 

Courf: Also. Did you know that Joly and Bossuet are now dating a girl and she’s a gift from heaven above? Her name’s Musichetta and she’s my current religion.

<3333 

 

Enjolras grins down at his phone’s screen.

 

Me: That’s great i’m really happy for him! 

 

Me: Tell him i said ‘congratulations’. 

Ferre: You might get the chance to say so yourself. Courfeyrac is already planning the bachelor party. 

 

He shakes his head, smiling, and then shoves phone back in his pocket, attention once again on the task at hand.

Enjolras pours them soup and talks to them animatedly, pleased to be back in the environment he feels he was born to be. Teaching children is great and he loves his job, but there’s nothing quite like the feel of making an actual, immediate change.

---

After his shift at the Café is over, just a little after noon, Grantaire drives back to Éponine’s house.

Just as he predicted, the boys are playing some kind of war-themed video game. Very, very loudly.

“They just ate lunch,” she tells him while trying to suppress a yawn. “If you could get them to turn the sound off I’d love you forever.”

“Don’t worry about it.” He assures her. She retreats to her room and he goes back to the living room.

“Hey, boys, who wants to build a snowman?” They shush him. “Okay, let me rephrase that: hey, boys, let’s all go outside and build a snowman, because your sister,” he flicks Gavroche’s ear. “Needs to get some sleep because she worked all night.”

“But, dad!” Frank whines, punching his own leg. “We need to rescue our unit!”

“Yeah, sounds like a very noble mission you got there, but I’m sure your comrades will still be trapped god-knows-where when you get back. Come on.” He tosses their coats on the couch.

Obviously it’s not that easy to convince two children to put their video game down and go play outside, where it’s cold and wet, but Grantaire manages to convince them by telling them he’d let them have dessert before dinner that night. Sure, every experienced parent and child psychologist would frown upon this obvious bribe, but Grantaire has learned to pick his battles wisely and, after all, all’s fair in war and parenting.

---

Enjolras comes back home exhausted . He plops down face-first on his bed, bitterly thinking that he just might be a little too old for this.

Helping to feed the homeless turned into counseling, which turned into giving the children there a build-your-own-toys class, that turned into a two-hour long planning with the shelter’s staff about projects he could get involved in the upcoming weekends.

As he wishes he could just magically conjure up a large cup of coffee by simply willing it into existence, he wonders how the hell he accomplished this sort of thing in college. He doesn’t remember sleeping much, so that must’ve been it.

---

Nine o’clock comes by faster than Grantaire would’ve liked it to. He knocks on Éponine’s door. She opens it after a few minutes, eyes barely open. “Hmm?”

“Ép. I gotta go. The boys already ate and are in bed. I couldn’t get Gav to take a bath, though. What the hell do you do? Put a gun to that kid’s head, or something?”

Éponine runs a hand over her face. “Alright. I’ll deal with that.”

“Thanks. See you tomorrow.”

---

If anyone asked - and not many did, surprisingly -, Grantaire would just smirk, shrug and say that stripping for money wasn’t as bad as you’d think. There were worse jobs out there and it sure paid the bills.

It was more than that, obviously. In his teens, Grantaire really loved to dance and had some mild ambition towards becoming a back-up dancer going on tours around the world. Grinding against the stage isn’t quite the same thing, but he relishes in the screaming and cheering from the crowd, very aware of the power he holds in that moment, even if it’s only because the men and women there feel like they own him to some extent.

---

Enjolras wakes up from his all-too-short nap when his stomach grumbles too loudly. After a quick inner debate on whether or not it was worth getting up at all, he decided to just make himself some ramen.

Since he’s up and eating anyway, he decides he might as well watch some more Disney Channel and ends up making more notes for future classes until well-past midnight.

---

Grantaire grinds against the redhead girl he’s straddling. Shirt and pants long gone, he’s down to nothing but his thong and the black cuffs around his wrists. He tries not to blink much, because all the sweat is making the black eyeliner melt and it burns his eyes.

The girl attempts to run her hands up his torso; he smirks and gently puts them away. Thinking about the large tip he might’ve just thrown out the window, he holds both her hands above her head with one his own, leans down further and grinds some more.

“Who wants a round of Tequila?” He shouts. The audience roars. Winking, he says. “Well, the bar’s right over there, ladies and gents, and the day we run out of my buddy José, you can be damn sure it’s the day we close the doors.”

More cheering and wolf whistling. From the corner of his eye, he sees Jehan doubling around a table nearby.

“But my friend down here, man, she sure looks thirsty. That’s my good pal, Jehan,” he points Jehan, who looks up at the stage like a deer caught in the headlights. “Come on, man, don’t be shy. She doesn’t bite much.” He winks. “Two shots, if you don’t mind.”

Jehan doesn’t seem all that happy about it, but a few minutes later he goes up on the stage holding a tray with two shots, a small pile of salt and two slices of lime.  There’s mild cheering and Grantaire just rolls with it.

Jehan turns to leave, but Grantaire grabs him by the leg. “Not quite through with ya yet, buddy.” Jehan stares him down. “Aww, don’t be like that. Bet you’re gonna like it.”

Jehan shakes his head. His braid flips adorably when he does.

“Now, ladies first.” Grantaire pulls the girl up, so they’re both sitting up, but he’s still straddling her. “You know the law says you’re not allowed to touch, right? Well, I think that only applies to hands, so...” He takes one the limes and rubs it on his neck, then dusts the salt. He raises an eyebrow at the girl. “I imagine you know how this works?” Her eyes widen and he hands her shot; tilts his head to one side, pushing his hair aside. “Whenever you’re ready, Sugar.”

Red is happy to oblige and licks his neck with all the finesse of a horny pre-teen. He chuckles. “Nice. I think it’s my turn now.”

He takes his remaining slice of lime and rubs it on Jehan’s hip. The audience goes wild. He acts like it’s no big deal. Rubs some salt over where he’d rubbed the fruit. Leans in to whisper in her ear. “Not everyone gets this special treatment, but I kinda liked having you underneath me.” Places the slice of lime between her lips and quickly turns to seductively lick the salt off an unamused Jehan.

Chapter Text

“Alright, kiddo.” Grantaire says as he unclasps the safety lock on Frank’s kiddie-seat. “Auntie Ép is gonna pick you up when school is over, okay?”

He’s dragging Frank out of the car when hears it.

“Good morning, Mr. Grantaire.”

Grantaire startles and accidentally hits Frank’s head against the car door when pulling him out.

“Ouch!” His son yelps and rubs the side of his head, glaring at him.

“Oh, my god, I’m so sorry!” He sputters. Rubs that area himself, soothing and looking for a  lump. “Does it hurt?”

He takes Frank’s glare as a sign that it might not hurt. Reluctantly, he turns to face their newcomer.

Mr. E, as Frank calls him, stands not four feet away, watching the scene with an inscrutable expression on his face. Grantaire lets his son slide from his arms and into the sidewalk.

Grantaire smiles politely, but his inner monologue is running a creative stream of curses. It’s bad enough that the guy already thinks he’s a bad, non-participative father, now he’s also given him the child abuse ammunition.

Enjolras reaches his hand out and Grantaire takes it, but a petty impulse makes him say. “Good morning, Mr…?”

“Enjolras.”

The effect is utterly unsatisfying. Enjolras doesn’t seem upset or annoyed. If anything, judging by the warm smile and soft look, he was being rather condescending. Maybe that’s just something teachers get a lot: parents not getting their names.

“I’m glad to see Frank will be making it to class on time today.” He’s saying now. Yes, condescending. Definitely.

Grantaire feels his eyebrows knitting together. “Thanks. I was aiming for your approval.”

Enjolras sighs. “That’s not what I meant. That’s not even what I came here to say. I just wanted to clear up the misunderstanding we had last week.”

“Oh, so you didn’t mean to say I’m a terrible father? Wow, I wonder how I could’ve gotten that wrong,” he stops talking when he feels Frank pull on the leg of his jeans. “What is it, buddy?”

Frank gestures for him to crouch down to his level. When he does, he stage-whispers. “Yes?”

“Dad, you have to be nice to Mr. E.,” Frank whispers in his ear. “He’s the teacher.”

Grantaire chuckles and whispers back. “I know, I know, I’m sorry. Should I apologise?”

Frank grins widely, nodding enthusiastically. “Mr. E., my dad wants to say something to you.”

Enjolras nods. “I’m all ears.”

Grantaire feels his cheeks burn. He steels himself to say, “I’m sorry, Mr. E., that was very rude. Let’s start again: good day, sir! How are you today?”

Enjolras’ lips curve minutely upwards. “Very well, thank you. How about you?”

“Just fine, thanks. Could be better if I wasn’t running late for work.”

“Right, of course. Listen, I just wanted to make sure you understood that I only have Frank’s best interest at heart.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt that. I mean, you’re literally being paid to care, so it’d be weird if you didn’t.”

Grantaire was half expecting a glare or - dare he hope? - to be flipped off,  but the actual response frustrates him even more.

“That’s not why I do that,” Enjolras enunciates every syllable carefully, slowly, as someone would do to explain a very complex concept to a small child. “I care deeply for every single one of my students and their development is main concern.”

“Right, of course,” Grantaire sneers. “I’m sure you’d be just as dedicated if you had to do it for free.”

Enjolras smiles calmly. “What makes you think I wouldn’t?”

No one would. They’re not your kids.”

“Well, of course they are.” When Grantaire raises an eyebrow at him, he adds, “To an extent, of course.”

Frank looks from one adult to the other and frowns. “Are you two fighting?”

Grantaire crouches down again and gives his son a nearly-bone-crushing-hug; kisses him wetly on the cheek. “No, buddy, we’re not. That’s just how adults talk.” He looks up at Enjolras. “Isn’t that right, Mr. E.?”

“I imagine some adults talk like that, yes.”

Grantaire winks at him. To Frank, he says softly and barely above a whisper. “Be a good boy, ok?”

Frank giggles. “ Always .”

Grantaire kisses his hair. “Good.”

Frank walks up the school, kicking snow as he goes along. Grantaire watches him for a few seconds and then turns to leave.

“You have a good day, Mr. Grantaire,” Enjolras says and Grantaire would swear up and down he could hear the sarcasm dripping from those words.

He turns back to wave at him. “Oh, you too. Please don’t strain a muscle watching the kids play. Bet it’s a real hard job.”

Enjolras tilts his head, a frown cutting deep through the lines on his forehead.

Finally , Grantaire thinks.

“Excuse me? Do you think you’re the only one with a job and responsibilities around here?”

Grantaire rolls his eyes. “ Hell , no. But I’m also not the one telling everyone how to handle theirs.”

“I’m not telling you how to do your job, I’m simply making a few suggestions. After all, it is my job to teach and care for the well-being of these children.”

“Uh-huh. Right. Always thought that was a parent’s job, but hey, I’ve been wrong before, so.” He snaps his fingers. “Do me a solid, would ya? Why don’t you write down all your little suggestions and I’ll read them when I actually have the time, huh?”

Enjolras glares at him. “ I just might .”

Grantaire throws finger guns at him and climbs into his car.

---

Frank loves Mondays, because Mondays are Lego Day at school.

People seem to think that Lego Day means just sitting around, building random things with Lego, but that’s what grown-ups would think, because grown-ups always think the dumbest things. It’s too obvious and really boring.

No, Lego Day means Mr. E., Mr. C. and Miss Fantine gather up their students in the playground and put them in teams. Then the teams get a color and a special mission.

“Team Sun, find all the green, purple and orange pieces hidden in the playground. Team Rainbow, find all the blue, red and yellow. Team Moon, find the black, white, grey and pink ones.”

After they find all of the colors, each team has to build something cool with them, like a robot leg, the wing of an airplane, the head of a bunny, the roof of a castle, wheels for a car, a pyramid and other things like that. When they’re done, all the teams mash these parts together and then comes the best part: telling a story.

Whatever that mash-up turns into has to be the main character of a story they all create together. They have to stop at some really exciting point and then the next team picks up from there, on the spot, no thinking it beforehand. It has to come off the top of your head at that second!

Frank really likes Mondays, because he loves telling stories. When he grows up, he wants to tell people stories like in the books he has at school and at home.  Mr. E. says that’s called “being a writer ”, and that he has a friend who does that and is very smart and just like Frank, loves coming up with different stories and characters, which means Mr. E. thinks it’s cool that Frank wants to be a writer .

Susan wants to be an astronaut, which Frank thinks is just a stupid thing to want to be, because astronauts have to go to space to do that, and everyone knows there are monsters in space. Brian wants to be a cook; which is kind of an okay, but cooking is what Moms and Dads do, he doesn’t know if he wants to be someone’s dad one day. Seems like a lot of hard work.

Being a writer, Frank can tell stories about people cooking for their kids in space, before fighting off monsters. And that’s a million times more fun.

He’s doing exactly that, narrating this elaborate tale of a wizard who got in a fight with an evil witch and was then cursed into becoming a Skyscraper. Obviously, he couldn’t undo that curse, because it’s a curse and the heroes can never break these spells on their own because they need their friends to do that, and so the Skyscraper Wizard decides to roam the land asking for help to avenge him. All of his friends lend him a part of themselves, so he ends up with the wheel of his racing car best friend to use a shield; the sword of his knight friend to fight to the death one day - always useful -; the heart of a princess whose life he’d once saved and just as he was about to tell them how the king had given the crown for power, Ugly Charlotte interrupts him.

“The princess can’t give him her heart,” she says. “My mom said that people need their hearts, or they die .” That last bit was whispered, as if it were too horrible to be even contemplated.

Mr. E. had been writing down everything Frank was saying at the time but he looks up at that. He opens his mouth to say something, but Mr. C. beats him to it.

“But I’m sure your mom was talking about people in our world. Frankie here is telling us about the princess of a different kind of world, where they can take their hearts and live on with no problems. Isn’t that right, Frankie?”

Frank nods, but truth be told, he hadn’t actually thought that part through. His Mom always said he lived in her heart and would live there forever; now his Dad tells him his mom lives in his heart and will live there forever. Hearts are important; they’re powerful; it’s in the heart that all the love and strength lives. It makes sense that hearts are things you can give other people when you want to help them.

When he argues that, Ugly Charlotte scoffs. “Pfft. That’s just stupid. My Mom says the only thing living in our hearts is blood. That when we get hurt and it bleeds, it’s because our hearts are beating and it spits the blood out. People can’t live in hearts because then they’d get spat out when we get hurt.”

Frank remembers that he’d promised his Dad he’d be good to Ugly Charlotte, but he yells at her before he even has time to remember their deal. “Your face is stupid!”

---

“Frankie, why aren’t you playing with the other children?”

He looks up from his sketchbook to see Miss Fantine leaning down to sit beside him on the bench. Frank likes Miss Fantine; she’s always nice and has such a soft voice and he doesn’t like to think about that, but she reminds him of his mom, a little.

He turns his attention back to his picture, where he’s drawing the wizard standing, triumphant, on top of the dead witch. “I don’t like the game they’re playing,” he replies, shrugging.

“All of them? All of the games that all of the children are playing?” Miss Fantine pokes his side and he squirms away. “Now, Frankie, I don’t believe that.”

Frank doesn’t say anything to that, because he doesn’t know what he should say to that. He hadn’t paid attention to what the other children were doing because that just doesn’t matter. He knows he likes drawing and thinking up stories a lot better than he does playing tag or whatever else the other kids are doing. The games are always the same, his stories are different each time.

Miss Fantine taps his wizard. “Is that how the story was supposed to end?” He nods. Miss Fantine scoots closer to him, staring at his picture for a long time before asking. “Is she sleeping?”

And that’s the part about talking to grown-ups that Frank really, really, really hates. They always think he’s stupid and talk down on him. He looks up at her and says, very seriously. “No, she’s dead.”

Miss Fantine frowns at that. She looks down at the picture again. “Why is that? Obviously the Wizard didn’t kill her, because someone that strong and clever wouldn’t do something so… mean.”

Frank hands her the sketchbook. He points at the Wizard holding his arms up in victory. “You can’t see that because he’s wearing the mask, but he’s smiling and he’s happy. He fought against the witch and won. That’s why she’s dead.”

“Right, of course, but being so powerful, don’t you think that maybe he could’ve just talked to her and they could have worked things out?”

Frank stares at her. Adults really don’t understand anything. “She cursed him. You don’t talk that out, you have to kill her. It’s the rule .”

“Sounds like a silly rule. I’m sure he could’ve broken that and tried to convince the witch to take back her punishment.” She counters, taking the crayon from him. “Can I?”

Frank takes his things back. “No. I’m not allowed to break any rules.”

Miss Fantine ruffles his hair. People always like to do that, but he hates when that happens, not for any particular reason, he just doesn’t like it when people touch him when he’s not expecting them to.

“You create these stories and give these characters life. You can make up and break as many rules as you can. That’s the best part about telling stories.” She tells him. “Doesn’t that sound like a better ending, for the Wizard to realize his mistake after what he does and then bring her back to life? They could live happily ever after together.”

“He killed her. She would hate him.”

Miss Fantine winks at him and ruffles his hair again. “I’m sure she could find it in her heart to forgive him.”

She gets up and leaves before he has the chance to argue that he can’t bring people back to life, no matter how much he wants to.

---

“Mr. Grantaire,

Your idea of arranging all of my suggestions into a neat list was actually very positive. It’s nice to see that you’re finally in agreement that this is about your son’s well-being and not either of our egos.

I have no doubt that you sat down and talked to Frank about his socializing issues, as any concerned parent would, but seeing as he continued to exhibit signs of hostility towards other students and drew a picture of a male sorcerer not only punishing, but bringing down and slaughtering a female one, you can see why that is something I would see as a red flag.

Again: Frank is an excellent, creative and smart child who has the potential for great things, but he needs as much academic support as he does social and emotional. (As you obviously know.)

So here is the list you requested:

 

  1. Be as involved in his school life as you can.

Career Day is in two weeks. Children are always excited to bring their parents to the classroom and watch them talk about what they do for a living. It’s inspiring and a great social experience, as the barriers between the adult’s and child’s lives are brought down.

You implied to have a very time-consuming job, but I trust that, for your son, you would be willing to take the time off and talk about the important work that competes for his attention.

  1. I’ve noticed he likes to create stories. That’s an ability that should be encouraged. Do it. Often.

He told me that you sometimes tell him bedtime stories, which is fantastic, but perhaps you should let him tell you a few from now on. You’ll definitely notice hints of violence and resentment; do your best to disencourage those. In my experience, children lash out and resort to violence when they feel isolated and unsafe. Fewer things are more tragic than that.

  1. Lastly, get to know the workers investing time and energy into helping your son become a happier, more intellectually sophisticated individual. We don’t wage a war against parents, but against the ignorance and prejudice that unfortunately plague our society. If we have any hope to eradicate it, it’s our mission in life to illuminate children so we can make them immune to all forms of hate.

Fear and isolation are one of the gateways to hate.

In the long run, you’ll be glad you chose to figuratively fight with us, not against us.

I’ve mentioned it before, but perhaps it would be better if he were allowed to talk to our Counselor. Frank should talk to someone about what he’s going through, even if it’s not you or me.

 

Sincerely,

Enjolras.”

 

Even after the the third read, Grantaire doesn’t think it sounds any less ridiculous.

He’s sitting in the kitchen, waiting for the babysitter to arrive so he can leave for the Club. She’s twenty minutes late and maybe that influences his mood a bit, but he still crumbles the piece of paper and tosses it on the table.

“How is that guy even real ?” He mutters, puffing out the smoke and putting the rest of his cigarette out.

Grantaire taps his fingers out against the tabletop and honestly considers replying with a simple “well aware, thanks”, but at as a last-minute whim he picks the note up again, smooths it out and scribbles. “Alright. Let’s try it your way, Sir. How do I sign up for the PTA?”

Chapter Text

Grantaire isn’t stupid. A little reckless and impulsive sometimes, but not stupid. Since a few years ago, his decisions usually involve a lot of risk calculating and planning.

Five minutes after replying to Enjolras’ note, he went online and did a massive research on PTAs. Based on that, he assumed that those meetings were held at night, and planned on attending them every other week in the spare time he had before his shift at the Club.

Easy, quick, very little commitment; just sit through an hour-long meeting about old swing-sets that need to be fixed and maybe Enjolras would get off his back.

Sitting in the cafeteria, surrounded by soccer-moms and school staff members when he was supposed to be taking the morning shift at the Musain, he thinks maybe he should rant about misleading online information on all those single parents’ forums.

The taste of too-sweet,  watered-down coffee still lingers on his tongue, despite how many - old as balls - crackers he’s eaten. He almost swears off free coffee for the rest of his life, but the nice old lady that poured him some about five minutes into the meeting keeps looking at him expectantly, so he just forces a smile back and make vague gestures about how great the whole thing is.

But it isn’t . It never will be and whoever made that coffee deserves to drown in it.

The tables are arranged in a circle and everyone else around him seems actually excited to be talking about the cost of a hypothetical trip to a circus. Should the PTA agree on taking the children to an actual circus? Apparently it’s a taboo subject, as they keep disagreeing on this because circuses are oppressive to animals. He wasn’t even aware that  there still were circuses featuring animals out there.

He feels like hitting his head against the nearest wall until his brains come out.

The worst part is how Enjolras, who’s sitting exactly across from him, keeps smirking faintly.

---

Frank’s father does show up for the meeting, and it rubs him in the wrong way that he’s surprised about that. It’s a pleasant surprise, though; children should always be their parents’ priorities and it’s refreshing to see some people still agree with him on that.

Enjolras tries not to stare too obviously, though. Just a few glances, but he can see the young father is very engrossed in the meeting and is even taking notes.

---

Grantaire has never been more bored in his entire life.

Oh, how suffering and opinionated the upper-middle class is. He could kill for a cigarette or a drink right now but he feels this would be frowned upon. He sketches harder.

Maybe he’ll color it when he gets home.

---

“Alright, the final topic. We’ve been toeing around it for several weeks now, but wee need to make a decision today. The repainting,” Principal Valjean begins and if the synchronized groaning around him is any indication, Grantaire assumes it’s another national tragedy. Valjean signals for them to be quiet and continues. “We still haven’t found someone for that job.”

“I say the school looks fine the way it is right now,” a lady chewing gum chimes and from the way that she doesn’t look up from her iPad, he suspects she’s as pleased to be there as he is.

“Are you kidding me? It’s been the same picture of a duck and her ducklings following her for the past decade! We need some change.” One of the teachers exclaims.

“And the paint in the teacher’s lounge is peeling away!” Courfeyrac says. Grantaire recognized earlier that morning as the enthusiastic guy from the Musain.

There is some justice in the world, after all. Not only did Courfeyrac turned out not to be one of his old hook-ups making things awkward, he was also one of the few salvageable things from this nightmarish meeting. He’s incredibly passionate about pretty much everything. Ten minutes into their session and he had to be dragged down from a chair. He was really upset about the lack of colored markers.

“Why is that even relevant?” One of the few fathers present says, covering his mouth to stifle a yawn. “The children aren’t allowed in the teacher’s lounge, are they?”

“This is a kindergarten. Do you have any idea how depressing it is to watch paint peel away from walls in a kindergarten school? Do you?

“Yes, thank you, Courfeyrac, that was very… Spirited,” Principal Valjean says, standing up. “The matter of the fact is that we we’ve passed the point of discussing whether or not the repainting is necessary. It must be done, no more arguments. We just need a professional willing to accept the budget we can work with.”

Grantaire irritably thinks of all the things he considers actual problems, like the extra hours he’ll have to put in at the Musain to make up the time he had to take off to sit through a heated argument over wall-painting and how it’ll have to be taken from what little sleep he gets in the afternoons.

“Perhaps we should look for workers in places we hadn’t considered before.” He looks up from his sketch of a tiny version of himself chugging a bottle of wine to watch Enjolras. “I’ve been to the local Homeless Shelter this past week--”

Enjolras is interrupted by several women protesting at the same time.

The homeless shelter?” One of them gasps. “Are out of your mind?”

“Those people are dangerous!” A young redhead girl, not far from him, says just above a whisper.

Enjolras’ fiery eyes sweep the room while everyone argues. Grantaire puts down his notebook and pencil. This boring ass meeting suddenly got really interesting.

About a minute or two after the first interruption, he speaks again, but this time is different somehow. His voice is clearer, sharper; it’s almost commanding. Silence falls instantly.

“. Those are people of flesh and blood, just like you. The difference is that maybe they didn’t have the same opportunities as you did to make better life choices.” He pauses, but no one says anything, so he goes on. “I think it would be a great lesson for the children: compassion, honest work and the importance of new beginnings.”

“Yeah, awesome lesson. It’s never too late to be exploited by the upper classes.” Grantaire catches himself arguing and all of sudden there several eyes on him, including Enjolras’. There was something satisfying in having that fire aimed at him. He shifts back in his seat and lets a grin spread over his lips.

Enjolras opens his mouth, but it’s Courfeyrac who shoots back.

“You know, that’s a really short-sighted way to look at this. Instead of walking by a homeless person and tapping ourselves in the back for giving them a quarter, we could actually offer them a job. Kids would see ostracized people regain their dignity, we’d get a freshly painted school and those people would walk away with not only cash in their pockets, but also some dignity. I don’t see a downside here.”

“But how much of it would they even understand? The children, I mean.” Courfeyrac inhales, index finger raised defiantly, but Grantaire beats him to it. “No, seriously. They’re kids. For all they’ll know, those guys are just gonna be another set of grown-ups around the school while they eat clay. And besides, how much contact would they have, anyway?”

“Are you implying your son, for example, wouldn’t be smart enough to understand the principle of the thing?” Enjolras needles him.

“Oh, no, my son is pretty smart! He’s super advanced, actually. He can read his own name, guess exactly what Dora is gonna do next and he can burp the alphabet. At least up to ‘G’. Anyway. These kids are super clever, I’m not disagreeing with that. But for children there are two kinds of people in this world: others kids and grownups. That’s it. And those grownups are either their caretakers or strangers. They don’t get the concept of social justice yet.”

“Wow, that’s very generalist of you.” Enjolras folds his arms over his chest.

“What, am I wrong? Do you think any of your students know the difference between you or the guy who sweeps the floor around here? I mean, you’re talking about a concept so complex, adults can’t quite grasp it.”

No one interrupts them, not even the principal and a part of Grantaire feels like he should be slightly embarrassed for having such a stupid argument in front of so many people, but the look of absolute rage on Enjolras’ face is just too much fun to pass on.

“So you’re voting ‘no’?” Enjolras asks sharply.

“No, by any means, go ahead. You wanna hire the homeless? Cool. Do it. Cheap labor and social commentary or whatever, but if you wanna set an example for those kids, you’ll just be barking up at the wrong tree. Disney might be a better option.”

---

“He’s got a point, you know?” Courfeyrac comments later, as they’re walking down the halls towards the teacher’s lounge.

“Are you kidding? You’re agreeing with him?” He probably glares harder than he intended to, because Courfeyrac gives a small step sideways, but presses on.

“No, it was an interesting idea, but it’d probably have a bigger impact if we took them to the Homeless Shelter on field trip, or something.”

Enjolras rolls his eyes and walks faster.

“Wow, you’re such a sore loser.” Courfeyrac remarks and quickens his pace to catch up.

---

“Wha --Why? ” Grantaire gasps incredulously.  

His manager spares him an unbothered, unsympathetic look. “You’ve been late a bunch of times this month and last week you didn’t even show up at one point. Of course you’re fired.”

“Are you fucking with me?” Grantaire gets up and his first instinct is to jump over that desk and strangle that old pimpled bastard. “You fucking knew I was gonna be late today! I told you I had a thing at my son’s school--”

“We can’t afford to have an unreliable employee here. Anyone working with us needs to be ready to have the company as their priority.”

“What fucking company, you arrogant asshole? This is a shitty coffee shop barely anyone even walks into anymore!”

“Then I’m sure you’re glad to be laid off.” And Grantaire needs to take three deep breaths to keep from throwing a chair at the smirking asshole before him.

Instead, he walks away slamming the door on his way out. Bahorel asks him what happened, but Grantaire can’t barely see straight. He doesn’t want to talk, doesn’t to think. He just storms off, gets in his car and drives.

He really can’t afford to lose one of his jobs.

---

Grantaire deals with his frustrations in either of these three ways:

 

  • substance abuse:

no longer an option, as long as he can help it; there's this unnerving gap in his life from ages 16 through 19 that he has no interest in repeating in his late twenties;

  • violence:

he's quit boxing several months ago - couldn't really afford them anymore -, and picking up random fights at bars are fun, even more so when Bahorel is around, but he actually needs to keep his jobs now and, anyway, he has occasional nightmares about social workers coming at night and taking Frank away from him, so he might as well not give them any reason to;

  • sex.

 

Sex is the only language Grantaire feels he speaks fluently. The only ability he believes he possesses. His golden opportunity to give as much as he can get, and for those perfect moments when there's a body moving with his, the world stops; it's his one true therapy.

His former therapist used to side-eye this coping mechanism every time he brought it up. Some nonsense about an inability to form any real relationships, low self-esteem, self-destructive personality, self-medicating in all the wrong ways, self-blablablabla. In his opinion, she had one over-priced piece of paper up on her wall warranting her authority to state the fucking obvious. O f course he fucks around because he's fucked up.

Personally, as far as comments on his sex-life go, he much prefers Éponine's jab at his "sharp tongue, in more ways than one". Oh, and how does he miss those glorious days... Things used to make a lot more sense to him when she had her legs wrapped around his neck, strong fingers buried deep in his hair, pulling, demanding, guiding, as she rubbed herself against his mouth. In Grantaire's humble opinion, one hasn't lived yet until they've had their face thoroughly fucked by Éponine Thernárdier.

Sex is simple; soothing. Sex feels good and it silences the noises in his brain.

He's not often picky and will take whoever has standards low enough to let him fuck them, but given the choice, he prefers men, simply because they’re usually less prone to poke too much at what’s on the table.

Uncomplicated. No questions asked. So much for the better.

Grantaire always felt as though men were skin to be touched and holes to be filled. No need to exchange tragic backstories, no need to even actually a world that exists beyond whatever setting in which they’re fucking. They want his cock and mouth and that's just how he prefers his relationships. Especially now, when relationships just became extra complicated, because explaining anything that raw and complex to Frank is something wants to do... Never.

This is where Jehan comes in and he will be forever thankful for him.

Jehan doesn't need him. Jehan is a mixture of poetry, nurturing and unbridled sexual drive. Whoever gets the privilege to hear him talk lyrics and verses would never imagine what that pretty mouth can do even better.

Jehan doesn't want him in ways he can't provide yet (or ever). He just wants Grantaire to touch and debauch him in ways that allow him to separate love from sex. All in all, it's a great deal in Grantaire's book.

The first time Jehan invited him home was the day after Anne’s funeral. Jehan really liked those flowers.

He parks in front of the shutdown bakery, about a block from Jehan’s apartment. Calls him up and only slightly feels bad about waking him up since their shift at the Club had ended less than 3 hours ago, but Jehan asks him to go up to him and so he goes.

Grantaire is barely through the door when he starts taking his clothes off and while that’s not exactly his classiest act, he’s still seeing red and scared shitless, so all he wants to do is punch holes through a wall or be buried so deep into Jehan he doesn’t have to think about anything else other than here and now.

Jehan kisses him like he always does: hungry and reverent. Soft, warm lips capture his and Grantaire can feel the tension melting from his shoulders as one of Jehan’s hands slides up from his waist all the way to his jaw. The anger subdues and is replaced by desire, as Jehan presses their naked chests closes together and sucks on his tongue.

Jehan’s apartment isn’t much to look at, even though he could be living on some fancy penthouse or something -Grantaire knows for a fact that his parents are filthy rich -, but he’ll never complain about the really short distance between the living room and the doorless bedroom. Most convenient for walking Jehan backwards into the bed while never stopping kissing him.

Grantaire straddles Jehan, makes a point to grind down against him, drags their cocks together and suddenly decides he’s done with pants forever . He unbuckles his jeans, pulls his cock out, gives it a slow squeeze. Feels Jehan’s hands gripping his hips hard and looks down to see his ginger wonder staring up at him with dark, hungry eyes.

No, not his .

He reaches for the nightstand drawer and takes the lube and condom. “Turn around.”

---

“I don’t know what the fuck I’m supposed to do now,” he admits, exhaling smoke with each word. “I needed that shitty job, you know?”

Jehan takes his cigarette and takes a drag of it himself. Exhales. It’s a beautiful sight: naked, covered in tattoos and sweat, long hair spread over the pillow. Soothing.

“I’m sure it’s not the only part-time job out there,” Jehan reasons. “Maybe it’s for the best. That place was consuming your soul and killing your youth.”

Grantaire snorts. “My youth left to buy a pack of smokes a decade ago and hasn’t been home ever since.”

“Either way, why don’t you take this opportunity to do something that makes you happy?”

“Because I have bills to pay and a kid to feed.”

“You have so many skills and you almost never explore them. The solution is staring at you in the face, you just need to open your eyes and welcome it.”

---

And that’s how he ends up at Principal Valjean’s office later that day and very seriously offers, “If you still need someone to paint this place up, I’ll do it.”

“That’s very kind of you, Mr. Grantaire,” Valjean says, chuckling. “But we’d rather a professional do this.”

“I’m not volunteering, I’m asking for a job. I have a bachelor’s degree in Visual Arts and I spent most summers in my late teens painting houses to save money for college. Trust me, I’m a pro.”

Valjean shifts in his chair, visibly uncomfortable. “I’m not sure the PTA would support this--”

“Whatever budget you have available for this, it’s what I’m charging. I’m the cheapest and only choice you got. Come one, man. Don’t make me beg here.”

There’s a long, uncomfortable silence before Valjean says, “Very well, then. How soon can you start?”

Chapter Text

Grantaire sketches part of his mural project, careful not to let any coffee spill on the paper, when Frank lets his spoon fall on the bowl and leans back on his chair.

“I’m done,” he announces proudly and when Grantaire looks up at him, he points at the empty bowl.

Grantaire smiles. “Good boy. You wanna finish that juice?” Frank makes a face and shakes his head violently. Grantaire nods. “Okay, then. Do you think you can reach the sink?”

“Uh-huh!” Frank’s eyes are practically glinting. They’d just measured him the night before and the little boy was still over the moon about having grown two inches since the last time.

“Good. Then put your bowl on the sink, please. Dad’s gonna finish this up real quick and then we’ll go to school, okay?”

“Okay,” Frank says mildly. He climbs off his chair and very carefully takes the bowl with him. Grantaire cranes his neck to watch his son stand on tiptoes to reach as far on the sink as he can, but quickly turns his attention back to his work when the child turns around again. “Dad, can I play in the living room before we go?”

“Yeah, sure. But we’re really not gonna be long at all, so if you could take the toys you forgot to put away last night,” and here he pretends to glare, “it would be super awesome.”

Frank doesn’t even reply, just dashes to the living room. Grantaire shakes his head, a small smile playing on the corners of his lips, and goes back to his work.

As it turns out, drawing robots fighting is a lot harder than he thought. The anatomy is all over the place and it’s not like he can draw them actually fighting. The school board would have a heart attack, probably.  His solution was to try to make it look like they’re maybe punching each other, but missing by a few inches. Several drafts later it still looks like they’re fistbumping.

“This is your last chance!” Frank shouts in a gravelly voice, a few minutes later. It’s followed by what sounds suspiciously like the light-saber fight sound effects he does with his mouth. “Surrender now, or I’ll take your family!”

“Never!”, comes a second voice, squeakier now. “They’re safe and away from you! Evil never wins!”

“Yeah, but I always win! What are you gonna do about that, huh?” The gravelly voice retorts and Grantaire needs to bite his lip to keep from laughing. This is the voice Frank uses for important issues, like Why I Won’t Take A Bath And You Can’t Make Me.

“Me and my friends are gonna defeat you and then you’re gonna lose, that’s what!” Is the squeaky reply. Grantaire looks over his shoulder to watch Frank smush the action figures against each other in what is obviously meant to be a sword fight without any swords.

Frank catches him watching and pauses, frowning. “What?”

Grantaire shakes his head. “Nothing. I just really like your stories.”

Frank giggles, dropping the toys. “Good! Dad, will you draw them on the school?”

“But I thought you wanted the alien robots,” Grantaire pulls a sad face. “I already sketched them and everything. We can do something else… Why don’t you ask your friends what they would like to see on that wall, and I’ll put all of them together and it can be like a super adventure that you all come up with together! How about that?”

Frank’s face grows serious at that and he crosses his arms over his chest. “I don’t like that idea,” he says in a small voice.

“Why?”

He shrugs, eyes cast down and a pout forming on his small lips.

“Frankie. Why?”

“I don’t like them.”

“Them who?” Grantaire tries to keep his voice neutral, but there are sirens going off in his brain. He tells himself that he can do it, that it’s easy. It’s just… talking to his child and figuring out what’s wrong.

“The other kids. I don’t like them.”

He breathes deeply once. Twice. Feels the lump around his throat start to smooth away after the third time. Licks his lips and says calmly.  

“Buddy, we changed schools because you didn’t like the other one. You know you can tell me if you don’t like this one too, right? I’m not gonna get mad and we can find a new one, and--”

Frank’s wail cuts off. “No! Please, Dad, don’t do that!” He dashes from the living room and into the kitchen,  tears welling up in his eyes. ”I like that school! Please don’t take me away.”

“Okay. That’s okay, baby, I’m not gonna, I promise,” he picks Frank up and sits him on his lap. He holds him tight and wills himself not to cry because he’s a grown man and his son needs someone at least half-stable right now. He’s proud to say his voice barely cracks at all when he goes on. “So you like this school, huh?”

“Uh-huh!” Frank nods frantically. “Mr. E. is super cool and we have Lego Day, and the sandbox is way bigger than the other one and Miss Fantine tells fairy tales before the bell rings and there’s no time-out.”

Grantaire chuckles. “No time-out, really? Wow. So you’re all well-behaved, is that it?”

Frank frowns. “No. But when we’re bad, Mr. E. just tells we can do better and then he tells us a story about when someone did something like that and why that was bad. Sometimes he lets us draw pictures about it.”

“Sounds pretty cool.”

Frank nods, his little hands drawing random patterns against his arm. “Yeah. I like him a lot.”

“But if you guys do so much fun stuff together, why don’t you like to play with the other children?”

Frank hides his face in Grantaire’s chest and his voice comes out muffled when he admits. “They’re hard to play with.”

“What do you mean ‘hard’?”

Frank sighs dramatically. “They don’t like any of the stuff I like.”

“But why don’t you find out what they like and then you can mush everything together and you can all play with this new thing?”

“Yeah, but what if they don’t wanna do that?”

“You’re never gonna find out if you don’t ask them. And besides! You can always learn to like other stuff. Remember when you didn’t like The Lion King until mom sat you down and made you watch it?”

Frank shrugs again. “I guess.”

“Yeah, see? I think it’s a great idea. In fact, I have a super important mission for you: today you need to learn five things from five different kids from school so I can add it to the painting on the wall. Do you think you can do that?” Frank nods. “Do you remember how much is five?”

Frank rolls his eyes, but he’s giggling. “ Yes!

“Oh, yeah? Then hold them up for me,” and when Frank holds his right hand up, all five little fingers spread out as far as they will go, Grantaire high-fives him. “That’s right! So that’s your mission for today. I expect a full report by dinner time, okay?” Frank nods. “Okay, now we really need to go, though. Quick, quick, quick!”

The little boy hops off his lap and scurries up to his room to grab his backpack.

Grantaire stands up and swallows hard, his hands flexing and unflexing.

He reassures himself that it’s okay, crisis averted, it’s going to be alright. But not for the first that week, he wishes Anne was there to smack him across the head and tell him he was being stupid, kids are just like that, relax… It’s gonna be okay .

---

About two days after the last PTA conference, Valjean calls the staff to a before-hours meeting to let them all know he’d found a painter for the school.

The use of singular in that phrase, alone, is enough to make Enjolras arch an eyebrow.

“The school isn’t particularly big, but it’s still more than just one person can handle on their own. Are we really willing to sacrifice the well-being of a professional - especially in this horrible weather we’ve been having - just to save a few thousand dollars?”

Valjean clears his throat and makes a point of not making eye contact when he announces, a tight smile on his face.

“I appreciate your concern, but this man has assured me he’s a very experienced professional who doesn’t mind the conditions for this kind of work. In fact, he told me he’s quite passionate about it.”

“How did you even find that guy so quickly?” Fantine asks, looking genuinely impressed.

“Unregistered immigrant begging for a job and being paid less than a white worker?” Enjolras narrows his eyes.

“No, it’s nothing like that,” Valjean replies flippantly. “Honestly, Enjolras! Sometimes I think you just say things to disagree with me,” his tone is warm though, which takes the bite off his words. “He found me, actually. A few hours after the PTA meeting, one of the parents approached me to volunteer for the job. He had the qualifications and was more than willing to accept our small budget, so it was really no thinking-matter.”

“Isn’t this the sort of thing that should’ve been run by the board first?” Enjolras needles, but honestly, he’s just really glad one of the parents is getting involved.

“We’ll hold a meeting to introduce the parents to our newest employee, but as important as their input in the matters of the school are, the final decision is ultimately mine. Like I explained before: he’s the most qualified person for the job under our limited budget.”

“Do we get a name?” Courfeyrac asks.

Valjean sifts through some of the sheets in front of him until he finally raises the right one. He squints a little before reading, “René Grantaire.”

Enjolras refuses to face Courfeyrac, who, he can see from his peripheral vision, is staring at him.

---

A little after the parents leave and the children are all comfortably in their own classrooms, Valjean calls the teachers for a quick meeting in the teacher’s lounge.

Enjolras flicks the light twice until he gets the children’s attention.

“I need to step out for a little while, but I’ll be back very soon. While I’m gone, we’re going to hold a contest: Azelma will watch you while you make sculptures with the play-doh. The most creative will be Assistant of the Day. Deal?”

The children cheer and Azelma rolls her eyes at him, smiling, as she turns to the supply closet to get the material they’ll need.

He waits long enough to make sure his intern is sitting them in groups of 4, as he taught her before, and then leaves.

Standing next to Valjean, is Frank’s father, René Grantaire. This makes Grantaire look even shorter than he already is. Valjean has a way of towering over people.

Maybe it’s that height difference, or maybe it’s the grin playing out on those thin lips or just the humorous glint in his bright blue eyes, but it all makes Grantaire look much too young in that moment. There’s a displicent air about him, like the first time they met, that makes Enjolras want to step up and reason with Valjean that maybe this is a job that requires a higher level of responsibility.

He keeps quiet and averts his gaze.

“I’m going to make this as quick as possible, so the children won’t be left unattended for too long,” Valjean begins.

“They’re not unattended,” Enjolras interrupts, but at this point they both know Valjean doesn’t even listen anymore.

“I would like to introduce you all to our newest, even if temporary, staff member, Mr. René Grantaire.”

“Actually, just ‘R’ is fine. In fact, I kinda insist on it,” Grantaire chuckles, shoulders hitched. Enjolras notices he’s rubbing his left arm in exactly the same way he’s learned Frank does when he’s nervous.

“Then ‘R’ it is,” Fantine says next to him. Enjolras glances at her and catches a glimpse of her blinding smile at Grantaire.

“Welcome aboard!” Courfeyrac cheers. “Valjean told you freshmeat pays everyone lunch, right?” And they both laugh like old friends.

It’s a strange sight.

--

Twenty minutes later Courfeyrac and Fantine somehow convince him to go say ‘hello’ to Grantaire and see if he needs anything.

“Because manners, Enjolras! That’s why,” Fantine had insisted.

Enjolras may be a lot of things, but not a fool. And despite all the jokes about his stoicness about sex, he has no problem at all responding sexually to situations that call for it. He just doesn’t like to act like ogling hot guys is as fun as everyone seems to think it is.

That said, he’s not blind to Grantaire’s attractiveness.

And who would be? The unruly black hair could do with a decent cut, but it contrasts well with the paleness of his face and the intense hue of his blue eyes. And while he’s somewhat short, the broadness of his shoulders make him look larger.

Still. It’s not like they haven’t all seen pretty guys with black hair and blueish eyes before, so this commotion is really just ridiculous.

When the three of them find him, Grantaire has peeled off his hoodie and jacket, being left down to a white t-shirt and jeans, his hair tied in a casual bun.

He’s priming the wall, Enjolras notices. The ducklings disappearing under the white paint. They’re a decent distraction, Enjolras is willing to admit. He concentrates very hard on the wall while Courfeyrac rattles off about how this is the same as murdering a family of four, because even though he knew Grantaire wasn’t scrawny, he wasn’t prepared for the massiveness of those biceps.

Fantine makes a comment about being as old as the ducklings on the wall and Courfeyrac laughs, loud and clear. This gets Grantaire’s attention, who greets them from a distance, even if he doesn’t stop what he’s doing.

Enjolras darts a glance at him and now that he turned his attention back on him, he briefly allows himself to look.

Muscled arms grip the extended brush, gliding it up and down the wall. Every time the arm goes up, his shirt rides up and a sliver of a pale hip peeks out, contrasted against the suggestion of red underwear and--

Okay. Okay .   

“Hey!” Courfeyrac calls.

“Long time, no see!” Grantaire laughs, removing one of his earbuds. The faint bassline is barely audible between them.

“I know, right?” Courfeyrac winks. Fantine stares at him with bright eyes and Enjolras notices she’s blushing. Blushing . “We just came out here to make sure you hadn’t freezed to death yet.”

“Nah, I’m good. Sweating buckets, actually.”

He’s not lying. There are extensive stains under his arms and the front of his shirt.

“Liking the job so far?” Fantine asks.

Grantaire looks back at the wall, with its three stripes of their first layer of white, then back at her. “Yeah, should start getting fun soon enough. Right now is mostly milk-run, you know?”

She knows. Fantine is also an Art major, but she doesn’t say so, just grins back at him.

“Hey,” Grantaire nods at him. “Nice to see you here.”

Enjolras frowns, certain he misheard it. “Oh?”

“Yeah,” Grantaire nods at the wall. “So. Am I doing this right? Is it the correct shade of white, or should it be something else?”

Enjolras rolls his eyes. “Honestly, I thought we were past this by now.”

Grantaire tilts his head, examining him. A smirk blooms on the corner of his lips. “You really do take everything that seriously, don’t you? Interesting.”

“Really. So you’re saying I shouldn’t?”

“I don’t know. Should you?” Is all the reply he gets before Grantaire turns his attention back to Courfeyrac and Fantine.

---

A little after recession, Enjolras passes by the teacher’s lounge on his way back to his classroom when he catches sight of Fantine and Grantaire talking by the coffee machine.

“I was so stupid, you know?” She shakes her head, tears welling up her eyes. “And the worst part is that I still wish he would come back and I just--”

Enjolras knows this story and it isn’t a pretty one.

“Hey, no, come on,” Grantaire leans closer, wipes away the tear that was rolling down her cheek. “You deserve better than that and you know it.”

Fantine laughs bitterly, and looks down. “Yeah, right.”

“No, really,” Grantaire tips her chin up with his index finger. “If there’s cosmical justice in the universe, he’s probably got herpes now, or something,” Fantine giggles at that. Grantaire’s voice sounds an octave lower when he says, “Besides, it’s his loss, right?”

Enjolras decides he’s heard enough and walks briskly down the hall.

---

Me: Can you meet for coffee today?

Ferre: Of course. Where?

Me: My place. Do you think you could be there at around 5?

Ferre: Any particular reason for this meeting?

Me: The joy of your company should be enough reason, don’t you think?

Ferre: I most certainly do. ;)

Ferre: Any other reason?

Me: Fine. Something’s bothering me. But not that much? Idk. I just want to clear my head.

Ferre: Ok. 5 o’clock it is, then.

---

“So, how’s the book coming along?” Enjolras asks, setting the table.

“No as great as I hoped it would by this stage,” Combeferre replies, pouring himself a cup of coffee. “My agent keeps pressuring me and he just won’t believe me when I tell him my research isn’t over yet,” he shakes his head. “Can you believe that?”

Enjolras smiles over the brim of his own cup. “Yes, I can, actually.”

“Maybe I need to step back a little and start over. I was thinking about changing my target-audience. I’ve always wanted to write a philosophy book for children. I might do that.”

“That’s actually a great idea. Let me know if you need any help with that.”

“I just might. What I know about the great thinkers, I completely lack in child-language.”

“Well, it helps to think of them as just people,” he teases.

“Yes, thank you for that input. Let me just write that one down,” Combeferre says back, completely serious. Sips his coffee some more. “So. What is this  crisis-meeting about?”

Enjolras looks down at his mug, revels in its warmth against his palms. “It’s not a crisis per se.”

“Then what is it?”

He sighs. “The vast complexity of human behavior.”

“You’ve been spending way too much time with Courfeyrac. His dramatics have rubbed off on you.”

“I know. Seriously, it’s nothing,” he grabs a cookie because he feels like he’s earned it. “There’s this is one guy, one of my student’s parent, that’s been infuriating me for weeks now.”

“Okay,” Combeferre says slowly and sips his coffee again.

“Every time I think I have him figured out and can just deal with him, he does something that completely throws me off and I end up caught between wanting to staple things to his head and…”, he bites down on his cookie and doesn’t finish that sentence.

“...And?” Combeferre prompts.

“I don’t know. That’s the problem,” he breaks another piece of his cookie, but doesn’t bother eating it. “He’s infuriating.”

“Yes, you mentioned it before,” Combeferre says, amusement clear in his eyes. “In what way is he getting to you, though? In a ‘I buy from evil corporate industries that donate to hateful institutions and exploit my employees’, or the ‘I disagree with you in ways you haven’t figured out how to discredit yet’?”

“Neither? Well, maybe the last part. Mostly I just think he likes to be an asshole to me for the sake of being an asshole. He seems genuinely nice to everyone else.”

“Well, you do have a way of bringing out the worst in some people.” Enjolras throws a piece of cookie at him. “But what really bothers you about this? You never cared what people thought of you, so it can’t be it.”

“It isn’t,” he swallows. “I want to help him. I mean, not him, exactly, but his son.  That boy is so bright, you should see him! So smart and so talented, and he’s not even seven yet. You’d love him.”

Combeferre hums noncommittally.

“Anyway. That boy has shown some difficulties in socializing and I’m afraid it’ll interfere with his development if it’s not dealt with now. His mother died last year and while that’s tragic, he’s young enough to get over it easily, but his father just keeps mindlessly blocking any of my attempts to guide him through it and--”

“Wait. You’re telling me a grieving husband is being passive-aggressive towards you when you try to get his child to move on from his mother’s death?” Combeferre clicks his tongue. “ What an asshole. ” If it were anyone else smiling like that, Enjolras might’ve banged their head against the table. “Have you considered maybe giving them the opportunity to deal with it on their own time?”

“It happened last year!”

“A month ago was last year!”

“You’re only saying that because you haven’t seen this guy, ok? Grantaire has this way of--”

“Grantaire?” Combeferre pulls out his phone. “As in, this guy?” He turns it over to show a picture Courfeyrac had sent him. Grantaire and Courfeyrac smile brightly, their faces squished together. It’d clearly been taken that day, judging by their clothes.

He glares. “Yes. Yeah, that’s him.”

“I see,” Combeferre glances at the picture again. “Courfeyrac has only great things to say about him. Apparently he’s as funny as he’s smart.”

“That’s all he’s said?”

“He might’ve made some lewd comments, but I’m sure that if there was any real interest Courfeyrac would be already boasting about it by now.”

“Yeah, I guess…”

“I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of options for you. You can either do your job with that boy as well as you can without his father’s collaboration and just ignore Grantaire, or you two can try to work it out.”

“That’s very helpful, thank you.”

“That’s basic logic. There’s no shortcut to this. You can’t just will him to work with you because you believe it’s the right thing to do. He’ll either want to or not, and the harder you press him, the more hostile he’ll be towards you. It’s not like it’s a new experience for you.”

“And it isn’t!”

“Then why don’t you just tackle it like you tackle any other battles in your life?”

“I don’t know. He just gets on my nerves!”

“Then clear your head and approach this as objectively as you can. After all, this is about that boy’s well-being, right?”

Enjolras only takes a few seconds to reply, “Of course,” so it shouldn’t even count as hesitation.

“Then do it. Be the bigger man.”

“There should be no bigger man in this.”

“That’s the spirit,” Combeferre winks and they change the subject to Marius’ upcoming wedding.

Chapter Text

Rosemary likes dragons

Tyler likes race cars

Danny likes tutus

Olivia likes dolphins

Jake likes the circus

Tommy likes crayons (red ones are the tastiest)

Max likes castles

But Lilly... What did Lilly like, again?

Frank giggles. "Lilly likes," he splashes some water in the tub and mentally repeats that again a few more times.

Lilly likes

Lilly likes

Lilly likes

Lilly likes .

“I think you’re all cleaned up and the bath is over, because all I hear is water splashing.” Grantaire’s serious voice calls from downstairs.

“No!”, Frank replies. “I’m not done yet.”

“Five more minutes and I’m coming in.”

“Okay.”

Frank sticks his toy submarine as far below the water as he can and then sends a toy soldier after it. “Nooooo, the army!” He cries. “I’m gonna save you!”

Lilly likes frogs.

---

“She said she’s gonna be few minutes late,” Grantaire is saying, phone pressed between his shoulder and his ear while he stirs the pot. “No, I swear I’m not making up excuses, I really just can’t leave before she gets here,” a pause, “ Because I need a babysitter making sure my kid doesn’t fall down the stairs or set the house on fire.

He tries the sauce. Needs more salt.

“Ép, I know that, okay? But there isn’t much I can do about that. If Montparnasse wants me there so badly, he can come down here and watch Frankie while I dance naked all night!” He shifts and the phone almost falls over. “What? No, of course I’m not serious! I wouldn’t trust that psycho near my kid in a million fucking yea-- What? No way! I’m not gonna fire her! She’s 14, time is a concept lost on her, that shit happens, and besides, I need a babysitter, I can’t just--” he frowns, “What do you mean you took care of that?”

The bell rings. He groans. “Ép, who did you kill?”

Grantaire turns the stove off and pads into the living room to open the door.

“Did someone order a babysitter?” Bahorel grins at him, his thumbs up.

How did you even get his number? ” Grantaire asks dramatically over his phone, but grinning back at the tall man before him. “Right. I think the word you’re looking for is ‘stalking’. Okay. Fine, whatever. See you in a bit. Okay, bye. Uh-huh, okay, bye. Oh, my god, hang the fuck up, there’s a dude freezing in my doorstep!”

---

“--but not just any frogs, you know? She likes the ones that are super slimy and have warts on them!”

“Really?” Grantaire giggles, hushedly.

“Yeah! She said she’ll take hers to Show and Tell.”

“Okay, but don’t lick it, though,” Grantaire jokes and boops his son’s nose.

Frank frowns. “Why would I do that?”

“No reason. Just don’t do it.”

“When you kiss a frog they become princes. What happens when you lick them?”

“Oh, I’m pretty sure you see all sorts of magical stuff when you lick a frog.”

Frank considers it for a moment, twisting the tips of his blanket. “It’d be nice to meet a goblin.”

Grantaire laughs. “No, it wouldn’t. Especially not like that!”

“Yeah, but you get to make wishes!” Frank insists.

“Why would you need a goblin for that when you’ve got me?”

“You can’t give me every wish I have.” Frank rolls his eyes.

“Of course I can!”

Frank crosses his arms. “Oh, yeah? I want a unicorn.”

Grantaire stares at his son for a beat too long before he replies. “You don’t think I can find a pony with a horn in its head?”

“A pony is not a unicorn,” Frank says, rolling his eyes.

“Buddy, believe me: if I had the cash to buy a pony, I’d stick a horn in its head and tell it to be a unicorn from then on. It’d work, I promise. I’m a very persuasive guy,” he ruffles the little boy’s hair.

“You’re what?”

“Persuasive. It means I’m good at convincing others to do what I want.”

Frank considers that for moment. “Persu aaaa sive…”, he tries the word under his breath.

“Alright, Champ, Dad’s gotta go now. Uncle Bahorel is downstairs, so if you need anything, you can just ask him, okay?”

“Okay.”

“See you in the morning, then?”

“Yup!”

“Okay, then,” he kisses Frank’s forehead. “Good night, kiddo.”

He’s on his way out of the room when Frank calls after him.

“Hey, Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“I really like that you’re in school with me now.”

Grantaire smiles fondly, feeling his chest hurt in the best way possible. “Me too, baby, me too.”

He turns the lights off and rushes out of the house before he decides to call in sick and stay home with his son.

---

Wednesday nights are Theme Nights at the Patron-Minette club.

Well, technically, every night is theme-night, since the performers wear different costumes every night and act out choreographed fantasies for the audience’s viewing pleasure, but Montparnasse likes to spike things up on Wednesdays and every detail about the club, from the decór to the drinks and even the bouncers’ uniforms tells a specific story.

This week, it’s Viking Culture Night and Grantaire has been dreading it for months.

How he ended up landing a job as a stripper is one strike of luck he’ll never get over. About a year ago some guy broke his leg and couldn’t show up to perform. Grantaire had been looking for a job and Éponine told him to drag his ass to the club and fill in, since he could dance and take his clothes off at the same time (as a joke, one time during one of their hook-ups, Grantaire performed a mock-striptease show) and for some reason, Montparnasse decided to keep him ever since.

Grantaire can dance, he never denied that, but as far as he’s concerned, he’s not that much to look at. He’ll use whatever attribute he can to draw attention to himself when performing and get the customers to unload the money, but compared to his co-workers, he’s certain he’s no more than a dancing monkey.

Most importantly, he is in no way a fucking Viking.

“I mean, it’s humiliating!” He complains, glaring at his own image in the mirror. His costume is little more than a pair of brown leather pants, boots, a belt holding two fake swords and a horn-helmet. “Look at me! I’m pretty sure even you are taller than me. I’m gonna look ridiculous out there.”

Éponine snorts. She’s finishing up her eye makeup, but pauses to spare him a glance from her own mirror. “If they’re still paying attention to that by the time you hit the stage, sugar-pie, then you know you’re doing your job wrong.”

“I think we should agree as a team to leave the humor up to me,” Grantaire adjusts his belt for the third time. Sighs. “Ugh. The only good thing about this is that I’ll finally be able to cut my hair when this is over.”

“Okay, will you quit bitching?” She turns her attention back to her eyeliner. “You look hot. You have that whole,” she gestures vaguely. “Corrupted innocence kinda thing going on for you. Like maybe you don’t belong and you’re to prove your worth with blood, or whatever.”

Grantaire blinks a few times. “Wow, that...That doesn’t sound very reassuring-- In fact, that’s downright disturbing, but thanks for the support.”

Jehan walks win, auburn hair arranged in two loose braids by each side of his head, framing his face almost angelically. The plastic helmet has no horns and stops just a little beneath the line of his nose, leaving a slit for heavily lined eyes to peek through. His colorful tattoos contrast with the black swirls now painted in his arms, hips and chest. There’s even some splashes of red across his torso, appearing as though he’s just emerged from a battle sprinkled in his enemy’s blood.

“Oh, come on!” Grantaire exclaims, removing his own helmet. “Even you look more like a viking than I do! Quick, let’s switch: you dance tonight and I’ll wait tables.”

Éponine rolls her eyes while she puts on her bracelets.

“Not even in your wildest dreams,” Jehan replies, smirking mischievously. “But I believe we can do something about that unmarked skin.”

Grantaire smirks. “My stage call is in ‘5, but I’m sure we can work something out.”

“I meant to paint your body.”

“Yeah, I meant that too, just a different kind of paint,” he winks. “And my ugly tattoos resent your comment, by the way.”

“They just need a touch up, I keep telling you to hit my roommate up about this. But it’s not that, you don’t look too barbaric yet. We just need to make you look more intimidating.”

Grantaire spreads his arms out. “Alright. I’m an open canvas. Have at it.”

---

Unsurprisingly, despite months of preparation, his performance still paled in comparison to his co-workers’ and he brought home much less money than he normally does.

“Fucking Viking theme,” he curses on his way home, black hair tied in a bun and body paint still on his fingers.

He drives by a barbershop and decides to eliminate any evidence that that night ever happened.

---

Grantaire walks quietly into his living room and finds Bahorel sound asleep, wrapped up in one of his duvets, drooling on his cushion. He locks the door behind him, walks the short distance between them and taps his friend on the shoulder.

“Hey, man,” he calls softly, but his friend still wakes up startled and nearly falls off the couch.

“Aarrggghhh!”

Shit ! I’m so sorry!”

“Nah--,” a yawn cuts his mid-sentence. Bahorel sits up slowly, his eyes barely opening. He rubs a hand over his face, shakes his head. Blinks a few times. “It’s okay. Wait! You look… What happened to your hair?”

Grantaire runs a hand through his now much shorter curls. “Yeah. It was driving me crazy.”

Bahorel nods. “Yeah, you look younger now.” He blinks sleepily a few times and wets his lips.  “Hey, what time is it?”  

Grantaire checks his watch. “A little after six.”

“Augh. Too early.”

Grantaire raises an eyebrow. “Do you need a ride to work?”

“What?”

“At the Musain. You get second shift, remember?”

“Oh, right. About that. I don’t work there anymore.”

“What the fuck. Since when?”

“Yeah. I kind of… punched the manager and it somehow got me fired.”

Grantaire chuckles. “Really?”

“Yeah. Totally worth it, though. That asshole was long overdue for a broken nose.”

“Okay, then. Wanna sleep for another few hours?”

“Nah. I should probably head home. Your kid had a nightmare at around 3AM that completely freaked me out, but then he fell on the pillow and slept again. Is that normal?”

“Sadly, yes.”

“Yeah, I’m never having kids,” he yawns, gets up. “You’re good now?”

“Yeah, thanks, man.”

---

Suddenly it’s way too bright and Frank grimaces, turning on his side.

“Wake up, lazy boy,” his father’s warm voice carries through the haze of sleep. “Time for school.”

“No.” He replies thickly and he means it. No, go away, I wanna go back to sleep .

Strong hands shake him lightly and Frankie sighs dramatically. Sleep is definitely over, though he still clings to it as best as he can.

“No? Oh, I’m gonna tell Mr. E. you don’t want to see him anymore.”

Frank turns around, sighs again, glares up at his father. “You have no hair.”

Grantaire laughs. “No, that’s a lie, okay? I’ve still got plenty of hair. Here,” he runs his hands through his scalp and lightly pulls two handfuls. “I just can’t braid it anymore.”

“I liked your old hair.”

“Nah, it was too much to handle. Do you wanna grow out yours?”

 

Frank giggles. “Yeah! Like Rapunzel!”

“But Rapunzel is blonde,” Grantaire argues, amused. “And your hair super black. Plus, we don’t have straight hair. It wouldn’t flow like hers, it’d just get tangled in the furniture.”

“I want Rapunzel hair!” Frank repeats, now fully awake and grinning. Yes, having hair long like Rapunzel would be fun! He could swing on it, like she does. Have a pet that changes color, and make sick people get better again.

“Alright, kiddo, we’ll see what we can do about that. But first,” he tickles the little boy through the blanket. “You gotta get up, wash that face and brush them teeth, because, ugh, your breath smells horrible.”

You smell horrible!” Frank teases.

Grantaire makes a show of sniffing under his arm. “Maybe. But I’ve been around a lot of smelly people today. I have a good excuse.”

Frank makes a face.

“Speaking of that… Mr. E. told me that today is Career Day, is that right?”

Frank nods frantically. “Today Moms and Dads go tell us all about their jobs so we can decide what we wanna be when we grow up.”

“Good, that’s very cool. Would like you me to go there and tell your friends about my job?”

“Yes, please!”

“Alright, then I’m going. But we’re not gonna talk about Dad’s Special Dancing Job, okay?”

“Why not?”

“It’s nothing bad, but some people might not like to hear about that. How about we talk about my painting job, huh? That’s a lot cooler, because I’m painting the school you go to, now! Isn’t that cool?”

Frank considers that for a moment. “Brian’s dad is a firefighter.”

“Okay, good for Brian, his dad is really brave and all that, but I’m getting rid of the ducks. Someone needs to wipe them off the face of the Earth and Brian’s dad has to put out fires. All jobs are important, aren’t they?”

Frank nods. “That’s what Mr. E. says.”

“Mr. E. is very smart, then.”

“He is.”

“Right. Okay, so are we clear on that?”

“Yes, Dad. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone about your dancing job.”

“Good,” Grantaire smiles. “Now go brush your teeth, I’m gonna make pancakes.”

---

“I don’t think he’s a bad person,” Enjolras explains as they make their way to the teacher’s lounge.

“Good, because he really isn’t,” Courfeyrac needles. “Kind of tries too hard to be funny sometimes, I’ll give you that, but even that is kind of adorable… If you squint.”

Enjolras stares at him. “Not the point.”

“Sure, of course.”

“The point is that I’m afraid he’s not taking this seriously. Have you seen the sketches for the mural? It’s robots. Fighting.”

“Oh, you don’t say!” Courfeyrac covers his mouth in exaggerated shock. “Robots? For a children’s school! Oh, that’s just outrageous!”

“You know, it’s just offensive how you still pretend that I don’t know when you’re being sarcastic.”

“Yeah, but I don’t think you’d like the non-sarcastic version. I was being an awesome friend and sparing your feelings.”

“I wonder what the original sounded like…”

“Like maybe you’re just looking for excuses to pick on him.” Courfeyrac says lightly and picks his pace back up.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Enjolras says indignantly, catching up. “Why would I even do something so childish?”

“Why, indeed.”

“I just think he should behave more like an adult. I mean, for crying out loud, he still looks like he’s living off styrofoams in college.”

“Hey, what’s wrong about styrofoams? Not all of us like to cook, you know.”

“You know what I mean,” Enjolras scorns him. “There’s absolutely no problem in living carelessly when you’re the only one who depend on you. B ut that guy has a little boy . He should be setting up an example!”

Courfeyrac stops again. “Okay, now I’m just confused. What kind of example? First you were pissed because he wasn’t all that  involved in his kid’s school life, so he went and not only joined the PTA but also got a job here, and now you say he’s not setting an example… Do you know anything I don’t, like maybe he’s been shooting puppies somewhere or...?”

Enjolras sighs. “No, it’s nothing like that. It’s more about posturing. The way he addresses other people, the way he carries himself, the way he dresses-- It’s a combination of absolute lack of commitment that just sickens me.”

Courfeyrac stares at him like he’s grown a second head. “What?” Enjolras asks, irritated.

“Everything you just said sounds so unlike you, I kind of want to slap you around a little bit.”

Enjolras rolls his eyes. “Oh, be serious!”

“No, I am being serious! Are you really saying that you have a problem with him because you don’t like the way he looks? College-Enjolras would skin you alive.”

“College-me also had shoulder-length unwashed hair and that atrocious red jacket--”

“Hey, I gave you that jacket! It wasn’t atrocious at all, it was actually very fashionable and--”

“My point is that I don’t have a problem with how he dresses, exactly, but rather the message it sends.”

“Which is…?”

“No worries. No responsibilities.”

“Ah, I see. That’s a lot more reasonable, you’re right.”

Sarcasm.

Unreasonable. ” Courfeyrac shakes his head. “I thought Combeferre had talked you out of that.”

“Out of what?”

“Nevermind. Let’s just go, we’re gonna be late.”

---

“The space might be a little crammed, but I think I can pull it off,” Grantaire rambles, pointing at the sketches neatly arranged before Valjean. “I mean, this is just a first-draft, but the general idea is basically that.”

Valjean nods. “It’s bold, that’s for sure, but it looks very promising.”

Grantaire feels like his grin could split his face in half. “ Really?

“Yes. It’s definitely a big change from our previous layout, but I guess that’s the whole point of all this, so, yes. Really .”

Oh, my god, thank you so much !” Grantaire all but leaps from his chair. “I’m gonna get on it, right away.”

“Just please bear in mind that this is children’s school so the theme has to remain light.”

“Yeah, no, sure, no problem!”

“Just out of curiosity, what would you have done if I hadn’t approved that design?” Valjean asks, amused.

“Well, I’d probably hide a dead rat in your office somewhere you couldn’t find, but let’s not talk about that.”

Valjean laughs openly.

“Oh, cool, you took it as joke. Awesome, I still have a job!” And scrambles out of the office--

--only to literally stumble upon Enjolras.

“Oof!”

“Excu--” Enjolras begins, but stops mid-sentence. Grantaire scowls at him - it’s much too early to go through Enjolras’ special brand of disapproval.

“Sorry,” he mumbles. “Courf. Enjolras,” he nods and rushes down the hall in the opposite direction.

---

“He cut his hair.” Courfeyrac deadpans, while they’re both still dead in their tracks.

“He did.”

“And you were right: he looks better now,” he finally turns to face Enjolras. “I honestly didn’t think it was possible.”

“You’re exaggerating.”

“Oh, I’m really not,” Courfeyrac says, a look of wonder still on his eyes. He whistles low. “Well, I guess your problems with him are over now, right?”

Enjolras sighs.

---

Grantaire is ten-feet away from the gates when he remembers it.

“Fuck,” he curses under his breath. “Argh.” He turns on heels and marches back into the school, looking for Enjolras.

---

“At around eleven o’clock,” Enjolras replies patiently.

“Thanks, man,” Grantaire is on his way back when Enjolras touches his elbow.

“I’m glad you decided to follow my suggestions. It can only do great things to Frank, that you’re actively participating in his school life.”

“No offense, dude, but I’m really not doing this because you told me to.”

Enjolras nods. “I know. It doesn’t matter.”

“Whatever. Eleven o’clock, right? I’ll be there.”

---

Priming is relatively easy. It requires a lot of time and some physical strength, but it’s basically just cleaning the wall and painting it some shade of white. It’s a kind of mindless job and Grantaire is glad for it, because it gives him time to elaborate the order in which to arrange the order of the mural images in his head.

No . This project is not a mural and he refuses to address it as such. It’s a really long wall… on which he’ll draw and color some characters doing things. It’s still artistic, but it’s a job.

It’s not a mural.

---

“Tommy, please stop chewing on that crayon!” Enjolras orders, as kindly as he can. The chubby little boy looks up at him, eyes wide in apprehension and puts down the crayon.

His lips and teeth are tinged red when he mumbles. “I’m sorry, Mr. E.”

“Okay, everybody please sit down,” the children drop the toys they’d been playing and scurry to their respective chairs, neatly arranged in a circle. “Who here knows what happens when you blow on soapy water?”

A little girl dressed in bright pink dress raises her hand.

“Yes, Lilly?”

“It flies on your dog’s eye.”

The other children break into spontaneous laughter. Enjolras chuckles as well. “Yes, yes, that’s one thing that can happen, which is why you always have to be very careful,” he looks at each and every one of his students to make sure they got the message across. “But what I had in mind was something a lot more fun.”

He fishes something out of his pocket and shows them his plain, circular bubble wand. “I think everyone knows what happens when you dip this into soapy water and blow on it.”

“Soap bubble!” The children all reply in unison.

“Yes, exactly. And did you know that it’s so cold these days, that you could blow a soap bubble and it would instantly freeze?” They alll gasp. A freckled girl raises her hand. “Yes, Charlotte?”

“Can we have frozen soap bubbles?”

“No. Luckily it’s not so cold for us that it could actually happen here, but I was thinking you could all surprise me and blow bubbles in different shapes. You’re all going to make your own bubble wands, in whatever shape you want, and then we’ll all blow them outside and show everyone our great work.”

The kids cheer and he hands them the material they’ll need for that activity.

---

Maybe Belle has a pirate hat and is wielding a sword on a ship while The Beast is swimming with mermaids…?

No, it’s gonna look like The Beast is trying to cheat on Belle .

Okay, then maybe Belle could be the one swimming with the mermaids and The Beast is fighting the pirates?

Oh, Belle, what a freeloader .  

Another four yards of wall to paint white to go.

---

“Mr. E. … my glasses are wrong.”

“No, they’re not, Olivia.”

“One eye is bigger than the other.”

“It still looks lovely.”

---

Dragons could be spitting fire that turn into candy before reaching their target.

“Okay, yeah, great idea! I need to write that one down.” Grantaire exclaims to himself and is excited about this idea until he remembers he hadn’t brought pen or paper.

---

Enjolras looks up at the clock. “Alright, children, you can put your masks down, because Career Day will start in a little bit. Who’s gonna start?”

All of them raise their hand at the same time.

---

“Aaah, fuck!” Grantaire cries, looking down at himself on the sidewalk, his pants covered in white paint.

“Because tripping wasn’t humiliating enough, right.” He mumbles under his breath, defeated. He rubs a hand over his face. “I don’t deserve this kind of shit.”

He turns the bucket of paint upwards as carefully as he can so he won’t drop any more of it. Sighing, he walks back inside to beg anyone for a pair of pants.

---

“My Mom is a nurse,” Lilly announces proudly. “She helps people when they’re sick--”

No , that’s what doctors do!” Charlotte interrupts.

“Charlotte, what did we talk about interrupting?”

“That’s it’s not nice, but she’s lying, Mr. E.!”

“Am not!” Lilly frowns, balling her little hands into fists.

“Okay, everyone calm down. Lilly is right: doctors aren’t the only ones who take care of sick people. Let’s hear what she has to say and then her Mom will tell us all about what she does at the hospital,” he gestures for Lilly to go on.

---

“Oh, my god! What happened to you?” Courfeyrac exclaims, visibly trying not to laugh.

“Life! Life happened to me and then I tripped over a bucket of paint,” Grantaire replies, impatient - and maybe a little desperate. “Now, can you help me or not?”

Courfeyrac shakes his head. “Sorry, man. I usually have a pair of sweatpants in my backpack because of gym, but I’m not going today, so…”

Grantaire growls in frustration. “I can’t believe this shit.”

Courfeyrac grimaces in sympathy. They both stand awkwardly in the hall for a few seconds before Courfeyrac pokes his head inside his classroom again. “Boys, girls and everything in between: I have to help someone for a little bit, so you’re gonna do some coloring with Daisy now,” to Grantaire he says. “Okay, let’s get you some pants.”

---

Tyler raises his hand.

“Yes?” Mr. Crawford allows.

“What if you go into a house that’s on fire and save everyone in there, but you get trapped inside?”

Mr. Crawford grins. “Luckily I have a team of friends who wouldn’t allow that to happen.”

“But what if they do? What if you can’t get out and the house, like, explodes ?”

“Shut up, Tyler!” Brian yells from the other corner of the room.

“We don’t say ‘shut up’ in this room,” Enjolras intercedes. “And Tyler, I think what Mr. Crawford is trying to say is that accidents like that don’t usually happen in real life because of their excellent teamwork, isn’t that right?”

“Yes, exactly, thank you. Movies have a tendency to make things look worse than they really are, but in real life we’re trained to not let that kind of thing happen. It’s important that we have each other’s back, so we can save as many lives as we can without getting hurt.”

“Like superheroes!” Brian exclaims.

Mr. Crawford smiles. “Yes, like superheroes.”

Enjolras glances at the clock on the wall. Eleven twenty-five. He lets his gaze fall on Frank, who, he’d noticed,  doesn’t seem to be paying attention to any of the presentations, watching the door intently instead.

---

“I donated the last bag of clothes I had on me to Goodwill last week.…” Fantine replies, apologetically.

“This is unbelievable…” Grantaire mumbles. “Thanks, anyway.”

“This is literally everyone, man,” Courfeyrac says. “I’m sorry.”

“Ugh. I really didn’t want to have to go home. I’m already late as fuck.”

“Do you really have to drive all the way there?”

“Well, I could walk into that classroom pantless and freeze my balls off, but I have a feeling I’d traumatize a bunch of kids.”

“No, I mean. Why don’t you just make the presentation like this and then go home and change?”

“You mean, other than embarrassing my kid? Nah. It’s not just that. These skinny jeans were already tight as shit before the paint dried. Now I can barely walk.”

“Okay, then. Where’s your car? I’ll drive you there.”

“What about your students?”

“Daisy’s got them. It should be fine. Besides, we’re not gonna be long, because you’re gonna pick up the first pair of pants you find when you get home, right?”

“Right.”

---

“My dad is an artist,” Frank says quietly, not looking at anyone. “He paints pictures and houses, and sometimes he draws the stories I come up with.”

“Where’s your dad?” Jake asks.

“I don’t know.”

“Mr. E.?” Olivia asks, raising her hand.

“Yes?”

“I draw too. Am I like Frankie’s dad?”

Frank looks up to glare at her. “No, you’re not, because your pictures are ugly and my dad is an artist!”

“Frankie, that’s enough,” Enjolras says as kindly as he can while still maintaining his tone firm. “And, no, Olivia, it’s not quite the same. In order for it to be a job, you have to study for a very long time and get paid when you paint pictures or anything else. Did you know that some artists paint things as small as a grain of rice?”

The children gasp. “But that’s too small!” Tyler argues.

“Yes, it is, you’re right. That’s very small! But professional artists can do that with no problem at all. Isn’t that right, Frankie?”

Frank nods. “My dad painted my room. It’s like a comic book where I’m the super hero.”

“Wow…!”

“Where’s your dad? I wanna ask him to paint my room!” Charlotte asks.

“I don’t know !”

---

“Seriously? That’s the fastest you can drive?” Grantaire asks impatiently as Courfeyrac makes a safe turn.

“May I remind you that you’re already in clean pants and my driving is a kindness extended to you out of sympathy?”

Be sympathetic faster. ” Grantaire hisses.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I was under the impression you wanted to live to see your son graduate from college. My mistake!”

“Just drive faster!”

---

Twelve-fifteen. Enjolras sighs.

“Okay, children, Career Day is over,” they moan and start asking for more time, but Enjolras claps three times and they fall silent. “Do you know what time it is now?”

“Story time!” They all scream in unison, giggling.

Almost all of them, that is. Frankie just returns to his seat and grabs some crayons from Tommy’s desk.

---

“Thanks, man!” He shouts in Courfeyrac’s general direction and dashes into the school, practically flies through halls until he stops to a halt at Enjolras’ door.

No other parents in sight. Bad sign. He sighs and knocks.

“Come on in!” Enjolras’ voice sounds warm, amused. Grantaire is surprised to find he likes it and that maybe it’s the first he’s ever heard him like that.

He pushes the door open and has to bite his lip not to smile. The scene he’s welcomed with could probably bring world peace: Enjolras is sitting indian style in the middle of the room, and the children all around him, each wearing a different kind of headdress, seem to be crowning him with a pair of bunny ears.

“Uhm… Am I too late for Career Day?”

Enjolras licks his bottom lip and looks him dead in eyes, considering. Grantaire is used to disapproval from various kinds of people, but there’s something about Enjolras’ particular kind of contempt that makes something dislodge inside him. Like maybe Enjolras isn’t a man of flesh and bone like himself, but some kind of unearthly creature, perpetually intrigued by human imperfection.

This is a whole new level of low self-esteem , Grantaire realizes.

“Unfortunately you are,” Enjolras replies, getting up. “But what do we always say about rules, children?”

“Exception!” A lot of the children scream back.

Grantaire realizes Frankie isn’t in the middle of the group of children, but alone in the corner. People often talk about how it physically hurts to be hit with guilt, but they’re just words; the reality is much worse.

“Please, R, come on in. Tell us all about your work as an artist,” to the children he says, “Did you know that Mr. Grantaire does a very important job here at school? And he does it all alone.”

Grantaire steps inside and closes the door behind him. “It’s really not that big a deal. Anyone could do that.”

“Frankie, come to the front of the class. Tell us about your dad’s job.”

Frank looks up from his drawing. “I already told you about his job when he wasn’t here.”

Grantaire feels like he’d just been punched in the stomach. “Yeah, right, you’re right. I’ll just… I’ll just pick up from that--”

“Yes, you’re right, you did tell us a little about what he does when he wasn’t here, but he didn’t hear it. And I’ve completely forgotten all that. Come on, refresh my memory.”

Frank sighs dramatically and drags his little feet to the front of the class. “My dad is an artist. He paints and draws stuff. He painted my room and he’s painting the school,” he announces without any inflection to his voice. Looks up at Grantaire with sheer anger in his eyes and in a last minute fit of defiance, adds. “And he also has a dancing job he doesn’t tell anyone about.”

And okay, maybe he deserves that one, but isn’t the taste of betrayal bitter.

“Oh?” Enjolras prompts and damn that small smile in the corner of his lips. “You’re a complete artist then, huh?”

Oh, this is awful, this is so bad, what do I do?

“Uhm, yeah, I guess so,” he looks down at Frank who is simply staring up at him, his face unreadable. “I-uh. Well, it’s not really like that, actually. It’s not something I--. I don’t do it often--” he’s suddenly struck with an idea. Or rather, a memory. “I took two semesters of Contemporary and Street Dancing in college and used to earn some extra cash doing back-up dancing for performers. But it’s not something I do often.”

“Show them, Dad?”

There’s never a good time to learn that your child is a vengeful demon. He scratches the back of his head. “Alright.”

And this is how he ends up singing and doing the steps to Backstreet Boys’ Everybody , as best as he can remember them, to a group of kindergarteners and their giggling teacher.

Enjolras is giggling. It’s an entrancing sight, the way the corners of his eyes crinkle, and his head is thrown back. It’s such a detached image from the strict statue with perfect hair that’s he’d come to associate with him, Grantaire can’t help but smile despite his utter humiliation.

“Well done! Nice job.” Enjolras claps. “Children, please give him a round of applause, as Mr. Grantaire definitely deserves it!”

The children clap, animatedly and when he looks down at Frank, there’s a ghost of a smirk on his thin lips, but Grantaire decides to let it slide for now.

---

A few hours later, when the children have been dismissed, the lights are off and Enjolras is closing the door to his classroom, Grantaire jogs up to him.

“Hey, man, thanks,” he says, nervously. “For making an exception, I mean. I know you didn’t have to, and probably shouldn’t have done it, and--”

“It’s fine, R, Really.”

“No, seriously. I don’t think you understand how much that meant to me. I wasn’t supposed to be late, I had a shitty pants-related accident - mostly because I got super distracted when I wasn’t supposed to be - and it just screwed me over and I know you have a schedule you have to stick to with the kids and putting that aside to accommodate it for Frankie’s sake, that was…” he chuckles. “That was pretty awesome of you.”

“It was no problem at all, I promise. And I’ve told you before, we want the same thing: what’s best for that boy, and I value your efforts to commit to this.”

Grantaire frowns. “You’re serious about this.”

“Dead serious. I don’t know why you won’t believe me.”

“I might, now,” he shakes his head. “Anyway. I just wanted to say ‘thank you’. Now I have an angry 6-year old to spoil into forgiving me. See you tomorrow?”

Enjolras nods, smiling faintly. “Absolutely.”

Chapter Text

Back in January Grantaire used to work at the  Musain Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays he danced at the Patron-Minette. It used to give him something close to a normal sleeping cycle. Now, working practically everyday at the school and having Saturdays and Wednesdays off at the Club, he’s in a constant state of absolute exhaustion.

Normally he’ll fall into bed, doze off for about 4 hours[and then wake up in the middle of the night and stare at the ceiling, hoping to convince his brain to shut down for a little longer.

Tonight, more than any other night, he wishes he could just unplug from consciousness. To forget what day this is, who he is, who he used to be, his responsibilities.

Anne would be 30 today.

It’s become a habit that whenever he’s home at nights, Frankie will come up with excuses to sleep in his bed with him. Grantaire is always secretly glad for it, even if he’ll say, “Oh, come on, buddy! You’re a big boy now. Big boys sleep in their own beds.” Tonight, when his son coyly knocks on his door, he’s surprised to find himself eager to let the boy crawl in, to hug him tight and if he could, never let go.

About an hour after that, when Grantaire had almost drifted back to sleep, Frank says, hushed. “Dad, are you still awake?”

“Yeah, buddy, what’s up?” He replies, voice thick with sleep.

“I don’t wanna be late for school today…”

Grantaire mumbles. “We won’t be too long, don’t worry. Mr. E. won’t be mad.”

“No, Dad, I don’t wanna be late. I wanna go straight to school today.”

Grantaire runs a hand over his face, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. “Buddy, we’ve talked about this before dinner, remember? It’s Mom’s birthday and we need to go see her.”

Frank wriggles and turns around. It’s dark in the room and Grantaire can only see the outline of his face.

“It can’t be her birthday,” Frank says, his voice trembling. “Because she can’t blow the candles and she won’t open her presents and we can’t hug her! It’s not a birthday if you can’t do any of those things.”

Grantaire feels the corners of his eyes burn and hot tears touch his cheek. His voice comes out hoarse when he explains, “I know that, buddy. And believe me, this is really not how I wanted us to celebrate it, but that’s not what matters. See, the point of birthdays is to let someone know that we’re happy they exist and are a part of our lives. Mom won’t blow her candles, but we need to remind her that we love her all the same.”

Frank is sobbing freely now. “But I don’t like it there! I don’t wanna go.”

“It’ll be quick, I promise! If you want, we can blow the candle for her, okay?”

Frank doesn’t reply, just rolls over on his side and settles close to Grantaire.

Neither of them sleeps until the alarm goes off at 7AM.

---

After breakfast, Grantaire drives them first to a cupcake shop to choose Anne’s birthday “cake” and Frank insists on choosing it himself. When Grantaire suggests taking the M&M’s one, Frank protests.

“No! We’re taking the strawberry one,” to the shopgirl, he explains. “That’s her favorite.”

Grantaire chuckles. “Really? And here I always thought she liked M&M’s…”

“Nu-huh, she thought they were pretty, but she didn’t like them.”

“Ah, I see. Okay, then… I wonder who else loves strawberry cupcakes…”

At the cemetery, they decorate her tombstone with pink little flags that read “Happy Birthday!” and Grantaire places some lilies close to it. They sing “happy birthday” and Frank blows out the candle.

“Dad, is Mom really here?” Frank asks, eyeing her tomb curiously.

“Yeah, she is, buddy.”

“And do you think she can hear us?”

“I know she does.”

Frank considers it for a moment, frowning at his own lap. Grantaire doesn’t say anything, simply watches, waiting. Eventually, the little boy looks up again and says, “Can I talk to her?”

“Of course you can! Go ahead.”

“No, not like this! You have to go there.” He points at a distant tree a few yards away.

“Why?”

“Because I need to tell her a secret and you can’t hear it.”

“Is it a secret that you can tell me later?”

Frank rolls his eyes, shoulders slumped. “Uh, no . Because then it wouldn’t be a secret.”

“Right, of course. Silly me.” And he walks away, not-so-subtly casting glances over his shoulder.

Frank waits until there’s a considerable distance between them and then sits down in front of Anne’s picture on the tombstone. A fair-skinned woman with light blonde hair smiles at him.

“Hi, Mom,” he begins in a small voice. “I made you gift.” He sticks his little hand into his coat pocket and takes out a - now mostly broken - necklace made out of raw macaroni. It has a pendant in the shape of a heart hanging from it. Frank worries it between his fingers for a few seconds, but then decides to place it near the lilies.

“I don’t know if you can wear it in Heaven, but I guess you could look down and see it?” Frank looks up at the cold, blue sky. “Dad says you’re in Heaven with God now, but he also says you’re down here, under a lot of dirt and also in my heart, but Ugly Charlotte says the only thing in our hearts is blood. I don’t understand how this works and Dad won’t explain it to me.”

“I asked him why I couldn’t go see you or why you couldn’t take me with you and he just cried a lot and told me to never say that again. I don’t like it when he cries so I don’t ask anymore,” he runs a hand over his mother’s picture. “So can I ask you, Mom? Didn’t you want me with you? Why can’t we see each other? Can’t God let you come see us sometimes?  Why do people say he’s nice if he doesn’t let you come visit? Because-- okay, I love Dad, but he doesn’t smell like you, and he’s good with tickling, but not like you, and he always lets me win when we’re playing video-games and that’s really boring!”

Frank is angry and wants to cry, but the tears just won’t come, which just makes him angrier, his pale face reddening furiously. “Mom, Dad doesn’t sing anymore!” He feels guilty for telling on his father like that, but he doesn’t know who else to talk to about this. “He used to, all the time, remember? And now he doesn’t anymore and he gets all sad when I ask him why. So could you tell him to sing again, Mom? I liked it when he sang…”

He sighs, because the confession that’s coming next is important, and he needs all the courage he can muster. “I didn’t want to come here today. I don’t like it here, it’s ugly and cold and smells funny. I’m sorry that I didn’t want to come here…” He kisses the tips of his fingers and then touches the picture. “I love you, Mom.”

He gets up slowly and is about to turn and leave when his eyes fall on the cupcake. “Mom, can I have that?” He points at the treat.

There’s a brief moment of absolute silence before Frank snatches the cake and cheerly says, “Thanks!”

When he saddles up to Grantaire, mouth and chin smeared with pink frosting, he just says, over a mouthful of cake, “Mom let me eat it.”

Grantaire ruffles his hair and walks them back to the car.

---

Someone knocks on his door a little after 9:00. Enjolras looks up from Danny’s collage to see Frank awkwardly walk inside.

“Sorry we’re late,” Grantaire says from the door, voice uncharacteristically levelled. “I didn’t think we’d take that long.”

“No, it’s fine.” Enjolras attempts a smile, but lets it fall when Grantaire doesn’t smile back, just nods.

“Mr. E.,” Lilly asks, shooting her hand up in the air. “How come Frankie only got here now?”

Frank looks back at Grantaire, who opens his mouth to speak, but Enjolras beats him to it. “He had to get to the doctor to get a shot.” The children gasp and some shout “Ewwww…” and let it go.

He risks a glance at the door is surprised by the wave of relief that washes over him when Grantaire smiles faintly and mouths a simple “Thank you.”

---

C: We’re gonna go drinking tonight.

 

Grantaire snorts at the message. Types back, “Who’s ‘we’?”

 

C: You and me. And whoever else you want.

C: Unless you want it to be just you and me. Wink wink, nudge nudge.

me: LOL. Tempting, but I don’t think you could handle me.

C: You flatter yourself, my dear.

C: Flatter *me*, instead. ;)

me: Maybe some other day? I’ve gotta work tonight. =(

C: Sex or beer? Or both? Raawwr.

me: Sex and beer? With me? Oh, man, you’re really outta your depth

me: But beer. i’m afraid you’re not my type

C: </3

C: who’s your type, then?

me: scarlett johansson.

me: and leo dicaprio, i guess.

C: I’m sensing a theme here. Feisty golden-haired deities. nice

me: what are you getting at?

C: … nothing

C: *definitely not plotting*

me: i’m sorry, but don’t you have kids you’re supposed to be teaching now?

C: they’re plotting with me

 

Grantaire shakes his head, a faint grin tugging at the corners of his lips, and pockets his phone again. Back to the task at hand, he continues to pencil the final details on the first stage of his sketch. This is an important phase, because it’s from paper to wall after this and every detail must be observed and dealt with now, since neither he nor the school can afford that many tries before getting it right.

The scene is fairly simple: a boy and a girl sit across from each other holding a book from which golden fairy dust flies all around them and upwards; right at the end, it begins to transform into a witch flying off in her broom, blowing out colorful stars onto the next panel.

He realizes, at some point, that the witch somehow looks a little like Elphaba and it’s the wrong thing to think about in that moment, because it hits him like a brick to remember that Anne’s favorite musical was Wicked .

Frustrated, he decides to sketch an alternative panel and replaces the witch for a wizard.

It takes him three tries to get the shading right, so he just drops the pencil aggressively and storms out of the room to smoke the tension out.

---

Enjolras is separating the next activity when Frank stops by his desk, paper sheet in hand.

“I’m all done, Mr. E.” He announces quietly, handing in his lesson.

Enjolras nods. “Did you find all the words?” He exams the crossword puzzle. “You missed one. Do you think you could find it for me?”

“Can’t you find it?”

“I could, but I’m all grown up, I already know how to do this. It’s your turn to learn.”

“But I already found all the others.”

Enjolras nods. “Which is why I know you’ll have no problem finding the last one.” He gives the lesson back. Frank takes it, but doesn’t return to his desk. “Is everything okay?”

“I wasn’t at the doctor’s today.” Frank whispers.

“Yeah, I know. Your dad had told me you had to go visit your mom.”

Frank frowns. “So you lied.”

“I guess you could say that.”

“But you’re not supposed to lie. You get in trouble when you do that.”

Enjolras considers that for a moment until he finally pulls up a chair next to his and pats on it. “I think I could help you find the last word. Come on up here.” Frank sits up very straight and smoothes the paper over the desk.

“I think the last one is ‘cow’, because all the others were farm stuff, but we’ve run out of C’s.” The little boy exposes the problem like an adult would explain a budget cut issue. Enjolras struggles to keep a straight face.

“That makes sense. If not a cow, what other farm animals could it be, then? Which ones are we missing here?”

Frank puts his elbows up on the desk and rests his chin on his hands, brows knitted together in deep concentration.

“I’m gonna give you a hint: some people have it in their hamburgers as bacon and we often have it on Christmas as ham.”

Frank thinks about it for a few seconds until his face lights up. “Pig!” He looks up at Enjolras proudly. “Here! P-I-G. Pig!” As he’s circling the word he grimaces and looks up again. “Ew… We eat pig with our hamburgers. Pigs eat garbage.”

“That’s not actually true. Pigs eat a little bit of everything, kind of like humans.”

“So a pig could eat a hamburger?”

Enjolras chuckles. “I suppose it could. But we’d remove the bacon, right?”

“Right,” he nods. “But why did you lie today?”

Enjolras inhales deeply. “There are certain things other people don’t need to know about us. Kind of like secrets, if you think about it. Would you have liked for everyone to know where you were before class today?” Frank shakes his head violently. “Exactly. There’s nothing wrong with what you and your dad were doing today, but that’s a private thing that belongs only to the two of you. Like a secret, and important secrets need to be protected. When we like someone, we protect their secrets.”

“So it’s okay to lie?”

Enjolras laughs. “Why do I feel like you just want me to give you permission to lie?”

Frank shakes his head. “You can’t do that. Only Dad can let me tell lies if I want to.”

“And is there a lie that you’d like to tell?”

Frank bites his lip. Doesn’t meet his eyes when he replies, “I’d like to lie that I’d eaten dinner so I could have dessert.”

Enjolras is startled into laughing that loudly. Once he’s calmed down, he says, as seriously as he can, “You see, that’s the wrong kind of lying! Very different than what I did today.”

“Okay…” He slides out of the chair and drags his feet back to his own colorful desk.

---

“Hey,” Fantine calls softly. Grantaire pushes off the wall, startled. She’s kind enough to pretend she doesn’t notice how he hastily wipes off tears before turning to her.

“Uhm, hi! How’s--uh. How’s everything? Good?”

Fantine slowly nods. “Terrific. Are you okay?”

“Uhm, yeah. Peachy,” his grin stretches too far, too fast. “Just, uhm, painter’s block, you know how it is…”

“I guess… R, it’s freezing outside, why don’t come on inside and we’ll have a cup of coffee and talk a little?”

“Nah, it’s cool. I just wanted to clear my head a little, but now I’m all refreshed,” he winks at her, and it would be charming like all the other times he’s done that, but the action just draws that much attention to how bloodshot his eyes are. “Guess I should go back to work. Nice talking to you, sweet cheeks.”

“R, if you want to talk about it…”

“I really don’t. Like, really, really, really don’t. But thanks anyway.”

---

Grantaire’s doubling over the hall, set on going back to the teacher’s lounge when the bell rings and it’s flooded with running children. A quick glance at the clock on the wall and he’s suddenly very aware of just how long he spent outside wallowing: it’s past 1PM.

Resigned, he walks down the hall anyway, this time in the direction of the playground. He just needs to check-up on Frank, that’s all.

Despite the cold, the children are playing a number of games, climbing up things, going fast, fast, fast on the merry-go-round, barely waiting their turns to go down the slide or the swings. The scene is a swirling mess of colors and giggling.

Apart from all that, Frank eats his lunch alone. He’s sitting by one of the trees and looking lost in his little world, as usual. Grantaire moves to go up to him when a strong hand circles his wrist.

“I wouldn’t, if I were you.” Enjolras says softly. Grantaire cranes his neck, glaring.

“He’s alone! I can’t just leave him like that, I need to--”

“You’re right. You’re absolutely right about this,” Enjolras releases his arm, but shortens the distance between them. “It’s heartbreaking and something that needs to be solved as quickly as possible. I think I’ve made it very clear how I feel about his isolation, but you stepping up like this really isn’t going to help. If anything, it’ll make it worse: why socialize when Dad will always be there?”

What the fuck did you smoke ? Of course he needs to know I’m always gonna be there! What the fuck did they teach you in college?”

“He needs you to be there in different ways. For support, not his only form of social life. Which is what I came here to talk to you about,” Enjolras licks his lips and Grantaire seriously has no time to deal with this shit. He feels raw, feels drained, feels like he needs an anchor, something to keep him grounded. For some reason, he feels like fucking Prouvaire against the wall behind Enjolras right now. He shakes his head.

“I’m all ears, oh, wise one,” he mocks because he can’t think of anything else to say.

“How would you feel about teaching the children about colors and Visual Arts today?”

Grantaire stares at him for a few seconds, waiting for the punch-line. When it doesn’t come, he blinks a few times and says. “I’m not a teacher. I’m the guy who paints the wall, remember?”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t you have a degree in Art?”

“Woah. I could cut the tension with a knife here.” Courfeyrac teases, walking up to his friend’s side.

Enjolras rolls his eyes. “No tension. Just talking.”

“That look never means ‘talk’. It usually comes before you slaughter someone.”

Grantaire chuckles. “You guys are ridiculous.”

“We try,” Courfeyrac nods.

“Anyway. I don’t know, man. I’ve never been really good at this whole ‘imparting-wisdom’ thing.”

“I know it would mean a lot to Frankie. I’m also confident that it would do wonders for his social skills to have his father help out in the classroom. The other kids would really admire him after that.”

“Oooh, that would be awesome!” Courfeyrac claps. “Come on, R, you gotta do it!”

Grantaire worries his bottom lip between his teeth. “Uhm… Not a class, but what about something else?”

“What do you have in mind?”

And that’s how Grantaire spends an hour drawing butterflies, dragons, skulls and a multitude of other designs on the kids’ faces and arms.

Across the room, he catches a glimpse of Enjolras smiling at him. The colorful fish drawn on his cheek distorted in an too adorable way, and Grantaire tries not smile too big.

---

He leaves early for work that night. Arrives at the Club a little after 8PM. There’s barely anyone there yet, and it’s too early for rehearsals yet.

But it’s alright, because that’s not why he showed up before the clock, anyway. Grantaire sweeps his eyes around the room until he spots Jehan by the bar in all of his green and purple striped glory.

Moments later, when they’re in the dressing room and he’s merciless pounding into the beautiful young man before him, it hits him how pointless that is. He wants oblivion; wants to be buried so deep into Jehan and absolute pleasure, he forgets everything else. But the truth is that he can’t get his mind off of the bills piling up; of Frankie distancing himself from everyone; of just how much he misses Anne and, because he apparently doesn't have enough problems as it is, blue eyes and perfect blond hair.

He shakes his head and thrusts his hips harder, deeper, faster, trying and failing to let Jehan’s grunts block out the noise in his head.

---

On his way home, Grantaire takes a detour to the cemetery. Much like his son, there are things he feels like he needs to get off chest, or they’ll just sit there and crush him.

It's one of those irrational things. Grantaire knows, objectively, that Anne's death was unavoidable. There was nothing that he, or anyone, could've done to save her. But looking down at her cold, unfeeling grave, he has some difficulty remembering that.

He takes his gloved hand out of his pocket and let it rest on her tombstone.

"We were gonna see your parents," he says softly. "I'd been planning it for a while and had even saved some money for it. And I know," he raises his hands up in defense. "I know you would've yelled and bitched about how we shouldn't throw money away on shit like that, but we both know you'd been missing them like hell."

The wind howls and Grantaire feels the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck stand on end. He zips his jacket up, fighting for warmth.

"I don't think you even noticed back then, but I sure did. You'd hum that tune when you were cooking that you always complained your mom would hum all the time. I mean, you were cooking , for fuck's sake." He bites his lip to suppress a smile. "You two had a way of driving each other up the walls, but I know you missed her."

Grantaire could almost see her now, folding clothes in a different way than she always did. Attempting recipes that definitely had a southern touch to them, as she hummed a tune he hardly ever heard. Looking at photos that'd been buried deep in boxes he'd forgotten even existed, a far-off look on her face.

"I wanted your folks to meet Frankie," he goes on. "See how beautiful and smart he is, you know? Then they'd have to admit that you'd done something right in your life," his voice falters and he can feel his knees giving in. "I just didn't want it to be on your funeral."

He ends up collapsing, knelt on her grave, holding onto her tombstone as if to life itself. "Fuck, I miss you so much," he sobs. "I miss you so much, sometimes it's hard to breathe . I always thought this was some crap people said in movies, but-- There are times I catch myself wishing you were back and I can't think, I can't breathe, I can't--", he swallows. Takes a deep breath. "Did you know that I haven't even thrown your shampoo away? Creepy, I know. But sometimes... because I'm such a fucking masochist... sometimes I'll just smell it, and suddenly I have this vision of you sitting on the couch, crazy-worried about the bills and chewing on your hair, and it just--", he chuckles. "That was really fucking gross."

He looks around, the graveyard empty and still gray in the very early morning. "I miss you so much, I'm talking to myself, desperate to believe the lies I tell Frankie."

And Grantaire can't help it now, he's crying brokenly, desperately. "I don't know what to do, Annie," he admits. "I can't do this alone. I mean... I'm barely holding it together, I-- I feel like I’m fraying at the edges and I can't do this, I-- I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry that you had to go! I'm sorry that you won't get to see him grow up, I'm sorry--"

I'm sorry it wasn't me , he doesn't say. Anne never liked to hear him talk like that and if she were there, she'd hate to hear his dying wishes.

"I met someone," he says lightly, changing the subject. "He's a pain in the ass, you'd love him."

The air is cold and it bites his face where the tears tracked down his cheeks. "Enjolras," laughs wetly. "What the fuck kind of name is that, right? Enjolras. Hot in a way I didn't think people could be. And feisty! Takes everything so seriously... Practically a force of nature. Fascinating, really."

The sun starts to peek through the gray skies, red and shy on the horizon.

"Enjolras reminds me of that study I had to do on the Classics, back in junior year. Apollo . Searing and overpowering like the sun itself..." Grantaire surprises himself by laughing. "Aahh, fuck. Been hanging around Prouvaire too much," he shakes his head. "Apollo thinks I'm a shitty parent. I bothers me that it's so obvious."

Grantaire stays like that for a long time, reading the words on her tombstone over and over again. "Beloved mother and friend," like a mantra. Like a prayer. It isn't until the sun has fully risen that he gets up, not quite ready to leave yet, but real life calls.

"You know I don't believe this shit, but I'd like to. Believe that you're somewhere better, that is. I mean, if you can't be with us, then you should be somewhere better," he sighs. "No, you know what? Forget I ever said that, it was stupid."

Chapter Text

Grantaire doesn’t get sick. It’s the one consistent thing about him.

He was never sickly as a child, and from puberty until his early 20’s he fucked his body with so many drugs and alcohol, he could swear up and down that it’s a scientific fact his immune system is now nearly indestructible.

So, no. He doesn’t ever get sick, which is why when he wakes up sore that morning he chalks it up to exhaustion. Maybe he’s getting a little too old to dance all night.

He’s sneezing and coughing uncontrollably, but convinces himself it’s just the air quality. It’s not until he startles himself awake that it hits him that he’d actually gotten home and slept that morning. It isn’t something he normally does, but Grantaire had arrived so exhausted that Saturday that he’d simply gotten home and faceplanted on the bed.

“I’m not sick, though,” he scorns himself. “It’s psychosomatic.” And sneezes all the way to the bathroom, ignoring the way his throat scratches painfully.

---

Frank is happily eating his cereal, kicking his feet and humming. Grantaire watches that scene and idly muses that it should be illegal to be that upbeat on cold weekends. He sniffles and tightens the blanket around himself.

When Frank is done with his breakfast he propels his elbows on the table and asks, cheerly. “Do we get to go to school today?”

“There are no classes today, buddy,” Grantaire replies and pretends not to notice how his ‘n’ is coming out a little like a ‘d’.

Frank frowns at him. “But you said you were gonna take me to the school today because Auntie Ép was busy.”

Grantaire’s eyes snap wide open at that and his heart skips a beat. Éponine. Tattoo fair. Babysitting Gavroche. Painting the school .

Fuck.

He scrambles to his feet and rushes to his room, nearly tripping over his blanket. When he turns his phone back on, he has fifteen missed calls from Éponine and two angry texts.

 

’ponine: where are you? you were supposed to be here 15 min ago.

ponine: if you’re not dead already you will be, asshole.

 

“Shit,” he mumbles under his breath.

---

After calling Éponine and apologizing profusely, she miraculously lets it go. Even more strange, she sounds genuinely worried.

“Maybe you should just lie down,” she suggests softly. “Make yourself some herbal tea and take a shitload of vitamin C…”

“Ép, I’bot sthick ,” Grantaire insists, annoyed.

“Oh, you’re thick, alright. Thick-headed!” She retorts sharply. “Quit being a baby and go lie down.”

I’b fide,” Grantaire lies. “Go bake grown ‘ban cry.”

He hangs up and starts changing into warmer, disposable clothes, not so excited about a whole day of painting ahead of him.

Éponine will never know how his head spins when he turns around.

---

“Do you have a schedule set with them?” Courfeyrac asks all too casually.

Enjolras briefly cuts his eyes to him and then back on the road. “It’s volunteering work. I can show up whenever’s convenient for me, but, yes, I had, in fact, agreed on a specific time to be there. Why?”

“Oh, no reason,” Courfeyrac smiles and waves his hand around. “I forgot something at school and wanted to get it back for a project with the children, but I’ll just get a cab on the way back home.”

Enjolras sighs. “And there’s no way you could pick it up on Monday?”

“It’s for a project for Monday. But really, don’t worry. I’ll figure something out.”

Enjolras takes a turn left. “Make it quick.”

---

“Dad, can I help?” Frank asks, still mesmerized by the colorful spray paint cans.

“You are hel bhin g,” Grantaire replies too quickly. Coughs. “So the wizard comes out of the book,” coughs harder.  “And what happens d ext?”

“Then he blows fairy dust all over the city! And the children get caught in it-- Dad, are you okay?”

Frank, crouched on the sidewalk, is looking up at him with big round eyes, brow furrowed and the corners of his mouth turned downwards. Grantaire wonders what he must look like to worry his son so much.

“Yeah, buddy, I’b fide ,” he lies, attempting a smile.

His head spins again and the faint discomfort he’d been feeling at the base of his skull increases alarmingly. This starts to look all-too-familiar and he feels like throwing up.

This isn’t what you think it is , he tells himself. Bile rises up in throat and he feels like throwing up. Calm the fuck down, you little shit . Grantaire inhales deeply, lets his eyes drift shut for a moment.

I just wanna sleep for a century.

“Daddy…?” Frank asks again, his voice sounding more and more like he’s about to cry.

Grantaire’s head throbs again.

In silence. Without a string of annoying questions--

“I’m okay, just give me a second, will ya?” He breathes out.

His back and legs hurt. Throat so sore, he can barely stand to swallow his own spit and it feels like he can’t get himself to warm up, no matter how tightly he winds the scarf around his neck or how many times he rubs his gloved hands together.

Grantaire clumsily sits on the sidewalk. Frank carefully stands by his side and runs his little fingers through Grantaire’s curls. His scalp is damp with sweat, he knows that, he feels it dripping at the back of his neck.

“Ew,” Frank complains, wiping his hand on his pants.

“Frankie, don’t stand too close,” Grantaire tells him, his voice hoarse.

“Why?”

“Just don’t.”

“Can I do something?”

“No. I just need a second to catch up, that’s all.”

“Can Mr. E. do something, then?”

“What?”

Frank points to the corner in the street. Grantaire follows the motion with his eyes and sure enough, Enjolras and Courfeyrac are doubling the street, talking animatedly. Once they see him, their footsteps quicken and within seconds they’re both by his side.

“Are you okay?” Courfeyrac asks, uncharacteristically serious around him. Enjolras looks down at him the same way his mother used to do whenever he ran around the house: eyes partially squinted, lips pursed and jaw set. He vaguely wonders if this means he’ll be put on time-out.

“Peachy.” He lies and attempts a weak smile. His throat hurts.

“Are you drunk?” Enjolras asks bluntly.

Grantaire could punch him. Would punch him if he had the strength for it at the moment. “Do you fu--” He catches sight of Frank looking scared, hiding behind Courfeyrac. He tries again. “Do you smell alcohol on me?”

“Then what is it?”

He sighs. “The freaking plague.” Sneezes, sniffles, wishes for unconsciousness a little bit.

Enjolras and Courfeyrac look at each other and Grantaire wonders how weird it is that they can do that best-friends-thing of communicating without words.

“R, Frankie shouldn’t be out here. It’s too cold today,” Enjolras says cautiously, like it isn’t something Grantaire considered himself.

“Couldn’t leave him alone inside the school.” He explains, defensively. “Stairs, pointy things and a million other things, you know.”

“We get it, but you’re in no condition to paint right now and Frankie needs to be somewhere warm.”

“Don’t have a lot of options.” Grantaire just wants Enjolras to stop talking. Stop stating the obvious, this is the best I can do .

“You do now,” Courfeyrac cuts in. “We were on our way for a play day with the children in the City Homeless Shelter. Can I take him? I promise to bring him home by 5 o’clock in one piece and everything.”

“A play day?” Frank repeats, a tinge of curiosity and hope in his voice.

“Yes!” Courfeyrac exclaims. “With games and hand-painting and cocoa!”

“Dad, can I come?!” Frank is already holding Courfeyrac’s hand with both of his and he looks a little desperate.

Grantaire sighs. “Fine. But I want him home before dinnertime.”

Courfeyrac’s face lights up. “Don’t worry, I will!”

“No, but come here, I gotta tell you something,” Grantaire gestures for Courfeyrac lean down. When he does, Grantaire whispers, “If anything happens to my kid, I’m gonna make you eat your left ball.” He can see Courfeyrac biting his bottom lip to keep from laughing, the bastard.

“Don’t worry, he’s in good hands with little old me.”

“Ok, good, now that it’s settled, get up,” Enjolras begins, offering his hand. “I’m taking you home.”

Grantaire snorts. His head hurts. “Buy me dinner first.”

“I’m driving you to your house. You’re in no condition to be anywhere other than a bed with tea and vitamin C.”

“I can drive myself home, you know.”

“I’m positive you can’t.”

He helps Grantaire to his feet and he feels the world spin a little bit. Woah, okay, maybe a little help would be great .

To Courfeyrac he says, “Do you think you could handle the kids on your own for a while?”

Courfeyrac waves a hand in dismissal. “I’ve got it. Take care of him.”

---

The drive home is mostly quiet, except for when Grantaire needs to give Enjolras directions on how to get there.

When they make it there, Grantaire fumbles for his keys and lets them drop twice. If he wasn’t so worried he’d freeze to death, he would actually be embarrassed.

“Here, let me,” Enjolras takes the keys from the floor. “Which one opens the door?”

“No, it’s okay, I’ve got this,” Grantaire protests.

“Clearly you don’t. If you don’t tell me which one opens the door I’m just gonna try them all.”

Grantaire sighs. “The red ended one.”

Enjolras opens the door and Grantaire all but stumbles inside.

“Where can I put this?” Enjolras asks, unshouldering the bag with the paints and the portfolio briefcase.

“Anywhere. Don’t care.” Grantaire replies from the couch, his voice partially muffled because his face is pressed against the cushions, where he faceplanted.

“Okay, I’ll just leave it on the table,” Enjolras says carefully. “Are you gonna be okay on your own?”

“Maybe. Possibly. ‘M just gonna power this through.”

“I’d start with that fever of yours. You’re sweating buckets.”

“I just need to sleep,” Grantaire admits, though it sounds like begging.

“Then sleep after a bath and some medication!”

Grantaire raises his head, frowning. “Are you really yelling at a sick person? Are you that cruel?”

Enjolras rolls his eyes. “Write a poem about it, why don’t you,” He unwinds his scarf and rolls up his sleeves, walking up to the couch. “Come on, I’ll help you.” He drags Grantaire up to his feet.

“Duuuudeee, just leave here for a while. I just need to rest a little,” Grantaire whines. “Don’t you have some volunteering you should be doing right now?”

“How are you even an adult?” Enjolras complains, walking Grantaire in the direction of the stairs. “Where’s your bathroom?”

“You’re getting warm. It’s upstairs,” Grantaire smirks. “Are you gonna bathe me?”

“Are you sure you’re not drunk?”

---

After walking Grantaire up the stairs - a task harder than he initially calculated, as  Grantaire is heavier than he looks and is particularly bratty about being tended to -, he leaves his stubborn patient on the bed while he prepares him a bath.

“Seriously, you don’t have to,” Grantaire repeats a fifth time. “I’ve got this.”

“You were going to sweat out your fever by lying face-down on a couch. I can’t trust you with your own well-being. Come on,” he takes Grantaire’s hand and helps him up. “Can you undress yourself or do you need any help with that?”

Grantaire stares at him for a few seconds and then his face breaks in a confused grin. “Did you just obber to sthrip me daked ?”

“What? No!” Enjolras can feel his face heating up. “This is not what I meant, I mean, I just wanted to--”

Grantaire chuckles. “Incoherency is a good look on you.” He lets go of Enjolras’ hand, walks up to his bathroom. His steps aren’t as steady as they usually are, but he doesn’t look prone to falling face-first on the sink either, so Enjolras feels slightly calmer about it. “I can do this, though. Thanks for the obber .”

--

Not sure what else to do next, Enjolras texts Courfeyrac.

 

me: what do sick people need?

Courf: jesus.

Courf: psychological treatment.

Courf: a hug?

me: (¬_¬) i’m serious.

Courf: Idk. Cough drops? Fever medicine? Tea and crackers?

Courf: Lots of liquids?

Courf: Wait. Does that mean you’re still at R’s?

me: Yeah. Apparently he’s not really good at taking care of himself.

Courf: … So you’re gonna take care of him for him, is that it?

me: Is that a problem?

Courf: I wouldn’t say ‘problem’. I’d probably use ‘intriguing’.

me: Well, don’t. I’d do it for anyone.

Courf: At their house? I don’t think so.

me: Ok, I’d do it for you.

Courf: you’ve known me for 20 yrs. And you’ve seen me naked. You kinda shot your point dead.

me: it’s not like that. I’m just worried he’ll end up drowning himself in the tub if I leave.

Courf: you’ll be watching him in the tub???

me: NO.

Courf: clearly youth is wasted on the young. tsk, tsk.

Courf: okay, in that order: take his temperature, give him some fever medicine, drown him in blankets, let him sleep for a while. When he wakes up, drown him with liquids (fever sweating; we don’t want him dehydrating), try to get him to eat something easy, like soup or crackers. If he’s feverish, it means his throat is infected, so give him something for that (not yourself, wink wink).

Courf: let him sleep a lot again. Srly, sleep is the key.

Courf: should i take this as a sign that you won’t be joining us this afternoon?

me: I’m sorry?

me: I’ll make it up to them, I promise. Please let them know something important came up and I just couldn’t make it.

Courf: you should apologize to me, but okay.

---

Grantaire lowers himself as below the water as he can without actually drowning himself. He keeps his arms and legs as close together as possible and tries to absorb all the warmth he can.

It would feel good, except for how he still feels so cold and he can’t seem to stop shaking. His head still throbs, but it’s a little more subdued now; like a faint pang between his eyes, rather fucking Voldemort approaching.

His thighs are still the sorest, though. He rubs his balled fists against them, trying, without success, to get the muscles to relax and soothe the pain.

At least it’s on a day-off , he thinks, taking a deep breath. You have until tomorrow to fuck off, virus from hell .

A few seconds pass like this, until his hands travel upwards. Not maliciously, not with any intent, just… travelling up.

Grantaire closes his eyes and allows his mind to wander. He thinks of random things, like how he’ll probably have to go over to the school the next day to catch up on the job he didn’t get to finish today. About the groceries he needs to buy for the week. About how Frank is holding up around a lot of homeless people.

Eventually, it lands on the one thought he’d been hopelessly trying to avoid. Enjolras had willingly come to his house and gone out of his way to make sure he was okay.

His index finger traces circular patterns on his inner thigh.

It doesn’t mean anything , he tells himself. He just really likes to save people. That’s all .

---

There’s a soft knock on his door. “R,” Enjolras calls from the other side. “Are you doing alright in there?”

Grantaire snorts. “Yeah, Mom, I’m finde .”

“You don’t sound ‘fine’ at all. I’m afraid the water will go cold and you’ll get worse. It’s time you come out and take the fever medicine.”

“I was joking about the ‘mom’ thing, but, wow, you’re really playing the part.”

“Be a reasonable patient and I won’t have to act like a concerned parent.”

“You pronounced ‘commanding’ wrong.”

“Do I have to come in and drag you out?”

Grantaire bites his lip and takes three seconds to decide if he’s just going to let that slide before he teases. “Do you want to come in and drag me out?” When there’s no answer to that for a long time, he just ignores the way his cheeks burn in embarrassment and says in a small voice. “Just gimme a minute. I’ll be right out.”

“I’ve set some clothes on the bed for you.” Enjolras lets him know, voice uncomfortably flat.

---

Enjolras stands by the door a minute too long, eyes still wide, before he stiffly walks away.

This is ridiculous , he chastises himself. I grew up with Courfeyrac, I should be used to this sort of thing by now .

---

True to his word, Enjolras had, indeed, set a pair of sweatpants, a t-shirt and a small pile of sweaters. Grantaire frowns, wondering why he hadn’t laid out a pair of boxers as well, and then it hits him, oh, right, boundaries .

He dresses himself slowly, revelling in the warmth and softness of the fabrics and when he’s done, he dives beneath the covers.

By the nightstand there’s a glass of water, a box with antipyretic and a bottle of cough syrup. He takes them and it’s no time at all before he drifts off asleep.

---

Enjolras completely ignores the voice in his head that tells him how rude it is to go through someone else’s cupboard, assuring himself that it’s for a good cause. Grantaire will need to eat when he wakes up and if he doesn’t know where everything is, how is he going to be of any help?

As it turns out, there isn’t much to work with. He worries his lip between his teeth and thinks of what to do next. He drums his fingers against the table.

On the one hand, he needs to go buy the damn chicken soup for Grantaire. On the other, there aren’t a lot of grocery stores nearby and Grantaire could wake up and need assistance in some way…

What if he goes into shock?

Do people go into shock when they have the flu? If the fever’s still bad, he could go into anaphylactic shock, right? Or is it what happens when eat peanuts and are allergic to them?

Okay, I need to check up on him just to be safe .

As quietly as he can, Enjolras goes up the stairs and knocks on Grantaire’s door.

“Hhhmm?” Grantaire replies coherently.

“Can I come in?”

“Sure.”

He opens the door, turns the lights on and Grantaire groans, hands flying up to shield his eyes. “Sorry!” Enjolras hisses.

“What do you want?” Grantaire mumbles.

“I want to take your temperature.”

“Again?”

“You’re supposed to be checked hourly.”

“... You’re not doing that every hour. I just need to fucking sleep.”

“Fine, but I need to make sure your temperature has gone down. If not, we need to take you to a hospital.”

Doh one’s taking me to a hospital just ‘cause of a fucking flu, ok? Doh way I’m shitting mo de y on that.”

Enjolras has already taken the thermometer and he places it under Grantaire’s arm, underneath three layers of clothing. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re a very difficult patient?”

Doh , because I de ver get sick.”

“Ah, I see. Well, then this is a very elaborate way to draw attention to yourself.”

Grantaire closes his eyes, settling even deeper into the pillows. “You’d be amazed.”

A few minutes later, Enjolras takes the thermometer out. “Okay, 101°F. That’s not so bad.”

Grantaire grins, looking all-too pleased with himself. “The silver linings. Doht even viruses want me, fuck yeah.”

Enjolras startles himself by laughing. “You have a very weird sense of humor.”

Grantaire cracks an eye open. “Oh, this isn’t humor. It’s just reality.”

“Then this is the strangest form of optimism I’ve ever seen.”

“I’ve de ver been accused of that, but thanks.”

“No a problem,” Enjolras gets up. “I need to pick something up. Do you think you’ll be okay alone for a while?”

Grantaire opens both his eyes and stares at him for a few seconds. “I’m 28,” he says very slowly. “I think I can take a dap on my own.”

“Says the man who was willing to sweat a fever--”

--lying facedown on a couch, yes, thank you, you’ve said it before. Let it go, please?”

“Not likely.” Enjolras smiles as he walks out of the room and closes the door behind himself.

---

Alone in the darkness, no one sees how far Grantaire’s grin stretches on his face.

---

“Mr. C.,” Frank asks, poking him at his ribs.

“Hm?”

“Is my dad okay?”

Courfeyrac smiles sweetly at him. “Of course he is, little bean. He just needs to rest a little.”

“He didn’t look okay.”

Courfeyrac frowns. “It took you 3 hours to realize that? This is literally the first time you’re bringing this up.”

Frank twists his muddied hands together. “Did he go to the hospital?”

“What? No! Seriously, you don’t have to worry. Your dad just needed some pills and a few hours of sleep. Grown-ups get better faster than children, don’t worry.”

Frank looks at him very seriously, his tiny hands balling up into fists. “No, they don’t.”

“He’s fine, I promise,” Courfeyrac says very slowly. He crouches down and takes Frank’s hands into his own, smoothing them down until they relax and aren’t fisted anymore. “When you get home, I’m sure he’ll want to hear all about the super fun day you had and everything that you did. He’d be very upset if it turned out that instead of playing and enjoying yourself, you were too busy worrying about him.” Frank is still pouting slightly, big blue eyes hard and fixed on him. “It’s his job to be worried about you, not the other way around, okay?”

Frank shakes his head. “He can’t go to a hospital.”

“And he won’t,” Courfeyrac assures him. “What’s gonna happen is that Mr. E. will give him some cough drops and he’ll sleep a lot and he’s gonna be all better later. Trust me.”

It goes like a staring-match and Courfeyrac knows he can’t be the first to look away. Eventually, Frank pulls his hands back and walks away.

---

Enjolras only meant to buy the soup, but then he remembers he didn’t see any milk anywhere in the kitchen so he puts two gallons in the cart. On his way to the checkout it occurs to him that Frank will get home really hungry from a whole day playing and Grantaire will be in no condition to fix him a decent meal and, in any case, he’s gonna have to make himself some lunch too, so he buys more and more ingredients. He passes by the candy aisle and gets a chocolate bar for Frankie, assuming the boy will be upset that his father isn’t well enough to play with him, so he might as well compensate him for that.

When he pulls up at Grantaire’s driveway he has four bags full of groceries and doesn’t even think twice about it.

---

It’s past four o’clock when Grantaire climbs down the stairs all wrapped up in a blanket. He halts when he sees Enjolras sitting on his couch.

“Oh,” Enjolras startles when he hears him. “I--uh. I didn’t realize you were still here.”

Enjolras gets up quickly. “Was I not supposed to be? Do you want me to go?”

Grantaire closes his eyes, shame creeping in slowly up his throat. Or maybe that’s bile. He isn’t sure. “No, man, sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I’m just… surprised you stayed at all. Most people would’ve just ditched.” Enjolras is smiling at him. “What?”

“You got your ‘n’s back.”

Grantaire chuckles. “Yeah, I’m pretty excited about that, actually.”

Enjolras nods. “So you’re feeling better?”

“Yeah, ‘better’ definitely sums it up. Not a hundred percent yet, but getting there.”

“Good! Are you hungry?”

Grantaire frowns, but he’s still smiling, he can feel it. “Shouldn’t I be the one asking that? Fuck, I’m the worst host ever.”

Enjolras walks by him on the way to the kitchen. “Well, since technically you didn’t invite me at all, I think you’re off the hook here.”

Grantaire nods in approval. “I like the way you think.”

“I actually got you soup. It’s the instant-cooking kind, I hope you don’t mind.”

“... You bought me soup? Dude, you really didn’t have to-- is there food in those pots?”

Enjolras peeks a look at the stove. “Yeah, I’m sorry, I ended up cooking myself something for lunch and I just figured I’d leave something prepared for Frankie.” Grantaire is still staring at him wide-eyed and his jaw is hanging open, slightly. “I’m sorry, I really shouldn’t have done that.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Grantaire shakes his head. “I owe you a fucking car.”

Enjolras shakes his head, shoulders visibly more relaxed. “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s not a big deal.”

“Oh, you and I have very different opinions about what’s a big deal.”

---

Enjolras fixes him the soup and they both go back to the living room.

It’s strangely calming to watch Grantaire eat his soup. He’s sitting cross-legged on the couch, blanket wrapped around his shoulders and his black, disheveled curls frame his very pale face. In a way, it’s like watching an overgrown version of one of his students slurp spaghetti.

Grantaire notices him staring. “What?”

“Nothing,” Enjolras shakes his head. His eyes dart quickly around, desperate to change the subject. They land on a frame on the wall behind Grantaire. “Lovely picture.”

Grantaire cranes his neck to look at the photo and when he turns his head back again, his face looks somehow harder. “Oh. Yeah. It’s pretty old, though.”

He’s not wrong, if the baby in the woman’s arms is Frankie like he suspects.

“Is that--?”

“Anne? Yeah. Right after we moved in here.”

“She was really beautiful.” Enjolras says cautiously.

“Yeah.” Is all Grantaire says. He eats some more soup.

“How did--,” Enjolras cuts himself short when Grantaire looks up again. It’s not anger he sees, but it’s definitely not an encouraging look either. “I’m sorry, it’s none of my business.”

Grantaire sighs. He licks his lips and places his bowl on the floor. “Aneurysm. Four months ago.”

“Oh,” Enjolras doesn’t know what he was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t this. Perhaps a car accident early last year? Somehow it makes the situation too real to be dealt with. “I’m really sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.” Grantaire runs a hand through his hair in an obvious attempt to flatten his hair to one side. “It hasn’t exactly been easy.”

“I can imagine,” Enjolras awkwardly places a hand on Grantaire’s leg, aiming for comforting gesture, but he quickly pulls it away, fearing this is maybe more intimacy than they have at the moment. “You really don’t have to go through this alone, you know? You should talk to a therapist. Grief can consume--”

“A therapist?” Grantaire snorts in disdain. “Had my fair share of those growing up and neither of them did shit to help me. Nah, thanks, I’m just fine. I’ll deal with it like I do with everything else: ignore it until it goes away.”

“I’m sorry you’ve had such bad experiences with them, but isn’t this something a little bigger? I mean, Frankie lost a mother. You lost a wife--”

“What? Oh, no. No, it wasn’t… It wasn’t like that. We weren’t married.”

“Regardless of what label you gave her, you lost your life partner--”

“Enjolras. You’re not getting the point: Anne and I were not involved . We were just raising Frankie together.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, no, I mean. Like, we had a bond, don’t get me wrong. She was my best friend--” his voice catches and he has to pause for a second. He inhales deeply before he goes on. “She was my best friend. My partner in crime and in some many ways, my fucking soul-mate,” he swallows. “But we weren’t involved in that way. I mean, we were at some point.

“We met when I was in my senior year in college and man, was that the hottest month of my college experience,” he chuckles, eyes glazed. “But then we both got tired of that and decided to go our separate ways. Two months later she calls me up and tells me she’s pregnant.”

Enjolras’ eyebrows go up. “Wow.”

“Yeah. Shocking, huh? Unprotected sex equals baby,” he chuckles. “Her parents made a big deal out of how they weren’t gonna have a bastard in the family, which was super stupid because I was so ready to marry her. But then she said ‘fuck it’ and decided we weren’t gonna do it. No way was she gonna marry anyone just ‘cause she’d gotten pregnant, that it wasn’t fair to our kid or herself. That I could be as involved in the baby’s life as I wanted, but she was never gonna be my wife.”

There’s a fond smile on Grantaire’s lips and he’s not looking anywhere in particular, like he’s lost in memory. Enjolras comments. “Smart girl.”

“Oh, she really was!” Grantaire’s face lights up. “You would’ve loved her. She was the fiercest feminist I ever met!”

They both go quiet for a while after that. After a few minutes, Grantaire says. “It hasn’t been easy. Anne was my rock, you know? I got so used to leaning on her for so much, that now that she’s gone I feel like… I feel like I’m missing a limb, I guess. I never realize how much I was counting on her to get this parenting thing right until she was gone.”

“I think most parents feel that way.”

“Nah, it’s more than that. You didn’t know her: she was a pro.”

“In my experience, no one’s a ‘pro’. Some people are just better at hiding their doubts.”

“Your experience never met Anne. She was a fucking force of nature, you know? Nothing could bring her down,” some tears pool in the corners of Grantaire’s eyes, but Enjolras doesn’t say anything. “And then one day-- one day she just dropped dead on the ground. She literally dropped dead. Do you have any idea what’s that like? I was talking to her and then she was on the floor and there was nothing I could do.”

Enjolras looks down. He was never the best at dealing with other people’s emotional states. Courfeyrac would be a much better at this. Or maybe Combeferre.

It takes him a second to realize that Grantaire isn’t telling Courfeyrac or Combeferre or anyone else about this. He’s telling him .

“I’d known something was wrong for a while,” Grantaire continues, sniffling. “She had these horrible headaches, you know? Not like regular headaches, they were full-on mind-control-thunderbolt-inside-your-skull pains. She’d grab her head and squeeze it, sometimes she’d even faint from them. It was awful. I begged her to go see a doctor about it. But she didn’t.” He shakes his head. Wipes the tears away. “I should’ve tried harder. If they’d detected it sooner--”

"R, you can’t blame yourself. There’s only so much you can do for someone if they don’t want to do it.”

“Easy for you to say,” he chuckles bitterly. “We called 911 and got her to the hospital, but-- It was too late. And the look on the doctor’s face… I could feel his judgement, you know? Like he knew, just as much as I did, that if we’d done something sooner… Maybe there’d be a chance.”

“There wasn’t. Most aneurysm victims don’t survive, R. And the ones who do suffer serious brain damage,” this time Enjolras takes his hand unceremoniously. “This wasn’t your fault.”

Grantaire shakes his head. “Thanks for the support. I’ll try to keep that in mind.”

---

“I still don’t get how I got that fucking sick so quickly,” Grantaire complains a while later when they’re watching TV.

“Well, it seems obvious, doesn’t it?” Enjolras chastises, raising an eyebrow.

Grantaire has an uncomfortable flashback of a night at the Club that week, when he was giving a burly guy an extreme up-close lapdance. While he was straddling the man, grinding against him, face mere inches from the customer… Mr. Burly sneezed on his face. Oh, the things he must endure to pay the bills.

“Always down to just one thin shirt when you’re out painting in the cold! And don’t think I don’t know how you’ve been overworking yourself and not eating or sleeping properly. It’s obvious your body would shut down eventually.”

“... Yeah. That was probably it.”

---

Much later, after Enjolras and Courfeyrac had left and Frank had been put to bed,

Grantaire lies awake in his bed, reliving that afternoon in as many details as possible. A sentence stands out above all else.

It wasn’t your fault.

Chapter Text

Grantaire soon learns that the dreadful PTA-meetings happen, without fail, every two weeks and generally talk about the same things:

 

  • “I don’t think the kids should be exposed to that kind of thing yet!” (usually in reference to whatever project Enjolras had going that month);
  • “You need more female teachers in the school! No offence to the men, but I just don’t feel right having a mostly-male staff…” (fair point);
  • “The budget is being wrongly used!” (though no one ever points out how it’s being misused and how to do it right);
  • “But we did it last year!” (whatever project is suggested);
  • “This year’s bake sale needs to be better than the last one!”

 

The Bake Sale.

Grantaire looks up from his sketch to frown at the debate breaking between Valjean and a group of parents.

“We can’t choose the wrong theme this year!” Mr. White yells, red in the face. “ Disney Classics was an absolute disaster, remember?”

“The problem wasn’t the theme--” Mrs. Bloom retorts, but is interrupted by Mrs. O’Toole, who angrily shouts.

“I told you! I told you all that Disney Classics was a shitty theme!” Grantaire turns the page on his sketchbook and starts to draw her pink sweater and makes sure to pay special attention to the smiley kitten wishing everyone a happy day. “We barely made a profit!”

Profits. Grantaire rolls his eyes. He’s been a member of the PTA for almost six weeks now and every now and then the subject of projects to raise money for the Parent-Teacher Association comes up.

The thing is that he had no clue what that money was actually for - sure, objectively, he had a clue: paying for supplies or repairs or whatever, but since he was being paid basically peanuts to paint the entire school and no one seemed to even bat an eye at that, Grantaire had some difficulty understanding why those parents were so worked up over profits .

“Could be a Classic Movies theme!” Courfeyrac suggests excitedly. “Just picture it: the noir vibe… the costumes…!”

Valjean shakes his head. “I’m afraid that would be too expensive.”

“I’ll pay from my pocket if I have to . ” Courfeyrac argues, almost desperate.

“No, he’s right.” Enjolras interjects. He stands up and smoothes his shirt down. Grantaire feels the corners of his lips subtly turn upwards. There’s something about Enjolras taking control of a situation that just makes his stomach churn. “This is an event from the school to the community. It needs to be a theme that will appeal to both parents and the children.”

What little side-arguments still remained silence as Enjolras paces around the room.

“We need to bring the generations closer together. Our theme should reflect directly what the PTA is about--”

“--money?”

All eyes turn on him in a split second.

Shit .

Grantaire shuffles in his seat. He closes his sketchbook and clears his throat. When his brain doesn’t provide him with anything clever, he improvises. “Well, technically , that’s what the Bake Sale is about, right? Making money. Tricking people into supporting our kind-of-organization because we can’t do it on our own?”

He could swear Enjolras’ eye twitches a little bit.

“That’s not the reason we do it,” Enjolras begins and slowly walks towards Grantaire. “These events are a great financial help, yes, but their main purpose is to bring school staff, parents and students closer together. We’re uniting people.”

There are words coming out of Enjolras’ mouth - powerful words at that! This is a room full of adults and no one even seems to consider interrupting him -, and a small part of Grantaire can even understand the logic behind those words even if he doesn’t agree, but all he think of is how cute Enjolras looks when he’s annoyed. He puffs up, sticks his chin out and his eyes do that thing, Grantaire thinks, that thing that Prouvaire would describe as ‘lighting up with rebellion and anger’ .

Grantaire tries not to grin. He fails.

---

Enjolras has the irrational impulse to smack Grantaire’s head against the table. Partially out of general frustration, partially to see if he can slam some sense into him. But mostly because that kind of betrayal really fucking stings.

---

Enjolras hasn’t looked away. The silence is reaching deafening status.

The way that eyebrow is raised, Grantaire assumes Enjolras is waiting for him to apologise. How adorable .

The truth is, he could take it back or laugh it off. It’s been two weeks since the incident with his not-getting-sick and they’ve gotten closer during that time. Almost like co-workers who genuinely enjoy each other’s company and could become close friends, so apologising for making fun of his speech would be only fair…

Except that Grantaire just can’t resist it. Pissing off Enjolras is too strong an impulse.

It’s Fantine who breaks the tension. She clears her throat and shyly asks. “So… what is this theme that you have in mind, Enj?”

Enjolras turns in her direction, his face blank. “Childhood,” a dramatic pause. “Yours, the children’s, mine. Ours ,” he spreads his arms out, encompassing the entire room. “This year’s theme should be about connecting with each other in that one language we’re all able to speak: the realm of imagination and innocence.”

Valjean clears his throat. “That sounds great and it’s very creative, but I’m afraid, also very expensive.”

“But that’s the beauty of it: it’s only as costly as we want it to be. Remember, this is about being children again - kids can play all day as knights with a towel tied around their neck and a piece of wood, or astronauts with a paper bag over their heads.  We’ll decorate the school as if were having a play-day with our buddies for a yard birthday party. Let the children dress up however they want. The staff will dress up as their favorite childhood characters! This can be as simple or as sophisticated as we want it to be.”

There’s applause and soon every forgets Grantaire ever interrupted him. He smiles faintly at that.

It’s not long before the general arrangements that everyone starts getting up and filing out of the room. Grantaire is on his out when Valjean calls to him.

“Yeah?”

“Yours is the only name missing on the jar.”

“What jar?”

“The Name Jar.”

“Wow, really? Couldn’t have figured that one out myself.”

“The Name Jar is where you put your name in to be sorted into a booth and an Event Buddy.”

“Somehow this sounds like elementary school all over again. Are we going on a field trip?”

“All staff members are required to work the booths on Bake Sale day.”

“Yeah, but I’m not one of the teachers, I’m the guy who just paints the wall outside.”

“A staff member, under payroll. You represent the school and you’re a PTA-member. It’ll be great representation for the school and this project in particular.”

“Yeah, no offense dude, but I don’t get paid well enough for this.”

“I understand your position, but this is school policy: all staff members must participate.”

Grantaire mumbles “for fuck’s sake,” under his breath and files out the door.

---

“Hey there, Booth Buddy,” Grantaire forces a smile at Enjolras, who’d been collecting old magazines from the supply closet.

“Excuse me?” Enjolras frowns at him.

“You and I are paired up for the Bake Sale thing,” he clarifies. “Because that’s exactly how life works, apparently.”

“Ah… Right,” Enjolras closes the archiving closet and turns to him. “Do you know what you’re supposed to do?”

Grantaire shrugs. “I guess we have to stand there and sell cake, right?”

Enjolras nods. “That too. We have to bake three different kinds of cake, each, and sell them at the fair, but we also have to convince other parents to join the PTA and talk about the school’s projects. It should be easy for you, since you are one of the school projects.”

“Woah, back up a little. Did you just say ‘bake at least 3 cakes’?”

“Each.”

Grantaire barks up a laugh. “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen. I’ll just buy some on the way here, thanks.”

Enjolras glares at him. “That’s not how this works. If parents wanted a bakery-cake, they would just go to a bakery and buy it. They come to this event so they can taste something unique, something home-made.”

“... Then why don’t they make it themselves?”

“A lot of them do. We get a lot of donations and participation from the community.”

Grantaire sighs. “You all do know that it’s just cake , right? That it’s not gonna make a difference if it’s box-made, store-bought or home-made?”

Enjolras shifts his weight so that his hip is cocked out. Grantaire pretends it’s not the cutest thing he’s seen all day. “Maybe you don’t see it, but these things do make a change. It’s important to a lot of people and if you can’t be excited about this, at least try not to sour it.”

Grantaire raises one eyebrow at him. “Has anyone ever told you that you take things a little too seriously?”

“Has anyone ever told you that you don’t take things seriously enough?”

Grantaire winks. “Every day of my life.” Enjolras rolls his eyes and moves to leave, but Grantaire grabs his elbow. “I hope you don’t take this shit personally? My thinking this whole thing is bullshit has nothing to do with you.”

Enjolras holds his gaze for a long time before he nods, pulls his arm delicately away from Grantaire and leaves the room quietly.

Alone in the small room, Grantaire mutters to himself. “Way to go, asshole.”

---

Frank, sitting by himself in one corner in the playground, punches more dirt into his sand bucket. It needs to be set just right, so that the top of his castle won’t come crumbling down when the wind blows. It’s not snowing today, so he can collect some dirt - even if he has to really fight for it, because the ground is really, really, really cold and it makes the dirt hard.

He’s carefully placing the bucket on top of his work-in-progress when Tommy crouches beside him.

“Hi!”

Frank turns his head to look at the redhead boy. “Hi. Your teeth are red.” He uses his fingertip to draw lines on top of his castle’s roof.

Tommy rubs his teeth and giggles. “Do you want some crayon?”

“I’m not drawing right now.”

“But they taste good! Here, I have a red one.”

“I don’t eat crayons. It makes your tummy hurt.”

Tommy shakes his head. “Mine doesn’t.”

Frank fixes Tommy with a hard look. "You shouldn't eat crayons. Babies eat crayons and dirt."

Tommy shrugs. After a while he places two crayons by Frank’s side and runs in the direction of the merry-go-round.

Frank watches for a few seconds, mildly irritated, then turns his attention to his castle.

---

me: how do you make cakes?

ep: you buy them

me: yeah, not good enough a solution

me: i need to make them myself. like, for real

ep: buy and then say you made it yourself

ep: what do you need it for anyway?

me: pta thing.

me: and i can’t just buy a cake. enjolras would def tell the difference.

me: he’d prob smell the lie on me

ep: which is one enj-whatever again? the black-haired one that looks like he’s on coke or smth

ep: or the blond hottie?

me: the blond one

ep: so the hottie

me: your words, not mine

ep: you’re pathetic

ep: idk, have you looked it up online? youtube teaches you to make homemade bombs, p sure they teach to bake cakes too.

---

Grantaire rubs his hands together. “Alright, Champ, ready to roll?” Frank nods enthusiastically. He’s standing on a chair near the stove. “Alright, then we’re gonna bake the awesomest cupcakes in the history of ever! Gimme five.” He raises his hand and Frank gladly smacks it with his own.

According to at least five pages he checked, strawberry cupcakes should be easy enough. He reads through the recipe on his phone again and nods to himself. He’s confident there’s no way this could go wrong.

---

It goes terribly wrong.

The cupcakes don’t seem like they rose like they were supposed to and a lot of them look uneven. Frankie looks from the disfigured pastries to his dad and asks cautiously, “Do we have to eat it?”

“Oh, come on, they don’t look that bad! We just need to add the frosting, like they do in the shops. Here, hand me the butter and the sugar. Let’s make this super delicious!”

---

“I wouldn’t have fed them to worst enemy,” Grantaire comments the next day, as he and Fantine walk down the hall to the teacher’s lounge. “And I’ve served piss as beer to some guy, once.”

Fantine laughs. “I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.”

He snorts. “Oh, it was that bad -- in fact, it was worse,” he sighs. “I’ve never been good at cooking sweet stuff. Like, I can do well enough with actual meals, but dessert has just never been my thing.”

“Well, all it takes is a little practice. You’re so good at so many things, I’m sure you’ll master it soon enough.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, but my resources are kinda limited. There’s only so much milk and eggs I can waste these days.”

Fantine grimaces in sympathy, bless her beautiful soul. When they step into the room she takes her seat by their long table and Grantaire all-but sprints to the coffee machine.

Courfeyrac, who’s seating with Enjolras across from her, is framing some drawings in black pasteboard, while his friend seems to be engrossed by something on his phone. Grantaire catches Fantine looking from him to the men before her and can practically watch the cogs turning in her brain before she suggests.

“Maybe Enj could help you with that.”

Because that’s exactly how life works, apparently.

Enjolras looks up from the small screen, frowning at her. “Help with what?”

“Grantaire was just telling me about how he isn’t a very good baker, and I thought, ‘well, Enjolras is amazing in the kitchen! Maybe he could help R out.’” She looks at the both of them expectantly.

Enjolras taps his fingers against the table. “I suppose I could.”

“No, man, it’s cool. You really don’t have to do this.”

“I do, actually, because we’re sharing a booth.”

“Enjolras is allergic to failure.” Courfeyrac comments without looking up from his work. “He’d sacrifice you to the gods of perfection to make sure your booth sells the most.”

Grantaire laughs. “Oh, so this isn’t totally altruistic?”

“The Bake Sale is one Saturday. Learning to bake cakes lasts a lifetime.” Enjolras argues seriously.

“Not if I get amnesia, or, like, Alzheimer’s.”

Enjolras doesn’t say anything and his glare is very convincing, but the twitch in the corner of his mouth is enough to drain the tension on Grantaire’s shoulders.

“What day is best for you?”

“Uhm, tomorrow, if that’s not too much trouble for you? I have the night off from my other job.”

“No problem. After school, my place?”

“Only if it’s okay to bring the kidlet along.”

Enjolras smiles politely. “Of course, it’s no problem at all.”

“Awesome. Hope you’re a very patient person.”

“He’s not.” Courfeyrac warns.

---

What he and Jehan have is great, but not exclusive. They both went in very aware of that and it’s never been an issue. Except--

-- well. A little heads up beforehand would be nice, Grantaire thinks, as he watches a guy twice as tall as him mouthing the young waiter’s neck.

“Quit sulking,” Éponine orders, smirking. “You’re just jealous he’s getting some tonight.”

“I was planning on getting some myself, you know? He could’ve told me he was in the mood for some variety. I would’ve scored something else.”

Éponine shoots him an unimpressed look. “It’s barely past 2. You have almost a whole night to pick someone else up.”

Grantaire watches her change her costume. Belt undone, pants sensually pushed down her hips, the elastic of her panties marking her perfect ass…

“Hey,” he says, voice dropping to a graver tone, “what are you doing later tonight?”

She snorts and throws her shirt at his face. “Not you, asshole.”

He groans in frustration. “Come on, don’t make me beg here.”

“Not happening, drop it. Pick one of the people actually stuffing money down your pants. I’ll bet they’d be more than glad to fuck your brains out.”

And that is exactly what he does, hours later.

Once most of people have cleared out of the club, he pushes open the door to one of the private rooms, dragging What’s-Her-Name along. She’s giggling, hands roaming down his lower back.

“Take me home,” she pants into his skin.

“Sorry, no time for that,” he whispers back, closing the door and walking her backwards to the couch.

Blondie - whatever her name is - smells like sweat, cigarettes, alcohol and coconut shampoo. Her lip-gloss tastes like cough syrup, but Grantaire doesn’t mind. He kisses her deeply, unzipping her dress.

As it slides down to the floor, Grantaire takes a moment to watch her. The curve of her hips, the way her soft breasts hang heavy and irresistible, the tiny scar just under her navel...

Grantaire kisses her again, softer this time, hands sliding down her waist to hook under the elastic of her thong. He doesn’t immediately slide them down her thighs, but caresses the skin there, lightly raking his nails over her hips. She hisses, pressing closer to him, and fumbles with his belt.

“Not yet,” he murmurs against her neck, sliding his hands to her lower back, still under the elastic. He palms her buttocks and squeezes. Grantaire smirks against her skin when she moans softly. He takes that moment to finally push the underwear down her legs. She takes the hint and moves to the couch. Before she can lay down, Grantaire holds her hips and spreads her legs delicately apart and kneels between them.

“I thought you said you were out of time,” she giggles, breathless.

He smirks up at her, biting lightly at her inner thigh. “I am. Guess I’m just gonna have to make you come real fast…”

---

As it turns out, Enjolras lives in a nice apartment not that far from the school. It’s got a minimalistic kind of decoration, Grantaire notices, but it still manages to look cozy.

As soon as they step in, Frankie tugs at his leg. Grantaire picks him up.

“Dad, we’re in the teacher’s house,” he whispers in a conspiratory tone.

Grantaire chuckles. “Yes, we are, buddy. We’re his guests. Remember what we talked about when we’re guests somewhere?”

Frankie nods. “We don’t run around, we don’t ask for things and we behave.”

Enjolras watches them quietly. When Frankie slides from Grantaire’s arms, he invites. “Hey, Frankie, wanna watch a movie?”

The little boy’s face lights up. “Mulan!”

Enjolras chuckles. “I don’t think I have that one, but do you wanna have a look at the collection and pick one?”

It’s strange, Grantaire muses, to watch Enjolras interact with Frank outside the school. He seems genuinely pleased to help his little boy pick the perfect movie to distract himself while the grown-ups get to work. It’s not like he didn’t think Enjolras was good at his job, he just always assumed that it was simply that: a job. A chore, putting up with other people’s kids.

He’s a natural , Grantaire thinks.

“Alright, he’s all set,” Enjolras informs him, getting up after the DVD is on and Frank is happily sitting on the couch, eyes glued to the TV. “Shall we?”

---

Courfeyrac was wrong, Enjolras is patient. Grantaire is a disaster when it comes to beating flour, milk and eggs together to make the dough, but every time it came out wrong, Enjolras would calmly throw it out, rinse the utensils and ask him to try again, using a different approach, instructing him with a different wording.

It occurs to Grantaire that there’s a reason Enjolras is a teacher. He was born to lead and educate. To take something in the works and transform it for the better. He feels a little stupid for not realizing that before

There’s still an obvious difference in the cakes made by Enjolras and the ones made by Grantaire, but--

“-- I think we can actually sell these,” Enjolras says warmly. “Since the Bake Sale is this Saturday, you could just freeze these and take them out then.”

“Awesome.”

Frank pads into the kitchen at that moment. “The movie is over-- Are we having cake?”

“Frankie!” Grantaire hisses, feeling his cheeks burn in embarrassment. “Those aren’t ours--”

“No, actually, he’s right. We should eat the one I made. I mean, I’m certainly not eating it all by myself.”

“Oh, man, you really don’t have to do this.”

“No, I insist. Here, let me just make some coffee and… Chocolate milk, for Frankie?”

“Just milk!” Frankie informs him, grinning.

“Just milk it is, then.” Enjolras winks.

Grantaire sighs, amused. “Alright, at least let me help you with that.”

---

Grantaire is a surprisingly good student and spending time with him is so satisfying, Enjolras is almost uncomfortable by that notion.

He could get used to this, having Grantaire visit him more often and learn the ways he makes coffee. They should be friends. He should have friends other than Combeferre and Courfeyrac. Grantaire would be the perfect fit, actually. With his acid kind of humor and varied trivia on seemingly endless topics and--

-- Is that a hickey?

Enjolras feels his stomach burn and a cold grip run up his spine at the thought. He discreetly leans closer, tries to get a better look. Grantaire is rinsing three mugs for them and it would be easy to step closer, crane his neck and get a better look--

“Are you okay?” Grantaire has subtly tilted his upper body away from Enjolras and is frowning at him.

“Uhm, yes, yes, I am. I just thought I’d spotted chocolate dough on your neck… but it’s something else.”

Grantaire’s hand instantly flies up to cover the hickey and he laughs nervously. “Oh, right, that . Uh-- definitely not cake dough.”

Enjolras busies himself by opening one of the sink drawers and picking a knife to cut the cake. “It’s curious. I thought no one over the age of 16 got hickeys anymore.”

“What’s a hickey?” Frankie asks from the table.

Grantaire glares at Enjolras. “It’s a grown-up word,” to Enjolras, he hisses. “Are you judging me?”

Enjolras turns a cold gaze upon him. “No judgement. I guess everyone is free to act as freely as they want, no matter how immature that may be.”

Grantaire snorts. “Wow, so big of you.”

They eat in silence, the air around them crackling with tension. Luckily Frank doesn’t notice any of that, just happy to stuff his face with as much pink frosting as he can.

---

Saturday rolls around at the blink of an eye. Before he knows it, Grantaire is unfreezing cakes and dreading a long, awkward day working side by side with Enjolras on a cold booth.

Time sure flies when you’re barely sleeping and avoiding your co-workers.

He wakes Frankie up, feeds him breakfast and makes sure to pay attention to detail when helping him put on his costume.

“Now, like we’re rehearsed it. What do you say?”

Frank giggles and throws the painted tennis ball at him. “Gotta catch’em all!”

Grantaire grins and tickle-attacks him on the bed. “That’s my boy!”

---

Enjolras is always at least two hours early to any event, eager to make sure all the details are taken care of and ready to act if anything goes wrong or someone needs help. Regardless of what Courfeyrac and Combeferre may call it, this isn’t some control freak instinct, it’s just… proactivity.

He looks around the room, smiling softly. This was an excellent work from their team: the booths are decorated with all sort of traditional childhood things: cut-out colorful balloons made out of pasteboard, candy bracelets made out of plastic rings and there’s even one made to look like it’s a slinky arc made out of 260-balloons.  All around the school there are posters of things like Ben Ten and Saint Seya; Pop Rocks and Skittles; Tamagotchis and PS3.

He hears quick footsteps in the hall, followed by Grantaire’s voice clearly commanding, “Don’t run!”

The doors are pushed open and sure enough, there’s Frankie, unmistakably dressed as Ash Ketchum. Grantaire wears a yellow tshirt, jeans and a Pikachu beanie, holding the three cakes in one arm and Frankie’s backpack in the other.

“Mr. E.!” Frankie squeals, running up to him. “Look!” the little boy turns in place. “I’m a catcher!”

Enjolras smiles and adjusts the askew cap. “Yes, you are. The most important of them all, too!”

Frankie beams at him. He runs back to his father and grabs his hand. “And this is my best one!”

Grantaire looks embarrassed, eyes cast down and shoulders slumped, but he grins and promptly squeaks, “Pika-pikachu…”

Both grown-ups laugh and the tension is lifted a little bit. When they’re arranging the cakes on their displays and Frankie is outside playing in the playground, Enjolras is the first to bring it up.

“I’m sorry about the other day, it wasn’t my place at all.”

“Nah, man, it’s cool,” Grantaire shrugs it off. “I shouldn’t have been such a pissbaby about it. I mean, if you’re a slut as old as I am the least you can do is own it.”

Enjolras frowns at him. “No, you don’t,” he says slowly. “Do I think that it’s weird that you’re still having flings despite being of a certain age? Yes, but it’s none of business. The issue here isn’t you, it’s how I deal with it.”

Grantaire bites his lip and he actually looks amused. “You don’t believe a word that just came out of your mouth.”

“Of course I do!”

Grantaire shakes his head. “No, you don’t. You sound different when you’re preaching about shit you believe in. It’s alright, just come out and say it: I’m a slut. It’s okay, because it’s true. You don’t have to be embarrassed that you’re disgusted by that, I mean, not everything has to be a social justice war.”

“R, even if that was my opinion, it’s not my place to judge how you conduct your sex life. You’re a consenting adult, free to be with whomever you want.”

Grantaire nods. “Really? That liberally simple?”

“Yes, that simple.”

“So you’re not disgusted at all by the fact that at least once a week I fuck a nameless person I pick up from the bar I work at?”

Enjolras decidedly does not ponder on that, just steels himself, sets his jaw and says, as confidently as he can. “Not at all.”

“That I have a friend with benefits I fuck on any available surface when he’s not busy fucking other people and there’s no commitment whatsoever between us?”

Enjolras swallows hard. “No, not disgusted. Not one bit.” And it’s true. He’s not disgusted in the least - if anything, the thought of Grantaire passionately pushing a man down on, say, a desk, and debauching him is actually disconcertingly arousing.

“Right,” Grantaire sniggers, “If you say so.”

It’s a few minutes of awkward silence before Grantaire blurts out. “Okay, I gotta say it: Harry Potter? Really?”

Enjolras snorts. “Yes, really. Favorite book, favorite character, sue me.”

Grantaire bumps their shoulders. “Wouldn’t. Not for that. I mean, maybe for liking that whiny little bitch over Neville. Seriously, he was the actual hero of the story.”

Enjolras rolls his eyes. “I am arguing that because you’re a father and it’d end in murder.”

Chapter Text

Enjolras licks a wide stripe up Grantaire’s neck and relishes in the moan he gets in response.

Strong hands roam down his body, impatiently tugging at the waistband of his jeans. “The things I wanna do to you,” Grantaire breathes out near his ear, digging his fingers down hard enough to bruise.

“Tell me,” Enjolras begs - and he never begs for anything in his life -, hastily pulling Grantaire’s shirt up and off him.

Grantaire opens Enjolras’ button-up like a man possessed, buttons flying out everywhere. He grabs him by the waist, backs him up against his desk. “I’m gonna fuck you so hard, you’ll walk funny for a week.” He promises, and takes the moment it takes Enjolras to gasp to spread his legs apart, rutting his denim-covered erection against Enjolras’. “I’m gonna make you scream my name until your voice is gone.”

“Yes,” Enjolras moans, clinging to Grantaire like he’s afraid he might fall if he lets go. “Keep going.”

Grantaire lays him down, as best as he can, on the wooden surface. “And that pretty little mouth of yours… I want you to choke on me.”

Belt comes loose, zip goes down and finally, finally there’s a hand down his pants, Grantaire palming his cock, rubbing roughly.

“Look at you, all worked up and we haven’t even done much,” fingers find their way inside his boxers, circling around his length. “Guess I’ll just have to get you off quick, before we actually get started. Before I fuck you hard enough to break the desk. What do you think? You want that?”

“Yes, yes, yes,” Enjolras pants, wantonly. “Fuck me until I--”


Enjolras wakes up startled, heart pounding against his chest.

"Fuck." He mumbles. He looks around to get a firmer grip on reality. In his dark, mostly empty room, it's easier to remember his boundaries.

R is a friend - if that much -; a single parent and a troubled man.  Find another spank bank material , he mentally chastises himself. His heart is still beating rapidly against his ribcage and he tries to breathe in deep to calm himself.

He’s still hard, and the pain of embarrassment isn’t enough to will his cock into submission, so Enjolras huffs impatiently and kicks his feet off the bed, deciding that a cold shower will solve that problem.

Thirty seconds into the bath and he realizes what a bad idea that was, considering how cold that early morning is, so he changes the temperature into an almost scalding degree.

---

“What are you up to today?” Éponine asks, after she’s taken a drag of her cigarette and quickly lets it out. Grantaire admires the way the smoke puffs out and somehow still clings to her, as if wrapping itself around her words. It gives the small-framed girl an air of grandiose, of power.

“Not much,” he replies, eyes back on the road. “I kinda need to stop by the school later today to finish the shading on a piece I colored yesterday, but then I hope to, I don’t know, get some sleep - thank fuck - and maybe take Frankie to go see a movie. Why?”

“I’m planning something for Gav later. I need a few people to confirm - you just missed the exit--”

“Aaaargghh, fuck,”

“--anyway. Some people still need to confirm, but I’ll let you know. Wanna join in?”

“Join in on what?”

“I just told you: the thing I’m planning for my brother.”

“You basically said shit, but… yeah, okay. Whatever that is, sure, count me in. Unless it’s human sacrifice. I promised Frankie he couldn’t do ritual sacrifices until he was 12.”

---

Normally Enjolras likes to jog on the treadmill, in the comfort, privacy and warmth of his own home, but today he feels confined. Needs to feel the asphalt under his feet, the cold burn against his cheeks, needs to see the scenery as he runs by. Needs to shake his thoughts away.

It’s barely light out, no later than 6 in the morning and the streets are quiet. Sane people aren’t rushing to go out on cold Saturday mornings and he’s glad for it.

The music blasts through his earphones and he just runs faster, faster, faster, sweat dripping down his hairline, his forehead, the back of his shirt. He rides the adrenaline rush and before he knows it, he’s run all the way to the local park and decides to take a break to refill his water bottle.

He’s by one of the drinking fountains when he hears it.

“Thirty-three, thirty-four, oh, my God, you’re actually pulling it off!” A young woman’s voice cheers, followed by giggling. “Thirty-six, thirty-seven, you’re killing it , dude!”

Enjolras honestly didn’t think there might be other people at the park this early and instantly realizes how stupid that assumption was. Why wouldn’t other people want to enjoy some fresh air?

“Can you do it with me on your back?” The young woman asks.

“Don’t you fucking dare!” A familiar voice shouts back.

No way , Enjolras thinks. Slowly, he steps closer to the gym machinery section of the park, not far from where he is. Just as he suspected, he finds Grantaire and a brunette girl near the benches. Grantaire has his feet up on one of the benches as he does push-ups.

The girl steps closer to him. Grantaire warns. “I’m fucking serious, Ép! Don’t do it!”

Ép laughs and takes a step closer. “Just keep working it, R.”

He pushes himself off the floor again, keeping an eye on his companion. “I’m gonna fall face-first if you do that. Don’t fucking do it.”

Grantaire’s chest nearly touches the floor again and when he pushes himself off - arms perfectly straight and parallel to his body, Enjolras notices -, the girl quickly runs and sits on his back.

“No-- fuck !” Grantaire does an impressive work of trying to support both their weight, but eventually his arms give out and they both fall down giggling.

Enjolras catches himself grinning.

---

“Are you happy, Satan?!” Grantaire yells, but there’s no bite to it. He can’t stop laughing. “Ow.”

“Thrilled!”

They’re a tangle of limbs and Grantaire’s shins sting where they’re still pressed against the bench’s edge, his arms stretched out in front of him while his chin is dipped deep into the muddy grass. Éponine is laid out across him, her legs resting on his back.

“Get off!” He twists himself away from her while Éponine reverse-somersaults away from him. “You’re the worst.”

He gets up, dusts himself off and--

“What?” Éponine asks, craning her neck to look in the same direction as Grantaire.

“That’s Enjolras.” He replies, not taking his eyes away from the man not thirty feet away from them. He waves.

---

Oh, shit.

Enjolras very seriously considers simply sprinting away and pretending like he was never there, but Grantaire obviously saw him.

Grantaire waves at him.

Oh, shiiit .

Unsure of what else to do, Enjolras waves back

---

“Wow, he’s hotter in person,” Éponine breathes out. “Those pictures didn’t do him any justice.” She winks when Grantaire glares at her. Turns her attention back to Enjolras. “Why is he just standing there?”

“Maybe he’s embarrassed by us. I know I’d be.”

“Speak for yourself,” She flicks his ear. “Ok, really, this is just ridiculous. Get him here.”

“What? No! I can’t just command a person.”

---

They’re talking about me. This is a very bad morning, Enjolras thinks as he fervently wishes the earth would just swallow him whole.

Should I go up there?

---

“Yo, dude!” Éponine calls. Grantaire groans in embarrassment. “Get over here!”

---

Yeah. Maybe I should go up there, Enjolras miserably thinks, taking steps as small as a man walking his last mile. Sadly, it’s a short distance and too soon he finds himself smiling awkwardly at the two friends.

“Hi.” He says, eloquently.

“Uhm… Hi,” Grantaire replies, frowning, though a grin is tugging at the corner of his mouth. “I-uh,” he swallows, and Enjolras tries to remember that this is probably a reflexive behavior out of embarrassment or discomfort and resolutely tries not to focus on the way his adam’s-apple bobs. “I didn’t know normal people were even alive this early on Saturdays.”

“Yeah,” Enjolras chuckles nervously. Looks down, trying to come up with an explanation that wouldn’t involve admitting that he’d been literally running away from too-intense a sex dream. “I guess I just needed some fresh-air.”

“I’ll bet you did.” the girl smirks at him. Enjolras, as discreetly as he can, takes the opportunity to assess her more closely. She isn’t exactly the prettiest girl he’s ever seen in his life, but there’s something about her that definitely draws your attention to her; dark hair contrasts well with her honey-colored skin, and having such a small frame, it seems like she should give off the impression of being fragile but her black tank top and tight black jeans make it more than clear that it isn’t the case. She seems fierce, seems strong and there’s an air of sexual power about her that really should look out of place on anyone.

It occurs to Enjolras that she looks very much like the perfect match for Grantaire. Maybe she’s the one who left her mark on him the other week. Maybe she leaves frequent marks on him.

He doesn’t intend for his voice to come out so harsh when he says, “I don’t think we’ve been formally introduced. Enjolras. And you are…?”

She considers him for a split second before throwing her head back in a full-body laugh. “Oh, god,” she breathes.

---

Grantaire will have to kill Éponine. It’s sad because he really loves her, but yeah… He’ll have to kill her. Quick and painless because he’s a good friend, of course.

“Are you okay?” He asks, hoping to sound politely confused, but since he’s speaking through gritted teeth, his scowl might be a little too obvious.

She waves him off, eyes sparkling. “It’s funny in my head,” Éponine recomposes herself enough to address Enjolras. “I know who you are. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Forget quick and painless. He’s gonna skin the bitch alive and leave her in the woods for animals to feed on her agonizing body.

Enjolras’ eyebrows shoot up, lips drawing down in an exaggerated way Grantaire would never associate with him. It’s probably a facial expression he picked up from Courfeyrac after years of being around each other. “Is that so, Miss…?”

“Éponine. Best friend in charge.” she winks.

---

Best friend .

Enjolras makes a point of not acknowledging how relieved that piece of information makes him feel. Some of his confidence restored, his voice is firmer, yet less harsh when he continues, “I’m afraid I can’t say the same, though.”

Éponine rolls her eyes, an amused smirk on her face. “Not surprised. This dork over here,” she lightly punches Grantaire’s arm, probably like a loving sister would. “Could talk your ears off about the colors of the fucking sky, but won’t take five seconds to talk about his personal life.”

“Okay, that’s enough out of you,” Grantaire forces a smile and attempts to cover Éponine’s mouth with his hand, but she moves her head and twists free from his hold. “Don’t listen to her. She’s a compulsive liar - it’s a real disease with medicines and everything, you know.”

Enjolras laughs, genuinely amused by them. “I believe you.”

---

Grantaire could definitely get used to the way Enjolras is looking at him right now. Head slightly bowed, looking through his eyelashes - and seriously, those fucking lashes go on and on forever, what the fuck even is up with that? - and a crooked smile.

Sure, it’s probably because Éponine is making him look like the world’s greatest dork and who isn’t amused by stupid people being made fools of by their (former) friends? Either way, it’s a good look on him and Grantaire wouldn’t mind having that look turned on him more often.

It’s especially warming, because it’s a different kind of attention than he gets when he’s pushing Enjolras’ buttons. Righteous rage is delicious and a hundred flavors of fun, but that crooked smile? No smartass comment has ever drawn that and it’s a taste Grantaire knows he’ll miss when it’s gone.

“Good.” He smiles back.

---

Enjolras looks away, sensing the moment needs to end at some point. “But what about you?” He asks, nodding at them. “What are you two doing out here so early?”

“Well, pretty much what you saw,” Éponine shrugs; Enjolras doesn’t miss the implied accusation of espionage underlying that remark. “Working out. These guns,” she takes one of Grantaire’s arms in her hands, laughing when he pulls it away, looking embarrassed. “Won’t perfect themselves, you know?”

“Right, of course,” he grins. “Listen, I was actually on my way back home before I ran into you--”

“--ran into us.” Éponine repeats, smirking.

“--and there’s this lovely diner near my apartment that’s really great.” Enjolras continues, pretending the interruption never happened and ignoring the way his cheeks burn. “Would you two like to join me for breakfast?”

---

No, absolutely not , Grantaire desperately thinks. There’s only so much humiliation he can stand on a daily basis.

“Absolutely!” Éponine, the traitor, chimes in. “I’m starving .”

Grantaire takes a deep, cleansing breath before he reminds her, through gritted teeth and a fake smile. “Ép, dearest , we’re short on cash, remember?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Enjolras interjects. “I’m inviting, so I’m paying. It’s my treat.”

“Thanks a lot, man, but we really can’t accept.”

“Speak for yourself,” Éponine arches an eyebrow at him. “He said lovely diner ; I’m not passing up on that.” She has the nerve of winking at him.

Jackals won’t find her body.

---

The drive downtown on Grantaire’s car is mostly silent, except for when Éponine feels like asking random questions about his work at the school, which Enjolras politely answers but doesn’t elaborate much more than that.

This was a horrible idea. He doesn’t know what the hell he was thinking when he suggested that small gathering.

He’d gone running in the cold to avoid thinking about Grantaire altogether and here he is, sitting on his passenger seat, less than four feet away from the body he dream-sexed up just the night before.

And it’s not just that. It’s made somehow worse, because he didn’t simply stumble upon him at the park, oh, no, he walked in on him doing fucking push-ups . Not regular push-ups, but the feet-elevated kind. Grantaire does extreme workout early in the morning, sweaty, grunting, testosterone and adrenaline pumping through his veins from the exertion. That’s exactly the imagery his brain didn’t need today.

Well, at least this won’t be completely awkward , he thinks. Grantaire’s friend is tagging along .

---

“You know what.” Éponine says, as soon as they step out of the car. Grantaire will shave her head off in her sleep because of that teeny, tiny smirk. “I just remembered I can’t stay!”

“Oh, you can and you will .” He glares at her.

She shakes her head, the picture of contrition, the little faker. “No can do, sorry.”

“Why not?” Enjolras asks, looking very concerned.

“My brother. I just remembered he usually wakes up around seven, every morning. Gotta be there when he’s up to feed him.”

“Gavroche is sleeping over at my house, being cared by the baby-sitter, remember? Pretty sure he’ll be alright.”

Éponine shakes her head. “He doesn’t like Stacy, sorry.”

“Then why did you agree? Ugh, let’s just go.”

“No!” She all-but shouts. “You stay. Gimme the keys, I’ll go home, make the kids some breakfast, send the baby-sitter home and maybe watch some bad television.”

“Are you crazy? Of course not! Look, man, I’m sorry, we have to go. Told you my friend was unbalanced--”

René Joel Grantaire ,” she warns, in a commanding voice, hand held out. “You gimme those keys and enjoy the fucking meal.”

“Stop embarrassing me,” he hisses, ignoring the confused look on Enjolras’ face. “You can’t order me around.”

---

“So.” Enjolras awkwardly begins, about twenty minutes later, while they wait for their order. (And it was awkward. For a small woman, Éponine sure was tough and quick as a cat). He licks his lip, unsure of how to continue.

“So.” Grantaire echoes, not meeting his eyes by playing with his spoon.

“Your middle name is Joel.” Enjolras says, for lack of a better thing to fill the silence. It seems to work, though, because Grantaire drops the spoon and laughs.

“Yeah,” shakes his head. “Awesome name. Very imposing.”

Enjolras frowns. “Actually, it is. ‘Joel’ means ‘he that wills or commands’, in Hebrew.”

“Oh. I didn’t know that.”

“And ‘René’ means--”

“-- ‘reborn’, in French. Yeah, that one I know.”

“So if you think about it, your name literally translates  to ‘reborn to will or command’.”

Grantaire snorts, picking the spoon up again. “Yeah, totally not me, then. I knew there was a reason I didn’t quite like my name.”

“I strongly disagree,” Enjolras narrows his eyes, not menacing, just very seriously, because he really does disagree with that and it’s important that Grantaire believes him. “You’re intelligent, articulate - when you want to be - and impressively creative. All great qualities for a leader.”

“Yeah, you’re just forgetting the part where leaders need to lead by example, and if there’s one thing no one should ever do is take me as an example. Unless it’s the ‘see that guy over there? Wanna end up like him? Didn’t think so, so stay in school and away from drugs and hooligans!’”

“You always talk as if you’re the only one with a past.” Enjolras shakes his head, and tries very hard to keep the bite from his words. He doesn’t want to start a fight, but Grantaire’s self-deprecating attitude is really annoying to him. “We’ve all made mistakes.”

Grantaire nods, that sarcastic smirk spreading over his thin lips. “What a beautiful thing every teenage girl in the 90s had on their diaries.”

Enjolras huffs, his patience running thin. “I’m serious--”

He’s interrupted by the waitress. “Here you go, lovelies. Scrambled eggs, bacon and and irish coffee for you,” she lays Grantaire’s plate in front of him, “and blueberry pancakes and orange juice to the best tipper in town.” She winks at him, the same way she always does and walks away.

Grantaire watches that exchange and snorts, biting on one of his bacon strips.

“What?”

Grantaire shakes his head. “Are you really that clueless?”

“About what?”

“That chick. Totally into you.”

“Who, Alicia?”

“Yeah, whatever her name is. She’d drop down to her knees and suck you off right now if you asked her to.”

Enjolras rolls his eyes. “Be serious.”

“Oh, I never kid about that kind of stuff. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about here.”

“Right.” Enjolras nods. Tries to add some humor to his next line, but knows he misses by a mile. “Because you’re an expert on such things.”

“If by ‘expert’ you mean ‘guy who’s had more ass than a toilet seat so he knows when people are down to fuck’, then yes, I’m an expert.”

Enjolras groans in frustration. He pours syrup on his pancakes and tries to cut some slices, but ends up forking a blueberry instead. “You’re wrong. I’ve been coming here for years and Alicia is just really that friendly.”

“Oh, I’m sure she’s friendly to you. Who wouldn’t be?”

“You, apparently,” he says, over the brim of his glass and he wishes he could keep his smile from spreading the way he feels it is right now, but Grantaire is grinning at him, hands held up in surrender and it’s just too adorable to resist.

“Okay, fine, point to you and all that. But I’m still right and you could score Red over there any day of the week.”

Enjolras carefully places his glass near his plate, eyes maybe too focused on his food. He takes his time by stabbing all layers. Says, as casually as he can manage, “Not interested.”

“Redheads not your type?”

Women , not my type.” And there’s no rational explanation to the way his stomach heats up. He’s not ashamed of his sexuality, has never been, but there’s something heavy in the air, something too real about letting Grantaire know he’s interested in men. Like a possibility has just been created between them, which is ridiculous, because there’s no possibility whatsoever .

Grantaire smirks at him, moving the food on his plate with no real purpose, it seems. “I knew it.”

“Yes, because all homosexuals walk around with the mark of their people.” Enjolras rolls his eyes.

“Because I caught you checking out Mr. White the other day.”

“I was not!”

Grantaire laughs loudly. “Oh, you so were too! I mean, I don’t blame you? ‘Cause the guy is an asshole, but jesus fucking christ, you could bounce a nickel off that ass.”

Enjolras covers his face with his hands. “I wasn’t checking him out.”

“Alright, let’s pretend I believe that.” when he peeks through his fingers, Grantaire has stuffed his mouth with a generous forkful of eggs and is quick to wash it down with coffee. Swallows (that fucking adam’s apple bobbing thing again). “Changing the subject. You got all philosophical about my middle name and I don’t even know your baptism name.”

“I’m not baptised.”

“But I’m damn sure your first name isn’t ‘Enjolras’. Not only does no parent hate that child that much, but Courfeyrac told me you guys had a pact? Or something, while growing up. Like, you don’t use your first names, or something.”

“Oh, yes. That. An oath to erase our pasts, actually.”

“Yeah, whatever that is. It doesn’t make much sense to me. If you’re gonna erase who you were at some point, wouldn’t it make more sense to stop using the last names?”

“It would, but we were 14 and not all that bright. Well, except for Combeferre, who actually pointed that out, but then Courf made a very convincing point that our last names were strange enough that no one would ever know how to pronounce them and for some reason we bought into it and it stuck.”

“Uh-huh. So, what is it?”

“What is it, what?”

“Your first name. You’re not gonna make me pry it away from you like I had to do with Andre , are you?”

Enjolras snorts. “No, that won’t be necessary. My first name is actually Gabriel. And the third party of that oath is Nicholas Combeferre.”

The Triumvirate , as Courf refers to you guys, at last,” Grantaire sips his coffee. “Triumvirate for what, exactly?”

Enjolras sighs. “Revolution.”

“Right.”

“No, I’m serious. When we were younger we made a pact to change the world. We were going to rise up and eliminate any form of inequality we came across. Our first protest was at our own school, in 8th grade. We spread signs all over the building and talked some of the other students to stand by the gates but not not walk into class that morning.”

“What were you even protesting against?”

“The uniforms. It was very oppressive.”

Grantaire takes a more generous swig of his coffee, barely twitches at the bite of whiskey. “But isn’t wearing a uniform part of your own point? Makes you all equal .”

Enjolras glares at him. “It strips you of an identity by forcing you to renegade your own style and preferences to adhere to the mark of a traditionalist symbol with which you don’t even agree.”

“You were 13, what identity did you even have? I mean, at that age, the most expressive form of individuality was what pokémon was my favorite.”

“Combeferre’s was his favorite philosopher’s. Courfeyrac’s, the way he wore his pants.”

“And you?”

“My Hogwarts house.” No, he’s not embarrassed by that. At all.

“Which was…?”

Is Slytherin.”

“Ah, I see. House of the--”

“Not all Slytherins were Death Eaters!” He catches himself hastily adding. Grantaire looks amused.

“--cunning, the ones ready to use whatever means to achieve their goals,” he finishes. “Sounds fitting. I know I’d probably end up in Hufflepuff, house of the losers.”

“House of the kind and loyal, you mean.”

Grantaire winks. “Same difference.”

---

“Oh, my God, look at that hairdo!” Grantaire laughs, scrolling through old pictures of Enjolras on his Facebook page.

“Yes, yes, I know.”

“No, dude, you did the bangs-over-your-eyes thing! You had pink streaks!”

“Can you drop it? It’s not like--,” he huffs. “Two-thousand four was an embarrassing year for everyone, okay.”

You were wearing a My Chemical Romance tshirt .”

Enjolras snags his phone back. “That’s it, you’re cut off from the Memory Lane trip,” he side-eyes Grantaire. “Like you didn’t have an emo phase.”

“Have you looked at me? I’m still in my emo phase,” he laughs at his own joke. “But I wasn’t into any of that, to be honest. I was more the kind of kid who listened to a lot of Linkin Park, went skateboarding - lots of injuries - and I really overdid the whole guyliner thing.”

“Oh, you were one of the badasses, huh?”

“Definitely. When I cranked up Evanescence on my mp3 player? Old ladies quivered in fear .”

---

“Daddy!” Frank runs up to him as soon as he opens the door, hugs his waist (that boy just keeps getting bigger by the day and he’s not sure how he feels about that). “You’re home”

Grantaire removes his jacket, drops the keys in the bowl and picks Frank up. “I am. Where’s your Aunt ‘Ponine and Gavroche?”

“Aunt Ép is sleeping in your room and Gav is playing his PSP in mine.”

“Ah, of course. Hey, do me a favor, will ya? Can you jump on her?”

The little boy frowns exaggeratedly. “What?”

“I want you to run upstairs, go up to my room and jump on the bed. You can fall on her, it’s okay.”

“But she’s gonna yell at me.”

“It’s gonna be fine.”

---

“WHAT THE FUCK?” He hears from the couch, on the lower floor.

“Daddy told me to!” Frank shouts back and he hears his son’s footsteps as the little boy runs down the stairs as fast he can.

“R, YOU ASSHOLE, I’M GONNA FUCK YOU UP, YOU BASTARD.”

Grantaire looks up to see Gavroche curiously peek out from the bedroom and into the hallway, but bolts back to where he came from and slams the door when his sister walks out, hair in every direction and a murderous look on her face.

“Your son will be an orphan!” She promises.

“Consider this my merciful payback.” He announces, solemnly.

A knife through your chest , will be my merciful payback.” But she turns on her heels and goes back to the room, slamming the door.

Frank, who’d run to his father’s arms, looks up at him, eyes big and haunted. “Is she gonna put me on time-out?”

“Well, not you.”

Chapter Text

“I know Feuilly is going, Courf told me,” Enjolras rolls his eyes, placing the laundry basket on top of the dryer. “No, hold on. Let me plug the earbuds on-- because I need both of my hands to do chores-- That’s not funny. Hold on.”

He plugs the buds in and starts separating his whites from his colors. “It’s not that I don’t want to go, it’s just that… did he tell you where planned to take us? Yes, exactly!” No one’s there to see him stomp in frustration. “Not only is that a cliche, it’s also an insult to struggling sex workers everywhere!”

Enjolras hears Combeferre sigh on the other side of the line and argue some nonsense about consent and women’s liberation (in his humble opinion, it can’t be considered consensual when money is involved). He’ll have none of that, so he presses. “Those women are being exploited for the sole purpose of the male gaze-- Yes, I know the club is an ‘equal opportunity’ sort of place,” he emphasizes the air quotes even if Combeferre can’t see it. “It’s still for the male gaze even if men are also being exploited! The point remains.”

He idly arranges the pants on one side and the shirts on the other, takes his time, while he listens to Combeferre’s argument. It’s a fairly good one and, yes, Enjolras could maybe agree that stripping is as good a job as any, but at the same time--

“--so is waitressing, or selling coffee at-- no, I wasn’t gonna say Starbucks --, anyway, there are lot of jobs out there much less demeaning -- there will always be rude customers anywhere, except that at supermarkets people won’t stuff money down your underwear--”

Combeferre now sounds stern. Enjolras can almost see him pushing  his glasses up the bridge of his nose, brow furrowing and lips setting in a thin line before he sets off on the lecture. Enjolras sighs dramatically. “I know that night isn’t about me or political justice,” pause. “Fine. I’ll think about it.”

They both know that Combeferre won that battle and Enjolras will be at Marius’ bachelor party, regardless of whether or not he thinks it’s a disgusting tradition.

The subject moves on to other things, like the people Combeferre met at the last writing seminar or how Enjolras’ students are progressing (and maybe a lot about Grantaire, without actually giving away too many details, but no one’s about to judge for him that), until finally Combeferre is talking animatedly about his new book and how he wants to make it a series, but complains about his manager’s choices for the artist in charge on illustrating it.

Enjolras is fussing with the pockets of one of his hoodies when his fingers touch the soft fabric of a napkin and he pulls it out, grinning without even realizing it. It’s the doodle Grantaire drew for him the day before, at the diner, featuring him in a Slytherin uniform, Courfeyrac as Johnny Bravo and himself in the Pikachu beanie.

“Yeah, actually,” he replies slowly. “I think I might know just the right person for the job.”

---

“I gave your number to a friend of mine, I hope you don’t mind.”

Grantaire cranes his neck, hand still holding the brush against the wall, a half-done tracing of pirates braiding mermaids’ hair paused. He’s sure he misheard it.

“Excuse me?”

“Your phone number. I was talking to a friend of mine - Combeferre, we talked about him on Saturday, remember? - about you and he asked for your number. So I gave it to him. Is that a problem?”

Is that a problem? So many answers to that question. On the one hand it’s a confirmation to something he already knew: Enjolras isn’t into him, but any chance he could’ve dreamed of having just vanished into thin air. He’s been officially bumped into the ‘oh, he sounds like a good hook-up to introduce to my friends when they need to fuck’ pile.

On the other, though, Enjolras has been talking about him to his friends. Small victories, Grantaire supposes. And besides, he did see pictures of Combeferre, and boy, did he look nerd-hot. He finally lowers the brush and places it by the bucket’s brim, then wipes his hands off on a rag.

“Combeferre… part of the Triumvirate, right?”

“Yeah…” Enjolras chuckles. “I told him not to call you if you weren’t okay with that, so--”

“No, yeah, I get it.” he licks his lips and scratches the back of his head. Buying some time to ponder on it. Being set-up with one of Enjolras’ friends would be incredibly awkward, but he could definitely use the distraction these days.

---

Grantaire doesn’t meet his eyes and the line of his shoulders is tense, obviously visible even if he tries to cover it up by wiping his hands.

Enjolras groans inwardly. Grantaire is offended. Enjolras has crossed a line, invaded his privacy, meddled with things he’d better not and the polite reminder of their boundaries will be embarrassingly painful. Long seconds pass by between them.

Finally, he shrugs and says, “Yeah, sure. He can call me, no problem.”

---

“So.” Éponine asks, dramatically casual, setting the last shirt on the bed. “There. Pick one.”

Grantaire bites his bottom lip. He figures it’s a good selection that Éponine laid out for him - he’d even forgotten he owned a lot of those clothes -, but now he has the same problem in reverse:

“Too many options,” he breathes out, definitely not panicking a little.

“Okay, so let’s start from the beginning: where are you guys meeting?”

“A café, in the city.”

“Okay, that means a nice, casual place.” She sets aside a white shirt, a blue button-up and a plaid overshirt. “Alright, and what do we know about this guy?” Grantaire picks up the plaid shirt and puts it on over the black one he’s wearing at the moment. “And, no, no fucking way you’re wearing that, because you’re not actually 16 in 1994.”

He takes it off brusquely and throws the shirt at her. “We know ,” he accentuates, “that he’s apparently super smart. Enjolras says he’s a writer--”

“--so, broke, mentally unstable and a little narcissistic?”

Grantaire snorts. “I don’t think so. From what I can tell, Courf, Enjolras and this Combeferre guy all come from upper middle class families. They’ll never run out of money, okay. He was in Med School and decided to drop it to focus on his minor in Philosophy and turns out he’s great at it? Because he’s written four books about it and they’re major hits in their field, or something. Now he’s writing for children, which is a plus.”

“A plus?” Éponine repeats, arching an eyebrow.

Grantaire looks at her from the mirror, lowering the button-up. “Yeah, you know… He’s writing a book for kids about philosophy. Serial killers don’t do that.”

“Right. Because that’s something that keeps you up at night: the criminal background of your hook-ups.”

He throws the hanger at her. “Shut up,” then turns his attention back at his reflection, assessing whether his pants would look good with that white shirt. “Besides, that means he probably likes children. That’s-- that’s a nice plus.” He says the last part almost under his breath.

Éponine catches it, of course. “Oh… So it’s that kind of date, huh? We’re dressing you up for the new Mr. Grantaire. I see.”

“No! I mean. I don’t know?” He sighs. “I just want to keep my options open.”

“Alright,’ she spreads down on the bed and stretches like a cat. “Sounds about right, though: a financially stable philosopher who likes kids. I wonder who that reminds me of.”

Grantaire glares at her. “Shut up.”

“I’m serious. Isn’t that gonna be awkward? Being on a date with the best friend of the guy you actually wanna bone?”

Grantaire groans. “I never should’ve told you!” He hides his face in his hands. “Look, it’s just a stupid crush and it’ll go away soon. I mean, I didn’t even like the guy three months ago! It’s that fucking hair. I swear I’m gonna shave that shit off in his sleep.”

“Yeah, right, whatever. Point is: are you sure you can deal with that? Best friends. With Enjolras.”

“Well, I’m gonna have to, right? Enjolras is a little too out of my league, so why not go for the next the best thing?”

“Hey, that should your opening line on your date today. I bet he’ll love to hear he’s the backup option.”

“He’s known Enjolras most of his life; I’m pretty sure he’d understand.”

The door opens and Frankie slips in, quietly climbing on the bed. Grantaire watches him, but doesn’t say a word.

The little boy inspects the scattered clothes on the bedspread, a curious look on his face, until finally he asks. “Are we giving these away?”

Grantaire chuckles. “No, buddy. I’m actually picking something to wear.”

Frankie’s brow furrows. “But you’re dressed now.”

“Yes, I am, but it’s not for now. Daddy’s going out in a little while.”

“But you don’t work today!”

“Yeah, but your dad needs to go see a friend, so that means you, Gav and I are gonna be playing Halo while he’s away.” Éponine stage-whispers in his ear.

Grantaire fakes a loud laugh and then abruptly stops, buttoning up the last button. “Like hell you are,” through the mirror, he addresses his son. “Remember what we talked about games like that?”

Frankie rolls his eyes. “Not until I’m big enough.”

“Exactly.” Grantaire finishes combing his hair with his fingers and adjusts his jeans. He checks himself in the mirror, inspecting the full picture. Tries not to focus too much on the dark bruises under his eyes or how sickly pale he looks. Finally, he gives up, turns around and spreads his arms out. “So. How do I look?”

Frankie tilts his head to the side. “Tall.”

“Decent enough,” Éponine shrugs. “You need a hose-down, but overall you look good. You’re just missing a few things…” She gets up, opens the closet and pulls out his leather jacket. Next up is his combat boots and a grey scarf. “There. Now you look hot.”

Grantaire scrunches up his nose. “It’s just coffee, I don’t wanna overdo it.”

“It’s not overdoing. It’s stylish-- ugh, don’t be an idiot, Tom Hiddleston wears this stuff. It’s like… casual chic , you know?”

“I really don’t. And I’m not even sure I want to look like the Loki guy--”

Frankie face lights up and he jumps up the bed. “You should be Thor!”

Grantaire and Éponine laugh, the girl tackling Frankie affectionately and bringing him to her lap. “Your dad could never be Thor. Look at him! All slanky and he isn’t even blond! He’s Loki all the way.”

No one could be Thor, okay. That’s the whole point of the story!” He picks up the scarf and twists it in his hands. “And I’m not smart enough to be Loki, so can we tone down the look?”

“No. You asked for help and I remember specifically saying that I’d only do that if you did exactly what I told you to.”

Grantaire glares at her for about eleven seconds before angrily wrapping the scarf around his neck again.

---

He arrives ten minutes too early. His idea was to make a good first impression by getting them a table, but is surprised to find the bespectacled man already there, sipping a glass of water and reading something on his cellphone. Grantaire takes a deep breath and walks in.

---

Combeferre looks up when the bell by the door rings. Enjolras’ friend walks in swaggering, a smirk playing on his lips, which he finds a bit strange, but Enjolras had warned him Grantaire was, well, unconventional .

Combeferre gets up to greet him, hand reaching out to shake Grantaire’s. “Nice meeting you, Enjolras told me a lot about you.”

Grantaire ducks his head a little, biting his lip. When he looks up again, his head is still dipped down and he gazes at Combeferre through his lashes. “Really?”

Combeferre nods, slightly confused. “Uhm… yes, really. I mean, that’s why we’re here, right?”

Grantaire shakes his head. “Yeah, you’re right, of course.” He flicks his eyes away, but then turns his attention back on him, the crooked smile back on. He rakes his eyes up Combeferre’s body and says. “You look good. I like the whole book-worm style you got going.”

Combeferre’s lips twitch upwards, despite the weird phrasing. He tightens his coat around himself. “Thanks. I, uh-- I. Let’s take a seat, shall we?”

---

Okay, you’re coming on too strong , Grantaire tells himself sternly. Obviously the guy is a little shy. Take it down a notch .

They seat across from each other and Grantaire unwinds his scarf as seductively as he can, but in a subtle classy way , he adds. He figures it must work, because Combeferre watches him intently.

---

What is he doing? Why is he staring at me?

Combeferre remembers the meeting with Winking Joe, the second illustrator his agent introduced to him, and figures it must be an artist’s thing, so he doesn’t question it.

“So,” he begins, steepling his fingers on the table. “Enjolras told me that you’re a very talented artist and that you’re currently painting the school.”

“Ah, yeah,” Grantaire leans back on his chair, stretching for some reason that Combeferre can’t understand. “A temp-job. Soon that project will be over and I’ll see what the tide will wash over.”

“That’s great to hear. I’m glad that you’re open to new projects, because most professionals I speak with are juggling several jobs and hardly have any time to--”

“No, come on, I didn’t say it was my only job, but it’s the one that’s closest to end.”

“Of course not, I didn’t mean it that way, obviously you have other things going on, but it’s really comforting to know that you’re open to the possibility, that you would have some time to spare for this.”

Grantaire grins, leans forward on the table again. “Believe me, man, this is the kind of thing I’d make time for , even if I didn’t have any.”

Combeferre grins back, to his own surprise. “I have to say that your enthusiasm is quite inspiring, especially because we’ve barely talked about it at all.”

“Yeah, no, of course, we need to slow down, I hear what you say--,” the waiter interrupts him.

“Can I get you both anything?”

“I’d like a cinnamon latte, please,” Combeferre orders, and then, to Grantaire. “What about you?”

Grantaire blushes almost imperceptibly, ducks his head again. “Uhm… I guess I’ll just get a small coffee. Black, please.”

“Are you sure?” Combeferre presses. “It’s okay, I invited you, so it’s my treat.”

Grantaire lets out a sort of short, hysterical laughter, still looking down. “Wow, Enjolras really did tell you about me, huh?”

The waiter looks between them. “Would that be all?”

“No, uhm… I guess I’ll-- I’ll just have the same, a cinnamon latte.”

---

“When is my dad coming home?” Frankie asks from his spot, about three feet away from the TV, moving his controller around, as if that would make his avatar move in that direction he wants.

Éponine doesn’t look up from the book she’s reading. “If I’m lucky, tonight. If he gets lucky, tomorrow morning.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Nevermind.” She says, turning a page.

I think she means ‘sex’.” Gavroche says casually, thumbs pressing hard on his own controller.

“You don’t even know what sex is, short-stop.”

“Sure I do!”

Éponine finally closes the book, using her finger a bookmark. “Oh, yeah? Then what is it?”

Gavroche pauses the game, turns to his sister and very proudly replies, “I saw it on TV once. It’s a thing grown-ups do when they get naked with someone!”

Frankie frowns, his voice coming out a little above a whisper when he asks. “I get naked with my dad when we’re taking baths. Are we doing the sex?”

Éponine bites her gums to keep from laughing. “No, Sugar, you’re not having sex with your dad just because you have baths together. And no, knucklehead, that’s not what sex is, okay. Yes, it’s a grown-up thing, yes, it involves getting naked - sometimes it’s not even that -, and no, it’s not a bad thing, but you’re supposed to be watching that crap on TV. You’re grounded forever if you ever do that again. Now go back to making Crash get drowned or whatever and don’t worry your pretty little heads over this.”

---

It’s past their third cup of latte and they haven’t gotten a single word out about the possibility of Grantaire maybe illustrating his book. Combeferre is beginning to get a little exasperated.

“No, I mean that with total respect,” Grantaire briskly adds. “I know you guys are very serious about this social justice thing and I think it’s great that you care. I do too, honestly. It’s just… Let’s say you do overthrow the current government. What then? Whoever you put up there is going to fuck up just as badly because it’s part of human nature to abuse power and stomp all over the little people.”

“Yeah, I suppose so,” he says mildly, adjusting his glasses. “It’s interesting that you should say that, because in much simpler words, it’s the topic I’m tackling on my new book, and I was hoping that you’d--”

“Oh, my God,” Grantaire breathes out, smiling. “Are those sleeve tattoos that I see peeking out from your jacket?”

“What? Oh, right. Uhm, yes. Yes, they are.”

“Can I see them?”

“I guess so…”

Combeferre rolls up his sleeves as far as they will go and stretches his arms out on the table. Grantaire immediately takes his wrist in his hand and starts tracing the intricate and colorful abstract designs with his fingertips. It’s a strange thing to do, almost sensual, he could say, but perhaps Grantaire is just really that awed by his body art.

He realizes that might not be the case when Grantaire’s hand slowly slides back and his hand fits Combeferre’s perfectly. They’re holding hands. This is officially weird behavior.

He retracts his hand as delicately as possible and clears his throat. “Mr. Grantaire, I think we should try to keep the tone professional, don’t you think?”

Grantaire startles, sits up straight, his eyes as wide as plates. “Professional?”

---

What does he mean ‘professional’? Grantaire desperately wonders. Does he want a fucking lap-dance in public, or something? Wait! How would he even know? Oh, my God, does Enjolras know?!

This is quickly turning into one of the Top 5 Worst Dates he’s ever had and heaven knows that’s a long list. He’s just about to say something stupid, like offer a show somewhere private then, when Combeferre adds.

“I was really hoping to see some of your work but I can see you didn’t bring a portfolio with you. Enjolras had only great things to say about your art and I was really looking forward to see some of that. I can understand if you’re private about it, a lot of artists are, but perhaps you could draw me something? Just so I can get a general idea of your style.”

The room spins a little too fast for his taste. There’s a ringing in his ear and he can feel his stomach and cheeks heat up - he’s definitely blushing, he fucking knows he is. Embarrassment seeps in quickly and with it, panic.

“This is not-- you’re not here for a--,” he hits his head against the tabletop, groaning. “Oh, my God, you’re not here for a date.”

“What? No! Of course not. I’m engaged to a woman, I’m sorry… I’m here to talk about the illustrations for my book.”

“Oh, my God, this is--” he can’t bring himself to finish that sentence. All he wants is the be swallowed whole by the the Earth right now and to be a million miles away from anyone who could’ve possibly known about any of this. “I gotta get outta here.”

He gets up, pulls out his wallet and throws some $5 dollar bills on the table. “Thanks for your, uhm... Time.”

“Grantaire, wait!” He can hear Combeferre calling after him, probably has gotten up as well and is just standing there in the middle of the coffee shop, people staring at him. Great, something else to feel bad about - but he can’t give himself the luxury of turning back and apologizing. He needs to disappear. Now .

---

Grantaire gets home about half an hour after that and just storms up to his room, much like an overly dramatic teenager. When the sound of the door being slammed reaches the lower floor, Gavroche comments.

“I guess he didn’t get lucky after all.”

---

Ferre: Did you tell your friend that this was a date?

me: What? no. ofc not.

me: Why?

'Ferre: Because he was very much under the impression that we were on  a date.

’Ferre: And he was really surprised when I mentioned the project with the book.

Ferre: Exactly what did you tell him about me?

me: shit. Ah, fuck, i need to talk to him.

Ferre: I wouldn’t today. He seemed pretty shaken up.

---

Enjolras meets him on Monday, at the end of the school day, when the children are running out to their parents. Grantaire holds the spray cans, watching the commotion.

“Do you have a moment?”

Grantaire nods slowly. “Yeah. It’ll be a while before the place is cleared up again.”

They walk to the other side of street, far away enough from the school that parents can’t hear them, but not so far that Grantaire can’t keep an eye on his equipment.

“I just want to apologize--”

“Look, man, I’m sorry--” Grantaire chuckles. “Sorry, you go first.”

Enjolras nods. “I just wanted to apologize for the misunderstanding this weekend. I should’ve made myself clearer.”

“No, come on, it wasn’t your fault. You wanted to do your friend a favor. How the fuck would you have guessed that the slut over here would’ve instantly assumed it was a date?”

Enjolras frowns. “I really don’t like it when you talk like that.”

Grantaire rolls his eyes. “Could we not do the ‘politically correct’ thing today? There’s nothing wrong with calling something by its name.”

Enjolras sets his jaw. “It’s a demeaning word that I would never use to describe anyone , especially not someone I consider a friend.”

Grantaire looks up at him, eyes sharp, head tilted. It’s strange to see him look so focused on something that isn’t his art or his son. Stranger, even, that he likes the feeling.

---

Friend .

The word repeats itself in a loop inside Grantaire’s mind. Enjolras considers him a friend.

Enjolras, who three months ago looked at him as if he’d spotted a cockroach. Who three weeks ago still looked at him that way from time to time.

He thinks of the two people he knows for a fact are considered friends by Enjolras; thinks about Courfeyrac’s beauty and kindness, about Combeferre’s patience and impressive intelligence and he finally gets it.

It’s a soothing feeling. A calmness after the storm. He’s always liked to have these things very well defined in his mind, the way people saw him, the way they regarded him. Enjolras is being polite. Using ‘friend’ instead of ‘tolerable co-worker’ sounds like a clever tactic to bring his point home without igniting a much worse argument between them.

Clever. Grantaire mentally bows down to Enjolras’ superior strategic skills.

---

“Fine,” Grantaire concedes. “Let’s go with ‘excessively sexually-motivated person’. Does that sound better?”

“No, it doesn’t. R , it was an honest mistake . I was an idiot who forgot to mention that you two would be meeting to discuss an art commission and the wording I used... anyone could’ve gotten that wrong. I don’t know why you’re always so hard on yourself.”

“I’ve got 28 years worth of practice,” he looks away for a second, notices Mrs. Blackwood eyeing them both intently and then turns his attention back to Enjolras. “Listen, I know what it looks like, single parent pushing 30 and still fucking around--”

“Don’t say that--”

“Well, it’s true! It’s what I do: I fuck around . I haven’t had a girlfriend or a boyfriend since senior year; I have booty calls. I have a fuck-buddy. I separate people between co-workers, old friends and potential hook-ups. Most of the times, it’s a fucking Venn Diagram,” he shakes his head. “And I’m cool with that. I mean, I’m not , but I’m working with what I’ve got, okay? I can’t be in a relationship right now. When it goes sour, it’s not just a break-up I’ll be facing, but a family tearing apart. I can’t just commit to someone and take them home to meet my son, only to have them disappear the next month, you know?”

Enjolras nods, unusually quiet.

“Yeah. Bottom-line is: I fuck around because I’m needy, but whoever I finally do end up with needs to know that they’re all in. That I come with a package and they wouldn’t just get a boyfriend, they’d be starting a family . And I guess, I kind of…,” he licks his lips, “Okay, don’t tell your friend that, but I guess I was kind of hoping this date would be it . Handsome, intelligent and successful guy. Maybe I could trick him into being stuck with me?” He chuckles humorlessly. “Talk about realistic expectations, huh?”

Enjolras doesn’t look at him when he says. “Maybe you’re purposefully looking in all the wrong places to sabotage yourself?”

“Maybe. Most likely, who knows? Does it make a difference?”

“It makes all the difference. Because if that’s the case, then you’re not simply buying time and killing your loneliness with casual sex because no one will want you for a husband - you’re just masochistically searching for people who won’t, so you can justify to yourself why you do what you do.”

Grantaire throws his head back, laughing. “Wow, dude. Thanks for that, please never become a counselor.”

He gets up and Enjolras follows. “Alright, the mob’s cleared out. I gotta get back to work. Nice talking to you, as always.”

Enjolras nods. “In any case, I just wanted to apologize for this mix-up and let you know that Combeferre wasn’t offended--”

“Oh, man, your friend deserves a fucking medal for not punching me.” Grantaire groans, covering his face in his hands.

Enjolras laughs. “He was actually very amused. He also said that he’s still interested if you wanna show him your portfolio.”

Grantaire’s hands slide down, his eyes widening. “He still wants to offer me the job after everything? Fuck. Is he absolutely sure he’s not gay, because I swear to fucking god, I could--” he catches himself before he finishes that sentence. “You know what? Not gonna make a blowjob joke. I’m just-- I’m just gonna let that slide. Thank you, I’ll call him as soon as I get home.”

---

“And again, man, I’m so sorry about the other day!” Grantaire begs. “Seriously, really, really-- Okay. No, I know that! Yeah, Enjolras keeps saying the same thing, whatever, normal people wouldn’t have assumed-- Okay. Fine, whatever. Next Saturday, then? Great! I promise there’ll be no weird man-touching this time.”

He hangs up, feeling slightly less bad about his existence in general.

“I don’t like carrots.” Frankie grumbles, glaring at a piece he’d just stabbed.

Grantaire chuckles. “Me neither, but they're good for you and will make you grow up strong. Now, come on, eat it up.”

Frankie directs his glare at him now, but does as he’s told and stuffs the whole thing into his mouth, grimacing.

Grantaire watches him for a while before he types up:

 

me: can you be early for work today?

Prouvaire: why? talk or fuck?

me: talk.

me: we really need to talk about this.

Prouvaire: this?

me: this thing that we do. pls be there early. i’m on my way in an hour.

Chapter Text

“And then the Giant Whale sneezed rainbows from this hole.” Frankie points the whale’s blowhole. Grantaire laughs and he frowns up at his father. “What?”

“Whales don’t sneeze.”

Frankie crosses his arms over his chest. “Sure they do! Not like people, duh , but they shoot up water from their heads. They’re sneezing!”

Grantaire licks his lips to keep from laughing again. “What they’re actually doing is breathing . See, whales, like us, need to breathe to survive, but they belong in the water. Tricky business, huh? So what they do is close up that hole when they’re underwater, kind of like how we do when we dive in, you know? Like this.” he makes a big show of inhaling and holding the air in, puffing up his cheeks. Frank can’t resist giggling. With his cheeks still inflated - even though the air’s gone out by now -, Grantaire continues. “So when they come up to the surface, they let out all that air,” an exaggerated exhale.  “And then suck more in.”

“So their mouth is on the top of their head?” Frankie asks, still giggling.

“Not really. Their mouth is… well. Their mouth. That thing you’re talking about is called a blowhole. It works kind of like their nose.”

Frankie considers that for a few seconds, then turns his attention back to the drawing. Suddenly, he says, “So they could be sneezing, because we sneeze through our nose, right?”

Grantaire shakes his head. “It doesn’t work that way, kiddo. But tell you what: that whale is yours. If you want it to sneeze, it’ll sneeze the most colorful rainbow ever!”

Frankie smirks. “Ok, so then it sneezed rainbows and stars because it was so happy about the Queen Mermaid’s wedding!”

"How sweet. And what happens now? The picture stops here.”

Frankie looks up at the ceiling, two fingers tapping against his chin. “Hmm… Then the Pirate King takes the dragon and the Vikings away from Neverland and they meet Captain Hook.”

Grantaire nods in approval. “And what do they do next? They just sail off on the captain’s ship?”

No . The bad pirates stole his ship, remember? The Vikings need to help the Pirate King to find Captain Hook’s ship again.”

“But the Pirate King gave his own ship to Peter Pan. How are they gonna go on that quest?”

“The Whale, of course!”

“Ah… Right. Yeah, makes sense.”

“Yeah, the whale asks them if she can go on that adventure and so they all agree and get swallowed by her and her tummy is super comfortable, like, there are chairs and food, and even magical swords that she gives them as presents.”

“Presents?”

“Yeah, because she’s friends with the crocodile who took Captain Hook’s hand, but they’re buddies now, and she doesn’t want him to fight the bad pirates without magical swords, because if he does, he might lose again.”

“I see. Well, what do these magical swords do?”

Frankie stabs the air, as if brandishing a sword, eyes gleaming with excitement. “They take out your heart and you become a zombie!”

Grantaire’s eyes widen comically. “Yeah, okay, buddy, let’s verge it down a notch, why don’t we?” He starts, slowly. “How about this: instead of taking the heart out, why can’t these special swords make you see all the bad things you’ve done and you feel bad about it and you just have to apologise?

Frankie rolls his eyes. “Why? They did something bad, they need to punished.”

“Buddy, remember how we talked about forgiving people when they’ve hurt you but they apologise?”

“No, I don’t remember that, and that’s super wrong. When people hurt you, they have to pay!”

Grantaire frowns at him, shaking his head. “Where did you get that idea?”

“All the superheroes do that. They punish the bad guys, so the bad guys never do that again.”

“Frankie, that’s not how real life works. You have to give people a chance to--”

“I don’t wanna play this game anymore,” Frankie interrupts him, climbing down from his chair. “I’m gonna go play video-games. Bye.”

Grantaire watches him go, unsure if he should force the him to stay and talk this out, or just let him go and not make this a bigger deal than it is - he once read it in a parenting book that children actually reinforce certain behaviors when they notice it gets the parents’ attention.

It isn’t until he hears the door click shut on the upper floor that he realizes that it doesn’t matter anymore.

---

“For the millionth time, Ép, no, it’s not a problem at all.”

“No, I’m just asking because I know it’s at least an hour earlier than what you usually--”

“I’m here, aren’t I?” He shrugs.

She nods. “Do you remember where that is? It’s the--”

“Little Kicker’s soccer field, about 4 miles past the last Taco Bell, right?”

“No. It’s 4 miles past that weird mill near IHOP and a mile and a half past Taco Bell,” she bites her lip. “You know what? I think I should probably do it myself--

“Ahh, hell no! I’m already here. Besides, Frankie has been up since 5, I don’t know why. It’s good, at least I can get early to work, get as much done as I can and, who knows, maybe I’ll wrap it up a week earlier than I planned.”

Éponine makes a show of blinking dramatically at him, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “You don’t really know when to stop, huh?”

“What? Why? What the fuck was wrong with that?”

“You think you’re gonna advance a week’s worth of work in an hour?” She raises an eyebrow at him.

He nods. “Yeah, okay, maybe I overdid it. Whatever. Just hand me the kid already.”

“He’s finishing up,” she turns her head to the bathroom door, a few feet away from where they’re standing. “Isn’t that right, Gav?”

“In a minute!” Comes the muffled response, followed by the noise of plastic containers hitting porcelain. “Ahh, sh--”

“Language!” Grantaire and Éponine yell in unison.

---

Enjolras is not a morning person. This is common knowledge. One of Courfeyrac’s favorite hobbies during their Freshman year was going around campus telling everyone wildly fake stories about people Enjolras murdered whenever he was woken before noon. Exaggerations aside, though, the brief period they shared a dorm room really took a toll on their friendship - Courfeyrac is an avid morning jogger. For the sake of their sanity, Enjolras ended up asking to be assigned a new roommate.

As it turned out, it was for the best for everyone involved. This was exactly how Courfeyrac met Marius, and while Enjolras may not have the patience to deal with Pontmercy’s naiveté and rather narrow views of the world, he’s willing to admit that he’s been a nice complement to his friend’s life.

Point being, though, that Enjolras hates waking up early and if his job allowed it, he’d be happy to work night shifts forever. Since it’s not the case, one way to counter the effects of having to exist before noon, Enjolras learned early on during his academic life, is to basically drink his weight in coffee. Combeferre always nags at him, spewing nonsense about how this isn’t healthy, but what does he know? So what that maybe his heart rate spikes up randomly? Completely unrelated factors.

Enjolras has come to depend so much on caffeine to function, he’d be glad to walk around with a thermos wherever he went all the time, but school guidelines forbids drinking coffee around the children, so he makes sure to consume as much of it before 8AM as humanly possible which, like right now, may not be such a great idea.

Enjolras chalks up his current predicament to poor decision-making, which was caused by exhaustion. Ironically, coffee would’ve solved it, he thinks, angrily, as he rubs the fabric of his shirt with as much soap as he can, hoping against hope no one will walk into the bathroom right now.

(In hindsight, placing his to-go cup up on the shelf where he needed to take blank sheets wasn’t exactly his brightest idea, but as there were no witnesses in the teacher’s lounge that early in the morning, no one will ever need to know about this.)

The brown stain on his white shirt stubbornly refuses to wash out and Enjolras is starting to get really worried. He shouldn’t have gotten the shirt wet, because now it’s dirty and un-wearable. He glares at himself in the mirror and is just about to throw it back on the way it is when someone pushes the door open.

---

The first thing he notices when he steps into the men’s room is that Enjolras is shirtless in front of him.

Enjolras is shirtless. Alone in the bathroom. Grantaire is sure he hears the ‘bow chicka wow, chicka wow wow’ playing the background and maybe Enjolras’ hair blows in the non-existent wind. Maybe .

Through the haze of his momentarily short-circuited brain, Grantaire allows himself to appreciate how reality is always so much better than fantasy. Not even his wildest dreams could’ve prepared him for what the sight of Enjolras’ bare chest really looks like.

In the obscure, perverted corners of his mind Enjolras always had a hairy chest and a super-cut six-pack. The real life-sized Enjolras is nothing at all like that. Little wisps of fair hair cover the space between his pecs; a thicker, slightly darker patch of them trail a few inches below his bellybutton and disappear into the waistband of his jeans. Enjolras doesn’t have a movie-star-like set of abs, but he’s actually quite well defined while still maintaining some soft spots around the hips. Good enough to b--   

He blinks himself back to reality and realizes how weird he must look to Enjolras, his hand still on doorknob and watching him, undoubtedly, with glazed eyes.

Ugh, you fucking creep , he scorns himself.

“Uhh--,” comes the very eloquent apology. “Sorry, I--uh. I’ll use the kids’--”

“No, please, use this one. Don’t go away on my account, I’m almost done here.” Enjolras says, turning back to the sink and rubbing the shirt frantically against itself.

Grantaire is tempted to just bolt out of there anyway, but now it’d be too weird and explaining why he fled would be a hell of a lot more complicated. Not seeing a better way out of this, he just steps in all the way. Once inside, though, he dashes to one of the stalls.

As soon as he locks the door and unzips his pants, quietly groaning when he takes his cock out. Of course his dick had to harden up at the sight of a half-naked Enjolras, because yes, he is a fucking 16-year old.

He bangs his head against the wall, chastising himself.

“Are you okay in there?” Enjolras asks, concerned.

“Uhm… yeah, just-- Accidentally hit my head.”

What, are you an idiot? Who the fuck ‘accidentally’ bangs their head in the bathroom?! , he thinks.

“Oh,” pause. “Okay, then.” Another few seconds go by before Grantaire hears the water run again, at which point he assumes Enjolras is back to washing his shirt.

Grantaire really needs to pee, which is impossible to do through an erection. He glares at his cock. He could expect this treachery from his brain, but his cock? Ah, there’s only so much pain a man can bear!

He realizes then that a burst bladder isn’t the only problem anymore. The longer he stays in the stall, he weirder it’ll seem to Enjolras. Man sees him half-naked, locks himself up in a stall and just stays there… for a long time. What would he think?

Incidentally, that is exactly what he would do if Enjolras wasn’t standing just outside the door. Were he alone, he could just fist himself into completion and no one would ever know. Yeah, that would be nice.

Instinctively, his hand pumps up, slowly, before he freezes it, mid-pump down. No , he tells himself firmly. Do your business and fuck off!

Just think of something else , he orders himself and, on cue, an image flashes before his mind’s eye. It’s an early memory, his parents taking him to Grand Canyon when he was a teenager.

Yeah, okay, that could work. Mom and Dad fought during the whole trip and we never even made it past Colorado, he remembers, feeling his cock begin to soften. Dad got furious and hit the first bar he found. Yeah, okay, good. Mom sent me off after him, awesome, repressed memories are great, and then I couldn’t find him, and-- fuck. I found that chick… what was her name, again? Ahh, shit! Wrong memory. Okay, new plan: dead people. Corpses. Zombies. Ah, okay. That’s working. Great.

---

Just when he thought his morning couldn’t get any worse, Grantaire just had to walk into the bathroom to find him undressed, didn’t he? Great. Because he really needed things between the two of them to get any more awkward.

He guessed, by the look on Grantaire’s face, that he was uncomfortable by this and who could blame him? Now the poor guy has locked himself in a stall, probably waiting for Enjolras to leave so he doesn’t have to engage him anymore.

If only this fucking stain would wash off! , he thinks.  

It’s a little while before Grantaire comes out again and Enjolras has failed to leave, like he wanted to, because his shirt is now even wetter and, amazingly, dirtier. The strain now spreading down his breast pocket.

“Uhm,” Grantaire begins, probably about to say something about how he shouldn’t do this in the men’s room. “You really should’ve washed that under hot water. I don’t think it’ll wash off like that.”

Okay.

Enjolras sighs. “Hm. I don’t have much of a choice now. I’ll just have to deal with it when I get home.”

“Do you have a spare around here?”

“No.” Enjolras groans. “I guess I’ll just have to go home and change, but Azelma has called in sick and I’d have to divide the children between Courf and Fantine for a while.”

“Yeah, no. That’s not gonna happen. My kid is a little too attached to you. He’s gonna freak out if you don’t show up.”

“I’d be back soon, you know. I live nearby--”

“To a 6-year old, five minutes is a lifetime.”

“Well, it’s not like this problem will solve itself. I can’t teach shirtless, can I?”

Grantaire pauses, his brow furrowing. He bites his lip and after a few seconds of silent assessment, he removes his jacket and takes off his shirt.

Enjolras’ jaw slacks a tiny bit.

Grantaire has tattoos. One on the left side of his chest, that crookedly reads “Frankie”, and another one very low on his hip, a black and blue anchor. The urge to touch is a lot stronger than he’d like it to be.

He’s genuinely confused as to why he’s bare-chested at all, until Grantaire offers him the balled up black shirt.

“Here. It might be a little big on you, but I guess it’ll have to do until you get home.”

“What? No. I can’t accept that, you’ll be shirtless yourself, out there, in the cold--”

“I’ve got another one in the car. It’s not my best smelling-shirt, but it’ll do well until I get home,” he shakes the clothing in front of Enjolras. “Seriously, take it. You can’t teach the kids like that, you can’t put that one back on and there’s no way you’re walking out on my kid, so fucking take the shirt and give it back to me tomorrow, okay?”

“If you’re sure…”

“I’m positive. Take it. It won’t bite you.”

Reluctantly, Enjolras accepts it.

---

They’re stepping out of the bathroom, Enjolras wearing a black shirt two sizes too big, obviously not his, and Grantaire clearly shirtless even if his jacket is zipped all the way up, when they run into Valjean.

A long silence stretches on, during which Valjean’s mouth hangs open. He looks from one man to the other. Grantaire is sure he’ll be fired now.

Finally, Valjean says, voice uneven. “Gentlemen,” and walks back the way he came from.

---

me: next time you see me, could you shoot me in the head?

ép: sure.

ép: can i keep your vinyl collection after?

ép: which orphanage would you like me to send frankie off to?

me: i don’t think they’re called orphanages anymore

me: i’ll come back from the grave to pry those vinyls away from your greedy hands

me: don’t you wanna know why i need to be shot?

ép: i’ve learned not to question this kind of stuff anymore

ép: don’t worry. i’ll make it quick.

me: wow. you’re a true friend.

ép: ;)

---

Valjean sighs. “The board will not be happy about this.”

Enjolras retorts, no inflection to his voice, eyes as hard as ever. “They’re never happy about anything that doesn’t directly favors them.”

“You won’t get enough volunteers.”

“Let me worry about that.” He looks away for a second and when he speaks again, his voice is softer. “Trust the people to do what’s right, principal. They’ll come, believe me.”

Valjean pinches the bridge of his nose. He leans against the backrest of his chair and gives in, looking as exhausted as his age would suggest. “What if they don’t?”

“Then we’ll do it ourselves. I know Courfeyrac will be here too and I won’t ask you to come, but your help would be very appreciated--”

“I’m too old for this, Enjolras.”

Enjolras rolls his eyes. “You could lift me above your head without even breaking a sweat,” Valjean doesn’t want to budge and apparently Enjolras can smell this sort of thing, because he leans forward, eyes glinting with intent. “If anything, think of the publicity it’ll get the school! We could make an online campaign, record a video, post it on Youtube and show the community how socially engaged we are! Hell, we could make a day of it! Invite the parents to bring their children--”

“And how do you propose we entertain them? We don’t have the budget for that, thanks to your latest intervention.”

“What do we really need to entertain them? Some snacks, a few drinks and music playing in the background? I’m sure I can get some friends and supporters to help out with that.”

Valjean shakes his head. “Why does that even matter? Are you afraid he won’t complete the project before the semester is over?”

“I know he will, but that’s not the point. This school is ours. It’s the community’s. Everyone should be involved, this should be a memorable moment and we’d be helping out someone in the process. Honestly, I really don’t see a downfall to this.”

“Then perhaps you should come stand where I am and I’d point a few out for you. I know that you mean well, but this is getting a little out of hand--”

“Principal Valjean, I don’t want it to come to this, but you do know that you can’t stop me. I’ve got the keys and I can just come in here on weekends and help out in a project that’s already paid for and approved by the PTA.”

“And you do know that I can fire you for insubordination.”

“Nothing’s keeping me from finding work elsewhere and you’d end up with minus two teachers, because you know Courfeyrac will be right there with me. Maybe three, because I’m not entirely sure Fantine won’t help us out. Are you really willing to fire your entire teaching staff?”

Valjean glares, lacing his fingers together over the table. “Bribery is not something I’m comfortable with, Mr. Enjolras.”

“Neither am I, principal, but I’ve learned a long time ago to use whatever weapons I must when necessary.”

“You’re not at war, there’s no need for weapons.”

“You’re wrong, principal. As long as I have to bribe to even help someone out, we’ll still be at war. As long as I have to negotiate for something as simple as volunteer work, I’ll still have banners to raise and set on fire.” he licks his lower lip, nostrils flaring.

“You’ll burn too much, then. Be careful not to be lost in the flames.”

“You know I’m right about this.”

“You know I can’t always cater to your whims just because you present a convincing argument.”

“I’m not asking for the moon--”

Fine .”

Enjolras blinks, the shadow of a smile ghosting over his lips. “Excuse me?”

“I can’t stand any more of your speeches. Just do it. Go ahead, make a day of it if you want, just… Stop talking.”

“The board…”

“I’ll deal with the board, you just get the necessary funds and the volunteers and we’ll see what we can do about this,” he rubs a hand over his face. “Is he even aware you’re doing any of this?”

Enjolras ducks his head, biting his lower lip. “I--uh. I was hoping to surprise him?”

“Heavens above, Enjolras!”

“He’s too stubborn! He wouldn’t agree if I told him!”

“Then isn’t it a good sign that perhaps you shouldn’t do it?

“No, because he’s not the best judge of what’s best for him.”

“That’s a very condescending and arrogant thing to say about someone else, don’t you think? I believe a man usually knows what is or isn’t best for him.”

“You don’t know him like I do, okay. He apparently loves to punish himself and that blurs his judgement--”

“I don’t know him like you do. How well do you know him?”

“Excuse me?”

“Enjolras, is there something that you would like to tell me?”

“No, why?”

“Nothing at all?”

“I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“You two were-- This morning, near the bathroom, was that--”

“Oh, for god’s sake! It wasn’t anything. I spilled some coffee on my shirt and he offered me his, okay? Do you really think I’d have sex in the school premises? And why would we in the first place? Just because I’m gay that doesn’t mean I’m incapable of controlling my urges--”

“Okay, I believe you. Just… please leave.”

---

“Alright, little ones,” Courfeyrac begins, now that he’s taken his seat in the circle. “Do you remember what we learned about right and left?”

The children all scream “Yes!” in unison. Courfeyrac smirks.

“Oh, yeah? So this is my left hand, isn’t it?” He raises his right hand.

“No!” His students scream out.

“Yeah, don’t be silly, Mr. C!” Mikey cries, scrunching up his little nose at him. “ You know that that’s your right hand.”

Courfeyrac looks at him with wide eyes and his mouth hanging exaggeratedly open. He raises the offending hand to his eye-level, and confesses, the picture of confusion. “Is it, now? Darn! And here I was sure this was the left! How could you tell?”

Mikey sits upright, clears his throat and, raising his own right hand, declares very proudly. “Because that’s the hand you write with! Your right hand is always the hand you write or draw with.”

“Uh-uh,” Courfeyrac corrects him. “That’s not what we learned, is it?”

“Of course it is!”

“But what about Danny? He draws with his left hand.”

Mikey opens his mouth to retort, but snaps it shut again. Looks at Danny (who’s too busy picking his own nose to pay any attention to what’s going on) and then finally risks. “Maybe he’s doing it wrong…”

Courfeyrac shakes his head. “He does it just fine. Some people draw with their right hand, others with their left, and there are even people who can do it with both!”

The children gasp.

“Yes. Some professional artists can draw or write with either hand, after muuuccchhhh practice. It’s actually pretty cool.”

Alice raises her hand. “Mr. C.?”

“Yes?”

“I’m gonna be an artist when I grow up.” She smiles.

“I’ve seen your play-doh work. You’re gonna be an amazing sculptor.”

She grimaces. “A sculpt-what?”

Courfeyrac chuckles. “A sculptor . Someone who makes statues.”

“Ahhh… Yeah, I’m gonna be that!”

“Okay, so if our right hand isn’t the hand you always draw with, then what is it?” The children shrug. He nods. “It’s the hand we snap our fingers with.” And he does, to demonstrate. The children follow his lead. “Okay, good! Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, this is what we’re playing: I’m gonna touch Sarah’s left hand with my right one, and then she’ll touch Susie’s right hand with her left one and so on and so forth. When I say ‘turn’, whoever’s turn it is, you have to reverse the order. So if it were Susie, for instance, instead of touching Brody’s left hand with her right one, she’ll just go back to Sarah’s. Are we clear?”

It takes another three explanations to get them to understand, but when they do, they catch up unsurprisingly fast. One of the things Courfeyrac loves best about this job is the opportunity to watch these kids develop at such a rapid pace. Two months ago they didn’t know what letters were; now they can spell their own names. Enjolras is lucky to get the older children, the ones who’ll be in primary school the next year, so he can impart some more complex knowledge, but Courfeyrac definitely prefers this: the excitement on their faces when they learn directions or that if you mix blue and red together, you get purple.

He’s just about to shout ‘turn’ again when Enjolras knocks on the door.

“Do you have a minute?”

“Right in the middle of a lesson…”

“It’ll be quick, I promise.”

Courfeyrac sighs. “Alright, kids. Lucy is in charge now. Lucy, you’re the who decides when it’s ‘turn’ now, okay?”

“Okay!”

---

“You do realize he’s being paid to do that, right?” Courfeyrac points out, trying to keep the tone down. From the hall he can hear his students still playing the right-left game.

Enjolras’ eyes are barely slits through which he glares. Ah, the self-righteous fury. Always a nice sight. “Courf, we’re paid more in a week and a half than he is in a full month!”

“How do you even know that? Have you been stalking him? Without me?

“No,” Enjolras says impatiently. “Valjean told me. Why do you think I convinced him to give R the extra from the Bake Sale?”

“I don’t know. I thought it was just his share for helping you win.”

“No, it’s because he deserves a hell of a lot more than what he’s being paid now. Have you seen the mural he’s working on? It should be in an exhibit all of its own!”

“Okay, calm down. Yes, it’s amazing art, no one’s arguing that, but what you’re suggesting will get our heads on spikes, okay? Parents feel like they’re already paying him to get the job done - and I’ve even heard some complaints that it should’ve been finished by now. There’s no way they’re gonna want to help him paint it.”

“We’ll explain to them that it’s not the whole piece. We’ll just ask them to cooperate with the priming in the classrooms.”

“And the front desk, the bathrooms, meeting room, teacher’s lounge and around the playground, don’t forget that.”

“Yeah, exactly. Do you realize how much work is being thrust to just one person, who’s being paid a ridiculously low commission?”

Courfeyrac sighs, his head hanging dramatically. “They’re not gonna see it that way.”

“Which is why I need your help. We both know you could charm a priest out of his vows.”

Courfeyrac smirks. “Pretty sure I have.”

Enjolras rolls his eyes. “Come on, this is R we’re talking about. And besides, when have you ever walked out on helping someone?”

“What? I’m not saying I won’t help! Hell, I’m glad to. Tell me the day and I’ll be here with a bucket of paint and my cutest overall. I’m just saying that not everyone will be this supportive.”

“I’m sure you could make them see it our way.” Enjolras counters, placing a hand on his shoulder.

Courfeyrac’s shoulders sag. “Okay, fine. I’ll work my magic and see what happens.” He sighs heavily. Enjolras’ lips curl upwards, a genuinely grateful smile blooming - which is what catches Courfeyrac’s attention.

In situations like these, the expression on his friend’s face is either stoic resolve or smug satisfaction. Carefully, he asks, “Uhm. Enj, is this only about fair salaries?”

Enjolras frowns. “What else would it be about?”

Courfeyrac shrugs. “I don’t know. You guys have gotten pretty close lately, and - not that I’m judging -, but that shirt isn’t yours. That cologne I smell? Definitely R’s.”

Enjolras’ expression hardens. “It’s not what this is about, there’s nothing going on between us. I spilled some coffee on myself earlier today and he was nice enough to lend me one of his.”

“So… he just happened to have a spare shirt?”

“Yes. He said he had another one in his car and that I should keep this one today.”

Courfeyrac nods. “Very thoughtful.” Bullshit. That’s what it was, b-u-l-l-s-h-i-t, as far as Courfeyrac was concerned. “But you do know that if there was anything that you’d like to tell me… I wouldn’t judge you--”

“Ugh, stop that--”

“No, I’m serious! If there is something going on, I’d be super happy for you two! I mean, I know I joke around a lot about getting into his pants, but that’s all there is to it, it’s just meaningless flirti--”

“Courf. There is nothing going on between us. He was only doing me a favor, that’s all.”

“Okay. If you say so.”

“I do say so,” Courfeyrac is about to turn around and step back into his classroom when Enjolras adds. “And besides, he’s already seeing someone, so it’s not like it makes a lot of difference.”

“Seeing someone, huh? Do we know who?”

“Does it matter?”

Always matters. We need to know the competition, Enj.”

Enjolras glares. “There’s no competition--”

“Well, of course not! You’re a Greek god, but we still need to--”

“No, I mean--” Enjolras sighs, shakes his head. “Let it go, please? Just see if you can get the parents onboard with us, okay?”

Courfeyrac nods. “Yeah, sure.”

---

Enjolras sits beside him during lunch. He’d try to tone down the stupid grin spreading over his lips, but it was a hard thing to do when he was chugging a can of soda.

“The shirt looks good on you,” he manages to get out before Enjolras has even said anything.

“Oh.” A discreet glance down. Grantaire wishes he could photograph the way some of the wavy strands fall over Enjolras’ face, just so he could draw a hundred different versions of that scene.

Stupid crush.

“Thank you. Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you: what’s that about a heart-plucking sword?”

Grantaire groans, dropping his fork. “Ugh, he still hasn’t shut up about it? Yesterday I was doing that thing that you recommended, remember? Let him tell me the stories, instead of the other way around?” Enjolras nods. “Yeah, that. And it’s been working great! He tells me stuff about the kids in school--”

“Okay, but you do know that he’s still not socially inserted, right?”

“Unfortunately, yeah, I do. But at least now he’s asking other kids what they like. It’s a start, right?”

“Yeah, a start .”

“Anyway. So we were doing that, and I showed him the concept for the last part of the wall, and it was all fun and sweet and then bam! Vengeful whales and heart-plucking swords. I don’t know where he got the idea that mercilessness is cool. I mean, I didn’t teach him that - Anne definitely never taught him that,” he shrugs. “I don’t know where he learned it.”

“TV, maybe?”

“I don’t think so, unless Dora is exploring heavier stuff these days - wait. He did say something about superheroes crushing their enemies, or something.”

Enjolras nods. “Okay. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Oh, good to catch you here!” Courfeyrac says from behind his chair. He drops his sandwich on the table, goes around it and sits across from them. “Nice shirt, R. Green really is your color.”

“Uhm. Thanks.”

“The T-Rex trying to do push-ups is just mean, though.”

Grantaire chuckles. “You pronounced ‘hilarious’ wrong.”

“Whatever. I got something to ask you.”

“Is it illegal?”

“Maybe. Depends. But if I go, you go first. Say… there’s a guy that likes a lot of your pictures and statuses on Facebook--”

“--you’ve found me on Facebook?”

“Pfft. Weeks ago . I’m a ninja - by the way, that video of you singing Hallelujah? Made me cry like a baby. Enj, he sings! Did you know that? Voice of an angel.”

“Uhm… no, I didn’t.”

“Yeah, I’d appreciate if you didn’t watch it again and you, like, ever ? That was from Anne’s funeral. Someone recorded, posted it online and tagged me on it. Now I don’t know how to un tag me out of it.”

“Sorry about that. Don’t worry, it’s super simple, I’ll teach you later. Now, back to how you’ll introduce me to my future husband: this guy I’m talking about, redhead, young - looks barely legal…?”

“You mean Prouvaire?”

“Is that his name?”

“Yeah. Jehan Prouvaire, 19. English major, if you must know.”

“Beautiful, young and into literature. It’s like my birthday came early this year,” he wipes an imaginary tear away from his cheek. “Say. Is he into guys, by any chance?”

“Uhm… yeah. Definitely,” he doesn’t mean to cut his eyes to Enjolras when he says that, but his brain likes to make decisions for him sometimes. “In fact, you’re in luck: I know for a fact that he just walked out of an arrangement with someone and is now looking for a date.”

“Really? Interesting. But who would be fool enough to let that work of art go?”

Grantaire ducks his head, picks up his fork again and stabs his chicken nugget with a lot more drive than he has hunger. “Uhm. Me. That would be me.”

He can feel Enjolras staring at him but he won’t make eye-contact. He just won’t.

“Why would you do that? Is he bad in bed?”

“Uhm, no. Pretty good, actually. Uh-- we just. We kinda wanted different things? It’s not that he doesn’t want a serious relationship, it’s just… you know. Single parent pushing 30? That’s a lot more of commitment than he wants right now.”

“Ah. I see. So you’re both single and free now, huh?”

Grantaire laughs, uncomfortable. “Yeah, I think the two of us is more than you can handle, big boy.”

“Oh, no, don’t worry. The lovely redhead will do just fine. I guess you’ll just have to find someone else to make an honest man out of you.”

There’s a long, awkward silence after that.

---

Later that night, when Grantaire is tucking Frank in bed before he has to leave for work, the little boy proudly announces. “Mr. E. said I’m like Captain America.”

“Really? Why’s that?”

“He said that Captain America is super strong, and he also lost his mommy, but he kept on fighting and he’s super brave and defends the other Avengers.”

Grantaire grins. “He’s right about that. Did he tell about how Captain America was this scrawny little kid who used to get bullied by almost everyone?” Frank nods. “Good. Did he also tell you that in order to become the best superhero ever, Captain America had to learn to be fair to his enemies and never kills anyone if he can help it?”

Frank nods again. “He said that real superheroes know when to forget and let it go.”

Grantaire kisses his forehead. “Mr. E. really is super smart, isn’t he?”

Frank grins up at him. “He is! I really like him.”

“Yeah, kiddo. Me too.”

Chapter Text

When he gets home that day, Enjolras puts his backpack and suitcase away, waters his plants and then calmly pads into the laundry room.

Slowly, he pulls his sweater over his head and sets it aside. Next, he takes off Grantaire’s shirt. Then his belt, shoes, socks and jeans. Carefully, digs around his laundry basket and separates the whites, colors and the darks, then sets them on different piles.

Enjolras has always found house chores to be soothing. The perfect medicine for long and stressful days. Nothing to worry about and no big decisions to make.

He puts all of the dark clothes into the washing machine unhurriedly. Mostly pants and boxers. Finally, the last piece that’s left is Grantaire’s shirt. His heart rate picks up and is breathing is slightly more labored than usual. With trembling hands, he picks up the shirt, dead set on just throwing it inside the machine, closing the lid and just have it done with.

His grip tightens, fingers rubbing against the threadbare fabric. Enjolras’ mouth feels dry and before he can stop himself, he’s pressing the shirt against his face and breathing in deep.

The faintest hint of Grantaire’s scent had literally been just under his nose all day, but Enjolras had had enough distractions at work to ignore it then. Now, taking in the heady mix of smoke, spray paint and the faint, woody scent of his cologne, he knows he’s fucked.

--

“Dad!”

Frankie kicks the back of the driver’s seat and Grantaire startles awake.

“What? Sorry!” He runs a hand over his face, trying to rub the sleep away. Blinks a few times and then finally looks at the rearview mirror. Sitting in his little booster seat, Frankie is frowning at him.

“Can we get out now?” The little boy asks quietly.

“Yeah, of course,” Grantaire opens the door, his stomach sinking all the way down to his feet. Well, at least we were parked , he thinks. Yeah, that’s a real fucking relief, asshole. Good for you, goddamn father of year.

--

Exhaustion stopped meaning anything to him a few weeks ago. It’s just a word. It doesn’t even come close to encompassing how Grantaire feels on a daily basis. His body aches in ways he didn’t think were possible - not intense either, simply a dull thrumming of discomfort beneath his skin, sunk deep into his bones.

Sleep is something almost foreign to him these days as well. Not just because he has less time for that, even that’s also a significant factor. No, it’s worse: his brain just won’t shut down.

More than once has Grantaire rolled around in bed for hours, eyes heavy and mind hazy, but unable to drift off asleep. It seems as though his brain is determined to sabotage him, so when he puts his head on the pillow, no matter how tired he is, sleep just won’t come. He’s gone full days without so much as a nap. Even if on good days he can catch some good four hours of rest, those are just too far between and never seem to make up for the waking hours.

Right after Anne passed away, Grantaire did what any (questionably) sane person would do and googled any advice available on how to overcome grief as quickly as possible and the one thing they had in common was: resume your daily routine. As shitty an advice that had seemed, it’s exactly what he’s been doing.

Get home. Wake Frankie up. Feed Frankie. Get him ready for school. Drive to school. Paint. Interact with co-workers. Lunch. Paint some more. Drive Frankie home. Feed Frankie. Nap (on good days). Wake up. Get Frankie to take a bath. Make dinner. Feed Frankie. Eat. Leave for work. Rehearse. Put on costume. Dance. Strip. Pole-dancing. Lap-dancing. Flirting. Music (too loud, he’s too old for this shit). Pocket-money. Quick shower. Normal clothes. Drive home. Wake Frankie up.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Grantaire’s used to working at least two jobs these last four years. He’s happy to, if that means Frankie will want for nothing -, but he’s burning himself up, he can tell, and soon he’ll collapse.

Whatever happens today , Grantaire thinks, I need that commission .

He pours himself a generous cup of coffee, blows on it to trick his brain into believing it’s cooled down and chugs most of the thing down.

Yeah, it was still hot .

Without missing a beat, he pours himself another cup.

“Wow. Scalding coffee in one gulp.” Courfeyrac says slowly from behind him. Grantaire turns around to find him lowering his sunglasses, briefcase in hand. “My, my, that was impressive.”

“Oh, yeah,” Grantaire agrees in a mocking tone. “Just another one of my many talents.” Pours himself another cup.

“Long night?”

“Ugh, they all are lately,” an exhausted sigh. “But today’s being a special kind of bitch.”

“Ah, I feel you,” Courfeyrac nods, moving to his slot in the closet.

Grantaire snorts. “Yeah, no, you can’t pull that off. Never say those words again.”

“Excuse me, but are you implying that I don’t have the street-cred to use bad slangs?”

“No, White Boy Who Wears Sunglasses Inside, you don’t.”

Courfeyrac gives himself exactly two seconds of dramatic pause before he shrugs. “Oh, forgive me, I’d forgotten how black you actually were,” he rolls his eyes. “And cloudy days can still be bright, you know?” he removes them and places them on his v-neck. “Besides, I rock them.”

Grantaire nods, draining the rest of his coffee. He moves for the pot again. “If you say so.”

They sit by the long table in the middle of the teacher’s lounge. As soon as his fourth cup is emptied, Grantaire promptly lets his head fall forward and hit the table top.

“If you need to take a nap, I could just lock the room up for about an hour. Sure, no one would be able to get the supplies for their classes, but… you know, priorities.”

Grantaire snorts again. Says, “How sweet.”

“Only the best for you, baby.”

Grantaire sighs. Raises his head a few inches to rest it over his arms. “I think I’m gonna start with this room.”

“Start? You plan on sleeping elsewhere?”

“No, I mean. When I’m done outside, this is the first place I’m painting. The previous painting job is so bad I’m actually offended by it.”

Courfeyrac then does something Grantaire could only describe as ‘out of character’ - or at least, as far as he could tell, because in the three months that they’ve known each other, not once did he see him look serious.

Courfeyrac worries his bottom lip between his teeth. Swallows hard. “R, be honest with me: how long do you think it’d take you to paint the interior of the school on your own?”

Grantaire frowns. “Why do you ask?”

“Just answer the question, please.”
He shrugs. “I don’t know… A month? Three weeks, maybe.”

“Right… But you wouldn’t have to spend eight hours a day here like you do now, right? I mean, you could just come by in the morning, go home by lunchtime and sleep for a few hours before you had to leave for your second job, right?”

Grantaire raises an eyebrow at him. “That desperate to not see my face anymore? We don’t see each other that often.”

“No! No, it’s not it. I was just wondering, I mean, it’s bad for you now, because you spend too many hours on both jobs, but when the more complex part of this project is done… you could have a few more hours of sleep, right?”

“Not really, no.”

“Oh, boy…”

--

“Hey,” he calls softly, but since Grantaire isn’t facing him and he can see the wires of his headphones, it’s not that surprising that he doesn’t get a reply. Enjolras clears his throat and calls again, louder this time, and adds a light touch to Grantaire’s arm.

The way Grantaire startles, shoulders tensing minutely until he cranes his neck backwards, glint of recognition in his eyes and the pleased smile that spreads over his lips, really shouldn’t be nearly as adorable as it is.

“Sorry, man,” he apologizes, removing the earbuds. “Didn’t hear you there.”

“Yeah, I noticed,” he returns the smile, perhaps a slightly more formal one, though. They stand like that for a few seconds until Enjolras realizes that Grantaire is waiting for him to do something…

Oh, right. The reason for the interruption. He raises his right arm, offering Grantaire a paper bag. “It’s washed and iron-pressed. Thank you for letting me borrow it.”

Grantaire tilts his head. “Dude, come on, you really didn’t have to go through all that trouble,” he takes the bag and opens it. He reaches inside and pulls the shirt out, pressing it to his nose. “What the fuck, it even smells better than when it did yesterday.”

No, it doesn’t , Enjolras thinks, but doesn’t say it. What he does say is, “So. Today is your second meeting with ‘Ferre, huh?”

Grantaire nods. “Yeah. Weirdly enough, I’m lot more nervous now that I know that sex isn’t an option,” Grantaire gives him a few seconds to react. In his defense, Enjolras believes he was reacting quite accordingly. Stoic disapproval is better than actual lecturing, he’s learned it the hard way. When he doesn’t, Grantaire winks. “It was a joke, you can laugh.”

“I’m laughing on the inside,” he lies. “But you don’t have to be nervous. You just have to show him how talented and committed to your art you are. Honestly, I don’t see why he shouldn’t hire you.”

“Uhm… Thanks, I’ll-uh,” his adam’s-apple bobs up and down. Licks his lips. “That’s nice of you, I’ll-uh… I’ll keep that in mind. What you said. About, you know, talent.”

--

Wow, congratulations, you’re officially a tool. Can’t you fucking take a compliment?! , Grantaire chastises himself.

Enjolras said he’s talented and committed, though. As far as Grantaire is concerned, there’s no proper way to react to that statement - as inaccurate as it may be.

--

“Anyway, I just wanted to return your shirt and wish you luck today. I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

“Uh-huh, yeah, no, thanks. That was… cool of you.”

Enjolras nods and just as he’s turning to leave, he’s inspired with an idea and decides to spurt it before he loses his nerve. “No problem, hey, I was wondering… If you do get that commission, I think that technically… You’d owe me a beer.”

Grantaire’s eyebrows go up. He tilts his head again. “Oh, really?”

“Well, of course. I arranged that you two would meet. I believe I’m entitled to some satisfaction.”

Grantaire chuckles. “Wow, what happened to that whole charity, selfless attitude?”

Enjolras shrugs. “This isn’t charity, so I guess I’m justified. Should I take it as a ‘no’?”

“Tell you what, E: if I do get this commission, I’ll even treat you to dinner.”

Enjolras tries not to make it too obvious that it feels like a bucket of warm water was suddenly dropped on him. Instead, he settles for a curt nod. “I’ll hold you to that one.”

“You’d better.”

--

me: guess what i did today?

ép: if ‘freaked out trying to break a 8yr olds fever’ isn’t the next thing you say, i don’t wanna know

me: wow, are we bitter

me: no, those are not my next words

me: what i did was fall asleep on the wheel. cool, huh? >=(

ép: wtf. are u fucking with me rn?

me: i wish i was. =/

me: i legit fell asleep on the wheel today. at the school.

ép: holy shit. are you okay? is frankie okay?????

me: yeah yeah, we’re fine. the car was parked at the time.

me: frankie prob doesn’t even know how dangerous it was

me: he was just annoyed for almost being late for school.

ép: jesusfuck, r. you gotta be more careful.

me: yeah, i know. this is why i wanted to ask you

me: is there any way you could swap shifts with me?

ép: i wish i could help

me: since frankie is spending the afternoon at your place, i was thinking

me: i could pick up gav when i show up to pick up frankie. they both sleep at my place and i can catch a few zzzs today. what do you say?

ép: gav is super sick. i don’t even think it’s a good idea for frankie to come here at all today.

me: omg. what happened?

--

Maybe he could go to the Club earlier today and have an hour-long power-nap in the dressing room, Grantaire muses.

Greg and Aly show up at around eight-thirtyish… Guess I could sleep real quick--

He’s distracted from that reverie by Francis, who comes running down the hallway, Enjolras trailing behind him (on a much slower pace, of course).

“Daddy!” Frankie exclaims, grinning, when Grantaire catches him, holding him up in his arms.

“The one and only!”

“Dad, today we saw a frog!”

Enjolras finally catches up with them. Grantaire arches an eyebrow, amused.

“Oh, really? And what did you do?”

“Lilly tried to catch it, but it jumped away.”

“Luckily,” Enjolras grins. “I really wasn’t looking forward to having to pry it away from her.”

Grantaire smiles. “Sounds like it was an exciting day, then.”

“Uh-huh! Are we going to Aunt Ép’s now?”

Frankie is either getting heavier by the day, or he’s getting weaker. Probably both. His arms grow tired, so he lets the little boy slide out of his hold.

“Yeah, about that, buddy. Aunt Ép called me today and she told me that Gav has the Measles, so we can’t go visit them today.”

“But we were gonna play Silent Hill!”

Grantaire frowns. Frankie looks down. Grantaire sets his lips in a thin line, and then says. “Oh, were you? What did we talk about that game and games like that?”

“But Dad, I wasn’t gonna get scared!”

“Are you kidding me? Of course you were!” To Enjolras, he comments. “Even I am scared of that effing game! How do kids play that thing and sleep at night?”

Enjolras shakes his head, a flash of white teeth when he smirks. “Maybe you’re just a scaredy cat…”

Grantaire gasps. “How dare you! I’ll have you know that I haven’t slept with a nightlight in a long time”

Frankie looks up at Enjolras. “He doesn’t need to be scared anymore. Mr. Sniffles protects him when he sleeps.”

“Mr. Sniffles?”

“Yeah! He’s Lady Octopus’ best friend, and he guards the Dreamland.”

“Exactly, and he keeps the nightmares away, right?” Grantaire prompts.

“And the Boogie Man.” Frankie confirms.

“Ah… I see. But if Mr. Sniffles is in your dad’s room, who’s going to protect you from the Boogie Man and nightmares?”

Frankie rolls his eyes. “My Dad, duh!”

Grantaire crouches down to lay a kiss on Frankie’s head. “Damn right, I will.”

Frankie gasps. “Daddy! You said a bad word!”

Grantaire clamps his mouth with both hands. “My goodness, I did, didn’t I!” Shakes his head. “I’ll put the dollar on the swear jar when we’re home.”

“So we’re going to Aunt Éponine’s house?” Frankie asks, hopeful.

“No, baby. Like I told you, we can’t go there. Gav is really sick, and you never had the Measles, so you might end up catching it too.”

“I don’t mind!”

“Frankie, your dad is right. It’s a really serious illness, you know? You get a fever, a runny nose and rash pops up all around your body. It’s not fun at all.”

Frankie’s eyes widen in horror. He turns to his father. “Dad! We have to help him!”

Grantaire runs a hand through his son’s hair. “His sister is already taking care of him. You don’t have to worry. In a few days he’ll be as good as new, but he needs to rest for now. Lots and lots of napping and cartoons,” he smiles.

Frankie fiddles with the hem of his shirt. “Alriiiight…,” he looks up at Grantaire, who’s standing up. “So we’re going home, then? Can we get ice cream on the way?”

“Uhm, no. I still need to meet with that friend I told you about--”

“Okay, but can’t we get ice cream with your friend?” Frankie moans.

“This isn’t the type of friend you have ice cream with, buddy. I’m meeting him to show him my work, and you’re staying with Nathalie for a while, alright?”

"No!” Frankie protests, almost shouting. “Daddy, no! I don’t like her!”

“Well, we don’t have a lot of choices. Do you want to spend hours listening to us talk about adult things, drinking coffee ?”

“I don’t like Nathalie! Why can’t I stay with Susie?”

“Because Susie moved, we’ve talked about this, remember?”

“Daddy, I don’t want to…”

“Maybe I could help?” Enjolras offers. “I’m not doing anything today. I could take him for that ice cream.”

“Oh, man. You don’t have to--”

“Why do you always say that? R, do I look like someone who does anything he doesn’t want to?”

Grantaire snorts. “Definitely not.”

“So there you go,” he crosses his arms over his chest and cocks his hip out. “So. Can I please take your son for ice cream?”

Frankie turns hopeful eyes to Grantaire. “Yeah, daddy, please, can I come?”

Grantaire hesitates. He really hates being Enjolras’ own private charity case, but truth be told, this is a far better arrangement than leaving Frankie alone with someone he doesn’t like.

Finally, he scoops Frankie up again and says, very seriously. “Okay, fine. You can go, but you have to promise me you’re going to behave, you’ll do everything Mr. E. tells you to and you’re not gonna order anything with peanuts on it, because you know they make you sick.”

Frankie nods enthusiastically. “I promise!” He smacks a loud kiss on his father’s cheek. “Thank you, Daddy!” Then he shimmies out of his father’s arms and slides down. He runs the few steps towards Enjolras and takes his hand. “Can we go now?”

Grantaire chuckles. “In a second,” he ruffles his son’s hair and says, affectionately. “You’re so eager, Mr. E will think I never get you ice cream. Ever.” To Enjolras, he promises. “I’ll try to keep it under an hour - two, tops.”

“Take your time. It’s fine, I swear. Frankie is a delight to have around and I was really craving some triple-chocolate-threat, so it’s all good”

Grantaire bites his lower lip playfully, unable to stop himself from saying the next words. “Chocolate, huh? I always pegged you for a vanilla kind of guy.”

Enjolras smirks. “Definitely wrong about that.”

“Oh, is that so ?”

“You can bet on it,” he jokes lightly, but Grantaire is sure he doesn’t imagine the faint pink blooming high on his cheeks. “Come on, Frankie, let’s eat until we throw up!”

“No throwing up!” Grantaire shouts at them as they walk away.

--

Enjolras quickly learns that Frankie loves to talk.

It’s not that the boy is quiet during classes, but Enjolras honestly wasn’t prepared for the avalanche of words that crashed over him on the ride to the ice cream parlor. Frankie happily rambled on about the weather, whales, cars, the latest superhero movie and even Norbert, their next door neighbor, who likes to have karaoke parties on weekends (“Dad is always angry with him, but I think it’s funny!”).

When they get to their destination, Frankie dashes to the back of the shop and seats by one of the booths. Enjolras sits across from him, glad to see the little boy so excited.

“What can I get you, boys?” A middle-aged woman approaches them, a few minutes later.

“Strawberry sundae!” Frankie cries before the woman has barely finished the sentence. “With walnuts on top.”

“Wait, hold on a second, Frankie. Your Dad said nuts made you sick…”

Frankie rolls his eyes. “No, pea nuts make me sick. And shrimp and that green fruit with the black spots on it.”

“Kiwi?”

Frankie shrugs. “I don’t know. It’s a bad fruit that makes me sick and my dad says it’s not even tasty, so…” he trails off, his gaze falling on a poster on the wall their table is set against. It features an enormous serving of ice cream of several flavors and toppings served on a pineapple cut in half. “Can I have that?!”

Enjolras shakes his head. “How about we start with something smaller, huh? I don’t think anyone can actually eat that.”

The waitress chuckles. “Some people do. They have their picture taken and don’t have to pay for their order if they can finish the whole thing by themselves.”

Frankie eyes gleam in excitement. “Please, can we try?”

Absolutely not . But you can have that sundae with the walnuts you wanted.”

Frankie slumps forward, hitting his forehead on the table dramatically. “Okay…” comes his muffled reply.

Enjolras smiles fondly. To the waiter, he says. “I’ll have the triple-chocolate-threat, thank you.”

The woman arches an eyebrow at him. “Honey, now I know you don’t come here often, because we discontinued that five years ago.”

“Oh.  That’s just unfortunate. Okay, then I’ll have anything with chocolate, please.”

She winks at him. “Coming right up!”

“I like your hair.” Frankie compliments, unprompted, while he plays with the spoons on the table. Enjolras makes a vague mental note that this is something he’s seen Grantaire do before.

He bows his head curtly. “Thank you. I like yours too.”

“And you have really pretty eyes.”

“Thank you, Frankie. Yours are too. They’re big and crystal blue, like… Okay, I can only think of ‘ocean’ metaphors but that doesn’t really mean anything. What’s pretty, cool and blue?”

Frankie taps his chin, thinking. Suddenly, he exclaims. “The Tesseract! From the Avengers!”

Enjolras chuckles. “Yes, exactly. Your eyes are as beautiful as the Tesseract.”

Frankie wiggles on his booth, grinning brightly. “Yay! Hey, can I kill baddies with my eyes, then?”

“Why kill when you can convince them to fight with you?”

Frankie grimaces. “Sorry. I forgot I wasn’t supposed to talk about killing anymore.”

“Well, it’s not really the talking about it. It’s the wanting to do it. Any ideas about why you feel like doing that?”

Frankie shrugs, looking down. “I don’t know.”

“I see,” he taps his fingers against the table. “But tell you what: if one day you wanted to tell me a story about baddies and good guys and why they fight so often and why the good guys feel like they need to kill the baddies, I’ll definitely want to hear that one!”

Frankie nods. “Uh-huh,” looks up. “On Lego-Monday?”

“Uhm… I was actually thinking that I don’t want anyone else to hear that one. I want it all for myself, so maybe some time after school, before your dad picks you up?”

“Okay.”

“Changing the subject… Do you wanna tell me why you don’t like Nathalie?”

Frankie drops the spoon with a clank . His brow creases, eyes tiny slits as he glares at the table, his skinny arms crossed over his chest. “Because she’s mean !”

“Mean, huh? Can you tell me how, exactly?”

Frankie sighs dramatically. “She yells and she likes to watch scary movies and scare me at night! And sometimes a man shows up and she yells at me if I see them kissing on my way to the kitchen.”

“Ah, wow, I can see it clearly, you’re right: she’s obviously evil.”

“And, and! She likes to call me names!”

Nathalie calls you names ? Like what?”

Frankie counts on his fingers. “Sparky, Gremlin - she made me see that movie! -, E.T. and one time she called me…”, his eyes dart around and he motions for Enjolras to come closer. When he does, Frankie whispers. “One time, she called me a bad word. You know, the one that means poo!”

“Yeah, no, you’re right. That girl is really mean and someone needs to have a talk with her! Have you told your dad about this?”

Frankie shakes his head. “Nathalie said that if I told Dad about the man that comes at night, she’d kill me while I sleep.”

Enjolras feels his blood boil. Up until that point he’d been mildly annoyed at the girl, figuring she was probably just some regular impatient, hormonal teenager, but death threats against a six-year old? That’s where he drew the line.

“If you want, I could talk to her. I promise you that after that talk she won’t do anything to hurt you.”

Frankie shrugs again. “It’s okay. I just don’t like her.”

“And you really shouldn’t, but you can’t let her get away with what she’s doing. If you won’t tell your dad about what’s happening, at least let me help you.”

“Okay…”

“Good.”

Some minutes pass during which Enjolras pretends to read the menu and Frankie taps both spoons (his and Enjolras’) on the table, mimicking a drumbeat, before the little boy speaks again. “Mr. E., have you seen the Power Rangers movie?”

Enjolras grins. “You know, I haven’t yet… Maybe you could come with me after we’re done with ice cream and we can watch it together.”

Frankie’s eyes widen and his face splits in an excited grin. “Uh-huh!”  

--

“My most extensive experience with professional art is with canvases and walls,” Grantaire begins, unzipping his case. “But I was really into comics when I was younger and would draw several pages of my own stories. Other than that, I worked on the university’s newspapers doing the comic strips, so I’m pretty comfortable with deadlines, storyboards and scripts.”

Am I babbling? I feel like I’m babbling. Maybe I should shut up .

He snaps his mouth shut, attentively watching Combeferre examine his work, expression unreadable.

Grantaire is so nervous, he feels like he might throw up. Combeferre doesn’t say anything, just sifts through the pages, occasionally furrowing his brow. He’s just about to make a comment to break the silence when his phone buzzes.

“Uhm, sorry.”

“No, it’s okay, take that. I’ll just keep looking.” Combeferre assures him.

It’s not a call, but Grantaire doesn’t argue that. He just swipes his phone’s screen to unlock it and, to his unexpected delight, it’s a picture-message from Enjolras.

The picture shows Frankie scrunching up his face, pink ice cream all over his mouth, cheeks and even his hand, and trying to clean it up with a napkin. Someone’s index finger - presumably Enjolras’ - is on its way to smear his little nose with chocolate ice cream.

The caption reads: you should see the other guy (that sundae never stood a chance) .

Grantaire realizes he’s grinning too brightly when Combeferre asks. “Good news?”

He looks up from his phone and the man is smirking. Grantaire nods. “Your bestie really does have a way with children, I’ll give you that.”

“Enjolras?”

“Yeah. He was nice enough to take my son out for ice cream.”

“Ah, I see. Well, he must really like him,” he says, distractedly. “Enjolras hates ice cream.”

Grantaire is well aware that his mouth went slack and that he’s staring. Combeferre’s brow creases. “Something wrong?”

Grantaire clears his throat, shakes his head. Places a smile firmly on his face. “No, none at all. He just-uh. He just didn’t mention not liking it, that’s all.”

Combeferre opens his mouth to say something else, but is interrupted by Grantaire’s phone beeping again.

A simple text message: he wants to see the power rangers movie. Is it okay if I take him? I promise not to get him home too late .

“Say,” Grantaire asks Combeferre, without actually taking his eyes off the screen. “Is Enjolras always this dedicated to his students, even outside school?”

“Enjolras is always dedicated to anything or anyone he cares about, yes.”

“I see.”

He types back, don’t let him eat too much popcorn; he ends up puking. see you later. :]

“Okay, sorry about that,” his attention back on Combeferre. “I’m all yours now.”

“Right. I really like your style, but I’d like to see your take on actual scripts. I’ve brought a few pages with me. What I’d like you to do is draw them in three different styles. Do you think you could do that?”

“Yeah, no problem. When do you want them ready?”

“An hour, too short a deadline?”

“Is this a test?”

“Not a too cruel one, I hope,” Combeferre smiles, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “But you did say you were comfortable with tight schedules and I need to know just how much.”

Grantaire chuckles. “Alright, no problem then.”

Combeferre takes a few pages from his binder.

“Here. They’re very basic, so not much of a challenge there.”

Grantaire nods.

“I won’t be breathing down your neck, though,” Combeferre assures him. “I’ll be over by the counter.”

“Okay, see you in a bit.”

--

ép: so, how was the audition thingy?

me: scary, but kinda okay, i guess.

me: he said he needs to take it with his agent first, so it’ll be a few days until i hear about this

me: how’s gav?

ép: miserable, but a little better than he was this morning, thank you.

me: okay, tell him i said i’ll buy him pizza when he’s better.

me: gotta go sleep a little now. =*

ép: ‘k. take care

--

Grantaire feels like he’s barely blinked his eyes when he hears the doorbell ring. He stirs in bed, groaning. Blindly, he gropes for his phone.

He’s slept for three hours straight.

The doorbell rings again.

He sighs and rubs a hand over his face. Kicks his feet off the bed and all-but drags himself down the stairs.

--

“He already ate,” Enjolras informs him, as he hands a sleepy Frankie over to Grantaire. It’s actually rather adorable, the way the little boy clings, with his little legs and arms, to Enjolras’ hold. Enjolras chuckles. “He’s tired, so maybe just a shower and straight to bed?”

Grantaire nods, grinning sleepily. “You’re awesome. When you get married, husband’s all yours, I promise not to fuck him, or anything.”

Enjolras’ brow creases, but he’s smiling, amused. “What?”

Grantaire waves a hand in dismissal. “Old, stupid expression. Don’t mind me,” he tickles Frankie’s ribs. “Come on, big boy, time for bed.”

“Hhhnnnhggg,” Frankie protests, swatting the hand away.

“Come on… It’s late.”

Eventually, Frankie lets himself slide from Enjolras’ embrace and into Grantaire’s. The boy immediately wraps his legs around his father’s waist, head falling to Grantaire’s shoulder and arms around his neck. “Alright, enough fun for one day.”

To Enjolras, he says, “By the way… Thank you. Really, what you’re doing… I don’t even know how to thank you, it’s been so helpful.”

“It’s my genuine pleasure, don’t worry.”

They stand staring at each other for a while. Grantaire is tempted to ask Enjolras to step away from the doorstep and into the house. To cook him something and maybe talk about meaningless stuff. To just hold on to his presence for a little longer.

The moment is gone, obviously, before he even realizes there was a window of opportunity for it, and Enjolras is nodding at him, turning to leave. “Good night, R. Go easy on yourself, okay? Take a night off, for a change.”

Grantaire smiles. “Yeah, working on it.”

Enjolras turns to leave, but then turns back. “Oh, by the way, tomorrow you and I need to have a serious talk about that nanny of yours. I strongly suggest that you fire her. I have a few other people to recommend.”

“... Oh, okay. Wait, what do you mean?” His heart races. “Did something happen? What did she do? What did Frankie tell you?”

“Nothing physical, don’t worry, but let’s just say she’s in the wrong business.”

“I’m gonna skin that bitch alive--”

“No need for that. Don’t worry. Like I said, it’s nothing physical, she’s just not the best suited person to take care of children. We’ll talk about it tomorrow, okay?”

“Yeah, okay.”

“So… see you tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

en.tro.py
(Sociology) a doctrine of inevitable social decline and degeneration.

 

 

His night-light is out, just like he’d promised his Dad. Being a big boy meant sleeping in the dark, like grown-ups do.

One night his Dad sat him down on the bed and turned down the lights. He explained how your eyes adjust to darkness and you can always see the outline of things when the lights were out.

“It’s because that little black hole right in the middle of our eyes opens up to take in as much light as it can when that happens,” he’d told him. “It’s almost like a super power, you know? We can still see, even when aren’t supposed to.”

Frankie liked that very much. And when he realized that his Dad had been right all along - his room was still the same, even when the light was gone -, it turned out it wasn’t so scary anymore.

“So are you gonna be a Big Boy who doesn’t need a night-light anymore?”

Frankie had nodded frantically.

“Because it’s okay if you’re not ready yet. No shame in liking a little spotlight at night.”

“No, Daddy. I’m big now, I don’t need the lights!”

That was three days ago, and since then, not once did he think of turning on his neon-Ben Ten lamp.

Tonight, though, with the storm raging outside, Frankie feels a lot like a baby and it makes him angry that he can’t help it.

Every now and then his room fills with bright light, the yard tree casting creepy shadows on his wall. A second later, a deep, scary roar echoes in the silent night, and it’s like everything around shakes. Frankie just clutches tighter to Charlie, bringing his knees ups, making himself as small a ball as he can.

“Nobody likes storms,” his mother used to say. “We just pretend we don’t mind them when we grow up.”

On nights like this, Frankie would always crawl into his mother’s bed. She’d cradle him in her arms, cover them both until the heat annoyed him, and she’d tell him a story. Something stupid that girls liked, about fairies dusting princesses crushed diamonds that made them fly, or something.

He remembers how nice it felt when she kissed his hair and told him he’d always be her little boy, no matter how big he got. He remembers how she smelled - like vanilla and that sweet-ish perfume she always wore.

It comes unexpectedly. Like that rush in the pit of your stomach when you go too fast and too high on the swings, leaving him breathless and scared, afraid that he’ll never touch the ground again. Before he can do anything to stop it, there are tears burning the corners of his eyes.

Frankie misses his mom. Misses the way she smelled and the pitch of her voice, calm and soothing. He misses feeling like nothing could hurt him as long as he was pressed against her chest. It hurts in a way he doesn’t really understand, realizing he’ll never feel any of that again.

The lighting strikes again, branches twisted at ugly angles casting strange shadows on his wall and it’s nothing he hasn’t seen before a million times, but suddenly it’s so much darker, so much scarier, so much bigger. It’s too much.

He gags on his sobs, tears dampening his pillow and snot running down his nose. Frankie wants his mom to show up at his door holding a mug of cocoa and calling him a silly goose for getting all worked up over ugly shadows.

“They can’t hurt you, dummy,” she’d say, like she’s said it so many times. “It’s just light and shadows, like when you’re running under the sun. Light will always come with shadows.”

“It’s just the darkness,” his daddy told him. “When the light is gone, darkness shows up, but everything is just the same; you just can’t see it because the light is gone.”

He wants the light back, he wants cocoa and giggles and warmth and the smell of green apples from his mommy’s hair.

On instinct, he jumps out of the bed, yanks the door open and runs down the hall towards his mother’s room.

Of course it’s empty. Even the bed is gone. It’s just a dark, empty room.

Tired, he wipes his tears and slowly walks towards the closed door, the last one on the hall, dragging Charlie by its leg. It doesn’t even upset him that it’ll get dirty.

--

Grantaire rolls on his side. Presses his eyes closed harder, tucking one hand under his pillow and curling up in an as comfortable a position as he can on the bed.

It’s raining heavily outside, and normally it’s enough to lull him to sleep, but this morning the persistent drumming of the raindrops against his window is more of a distraction than comfort.

He turns again, this time on his stomach. Grabs the second pillow from between his legs where it got stuck and presses it hard against his head to block out the sounds.

As soon as lack of oxygen becomes a problem, he throws the pillow is thrown across the room. It’s no use.

Frustrated, Grantaire rolls over again, on his back. He sighs, exhausted. This isn’t fair , he thinks. I’m tired. Why can’t I just fucking sleep ?

He’s done everything the Internet told him to do. He should be snoring and drooling on his pillow right about now, and yet .

Grantaire thinks, in the distant fog between exhaustion and wakefulness, that his brain is a fucking idiot.

--

Persistent knocking startles him out of his light nap. Grantaire groans.

“Daddy…” Frankie’s soft, moany voice calls from the other side of the door. “Are you awake?”

He sighs. “Yeah, buddy. What’s up?”

“I’m scared. Can I sleep on your bed?”

Grantaire slides out of the bed and opens the door. Frankie looks heartbreakingly young and vulnerable in his Toy Story pajamas. He’s clutching Charlie as if his life depended on it.

“You know you can, but what happened?”

Frankie bites his lower lip and avoids his father’s gaze. “I don’t like how noisy the rain is being.”

Grantaire’s eyes soften and he opens the door wider, allowing the boy to dash to the bed, already making himself comfortable.

“Buddy, you should’ve told me that you wanted to sleep with the lights on tonight,” he lectures without any real conviction in it and follows suit.

On the bed, he places a protective arm over Frankie’s chest, and brings them both closer together. He slides his eyes shut, determined to empty his mind and just sleep .

“Dad,” Frankie whispers quietly.

“Hmm?” He doesn’t even bother to open his eyes.

“Can you tell me a story? I can’t sleep.”

“Frankie, come on… Daddy’s tired.”

“But I can’t stop thinking about the monsters on the wall!”

Grantaire huffs a puff of hot air on Frankie’s hair, sighing dramatically. “Okay, I’ll make you deal: I’ll start the story, but you finish it.”

Frankie rolls on his side to face his father. “But I like your stories better.”

“Yeah, but I’m a bit tired and I can’t sleep. I could use a nice bedtime story right now, and you’re the bestest storyteller I know,” he runs his fingers through Frankie’s black curls. He idly tries to remember when was the last time he cut his son’s hair and honestly can’t. Gotta do that tomorrow , he makes the mental note.

“Why can’t you sleep? Are you scared of the rain too? Do you think it can bring monsters here? Because I think it can.”

“No,” he replies quietly. “It’s just the rain. It just gets everything wet and howls a little bit, but it can’t hurt you.” He smiles. Boops Frankie’s nose. “Besides, monsters know better than to mess with me,” he leans forward, kissing Frankie’s head. “Or with you, when I’m around. Now,” he smiles faintly and closes his eyes. “This is story about a brave little boy who needed to find the last dragon’s egg to save the world.

“All the other knights the king had sent in that quest had failed, coming back home empty handed and ashamed. People would point and whisper at those poor men, cursing them for being too useless to find one little egg… that wasn’t even little! The Elders of the realm said the egg was taller than a man and wider than a well, easily distinguishable for that alone, but--”

“Dad, what’s ‘distingui--. What’s that word?”

Grantaire opens his eyes. “It means that it stands out, that it’s easy to recognize, you know?”

Frankie nods. He tucks his fisted little hands under his chin. “Uh-huh, go on.”

“Anyway, not only was it big and wide, it was also easy to recognize because it was as red as a the crackling fire of the dragon who breathed it into existence, and had a black spot right on top of it. All in all, it’s not something people would miss from a distance, you know?

“Desperate because he’d already sent every able-bodied man and in his realm to find it but with no success, the King decided to let whoever was the cleverest and bravest to go on that quest next, and whoever that was would prove their worth on a single combat with his oldest son.

“The farmer’s only son, a scrappy little boy with wild black hair and sparkling blue eyes, decided to try his luck, because he had a good feeling about where that egg might be…

“The day came for him to fight the Prince and everyone thought that little kid, who could barely reach the King’s son’s hip in height, would get the beating of his life, but he proved them all wrong! Faster in fight and quick in the head,” Grantaire lightly taps Frankie’s forehead, which grants him a delighted little squee. “The farmer’s son bested the Prince and won the chance to go seek the egg.

”The castle’s doors creaked loudly while they were slowly open. The boy picked up the sword, the shield and the helmet he was given, and stepped carefully out of there. Before he could close the doors behind him, one of the Elders warned him about the choice he had ahead: if he followed the main road out of the realm, he’d find thieves determined to rob and kill him; if he followed the woods, he’d end up crossing paths with a sleeping giantess.”

Grantaire allows the silence to stretch almost too long, Frankie’s eyes growing wide with expectation, before he announces. “Okay, now you pick up from there. What did the little boy do next?”

Frankie inhales deeply, looking up. Eventually, he goes on. “The giantess was scary, but she was sleeping. But the thieves were a bunch and he was only one!” He gasps. “So the boy--”

“What’s the boy’s name?”

“Frankie, duh.”

“Right, of course,” Grantaire grins.

“So Frankie ran off to the woods, scared of the thieves coming after him-- Dad? Are you sleeping now?”

“No, baby, I’m just closing my eyes to picture your story in my head. Go on: he ran off because he was afraid of the thieves… and then what?”

“And then he bumped into the big bunny who lived in the woods.”

Grantaire starts to slip out of consciousness by the time Frankie The Farmer’s Son finally meets the giantess, woken from her slumber by the shrieks of a very angry giant bunny.

--

The alarm goes off much too soon for Grantaire’s taste.

--

Enjolras wakes up to a text message from Courfeyrac, at six-thirty in the morning:

tonight’s the night! , it reads. marius’ last night as a single man! It’s our sacred duty to make it memorable.

He groans. Replies with a passive-aggressive yay , and rolls on his side to try and catch the twenty minutes of sleep he still has before his alarm goes off.

Two minutes later, Courfeyrac sends, awwwn, how sweet! I’m glad you’re excited. I bet you’re as thrilled about this as i was to get parents involved in a project specifically designed to help the love your life .

Enjolras ignores it.

Thirty seconds later, his phone beeps again: btw, i’ve got a lot of ppl onboard, i’m that awesome, you can thank me in beer tonight.

--

The first thing Grantaire sees when he steps into the teacher’s lounge that morning is Fantine standing by one of the bookcases. He grins and strides up to her and hugs her from behind, lifting her off the ground a few inches. He’s delighted by her surprised yelp.

“Aahh, I missed you, girlie!” He says, pressing her even closer to his chest, her feet kicking in the air.

“R,” she begs, but there’s a distinct tone of laughter to it. “Lungs!”

“Oh, right,” he puts her down and helps her adjust her flowery dress. “How about them, by the way? Are you feeling better?”

Fantine grimaces, but then rolls her eyes, smiling. “I’m definitely better now, but I think it’ll be a while before I’m running any marathons…”

Grantaire nods in sympathy. “Bitch of a winter, huh?”

“Tell me about it… And I was so worried about the kids! Three weeks is such a long time…”

“Hey, don’t worry about it! You had to get your strength back,” he tells her. She looks down, and he touches her face. When she looks up again, smiling faintly, his hand slides up her face and he tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “Besides, from what I heard, Azelma took really good care of them for you. Bet those little brats miss the hell outta you, though.”

“Awwn, R. You’re too sweet, you know that?”

“Nah. Just too good at charming lovely people,” he winks.

--

“You know,” Courfeyrac says, slinging an arm over Enjolras’ shoulders. “If ‘Tine spontaneously combusted right now it’d be a real tragedy.”

Enjolras turns to face him, frowning. “What?”

“Well, the glare you’re sending her way is scary as hell. I wouldn’t be surprised if she suddenly caught on fire - which would be sad, because we just got her back.”

“I’m not glaring.”

“Oh, you are. Believe me . You can’t see the look on your face right now, but I can,” Courfeyrac hisses. “If that’s not glaring, then we need to come with a new word to describe it.”

Enjolras lets his gaze wander back to where Grantaire is now animatedly talking to Fantine, gesticulating as if he’s telling a funny story involving one of his paint brushes - or maybe it’s a drumline or a phone call. They look happy. He looks away.

“Just… let it go, okay.”

“Look, I don’t wanna pressure you or anything - I mean. You’re a grown man, I know you can manage your own love life, and all but…. seriously. Just walk up to him and ask him out. This ‘pining from a distance’ thing stopped being cute about a month ago.”

“That’s not funny.”

“Good, it wasn’t supposed to be. Look, I’m gonna make it easy for you: either ask him out, or I’ll do it.”

You wouldn’t dare.

“Oh, I would . If you don’t want a piece of that, Sugar, then step out of the queue.”

--

He’s pouring himself a generous cup of coffee when Courfeyrac and Enjolras approach him.

“Hey, so,” Courfeyrac smiles sweetly at him. “What are you gonna do tonight?”

“Same thing I do most nights: work. Why?”

“Oh, that’s a bummer! One of our friends is getting married and we’re celebrating his bachelor party tonight. We’d like you to come and bring that hot friend of yours!”

Enjolras doesn’t say anything, just pours a cup of coffee for himself.

“Oh, wow, that’d be awesome, but we really can’t. Skipping a day’s work is punishable by death at the club,” he chuckles. “But I’ll tell you what: I’ll text you when our shift is over. If you guys are still cruising around town, we’ll just meet you at some bar. What do you say?”

“Deal!”

Courfeyrac pointedly looks at Enjolras.“Well, I’m gonna go get my stuff for class,” he says. “See you guys at lunch!”

Grantaire watches him turn around and walk up to his slot in the closet, stealing quick glances over his shoulder every now and then.

Silence stretches for a few seconds, until says. “Thanks, by the way,” Enjolras

frowns at him, so he adds, “For recommending Nina, I mean. She’s great and Frankie hasn’t shut up about her for days.”

Enjolras nods. “My pleasure. And how are things with Combeferre?”

“Oh, man, it’s going great! I got the first pages last night and can’t wait to get home to sketch them!”

“I’m glad it’s all working out for you, R. You really deserve it.”

“Thanks. I mean, it was you, really. In fact,” his stomach churns, but he ignores it and goes on. “I guess that means I owe you dinner, huh?”

“Yeah, I guess you do. If it’s okay by you, of course.”

“No, totally! Totally okay, a hundred percent. I mean, it’ll probably be just fries and beer because I’m broke—,“ oh, my god, Grantaire, shut up, he scolds himself. “And, like, you can bring your friend along too if it’s too weird for you, since he hired me and all, but—“

“No. I think I prefer the… the original arrangement.”

Grantaire can feel his face splitting in half by the grin spreading over his lips. “Awesome,” he breathes out. “Original arrangement it is, then! I’ll buy you dinner. Just you and me.”

“Just you and me,” Enjolras nods.

--

Enjolras isn’t much for drinking, but when in Rome… When in Rome you have to drink your weight in alcohol to keep from getting up from your seat and bodily removing the disgusting frat boy running his fingers up one of the dancers’ legs. He’s heard her politely tell him not to touch her at least three times by now, but every time she swats his hand away, the asshole finds a new spot to graze.

When he mentioned it to the others, though, Feuilly pointedly reminded him that these women aren’t damsels in distress and are more than capable of handling annoying customers.

“Just drink your beer and let the girl work,” he’d told him. “You won’t be doing her any favors by scaring away customers.”

Enjolras wasn’t happy about it, but decided to let it go. Sort of. Now he flicks the cap of his fourth beer at the disrespectful scum, though, because it’s early in the night and he hasn’t had enough to drink to refrain his instincts.

“Isn’t this great?” Courfeyrac asks him excitedly. “It’s so cozy and edgy in here! Pretty people everywhere… How come we don’t come here more often?”

“Might have something to do with the exploitation of under-paid dancers and how it would support the negative side of the sex industry,” Combeferre replies, amused.

“That is exactly why .”

Suddenly all the lights go out and the music stops. For a few seconds, it’s as if the entire club is holding its collective breath, waiting for something Enjolras honestly doesn’t know what is, until a gravelly voice blasts from the speakers.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the man in the speakers begins, “The Pattron Minette sends its regards and hopes you’re enjoying your evening. Tequilas are double-serve until midnight, so I suggest you hurry to the bar soon, because coming up next is your man, the chaos you all naughty bastards love so much… Give it up for Entropy!”

 

A single white spotlight shines on stage, focused on the black curtains. The voice is replaced by the lazy few notes of what Enjolras recognizes as some sexy version of Come Together .

 

A hand makes its way between the curtains. It doesn’t do much, mostly caresses the velvety fabric as if it were the man’s torso and Enjolras rolls his eyes, wondering how could anyone ever find that arousing. The curtains are spread widely and the dancer swaggers confidently on the stage.

 

got to be a joker, he just do what he pleases…

 

Courfeyrac spits out his drink dramatically, like this is some comical scene from a romantic comedy, or some other nonsense.

 

Enjolras can’t find the humor in this, though. His eyes transfixed on the way the stripper teases the crowd by lifting his black wife beater to his mouth, where he keeps the hem between his teeth, hand smoothly running down his stomach as he undulates his torso.

 

“Isn’t that…?” Combeferre asks eloquently, brow furrowing.

 

“Grantaire?” He supplies, bile creeping up his throat. “Yes.”

 

“Oh, my God, I’m so sorry!” Courfeyrac rushes to implore. “I swear I didn’t know! Enj, you gotta believe me: I swear I didn’t know about this, I never would’ve-- Oh, my God, is he licking that pole ?”

 

“Do you guys know him?” Marius asks, horrified. “Why would you bring us her—“

“I didn’t know!” Courfeyrac hisses again. “Enj, I swear I didn’t!”

Enjolras doesn’t say anything to that. Can’t even think of what to say in a situation like this –

Obviously Courfeyrac wouldn’t set this up, he knows, but it’s all too overwhelming for him.

His friends are all quiet around him, but he can hear the comments on the tables nearby. Men and women alike whistling, screaming and shouting comments about what they’d like to do to Grantaire in far too detailed ways. His blood boils and the urge to get up and throw his chair at the nearest catcaller is almost too strong to bear.

Up on the stage, Entropy doesn’t seem to mind. He’s all smiles and heated looks. At this point in his performance, his shirt is gone – a middle-aged woman waves it up in the air like a flag of pride - and it appears his pants are about to follow suit.

Enjolras licks his lips, swallowing the dry spot in his throat. He darts his eyes away, but half a second later his attention is back on the show.

Grantaire’s fingers – Entropy’s, Enjolras sternly corrects himself – work expertly on his belt. He doesn’t throw it to the crowd like he did with the shirt. It’s wrapped loosely around his neck. At this point, the song reaches its first chorus with a dramatic mix of drum beats and electric guitars, which Entropy follows with precise moves of his feet and hips, coming closer and closer to the edge of the stage.

“You don’t think he can see us, do you?” Marius asks a tinge of panic to his voice.

“We’re not that close to the stage, don’t worry,” Combeferre assures him.

“What if he saw us?” Enjolras maybe adds more hostility to that question than necessary. “You don’t know him, it wouldn’t matter.”

“Yeah, but he knows you! Wouldn’t it be… awkward?”

“Marius, I think we’re way past that,” Feuilly says as he pats Marius on the leg.

On the stage, Entropy is doing an impressive handstand while a young woman (who, Enjolras notices, has Grantaire’s belt around her neck) opens up his fly and pulls his pants up all the way to his knees. At that point, Entropy swiftly does a backwards somersault out of his jeans.

“Okay, that was just cool,” Bossuet breathes out. “We gotta try that at home. ‘Chetta’s gonna love it.”

“You’ll end up breaking your neck,” Joly retorts.

Enjolras knows he should get up, go over to the bar and turn his back on that performance.

Grantaire kept that job a secret from them for a reason and now he knows why; he’d be mortified to know that people he knows outside the club witnessed that, but it’s stronger than him. This is a whole side of Grantaire that none of them ever imagined could exist – confident, unironically sexy and impossibly coordinated.

He’s not quite willing to admit it yet, but there’s something just hypnotizing about Grantaire

dancing in nothing but a pair of white skin-tight boxers – especially now that he’s moved over to the poles again, and is twisting himself in a way that allows him to be upside-down, legs spread out in a flat line.

Enjolras is torn between wanting that display to be over soon, and watching Grantaire move that way for hours.

--

His two-song act finally over, Grantaire grabs the microphone handed to him by one of the

interns.

“Evening, lovely Manhattan! Was that good for you?” He teases. Before the last word is even out of his mouth, people are screaming and whistling. He giggles. “Wanna go again?” more

screaming. “Awesome. Me too, but as much fun as that was, a man gotta catch his breath, you know? So what do you say we play a different game while I recharge, huh?” Screaming.

He walks up to the edge of the stage, pointing his arm back at the curtains. “Ladies and

gentlemen, for your viewing pleasure, the one… the only… the absolutely delicious… Bloody

Mary!”

An electric beat blasts through the speakers as Éponine power-walks into the stage, looking every bit as irresistible as she always does in her 7” heels and black lingerie.

She walks up to him, takes the microphone from him and slaps his ass. People cheer.

“So,” she begins, “Did you get him ready for me?”

Grantaire takes the microphone again. “Actually, I was just about to get the lucky bastard up on the stage, but I figured you’d like to meet him first.”

--

Next to him, Courfeyrac closes his eyes and starts sliding down his chair. “I am so, so, so sorry,” he mutters. Enjolras frowns.

--

“The lucky son of a bitch to get the night’s first lap-dance from our very own Bloody is getting married next weekend!” People shout all sorts of appreciative comments. “Where are you, dude? Yo, guys, can we get some light on him?”

A single white spotlight shines the groom-to-be’s table. Grantaire and Éponine walk up to him.

“You’re a very lucky man,” he grins, on his way to the table on the back. “Your friends paid a very expensive treat for ya. Keep those guys arou—“

Enjolras, Courfeyrac and Combeferre all very pointedly avoid his eyes.

“—around.”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 15 - CAPTAIN OBVIOUS REVEAL


“--around.”

 

Grantaire’s voice cracks on that last word. There are flashes going off, too many people cheering, clapping and snapping pictures. Everyone in the audience seems blissfully unaware of the absolute disaster happening at the moment.

Everyone except the guys on the table under the spotlight.

Grantaire used to dread the day Enjolras would figure out what his second job was, but for the most part he always assumed this just couldn’t possibly happen. They weren’t even that big a part of each other’s life, didn’t have that many friends in common and seriously? When would Enjolras ever walk into a strip club?

Of all of horrific scenarios he’d painted in his head about this day, this is definitely the worst. Grantaire is painfully aware of how exposed he is. Standing there on the stage in nothing but a skimpy black thong. His stomach bottoms down. Enjolras watched him perform.

He feels like throwing up.

Feedback whistles loud around him and he’s reeled back to the present. The cheering has diminished, since Bloody Mary hasn’t actually done anything. Instead, she’s watching him, and Grantaire knows her enough to know that it’s worry that’s hiding beneath that blank face.

“Uhm,” Grantaire clears his throat. He sweeps his gaze around the audience and cocks his hip out. With some difficulty, he puts on a charming smile. “Anyway, without any further ado, Bloody, honey, why don’t you ruin that guy for all the other women in the world?”

Éponine frowns at him and he can barely hear her outraged “ what? ” as the audience roars with cheering again. Led by absolute panic and a desperate need to simply end this whole thing, he slaps her ass and regrets it the second she shoots him a deadly glare.

“Okay, so you guys enjoy the rest of your evening!” He squeaks out and drops the microphone, all but running back through the curtains.

 

--

Enjolras rubs a hand over his face. He turns his head to excuse himself from the table and finds both Combeferre and Courfeyrac staring at him with concerned eyes. Combeferre nods towards the door.

“I’m getting some fresh air,” Enjolras shouts over the screaming as Éponine walks away from their table, taking a reluctant Marius by the hand.

“Good idea!” Courfeyrac quacks, almost jumping from his seat. “Today seems like a great day to take up smoking.”

They move awkwardly through the several tables in the room and get annoyed glares for their trouble. Honestly, Enjolras couldn’t give less of a shit. Screw them all for taking so much pleasure from other people’s humiliation.

Courfeyrac smiles and exchanges a few words with the usher and they get a free pass to walk into the backdoor alley.

“Well, that went well,” Combeferre says, digging his hands into his pockets. “Did any of you know?”

Enjolras opens his mouth to reply, but Courfeyrac cuts in, shrilly. “No! I swear to God I didn’t! If I’d known--”

“We didn’t,” Enjolras sums up, putting a hand on Courfeyrac’s shoulder to calm him down. “I mean, we knew he worked at a bar, but he never said he did there-- here .” He shakes his head. “And we never asked. Jesus, I can’t even imagine what this must be like for him, to see us at that table…”

“He looked horrified,” Courfeyrac agrees, staring at a spot on the other side of the wall. “God, I’m such an idiot,” he runs a hand over his face. “You know, I thought this was gonna be funny? Prank Marius just like in the good old days. I can’t believe this whole thing blew on our faces like that. I mean! R must be feeling like shit. Why didn’t I just buy Marius some cigars?”

“I think we’re blowing this whole thing out of proportion,” Combeferre says. “He was obviously surprised, but he’s a professional. He’ll be embarrassed for a few minutes but soon he’ll be laughing at this, I’m sure.”

--

What the fuck was that?!”

Grantaire looks up and before he can do anything to stop it, starts laughing maniacally. Montparnasse, who’s red in the face and has smudged eyeliner almost all the way to his cheek, stands in the door to his dressing room, with his hands on his cocked hip.

“Grantaire, what the fuck , I mean it! What the hell was that? Did you forget your lines or something?!”

“Shit happened, that’s what,” he croaks out. “I can’t go out there anymore tonight.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? Are you sick or something? Got stage fright all of a sudden?”

“No, just…” He sighs, adrenaline finally leaving his body. “There are...people I know in the audience. People I really wish would never come here and I can’t go out there and face them. I just can’t.”

Montparnasse raises a perfectly styled eyebrow at him. “Debt collectors or stalkers?”

Grantaire snorts out a bitter laugh. “Neither. Friends, I guess.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” Montparnasse snaps at him. “You’re booked for the whole night and you wanna fuck me over because your friends just saw you shake that ass? You go back out there and do your job or I swear to god, you don’t have to show your face around here anymore!”

Grantaire knows his hands are shaking. The sheer terror of going back there to perform knowing Enjolras is watching him is almost enough to send him running out the door, consequences be damned. He steeples his hands and put them over his mouth, taking a deep breath. Slightly calmer, he proposes. “Okay, what if… What if we just bumped my routines to a later time?”

“What?”

Grantaire paces, trying to make his thoughts coherent. “Like, maybe I just switch places with, like, Danny, maybe?”

“Are you high? Danny, the new kid? Fuck, no .”

“No, no, no, hear me out: you put the inexperienced kid now and you tell everyone that the real show starts after two, right? And that creates expectation and maybe we hype them all up about it and I swear to you, I’m gonna dance my ass off if you do that. Like, people will be talking about the Patron Minette for weeks . If I have to make out with Prouvaire on stage to rile them up, I promise you I will.”

“R--”

“Seriously. I’m begging you. I can’t just--” he licks his lips, eyes sliding shut. Tries again. “I just can’t do that while they’re out there. Please. I’ll owe you big time.”

“What if they don’t go away, huh? What happens if I put you on stage after two a.m. and your friends are still there? Are you gonna bail again and ruin our reputation?”

“I know these guys, okay? I know for a fact they’ll be tired as fuck and leave right after midnight. Please.”

Montparnasse seems to consider it for a long time before he finally sighs. “Fine. Tell Danny he’s up and you’re taking his private dancing duties for the next three hours. And no complaining!” He adds as soon as Grantaire opens his mouth. “And get them to tag the club on their pics. I can never find us on Instagram.”

Grantaire nods, trying hard not to roll his eyes. “Sure, whatever. When’s the first call? Do I have time to smoke, or something?”

Montparnasse makes a dismissive gesture with his hand and Grantaire takes it as his cue to leave.

--

“Okay, good news and bad news,” Courfeyrac says dramatically as soon as he meets up with Enjolras at the bar. “Good news is that his name is Jehan, he loves poetry and nice walks under the moonlight--”

“Courf--”

“And was nice enough to agree to tell me where to find R. Bad news is that he said R’s unreachable at the moment. Apparently he got placed as a private dancer? It’s a couple hundred bucks to just to be in that room.”

Enjolras takes a long swig of his beer. “I guess we should go, then. I’ll just try to call him later and explain the whole thing.”

“Yeah. Yeah, that sounds reasonable. Maybe it’ll just be less uncomfortable when you talk to him tomorrow.”

Enjolras feels like a bucket of ice water was just dumped on him. “Tomorrow,” he breathes out, rubbing a hand over his face. “I forgot to tell him about tomorrow.”

“Oh, boy,” Courfeyrac says. “This just keeps getting better and better. Ok, we can’t just leave now. R isn’t picking up the phone and I really doubt he’ll do it later either. We can’t let him get to school tomorrow and find a crowd of strangers-plus-the coworkers who saw him wearing a thong.”

“What do you wanna do? Wait until he leaves and stalk him to his car?”

Courfeyrac shakes his head, shoulders set and not a hint of humor in his eyes. “I’m getting you in that room.”

--

After 28 years, Grantaire figures he really should’ve learned by now that things can always get worse. Always.

Enjolras looks completely out of place standing by the door, hand still on the doorknob, eyes fixed on him and lips set in a thin line; an aura of austerity and self-righteousness practically glowing around him. Hilariously enough, though, judging by the way his body is slightly leaned in that direction, it almost gives the impression that he’s holding on to that piece of metal to steady himself.

Grantaire shakes his head.

“What are you doing here?” It almost comes out like a whine.

--

Enjolras knew he wasn’t going to get a very warm reception, but he’d be lying if he said that Grantaire’s sharpness didn’t sting a little.

“We need to talk,” he says slowly, as he takes a few steps forward, closing the door behind him.

“No, don’t--!” Grantaire tries to stop him, but it’s too late: the door clicks shut. “Shit,” he swears under his breath, rubbing a hand over his face.

Enjolras frowns. “What?”

“I'd like to talk… later.” Grantaire says tiredly. “Do you realize what you’ve done?” When Enjolras just shakes his head, Grantaire goes on. “I’m on duty. I’m working—“

“I know, and I’m sorry to interrupt, but I was hoping you could take a quick break—“

“Did the bouncer outside stamp your hand before he let you open the door?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Did you ask for me, specifically?”

“Well, not you. Prouvaire stressed that I should use your professional name, or I’d get thrown out—“

Grantaire groans. “Oh, God. Did you specifically ask for ‘Entropy’?”

“That’s your… alias, right?”

“Okay, first? It’s not an alias, this isn’t a spy show, it’s a pretentious night club. Second? You’re at a strip bar. You’re a customer who asked for a very specific stripper and got his hand stamped for a private dance. See where this is going?”

Enjolras feels his cheeks burn. “You don’t think—I mean, it’s not like you have to perform -- I’m definitely not gonna hold you to it – and in any case, how would they even know?”

“Enjolras…” Grantaire smiles bitterly, walking the few steps that separates them. Takes his hands – cold, despite it being warm in the room – and gracefully, slowly, turns them around so that Enjolras is facing the door.

“As discreetly as you can, take a quick look up. Do you see that tiny black camera above the door?” He instructs. Enjolras does and then nods curtly. “Yeah, well. It’s there to make sure customers behave and dancers don’t earn extra, if you know what I mean. Basically we’re being watched. If we stay here just talking, I’ll get my ass fired for stalling.“

“Wait, what?”

“My boss isn’t much of a fan of losing profit, and a dancer’s wasted time is literally wasted money, you know. Security would throw my ass on the curb so fast, I’d probably break sound speed.”

“Can’t you just tell him we know each other and need to talk?”

“Which part of ‘it’s two hundred bucks for a session’ don’t you understand? Besides, after the little fiasco earlier tonight, pretty sure he’s not in the mood to do me any favors any time soon. Hell, he’d probably pay to watch me perform for you just for giggles and shit.”

“So there’s no way around it?”

“M’ afraid not. You just bought yourself ten minutes of a lapful of me. Fucking congratulations.”

Enjolras looks down, a bitter taste in the back of his throat rising up with the bile. “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, me too. Now go sit on that couch while I pick the least humiliating routine so we can just get this over with.”

--

The couch in the back of the room is a velvety dark shade of purple. It’s not particularly comfortable, but Enjolras figures no one sitting on it actually plans to sit back and watch a movie, so making it a little hard was probably the whole point.

The air around it smells like stale beer and cigarettes. There are two poles and a small stage. If he thought the ambiance outside was shady, in here it’s ten times worse. The idea of someone he knows having to go through this on a daily basis is nauseating.

He’s shaken from his musings by the first accords of some song he doesn’t recognize blasts above his head.

“I just want you to remember that you were the one who put us in this situation,” he hears Grantaire complain from behind a decorative screen. “I’d also like to beg you not to laugh. That’d be nice.”

Despite himself, Enjolras laughs.

“Oh, great. This is off to a great start.”

He steps out of the screen and Enjolras’ mouth goes dry. Instinctively, he draws his knees closer to each other.

Grantaire is dressed as a marine for the performance, that much is obvious, but Enjolras had expected something silly. Something that would alleviate the tension, but no, Grantaire had to pick the camouflaged pants, black boots and white tank top. His dog tags jiggle as he walks and Enjolras wants to pull him closer by them.

He doesn’t.

“You wanted to talk,” Grantaire says, swaying his hips, a hand behind his head and the other holding the tip of his army cap. It’s posing, Enjolras knows and feels stupid for finding it so hot, but his body and his brain aren’t on the same page tonight, it seems. “Go ahead.”

“Right… of course. Uhm. We never meant to… to…,” Grantaire’s hands have moved from their previous position to smoothly slide down his chest, going all the way down to his crotch, as his feet move coordinately. “To corner you like that!” Enjolras finally gets the words out.

“Really? I wouldn’t have guessed,” the cap slides off his head when he power-spins. “You all looked so much like you expected to see my pasty ass on stage. Not at all awkward and uncomfortable.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Enjolras says, voice barely even, as he watches Grantaire seductively walk up to one of the poles and pull himself upside down. His shirt slides down a few inches, making one of his tattoos visible. The desire to lick it is very strong but he tries not to think about it. “We’d just been caught off guard.”

“Understatement of the century.” Grantaire says, but it comes out a little breathless from the exertion of pulling himself down again as though he’s walking on air. “Did your friend at least like the show?”

“I—I wouldn’t know.”

Grantaire falls into step with his dance moves as though they’d never been interrupted. Swiftly, between an arm movement and the other, his shirt is gone. Enjolras shakes his head.

“For the record, I never approved of coming here. Even before I knew you worked here.”

Grantaire frowns. Dives into the floor and gracefully works it into a grinding motion against it. “Why not?”

“What do you mean ‘why not’? You work here, you of all people should know!”

“No, I don’t. Too dirty for you?”

“No. Because it’s degrading for sex workers. People in a position of power treating dancers like they’re property—“ Enjolras is interrupted when Grantaire grinds up to where his legs are still closed. He yanks them open, in time with the song, and with his hands on Enjolras’ knees, worms his way up in one fluid motion. His naked torso pressing against Enjolras and their faces mere inches apart.

“Do you feel awfully in control right now?”

Enjolras doesn’t answer. Doesn’t think he could if he tried. Words seem inadequate and useless now, when all he wants is to wrap his arms around Grantaire’s waist and grind up against him.

Grantaire smirks wolfishly.

He propels himself up and all but jumps up to the couch, legs apart, caging Enjolras where he is.

“Do you think the worst thing about this job is dealing with Johns wanting to fuck my brains out?” He undulates his body, but keeps an infuriating distance between their crotches. “Do you think that’s any different than Mrs. Howell eating you up every day when she drops her kid off at school?”

Enjolras’ hands are throbbing to reach out, to touch, his breathing is coming out quickened, and his heart is hammering against his chest. “Not the same,” he breathes out, the most eloquent he can manage given the circumstances.

“Exactly the same. Lust is universal. Happens here as it does anywhere else,” he punctuates that by finally grinding down against Enjolras and they both gasp involuntarily at that.

“Consent…” Enjolras tries to point out, but the effect is ruined, because he’s finally given in and grabbed Grantaire’s hips.

“I’m here because I wanna be here,” he leans closer and whispers in Enjolras’ ear. “Wouldn’t be anywhere else right now.”

Enjolras groans at that, wants to press closer, to take Grantaire on that very couch, fuck whoever’s watching, but Grantaire is faster than him and moves away. Jumps up, so he’s standing on the couch, legs apart on each side of Enjolras’, his crotch right in front of Enjolras’ eye line.

Somehow the moment is broken. The mood is still sexy – Grantaire now has a hand behind Enjolras’ head, keeping him in place, as he unbuttons his fly with his other hand –, but it’s once again impersonal. Staged. A performance.

His brain process is back to its normal functioning, so it’s easy to say. “Another reason I wanted to speak with you is because Courfeyrac and I have organized an event for tomorrow.”

“Oh.” Grantaire’s voice is uninterested, the grind of his hips mechanical. “Good for you, I guess.”

“It’s at the school.” Enjolras adds, irritated.

“I promise I won’t get in your way.”

“It’s for you!” Enjolras finally loses his temper. Stills Grantaire’s hips with both his hands. “We’ve organized an event where the community helps you finish painting the school.”

Grantaire frowns down at him. “Really? That eager to get rid of me, are you?”

Enjolras shakes his head. “No, you asshole. It’s so you can finally catch a fucking break.”

Grantaire climbs down from the couch, his pants halfway down his thighs. “Oh.” He scratches the back of his head. “Oh, wow. Uhm… that’s, uh… That’s kinda cool, I guess.”

Enjolras rolls his eyes and gets up from the couch. “Yeah. So cool.” Walks up to the door. “Thank you for the dance, by the way. It was a real eye-opener.”

--

Grantaire rubs a hand over his face. Wow, congratulations, asshole, he scolds himself.

He pulls his pants up and runs after Enjolras, catching up to him just before he disappears in the sea of tables in the main room. “Dude, I’m sorry,” he rushes to apologize. “I didn’t mean to be a dick about it.”

Enjolras’ icy stare is all the more unpleasant after having a much warmer one directed at him not five minutes before. “I guess it just comes natural, then.”

“Believe it or not, yeah, that’s pretty much it.” He purses his lips. “Tonight’s a bad night, don’t mind me, I’m an asshole. What you just said, about the thing at the school... That’s… uh. That’s… great. I don’t know why anyone would want to spend their Saturday painting a school for free, but you’ve always been kinda weird that way, so I’ve learned not to question that part, but—“

“R,” Enjolras interrupts him, a small smile blooming on his lips. “It’s fine. Just be there at 10. None of us knows the first thing about painting and we’ll need your instructions.”

Grantaire feels his lips stretching into a stupid grin. He bites his lower lip. “Yeah, okay. Definitely. Will be there, you bet.”

“Okay. Guess I’ll see you in a few hours, then.”

“Try not to miss me too much.”

Enjolras rolls his eyes and walks away.

--

Frankie isn’t eating his cereal, Grantaire notices. He’s just swirling his spoon around the bowl, making sure to scrape the very bottom, fill it up and then drop the cereal back on the bowl. He’s resting his face in one of his hands, eyes cast down and mouth drawn outwards, looking the picture of misery.

Grantaire allow him exactly five minutes to be that dramatic before he puts his fork down. “Alright, something’s up. Shoot.”

Frankie sighs, letting both arms fall to his sides. “I don’t wanna go today.”

“Yeah, I heard you the first six times. But remember how we talked about Aunt Ép needing her rest and today being Nina’s day off? Besides,” he nudges Frankie’s little feet with his own under the table. “Today is a special day at the school! Your teachers are gonna be there and there’ll be other children… it’s gonna be fun!”

“Can I just stay with you while we’re there?”

“Hm… I don’t know, buddy. I’ll have work to do and I don’t know how much they’re gonna

need me…” Frankie looks down again. “But I’m gonna be there, you know that. And like I said, there’ll be other kids for you to play with.”

“But I see them every day!” Frankie whines. “I wanted to play with you.”

Grantaire looks away. “Frankie, this isn’t any different than any of the days Daddy has to work at the school, except this time you can actually watch me do it and there’ll be other people helping me. But it’s still Daddy’s work day, you remember that, right? How I need to work to buy you video-games?”

Frankie nods, still looking down.

“Okay, good. Now eat your cereal, we’re getting late.”

---

“Oh, wow.” Grantaire laughs, surprised.

“Did you like it?” Courfeyrac asks, grinning from ear to ear. Behind him, there’s a few dozens of people carrying paint cans and brushes.

Frankie tightens his hold on Grantaire’s hand and hides behind his legs.

“A little overwhelming, but okay, yeah, great.”

People gather around him, smiling, and some even nod along, asking him how he’s doing.  It’s mostly the school staff, but also recognizes some parents he’s seen at the PTA meetings.

“Well, think of it as a teaching experience, if you want! Please, do teach us, O wise one, how to properly paint interiors.”

Grantaire spots Enjolras in a corner near the hall leading up to the stairs. He seems to be instructing someone where to put some food and beverages containers.

“I honestly thought it’d just be a few people helping me spread newspapers around the rooms?” He shakes his head. “This is like… Like a school event, or something.”

“Yeah, something like that!” Courfeyrac winks. “Now go get settled.” He crouches down, getting on Frankie’s level. “Hey, buddy… why the long face? Upset ‘cause your dad dragged you to a boring day at school?”

Frankie nods, chewing thoughtfully on his nails. “I wanted to draw, but we had to come here.”

“Well, your problems are over, ‘cause I have some really cool activities planned for you and the other children!”

Frankie looks up at Grantaire.

“Hey, don’t look at me, kiddo. It’s totally up to you. Wanna hang out with Mr. C. today?”

“I wanted to stay with you…”

“I know, but Daddy has to work. Why don’t you go with him? It’s gonna be way more

fun. Right, Mr. C.?”

“Totally! We’ll spend the whole day at the playground.”

Frankie takes a hesitant step from behind his father. “Really?”

“Uh-huh. And there’ll be cake later on, too.”

“I’m coming with him, Dad.”

Grantaire ruffles his hair, amused. “Be good.”

“Okay.”

---

The event goes a lot better than Enjolras had planned. The parents seem genuinely enthusiastic about the masking and coloring techniques Grantaire taught them. Every room has at least two or three of them, happily chatting and working on the walls. The children, for their part, are more than content to spend hours playing in the playground, eating sweets and singing songs. He’s exhausted and sore, but content. They’ve managed to advance Grantaire’s schedule in weeks.

This was a great idea , he thinks. I should’ve proposed this sooner .

The door clicks open. “You know, you really shouldn’t close the door when you’re painting

unless you have a death wish.” Grantaire jokes, poking his head inside.

“I’m sure that’s just an urban legend.”

“Scientists everywhere just gasped in outrage and they don’t even know why.”

Enjolras rolls his eyes, but he can feel stomach churning. This is as close as they’ve gotten since the stage incident. He turns back to his work. “I think I’ll survive.”

“Nah, I don’t think so,” Grantaire says, stepping inside. He leaves the door crack open. “You’re a hazard to yourself. Clearly I need to stick around here and make sure you don’t end up dead, or something.”

---

Frankie is sitting by the tree, a few feet from the jungle gym, eyes closed and making up stories in his head. A magic flying carpet just fell apart and the hero needs to look for the magical needle – hidden in a giant pile of a bunch of other similar needles – to save it and he’s picturing the colors on the carpet’s pattern when he feels it.

A prickly, thick wetness beginning at his forehead and ending on his chin. Startled and annoyed, he opens his eyes to find Danny holding a brush wet with red paint, giggling.

Frankie feels his face warm up and anger rise up in his body. He can’t think of much of anything else other than the impulse to hurt. He gets up quickly and pushes Danny.

The little boy falls down with a soft “thud”. The brush goes flying a few feet away and there’s this dumb, scared look on his face when he hits the ground. It’s not a pretty sight, Frankie decides.

He’s expecting Danny to get up and call him names, to hit him or push him back. Instead, he just cries. Loudly.

People are gathering up now, Danny’s shrieks getting the attention of everyone around them. They’re all murmuring, gasping and throwing dirty looks at Frankie. Mr. C. walks in their direction too. Danny still hasn’t gotten up and his crying gets louder, more high-pitched. Frankie remembers the time when he fell from the 1st floor and broke his arm. He’d cried like that too, because it’d hurt so bad.

It dawns on him how badly he must’ve hurt Danny. His heartbeating speeds up, hands flexing.

He sprints.

---

For a kindergarten teacher, Enjolras is surprisingly bad at artistic things.

“It may surprise you,” Enjolras replies, in a mock-offended tone, when Grantaire remarks that. “But finger painting is a little different than painting walls.”

Grantaire laughs. “So what you’re saying is that you’re better at fingering than you are with a brush? Yeah, I can’t see a downside to that.”

“Well, we all have our talents, I guess. Seriously, though, how do you even do it? It’s impossible to avoid blotches!”

Grantaire places his long brush near the door and walks the short steps between them. “Here,” he says as he takes the brush from Enjolras’ hand. “You let too much paint accumulate in your brush. Another thing: you’re pressing too hard. Try it like this,” he stands behind Enjolras, takes his hand and shows him how to do it more smoothly.

Grantaire knows this is the oldest trick in the book, but any excuse to touch Enjolras is more than welcomed.

Enjolras presses back against him. Wonders never cease.

“About last night…” He begins and Grantaire groans in frustration, stepping back.

“I was hoping we wouldn’t do that. I got the point: you don’t approve. I’m a horrible person for leaving my kid alone to go dance naked, blah, blah, blah. Let’s just—Let’s just move on and forget you ever saw that, okay?”

Enjolras turns to face him. “I was actually about to compliment you on your performance.”

“… Oh.”

Enjolras nods. Puts the brush on the paint can. “I always thought you’d have to be a part of the Cirque du Soleil to be that flexible.”

“Was that a joke?”

Enjolras chuckles and gets closer. Grantaire’s hands start to sweat.

“I don’t think you’re a bad parent – I did, when we first met. I wrongly assumed you didn’t put Frankie’s needs first, but I have to say: I’ve been living your shoes, so to speak, for the last 24 hours and I can’t barely keep my eyes open.” Grantaire utters a small laugh at that. Enjolras goes on, coming closer. “I can’t even begin to imagine what other sacrifices you make to fill in the gaps for him. If you ask me, I’d say you’re actually a great person.”

Grantaire’s ears are ringing. He can’t possibly have heard that correctly. Enjolras thinks he’s

great. More important than that, Enjolras thinks he’s not doing a terrible job at this parenting thing.

Did the Earth just quake or was it just his mind shattering?

Enjolras lowers his eyes and when he’s speaks again, he’s looking at Grantaire through his lashes.

“I have to confess something.” He moistens his lips and goes on, now a step closer. “Courfeyrac will never hear me say this, but I was actually disappointed I never got a dance from you.”

Definitely his mind shattering. Before he can talk himself out of it, he grabs the back of Enjolras’ head and pulls him in for a hard kiss.

--

“R—Oh, shit!” Courfeyrac looks away, embarrassed. He closes the door behind himself. “I’m really sorry to interrupt, but—uh. You definitely need to come with me.”

Grantaire wipes a hand over his mouth. “What?”

Courfeyrac sighs. It occurs to Grantaire that he’s never seen Courfeyrac more serious. He

instinctively steels himself.

“It’s Frankie—“

His ears start ringing. His heart seems to be beating at light speed at this point and suddenly breathing becomes an incredibly hard thing to do. “ What the fuck happened ?”

“Apparently he got into a fight with another kid but then panicked and ran off—Hey, it’s okay! We’ve found him. He was hiding in one of the cupboards in the kitchen, but we’ve found him.”

Grantaire takes a deep breath. “Where is he now?”

Courfeyrac scratches the back of his head. “He’s a little freaked, but he’s fine, physically, I mean. The thing is… Well, the kid’s mother is understandably pissed and maybe you should go talk to her.”

---

Frankie keeps his head down as they walk up to the cafeteria, where most of the adults seemed to have gathered. The closer they get, the louder the shouting gets. Frankie halters. Takes a step back.

“Hey, now,” Mr. C. says and it feels nice when he puts his arm over Frankie’s shoulders. “What’s wrong?”

“They’re yelling.” He says in a small voice. “Dad’s angry with me. I’m not supposed to run off ever.”

Mr. C. crouches until they’re looking at each other eye to eye. “He’s not angry with you, okay—“

“He is! There’s a rule! I can’t run off—“

“He’s a little upset, I’ll give you that, but your dad loves you very much and he won’t yell at you. We were all just very worried. I’m sure he’ll love to see you.”

Frankie bites his lip. “But there’ll be time-out…”

“Are you kidding me? He’ll be so happy to see you he’ll probably let you have ice cream for

dinner.”

Frankie’s eyes widen. “Really?”

“…Yeah, okay, probably not, but I’m sure he’ll be glad that you’re okay and won’t be thinking about grounding you, or anything.”

As soon as they step into the room, Frankie instinctively hides behind Mr. C. He wasn’t expecting that many people together in that one tiny place, much less to see them all on one side and his father on the other, everyone arguing so loudly.

They stop yelling for about five seconds when they see him and Mr. C. walk in. Then it happens just like in the movies, when the clock goes faster to catch up and it seems like everyone takes one long, collective breath before all talking at the same time again.

“Oh, thank God!” His Dad exclaims and it’s almost funny how he races to him. One minute he’s across the room, the next he’s crossed a river of people to go pick Frankie up in his arms. “Are you hurt? Frankie, are you okay?”

The other grownups are all talking over each other, it’s a little dizzying. Frankie wants

nothing more than to go home. He just shrugs.

“He’s fine. Just a little—,“ but Mr. C. is cut off by Mrs. Blackwell.

“Ahh, so there he is!” She shouts, moving past people to stand close to them. Francis notices that Danny is right behind her, his head bowed. “The little thug who assaulted my son!”

“Lady, back off.” His Dad warns in a deep, scary voice.

“I most certainly will not! Your monster of a son attacked mine. He could’ve broken a bone. I demand something is done about it!”

“Mrs. Blackwell, this isn’t the time or place for this,” Mr. E. tries to reason. “You’re stepping out of line here.”

She sniggers. “You’re talking about stepping out of line? That’s rich.”

Francis doesn’t know what that lady is talking about, but from the look on Mr. E.’s face, it probably isn’t anything nice.

“I beg your pardon!” Mr. E. says, though it seems to Frankie that he didn’t really mean it.

He opens his mouth to point that out, but then feels himself being slid to the ground. For a second he’s terrified that maybe he’ll be handed over to Mrs. Blackwell. Then a second later his Dad steps in front him, looking several inches taller as puffs his chest up and sticks his chin out.

“I’m only gonna say it one more time: back. Off.”

“Or what?” A man says from the back of the room. “You’re gonna hit her? Like father, like son!”

“If you don’t want me to beat the shit out of you, you better shut the hell up and mind your own business!”

All the grownups shout over each other again and it’s noisy and scary and Frankie has never felt worse in his life. This is all his fault. If he hadn’t pushed Danny this wouldn’t be happening and his dad wouldn’t get hurt by these people. Before he realizes what he’s doing, he’s clutching at his father’s legs and sobbing.

Mr. C. pulls him by the hand. “I think this is our cue to leave,” he whispers.

“No!” Frankie shouts. “I don’t wanna go!”

“It’s okay, Frankie. Dad needs to take care of some grownup stuff.” His Dad reassures him, but his eyes are still on the crowd.

“Maybe we should just call the police!” Someone shouts.

“Is that really necessary?” Ms. Fantine asks. “This is all a misunderstanding.”

“Yes, it is! That guy is threatening a woman and his kid is a psycho!” Someone else says.

Mr. C. is pulling him back towards the door, but he doesn’t want to go. Doesn’t want to leave his father alone when this is all his fault.

“No one is calling the police,” a grave voice stands above everybody else. It’s the Principal.

Frankie never really talked to him before, but he’s seen him around the school. He’s a really big man who looks worried all the time. Now he just looks a little mad at everyone. “This is a matter that concerns only Mr. Grantaire and Mrs. Blackwell, so I suggest everyone else go home. It’s getting late and I assume most of you have to work tomorrow morning.”

There’s a low buzz of voices murmuring together. Frankie wants to hear every one of them, wants to know what horrible things they might be saying about him and his dad, but Mr. C. just pulls him closer to him.

People start filing out of the room not long after that. Obeying the Principal seems to be a thing everyone does, no matter how old they are.

“You too, Courfeyrac,” he orders.

Mr. C. looks like he wants to protest, but his Dad nods. “It’s okay. Thank you.”

“Okay… Text me when you get home.”

Frankie doesn’t get a chance to see his father nodding, because Mr. Valjean shoos him and Danny out of the room as well.

--

“Do you think we’ll get in trouble?” Danny asks, twisting his hands in his lap. He’s not looking Frankie directly in the eyes and that makes him feel really bad.

“I don’t know…”

They’ve sitting in one of the benches by the playground for quite some time now. It feels a little like forever since the Mr. Valjean told both boys to wait for their parents outside while they solved the issue.

“I’m sorry I got paint on you.”

Frankie whips his head towards Danny at that. The other boy still won’t make eye contact with him and he almost looks younger then. Frankie has always thought of him as a baby, but it’s never felt as real as it does now.

It’s funny – in a very not-funny way –, but it doesn’t seem as much of a bad thing now as it did before. Frankie… feels bad for Danny.

“I’m sorry too,” he means to say, but at that moment the three adults walk into the playground and the children are taken away.

---

As soon as they get home, Frankie quickly moves to the stairs, but Grantaire calls for him. Much as he’d like to avoid that conversation, it needs to happen.

“Frankie, why don’t you sit with me for a little while? We need to talk like big boys.”

His son’s shoulders slump and he drags his feet to the couch. There’s a noticeable gap between them and Grantaire hates it. Subtly, he slides a few inches towards Frankie.

He licks his lips and begins, carefully. “You wanna tell me what happened today?”

Frankie shrugs, looking down. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know what happened or you don’t know if you wanna tell me, buddy?”

A few seconds of silence go by and Grantaire feels the panic grow steadily. He wants to shake Frankie and get him to tell him everything that’s wrong, wants his son to communicate what he needs, to just tell him what to do to make things okay. He flexes his hands, but takes a deep breath and simply presses, firmer this time. “ Frankie.

“I don’t know!” The little boy shrieks, hands slapping the sides of his own thighs. “I don’t know! I got mad.”

Grantaire sighs again, trying to keep calm. “You got mad. Okay. That boy’s mother told me you punched him. Is that true?”

“No! She’s a big old liar and I never did that!”

“Then what did you do?”

Frankie looks the other way, but replies this time. “I pushed him and he fell on his butt.”

“Oh, Frankie… why—“

“I’m sorry! I got mad!”

“You can’t just attack people when you’re angry, Frankie! Haven’t we talked about this before?”

“Yeah, but I can’t help it! It just happens! I don’t mean to do it but then I do. Daddy I’m so sorry, I promise I won’t do that again!”

Grantaire believes him. Knows his child well enough to know that he’s legitimately sorry for

hurting someone else, but it has finally dawned on him that they’re past the point of contrition a long time ago. This is just the symptom, not the disease.

“Have you ever done anything like that before? Hurt someone before you can stop yourself?”

Frankie shakes his head.

Grantaire asks again. “But have you thought about it?”

Frankie’s eyes widen a little and he averts his gaze. Grantaire’s heart rate speeds up at that and feels the room around him spin a little. His hands go cold. Bile creeps up his throat, but he swallows it down.

It’s my fault , he thinks. Closes his eyes and shakes his head to repel that line of thought, but the voice inside his head keeps pressing. It’s my fault, it’s my fault, it’s my fault, I should’ve done something sooner, I can’t do this, this is too much, too much--

“No, Daddy, shhh, don’t cry!” He hears Frankie beg and opens his eyes just in time to see the little climb into his lap and fling his arms over his neck, wrapping him in a tight embrace. “I’m sorry, I’ll be good, I promise, please don’t cry.”

There’s a wetness in his neck where Frankie is pressing his face and Grantaire feels even worse.

You’re scaring him, dickface! , he scolds himself. Be a man, for once in your life. Be the fucking grownup!

Grantaire tightens their embrace, rubbing slow circles over Frankie’s back. “Shhh… it’s okay,

buddy,” he says, voice still hoarse. “It’s alright, I’m not mad. Dad is just tired, don’t worry.”

He swallows and forces himself to calm down. When he’s sure he won’t sound like a scared

preschooler himself, he pulls back slightly to look his son in the eyes.

“Really?” Frankie asks, wiping away the tears on Grantaire’s face.

“Really,” Grantaire nods. Puts Frankie’s hands down. “But now we need to talk very seriously, okay?”

“Okay…”

“Do you think you could ever tell me what it feels like right before you attack other children?”

“I don’t know, Dad! I’m not lying, I really don’t know—“

“I believe you,” Grantaire reassures him, combing his fingers through Frankie’s hair. “I do, it’s alright. But we can’t just pretend that this is the kind of thing that doesn’t happen anymore. Did you know that I sometimes feel the same way?”

Frankie frowns. “Same way how?”

“Sometimes… Sometimes things kinda get away from me, you know? My brain gets all noisy and I don’t know what to do, I just feel like running away or disappearing, or something. That’s when my hands and feet make decisions for me and bad things tend to happen. Does it sound like what happens to you?”

Frankie nods slowly, squinting his eyes. “So it’s normal?”

“No, buddy, it really isn’t.” He bites his lower lip and forces a smile. “But it’s something you can get better from. There are special doctors that treat our problems in here,” he taps Frankie’s temple, “And a lot of the times they can help us feel better in here,” taps his chest.

“Do I have to take shots?”

Grantaire grins, shakes his head. “No, don’t worry. In fact, it’s actually a really cool kind of

doctor’s office, you know? There are toys and board games. You can talk about whatever you want, or you can just be quiet and play the games. It’s totally up to you.”

Frankie’s eyes light up. “For real?”

“Yeah, it can be super fun! And the best part is that you can tell that doctor anything you want and you won’t get in trouble. You could tell them everything that bothers you and no one would tell you it’s wrong. Does that sound like something you’d wanna do?”

Frankie nods. “Would you come with me?”

“Uhm… no, not really. It wouldn’t work if I were there with you all the time, but I’ll take you

there and will be just outside, in the waiting room, so you wouldn’t be completely alone.”

“But Dad… what about you? You get sick like that too, you need the doctor.”

Grantaire closes his eyes. “I know. Yeah, I know that. I promise I’ll get one for me too, don’t worry. It’s just that it’s different for adults. There’s a kind of these doctors that’s just for children and then there’s one for grownups, d’you understand?”

“Uh-huh. And we’ll be okay, right? After we do that, we’re gonna be good.”

“Yeah, buddy. We’re gonna be okay, I promise.” Frankie kisses him on the tip of his nose. He picks his kid up and gets up. “Okay, now that that’s cleared up… time for a bath!”

Frankie lets his arms and head hang dramatically. “Nooooo, I’m clean!”

“Like hell, you are!” Grantaire laughs and sniffs exaggeratedly at Frankie’s neck, making the child giggle. “You smell like a dumpster and there’s red paint in your hair. No, sir! You’re gonna be scrubbed up.”

---

Valjean hasn’t said a word in almost two minutes. Enjolras will never admit it, but his palms are sweating a little.

Courfeyrac has shifted in his seat so often, it’s a little surprising he hasn’t fallen out of it yet.

Enjolras finally loses it. “I take full responsibility for today.”

“No, you don’t! I was the one who was supposed to be looking after the children!” Courfeyrac protests.

“Yes, but the project was my idea, I should’ve taken precautions.”

“For what? Scared kids? Who could’ve guessed that shit would happen?”

Enjolras shakes his head and tries to keep his voice even. “We weren’t at our full potential. We’re tired. I knew we had Marius’ thing last night and I still didn’t reschedule today’s activities. It was a grave tactical error on my part.”

“Oh, my God, don’t be such an idiot. Do you think that would’ve changed anything?”

Valjean clears his throat. “I guess it’s safe to say we all have our fair share of guilt in this, yes?”

“I suppose.”

“The PTA will demand a disciplinary action, you both know that. Our school has a zero-tolerance policy on violence, you also know that.”

“Please, don’t do anything drastic,” Enjolras interrupts him. “Frank is a good kid, he’s just going through a difficult phase!”

“Yeah, I can vouch for him!” Courfeyrac adds. “He felt really bad about what happened afterwards. He was just so scared…”

Valjean nods. “I know. I understand and I’ll do whatever is in my power to avoid his expulsion, but I wasn’t talking about him.”

Courfeyrac’s eyes widen at that. “I have a really bad feeling about this. May I remind you that I have rent to pay and two dogs to feed. They count on me for their survival, Valjean.”

No one laughs. Valjean goes on. “I’m afraid they’ll ask me to let Grantaire go.”

“Wow, I was just joking, but are you serious?” Courfeyrac asks and there’s a tinge of legitimate anger in his voice. “His contract is almost over, you can’t possibly be considering it seriously.”

“You can’t do that,” Enjolras feels the weight of guilt on his shoulders. “This was my fault, not his. He didn’t even know about this event until twelve hours ago.”

“He publicly threatened a student’s mother! Do you know what the local paper could do with an information like that?”

“And what is he supposed to do, then?”

“I’ll pay him the last part of his commission – the PTA doesn’t need to know that – and I’ll make his resigning something that’s exclusively for show, but I’ll never employ him in this school again. And judging by what happened today, I’ll doubt he’ll get any offers from the community.”

--

Outside Valjean’s office, Courfeyrac lays a hand on his shoulder and says, “Well… at least he’s getting paid.”

“I’m afraid we caused more damage than we did good. I shouldn’t have meddled in his business.”

“Nah. If you think about it, we actually helped a lot more: he’s getting the money and doesn’t even have to finish the job. Think of all the sleep he’s gonna get and all the time he gets with his son.”

Enjolras surprises himself with his sudden chuckle. “You know what? That’s an excellent way to look at it.”

Courfeyrac winks. “That’s what I’m here for. And honestly? I’m thinking that the news would sting a lot less if they came from you.”

Enjolras shakes his head. “I don’t think so.”

“Oh, but I do! In fact. I think you should drive up there right now to apologize. Tell him all about it and… well. Let nature do the rest.”

“You’re impossible.”

“Shut up, I’m officially changing my name to ‘Eros’, I’m that awesome at this.”

“Maybe you should mind your own love life.”

“What do you think I’m doing after this? Tonight’s program is: a quick nap and then star gazing with the prettiest redhead I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Enjolras snorts. “I can’t believe that actually worked.”

“Like a charm. Now go give a guy some bad news and then kiss it away.”

---

Grantaire nearly trips on one of Frankie’s toys on his way to answer the door. “Frankie, how many times have I told you put your stuff back in your— Oh.”

“Is this a bad time?”

Enjolras is standing on his porch. Add that to the crazy rollercoaster of emotions that’s been going up and down for Grantaire for the last 24 hours.

“Uhm… not really… Did we forget something at the school?”

Frankie squirms his way between his father and the door. “Hi, Mr. E!”

Enjolras smiles down at him. “Hey there, little one. Feeling better now?”

“No, but we’re going to a special doctor so I can get better.”

Grantaire groans. This is a whole new level of awkward. Their eyes meet, and he’s

surprised to see Enjolras smiling.

“I’m glad to know! Hey, do you think I could maybe talk to your dad for a second?”

“Okay. Are you staying for dinner?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t—“

Frankie looks up at Grantaire. “Dad, is Mr. E. having dinner with us?”

Grantaire stutters a little. “Uh—I-uh. I haven’t asked him yet.”

“No, that’s really not a problem, I’m not stayi--”

“But, Dad, you said it’s rude to leave people waiting, remember?”

Grantaire chuckles, though it comes out strangled, tension setting in his shoulders. “Right, of course. Hey, Mr. E., would you do us the honor of staying for dinner?”

“It’s okay if you don’t like spaghetti, we can make something else. Dad is the best cook ever.”

“No, that’s not it—“

“Maybe we should stop bugging him, buddy. It’s Saturday, he probably has other plans.”

“No, that’s not it. I really just stopped by to tell you something.”

Frankie tugs at Grantaire’s leg. “Dad, invite him in!”

He laughs, defeated. “Dude, just… Just come in, okay? If you don’t have anything better to do, you might as well eat with us.” Enjolras still looks uncertain, so he adds. “Besides, if memory serves me right, I think I owe you dinner? Or something like that.”

“I don’t want to impose…”

“Nah, not at all.” Grantaire opens the door widely to let him through. “You can tell me what you need to while I cook. You like pasta, right?”

--

“Fired?” Grantaire repeats, chuckling bitterly. He adds a pinch of pepper to the sauce. “That’s awesome. Yay, me.”

Frankie is coloring on the table, a few feet away from them. It doesn’t escape Enjolras the way that Grantaire looks over his shoulder and at his son when he says that. He adds. “But Valjean promised to pay you in full.”

“That’s fantastic of him and that’s gonna help me a lot, really, but do you know what a painter’s business card is? Believe me when I tell you that it’s not their finished work.” Grantaire rubs a hand over his face. “I was really hoping one of those stuck-up housewives would mention this super cheap house-painter from their kids’ school to other stuck-up rich people.”

Enjolras looks down. Decides to busy himself with stirring the spaghetti so it won’t stick together later. “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well, me too, but that’s that, I guess.” Enjolras looks up at that and catches sight of

Grantaire biting his lower lip, pensive. He looks away again, the urge to reach out and kiss him rising. “My own fault, anyway. Gotta learn to think before I open my mouth.”

Enjolras has no idea what the look on his face is like, but Grantaire snorts at him, rolls his eyes and says, “Don’t look at me like that, man. We’re gonna be okay. I still got my job at the club and there’s that free-lancing thing with your friend, right? We’re good. Really.”

“Yeah, but if you ever need anything—“

“Thanks,” he says. A corner of his lips is turned upwards and there’s a glint in his eyes that’s an impressive mix of hopeful and fond. Enjolras knows Grantaire won’t ask him for help if he needs.

“Okay, changing the subject ‘cause it’s suddenly too serious around here. The pasta is ready, I think. Wanna drain it for us?”

Enjolras nods and busies himself with that.

“Frankie, do you think you can handle all of the plates at once?”

Enjolras gets a glimpse of Frankie rolling his eyes before he takes the pot to the sink. “It’s not that many!” He hears the boy say.

They eat in silence for the first few minutes, Enjolras and Grantaire accidentally catching each other’s eyes and looking down at their plates immediately after. Frankie eats his food – slurping a string of spaghetti every now and then – completely oblivious.

A quick ray of bright white light flashes through the kitchen window and immediately after the loud roar of a powerful thunder echoes, making Frankie jump.

“Scary!” The boy giggles, covering his mouth with his hands.

Grantaire chuckles and makes a face at his son. “Scared of a little lightening?”

Frankie giggles again and then replies in a terrible fake English accent. “I don’t like what follows.”

Grantaire ruffles Frankie’s hair. “Not quite that, but close enough.” When he catches Enjolras

frowning, he clarifies. “Avengers. We do that annoying thing where we quote movies at each

other, you know?”

Enjolras smiles fondly before even noticing what he’s doing. “That’s nice.”

Grantaire looks down, obviously trying to hide a grin, and forks a piece of meat. “Okay, then.”

“Mr. E., do you like movies?”

Enjolras nods. “Sure do. All kinds of them.”

“Do you like Lilo&Stich?”

Enjolras leans to his side, as if to whisper a secret. Says in a conspiratorial tone, “One of my favorites, actually. I’ve seen it so many times, I could probably quote it line by line.”

Frankie’s face lights up. He perks up in his seat and almost drops his spork when he says. “Me too! Wanna see it after dinner?”

“Oh, I don’t know… It might be late by the time the movie ends.”

“You could spend the night.” Grantaire suggests, much too casually. He’s looking down at his

plate and won’t meet Enjolras’ eyes.

“Yeah! You could sleep over, Mr. E.! You could sleep in my room and we’ll tell stories before we sleep!”

“Come on, now, Frankie! Enjolras is too big to fit in your bed.”

Frankie frowns at his father, almost comically. “Then where is gonna sleep?”

Enjolras looks over at Grantaire again, but this time Grantaire is looking directly at him, eyes alight with amusement and the faintest smirk over his lips. Enjolras’ stomach churns.

“Oooh, I know!” Frankie answers his own question. “Mom’s room!”

Grantaire slides his gaze at his son. “Good idea, Champ!”

“That wouldn’t be a problem?” Enjolras asks.

Grantaire shakes his head, that subtle smirk back on his lips. “You’re welcome to sleep wherever you want in the house.”

--

Tarzan follows Lilo&Stich, which leads to Frankie running around the living room pretending to swing on a vine and trying to climb up the back of the couch, until Grantaire not-so-sternly comments.

“You know, Mr. E., I think Frankie wants an early bedtime tonight!”

To which Frankie promptly lets himself fall down seated between the two adults. “No!” He

protests, giggling. “I’ll be good.”

Grantaire smiles warmly. “Good. Come here,” he circles his arms around Frankie’s waist and pulls him up to his lap. He stage-whispers. “We don’t want Mr. E. to think we have no manners, do we?”

“Nuh-uh.”

“So, shhhh…”

Frank still squirms in his father’s lap after that, but it’s a subdued type of hype now. He turns from time to time to comment something or another with Grantaire, quotes some of the lines and does a little sort of dance every time a musical number comes on, but for the most part, he just lets himself rest comfortably against his father’s chest.

Enjolras catches himself fascinated by this glimpse of their domestic life. When Grantaire glances at him, he’s smiling faintly. Enjolras smiles back.

Just before Jane Porter jumps into the water to swim back to Tarzan, Frank is sound asleep and drooling a little on Grantaire’s shirt.

---

From the hall, Enjolras watches as Grantaire lies Frankie on his tiny bed, the boy curling up on his side without really waking up. Grantaire covers him up and silently leaves the room. As an afterthought, he leaves the door a few inches open.

“He panics if it’s closed when he wakes up,” he explains.

“I can imagine…”

An awkward silence stretches between them for a while and Enjolras is too aware, for his own comfort, of the fact that they’re just standing in a lit hallway, staring at each other.

“About what happened today,” Grantaire begins. “I didn’t mean to put you in an awkward

situation. I mean, if anyone else had walked in on us--”

Enjolras shakes his head. “No, I understand. In fact, I’m the one who should be apologizing. You were on duty, we were just there for support and I completely stepped the line—“

“What? Are you kidding me? I’d been dying to jump you all day. I almost did a little victory

dance when you kissed back.”

“I should’ve just made it clear since the club—“

“Yeah, no, the club, bad idea. I would’ve done something highly illegal and that would definitely make me lose that job too—“

They stop talking abruptly again, the air around them heavy. Enjolras can feel the anticipation thrumming just beneath his skin, every inch of his body craving that proximity again.

“Truth is,” he reproaches, carefully. “I’ve wanted to do that for a long time.”

“Wow, uhm… you sure have a way to mislead,” Grantaire chuckles awkwardly, but takes a step closer to Enjolras. “All of those intense waves of contempt and disapproval did a great job of making me keep a distance.”

Enjolras raises an eyebrow at that. Takes a step closer. “Gratuitous hostility. Smart-assrery. Shutting down every time I got too close. I’d say your technique was better than mine.”

Grantaire nods, a corner of his lips curling upwards. The line of his shoulders seems more relaxed now. He takes another step forwards and then another. It closes the distance between them. His hands playfully find their way to Enjolras’ waist.

“Fair enough,” he says. “I have a way of fucking things up. Kudos to you for not backing down.”

Enjolras tilts his head, one of his hands snaking up to rest on the small of Grantaire’s back.

“Backing down from a fight isn’t really my style. Not when it’s something worth fighting for.”

“Awwnn… you’re gonna make me blush.”

Enjolras glares. “Don’t ruin the moment.”

Grantaire chuckles. “Okay, fine.” He purses his lips, his fingers ghosting over Enjolras’ sides. “I guess this is the part where I warn you that I come with the whole package?”

“I know—“

“No, we need to set each other’s expectations from the start. If you wanna do this and forget it ever happened, fine, I’m more than willing to have tonight and all that, but that’d be it. I can’t really do the casual sex thing anymore, I think you remember my telling you about it a while ago?”

“R—“

“And, like, I don’t wanna pressure you or anything, but Frankie gets attached. A lot. And—“

Enjolras kisses him. Unlike their first kiss, it’s not an impulsive, nearly-violent crash of lips. It’s warm, Enjolras’ lips perfectly cradling Grantaire’s upper one. He responds almost instantly, opening his mouth and taking Enjolras’ bottom lip and Enjolras takes that opportunity to let his tongue tease what little space there is between them, until Grantaire opens his mouth further and they deepen the kiss.

Grantaire’s hands meet behind Enjolras’ back and he presses their hips together. Enjolras means to fit one of his hands to the nape of Grantaire’s neck, but once there, he can’t help himself – he grasps a handful of the soft, black hair at the back of his neck. Grantaire moans into their kiss and that’s what finally makes something inside him light up.

“Your room,” he all but growls. “Now.”

---

Grantaire is vaguely aware of locking the door to his room. Enjolras’ soft, hot lips press against his neck. His hands find a perfect fit on Enjolras’ narrow hips, while avid fingers pull at his hoodie.

“So much better,” he hears Enjolras say huskily. The warm breath against his collarbone makes him shiver. Grantaire slides his hands further down and grabs Enjolras’ ass, squeezing hard.

“Better,” Grantaire repeats eloquently. “Better than what? Tell me.”

Enjolras pulls Grantaire’s shirt over his head. Once he’s thrown it across the room, Enjolras looks him dead in the eyes. “Better than any fantasy I’ve had about you.” Enjolras kisses him, hard, sucking on Grantaire’s bottom lip.

“You’ve thought about this,” Grantaire can’t believe a word he’s just heard. “You actually fantasized about me—“

Enjolras frees Grantaire of his belt. “Vividly.”

“Tell me all about it.”

“I once dreamed about you fucking me on my desk.”

Grantaire groans hungrily. He wraps his arms around Enjolras’ midsection and falls into bed with him. He makes himself comfortable in the cradle between Enjolras’ legs. “Tell me exactly how I was fucking you.”

Enjolras presses up against Grantaire’s erection and they both moan softly. “I woke up before that, but all the other times I jerked off thinking about it, it was hard enough to bruise.” Tangles his fingers between Grantaire’s wild mess of black curls. “I want you to fuck me so hard, I’ll walk funny for a week.”

“You fucking got it,” Grantaire breathes out. “But you gotta keep it quiet. We can’t wake him up—“

Enjolras nods.

Grantaire climbs off the bed to get the lube and condoms (yes, plural. He’s feeling particularly ambitious tonight) – which he wisely keeps out of sight or reach. When he gets back, he sees that Enjolras has taken the opportunity to finish undressing. A completely naked Enjolras, lazily stroking himself, smiles up at him.

“Fuck,” Grantaire breathes out. He drops the supplies on the bed and his hands immediately fly down to undo his jeans, but Enjolras stops him.

“Let me,” he asks and Grantaire is all too happy to concede. He locks his hands behind his head, looking down at Enjolras pushing down his pants and finally, underwear. The air hits his naked erection and he shivers a little in anticipation.

Enjolras giggles.

“What?” He asks impatiently.

“You wax?” Enjolras asks, still grinning. It’s confusing, because on the one hand Enjolras looks irresistibly adorable and he’d have him right there and then, but on the other hand he felt like crawling into a hole and dying, a little.

“Uhm… no, I’m not a masochist, I just shave, okay,” he tries to laugh it off, fingers grasping for the waistband of his boxers. The instinctual shame and urge to cover himself up doing a great job of softening him. “I have my balls literally on people’s faces every night. It’s only polite that I--”

Enjolras stills his hands. “That makes sense,” he says softly. An open-mouthed kiss to Grantaire’s chest. “This is going to be interesting… I’ve never had a hairless one before.”

Enjolras smirks. Softer than before, Enjolras grabs at him and leads him down on the bed. Grantaire lays on his back.

“It’s just a taste,” Enjolras promises him, “because I still want you inside of me.”

Before Grantaire has any time to process it, Enjolras leans down and wraps his lips around the head of his cock. Grantaire inhales sharply, biting his bottom lip to keep from moaning too loudly. Frankie is still sleeping in the next room, after all.

He breathes in and out slowly, tells his brain to chill the fuck out and just enjoy it. Enjolras takes his time, a hand at the base of his cock slowly pumping up and down, and his persistent mouth sucking at the head, tonguing just beneath the ridge.

If he can ever pick a way to die, Grantaire decides, this is it. This is how he wants to go: Enjolras’ warm mouth on him.

---

“I’m not offering you a ring,” Enjolras says, once the afterglow begins to wear off.

“Not asking for one.” Grantaire replies, puffing out smoke with each word. A second later, he

turns his head to face Enjolras, smirking. “Who the fuck am I kidding, I’d change my name for you in a heartbeat.”

Enjolras snorts. He turns on his side to face Grantaire. “I’m serious. I like you and I want to see where this goes, but let’s take a step at a time, okay?”

Grantaire holds his gaze for a long time before he leans in and kisses him softly.

“Okay.”

Enjolras nips on Grantaire’s bottom lip and adds, coyly. “For instance… I still need a date for

Marius’ wedding next weekend.”

Grantaire laughs and pulls Enjolras’ closer to him again. “I’ll think about it.”

---

Sixteen months later

 

“Do you think we should go check up on him?” Enjolras asks, tapping his fingers against his

thigh. “He’ll be late for soccer practice.”

Grantaire checks his phone. “Nah. It’s okay, we still got time.” For lack of what else to do, he rearranges the rearview mirror.

“Most kids are afraid of cemeteries. Shouldn’t he be afraid of being there by himself?”

Grantaire snorts. “Yeah. I try not to think about it.” He bites his lower lip. Adds, “Dr. Green says he’s not talking about zombies anymore, though. So I guess it’s a good thing?”

“Absolutely,” Enjolras smiles. Grantaire smiles back and leans over to kiss him chastely on the lips.

“Thank you for coming along. I know this isn’t exactly the best way to spend a Saturday morning—“

“I’m happy to be here.”

Grantaire’s face physically hurt from trying to contain the grin that spreads over his face.

“I don’t deserve you,” he mumbles.

“Of course you do,” Enjolras dismisses him waving his hand. “I’m not that great.”

“Oh, I know that! How come your neighbors haven’t filed a complaint against your snoring? Are they terrified of your Death Glare?”

Enjolras flicks him in the nose. Grantaire sticks his tongue out, laughing.

“What do you think he says to her?” Enjolras asks after a few minutes of silence, looking out the window.

“No idea.”

---

“—and Dad still won’t let me have a dog, he says he doesn’t have time for one, but I’ve told him a million times that I’ll take care of it myself. I promised to take it for walks, clean up after it, feed it… everything and he still won’t let me! I don’t think that’s fair, but when I told him that he said life isn’t fair.” Frankie rolls his eyes.

He’s been sitting on the soggy, dirty snow beside his mother’s grave for too long and his butt is numb. “Do you get cold here?” He asks her, but he doesn’t expect a reply anymore these days.

They once talked about it, Dr. Green and him, about whether or not people who passed away could hear from their tombs. And while he didn’t like the reply, he can’t really say it wasn’t at least nice to know.

“The flowers we planted here last time died. Do you think it was the cold? Maybe we shouldn’t put flowers here anymore. They don’t last very long. I once picked some flowers on the way home from school. I put them in a vase with some water, just like dad had taught me, but they’d died before the weekend!” He looks down. Traces meaningless patterns in the dirty snow. “I could bring you a card. Dad draws all the time now. Maybe I could ask him to draw me some cards and I could bring them here…”

He lets the silence stretch for a little longer this time.

“Mom, I still don’t like it here. It’s not that I don’t like talking to you, it’s just that… well. It’s cold and dirty and it smells funky. Would it be okay if we celebrated your birthday at home like we used to?”

Frank knows that it is. That it doesn’t make a difference where they sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to her, but it does matter that they do.

“Enjolras made the cupcake, by the way!” He adds perkily. “You can have that one, we have

more at home. He comes by almost every weekend and we have pancakes or cake and this one time he made some French dessert that was so good! I like him. He said that if I get good grades this year we’ll go to Disneyland.”

A small family passes by a few yards away from him. A woman and two children. She’s crying a lot, the children aren’t. Frank looks away and goes on.

“He and Dad are boyfriend and boyfriend. It’s pretty cool, because, like, I don’t really have

nannies anymore, Enjolras just hangs around the house a lot.” He bites his lip. “Dad is singing in the shower again, he even played the guitar on my birthday!

“He likes Lilo&Stich. You’d like him a lot, I think. He likes children and he likes it when I tell

him stories.

“I don’t worry so much about him anymore. It’s okay. We’re gonna be okay.”

Frank doesn’t cry this time. Hasn’t cried when he thinks about his mother for a while now, he’s proud of that, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. “I gotta go now, Mom,” he says quietly, getting up. “Don’t let the ants eat that cupcake, it’s yours, not theirs.”

He places a hand on the tombstone. “I love you, Mom.”

 

THE END

---

Post-end credits scene

 

“Okay, now up!” Frank orders and the eager dog happily goes up on its hind legs. “Good boy, Buster!” Frank says and gives him a treat.

“Do you think we could make him do chores?” Gavroche asks excitedly.

Frank shrugs. “I guess so. The trainer said this is a working kind of dog.”

“Sweet! Do you think you could lend it to me so it could do my bed?”

“I suppose so… But only after he does mine.”

“Do you think we could train him to eat our homework?”

“I think Enjolras would ground us forever if we did that.”

“And he wouldn’t be too happy about the idea of slave labor either,” a stern voice says behind them and both boys startle. “But tell you what: if you can train him to grab my box of art supplies, I’ll consider paying you two for chores.”

“How much?” Gavroche asks, suspicious.

“Twenty five cents for cleaning your rooms. Two dollars for mowing the lawn.”

“Hey! Mr. Johnson down the street offered me five to rake his leaves!”

“Yeah, well, Mr. Blackwell can’t promise he won’t tell your sister you downloaded an R rated

movie with my wi-fi.”

“Dad!”

“It’s called ‘negotiating’, Frankie. You should learn from your old man.”

“No, it’s being ‘not fair’. You’re blackmailing him.” The boy crosses his arms over his chest

defiantly. “Enjolras says it’s the way losers fight.”

Grantaire barks out a laugh. “You’re way too young to realize what kind of a loser I am, but okay, final offer: you guys train him to bark when your new sister is in danger, and I’ll teach you guys how to boxe. How about that?”

“What happened to the money?” Gavroche wants to know.

“I’m a freelance artist, kid. I have no money. Or a future. Why else do you think I married a rich guy?”

Frank frowns. “Enjolras isn’t rich.”

“He just says that to keep you humble. Last I heard it, he could probably buy a small island.”

Gavroche’s eyes grow comically wide. “Do you think he’d like to adopt me?”

“Éponine would have your head if she heard you right now.”

“She’d probably hand him with a red ribbon tied around his neck.” Frank comments, scratching behind Buster’s ears. “Hey, Dad. Do you think the baby is coming today?”

“She’s not a meal order.”

“But babies are delivered.” Gavroche argues.

“And we ordered a baby to look like Enjolras!” Frank adds.

“No, we didn’t,” Grantaire corrects, mimicking his son. “Let’s just Enjolras’ genes are better than mine so we went with his. But you’re never gonna tell your sister that we ordered her like a burger, do you hear me?”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever… it’s still like ordering a person,” he says under his breath. “Do you think she’ll be here before the weekend?”

Grantaire sits next to Gavroche on the top step on their porch. “Where’s that ball… Ah, here.

Buster, fetch!” He throws the ball and the puppy eagerly runs to retrieve it. To Frank, he says, “I honestly don’t know, kiddo. Are you afraid you might have to share a birthday with a baby?”

“No! But if I did… would I have to have princess-themed birthday parties from now on?” His question comes out almost like a whine.

Grantaire nods. “Probably. Enjolras would be thrilled to have gender-themed parties. I can totally see him sewing your Belle costume.” Frank and Gavroche grimace. Grantaire laughs. “Relax! I don’t think we’ll get to meet her until at least a month from now.”

Buster runs back and proudly drops the slobbered ball by Grantaire’s feet. Without even thinking about it, he throws the ball again.

Frank groans. “But it’s been so long, already! I saw the pics. That lady looks so big now! Are we sure she’s not done already?”

“Pretty sure. Your mom looked a lot like a planet when she was pregnant of you. If she was

laying down, her belly was so big, she couldn’t watch TV.”

“Do you think Buster’s gonna like her?” Frank asks quietly, watching the dog run back again.

“I’m sure he’s gonna love her. Who wouldn’t love a small, smushy thing that cries and poops all day?”