The first thing Grantaire ever says to him, at the end of the night in the Musain at the first meeting Bahorel drags him to, is “Did you know that there used to be a rigid color system?”
Enjolras looks up from his papers, which he’s been organizing ever since they finished discussing business, to find the stranger—he isn’t Grantaire yet, Enjolras doesn’t know him as anything but the curly-haired man sitting in the corner with a bottle of beer and a black cuff around his wrist—pointing at his arm. “What do you mean?”
“The cuffs. In the West in the 19th century especially, there was pretty much a color for everything. Like the language of the flowers, you know? Only for all the reasons you wouldn’t look for your soulmate.” He points at Enjolras’s. “Red meant you were in love with someone else. Is that you, then?”
“That’s a personal question.”
“The whole world wears our hearts on our sleeves, I wouldn’t call it too personal. Who are you in love with? Combeferre? I wouldn’t be surprised, but I didn’t notice if he was wearing a cuff, he keeps his sleeves long.”
Enjolras stuffs his papers in his bag, irritated. “I’m not in love with anyone. Red is my favorite color.”
“Fair enough.” Grantaire holds his own wrist up. “Black was supposed to be for when you thought your soulmate was dead, or if they despised you, or if you despised them.”
Enjolras takes a breath for patience. “And which is it for you?”
“I’m easily despised, but mostly it’s that there isn’t a color for being too cowardly to ever find out. Do you have a word there, then?”
“I don’t care to discuss it. I have more important things to do than talk about soulmates.”
Grantaire snorts. “Clearly you don’t, given your group has been talking about getting support for people leaving abusive soulmates all evening. And I thought I was jaded.”
“Just trying to change things. That’s why we’re all here.”
“I’m here because Bahorel told me you were all interesting people. Which I suppose you are.” Grantaire tilts his head. “I think I’ll be back.”
“We’re always glad to have new members.”
That makes Grantaire laugh, for reasons he can’t fathom. “I’m sure you are. Now, much as I would love to continue this sparkling conversation, I have work in the morning, and my manager will cry if I’m late again.” He stands up, toasting Enjolras and then downing the rest of his bottle. “You should try brown, or maybe white. But then again, you do look good in red.”
With that, he’s calling a goodbye across the room to Bahorel and to Jehan, who he apparently has met a few times, and leaving. Enjolras only waits a few more minutes, watching his friends at their conversations, before he catches Combeferre’s eye to let him know he’s leaving and goes back to his apartment to work on homework.
He ends up looking at the page for the meanings for cuff colors without really meaning to later that night, while on a break from writing a paper, and learns that brown was for people busy with work and white was for priests and nuns and other people who committed themselves to religion rather than a human soulmate. Enjolras doesn’t know what to do with that, and goes back to work instead.
He got out of the habit of worrying at the edge of his cuff years ago, but he catches himself doing it three times before he goes to bed.
Everyone says you can’t feel it when it happens.
One day, you’ll look down at your wrist, by reflex or by accident, and there will be the scrawl of someone’s handwriting. Unless you’re looking at the time (and half of Enjolras’s peers spend half of their teenage years peering down like they don’t want to miss the moment if and when it comes), you won’t know until later, and then the work begins: what’s the name? It isn’t always the first, isn’t always the last, isn’t always written in the same alphabet system, and even when it’s decoded there’s the bigger question: what choice was the right one, the one that set a person on the course for their soulmate? Everyone wants to keep the name from fading away, from accidentally making a choice that brings them away instead of towards.
Everyone says you can’t feel it when it happens, but Enjolras did.
Enjolras was sixteen, and he’d been wearing a cuff to say he wasn’t looking for his soulmate for two years. There were a few other people he knew with them—the history teacher at school and the priest at the local parish—but he was the only one of his age, when everyone else spent their class periods staring like the name would appear any second if they decided to pick B instead of C on a multiple choice test. Enjolras was worried about other things.
That day, he was sitting in Combeferre’s bedroom, talking about wanting to change the world, wanting to do it and not just talk about it, and there was an unusual sensation under his cuff, a wet ticklish feeling like a marker against skin. It moved in deliberate strokes—not many of them, carefully fancy, possibly a different calligraphy system, he thought before he stopped himself—and he fell silent.
“Idea?” asked Combeferre, because it wasn’t the first time Enjolras had stopped in the middle of something to go back and make it better.
Enjolras remembers staring at his arm like he could see through the cuff. “I thought I felt something writing on my arm, that’s all.” It itched a little, like newly-healed skin.
Combeferre raised his eyebrows. “You aren’t supposed to be able to feel it.”
“I’m probably just imagining things,” he said, and Combeferre let him move on, because even then he knew Enjolras better than anyone.
After, he was tempted to look. Nobody would blame him, and Enjolras was encouraged that it was deciding to change the world that put him on the path to finding his soulmate. Still, in the end, Enjolras pulled his sleeve down over his cuff and didn’t mention it to Combeferre or anyone else again.
The next day, Courfeyrac grabbed his arm in math class to write him a reminder about a meeting in bright green marker, and Enjolras flinched back from the sensation. He’s never done it since, and he never mentions it even when he looks like he’d like to, and Enjolras tries not to think about it. As far as he knows, an insect wiggled under his cuff that day, and nothing is written there at all, and that’s how he’d like to keep it.
The next time he meets Grantaire, it’s on campus, at the library. Enjolras spends a lot of his time there, more because he likes it than because he gets distracted in his own apartment, and he’s a little surprised to run into Grantaire when he’s picking up a cup of coffee at the kiosk right outside the building, obviously coming out with a stack of books. “If it isn’t the cynic,” Grantaire says, and then grins like that’s more of a joke than Enjolras thinks it is. “Grantaire, if you don’t remember.”
“I remember,” Enjolras says, even though he didn’t. “Enjolras. And I’m not a cynic.”
“You are about some things.” They drift away from the kiosk in enough time that Enjolras isn’t embarrassed by Grantaire’s obvious nod towards his cuff. Grantaire’s is blue today. “Or you’re bitter, or heartbroken. There are only so many things that make a person avoid their soulmate, and I don’t have you pegged for being scared of it.”
“There are more important things that need my attention. I want to change the world, not spend years of my life chasing a dream when I’m a content and complete person on my own.” Enjolras shakes his head. “Maybe someday, when I’m happy with the work I’m doing, I’ll look.”
Grantaire rolls his eyes. “Tell me you aren’t one of those who refuses to look until everyone in the world has reasonable access to their soulmate.”
“I’m not. I just don’t want to. As I said, I want to change the world.”
“And you don’t think you can do that with some pretty lady on your arm?”
“Man,” Enjolras corrects, to receive a raised eyebrow in return. “And I could, but as I said, it isn’t my first concern.”
“That’s the well-being of the people, I suppose. I take back my accusation of cynicism, I generally have a radar for my own type.”
Enjolras is annoyed and impatient and hates being both, and it’s only worse that Grantaire is smiling at him like he’s expecting the conversation to continue. Like he thinks Enjolras wants to answer more of his prying questions. “So cynicism is your reason, then?”
“Love is perhaps the one thing I believe in.” Grantaire fidgets with his cuff, teasing at the edge. He must have had it for a while, because it’s fraying. “As I said. I never claimed to be anything but a coward.” He shrugs. “What if they don’t love me? Now, you were going to the library, and I was going to hope that coffee will magically provide me with the inspiration necessary for my professor not to rip my hair out.”
With that, he’s off, leaving Enjolras unsettled and annoyed and in need of another cup of coffee before he bothers to go into the library. When he sets his computer up, he looks at the page for color-coding the cuffs again and skims down to blue: I’m unable to take care of my soulmate.
That only leaves him more unsettled, and he doesn’t get very much work done at all.
“Do you think it’s stupid of me not to want to know who my soulmate is?”
Combeferre looks up from the book he’s reading and puts a bookmark in after meeting Enjolras’s eyes for a second. “What makes you ask?”
“Please don’t do that, just tell me.”
“Without context, then, no, I don’t think you’re stupid. Do you think I would have gone the best part of a decade without saying anything if I did?” Combeferre frowns. “Throughout history there have always been people who chose not to seek out their soulmates. Fairly often those people have been respected.”
Enjolras tips his head back against the couch, looking up at the ceiling. “Why?”
“Denial of the self in favor of a higher ideal, in general.”
“It isn’t cruel to their soulmates?”
“Maybe soulmates have a way of both or all choosing that kind of life. There’s no way to know.” Combeferre sighs. “This might be a conversation you want to have with Courfeyrac.”
“I asked you.”
“And I still want to know what brought it up.”
Enjolras takes a moment to collect his thoughts. “Grantaire. He asked me my reasons and it was hard to come up with ones that didn’t seem flimsy, other than just not wanting fate or the universe telling me what to do.”
“That’s reason enough.” Combeferre hums a little as he thinks, pulling his sleeve farther over his hand. He’s worn his sleeves long since the name came in their second week of university. He doesn’t wear a cuff, but he doesn’t let many people catch glimpses of it either. Enjolras is one of the few who’s seen it on purpose. “No one will think less of you if you change your mind, or if you keep wearing a cuff until you’re seventy.” He pauses. “I think it means something that the names only come to us after we make a decision that sets us on a certain path. Otherwise we might never get names at all, or different ones.”
“A thousand fundamentalists just cried out in horror.”
Combeferre smiles. “I’m writing my next philosophy paper on the topic.”
“I’m sure your professor will love it.”
“Just as yours will love the blistering treatise on why prisoners shouldn’t be forced to wear cuffs in prison.” Just as quickly as Combeferre follows the subject change, he turns it around again. “Do you think the name is there?”
Enjolras never lies to Combeferre, but they’ve avoided this subject since that first afternoon. “I’ve thought it was there since I was sixteen. I never checked.”
“If it is there, does it make a difference?”
“What if I’ve met him already?”
“Then he’s content to love you from afar or he’s wearing a cuff too, and either way it shouldn’t impact your decision.” Combeferre puts his book down completely. “Like I said, ask Courfeyrac if you want someone to tell you a love story. Or ask Joly and Bossuet how their search for Musichetta is going, or Marius about Cosette. If you’re on the path to find them, Enjolras, you’ll find them no matter what. That’s the way it works. You can either change your life and move away, or you can learn to live with it.”
“I won’t do the former, so I suppose it’s the latter.”
“You sound like it’s a chore.” Combeferre picks his book back up, obviously preparing to finish the conversation. “For what it’s worth, I think people are at their best when they love each other.”
Enjolras is surprised when Grantaire comes to another meeting, though perhaps he shouldn’t be. Enjolras’s friends have taken to him easily, judging by the cheerful greetings he gets when he walks in, and if he sits quietly with raised eyebrows and three bottles of beer while they do their business, that’s his prerogative. Enjolras won’t force participation from anyone.
After the meeting, though, while Enjolras talks with Courfeyrac and Combeferre about reaching out to advocacy groups, Grantaire becomes the center of attention, taking a question Joly asks him and going off on a long ramble about it that takes a few fairly obvious digs at the group’s latest project but has everyone in stitches anyway. Enjolras only half-listens, keeping his annoyance and amusement to himself, and Combeferre and Courfeyrac seem to take the same strategy.
It’s a normal, warm evening, one of the ones where everyone is inclined to linger even if they have class or work in the morning, until Combeferre goes white in the middle of Courfeyrac trying to wheedle Enjolras into doing the last of the delegation of tasks tomorrow so he can talk to Feuilly about something and knocks his drink over. Courfeyrac immediately turns to him to ask what’s the matter, and Enjolras finds himself replaying Grantaire’s last few words, because that must have something to do with it, and there it is: “—my friend Éponine.”
Across the room, Marius is answering Grantaire with an improbable “Oh, you know Éponine as well? Her family lived next door to my old apartment, we still have coffee sometimes.”
Courfeyrac picks up on it then, hissing in air, and Enjolras shakes himself out of his surprise to lean forward and put his hand on Combeferre’s arm before he can snatch it protectively towards himself. “This is a good thing, isn’t it?”
A few people on the other side of the room are darting looks over at them, the ones who have seen the name on Combeferre’s wrist, but Grantaire and Marius are still talking about Éponine and a few others don’t seem to have caught on, not remembering or not knowing (or simply not able to decipher Éponine’s handwriting, which is atrocious). Combeferre gives them a look that’s very obvious for him before turning back to Enjolras and Courfeyrac. “A good thing, just a shock.”
“I live with Marius, how did I not know that he knows her?” Courfeyrac asks, looking sorry and worried and putting his hand next to Enjolras’s on Combeferre’s arm. “Shit, I’m sorry, clearly, I need to vet Pontmercy’s acquaintances better, maybe he knows Musichetta too.”
They’re still talking about her, and Combeferre isn’t looking any better. “Do you want to talk about it with Grantaire and Marius now?” Combeferre shakes his head jerkily. “Then get out of here. We’ll finish our business later, or tomorrow. Do you want me to talk to one of them about it? Probably Grantaire.”
Enjolras knows Combeferre well enough to see him sifting his way through responses, through the instinctive “no” to varying other responses at different levels of anxiety and desire. Enjolras can’t imagine it, not just running across his soulmate like everyone assumes but knowing that someone you know knows them and having to decide. “Let him know,” Combeferre finally says. “If you don’t mind. It seems dishonest for them to not know, anyway.”
“I’ll take care of it,” says Enjolras. Jehan is looking like he wants to come over. “Now go. We’ll talk about it later.”
Courfeyrac and Enjolras exchange a look and then Courfeyrac is standing up, levering Combeferre out of his seat and grabbing his coat. “I’ll take him home.”
“I won’t be much longer,” says Enjolras, giving Courfeyrac a nod of thanks and Combeferre one last squeeze on his shoulder.
A minute later, they’re out the door, and it’s fast and obvious enough to make everyone look, but Enjolras goes over to everyone anyway. The conversation has moved on, and Joly raises his eyebrows, probably asking if they’re okay (Combeferre and Joly have had several lab practicals together, it’s almost certain that he’s seen Combeferre with his sleeves rolled up). Enjolras gives him a brief nod and pretends to be absorbed in the conversation. They’ve moved on from Éponine, thank God, and on to Joly and Bossuet telling Grantaire the story of how they met when they were sixteen and Bossuet ran Joly over with his bike ten seconds after being distracted by seeing Joly’s name appear on his wrist.
Eventually, the conversation starts breaking up, Jehan offering to walk Feuilly home and Joly admitting he still has a study guide to go through before a nine o’clock test, and Enjolras grabs Grantaire when he starts to excuse himself. He ends up with his hand wrapped around the cuff on Grantaire’s wrist (black again, tonight) and both of them freeze for a second before Grantaire drags his gaze up from their arms to meet Enjolras’s eyes. “What can I do for you?”
“A word, please?”
“I feel like I’m in trouble,” Grantaire says, winking and waving goodbye to Bossuet, the last out the door. “What can I do for you?”
“Éponine.” Grantaire’s eyes fly to his cuff, and Enjolras shakes his head, impatient. “Not me, Combeferre. Chances are, anyway, I don’t believe it’s a very common name.”
Grantaire’s eyebrows go up. “Shit.”
“Does that mean she doesn’t want to meet him?”
“It’s complicated.” Grantaire grimaces. “And it explains a whole load of shit. She never said his name, but she was pretty far gone on Marius for a while, and at some point in that she got her name and promptly did everything she could to get rid of it again.”
Enjolras winces. “Did it work?”
“For a while, anyway. She’s wearing a cuff these days, but she actually looks under hers, so it’s probably back and she probably knows. Should I casually drop his name into conversation?”
“Combeferre’s a believer in honesty. You may as well just tell her, and she can make her decisions from there.” Enjolras sighs. “If she doesn’t want to meet him, it at least will tell her the places to avoid.”
“I’ll let her know. We can figure it out from there.” Grantaire puts his hands in his pockets. “Thanks for mentioning it. Does everyone know? Combeferre doesn’t wear a cuff.”
“Some people know. Not everyone. He doesn’t actively keep the name a secret, he’s just private.”
Grantaire nods a few times. “Okay. I’ll pass it on.”
That’s a logical place to end the conversation, and anything more would feel like prying, but Enjolras asks the question on the tip of his tongue anyway. “What’s she like?”
Grantaire’s eyes crinkle up at the corners. “She’s great. She’s prickly, but she’s great. She’s my favorite person in the world, most weeks. Life’s been pretty shitty for her, but she deals with it.”
“I hope …” He doesn’t know what he hopes, really. Combeferre is the best person he knows, and Enjolras has never seen him as shaken as he was earlier when he heard her name. “I hope they like each other,” he settles on.
Grantaire flickers a look back down at the cuff peeking out from Enjolras’s shirtsleeve and then back up at his face again. “You’re very confusing,” he says. “May I go tell my best friend to start planning her wedding?”
“Of course.” Enjolras frowns. “What’s confusing about me?”
“What isn’t?” Grantaire counters, and then he’s out the door, and Enjolras doesn’t have anything to do but go home and tell Combeferre that word is going to get to Éponine and things will progress somehow from there.
At the next meeting, Grantaire walks in five minutes late with a dark-haired girl behind him. Enjolras doesn’t need Marius calling out her name sounding glad and surprised to know she’s Éponine. She’s wearing a men’s jacket with the sleeves pulled down over her hands and her arms are crossed and she takes a darting look around the room that seems to take them all in when Grantaire introduces her and says she’s interested in what they have to say (“I’m losing all my friends to idealism” is what he actually says, sounding tragic as he flags the bartender down for a glass of something, but Enjolras chooses to read between the lines instead of getting irritated at Grantaire so early in the evening).
“Thanks, R, always good to be put on the spot,” she says, rolling her eyes and sitting down at the nearest table. It isn’t the one in the corner that’s becoming Grantaire’s usual, but he sits down next to her anyway. “I just said I’d sit in for a night, see how it is.”
Normally, Courfeyrac greets their new members and Combeferre catches them briefly up on business, but Combeferre looks like, for once, he’s at a loss and Courfeyrac is concentrating on him, so Enjolras steps in. “Welcome, it’s always good to have new members. We’ll look forward to getting to know you if you choose to stay.”
Éponine gives him a look that says he isn’t fooling anyone trying to speak with a double meaning, but she doesn’t say anything, just nods, and Enjolras calls the meeting to order.
It isn’t quite the least productive meeting they’ve ever had. That honor probably belongs to ones unwisely held during finals week, or the one after Joly and Bossuet got Musichetta’s name on their wrists. This one, though, is missing Combeferre doing more than the bare minimum. Most people wouldn’t be able to tell how unsettled he is, but Enjolras and Courfeyrac exchange looks over his head every few minutes, when he stumbles over an easy figure or nods for one of them to take over a discussion he usually leads. “Talk to her,” Enjolras says after he calls the meeting to an end fifteen minutes before he usually does. “If she’s here, she wants to talk to you.”
“Or just get a look at me. I should let her make the move.”
Courfeyrac shakes his head. “No. She took a huge risk, coming here. She walked through the door, so you’ve got to meet her halfway.”
Combeferre looks to Enjolras for a second opinion, which definitely means he’s anxious. “If you want to, you should. Like Courfeyrac said, she’s here. Take a chance.”
“I should.” Éponine is talking to Marius and Bahorel, explaining something with her hands, and Combeferre watches her for a few seconds, fidgeting with the sleeve of his shirt, before he stands up.
Nobody pretends to do anything but watch him as he crosses the room, but Combeferre has decided to do something, and now that he’s decided, he’s almost himself again. He doesn’t make a production over what he’s doing, or make it overly casual. He simply walks over to Éponine’s table and offers his hand for her to shake. She pushes his sleeve out of the way instead and squints like she’s checking her own handwriting, but then she shakes his hand and gestures for him to sit.
Within a second, Courfeyrac is across the room and taking Marius’s arm while Marius splutters in surprise and Enjolras is left alone at his usual table, trying not to make it too obvious that he’s keeping an eye on Combeferre while the rest of their friends make a too-loud point of going back to their own conversations. There isn’t any way he’s going to get any work done tonight, especially given how few notes Combeferre made and how little everyone contributed while they waited to see what was going to happen, so he’s left a little adrift.
Feuilly darts him a few looks, but it’s Grantaire who comes over. He’s looking pleased with himself, and stands right between Enjolras and his hopefully-discreet sightline of Éponine and Combeferre, who are talking and not touching and don’t seem to know what to do with themselves. “They aren’t twelve.”
Enjolras winces. “Combeferre was worried, I’m just checking on them.”
“And Éponine nearly turned around and walked away four times on the way here.” That isn’t a comfort, and Enjolras is about to say so when Grantaire sits down in Courfeyrac’s vacated seat, where he also has a good vantage point on them. “I’ve never seen a pair meet in person before. I was expecting more angelic choirs and things.”
“I saw a pair meet halfway through my first year here, it was nothing like this.”
Grantaire grins at him. “From your face, I’m guessing they just jumped right on each other.”
“Unfortunately, yes.” Enjolras shrugs. “I suppose Combeferre isn’t the type for that, and I don’t know Éponine, but it doesn’t seem like she would be either.”
“Pretty much the opposite.” Grantaire is fidgeting with his cuff again (black tonight. Enjolras shouldn’t set so much store by the color of Grantaire’s cuffs, given he himself certainly doesn’t follow the color system, but once Grantaire mentioned it it’s hard not to notice). “They’re probably going to dance around each other forever.”
“Combeferre is patient.”
“From the way everyone talks about him, Combeferre is superhuman. Éponine deserves the best, so I suppose that’s a good thing.” Grantaire makes a face. “They don’t exactly seem like an intuitive match, do they?”
Enjolras looks at them again. Combeferre is gesticulating while he says something, at his most earnest, and Éponine is watching with an expression that looks halfway between incredulous and nervous. “Not really.” The only pair of soulmates he knows well is Joly and Bossuet, and as long as he’s known them, they’ve been perfectly in sync with each other, in the easy kind of way that everyone thinks of first. The only thing that’s thrown them out of their usual rhythm was finding out about Musichetta, and even while they’re looking for her they still get along easily. “But I suppose that will come. It isn’t like they know each other.”
There doesn’t seem to be much to say to that, so Enjolras goes back to partly doing his work and partly keeping an eye on Combeferre and Éponine. Grantaire, to his surprise, doesn’t go anywhere. He takes an occasional sip of whatever he has in his glass, watches the room but especially Éponine, and taps out something with his left hand on the table while Enjolras works. Eventually, Joly and Bossuet come over to ask how exactly all of this happened and stay to talk to Grantaire, and Enjolras packs his bag up and goes over to Courfeyrac and Bahorel, who are miraculously and unusually talking about work.
Éponine is the one who stands up an ends the evening. She and Combeferre shake hands again, neither of them quite smiling, and then Grantaire is at her side calling out a goodbye to everyone, and Enjolras goes over to Combeferre so he can catch his arm as Grantaire and Éponine go out the door. “Do you want to go home?”
Combeferre breathes out, all the calm going out of him for a second before he nods. “Yes.”
Enjolras catches Courfeyrac’s eye and points towards the door. Courfeyrac raises his eyebrows, a question to see if Enjolras doesn’t want to deal with Combeferre’s potential crisis on his own, and Enjolras shakes his head. When he gets a nod and a wave, he gently pulls Combeferre out the door until they’re on the street in the chilly evening and they can start the walk back to their apartment.
“What’s it like?” he blurts a few streets away. He knows it’s the wrong question, but sometimes any question that gets Combeferre talking is the right one. He hopes this is one of those times.
“Strange,” says Combeferre after a second. “It’s strange knowing that someone is perfect for me but not knowing in what way, not knowing anything about them.”
“If someone is perfect for you, shouldn’t that mean by definition there’s one way to do it?”
Combeferre shakes his head. “If one person could be everything to us, we wouldn’t need friends or family. You’re exactly what I need, Courfeyrac is exactly what I need, and there was a time I was surprised I didn’t have either or both of your names, but you’re better friends for me than you would be soulmates. I just have to figure out what Éponine and I are to each other.”
“She seemed …” She seemed wary, and mistrustful, and anxious, and as the night went on she seemed tentatively pleased, but none of that is useful to say. “She seemed willing to try.”
“I hope so. I’m supposed to call her this week for coffee. We’re working on liking each other first. It’s strange knowing you could love someone more than almost anything but not being there yet.”
Enjolras nods. He doesn’t know what to say to that, perhaps because it isn’t something he’s considered often, which is stupid of him. He knew that most people meeting their soulmates for the first time don’t fall instantly in love, but it’s hard to imagine that, given the overwhelming cultural push towards that viewpoint. It’s something he’ll have to consider how to get awareness out about later, when he’s found a way to do it. Which means once Combeferre is on steadier ground, because Combeferre will be the biggest help and Enjolras won’t interrupt his personal upheaval for this. “I’d like to meet her, when you’re comfortable with that.”
“You could have tonight.”
“No one wanted to interrupt you.”
“Next time, then. I want you to like her.”
“I’m sure I will.” Combeferre smiles at him, so Enjolras continues. “I’d like to hear about her, if you want to talk about it. And if you don’t mind that you’ll have to repeat it all for Courfeyrac and probably everyone else later.”
“I don’t mind at all,” says Combeferre, and starts talking.
“So you’re the famous Enjolras,” Éponine says after the next meeting when he finds his way over to where she’s sitting next to Grantaire, who took her over to his corner at the beginning of the night (and how it’s his corner after so little time Enjolras doesn’t know, but it unquestionably is. Grantaire may very clearly not agree with a lot of what they do, but he fits into Les Amis so easily it’s like he’s always been there). “Neither R nor Combeferre will shut up about you.”
Enjolras blinks and looks from Grantaire, who’s in the middle of elbowing her in the side, back to her. “They both spoke highly of you,” he settles on.
“Come to tell me that if I hurt your best friend they’ll never find the body?”
Enjolras sits down when Grantaire kicks the chair across from him out from the table a little bit, since that’s the closest thing to an invitation he suspects he’s going to get. “Definitely not. I trust Combeferre to make his own decisions. I just want to get to know you, if you’re going to be part of his life.”
“It looks like I am.”
Before Enjolras can say that he’s glad or anything equally inane, Grantaire interrupts. “I sort of wish you would threaten her, I did it to Combeferre and now I feel like the worse person in this mess. Which may in fact be true, but you could at least have the decency to pretend like it isn’t.”
Enjolras rolls his eyes. “Fine, if she hurts him, she’ll face severe consequences, are you happy?” He turns back to Éponine before Grantaire can answer. “But I don’t think you will.”
“Such optimism,” Grantaire mutters.
Both of them ignore him. Éponine taps on the table a few times while she thinks. “What makes you say that?” she asks.
“I don’t think you would have showed up at all, if that were your intention. And if you do it by accident, I don’t think I have the right to murder you. As I said, I’m just here to get to know you.”
Éponine still seems wary, but she talks to him. She’s working towards a degree in social services and wants to be a caseworker for children in the system, which Enjolras knew because Combeferre told him (as close to having stars in his eyes as Combeferre ever gets), but it’s something to talk about. Grantaire doesn’t snort at her intention to help people, but then again, she plans to do it on a person-to-person level, and perhaps that’s the key with him. Enjolras puts a pin in that thought for later and continues talking with Éponine. It’s a stilted conversation, but it’s good getting some idea of her as a person.
Eventually, Marius comes over to steal Éponine from the table (Éponine’s hands clench tight around the ends of her sleeves when Marius comes over, and Enjolras and Grantaire both flinch for different reasons, but she goes with him willingly enough when he explains that Bossuet wants to talk to her and Joly thinks Bossuet’s ankle is sprained so he isn’t allowed to walk much), and Enjolras stays with Grantaire.
“Reassured?” Grantaire asks.
“I think so.” Enjolras frowns down at the table. “She isn’t quite what I expected, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think they’ll be good for each other.” Éponine seems sharp and honest and thoughtful, and of course Combeferre would love all those things.
“She likes him. Honestly, she really does. It just freaks her out, and it doesn’t make the whole thing with Marius go away right away.” Grantaire tugs at his cuff, the same black one that seems to be his default. “I know she’s kept her sleeves down all night, but she stopped wearing the cuff. That’s something, anyway.” He nods at Enjolras’s arm. “You’re happy for him?”
“Of course I am. Just because I’m not sure for myself doesn’t mean I don’t think other people shouldn’t make their own choices.” He covers the cuff with his hand. “Sometimes I think I should take this off, but I don’t know what difference it would make.”
Grantaire tilts his head. “You’re all about making a difference, I don’t know you well, but I know that. Have you considered that you’re allowed to just be curious, though?”
“Aren’t you curious?”
“Not more curious than I am scared. I’ve had this on since I was sixteen. I know something is written under there, I had a stranger check once and told her not to tell me what it was, and that’s all I want to know for now.”
“Mine’s been on since I was fourteen.” He doesn’t know what possesses him to say the next thing out of his mouth, but it comes out before he can censor it. “I think I’ve had writing there since I was sixteen.”
He hasn’t mentioned it to anyone but Combeferre, and only that once to Combeferre. It’s stupid to think he’s somehow different from everyone else in the world—though he has considered that other people feel it and don’t mention, or simply don’t notice. “I felt something odd under my cuff, once. It could have been nothing, but it didn’t feel like nothing.”
“I’ve actually seen a few articles and historical documents saying that it’s something people who habitually wear cuffs have mentioned, though for obvious reasons nobody’s sure if it’s psychosomatic or not, because it’s not like you can ask someone wearing a cuff for personal or religious reasons to remove it out of scientific curiosity. People who think it isn’t psychosomatic say it’s the universe’s way of letting you know even if you aren’t looking. And actually it’s been reported in people with vision problems too.” Grantaire fidgets with his cuff again. “It happened to me. But I figured it was me imagining things, I was fairly drunk at the time.”
“What on earth did you decide while you were drunk that changed your life so much?” Enjolras asks, bemused, and then winces. “I’m sorry, that was a very personal question.”
“Usually more of a third-date kind of question,” Grantaire agrees, and changes the subject before Enjolras can apologize again.
Combeferre finding Éponine seems to set off a chain reaction, or at least that’s what it feels like. It’s barely three weeks later (of meetings, and classes, and Éponine and Grantaire being seamlessly adopted into the group like everyone was just waiting for them) when Joly and Bossuet drop out of contact completely for three days and then show up to movie night at Bahorel’s with a woman standing between them holding both their hands.
Musichetta is tall and gorgeous and a journalist for the city paper, and it seems like she and Joly and Bossuet adore each other right off the bat. It seems to throw Combeferre and Éponine off, seeing them taking to each other so easily, but nobody can deny how well the three of them seem to work, and Musichetta folds into the group as easily as Éponine and Grantaire.
Marius is next, coming into a meeting twenty minutes late the week before finals and interrupting Combeferre’s discussion of their plans to volunteer at a food bank on Christmas Eve with a dramatic shout of “I found her!”
Courfeyrac is the one to break everyone’s surprised silence first. “Found who?”
“Cosette, of course,” says Marius, beaming so wide it looks like his face might crack in half. Enjolras, on instinct, darts a look over at the corner Éponine and Grantaire have taken over. Grantaire’s arm is around her shoulders, and she’s frozen for a few seconds before she shakes him off and pulls on a smile. Enjolras looks at Combeferre, who is watching Éponine, and wishes Marius had found any other way to impart his news. “I was in the park on the way here, and I saw a girl waving at someone, and she wasn’t wearing sleeves, and I recognized my handwriting, but then by the time I got through the crowd she was gone.”
“We’ll have to track her down,” says Bahorel. “At least now you know she’s in the city.”
“She’s beautiful,” says Marius, clearly not paying attention at all.
“We’re not going to get anything else done tonight,” Joly says in a mournful undertone to Musichetta, and Enjolras grimaces, silently agreeing. “He’s been looking forward to this moment ever since he realized what soulmates were.”
“Watched too many Disney films as a child,” Bossuet says, loud enough to get Marius’s attention.
He’s too happy to get offended, though, and Enjolras is glad. They’ve already lost any chance at getting anything done tonight, judging by the way Marius looks like he’s about to start declaiming poetry at any moment, he doesn’t want to deal with Marius’s wounded pride on top of that. Enjolras sighs and stands up to address the group. “Come to Combeferre or me to ask about your assignments for Christmas Eve, please. Don’t get arrested stalking strange women across the city. If you have finals to study for, you may as well leave early.”
Like it’s a signal everyone was waiting for, that makes the meeting devolve into everyone asking Marius questions in various levels of teasing. Combeferre pats Enjolras on the shoulder and goes over to Éponine’s table, not even pretending that he’s going over for any reason but to check that she’s okay. Judging by her frown, she knows it, but Grantaire kisses her on the cheek and leaves the two of them alone, and after a few seconds of low-voiced argument, Combeferre sits down and she catches his hand in hers, and Enjolras can see even across the room how hard she’s holding on.
He isn’t surprised when Grantaire comes over to him instead of stopping where Bahorel and Jehan are trying to drink each other under the table, though perhaps he should be. He and Grantaire don’t converse very regularly, unless it’s about Combeferre and Éponine and their slow progress. “Is she going to be okay?” Enjolras asks when Grantaire gets close enough to hear him say something quietly.
“Better than she would have been if it were a month or two ago.” Grantaire sits down and sighs, gesturing at the bar for a refill on his drink. “You’re letting Marius takes over the meeting? That doesn’t seem like you.”
“I have to pick my battles sometimes. You are fond of telling me that.” Grantaire still doesn’t talk much in meetings, but when he does it’s to tell Enjolras that he’s not going to do any good trying to take the whole world on at once, especially when the world doesn’t want to be taken on. “And it’s the week before finals.”
“Look at you, you have a heart.” Grantaire takes a glass from the waitress who sweeps by him, ruffling his hair like they’re friends even though Enjolras is fairly sure Grantaire never came here before Bahorel dragged him through the door.
“Most people do.” He looks down at Grantaire’s cuff, which is brown tonight. “What are you working on?” he asks, and feels himself blush when Grantaire looks up, startled.
“A composition. Finals stuff.” Grantaire fidgets with his cuff. It isn’t as worn as his black one, or even his blue one, which has made another appearance or two. “I didn’t know you paid attention.”
“Couldn’t stop seeing it, once I started. What kind of composition?”
“For my theory class. I’m not exactly Mozart, but most people aren’t.”
Enjolras takes a moment to recalibrate what he knows about Grantaire. “You’re a music major? I thought Joly said you draw.”
“I do a little bit of everything. Music is my minor, actually, though. Philosophy major, because I’m going for a useless Humanities bingo.” Grantaire spreads his hands. “But actually I make a little money off the music once in a while. Weddings and things.” He snorts. “Maybe I’ll play for Marius and Cosette’s, but I think Éponine would kill me for a traitor.”
“You could play for Combeferre and Éponine’s,” Enjolras says.
“For everyone’s. There are a lot of you, and you all seem to be pairing off alarmingly quickly.” He nods down at Enjolras’s wrist. “For yours someday, maybe. I would have to play Bob Dylan instead of the wedding march for you, though. Which is good, the wedding march frankly sucks, I’m boycotting it.”
“Probably not for me,” Enjolras says, and changes the subject back to Grantaire’s classes and his own, because with all his friends pairing and three-ing off so quickly, it’s unsettling to think about the same happening to him.
Grantaire seems willing, even happy, to follow the subject change, so Enjolras suspects that’s one thing they have in common.
By the time Cosette shows up to their first meeting of the new semester, holding Marius’s hand and both of them giving off an impression of dazed happiness, Combeferre and Éponine seem to have settled into a pattern. It gives Enjolras less time with his dearest friend (not that he would ever tell Courfeyrac that he feels a hair closer to Combeferre than to him, even if it’s simply because Courfeyrac so easily becomes close with everyone), but Combeferre seems happier, and so does Éponine. They aren’t given to doing anything more than sitting next to each other in public, but they’re doing better, and Éponine manages to smile and shake Cosette’s hand when she comes in, telling her that she can join Éponine and Musichetta in making sure that the male-dominated group doesn’t end up with their heads too far up their asses.
Grantaire, looking tired after disappearing without a word for the whole of the semester break, is back to wearing his black cuff—or a new one, engraved black leather that he explains Éponine got for him. “Figured I should be artistic about it or something, or maybe she just got sick of looking at the old one,” he says when Enjolras asks.
It isn’t as though Enjolras and Grantaire are the only two in the group who haven’t found their soulmates (Feuilly, Jehan, and Courfeyrac are all still waiting on their names, and Bahorel isn’t actively searching), but they still fall together in the space after meetings as the new semester picks up. Sometimes they argue, Enjolras frustrated and Grantaire going on long rambles and refusing to be baited, but most times they save that for the meetings themselves. Other times they talk about Grantaire’s music or his art, or Enjolras’s considering going on to do a post-graduate degree in the social services instead of law, inspired by Éponine, or simply what they’ve been reading. Enjolras stays later at meetings than he used to, and finds himself at the Musain sometimes during the day as well instead of in the library between classes, hands clasped around a mug of tea while he explains to Grantaire how wrong he is about the point of Cat’s Cradle.
“I’m surprised you’re spending so much time with Grantaire,” Courfeyrac says after a few weeks of this new version of normal. Combeferre has been confining himself to raised eyebrows when Enjolras is later than Combeferre expects him, but he doesn’t have a leg to stand on, when Éponine has put him in the habit of taking long aimless walks around the city.
“I like him,” Enjolras says, and Courfeyrac mostly leaves it alone after that, though Enjolras catches him watching them at meetings sometimes like he’s waiting for something dramatic to happen, and always raises his eyebrows and waits to see if he’ll say anything. He doesn’t, so Enjolras leaves it be. Courfeyrac says when things are important, and if he’s confused by Enjolras being friends with Grantaire, he doesn’t talk about it anymore. It isn’t as though Enjolras ignores their other new members: he finds himself surprisingly fond of Cosette, who is inventive and unflappable, and he and Éponine continue to talk briefly a few times a week, getting used to each other and their places in Combeferre’s life.
Grantaire wears the black cuff most days—it’s his default as much as red is Enjolras’s default. Occasionally, he’ll switch it out for blue on no particular schedule Enjolras can figure out. On weeks when he has a lot of work to do for class, or when there’s a song he’s spending all his spare moments scribbling down, he’ll wear a brown one, but that never lasts very long. Once, Enjolras comes into the Musain to find him looking tired and upset and wearing a green cuff, and has to go back to the page for meanings to find the notation that says “I am false/fickle.” He doesn’t know that story, and doesn’t ask about it, and Grantaire is back to wearing the black one the next night, so he leaves it alone.
There’s a piano in the back room of the Musain, and most times people leave it alone unless Jehan or Combeferre wants to play something from their teenage years of lessons or Courfeyrac wants to play “Happy Birthday” or “Heart and Soul,” his only two numbers. Sometimes, on the rare occasion he’s early to a meeting, Grantaire plays it while everyone comes in and sits down, and Enjolras arrives one afternoon to find him squinting at a messily-notated stack of manuscript paper, playing something surprisingly lovely, given the way Grantaire denigrates his own compositions.
“I like that,” Enjolras says when Grantaire finishes, and Grantaire jumps a little. “It’s yours, I assume?”
“You don’t get to have opinions about music, you think that Rachmaninoff is boring. But yes, it’s mine.” He points at the first page, where there’s a big “R” scrawled in one corner. “Signed and everything.”
“As I said, I like it. And I never said Rachmaninoff was boring, I just said that I found Tchaikovsky more interesting, those are two very different things.”
Grantaire turns around on the piano bench to argue about Russian composers, and soon enough both of them forget what started the conversation, except that for the rest of the day, Enjolras catches Grantaire looking at him in a way he doesn’t quite recognize, like he’s in the middle of figuring something out. Éponine notices too, he can tell, but when Enjolras starts to ask her she just shakes her head. “Sometimes R just gets something stuck in his head, he’ll tell us once he’s figured it out or he won’t, but asking him before he’s ready doesn’t do any good.”
A few days later, Grantaire shows up to a meeting wearing a red cuff.
Enjolras doesn’t ask about it, not the first day and not when it becomes the cuff Grantaire wears most often—all the time, as far as he knows, although he doesn’t see Grantaire every day. He could ask about it, the cuffs are something they seem to end up talking about fairly often, and the issue of soulmates in general, but he’s not sure he wants to hear who Grantaire is in love with. Éponine might know, but Éponine also won’t tell, he knows her well enough by now to know that.
It isn’t bright red, like Enjolras’s is, more of a maroon, like he was aiming for something between red and black. With anyone else, he would think he’s reading too much into it, but Grantaire is a repository of knowledge about things like the color of cuffs and which mythologies gave their gods soulmates and historical figures who it’s theorized married people who weren’t their soulmates, so Enjolras can safely assume that Grantaire is in love with someone.
It bothers him more than he might have expected that he doesn’t know who it is. Grantaire is quickly becoming a dear friend, an irreplaceable part of the group, but that doesn’t mean Enjolras knows everyone he talks to on a regular basis, people from his classes and other friends and acquaintances. He, like Bahorel, seems to have a talent for knowing every single person any of them mentions or runs across, and he doesn’t talk about any of them in a different tone of voice.
“Something is off with you and Grantaire,” Combeferre observes after two weeks, on a rare night when he and Enjolras and Courfeyrac have managed to be in the same place at the same time without too much work to do, lounging in Combeferre and Enjolras’s living room.
“He started wearing a red cuff.”
Courfeyrac raises an eyebrow. “Yes, and so do you.”
Combeferre doesn’t seem to have a further comment, probably because it’s likely Éponine mentioned Grantaire’s system to him at some point. Enjolras sighs and explains. “It means he’s in love with someone. Someone not his soulmate, though I suppose Grantaire wouldn’t necessarily know that for sure. And obviously that’s his business, but we talk about that kind of thing fairly frequently, it’s odd he hasn’t mentioned it to me.”
Combeferre hums thoughtfully. “Any idea who it might be?”
“Not really. He doesn’t seem to talk to or about anyone more than usual, lately. Other than Éponine, he probably talks most to me, and Grantaire has never been afraid of bringing up uncomfortable topics with me.” If Grantaire loved him, Grantaire would tell him. Enjolras isn’t quite certain what his answer would be, but he does think Grantaire would at least bring it up, somehow.
“You have to admit this is more uncomfortable than most,” Courfeyrac points out.
“I am fully aware of that. But nothing’s changed recently, not that I can think of. And we talk about that kind of thing frequently.”
“You talk about soulmates frequently,” Combeferre corrects. “And you both seem to draw a line between the two concepts, at least where your discussions are concerned.”
Enjolras rubs at the edge of his cuff. He’s only had to replace it once, as he got older and the first stopped fitting right, but in the months since Combeferre and Éponine met it seems like he’s been worrying at it constantly, and the seam on the edge is starting to wear thin. “Perhaps I shouldn’t draw as much of a line as I do.”
Combeferre shrugs. “They are different, in some ways. The names are just a possibility. Love is concrete.”
“Still doesn’t say what he should do about Grantaire,” Courfeyrac says.
Enjolras looks over at him. He’s sprawled sideways in a chair, looking more thoughtful than he usually does in company unless a discussion is truly serious. “Why would you say I’m doing anything about Grantaire?”
“Because you are physically incapable of noticing anything and not doing something about it. Someone doesn’t have popcorn during a movie, you get it. Injustice in the world, you make a plan. Grantaire’s in love? You’ll encourage him to make a move, or something, depending on whether you think the person is worthy of him or not.”
“Grantaire makes his own choices, I don’t have any say in the worth of whoever it is.” He hopes it’s someone good, someone who will make Grantaire smile and bring him tea when he’s distracted by his music and listen when he goes off on one of his rambles that’s half nonsense and half thoughtful and useful. He hopes Grantaire will bring them to meetings, instead of spending less time with them, because Enjolras will miss him otherwise, even if they haven’t known each other long. He hopes, but he has nothing close to the right to dictate.
“So it doesn’t bother you that he’s in love,” Combeferre summarizes, in the way he does when he’s waiting for Enjolras to get a point that he isn’t getting.
Enjolras sighs. “Why should it?”
Combeferre and Courfeyrac exchange a look, and Courfeyrac is the one who picks up the conversation. “What if it was you? I know you say you talk about these things, but like Combeferre said, you draw a line. And you said it yourself, he talks to you more than anyone but Éponine, and I think if he were going to fall in love with Éponine, he would have done it already.”
“It’s …” His immediate instinct for denial is just that—instinct—and Enjolras takes a second to think through it from an outsider’s perspective. “It’s possible,” he agrees, and is surprised at what a warm thought it is. The thought of taking time away from Les Amis and the work and his classes for some abstract stranger whose name the universe wrote on his arm is one thing. The thought of doing it for Grantaire is different.
“Probable, I would say,” says Combeferre, a smile spreading across his face.
“Don’t be smug.” Of course Combeferre is three steps ahead of him. Combeferre always is, so when Enjolras is ready to do something there’s already a plan in place.
“Try,” says Courfeyrac, whose grin is less smugness than it is honest delight. “The worst he can do is say no, and you make a lifestyle out of convincing people to change what they think about things.”
“Changing who a person is in love with is somewhat different,” Enjolras says, but he smiles and tugs at his cuff again, and Courfeyrac laughs and throws a pillow at him and says that if all his friends are going to drop like flies falling in love he’s going to have to do it himself one of these days, since it seems like a pleasant experience.
It isn’t as easy as all that. Enjolras can’t express that he’s had a change in feelings by following Grantaire’s example and putting on a red cuff, since that’s the color his has always been. He can’t make a point of paying more attention to Grantaire, because much more and he’ll never get anything else done at all.
And he can’t—well, he could, but he can’t make himself—simply sit down across the table from Grantaire and tell him that he thinks Grantaire loves him, and that if that’s the case, they’re in it together. If he lived in a world where he just met Grantaire, where they met and talked and there were no cuffs on anyone’s wrists, and no words there either, where Combeferre and Éponine had met without all that weight between them, where they’d argued but found themselves here, he wouldn’t hesitate. Anyone who starts a relationship with someone who isn’t their soulmate has a little guilt to overcome, though, and as much as Enjolras hates it, he isn’t exempt.
He’s spent years adamant that he wasn’t going to let anything but himself dictate the shape of his life. Choosing Grantaire is different than letting a name on his wrist lead him on a chase around the world, but it’s still hard to let go of the thought, even as Marius and Cosette dreamily plan their wedding and Combeferre starts spending a night or two a week at Éponine’s apartment.
For the first time since he was fourteen, he really thinks seriously about taking off his cuff. Not forever, but just to see. To see who he’s choosing against, by doing this, or maybe to see if the name has disappeared because of it. He remembers Grantaire saying there is evidence that’s more than just anecdotal that when two people who aren’t soulmates consciously choose each other without reserve, they lose their names, even if it doesn’t make each other’s appear (“But why would they need them? They’ve already found each other, they don’t need to chase each other across the world when they already have each other”).
Enjolras puts it off for a few weeks. Combeferre and Courfeyrac both watch him like they’re waiting, Éponine watches like she’s suspicious, and Grantaire continues on as normal, except that he doesn’t touch the red cuff as much as he touched the others, like he’s wary of drawing attention to it. Enjolras finds himself more sure that he’s the reason Grantaire is wearing red now, and isn’t sure whether he’s more happy or terrified about it.
“I think I should look,” he says one morning when Combeferre gets back from class after spending the night away.
Combeferre doesn’t bother asking what he’s talking about. “Why now? Is it going to change how you feel about Grantaire?”
“I want to make sure that it doesn’t. If it does, I clearly don’t care as much about him as he deserves.” Enjolras fidgets with his cuff. It’s been worn down more in the past few weeks than he thought possible. He really will have to change it soon. Maybe he’ll even ask Grantaire to help him pick a new one. “I want to know. I think I’m ready to know.”
“Tonight, I think.” There’s no meeting, and he has no plans. He can do it after dinner, and then go see Grantaire, if that still feels like the best option.
Combeferre nods, though his eyebrows are up like he wasn’t quite expecting that. It’s comforting, knowing that even Combeferre can’t anticipate everything. “I’ll make myself scarce, but call me if you need me.”
Enjolras can’t concentrate on anything for the rest of the day except the cuff that suddenly seems like it’s burning a brand onto his wrist. He thinks about having done with it, but he does have homework to do, and Combeferre is around and trying very hard not to ask for advice about what to do for Éponine’s birthday (not that Enjolras has any idea, but he can and does text Grantaire to ask, so at least he helps a little), so he does his best to have patience. He even eats dinner, though by that point his stomach is tying itself in knots and he feels like he might be sick at any moment.
After dinner, Combeferre packs a bag and leaves, but he stops to hug Enjolras before he goes. “Call me if you need me. If it’s in twenty minutes or at two in the morning, I’ll talk Éponine down if she’s upset about you waking her up. It has to do with her best friend’s future too.”
“Thank you,” says Enjolras. There isn’t much else to say.
He waits five minutes after Combeferre leaves. He forces himself to drink a glass of water. He sits down on the couch. He answers a text from Jehan and says he’ll probably be busy for the rest of the night but he’ll meet him soon to talk about the language for their next public campaign. It feels like there should be some kind of ritual, like he should light a candle or turn on music or something equally stupid and romantic, but instead it’s him on his couch at seven o’clock on a school evening fidgeting at the fastenings on his cuff, so he doesn’t bother with ritual. He just undoes the fastenings without looking the same way he does every time he gets in the shower, only this time he looks down afterwards, instead of keeping his eyes trained forward.
The first thing he notices is how much paler his arm is where the cuff has been for so long. He isn’t particularly tan anyway, more given to spending sunny days inside with a book or doing homework than he is to going out into the city, but the difference is still startling, the blue of his veins standing out.
The second thing he notices is the flourish of black lines, thick like marker strokes, the curl of them making up a very familiar R, and part of him isn’t surprised at all.
Enjolras calls Grantaire instead of going to see him. He has to. His legs won’t hold him.
“What can I do for you?” Grantaire asks when he picks up, sounding curious and happy to hear from him.
“Sit down,” says Enjolras, and winces at his own tone.
There’s a pause. “Any particular reason? Is this just a check to make sure that I am using the chairs in my apartment to their fullest capability? Are you about to tell me that you’re pregnant and I’m the father? Because I think immaculate conception in a man would be something to tell the news crews about. But I guess I’m glad to hear it before the news, if I’m the other father. Unless Combeferre is the other father? I’ll paint your nursery.”
Normally, Grantaire wandering off into nonsense is something Enjolras enjoys, even if he doesn’t always pay close attention. Tonight, Enjolras can barely hear it over the ringing in his ears. He’s happy, he’s so happy, because he knows he chose Grantaire, knows this isn’t destiny or some higher power, just him, but it’s still Grantaire’s signature on his arm. There’s still this to get through, though. He still has to be sure that Grantaire is on the same page. “Please sit down. And please listen to me.”
“I always listen to you.”
It doesn’t sound like Grantaire is sitting, but Enjolras is just going to have to trust him. “The first thing I want to say is that I love you. I think you started wearing your red cuff for me, and if I were wearing any other color, I would have changed to red weeks ago, I love you.” Grantaire has to know this isn’t just because of his name on Enjolras’s wrist.
Grantaire’s voice is high and a little panicky when he answers. “You—what—”
“And now I need you to trust me, and take off your cuff.” All he hears on Grantaire’s end of the line is his soft, uneven breathing. “Please, please do it. It’s going to be okay, I promise it is.”
“Don’t do this. Don’t get my hopes up.”
“It’s going to be okay.”
Grantaire laughs, but is sounds shaky and unhappy. “Are you about to tell me that you’re standing outside my apartment building and to let you up? I think I’ve seen that rom-com.”
“I’m not. I don’t think I can stand up right now, R, please.”
“You don’t usually call me R.” Enjolras makes the impatient, fraught kind of noise that usually only particularly stubborn politicians and people taking too long in the line at the coffee shop can produce in him, the kind that always make Combeferre laugh. “It’s that important to you?”
“You’re that important to me.”
Grantaire doesn’t narrate what he’s doing, but Enjolras knows by his unsteady sigh that he’s doing as Enjolras asked, trusting him. There’s some noise as he catches the phone between his shoulder and his ear, and then a grunt as he works at the fastenings on his cuff, and then a few seconds of silence where Enjolras isn’t sure his heart beats at all.
He knows when Grantaire sees, because the phone clatters to the ground, and then a second later, Grantaire is following it down, maybe sliding down the wall from the sound of it. “Pick up the phone, R,” he says, and hopes he can hear him. “It’s okay.”
“This can’t be happening.” Grantaire’s voice is shaking, and Enjolras wishes he could climb into the phone wires to get to him, because he wants to have his arms around him so badly, wants to trace his own signature on Grantaire’s wrist to see if it’s the hurried one he signs notes to Combeferre with, or his official one, or the angry scribble he signs to letters to politicians. “This kind of thing doesn’t happen to me. It doesn’t happen to anyone.”
“It happens to people every day. Please say it’s fine with you.”
“Fine with me? Jesus. You’re the one too busy with his cause for a soulmate, I should be asking you that.”
“I wouldn’t be fine with it if it were anyone but you, but I think that’s the point of this, at least in part.” Enjolras tips his head back against the couch. “I shouldn’t have done this over the phone. I should have waited until I could get over to your apartment, at least.”
Grantaire breathes in and out six careful times, like he’s timing each beat of them, and Enjolras can’t think of anything more to say so he waits. “I could come over. If you don’t mind.”
“Of course I don’t, I couldn’t possibly. But I can’t drop this news on you and then ask you to come over.” He feels steadier now, with Grantaire’s voice in his ear, enough that he could trust himself to get up and out the door and on the right bus.
“You can, you definitely can. And I want to. My living room smells like turpentine and wine and it isn’t exactly the best spot for a romantic moment.”
Enjolras laughs, more because he feels giddy all of a sudden than because it’s really funny. “If you’re sure you don’t mind, I would love to have you here. Combeferre is out tonight.”
“Okay.” There’s a scramble and a thump on the other end of the line, probably Grantaire standing up. Enjolras tests his own legs and manages to stand, though it will take Grantaire half an hour at the very least to get to him, so it’s probably silly. “I’m going to hang up, because if I keep talking to you, talking about this, I am going to walk into traffic, and I don’t want to be the poor fucker who walks into traffic after this, that’s the premise of either a cynical independent film or a Nicholas Sparks novel, and I refuse.”
Enjolras isn’t sure he has any idea what Grantaire is talking about, but it’s Grantaire’s voice in his ear, and everything he thought was going to be difficult to figure out about his near future has suddenly unraveled itself into something good and easier than he could have hoped, so all he says is “Please don’t walk into traffic. I’ll see you soon.”
“So soon,” Grantaire says fervently, and hangs up the phone only to call back while Enjolras is still staring bemused at the “Call Ended” screen. “I meant to say it back,” he says when Enjolras picks up. “So, me too. I love you too. Okay? I’ll see you soon.”
And then he hangs up again, leaving Enjolras feeling like something just grabbed his windpipe and squeezed, and so stupidly happy that it takes a minute to realize that Grantaire is on his way over, and then he’s scrambling into his room to find a clean shirt and make his bed, leaving his cuff behind on the couch.
Grantaire shows up after forty-six minutes, when Enjolras has been reduced to standing and staring at the door for at least eight of those minutes. He knocks on the door instead of waiting to be buzzed up, probably having followed someone else into the building, and when Enjolras opens the door, he’s there with a bag slung over his shoulder and his eyes wild. The second he sees Enjolras, he drops his bag and grabs Enjolras’s arm and tugs it out between them like he’s looking for confirmation. He breathes in hard like he was surprised after all when he sees the curls of the R, and then he offers his own wrist for inspection.
It’s clear Grantaire spends much more time in the sun than he does, by the stark difference in his skin, but Enjolras barely spends time thinking about that. Instead, he lingers for one second on his own familiar signature, easy cursive that he uses when signing notes or letters to people he actually likes (of course, he couldn’t have expected anything different), and then uses Grantaire’s hand to pull him in for a kiss.
Grantaire is ready for him, tilting his head so they meet at just the right angle. It’s a soft kiss, surprisingly so, when Enjolras is half-desperate to touch Grantaire and make this real. It feels like Grantaire must have been imagining it, when he allowed himself, and Enjolras puts his arms around Grantaire’s neck in response, to bring him as close as he can. Grantaire follows where he pulls, stumbling over the threshold, and Enjolras only moves away when he realizes the door is still open, and that he’d like to have privacy with his … with Grantaire. He doesn’t want to say “boyfriend,” it’s already more than that, but he isn’t sure about “soulmate” either. Grantaire is good with words, though. He’ll have something to call them.
“This day is not turning out at all like it started,” Grantaire says, a little dazed, when Enjolras moves them around until he can shut the door. “One minute I’m working on a project for theory, the next I have a soulmate. We’re not going to class tomorrow, right? I think we deserve a mental health day. I definitely deserve a mental health day. This is a head trip.”
“We won’t go to class.” Enjolras considers. “Or the meeting, probably.”
“You romantic fool,” says Grantaire, sounding dryer and more like himself, and kisses Enjolras again. It’s harder this time, hard enough to make Enjolras stumble back and catch himself against the wall and pull Grantaire with him. “We could go,” Grantaire says into his mouth, and repeats it when Enjolras pulls away, a little annoyed at having to stop but willing to hear him out. “It isn’t like they haven’t been rubbing their happiness in our faces for months, we can get our own back.”
“Or I could have you to myself for a day or two,” Enjolras says into Grantaire’s neck, and then they’re kissing again, kissing until Enjolras’s lips are tingling and Grantaire’s breath is coming quickly and both of them are hard against each other. “We should probably talk,” Enjolras offers, and Grantaire gives him an incredulous look. “We could talk in my bedroom.”
“That’s more like it.” Grantaire leans in and kisses him, and a second later his hand wraps around Enjolras’s wrist. It’s strange to feel skin touching him there, the calluses on Grantaire’s fingertips tracing his signature. “I love you a sort of stupid amount.”
“It isn’t stupid at all.”
“You’re going to be terrible about this, aren’t you? I really should have imagined that, I imagined you sucking because, Enjolras, let’s be honest, you’re sort of terrible at feelings, you missed me falling pathetically in love with you in the most obvious rom-com fashion possible, but no, you’re going to be all earnest about this, and I’m never going to have anything even resembling sanity again.”
Enjolras considers being offended, but given Grantaire is right on all counts that seems silly. Well, the last is up for debate, but he isn’t really in the mood for debating right now. He takes Grantaire’s hand and pulls him gently away from the door and across the living room towards his bed, which makes him stop talking. “Of course I’m going to be earnest,” he says when he gets to his bedroom door. “You deserve nothing less.”
“You’re awful, shut up.” Grantaire kisses him and pushes him through the door at the same time, and then they’re tripping and tumbling in a tangle of limbs, barely making the bed as they go. “I want to fuck you so badly I could cry,” Grantaire announces from where he lands with Enjolras half-sprawled on top of him. “Could that be arranged, or is it a dream for the distant future?”
“I bought supplies when I realized I wanted to try a relationship with you.”
Grantaire starts laughing into his shoulder, half-hysterically, and only stops when Enjolras bites at his neck. “Of course you did. You’re impossible.”
Enjolras generously chooses to ignore that and rolls off of Grantaire to go into his night stand instead and produce a condom and the bottle of lube. It’s obviously been used a bit, and when he turns around, Grantaire’s eyebrows are raised. Enjolras decides not to mention, just strips his shirt over his head and is glad when it prompts Grantaire to do the same. “I meant to actually talk,” says Enjolras, half-distracted by running his hands over Grantaire’s chest, learning the contours of him that have been hidden under shirts and jackets. He’s solid, all the better to hold on to, and Enjolras holds on, turning his face into Grantaire’s neck and breathing in deep. “The phone conversation was sort of inadequate.”
“The phone conversation got us there, I’m not knocking it. I’m going to keep this phone forever.” Grantaire puts a hand on Enjolras’s jaw and brings his face up to kiss him again, tipping them over until they’re horizontal and within good reach of the bottle of lube and the condom. “Tell me if I do anything you don’t want, or if I’m not doing anything you do, okay? We’re going to have cliché soulmate sex and stare in each other’s eyes and probably trace our names a lot, brace yourself.”
“That sounds perfectly fine to me.” Enjolras works at the button of his jeans while he still has his hands free, but he needs Grantaire to help him get them off when he gets distracted by kissing again. Then it’s Grantaire’s turn, the two of them moving and trying not to stop touching each other until everything is just skin on skin.
Grantaire is the first to go for the bottle, after what feels like a hundred years and more of doing nothing but kissing each other and touching each other, finding the ways their bodies fit together and then finding more. Grantaire bites the sensitive skin of his wrist, sucks until a blood-bruise blooms behind the script, making it stand out all the more. Enjolras goes the more traditional route, putting a mark on Grantaire’s neck, then another when he discovers the way it makes Grantaire groan and stop the breathless litany of half-sarcastic and half-wondering comments. “Are you ready?”
The first shock of Grantaire’s touch is cold and strange, even if Enjolras has fingered himself more than once, but Grantaire is smiling at him, settling down between his legs with a look of utmost concentration on his face. “Tell me if it hurts, I don’t want it to hurt at all.”
When Grantaire slides the first finger in, slow and searching, Enjolras almost tenses, but he trusts Grantaire, and Grantaire is looking at him like he’s worried Enjolras is going to break, so he smiles encouragingly instead. “You aren’t hurting me.”
Grantaire fingers him forever. He acts like he doesn’t care if they do anything else, just delights in every reaction he can wring out of Enjolras, and Enjolras does his best to give him the reactions he wants in return. He’s never been loud, or considered wanting to be, but the way Grantaire smiles when he moans is worth being a little theatrical. He seems to take every one as a personal accomplishment, and Enjolras doesn’t care in the least, half out of his mind with pleasure. Grantaire is very good with his hands.
“Please, I’m definitely ready,” he says eventually, when he’s worried he’s going to come before Grantaire ever gets inside of him. He doesn’t care about the myth of soulmates orgasming together their first time, since it’s been thoroughly and scientifically disproven, but he does care about making Grantaire feel as good as Grantaire is making him feel.
“Okay, fine, keep your pants on.” Grantaire doesn’t tease, just reaches out for the condom and puts it on, almost dropping it four times from his lube-slippery hands and rolling his eyes when Enjolras offers to help. When that’s done, he fusses with Enjolras’s position, putting a pillow under his hips and laughing when Enjolras tries to convince him to go faster, Enjolras is dying.
“R, please,” he finally says, putting his hand on Grantaire’s face just because he knows it will make Grantaire turn his head and kiss Enjolras’s wrist.
“You fight dirty,” says Grantaire, but he finally gets into position and slides slowly inside Enjolras.
It’s nothing like fingers, nothing like anything Enjolras could describe. More than anything, it’s strange, but it’s good as well, it would be good any way with Grantaire but it’s mostly good because Grantaire makes it that way. He does keep his eyes on Enjolras’s like he promised, brow wrinkled a little with exertion, and he breathes harder when Enjolras wraps around him and clings as well as he can. Neither of them, he decides, is leaving this apartment for at least twenty-four hours. And he had the good luck to take his cuff off on a Thursday night so they could theoretically have the weekend, as long as their friends don’t come banging the door down.
Enjolras comes first, mostly because Grantaire speeds up, getting frantically close, and then freezes where he is, gritting his teeth and wrapping his hand around Enjolras’s erection, moving his hand just right until Enjolras shudders and comes. He speeds up again, then, while Enjolras is still shaking with aftershocks, and then he’s coming too, biting out a breathy “Fuck” and burying his face in Enjolras’s hair.
They flop on their backs next to each other afterwards, shoulder to shoulder, after Grantaire ties off the condom and throws it somewhere in the general vicinity of the trashcan, and Enjolras takes Grantaire’s hand and traces his name on Grantaire’s wrist over and over until Grantaire rolls over to kiss him again.
“Am I allowed to ask you now?” says Enjolras later, face buried in Grantaire’s shoulder.
“Ask me what?”
“What you decided that put my name there.” He brushes his thumb across the spot, right where Grantaire’s pulse beats.
“You go first.”
“Combeferre and I were sitting around, we were complaining about the state of the world, and I just decided I didn’t want to sit around and complain, that I wanted to do something about it instead.” Enjolras shrugs, taking the excuse to nestle in a little closer to Grantaire. “That’s it, really. Not an interesting story.”
Grantaire snorts. “I have no idea how wanting to change the world would bring you to me.”
“I wouldn’t have met you if it weren’t for Les Amis, and I wouldn’t have founded the group if I didn’t want to change the world. It seems odd to me sometimes too, but it’s still what happened.”
“I was drunk,” says Grantaire, which is the only part of the story Enjolras is sure on. “It was the party where I met Bahorel, but I don’t think it was deciding to be friends with Bahorel, even if he’s technically what brought me to your meetings. It was more one of those passing thoughts that you get latched on to, really, like a kid who says once they want to be an astronaut and then it becomes their whole identity.”
“The suspense is killing me.”
“Shut up, sarcasm doesn’t suit you and you asked.” Grantaire sighs. It ruffles Enjolras’s hair. “I decided I wasn’t going to let being scared about the soulmate thing keep me from falling in love someday, okay? Pretty sure I declaimed a whole embarrassing speech about it. Which may actually have been how Bahorel found me.”
Enjolras hides his grin against Grantaire’s skin, but doesn’t do a very good job of it, especially given the way his hand tightens at Grantaire’s wrist. “I’m glad he did. I would love you, soulmate or not. That was what I was confirming, taking off my cuff in the first place. It was a pretty big shock.”
“For me too. Obviously. But maybe it shouldn’t have been? Unconditional love is sort of the soulmate deal.” Enjolras kisses his shoulder for that, sleepier by the moment. “But for what it’s worth, even if I took my cuff off tonight and there was someone else’s name there, I would still be here right now.”
“Me too. No questions asked.” He pauses. “Combeferre is going to be smug, though. I think he guessed.”
“Éponine had her suspicions. I don’t really care.” Grantaire twists and grabs for Enjolras’s hand, getting the wrong one and keeping it anyway, pressing his mouth to the pulse point for a moment. “It’s not like they did a perfect job of dealing with each other at first, and we all have other things to worry about.”
“Changing the world. Staying in love.”
It shouldn’t make him smile as stupidly as it does to hear Grantaire talking about changing the world, but then, he doesn’t think there’s much about Grantaire that could make him anything but happy right now. “That sounds like a good place to start,” he says, and settles against Grantaire to sleep to the feeling of him gently tracing an R on Enjolras’s other wrist.