"Please state your name for the records."
"Your full name."
"It's the only name I'm known by."
A pause; a rustle of paper; a soft murmur, confused; annoyed, and then - resigned.
"M. Enjolras, the purpose of this hearing is to determine, whether released, you are likely to break the law again. Whilst this was your first conviction, you have been implicated, though never charged, in several other high-profile data leaks and breaches of information. What can you tell us about them?"
"Nothing at all. As stated, I’ve never been convicted."
"What we're trying to determine is, what was the reason for your behaviour? How did you come to be involved in organised crime? Your past record is impeccable, your reports from superiors glowing, you have no prior convictions, and yet somehow, you became caught up in a plot which threatened national security.”
The pause is longer this time, resigned, and then: “Have you ever had a dream?”
“A dream, a want of a better life.”
“I believe so, but hadn’t we—”
“I had a dream - if you’ll forgive the expression, for a moment - a vision of a better world. One where the unjust do not rule and everyone is accountable for their crimes. I sought to make my dream a reality, only I put my trust in the wrong place, and the dream became unstable. Do you know what happens when a dream loses shape?”
“The dreamer wakes up.”
A third pause, frustrated. “And how does this pertain to your decision whether or not to commit similar crimes, should you be released? M. Enjolras, it is all well and good to talk about dreams and visions of the future, but we are focusing on the here and now, the present, and what we want to know is this: will we catch you, a day - a week - a month down the line, once again threatening national security?”
“No,” says Enjolras, and when he finally looks up, his expression is far too wise, and far too fierce for a man of his twenty-four years of age. His lips curve into what is almost a smile.
“I won’t be caught.”
- - -
The air is cool, the sun warm on his skin as he emerges from the gates, wearing nothing but the suit he’d had on four years ago to the day, when he had woken up to a gun between his eyes and an extremely pissed-off head of security. His hair is longer, brushing against his shirt collar where it lies open, his tie slung around his neck, unknotted.
Up ahead a car waits, a lone figure leaning against it. He’s wearing a suit also, but his is perfectly pressed, modern, no doubt the latest cut in Milan. He’s typing into a phone when Enjolras approaches, looks up when the shadow falls over his shoes, arches an eyebrow. For a few seconds they just observe each other, cataloguing the differences, noting what’s still the same, judging the years between them.
“Took you long enough,” says Combeferre, and he slides his phone into a pocket inside his suit jacket.
“They were making a statement.”
“If they really wanted to make a statement, they would never have let you leave.” When Enjolras looks at him, coolly amused, he amends, “Or maybe they would have, because no doubt you would have turned even that to your advantage.”
“Every cause needs a martyr.”
“Perhaps in another few years,” Combeferre disagrees, “When we are old and grey, and dying of natural causes anyway. I won’t let you die before your time.”
Enjolras moves around to the passenger side of the car, pulling the handle to open it as Combeferre does the same to let himself into the back seat. Over the hood of the car their eyes meet, and Enjolras says, “What makes you think you could stop me?”
He hears Combeferre’s soft laughter as he gets into the car. Courfeyrac sits in the driver’s seat, playing on some sort of handheld gaming device. He’s wearing fingerless leather gloves and wraparound sunglasses and doesn’t bother to look up when Enjolras slides into the seat next to him.
“You have an idea, don’t you?” he says in greeting, cutting straight through the bullshit reintroductions and sentimentality. “He has an idea, doesn’t he?” this he directs to Combeferre, exchanging a long look with him in the rearview mirror, then shrugs and pockets the game as Enjolras pulls on his seatbelt.
“You know most people, after being in prison for four years, decide that maybe, perhaps, it might be a good idea to not break the law again.”
“Most people,” echoes Enjolras and this time he’s the one to catch Courfeyrac’s eye. They share a grin.
“So what is it?” he asks, kicking the car into gear and pulling out onto the road as Enjolras lays it all out. It’s convoluted and dangerous and most definitely life-threatening, but he’s had a long time to think about it all and iron out the kinks. Since he went rogue with the information on dream-sharing, he’s known that one day it would eventually lead to this, that he wasn’t going to be satisfied with small cons and petty criminals. What he wanted was to make a difference, to make real change happen, and for that to happen there was only one option.
“You think Inception’s really possible?” Courfeyrac asks, and Enjolras opens his mouth to reply before realising that the question isn’t meant for him. Combeferre has met his gaze instead in the rearview mirror, his sharp intelligence already catching on to all the problems Enjolras himself found and patched up in his cell, though he’d done so haphazardly. Combeferre is a point-man - the best of them all save, perhaps, Enjolras himself, if he were ever able to drag his attention away from the end result for long enough to focus on the journey - and if he doesn’t think a job is possible, then it most certainly isn’t.
The car comes to a halt at a red light, Courfeyrac taps his thumbs on the steering wheel to the beat of the radio. Enjolras doesn’t take his eyes away from Combeferre, not even when the light turns green again and Courfeyrac pulls a sharp right turn.
“We’ll need a team,” he says, and Enjolras lets out a breath he hadn’t even realised he’d been holding.
- - -
Dreamshare hadn’t been legal, so they couldn’t send him down for that. They’d had to fabricate some other charges to get him locked behind bars whilst they hastily tried to cover-up the technology and where it came from. He’d gone down for attempted robbery and political espionage, with a dash of conspiracy to commit murder thrown in for good measure.
Technically, it was all true. Only he hadn’t wanted to steal belongings; he’d wanted secrets, and he’d wanted them so he could take down a corrupt politician. They hadn’t been able to pin the murder charge on him because he hadn’t been planning on killing anyone really, just their dreamselves, and his accusers couldn’t explain that without explaining what dreamsharing was, and that their most talented agent had gone rogue with the latest technology.
What they hadn’t realised is that this wasn’t the first time. Enjolras had toppled many dictators already, had permanently changed the future of certain countries by exposing those at the top who weren’t fit to do their jobs. Dreamsharing might not have been legal - and the ethics were certainly a grey area - but what the politicians had been doing wasn’t either, so he hadn’t lost any sleepless nights over it.
They’d had a 100% success record, until they got caught.
- - -
They base their operations in Paris, renting out all the rooms above a little Café called the Musain, run by an old widow who refers to herself as Madam Houchelop. Enjolras is fairly sure that it’s not her real name, but she had been recommended by one of Courfeyrac’s contacts, and the day his contacts went sour was the day they got out of the game.
Enjolras is on parole, and failure to check in with his officer at least once every forty-eight hours means he’ll be sent straight back to prison. He’s not allowed to leave the country without special permission, and he plans to keep to his confinement until Combeferre gets him a fake passport from Feuilly, and they disappear into Europe to find the others.
They had been a close-knit group, once. People from all walks of life who had been dissatisfied by their lot; unhappy with the way they had been promised they could save the world then beaten down by authority in various situations and bureaucratic red tape.
Sicily had been their last big gig, the last time they had all been together.
But Enjolras tries not to think about Sicily, has filed it away in a heavily-buried part of his mind, kept securely behind lock and key.
When things fell apart after, they had spread, going their own separate ways and into their own jobs. Only Combeferre and Courfeyrac had been involved in the job in Bordeaux that had seen him caught, and an architect he can’t remember the name of who had been shot trying to escape once everything went to hell in a handbasket.
Feuilly had never technically been part of their group; he didn't know how to manipulate dreams or extract secrets, but he was their crucial link to the outside, someone Enjolras had relied on to get them whatever they needed, whenever they needed it. So they had kept in contact even after Enjolras had gone to prison. Being able to get your hands on contraband made a world of a difference there, and Feuilly had been responsible for sending him the information to make the plans he spreads out on the table now, in the centre of the room above the Musain.
“We’re going to need some muscle, someone to cover us; I don't want to be caught out again, like we were in Bordeaux." The bullet wound in his shoulder aches, he resists the urge to knead it with his palm. "Feuilly can get us the gear we need but we’re going to need a chemist. A good one. Someone who can keep the mark under when we go down three, four levels. And an Architect.”
Combeferre and Courfeyrac are looking at him, he knows they’re looking at him. He refuses to acknowledge their stares, the concern, the inevitable conversation about how if they’d just talk. No. He had burned those bridges four years ago, and he wasn’t going to look back now, just because he needed an Architect.
“Jehan’s available,” Courfeyrac says, finally, “He just came off a job in Budapest. And I think Bahorel’s in eastern Europe, he’s reliable and he never misses a chance to fuck up the system. I’m not sure about Joly, I’d have to ask around. Are you sure this is who you want? You know what will happen if we—”
“Yes,” says Enjolras, still studiously not looking at either of them.
It takes a while for Courfeyrac to track them all down, to use his incredible powers of persuasion to cash in on every underworld and legitimate connection he has. If there is anyone who Courfeyrac doesn’t know, chances are they’re not worth knowing. Within a week of their arrival in Paris, he has addresses and names and dates of last sightings, and three hours after that Feuilly has his fake passport.
Enjolras checks in with his parole officer and then boards the next available flight to Germany.
- - -
They find Bossuet in a police station in Düsseldorf, using a passed-out drunk for a table as he plays cards with a collection of alcoholics, drug-addicts and ne’er-do-wells.
Bossuet’s natural bad luck makes him absolutely appalling at card games, but he’s since used this to his advantage by playing for information. People are more likely to talk when they’re winning, and even the worst of players finds themselves on a winning streak when against him.
When Enjolras sees him for the first time in four years, he’s wearing nothing but a pair of socks and his boxers, and is triumphantly declaring, “Straight flush,” fanning the cards out on the drunk’s stomach, seconds before his opponent declares, “Royal flush,” and the place erupts into catcalls.
Despite himself, Enjolras grins, leaning against the bars to the cell as he watches Bossuet’s crestfallen expression. The police officer who had brought him through to the block looks stunned, like she hadn’t even realised it was possible to be so bad at poker and lose so many clothes in what Enjolras has estimated to be only a couple of hours.
“Of course,” Bossuet mutters, side-eyeing his opponent’s cards. “Who would have expected any different from a financial analyst at the Deutsche bank—”
“Deutsche Bundesbank,” the man corrects him, damning himself even as he sweeps the money into his pockets.
Enjolras decides to take pity on the poor, oblivious fool, and coughs loudly into a fist. Bossuet looks up sharply from where he had been peeling off his sock, and stumbles over with shock, hopping ungracefully in place to remain standing. “En— you? What are you doing here? I thought you were — I mean, but you…”
“Anton!” Enjolras declares with false cheer, using the false name Courfeyrac had uncovered back in Paris. He’s nowhere near the practised professional Courfeyrac is when it comes to imitating people and making up believe able personas, but being charming has always come naturally to him, and he can already see the banker’s suspicion (born of Bossuet’s greeting) fading as he turns instead to count his winnings.
“I’m so glad you’re okay! Sorry about how long it took me to get here," he says in flawless German, "But I brought the bail money so you’re free to go.” He glances across at the police officer, who unlocks the cell door for him, gesturing for Bossuet to head over and quelling any thoughts of escape from the others with a curt, withering look.
From a five-foot-nothing waif of a girl, it’s rather impressive.
Bossuet doesn’t hesitate, just pulls his one sock back on, stacks the deck of cards, and follows them out into the main entrance of the station. They get more than a few looks as they walk, but Bossuet doesn’t even try to hide himself, just signs the necessary forms at the desk and makes small talk with the receptionist, oblivious to the furious blush on her cheeks as she tries to avoid looking down.
Bossuet isn’t allowed into dreamspace. No matter what he does, or whose mind he goes into, the dreamer’s subconscious always latches onto him, marking him as impossible and wrong, and tears him apart, limb from horrific limb. It doesn't matter how hard he tries; he is the least subtle person Enjolras knows.
If he is honest there isn’t much of a role for Bossuet to play in what he has to come, but it’s not the man in front of him now who he’s come here to convince. The person he wants is the one whose identity he stole to bail him out, the innocuous Gregor, a reliable and practical doctor, down on town hall documents as Anton’s life-partner.
Courfeyrac is waiting for them in a car outside, and when they get in he takes one look at Bossuet's birthday suit and grins, drawling, “Let me guess, she had a great personality.”
- - -
Back at the rooms they’ve rented in a nondescript hotel on the outskirts of the city, Bossuet tells them what Enjolras had already guessed.
“He won’t do it.”
He’s been dressed comically in one of Courfeyrac’s spare suits, with Enjolras and Combeferre both being too tall and too thin to be of any assistance. Courfeyrac is broad at the shoulder and lithe with muscles across his chest and stomach, and his custom-made suits sit awkwardly on Bossuet’s less-polished build.
He has even less hair than Enjolras remembered; practically bald now, where before his hair had been ‘thinning’.
“Can’t, or won’t?” asks Combeferre, deliberately provocative, and Bossuet levels a look at him, not even bothering to get mad at the implication. They all know why Enjolras came here, that Joly is the best, a professional paranoid who covers all bases.
“Won’t,” he repeats, “He’s legitimate now, he has a good job, a steady income. He doesn’t have time to go tearing down the government and resetting world order with you.”
“He doesn’t need to tear down anything,” says Courfeyrac, ever the people-person, making them feel reassured and content even as he plans to twist everything he wants to his own advantage. His smile is all charming when he sets it on Bossuet, his posture easy and reassuring. “All we need is the sedative, something strong enough to hold people under for a significant amount of time whilst we go down through the layers.”
“There are plenty of sedatives out there that will do the job, you don’t need — hold on, layers? Plural? Just how far do you think you’re going?”
“Third, possibly fourth.”
“What could you possibly want down there? What secret could be so great it’s worth extracting, when it’s buried so deep even the dreamer isn’t aware of its existence?”
And Enjolras knows they have him.
He doesn’t say anything, just watches the ease with which Courfeyrac twists his words, catching Bossuet fully on his hook with nothing more than an amused expression a casual, “Who said anything about extraction?”
- - -
Once Bossuet’s on their side, so is Joly. They come as a package, a done deal, so Enjolras leaves Combeferre with them in Düsseldorf, working out how to make the most of Joly’s hospital access before he fakes ‘Gregor’ and ‘Anton’'s deaths to get them both into Paris without any suspicion at all.
In the mean time he and Courfeyrac travel across into Prague, then down into Bratislava, where they find Bahorel drinking vodka like it’s water. He’s been working for the Russian Mafia in Slovakia, gaining intelligence and information under the guise of being little more than muscles-for-hire, but he takes one look at Courfeyrac and Enjolras when they appear in the door to his pub and says, “I’m in.”
Seconds later there’s a riot; it appears the Slovakians don’t take kindly to two French criminals outing a Russian mole in their midst.
“Fuck, but I’ve missed you guys,” Bahorel says, as he smashes a pint glass over someone’s head, and the next day in the local news it’s reported he’s dead, killed by a bar stool to the back of the head. Enjolras has no idea who the actual dead body belongs - belonged? - to, but it satisfies the Russians that Bahorel won’t be coming back to work for them, and the Slovakians that they got one up on the Russians, for once.
Getting Jehan out of Italy takes a lot less work and involves far less bloodshed. They find him in a monastery in Naples called Santa Chiara, alternating between writing romantic poetry inspired by the Lord and systematically scamming the tourists out of every extra cent they have.
He looks genuinely surprised to be part of their team, and gives Enjolras a look that he stubbornly ignores, one that speaks volumes and says far too much, making his stomach twist and his heart skip a beat and he refuses to think about that, he refuses.
“This is a big team,” Jehan tells them, standing in an entrance to a gift shop. “The last time…”
“We miscalculated,” says Courfeyrac, sharing the blame for something that had been entirely Enjolras’s fault. “It won't happen again.”
Jehan had been new to dream sharing then, a recommendation of one of Courfeyrac's clients. When Enjolras had seen him last he'd been shy, timid, his dreams as fragile as butterfly wings. In the years since he's seen him that's changed; he's more substantial now, and sure of himself. Courfeyrac's intel had said he had his own little empire here, enough money to retire for good, if he wanted.
But dreamsharing's an addiction, an itch under the skin that never goes away.
And they all have their vices.
"I never did like Sicily," says Jehan, and Enjolras almost smiles. "Plus there's only so many times you can appear as an angel in a dream before it starts to get a little dull. So what kind of world do you want me to build?"
- - -
Éponine finds them.
“We’re not planning anything,” Combeferre tells her, when he meets up again with Enjolras in Lisbon Airport after he'd detoured to get supplies for Joly from one of Feuilly’s contacts in Portugal, while Courfeyrac got Bahorel and Jehan back into Paris.
Their flight is delayed by two hours and they had been waiting in the departure lounge when she appeared out of nowhere, just sat down across from them, crossed her arms over her chest, flashed what was almost-but-not-quite a smile and stated, “I want in.”
“You’re an awful liar,” she replies, then transfers her dark gaze to Enjolras, adding, “You should have kept Courfeyrac with you if you wanted to get through Lisbon without my attention.”
Her time in the south has been good for her; her skin has darkened, her colour warming. Her hair is longer than Enjolras remembers it, and twisted half into braids, which curl around her head, secured with colourful wooden beads. In Paris she always looked like she was about to go to war, in dark jeans and leather jackets that helped her disappear into shadows when she wasn’t needed, but in Portugal her look has changed completely, to something softer, with a long white skirt and sandals, Enjolras would never have been able to imagine, had he not seen it in person.
But then, after Courfeyrac, Éponine is one of the best forgers there is. She's a fantastic dissembler of people. Within seconds of meeting them she can tell you their greatest fear and their biggest hope, knows exactly how to manipulate them to get what she wants.
Éponine’s problem is that sometimes she’s too bitter, too realistic, reacting in dreams how she would in real life, rather than acting how the dreamer would want her to.
The chip on her shoulder that she’d always carried around in France has disappeared - or else she’s hidden it well - and she seems more grounded, more secure in herself than she had four years ago. His instinct is to tell her no, because she was unstable at the best of times and more than a little psychotic, if given free reign, but four years is a long time and there’s no doubting her skills.
“What about your parents?” he asks, and he doesn’t miss the way her lips purse, ever-so-slightly at the edges, faint lines that age her far beyond her years.
He doesn’t know the ins and outs of how Éponine became such a consummate forger, but he knows enough. The Thénardiers had come into dreamsharing around the same time Enjolras had, only they’d done so through much less savory means. He doesn’t know how they’d gotten the technology; as far as he was aware, it was top-level clearance in the only three governments across the world, but then the Russians never shared anything, and the Thénardiers had been in St Petersburg for an awfully long time, six years ago.
“My parents don’t matter,” Éponine says, “My father was committed, last year. Mother turned the reins over to Montparnasse.”
Now Montparnasse he does know, the kind of person the Thénardiers wished they were. Had they bothered to share the technology with him before they had fucked it up, they would have been a real threat. As it is, Montparnasse is not as clever as he thinks he is, not smart enough to build dreamsharing from scratch or really understand just what the possibilities are, with the technology.
But he can be charming, when he wants to be, and ruthlessly precise. There's a reason Enjolras is wary of him, though Montparnasse's attention is all too easily focused on what glitters.
“And what about him?” asks Combeferre, speaking aloud the question in Enjolras’s own mind.
Even four years ago, Montparnasse’s crush on Éponine had been painfully obvious, the kind where everyone knew it was an absolute trainwreck and yet were unable to look away. It didn’t help that Montparnasse was still mentally a teenager, belittling and insulting her whenever he could, trying to act like he didn’t care for her at all, then staring after forlornly after her when she walked away.
(“We always want what we can’t have,” a ghost tells him, with a crooked smile and Enjolras is not thinking about him, he’s not, he’s not.)
“Montparnasse can go fuck himself,” Éponine replies, and Combeferre turns his head to hide his smile.
Éponine boards the flight with them; her allocated seat is right next to theirs.
- - -
“You’re going for the Président ?” she demands, the very next day, when their assembled team meets in the rooms above the Musain to discuss the plan. “If this goes wrong - if you fuck up - you know what they’ll do to us.”
Enjolras meets her gaze squarely, unwilling to back down. This is his first real challenge of leadership, the first sign of doubt that he has to crush ruthlessly. “You all knew the stakes when you said you were in. I don’t do things by halves,” (“No shit,” someone - Bossuet - mutters) “And if we want change, real change, we’re going to have to do something drastic.”
“I don’t doubt you can do it,” says Éponine, not backing down, “I just want you to acknowledge that by doing this, you’re putting all our lives at risk. It’s not just a case of a decade in prison and charming yourself back out after four, this is serious. This fails, and we’re labelled terrorists.”
“Then we better not fail,” says Courfeyrac, stepping forwards. On the surface it’s a good-natured joke, but hiding underneath is a threat. If one of them - any single one of them - doesn’t pull their weight, then they will all crash and burn. From Enjolras the threat would have been heard and acknowledged, but from Courfeyrac, it cuts straight to the bone. He is a man who is rarely, if ever, serious.
Enjolras knows when it is best to speak and when best to employ those in his care, to use the talents of others to better his cause.
Éponine nods, and steps back into her place in the circle.
“Gillenormand is going to be Président for the next five years, we can’t change that,” Enjolras continues, addressing the room again at large, “But a Premier Ministre in the right place, with the right Assemblée Nationale, can achieve what we want. They can disagree with his policies and make him virtually powerless. Right now the Assembly is not perfect, but it’s the best opportunity we have. The current Premier Ministre is Gillenormand’s puppet, everyone knows that.”
“So what,” asks Bossuet, “You want us to plant the idea of a new Premier Ministre in Gillenormand?”
“Gillenormand already wants a new Premier Ministre, he has since the moment he elected the first one. What he wants is someone in the family, someone who can carry on his legacy and allow him to take a back seat. He’s getting old, he wants to retire.”
He points to two pictures in the centre of the table. “Georges and Marius Pontmercy. Georges is the son, Marius is the grandson. Georges would have been the better option, he believed in a more equal world - and for that very reason, Gillenormand practically disowned him. Gillenormand wants Marius, but Marius doesn’t want it.”
“But he’s going to change his mind,” says Bahorel, catching on, “Have a change of heart. One that just so happens to also make him more like his father in his policies.”
“But how do we get to this guy?” Éponine asks, “Isn’t he surrounded by security at all times? He’s the Président’s grandson, after all.”
“Marius left home two months ago,” says Feuilly, “After an argument with his grandfather. He’s currently living not far from here, and advertising for a roommate.”
“How convenient,” drawls Éponine.
“I know, right?” says Courfeyrac, grinning.
- - -
It should not surprise him, how quickly they fall back into their old routines, re-learning the familiarity of each other’s dreams. They start off in Combeferre’s, getting up to date on the PASIV software and the modifications that have been made whilst Enjolras was incarcerated. Combeferre’s the best at keeping secrets, locking them away in places no one can find, and so it becomes a game, of sorts, to find information he has hidden away.
It becomes clear early-on that Enjolras is rusty, when Combeferre’s subconscious turns on him almost immediately, singles him out as a trespasser and not wanted, and Courfeyrac has to shoot him in the head to wake him back up.
It leaves him unsettled and breathless, sitting straight up in his chair whilst everyone around him sleeps. He rips the IV from his arm, careless of whether it leaves a mark, and stumbles out of the room, ignoring Joly as he makes a move to ask him what’s wrong. Instead he makes it to another room, the one designated as his own, and pulls out his totem.
They were Combeferre’s idea, a logical way to tell if they were dreaming or awake. The idea is simple: something he knows about but no one else, something that can’t be faked, even by the greatest of forgers.
Enjolras’s is a gyroscope, small enough to hold between his thumb and forefinger and slip unnoticed into his pocket. He is fascinated by their design, precise and steady but not infallible. Something many rely on, without really knowing what they’re for.
When it stops spinning, giving in to the laws of physics, he knows he’s not dreaming and breathes.
He resolves to never be kicked out of Combeferre’s subconscious again, makes it his mission to return to being the best extractor there is. He washes his face with water then heads back into the room, where the others are still dreaming, and lets Joly send him back under.
Seconds later he finds Combeferre’s secret, and just smiles when they’re brought out of the dream and Courfeyrac whines about how it’s not fair, you’re not supposed to be allowed to have a second go.
“I was out for ten minutes,” he points out, “You had two extra hours in the dream to look. It’s not my fault if you were still unable to find the secret.”
“I was out for ten minutes,” Courfeyrac echoes in a not-very-flattering voice, because sometimes he has the maturity of a five-year-old. “It doesn’t count if I had to shoot you mid-dream.”
“Fine,” says Enjolras, holding out his arm to Joly, “Again.”
This time he finds the secret in the first two minutes they’re under. When they surface back into consciousness Courfeyrac levels a glare at him and says, “Oh, fuck off.”
- - -
When they’re not playing hide-and-seek in Combeferre’s mind, Enjolras helps Jehan to build the dream world. Joly refuses to let any of them near his concoctions bar Bossuet, who becomes test dummy in his attempt to create the perfect compounds. More often than not they find him napping away in the corner of the room, drooling unattractively all over his shoulder.
Jehan’s a good Architect - no, better than that, he’s great.
(Enjolras knows he is biased and he hates it, he tries not to be, he knows he shouldn’t because it’s stupid and it’s untrue and no matter what he feels - felt - it doesn’t changed what happened.)
The worlds he creates make even Enjolras believe he’s dreaming, fantastical landscapes that can’t feel real and yet make you think that anything is possible. They’re the type of dreams he wishes he had, dreams where everything is possible, and he gets caught up and lost in their impossible mazes and contradictions without even realising.
Combeferre works on the problem of how to plant the idea of becoming the Premier Ministre in Marius’s mind, when he clearly doesn’t want to and it has to seem realistic, so as not to alert Gillernormand that something is up, or make Marius aware that his mind has been tampered with.
Most of Enjolras’s nights are spent with both Combeferre and Courfeyrac, batting ideas about Inception and planting the initial idea back and forth, combining the intel they have from their different roles to hammer out a plan that will work.
“It has to be emotional,” says Courfeyrac, “At its core, whatever idea we plant. We’re going deep into his subconscious when he dreams, a place where reason and method don’t exist.”
“You always go for emotion,” says Combeferre, arching an eyebrow at him, “When logic is key to success.”
“You act like you don’t have a heart,” Courfeyrac returns placing a hand dramatically over his own, “But I know you do really.”
“At least I don't think with my—”
“Courfeyrac’s right,” Enjolras interrupts their little spat, thinking it over as he speaks, “Emotions are the things that stick with us, niggling at the back of our mind, the memories and thoughts that we can’t suppress, no matter how hard we try. We put emotion in the idea and he can’t ignore it.
“Don’t we spend most of our lives trying not to get the mark’s subconscious to notice us?” Combeferre asks.
“Most of the time we’re trying to extract information and not get shot. This time we want the subconscious to notice us.”
“Oh,” says Courfeyrac, latching on to the true meaning of inception. “Right. So, why not just plant the idea: I want to screw over my dirty, double-dealing grandfather, and make the country a better place for everyone?”
Combeferre snorts and Courfeyrac startles at the sound, then grins. “Worth a shot.”
Enjolras smiles and lets the topic of conversation expand, as they try to think of the perfect idea to plant, something Marius will latch onto, and tries to ignore the painfully obvious absence in their group, his foil, the dissenting voice who had always made them stronger by pointing out their flaws and refusing to compromise.
Courfeyrac plays devil’s advocate well, knowing exactly what buttons to press to annoy people, to get under their skin and manipulate them, but he’s not —
He’s not Grantaire.
- - -
“We can find him, you know,” Combeferre says gently, one night.
They’re stood watching Jehan manipulate the world in one of Enjolras’s dreams, pulling huge cityscapes out of nothing and attempting to make it look inconspicuous, when no doubt Enjolras’s mind is the most paranoid of them all.
“No one blames you for being mad, you have every right to be. But if the two of you had just talked—”
Enjolras’s subconscious shifts, his projections turning to glance over their shoulders at Combeferre. He stares stonily back at them, unperturbed, and after a few seconds they look away again, carrying back on their journeys.
“He chose to leave.”
“You didn’t exactly give him another option.”
“He made his decision.”
- - -
When they’re not forging people in the dream world, Éponine and Courfeyrac spend most of their time tracking down Marius and working their way into his life, gathering intel for when it’s time to go into his subconscious.
Éponine goes the way of the devoted girl with a crush, bumping into him one day on the street then just happening to see him again the day after, whilst Courfeyrac enrols himself at the University where Marius is studying translation, makes a few charming comments, happens to be at the right place in the right time and uses his natural talent for making friends to draw Marius to him.
Between them they tighten the web, bringing it closer and closer until Marius is ensnared, as helpless as a fly between spiders.
Eventually Marius picks up on the painfully obvious hints Courfeyrac keeps dropping about how his landlord sucks and how he’d love to move out if only he had someone to share the rent with, and asks him to move in.
The instant Marius leaves for class the day after Courfeyrac moves in, he invites Enjolras over, and between them they go over the entire apartment with a fine tooth comb. They leave nothing unturned, but find nothing of worth, nothing that would give them a link to Gillenormand to help plant the idea in Marius’s mind, nothing apart from a ring which is too big for Marius’s fingers, but has no inscription to say who it is for.
- - -
“The problem’s with your emotion,” Bossuet says, the second time Courfeyrac and Enjolras are expelled from Combeferre’s mind by his extremely vicious projections, after trying to plant an idea on the first level.
Combeferre frowns, rubs at his temples, turns to look over his shoulder at him. “You think we should use logic?”
Courfeyrac rolls his eyes but Bossuet shakes his head, saying, “No. You were right to go for the feel of the idea but you’re being too negative about it. You’re planting an idea to make someone angry and it’s pissing off his subconscious. No one likes being told what to do, particularly when they’re being told to get mad at something. If anything it just makes you get mad at the person trying to persuade you. What you need is a little positivity.”
“Oh,” says Enjolras, and the whole idea of Inception shifts under his feet.
(It’s true that he’s always had very ‘fuck the system’ leanings.)
“What people want is catharsis,” Bossuet says, “Resolution. Not revolution.”
After that they invite Bossuet in on their planning meetings, giving him room to put in his own suggestions, mostly focused on human nature as he has little experience in dreamshare. As it turns out it’s good to get an outside view, to talk to someone who isn’t involved in the thick of it all, because it forces them all to take a step back and look at the big picture.
“How about,” Courfeyrac says one day, “My grandfather wants what is best for me? On the first level we tap into the guy’s innate sense of wanting the best for people, his altruism. The next level down we expand this to the good of the country, what the people of France need. Then on the third level we contract it down to specifics, to what his grandfather wants - for him to be the Premier Ministre. All three ideas link and build upon each other, and whilst the core idea has him doing what his grandfather wants, it’s for motives other than family pride and dictatorship.”
“Not bad,” says Combeferre, “Looks like you’re more than a pretty face after all.”
Courfeyrac blows him a kiss.
- - -
The problem emerges that forging Gillenormand is hard, when they know very little about him beside the front he shows to the world. Within Marius’s mind, perfection is not paramount, but little habits and ticks and ways of speaking are, things that will immediately lead him to thinking it’s a dream. It’s Feuilly who points out the problem, and Jehan who comes up with a way around it.
(And Enjolras doesn’t look at Combeferre in triumph, he doesn’t, he doesn’t stoop to saying look this Architect is just fine, see? I don’t need anyone else.)
The simplest thing to do, Jehan says, is to find someone else to mimic, someone else who is close to Marius whose opinion he will listen to, but his father is dead and his mother died in childbirth and he has no other friends, beyond Courfeyrac. It’s the biggest setback they’ve faced, and one that they hadn’t accounted for, as they’re all part of one big group, they always have been, even when in prison or exiled or doing other jobs, so the idea of being utterly alone had never crossed Enjolas's mind.
It’s a welcome shock, then, when Courfeyrac bursts into the Musain, out of breath with excitement and declares: “Marius is in love! A girl, he has seen one. She has captured his heart and his mind and his thoughts. It is fate!”
Éponine looks irritated, picks at the polish on her nails as Courfeyrac retells the story, bringing to light some girl Marius had seen a few times at the Luxembourg Gardens, then waxed lyrical about to him that very evening. Éponine has pride, and no doubt she wanted to get as close to him as possible, to be the one he trusted in his dreams.
“I’m going with him to the gardens tomorrow night,” Courfeyrac says, “Éponine, you should go too, at some point. This girl visits often with her father. If we can get her image down, her characteristics, we can take that form in the dream. He’s mad for her.”
Enjolras feels a flood of relief at the news, sees the plan start to unfold and move forwards again.
“Well done,” he tells Courfeyrac, and fails to note just how annoyed Éponine is.
- - -
It’s only when they’re standing in one of Bahorel’s dreams, trying to spot Courfeyrac and Éponine amongst the projections, that Enjolras gets it.
Because he’s known Courfeyrac for so long, and because he’s always on high-alert when in a dream, particularly on a job as tense as this one, he spots him amongst the crowd faster than the others. The girl Marius has fallen for is pretty, delicate-looking, with chestnut-brown hair and big blue eyes. Once he has committed her image to memory he looks instead for Éponine, but there is no obvious double amongst the projections, and that’s when the doubt settles.
It’s confirmed when he finally does find Éponine, her hair a little duller than Courfeyrac’s forgery, her eyes not as bright. The differences are subtle, wouldn’t be noticed unless you were looking specifically for them, but it becomes obvious after a few seconds to him why it’s so, why Éponine’s version is not so perfect.
And it’s not to do with Courfeyrac being the slightly better forger.
He storms forward through the dream to grab her arm, wraps his fingers around her elbow and yanks, hissing, “We need to talk,” throwing her into the path of an incoming car. He steps out seconds after her and wakes up to Éponine coming back to life, spitting and clawing like a wildcat, demanding answers and swearing till she’s blue in the face.
He grabs her elbow again, shoving her away from where Jehan, Bahorel and Courfeyrac still dream, slams her against the wall of the room with an arm against her throat. “When you’re on my team, there is only one rule,” he says, voice low and dark with barely-restrained anger, “This is a job, and as such, there are no feelings, no emotions. I don’t care if you think he’s the love of your life or your soul mate or whatever romantic notion you want to come up with that led to you failing at your job but in dreams and this room - this city - he’s your enemy. Are we clear?”
She glares at him, but her struggles are more for show now than any real effort to escape from his grip.
“The slightest mistake in dreamspace and you endanger us all. Do you want your jealousy—”
“Oh, fuck off,” Éponine grits out, struggling again, and this time he releases her. She stumbles away from him rubbing her throat, whirls around on the spot to glare at him, “I fucked up, fine, I won’t do it again, I’ll be the best damn forger of this girl you’ve ever seen but fuck you, fuck you, Enjolras. Don’t you dare fucking talk to me about feelings. Don’t think I don’t know why Jehan’s here and he isn’t. Talk all you want about not letting feelings get in the way but that’s what you’re doing, really, because what if Jehan can’t handle it? What if his dreams aren’t good enough? He creates the structure for the rest of us and if he collapses then so do we.”
“Jehan can handle it,” Enjolras snaps, and they glower at each other until Courfeyrac surfaces from his dream, suddenly, and frowns at the tense atmosphere.
“Where did you go?”
“Nowhere,” they both say in unison.
- - -
“Enjolras, can I ask your opinion on something?"
He looks up from the report he’s reading on the government’s latest policies, sees Jehan hovering in the doorway, and folds the report in half. Courfeyrac and Éponine are dreaming, practising their forging skills on Bahorel, who is trying out Combeferre’s ‘hide the secret’ game.
Enjolras follows Jehan into the room adjoining theirs, where he’s been busy with Feuilly constructing floor plans and elaborate designs for things that will never - could never - exist. The structure of their dreams.
Dreamspace is designed around mazes. Enjolras has never been good at constructing them; he gets frustrated when trying to work out all the different parts at once, unable to figure out how many dead-ends to have and how to make an exit that isn’t impossible to get to. Tries to shortcut and just rely on places and things that he’s already seen and known.
(“Come on, Apollo, you can do better than that.”
“No I can’t.”
“Yes you can. You come up with incredible plans all the time, you dream up ideas no one else has never even thought of before. Building a dream is simple, compared to the overthrow of world order.”
“I’m trying. Look, I can make—”
“Stop that, no.”
“Never make something from the world you already know.”
“What? Why? You do it, all the time. This dream right now, I’ve been here before.”
Silence, dawning realisation. “I could have sworn… but how can you make it so real? How did you convince me it’s all true?” A pause, wondering. “Just how good at this are you?”
“The problem is the mazes,” Jehan says, “Making three unique ones that are all as good as each other and layered on top. There’s got to be room for the mark to build a dream up around them, but enough exits and escape routes for us to change our plans if we need to. I’ve got the first level secured, but the second and third…”
Enjolras frowns down at them, his eyes scanning the maps and moving across, finding the problems Jehan had mentioned almost instantly. To an untrained eye, a dreamer, they probably wouldn’t be noticeable, but he was made for this, it is all he’s done with his life since he decided to do something worthwhile with it.
“The greatest maze is the one of your own creation,” he says absently, and Jehan looks at him strangely, head cocked to one side. He always looks curious, like he’s waiting for something else, something more, another part to the puzzle that he hasn’t quite put together yet. Enjolras had just put it down to his wistful nature and his tendency towards romanticism, when given half the chance, but now he wonders.
“Like you said, there has to be room for the dreamer to build,” he continues, pointing at the plans. “You’ve got to trap Marius in his own mind. Look back at the reports that we’ve gathered so far, the information we’ve gone through, talk to Éponine and Courfeyrac. Find his insecurities and build on them. What does he do when he’s backed into a corner? Does he run or does he burrow further? Will he follow a circular path or head straight across it?”
He tells Jehan everything he knows about building dreams, but what he doesn’t tell him is, the reason he’s so good at all this, the reason he’s so good at dreamsharing and the ruthless pursuit of his goals, is because he created an impossible maze a long time ago, one he cannot possibly solve, and put all his unnecessary emotions, all the things he didn’t have time to think about inside. And at the centre, locked tight, is the Architect who taught him how to do it.
Jehan has the skills to be great, is well on his way to being there already, he’s just been focusing in all the wrong places.
He stays with him late into the evening, sketching and planning and reworking, retiring only when Feuilly returns from his latest job and orders him to get some rest. But rather than go back to his own room, Enjolras heads back into the main one to get the government reports, finding Joly is putting Bossuet and Combeferre under a new compound. He rolls up his sleeve and offers his arm too, knowing that sleep will be impossible, is pulled into the dream with them.
- - -
Enjolras dreams of Greece.
Of little islands just off the coast, of shining white houses and being fed goat’s cheese he hadn’t even wanted to try. Of the elation of coming off their first successful con as a team and the absolute amazement that it had all worked so well, so flawlessly.
He’d given the others a break afterwards, though they still had to get a priceless, one-of-a-kind Monet through the airport and customs on the other side, along with three brightly coloured and unsubtle Faberge eggs.
He’d spent his time wandering through the city, glimpsing the Parthenon between the gaps in the buildings, and thought about toppling dictators and ending corrupt forms of government. He'd done this for hours, until Courfeyrac had found him, the warm centre of their operations, even then, and dragged him to a Café where the others were all waiting, laughing and joking and sharing numerous bottles of wine.
“Come on,” Courfeyrac says, “Stop dreaming, start living.”
- - -
In a Café he doesn’t recognise, two streets over from the Musain, he has coffee with Combeferre and Courfeyrac.They’re tired, and these coffee runs have been getting more and more frequent. The fact the three of them have found time at all to be together is a feat in itself, never mind time to actually sit and enjoy a drink, rather than getting it in crappy little Styrofoam cups to take away.
Courfeyrac used to delight in getting the most convoluted drinks order possible, uncaring of what it tasted like or if it was even drinkable, but now all three of them sit with cups of steaming, black coffee.
They discuss the plan and how things are working so far, the problems and solutions they’ve been able to find. There’s still much work to be done but already they’ve made a big step in the right direction, and it feels like they’re finally getting something.
“I’m exhausted,” Courfeyrac says, when the conversation runs dry and he’s tearing open three packets of sugar and pouring them into his drink, even as Combeferre stares at him, clearly thinking sacrilege.
“We all are,” Enjolras replies, curling his hands around his third mug of coffee. “But it will be worth it.”
“Is it worth a mental break-down?” asks Combeferre, glancing up and away from Courfeyrac’s drink to look at Enjolras instead. “Statistically speaking, at the rate you’re pushing us, one of us is going to break. And from what I can guess it’s going to happen sooner, rather than later.”
“You’re being dramatic,” Courfeyrac tells him, which is a reversal of roles, “But I agree. We need some time to relax. We’re only human, Enjolras.”
Unbidden, the image rises in his mind of Greece, the clear open waters and the baking hot heat. The ground shudders under his feet, a tremor as a car goes rushing past, and he stirs his spoon around his coffee.
“We all need to rest at some point,” he continues, gentle, "Even you."
He remembers Courfeyrac saying, stop dreaming.
There’s a ripple in his coffee, like the start of a horror movie when something huge and terrifying makes it’s move in the distance. Completely at odds with the dreary but entirely normal Parisian day. He aches for the warm, hot sun of Greece.
Within seconds he’s on his feet and there are guns in his hands, pointed at the hearts of his two best friends in the world. Only they’re not his best friends, not really, he doesn’t need a totem to tell him that. Just the knowledge that there was always a brisk wind in Greece because they’d been so close to the sea, and the sea hadn't been calm and empty, because fishermen had always been out, bright dots near the horizon.
“Don’t do this, Enjolras,” Combeferre says, ever the diplomat, even as his hand reaches for his own gun. “You’re stressed and tired and seeing enemies where there aren’t any.”
“Bullshit,” says Enjolras, and shoots.
The dream collapses.
- - -
He wakes up on his back in their room above the Musain, the IV stuck in his arm, unable to tell which way is up and surrounded by the others.
“What the fuck,” he says, “Courfeyrac, Combeferre — fuck. Was that you?”
Courfeyrac is sitting on the chair directly opposite him, casually pulling the IV out of his arm. Next to him is Éponine, making the same movement, and both of them look far too smug for people who Enjolras just shot at point blank range. It takes a moment for his thoughts to rearrange, to see past the huge and sudden betrayal to realise that it hadn’t been Combeferre and Courfeyrac at all, that it had been…
“You were Courfeyrac?” he asks Éponine, and she arches an eyebrow at him, as if to say duh.
Which means Courfeyrac was Combeferre and fuck, he hadn’t even realised. Emerging from the dream of Greece, he’d just accepted that they were who they said they were, and it takes a moment for him to sift through the dream, through the dreams, and his next question is, “You took me down two levels?”
“Yes,” says Combeferre, not bothering to lie as he appears at his shoulder. Courfeyrac had even gotten down the immaculately pressed suit he wears, the flash of cuff links at his wrists. “I wanted to see if we could convince you it was real. Joly had a sedative to try, and Jehan had a maze to build. What clued you in?”
The plan five - fuck, fifteen - minutes ago had just been to send Enjolras under to the first layer of his dreams, to see if someone could plant an idea there at its simplest form. There had been no mention or discussion of going deeper, and he wouldn’t have been able to tell, the two had fitting together so flawlessly, the memory of Greece and the relaxation leading to the meeting with Combeferre and Courfeyrac, at a Café that wasn’t the Musain because they were told never to build from reality.
“Greece wasn’t believable,” he replies, “It was too… dreamy. Too perfect.”
“I didn’t create any of it from real landmarks,” Jehan defends himself, “I took your memories and built on them, created a maze. I did exactly what you told me to do.”
“You did,” Enjolras agrees, “But it was too much like a dream.”
“But what does that even mean,” Courfeyrac demands, exasperated.
“It means it won’t convince Pontmercy,” Enjolras says, finally tugging the IV out of his arm and getting to his feet, “Because if we plant the idea in a fantastical, too-perfect world, it will always just be that. A dream. We need to plant the idea in a dream so realistic he thinks the idea came from outside, from reality.”
“But how do we do that without building on places we already know? We’re not supposed to build from the real world for fear of tipping off the subconscious that something’s wrong.”
“I know,” says Enjolras, "I need some time to plan."
He heads straight for his own rooms at the back of the Musain, watches his totem spin on the spot and then falter,reality catching up to it. His mind is filled with memories of Greece and wine and an Architect that had changed everything.
- - -
“Jehan’s a good architect for the first layer, even the second, at a push,” Combeferre acknowledges, later that night at one of their triumvirate meetings, “We know Marius dreams in romance novels. But when we go lower, when inception takes us deeper—”
“We need someone else,” Courfeyrac finishes for him, “Someone who does realism like no other. Someone like—”
“Grantaire,” says Enjolras.
- - -
It becomes quickly apparent however, that no one knows where Grantaire is, that no one’s seen him since Sicily and that they wouldn’t even know where to start. It’s almost as if he had just dropped entirely off the map.
Enjolras isn’t too worried; he knows that Grantaire is a master at disappearing, that a Grantaire who could be found easily was more terrifying than one who couldn't. But that doesn’t exactly help their predicament.
He leaves Courfeyrac in charge in Paris and catches the next available flight to Brazil with Combeferre. They both ignore the way his hands shake when he orders alcohol on the plane then doesn’t even bother to drink it, just stares at the clear liquid inside and rolls the bottle between his palms.
Feuilly’s knowledge of the underworld brought only a few rumours, a few supposed sightings, whilst Courfeyrac’s contacts were even more vague. No one had a secure hold, not until Éponine had cornered him in the Musain one day and said, “I don’t like this, but if you’re determined to do it, and I can see that you are, then you know who you need to talk to.”
He did, and he hadn’t wanted to acknowledge it, hated talking to him with a passion reserved for no other, but it was the only lead he had in a timescale that was rapidly narrowing. So he followed Éponine’s directions to Santa Luzia in Minas Gerais, and tried to ignore the niggling thought at the back of his mind, an itch he couldn't scratch, a voice reminding him of the most important thing.
No one could find Grantaire without Grantaire's help.
- - -
They find him in a little bar in the middle of the city, holding court and looking smug, like nothing could possibly touch him. His eyes widen when they meet Enjolras’s, across the room, then narrow when Combeferre steps in beside him.
He’s gestured through to a back room, a dark and dim place lit by a single bulb, hanging precariously from a wire that dangles from the ceiling. The room is well-furnished, with wall-to-ceiling bookcases and a huge mahogany desk, a poor person’s attempt at grandeur, and Enjolras just crosses his arms over his chest, unimpressed.
“Where is he?”
“How the mighty fall in love,” Montparnasse drawls, and there’s a curl to his lips that’s not quite condescension, not quite sympathy, but something lost in between. There’s a soft look in his eyes that wasn’t there when his eyes first met Enjolras’s, a look that speaks of a girl who never looked twice in his direction, and for a second Enjolras almost feels sorry for him, then he adds, “I told you not to get involved with him.”
Which - to be fair, he had. A lot of people had. But Enjolras hadn’t listened, had been stubborn, and even now, after what had gone down in Sicily, he still stood by his decision to trust Grantaire. He’d been the best Architect he’d ever seen, crafting dreams that felt more believable than reality, the raw and brutal landscapes that made you ache and feel and want and need.
He looks at Montparnasse, at the sardonic twist of his lips and the edge of pity in his expression, and something inside him snaps. He curls his hand in that ridiculous ponytail, and has enough time to acknowledge that the hair is silky-soft before he slams Montparnasse’s face down into the desk he’s sat behind, and holds him there, even when he struggles.
“There are two ways to do this,” he says, voice deliberately toneless. “Either you get me the information I want or you don’t. In both situations, you’re leaving here bloody. Your choice is whether you can walk, or he has to carry you.”
He spares a glance at Claquesous, who had followed them into the back room, a pathetic attempt at security, and is currently lying flat on the floor with Combeferre’’s foot pressed against his windpipe, wheezing through a broken nose.
He swears long and bloody and pathetically, cursing Enjolras and threatening him with the name of every politician he knows and every crime he’s committed, until Enjolras slams his forehead down onto the desk again.
“Fine,” Montparnasse spits, jerking back, and this time Enjolras releases him, watching carefully as he rears back in his seat. “Fine,” he says again, “I’ll tell you where he is - where he was last seen, but what makes you think he wants to see you?”
It’s a question that’s been playing around Enjolras’s mind ever since the decision was made to find Grantaire, but one he’s pushed firmly to one side behind lock and key. It remains there now, distant and ignored as he looks down at Montparnasse coolly.
“What makes you think he has a choice?” he returns, and has the rare joy of seeing Montparnasse genuinely surprised. He lifts his shoulders in a shrug and adds, “I’ve been gone for four years. Things change. What’s the address?”
“Four years in prison,” Montparnasse agrees and he’s wary now, as he should have been when Enjolras walked into the bar, but all Enjolras cares about now is how he is now finally pulling out a notepad from his desk and beginning to write down an address. He can make a point about who’s really in charge here later, when time isn’t of the essence and he doesn’t have the bigger picture to worry about. They both ignore the blood running a sticky trail down his face, dripping unhurriedly onto the mahogany desk.
Finally he’s done, and Combeferre returns to Enjolras’s side as the notepad page is ripped out and pushed across the desk to him. Enjolras glances down at it, feels his stomach flip over when he reads what’s written, then schools his face into bored neutrality as he folds it in half and slips it into his pocket.
“Pleasure doing business,” Montparnasse drawls, and when he smiles, his teeth are outlined with his blood.
Enjolras doesn’t look back.
- - -
The address leads them to Amapa, on the border of French Guiana, to a street with no name and a block of buildings that are only half finished.
Since they left Montparnasse, Combeferre has been watching him. Not enough for it to be an intrusion, but little glances to the side when he thinks he’s not looking. They say far more than words ever could.
Enjolras takes the stairs up to Grantaire’s floor two at a time, the sound of his footsteps reverberating and echoing back to him. His hand curls around the gun in his pocket, not knowing what to expect, and apart from their breathing, the whole place is silent. He hates silence; it puts him on edge.
Combeferre makes quick work of the lock into Grantaire’s apartment - they know they’re not wanted, so they don’t even bother with the pretense of knocking - and when it swings open the whole place is in darkness. Enjolras’s foot hits an empty bottle and it skitters, rolling across the floor, and he just barely resists the urge to smash it with his heel in his frustration.
They pass two doors and Combeferre nods, a silent acknowledgement that he will look into the rooms whilst Enjolras continues on, further into the darkness. He emerges in what passes for a living area, the only light coming in through the window on the far side of the room, catching on the empty cans and bottles and boxes strewn out across the floor. The only sofa is lumpy, battered and stained, and a wooden crate works as a table of sorts.
There’s a glass ashtray on the windowsill, a cigarette balancing on the edge, and the smoke still twisting from the end tells him he’s fucked up.
"Hello, Apollo," a familiar voice drawls, sparking to life cigarettes in the darkness and gravel against his skin, the rush of bitter-cold air and a thousand other sensations that had only ever been conjured up realistically by one person in his life.
His skin feels paper-thin, translucent, and his hands curl into fists at his sides as he turns.
The first thing he sees are cobalt eyes, a colour so vivid it always made him doubt he was in the real world; but they were also how he knew he was, because in the dreamworld, Grantaire's eyes were always duller, less vibrant. As if he could never believe that his own eyes were as startling as they actually were.
The second thing he sees the gun pointed straight between his own.
Combeferre, reliant, steady Combeferre, appears in the shadows behind Grantaire. He points his gun at Grantaire, looks to Enjolras for the order, waits for his decision, but Enjolras can’t think past the white noise in his head, can’t tear his eyes away from Grantaire and the grim determination on his face.
This always happens when he hasn’t seen Grantaire for a while, just when he’s convinced himself that the impossible effect he has over him doesn’t exist. It happens every time and he’s still floored by the flood of emotions and the ache and the need and the want and it’s absolutely fucking ridiculous how just being in the same room as Grantaire makes him want to throw himself down at his feet or sink his hands into his hair or tear his walls down with just a few choice words and God, this was such a bad idea, this is awful, he can’t do this.
“We have a job for you,” says Combeferre, ever-calm, assessing Enjolras’s mental state and smoothly taking over, the second-in-command at work.
“You’re the only person who can do what we’re proposing, the only one good enough.”
“Save the flattery for people who care. You’re better than flowery rhetoric, Combeferre.”
“Fine, we’re desperate, you’re what we need. What’s your price?”
“Nothing you can afford. I have a life just fine here, I don’t need your charity.”
Grantaire doesn’t take his eyes away from Enjolras’s the whole time, doesn’t look anywhere but at him, and he’s losing himself again, the world is slipping, he’s thinking of Sicily and collapsing dreams and waking up to a bullet between the eyes.
He drives his fingernails into his palms and says, “Because it looks like you’re surviving so well.” And he tears his gaze away, finally, to look at the room around them, the squalor, the mess.
“Fuck you,” says Grantaire, “Get out of my apartment.”
He throws the challenge down carelessly, but it’s loaded with so much more than the conversation now and what had happened before. It’s a memory of a time when such a challenge had led to something else, something different, a time when they had almost - nearly - worked.
Grantaire looks at him through narrowed eyes, searching his expression for something Enjolras doesn’t even know he’s capable of any more. He keeps the gun trained on his head for exactly another ten seconds, then he flicks the safety back on and lowers his arm. Combeferre does the same, though his body is tense, alert, ready to spring should Grantaire call an abrupt end to negotiations by trying to kill him.
“Five minutes,” he says, “Then you leave.”
Combeferre launches straight into it, outlines the plan and throws all caution to the wind, as Enjolras moves around the apartment, restless, wanting to do so much but refusing to let himself. He’s aware of Grantaire’s eyes on him the whole time, ignores them the best way he knows how, through quiet disdain, like he has no time or desire to be here.
When the five minutes are up he stops and turns, sees the expression on Grantaire’s face, the way he’s already thinking of a way to say no. When their eyes meet the question is silent, unasked, but Enjolras can read him in the dark with his eyes closed. It was always going to come down to this anyway; Combeferre’s presence was just a formality, them playing at being civil and caring what others thought when in reality it always came down to this.
To the two of them.
“I need you,” he says.
Grantaire grabs a small sketchpad from the sofa, a packet of cigarettes from the crate-table, tucks both into a pocket inside his jacket, and picks up a bottle of wine from the window ledge as they leave. He doesn’t look back.
- - -
In the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Combeferre announces:
“We have a tail.”
He says it casually, like they’re talking about the weather, but his stance has shifted, ever-so-slightly, from strolling down the street to preparing for a firefight.
“I was wondering when you were going to notice it,” says Grantaire, and Enjolras won’t rise to the bait and yell at him, he won’t. “It’s been on you since you left Montparnasse’s little dive.” Enjolras bites the inside of his cheek, tastes blood.
“How many?” he asks, clenching his hands into fists.
“Four. It’s you they’re after, no doubt,” Grantaire says, “Word has it you stole his favourite little forger, and lord knows there’s a sizeable bounty on your head. You’ve pissed off a lot of people, in your time.”
“They deserved it,” Enjolras replies absently, already working out the logistics in his head. “I don’t know Rio. Combeferre?”
“Enough,” he says, shifting his weight, lowering his centre of gravity as they pause at a busy intersection.
“See you at the airport?”
“If he’s not on the flight, I’m coming for you,” Combeferre informs Grantaire, bluntly vicious, and reaches into his jacket for his gun. They don’t see him pull it out; the lights at the intersection have already changed, and Grantaire is pulling him across the road by a hand on his elbow. There’s a shout and then they disappear into the crowds, a scream, and then they break into a run.
“Never a dull moment with you is there?” Grantaire asks, as they turn sharply into a narrow side-street. He pulls a gun out of his jacket, twists a silencer onto the end and fires a shot over his shoulder. Two men followed them into the street, only one follows them out as they go skidding in front of a speeding car and burst into a busy restaurant.
“You’d be surprised,” Enjolras tells him, as they run up the stairs at the back of the restaurant, barrelling into the upper floors, a series of cheap box apartments. There’s the crash of plates and glass behind them as their pursuer follows. “Prison isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
That earns a sharp inhalation of breath from Grantaire, eyes catching his across the staircase and he says, “About that - what happened—”
“Not now,” Enjolras hisses, and shoves him, bodily, into the nearest door. They go staggering through into someone’s apartment, two young children staring at them as they stumble through into the back room and over to where Enjolras spots a fire escape, through the window of the kitchen.
“Something heavy,” he gasps, and Grantaire chucks a rolling pin with one hand, and turns flawlessly on the spot to fire the gun with his other, causing the man who had been about to storm in to fall back suddenly, swearing. Enjolras doesn’t waste time seeing if he’s dead, just slams the rolling pin into the window. It takes one hit, two, and then the glass shatters. He tosses the pin out first then grabs a tea towel, wrapping it around his hand as he hits out what’s left of the glass and uses it for protection as he hauls himself through. He staggers when his feet hit the rickety, rusting structure, then catches his balance in time to see Grantaire diving through after him.
“Pretty sure we just traumatised those two kids for life,” he says, as he lands and kicks the ladder down into place. It lets out a series of thuds as each section shoots out, causing the fire escape to shudder, but then there’s a shout from the kitchen window and Enjolras doesn’t hesitate, just grabs on and skids down to the ground.
“They’ll deal,” he says shortly, and has just enough time to catch his breath before Grantaire lands on the pavement next to him, agile as a cat, and drags him off into another side street. This time he pulls him into a little alcove, a doorway that has been boarded up so long ago the wood has started to rot.
When he turns to say something he finds Grantaire looking at him intently, the words already tripping out of him as he says, “Look, I didn’t know about — If I had any idea that you were going to—”
“Not now,” Enjolras hisses, and shoves a hand over his mouth. He makes himself ignore the stubble brushing against his skin and the breath tickling his palm, focuses instead on the footsteps of the guy who was pursuing them, light and agile. He glances into the alley, takes time his time about checking it out, then there’s a shout and a commotion from further down the street and he disappears.
Enjolras relaxes, tilting his head back against the rotting wood, and closes his eyes.
He gives himself two seconds to get his breath back, two seconds of utter relaxation, and then pushes away. “Let's go.”
They meet Combeferre at the check-in desk, already printing off their boarding cards.
- - -
It’s night on the plane and all the window covers have been drawn down. Most people are fast asleep with their head pillowed on cushions and folded clothes and each other. When he’d left them, Grantaire had been dozing with his face resting on his sketchbook, whilst Combeferre tapped away at something on his phone.
Combeferre had looked up, curious, when Enjolras got to his feet but Enjolras had shaken his head mutely, gaze shifting to Grantaire for a split second, and disappeared down the aisle. He’d gone to the toilets at the far end of the plane, giving himself some time to think and some space to breathe.
This time of night there was no queue, so he had gone straight into one of the cubicles and locked the door behind him.
He had taken his jacket off, hung it on the hook on the back of the door, rolled his sleeves up to the elbow, loosened his tie and had a very quiet, very efficient and very total melt-down. He had given in to four years worth of feelings and dug his fingers into the counter until his knuckles went white, had closed his eyes and let the images and memories come rushing back in one never-ending, all-consuming, engulfing wave.
He had wanted to walk back to his seat and grab Grantaire by his shoulders, wanted to shake him and scream at him until he explained why he left, wanted to slam him up against the wall in this cubicle and kiss him until he forgot how to breathe, wanted to get off this plane the moment it landed and never looked back.
He had allowed himself one moment of total, utter, vulnerability.
Then he pulled himself back together.
He sticks his hands under the sink, splashes water on his face, combs his hands back through his hair and then takes a breath to ground himself again. He can do this, he can get through it. He’s toppled dictators and changed whole regimes. He can work in the same team as Grantaire until they successfully pull off inception, and then he can walk away.
He pulls his jacket back on, smooths out the sleeves, and unlocks the door.
Grantaire corners him on his way back, near the little halfway point where the attendants prepare the food. They’re all absent at the moment, dealing with requests and queries at other points on the plane, and so it’s easy for Grantaire to pull him into the alcove and tug the curtain back into place to hide them.
“We need to talk.”
He’s still attractive; almost unbearably so. Enjolras has never met someone whom his body has had such a physical reaction to before or ever or since, but his meltdown in the toilets has made it something he can push to one side, accepted but unimportant. He’s gotten through the first wave of longing and now he can whittle it away, burning it into ice, until he can focus on nothing but the job and Grantaire as a tool for him to use.
He crosses his arms over his chest and leans back against the cabinet of food trays. “So talk.”
Grantaire frowns, takes a breath, then bursts straight in with something he hadn’t expected, “Are you out of your god-damned mind?”
“Inception? Really? On Gillenormand?” He hadn’t been sleeping against his sketch pad at all. He’d been running over the plan Combeferre had explained to him back at his flat, his incredibly sharp mind working through all the knots and the snags and his cynicism latching onto all the ways it could go wrong. “I thought prison might have made you realise that some ideas are too big, but—”
Enjolras remembers why it is he’s always on a knife-edge when Grantaire’s around, because whilst on the one hand he wants to rip all his clothes off, at the same time he wants, very seriously, to kill him.
“Oh did you?” he drawls, his lips curling at the implication that prison might be good for him.
Grantaire doesn’t even falter, just continues, “You just don’t stop, do you? No matter what goes wrong, no matter who gets hurt. These are people and you’re messing with their lives, Enjolras. You pull this off successfully and you change a man’s life forever—”
“What are you now? A preacher? Going to tell me about some higher power and our own inevitable fates?”
“No, I’m trying to make you remember that dreams belong to people and that if you don’t pull this off we’re all going to prison.”
“You’re too late for that,” Enjolras replies, “Éponine already pointed this out, weeks ago. They all agreed, they know what they’re getting into.”
“But do you?”
“Of course I do!” he snaps, then reins himself back in, remembers to take a breath. He’s not letting Grantaire get under his skin. He shifts his weight and unfolds his arms from his chest, taking a step forwards towards Grantaire. “I, more than anyone, know exactly what happens when you put your trust in someone and they don’t pull through.”
Grantaire hisses in a sharp breath and a vulnerable, wounded look flashes across his face before he schools it into something neutral. “Sicily was a long time ago, Enjolras. Things have changed.”
“Funny,” replies Enjolras, summoning up the best unimpressed look he can muster. “Because everything looks exactly the same to me.”
He sees the anger flare to life in Grantaire’s eyes, and seconds later a flight attendant appears, admonishing them for being in a restricted area. In an instant he switches to all charm, apologising, backing out into the aisle with Enjolras behind him until she pulls the curtain sharply shut again.
The moment is lost, and they can’t possibly start a screaming match in the middle of the plane, so Enjolras just heads back to their seats. Grantaire follows him at a more sedate pace, trying to prove some point no doubt about how he doesn’t have to follow him, but Enjolras refuses to rise to it.
Grantaire slides straight back into his seat and closes his eyes, feigning or actually sleeping, Enjolras can't tell.
Combeferre takes one look at them both and sighs.
- - -
Getting back through Paris is easy, though he still can't shake the feeling Montparnasse is following them, or understand why it was he knew where Grantaire was. He can't afford for this plan to go wrong, for them to fail because of some miscalculation, some misstep.
So much is riding in what Grantaire can do for them, he realises, and he doesn't even know what his mental state is. Has no idea what he spent his time doing in the past four years, that led him to an almost deserted town in a derelict building on the other side of the world.
Combeferre leads the way into the Musain, heads straight up to the second floor where their operations are based, but Enjolras holds back, lets Grantaire go first. There's a certain spot, halfway up, where they're still out of sight of the rooms, but at an angle where the Café patrons can't see them either.
It's here that he grabs Grantaire's arm, halting him in place, the first real contact they've had in years.
Grantaire goes still.
When he glances back over his shoulder his eyes are questioning, and in the half light they're dark, like the night sky, but closed to him. At one time they'd never been able to keep any secrets, open and trusting and looking at Enjolras like he believed he could do anything.
He brushes the memory aside, focuses on what he came here to say.
"Are you sober?"
Grantaire's lip curls, his features sharpen. He pulls his arm out of Enjolras's grasp, leaves him reaching for empty air. "No," he replies, brutally honest, "But you knew that anyway, didn't you?” He turns his body fully, takes a step down to face him. “What is this really about, Enjolras?"
"I need to know that I - that we - can trust you. That what happened in Sicily won't happen again." He lowers his hand, moves it to rest instead on the banister. In his mind’s eye he sees them both reaching for their guns. The patrons of the Café would scream, but Enjolras has a feeling they're far from what most people would call innocent civilians.
Grantaire stands above him in silence. He is an unknown quantity, a fault in the system.
"I will build for you," he says, "But I won't dream. I gave that up a long time ago, at the bottom of a wine glass."
Enjolras is relieved; he is disappointed. He nods, and slides his hand up the banister as he begins to walk again. "We'll make the dreams," he says, "You can correct them."
Grantaire doesn't continue walking, just stays where he is on the stairs. He doesn't move, so when Enjolras slips past him their arms brush, and it feels like a lifetime to walk up two steps, like walking through treacle.
"What happened?" Grantaire asks, when he's reached the top of the stairs, "In Bordeaux?"
Enjolras's fingers clench on the bannister. His knuckles are white. "A mistake.” He doesn’t wait for Grantaire to press for more information, to find out how he got caught. Just turns at the top of the stairs and into the rooms after Combeferre.
- - -
Grantaire fits easily back into their operations, a dissenting voice in the corner, who challenges and frustrates and irritates, but makes them all the better for it. He still drinks, more than a normal person would need to get drunk, but only enough that he's freer with his words, his touches, his glances.
He takes Jehan under his wing immediately, brings out things in him Enjolras hadn't even known were possible, crafts him into an Architect the world should be afraid of. But always, close by is his pen, the reality check, his totem.
Grantaire has always made it clear what his totem is, and those close to him have worked out that it’s no ordinary pen, that there is something special about it only Grantaire knows. Most probably think of it as a laser, which is close, but in reality it’s not his totem at all.
It reveals where his totem is, if you know where to look.
He and Enjolras avoid each other, sitting on opposite ends of the room, not-quite-refusing to talk. They find a way to never be in the same place at the same time unless they have to, discover polite ways to say "fuck you" when the other makes a comment they don't like.
And oddly, it seems to work.
“You’ve got the wrong target,” says Grantaire, quietly offered one afternoon when Enjolras is walking past the table where he sits.
He’d barely glanced at the plans strewn over the tables and tacked against the wall upon his arrival in the Musain, had just dropped into a chair at the back of the room, flipped open a sketchpad and began to draw. It's since become his table, the place where he can always be found.
When he stops and looks, Grantaire continues to sketch, hasn’t taken his eyes off whatever it is he is drawing, and no one else has stopped what they’re doing to listen. The words, it seems, were meant only for him.
Part of him wants to just pretend he never heard it and walk away, but the more sensible part knows that Grantaire would not have spoken out without reason. So he turns his body fully to look at him, curves his hand in the top of the other chair at his table to pull it back. “Well?”
“Well, what do you mean we’ve got the wrong target? Is there another Président we don’t know about?” It’s hard to keep the snark out of his tone - and not shove the chair back into the table but sit down on it. Grantaire flips the sketchpad shut when he does, looks up at him finally.
“Gillenormand,” he says. “You should be focusing on Georges.”
“Georges is dead.”
“I’m aware.” Grantaire tears a page out of the sketchpad and pushes it across the table to him. Enjolras glances down at it and frowns, recognising the design but not able to place it. It’s only when he twists the paper to the left slightly that he gets it, and he recognises it as the design Marius had on the ring he and Courfeyrac found in his apartment.
“The ring belonged to his father,” Grantaire says, and how he has this information after only four days with them, Enjolras doesn’t know. But then, there are thousands of impossible things about Grantaire that have never made sense. “The approval Marius really wants is that of his father.”
“It's a bit too late for that, when his father’s dead.”
“And Marius never got to say good bye," Grantaire says easily. "Why do you think he fell out with his grandfather? The man had been keeping them apart their whole lives. You’re not going to be able to erase the anger he feels towards him, or replace it with something else. He will fester that anger in his grave.”
“Catharsis,” Enjolras says, thinking two steps ahead of what Grantaire is saying, echoing Bossuet and their conversation, weeks ago. “We make him think his father’s dying wish—”
“—Was for him to become Premier Ministre, and right all of Gillenormand’s wrongs.”
He and Grantaire just look at each other, their thoughts for once completely in tune. He's quite sure that for once, they're not about to devolve into a screaming match, and it brings a small smile to his face.
Grantaire sees, and his eyes widen slightly, a hesitant answering smile starting to appear.
It’s too similar to an acceptance of each other, to a return of old habits, and Enjolras closes it down quickly. “Thank you for telling me this,” he says formally, pushing himself up out of the chair again, and doesn’t miss the way the smile disappears instantly.
He heads straight over to Combeferre, explains what Grantaire had said about focusing their inception on Marius’s memories of Georges. Courfeyrac, overhearing, grabs the flipchart Joly had been using to write down formulas, and flips it over to a new page. He grabs a pen and takes the lid off between his teeth, somehow talking around it as he speaks.
“So at the first level we use Cosette,” he says, drawing a little caricature of her on the paper, “Get Marius to think about how he would want his father’s approval, romance novel stuff, we won’t need to change much then. At the second level we have him think about his grandfather,” he draws another picture under the first on the flipchart paper, “How his grandfather wouldn’t approve but also how that is perfectly okay, because let's face it, the guy’s a dick, who cares? We give Marius the strength to rebel. Third level, we link his grandfather to his father’s death, bringing the ideas together, how his father never did what his grandfather wanted, how he knew from the start how corrupt he was. We link that to how Marius didn’t get to see his dad before he died, the guilt he must feel, at not being there—”
“And on the fourth level,” says Enjolras, taking the pen back from him and adding the last arrow, “We plant the idea of resolution. Of doing what his father always wanted - being the Premier Ministre he would have been.”
He draws the final few lines on the plan and then steps back, to get a full look.
The whole room is completely silent.
“Fucking hell,” says Bahorel.
Enjolras takes the pen lid back from Courfeyrac, pops it back on and throws it onto the tray at the bottom of the flipchart. As he turns, his eyes, for a brief, jarring instant, catch Grantaire’s, and then he addresses the room as a whole. “Let's get to work.”
- - -
“Four levels?” Grantaire asks the next day, “You mean you were actually serious?”
“You didn’t believe me?”
“I believed that you believed that you could do it.”
Enjolras tries to work out the meaning of his words, frowns, shakes his head, moves on with the conversation: “It’s the only way the idea will take. Any higher than the third level and it becomes too obvious.”
“How do we get out?” asks Grantaire, “That many levels down, we could be there for months. What’s the kick?”
“Music,” says Joly, from the other side of the room. “The sedative’s strong, but I’ve been working on finding a way to leave the inner ear function unimpaired. Bossuet’s been my test subject.” His lips twist at the name, fond, and Grantaire’s answering smile makes Enjolras curl his hands into fists at his sides.
“So you play a song in the real world, we hear it down at the fourth level, wake up?” Grantaire asks.
“No,” says Joly, shaking his head, “The music is the cue.”
“The real kicks we haven’t planned,” Enjolras says, and he draws Grantaire’s attention to the blueprints of the mazes on the table again, “They depend on what we find on each level, what Marius’s subconscious brings in. The music is our cue to enact the kick, heard on each level, so we synchronise and scale through four levels at once.”
Grantaire nods, looking thoughtful, then he glances back over his shoulder at Joly. “You got a song picked out yet?”
“No, why? You got a suggestion?”
Feuilly appears then to ask him something, and Enjolras leaves Joly and Grantaire to their discussion. He forgets about the conversation entirely, caught up instead by the rest of the planning, now that they’re shifting it to focus on Marius’s relationship with his father, rather than the Président . The levels have to change as a result, better suited to a world that reflects familial love, rather than aloof, cold expectations.
Grantaire helps out with ease, crafting and shifting dreams with a blink, a wave of his hand. As he said on the stairs, he doesn’t dream, but he makes such startling changes to the ones they let him into that Enjolras is almost scared of finding out what is in his head. He doesn’t talk about it, but there’s a haunted look in his eyes, sometimes, and he fiddles with his pen.
The differences Grantaire makes to dreams are so subtle it’s nearly impossible to see them, and Enjolras even finds himself sucked entirely into one in what is an echo of a happy family garden party, in a place that looks like Rouen but not quite, when music blasts to life in his ear.
Wake me up, before you go go.
He snarls himself back to reality in anger, finds Bossuet and Grantaire laughing in the corner of the room and snaps, “No.”
The second time it happens it’s an even older song, Children of the Revolution.
The third time, when Never Gonna Give You Up blares in his ear, he snaps.
He doesn’t even wait for the official kick, just hauls himself out of the dream with a knife to the chest, finds Grantaire’s infuriating smirk across the room, and takes two strides to get to him. He doesn’t wait for the others to surface, just curls a hand in the front of his shirt and drags, hauling him out of the room and down the hall, shoving him in another room and slamming the door behind them. Belatedly, he realises that it’s his own room, but it doesn’t matter, what’s important is finally having an outlet for the roiling anger that’s been building ever since everyone took Grantaire back so easily, like he hadn’t abandoned them near Sicily.
“What the hell do you think you’re playing at?” he demands, gets his hand twisted in the front of Grantaire’s shirt again, slams him against the wall. “You think this is a game?”
Grantaire struggles under his grip, gets his hands in the collar of Enjolras’s shirt, but the angle is awkward, not giving him enough room to shove him away. Still he makes a very good go of it, his body bowing at the waist then straightening suddenly, and Enjolras’s feet shift over the wooden slats of the floor.
“I think this is you exploding at me for no fucking reason,” Grantaire replies, twisting his body and shoving forwards with all his might. Enjolras digs his heels into the floor but feels himself give an inch, two. “Though I suppose this is exactly what you’ve been waiting for, isn’t it? Ever since you found me you’ve wanted to yell at me, let's not pretend this is about the songs.”
“Shut up,” Enjolras hisses, bringing Grantaire’s whole body forwards so that he can slam him back against the wall. Only the movement is exactly what Grantaire wanted (and it’s stupid of him to have not seen that, he always does) and his whole body goes dead in his arms, boneless, the sudden weight staggering Enjolras as he steps back and it’s all Grantaire needs to get a hand around his arm instead, spinning him around and slamming him back against the wall instead.
“This is about Sicily, you know it is, and whatever the fuck happened in Bordeaux, so get it out, get it all out, yell at me about how everything is all my fault. How I drank too much and was never good enough and how you shouldn’t have trusted me in the first place. ”
He slams Enjolras’s hand into the wall above his head, fingers wrapped tight around his wrist to keep him in place, and Enjolras just stares at him, dumbfounded, because how can someone be so wrong about everything? His gaze falls and catches on the neck of his shirt, on the tattoo he knows that is twisted around his chest, invisible unless seen under UV light.
He struggles, arches his body up, but that just pushes him against Grantaire, who has a leg wedged between his to keep him in place. Grantaire’s breathing heavily and his whole body is tense with his anger, but he’s self-deprecating and mocking when he says, “I wasn’t good enough for the job in Sicily and I messed it all up, I know that, I’ve spent four years hating myself for that, but what happened in Bordeaux was not my fault!”
Enjolras’s free hand, which had been creeping up his chest whilst Grantaire spoke, the anger fading, tightened suddenly, shoving at him as hard as he possibly could.
“Of course it was your fucking fault!”
“I wasn’t even there!”
"If you were there it wouldn't have fallen apart!" Enjolras explodes, and now the words are out, the bruise he's been ignoring for so long flares back to life and it's as if he can't stop poking it. "If you had been there, if you had built the world, he wouldn't have noticed, he wouldn't have worked it out, I wouldn't have spent four years in prison for extraction. We'd never have been caught if it had been you - if it - why wasn't it you?"
His voice breaks on the last word and it feels like he can't breathe because that's what it all comes down to, doesn't it? That Grantaire left, that Grantaire walked away, that for all his talk of believing in Enjolras and the looks he'd used to send him across the room, it had all come down to nothing, really.
Nothing, and the silence had had left behind.
Grantaire’s grip slackens on his wrist, and Enjolras’s hand slips down in his, till their palms are brushing and then their fingers are sliding together, and Enjolras’s free hand has shifted to curve around his neck. He can feel Grantaire’s racing pulse under his thumb and when he presses down is rewarded with a soft inhalation of breath.
“I hate you,” he breathes into the space between Grantaire’s lips, and then they’re kissing. Grantaire tastes faintly of cigarettes and wine and lost time, and deepens the kiss when Enjolras gets a hand in his hair and tugs, bringing them closer together.
“The feeling’s mutual,” he gasps, when Enjolras releases his mouth for long enough to catch a breath.
But Enjolras isn’t listening to his words, he’s too caught up the movements, what it feels like to have Grantaire against him again. This was always where their arguments led, what happened when they snapped and got tired of pretending to play nice. There had always been a spark between them, like fire — and he’d always been warned that it would burn out.
He thought it had, whilst he’d been away. Had thought that letting Grantaire go in Sicily would dampen it, would extinguish the flame. But it hadn’t, God, it hadn’t.
Grantaire shoves his thigh higher between his legs, pushing against him through the fabric of his trousers and he takes in a ragged breath, says, “You should have stayed, you shouldn’t have left—” as Grantaire gets his hands in the bottom of his shirt and tugs, pulling it out so he can get his hands, calloused and warm and rough on the bare skin of his stomach.
“Right,” Grantaire says, and he laughs, low, against Enjolras’s neck, where his teeth are doing awful things to his self-control, “Stayed when you’d were already convinced that I was a disappointment, I did it—” he cuts himself off with a surprised sound, looks down when his fingers skim over the ragged bumps of a scar on Enjolras’s hip. “What—”
“Prison,” Enjolras mutters, “Knife. Someone thought they could tell me what to do.” He gets his hands on Grantaire’s shoulders, uses it to pull him even closer, so they’re pressed together from chest to hip. “They didn’t talk again. What were you saying?”
Grantaire’s eyes flutter when he drags his mouth down his neck, gets his teeth in the juncture where neck meets shoulder and bites. His whole body arches as he says, “It was my fault, so I left and Montparnasse—”
The name is enough to still Enjolras completely, make him freeze in place, even as Grantaire tries to kiss him again.
“No,” he says, cold anger starting to burn the heat out of his veins, “What did you say?”
He uses his grip on Grantaire’s shoulders to push him away, and he goes, an arm’s length, two, but it’s not far enough. God, he looks wrecked and dishevelled and longing, and all Enjolras wants to do is forget his words and pull him back, but somehow he manages to curl his hands into fists at his side instead.
“Montparnasse,” Grantaire says, “After I left you, that’s where I went.”
“You went to — he’s a criminal!”
“So are you!”
“It’s not the same!”
“Oh, Christ, I forgot, it’s alright for you to screw over people’s lives and mess with their heads, because you’re doing it for some presumed higher purpose, like that’s all well and good. Thank you for reminding me that you have absolutely no morals.”
His mind shifts to a conversation, in a bar in a village in Sweden, to Grantaire saying I’m an alcoholic and Enjolras asking why and Grantaire saying because otherwise I think about what we’re doing, what I’m capable of.
He’d always been torn by the necessity of what they did versus the moral implications, and Enjolras can see him wrestling with them now. His drinking had always been part of the package - his way of coping - but when the jobs had gotten bigger it had started to get worse, he’d started to drink more, until his fingers were numb and they were in a little town in Sicily and the dream collapsed around them and Enjolras woke up to a bullet between his eyes.
Enjolras takes a breath, smooths his hands back through his hair, straightens his shirt. Grantaire doesn’t bother to do the same, remains as wrecked as he was when he’d been moaning against him.
“We’re done here.” He stands straight, staring resolutely at a point over Grantaire’s shoulder until he moves, walking out of the room without a backwards glance.
- - -
Though they had planted the idea in a dream that had purely been done to see how many levels down they could go, Courfeyrac and Éponine were serious about giving everyone some time off from the con. For every five minutes they were spending in the real world, they were spending an hour on the next level down, then a week after that, and it could take a huge mental toll on the dreamer, when they woke up and the world had barely moved on.
So Enjolras finds himself talked into a night out at the Corinthe, a wine bar not too far from the Musain. In places like this, social spaces where the only directive is to have fun, Courfeyrac is in charge. Enjolras takes a step back, feels a weight lifting off his shoulders, and the time to actually remind himself that these are his friends, his closest confidants, that they’re the closest thing he has to a family, after disowning his own at seventeen.
Combeferre’s expression is mild amusement when they arrive in the bar, his suit pristine and perfect as always. His posture is perfect, his gaze never lingering on one thing for too long, and he has the sort of presence that just makes people want to prove him wrong. They rarely do. Enjolras can see the way Courfeyrac looks at him, across the room, the slight narrow to his eyes that comes when he sees a challenge, his own suit discarded in favour of dark jeans and a button-down top.
What surprises Enjolras is that Grantaire is here, and that he’s right in the centre of things. During their planning meetings and work at the Musain he’s always on the periphery, sat on the outskirts, looking in rather than taking part. But in the Corinthe he’s something else entirely; now Enjolras is on the outside, looking in, and Grantaire is at the middle of it all.
He heads to the bar with Combeferre, content to just let his friends have their time to relax. They order a round of shots and a bottle of wine and demolish the first, and are making a substantial dent in the second when Courfeyrac appears. It’s clear immediately that his intention is Combeferre, and so Enjolras excuses himself (with the rest of the wine) to find someone else.
Joly, Bossuet and Grantaire are at a table together, which he detours to avoid, and Feuilly and Bahorel are trying to talk the girl behind the bar into giving them some sort of drink with actual gold in it. Enjolras finds Éponine sat at the far end of the bar, twirling a stirrer around her drink, her attention focused somewhere outside the room.
Things have been frosty between them ever since their argument over Éponine’s feelings towards Marius, and she regards him with cool indifference now as he slips into the seat next to her.
“I’m off the clock,” he says, “Don’t worry. I’m not going to yell at you for reasons that aren’t entirely your fault.”
It’s the closest he’s going to come to an apology; it sits heavy on his tongue. Éponine looks up at him, amused, and says, “Buy me a drink.” He gets her four.
Whilst the others pair off, group up and then separate, a rapidly shifting group of people, he and Éponine stay together. She gets dirtier and filthier the night goes on, rating every man in the bar and then some women besides (“Being a forger, you get a great appreciation for people’s bodies.”), so he shouldn’t be surprised when she says, “I’d screw Grantaire.”
He knocks back a shot.
“It’s a shame you ruined him for everyone.”
He shoots her a sharp glare. “I didn’t ruin anyone.”
“Oh please, he’s been absolute hell the last four years and you know it. Everyone tried to get him back into dreamsharing but he always said no, even when Bahorel pulled out the ‘we’ve been friends forever’ card, then you turn up, travel halfway across the world to find him and twenty-four hours later he’s back and working as an Architect?”
“What do you mean?” Enjolras asks, ignoring the second part of what she said to focus on the first. “You all talked to him?” Éponine gives him a strange look at that, and he prompts, “After what happened in Sicily?”
She shrugs and waves a hand in the air then curls her fingers around another glass. “Mistakes happen, we’ve all made them.” She downs the shot and adds, “And you’re kind of hard to deal with when someone disappoints you. Does it really surprise you that he left?”
“But he kept in touch with you?” he presses, and she just gives him an unbearably soft look.
“He didn’t leave us,” she says, “He left you.”
- - -
The final problem, the last move on the chessboard, is getting Marius to dream.
He, Combeferre and Courfeyrac throw ideas back and forth for hours, taking suggestions from all the others as they come into the Musain throughout the day. It’s not until Enjolras thinks it’s utterly hopeless that Grantaire speaks up.
“The kid’s, what, seventeen?”
“Same difference. You said he’s at University, right? Then it’s simple. All you have to do is throw a party, any kind of party, it doesn’t matter. Take the PASIV with you, talk about how it’s all the rage, market it like those things all the hipsters have, shisha pipes, whatever, he’ll go under willingly, expecting some kind of hit, and afterwards you can just say weird dreams are a side-effect.”
“That’s… actually, not a bad idea,” says Courfeyrac, looking impressed. “We’ll have to - by which I mean I’ll have to - introduce him to some other stuff, to get him at the point, but it shouldn’t be too hard.”
Grantaire grins, and leans back on two legs on his chair, “What did you all do without me?”
Enjolras nudges the leg of his chair with his foot, causing him to flail and slam back onto all four legs with a glare. “Planned the rest of this operation.”
He doesn’t bother to look at Grantaire’s expression - he has a pretty good guess of what it will be already - just moves straight on to getting a list drawn up for Feuilly of what substances they can introduce Marius to before the dream. Little things, innocuous at first, and nothing that will have any long-lasting effects.
- - -
The night before the plan gets set into motion, Enjolras can’t sleep.
He flips the lamp on next to his bed and sits up, digging the palms of his hands into his eyes. There’s so much resting on this, so much that could go wrong. He feels frayed at the edges, holding too many strings in motion. He wants to turn over, wants to curl into the familiar warmth of a body, hear, “You’re thinking too much, Apollo,” and respond that there’s no such thing.
Instead he pushes the covers down to the end of the bed and gets up. He finds his trousers from the day before and his shirt and tugs both on, heading out of his room. The others are all fast asleep, the doors to their rooms pushed tight and locked, but the door to the planning room is open.
His feet are drawn towards it and he pushes the door open, not knowing what he’ll see.
He doesn’t expect it to be Grantaire, lying back in one of the chairs, hooked up to the PASIV, asleep.
There’s no one else around, no one who he could possibly be dreaming with, and curiosity takes over. Enjolras doesn’t even hesitate, just walks over to the PASIV. He doesn’t take his eyes off Grantaire, just hooks himself up and slips under.
- - -
He wakes up at the top of a very large hill, looking down on a small village below. His feet follow the cobbled stone path, kicking up dust as he walks. The town is mostly empty, save from a few people he glimpses out of the corner of his eye. When he turns to try and get a better look at them, they disappear into the shadows, invisible.
Between the buildings he can see landmarks, huge and indescribable, belonging to famous artists and sculptors he never knew the name of. His feet lead him to the one house with an open door, a simple, one-story building with a thatched roof. He has to duck his head as he enters, and when he looks back up again he's in a busy city in another part of the world.
Tower blocks loom to his left and his right and behind him is a battered old fire escape. He tries pushing on the handle but nothing happens, it stays in place, then as he moves his hand it shifts, becoming paint suddenly, an artist's impression on a wall.
The whole place is an oddity, twisting streets that turn back in on themselves and impossible structures that startle the skyline. He could get lost in here for hours, exploring the different contradictions and impossibilities, but that's not what he came here for. As soon as he thinks it he sees the Café, the huge glass window looking out onto the street, and a bell chimes above the door as he steps in. Grantaire's sat at a table next to the window, a sketchpad open in front of him.
“Figured you’d come here eventually,” he says, not looking up when Enjolras approaches. There’s ink smudged on his fingertips and a lit cigarette resting in a glass ashtray. He picks it up as Enjolras sits down opposite him at the table.
“I thought you can’t dream.”
“Won’t,” Grantaire corrects, “Slight difference.”
He’s infuriating; the world he’s built here is incredible, and Enjolras can see no problem with it. It’s far better, far more realistic, far more convincing than anything anyone else would be able to create. Almost as soon as he has the thought the ceramic mug by Grantaire’s hand shatters, scalding hot coffee spilling onto the floor.
“What the fuck.”
“Hm,” says Grantaire, dabbing at a bit of coffee that landed on his sketch with his sleeve, “Didn’t take as long as I thought, this time.”
“What are you talking about? What’s going on here? Grantaire—” Enjolras reaches out for his arm, gets his fingers wrapped around his wrist, and someone drops a tray of plates a few tables over. “Look at me. What’s happening?”
Grantaire just keeps sketching, says, “What always happens. It falls apart.”
Enjolras shoves his chair back, stands up sharply, and the window explodes.
Glass shatters around them and people start to scream. Enjolras refuses to let go of Grantaire’s wrist, keeps hold of it even a previously-harmless barista tries to separate them. He grinds his elbow back into the barista and moves closer to Grantaire, saying, “Look at me.”
Someone stumbles into them, a foot hits the back of his knee, a car flies head-first into a lamppost outside. “Grantaire.”
Bright blue eyes look up at his suddenly, and everything goes to hell.
“I’m not trying to hurt you,” he says, pleading with Grantaire, trying to get him to see that he’s not the enemy. It won’t be the first time he’s been torn about by someone’s projections in their dream but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, and whatever’s going on here, whatever’s really happening, he doesn’t want to leave Grantaire in the middle of it.
There’s the unmistakable sound of the safety being removed on a gun, and a muzzle presses against the side of Enjolras’s head.
“Get the fuck away from him,” Grantaire growls, and his hand shifts in Enjolras’s grip, dragging his arm down to bend him at the waist, as he brings his free hand up with a gun and shoots the projection first.
Enjolras doesn’t wait for the body to hit the floor, hauls the table they were sat at over and drags Grantaire down with him, backing them against the wall of the shop. It’s a sturdy wood, some sort of oak, useful enough for them to hold out in a firefight, and when he imagines it an arsenal of guns appear, ready to be used. An arm reaches out to grab him by the neck and Grantaire aims a kick to their face, breaking their nose as Enjolras brings up one of the guns to finish the job.
“Did you just defend me from your own subconscious?” he demands, and Grantaire grins at him as he falls back against the wall.
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“What the fuck is going on here?”
“This is what happens,” Grantaire explains, “When I try to dream.”
“You turn on yourself?”
Grantaire sits up suddenly and fires three shots over the table, takes out his own projections with ruthless efficiency. Drops back down and shrugs. “Something like that.”
“Why? What’s so bad about dreaming that your own subconscious refuses to do it?” Enjolras asks, on the edge of horror. He’s never heard of anything like this before, doesn’t know how to deal with it. Projections always turn on the intruder, not the dreamer.
“It’s not necessarily the dream that’s bad, it’s the consequences. What happens after. Look around, are the projections not familiar?”
Enjolras does. It takes a while, but he eventually finds one he knows, and then another, though he can't put any names to faces. They're fuzzy and indistinct but something tugs at his gut. "They are - but who are they?"
"People from the past. Other cons, other extractions. They’re not happy with us.”
“Fucking hell Grantaire, you can’t carry all this guilt around with you!”
“It’s not like I bloody well want to—”
He tears himself off mid-sentence to fire more shots over the table.
“—but I deserve it, don’t I?”
“What the fuck?”
“I messed up, in Sicily. I drank too much and the dream wasn’t stable and it all came crashing down around you. You nearly died because I couldn’t keep it together because I was too busy worrying about whether I was good enough when I should have just accepted that I’m not—”
Enjolras gives up on keeping them alive. Gives up on having a weapon. Gives up on anything that isn’t Grantaire as he grabs hold of his hands to force him to look at him. He searches his eyes for something, anything, some shred of rationality that he can appeal to, but there’s nothing there but fear and guilt and self-hatred, so he does the only think he can think of, and kisses him.
The kiss is chaste; Grantaire barely moves, just keeps their lips touching, breathing together.
Then he pulls back, not far enough for it to matter but enough for him to speak and he says, wonderingly, “This is a dream. I’m dreaming. You don’t believe in me.”
Enjolras wakes up in the Musain, his heart thudding in his chest and his instincts on high alert. He expects a continuation of the firefight, more shots to ring out, and it takes him a second to realise where he is. His hand goes to his pocket for his totem, but it’s back in his room with the rest of his things and so he latches onto the next best thing, reaching for Grantaire, grabbing hold of him as he gets to his feet.
His eyes are bright and impossible and blue, and Enjolras knows he’s awake.
“You idiot!” he yells, and he doesn’t get as far as hammering his fists on Grantaire’s chest but he comes close, “What the fuck did you think you were doing, going down there by yourself? You could have been killed! Do you know what happens when a person’s subconscious turns in on itself? You could have died.”
Grantaire looks startled, like he doesn’t quite know what to do with the onslaught. His body is hard under Enjolras’s, immovable, even when Enjolras’s hands come to rest on his chest, shoving at him, angry beyond words. He’s stupid and stubborn and impossible and the only person that he’s ever really, truly loved.
“I never stopped trusting you,” he says, and his fingers trace the lines of the invisible tattoo only he and Grantaire know is there. “I was just disappointed, at first - and then angry. Angry that it fell apart and I wasn’t able to stop it, that I didn’t notice until it was too late. Then you left, you fucking left Grantaire, and I went to Bordeaux alone.” And he’d been stupid, and rash, and determined to do something to hurt Grantaire as much as he’d hurt him. He’d gone with the first Architect he’d found, uncaring if he was any good, just wanting to show Grantaire look, if you can move on, so can I and for his pride he’d gotten caught and thrown into prison for four years.
Grantaire speaks finally. “I thought you would be better off without me.”
“You were wrong.”
“God,” says Grantaire, and his breath wavers as he scrubs a hand over his face. “Why do you have to do this now? Tomorrow we're going to try and change the world and there's a very big chance none of us will come out the other side.”
“I already got caught once,” says Enjolras, “It won’t happen again.”
“How can you be so sure?” Grantaire demands, pulling his hand away, gesturing with it as he steps away from Enjolras finally. “How do you know that someone won’t die, or that someone won’t get hurt, or that it won’t all go wrong again?”
“I don’t,” he admits honestly, watching Grantaire as he moves. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”
Grantaire stops moving, turns to look back over his shoulder at him. “You’re determined to do this, aren’t you?”
“God, I hate you.”
Enjolras’s lips quirk. “The feeling’s mutual.”
This time when he goes back to bed, it’s with another person. Grantaire strips down to his underwear and gets in quietly, a depression in the bed that Enjolras had been missing without even knowing what it was. Enjolras gets in after him and when he does, it’s to see Grantaire checking the tattoo with his UV light.
He doesn’t mention it.
He reaches over, turns out the light, and turns to rest his head on Grantaire’s shoulder. This time, when his eyes close, he falls into sleep immediately.
- - -
He doesn’t kid himself the next morning that everything’s resolved. Grantaire gets up and leaves whilst he’s still stirring, is absent for most of the morning doing something with Bahorel. When he turns up to the Musain again, Enjolras is in deep discussion with Combeferre and doesn’t have the time to address the twisting, aching feeling in his chest.
The evening finds them getting ready for the party at Courfeyrac’s. A house-warming he had somehow convinced Marius to take part in, even though they had been living together for almost three months. Enjolras and the others are all invited as friends, people Courfeyrac knew when he was growing up who just happened to be in Paris at the time, even though Marius has never met them.
Enjolras has seen photographs and watched him afar, but it’s nothing compared to meeting Marius up close and thinking God, he’s young. But there’s intelligence there too, and a sharp mind. They wouldn’t have chosen him for inception if it wasn’t so; if they didn’t think he would be a good Premier Ministre, when he stops hating his Grandfather enough to take the position.
The party doesn’t take long to get into full swing, and Courfeyrac takes no time in manoeuvring them all into the bedroom. His powers of persuasion will always bewilder Enjolras, the way Marius has no idea that he’s being set up, when everyone in the room is there for a reason.
Jehan and Bahorel had been smoking pot on the bed, the room hazy and blurred at the edges, and Marius joins in that without too much thought. But when Éponine brings the PASIV out, when the wires are finally on show, he baulks, like perhaps this isn’t the best of ideas after all.
Marius looks terrified by the idea of injecting himself with something, and like he’s two seconds away from running out of the room. He wouldn’t get far - the sedative in the drinks Courfeyrac’s been feeding him all night must already be making his fingertips numb - but it would be an annoyance to have to drag him back in when he inevitably passes out somewhere outside.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” says Éponine, and she shoves Courfeyrac out of the way to step towards him. “We don’t have time for this. I’m hopelessly in love with you and I’m mad those feelings aren’t requited,” she deadpans, and slams her fist into the side of Marius’s head.
He goes down in an instant.
Bahorel looks the tiniest bit like he just fell in love, but he snaps out of it when Combeferre jostles his shoulder, pointing to the bedroom door. He slips into bodyguard mode instantly and goes to guard it, as Jehan and Enjolras roll up their sleeves, already attaching their IVs. Joly attaches the one to Marius, swift and precise, as Éponine, Courfeyrac and Combeferre down the sedative to take themselves under.
Enjolras is about to close his eyes when he sees Grantaire, rolling up his own sleeve.
“You don’t have to,” he says, the words heavy on his tongue as he reaches out to press his hand to his arm, but Grantaire just shakes his head, moving his hand away gently.
“I want to.”
Then everything goes black.
- - -
He opens his eyes in the Luxembourg Gardens, with Grantaire lighting a cigarette at his side.
They’re sitting at a bench to one side of a huge waterfall of chrysanthemums in pink and orange and yellow. Marius’s projections have filled the place up to how it looks on a busy summer’s day. Enjolras looks around for the others but can’t seem them, but after a few seconds there’s a flutter, a stir, and the sun breaks out from behind the clouds.
“Is this kid for real?” Grantaire murmurs, tapping ash onto the ground.
Down the path walks Cosette. A pretty girl, dark-haired, backlit by the sun and walking apart from the crowd. At this distance, Enjolras can’t tell if it’s Éponine or Courfeyrac, but it doesn’t matter, so long as they get the job done.
Marius appears like a bolt of lightning, sudden and abrupt and shocking (“No grace whatsoever,” Grantaire says) and does nothing but just stand there staring at her, dumb struck.
“He’s been seeing this girl for weeks,” Enjolras says to Grantaire, “He can’t possibly still be afraid of talking to her.”
“Give Courfeyrac time.”
Enjolras frowns and looks across at him, but Grantaire’s still watching the show play out, which means he thinks Courfeyrac’s the one playing Cosette. Enjolras turns again to watch, in time to see Courfeyrac-as-Cosette laugh prettily, turning her head against the wind. The movement blows her hair out behind her, framing her face, and allows her to look up at Marius, catching his eye.
Enjolras has never believed in love at first sight.
Marius clearly does.
They come rushing together, chattering and discussing, and then it’s the moment of Éponine, as Georges, to arrive and plant the idea that his father would want them to be together. It’s a dream, so Marius won’t question his dead father being there.
There’s a commotion at the other end of the path. “Well,” says Grantaire, stubbing out the cigarette on the bench, “This looks like fun.”
Out of nowhere a man comes storming, old and greying and unimpressed. “Cosette!” he yells.
“Papa?” she asks, turning on the spot.
Enjolras can see Jehan behind this newcomer, waving his arm and looking distressed. He’s trying to signal to someone, but the angle means he can’t see. He shifts his weight and gets to his feet, pulling out his gun, ready, and Grantaire mirrors his movements.
Courfeyrac faces the man running towards him - Cosette’s father - at the same time the man pulls out a gun.
“Shit,” hisses Enjolras, and runs to tackle Marius. He doesn’t see what happens with Courfeyrac, just sees Jehan finally catch up to the man and a blur that is Grantaire as he throws himself into the fight. He lands fully on top of Marius, protects his body as best he can from the gunfight that’s just exploded.
“What’s happening? Cosette—”
“Shut up,” hisses Enjolras, jamming a hand over his mouth even as he rolls to one side to get enough leverage to pull Marius behind one of the benches. He has to think fast, work out what’s going on before Marius wakes himself up with his own terror.
His mind has to have been militarised, there’s no other explanation for it. His projections had reacted too quickly, too fast, to the appearance of Courfeyrac-as-Cosette. Which means he must know that dreamsharing is a thing and that someone could want to do it to him.
“Where are we?” he asks, grabbing hold of Marius’s shoulders.
“The Luxembourg Gardens?” Marius’s eyes are wide, shocked.
“Really?” asks Enjolras, glancing around, “Does this look like the Gardens to you?”
Rather than let Marius work this out himself, he has to draw his attention to it. The absolute opposite of what they normally do but the only way he might be able to keep Marius under. He watches the emotions play across his face, the confusion at having seconds ago been convinced but now starting to realise the cracks.
“No… What is this?” he asks, and Jehan comes jumping over the bench.
He lands in a crouch next to Marius, flashes a smile at him that’s all charm and innocence as he reloads a gun. “Bit of a setback,” Jehan says, “Nothing to worry about.”
“We’re here to protect you,” Enjolras says, “There’s someone in your mind, someone who wants something from you. We’re here to stop them getting it.”
“Something in my mind? What could they want?”
“Don’t think about that, think about safety. Who taught you to do this, who told you about dreamsharing?”
“What?” Marius’s eyes are wild, half his attention is focused on the fight going away not too far from where they are. Enjolras resists the urge to shake him. “My - my father taught—”
Grim determination runs through Enjolras’s veins. “We’re taking you to see him.”
He looks across to Jehan, who nods, once, mazes flickering behind his eyes. “Follow me.”
They burst out from behind the bench to the sound of gunfire. Enjolras searches for Grantaire, Combeferre, Éponine and Courfeyrac in the fray, sees none, tries not to let it bother him as he runs after Marius and Jehan up to the Palais de Luxembourg - or what substitutes for it, in the dream. The doors burst open as they stumble through and Enjolras falls back, jamming the doors shut.
Seconds later Grantaire comes barrelling in from a side room, bleeding from a shallow cut on his cheekbone, and out of breath, but the grin he flashes at Enjolras is painless. “Never a dull moment,” he mouths, and pulls himself into a respectable pose as Combeferre follows at a much more sedate pace.
Marius looks bewildered, none more so than when Cosette comes walking through the final door, her hand resting on top of Georges Pontmercy. Enjolras doesn’t know how the hell Éponine and Courfeyrac managed to pull this off, when Georges is dead and they’ve had no experiences to base him off.
Marius doesn’t seem to care, stumbling forwards a step as he says, “Father—”
And Georges moves forwards to grab him, steadying him with a stern look into his eyes. “Marius, listen. We don’t have long. It’s about your grandfather. He wants—” There’s a hammering at the door from outside, the army Marius has unknowingly made of his subconscious. “—You have to stop him.”
“What do you mean?” asks Marius, desperate, “I don’t understand!”
“These people,” Georges says, indicating Enjolras and the others, “They’ll look after you. I protected your mind because I knew this would happen, now I need you to do as I say.”
Something hard slams against the door again, rattling the whole structure of the building. “Jehan,” Enjolras hisses.
“I’ve got it,” he replies, eyes closed and teeth gritted as he tries to keep the dream from collapsing around them. Grantaire moves to his side, steadying, places a hand on his shoulder. After a few seconds the shuddering of the building stops, but the shouts from outside get louder.
“What do I have to do?” asks Marius.
Enjolras strides forwards, pulling the PASIV out from behind one of the ornate statues. He flips it open and offers the IV to Marius. “Trust us.” To Combeferre, he says, “Wait for the kick. Bahorel will keep anyone from coming into the room for as long as he can, and Joly and Bossuet will do everything in their power to keep us all under, but if we miss the kick—”
“We won’t,” says Combeferre, and slides the IV into Enjolras’s arm. Grantaire, Jehan, Courfeyrac and Éponine lie down next to him, doing the same.
Courfeyrac reaches out, grabbing hold of Combeferre’s arm as he starts to go under. “Marius’s conscious is going to come for you. They’re not going to take no for an answer.”
Combeferre smiles, brushes his hand over Courfeyrac’s as he injects the sedative. “And I shall lead them on a merry chase.”
“Be back in time for the kick.”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Enjolras’s eyes close.
- - -
He opens his eyes in a city he doesn’t recognise, one of Jehan’s creation. They’re in a University building, what was originally planned for the third level, but has now become the second.
“His subconscious is fucking militarised?” Éponine demands, “Who the fuck slipped up on that one?”
“It should have been in the data,” Enjolras agrees, “Combeferre must have—”
“Marius wasn’t even really aware of it,” Courfeyrac disagrees, jumping to his defence, “But that doesn’t matter. What matters is finding out how to turn this to our advantage, seeing as someone let slip he’s in a dream.” He sends a pointed look at Enjolras.
“It was the only way to stop him from waking up,” Enjolras replies, “We proceed with the rest of the plan as normal. Build on the idea of Gillenormand trying to get him to do something he doesn’t want to do, and Georges wanting what’s best for him.”
They all nod go their own ways, Courfeyrac and Éponine already shifting their identities, leaving him by a staircase with Grantaire.
“You can still get out,” he says to Grantaire, “Stay here on this level, before we get deeper.”
Grantaire snorts, and crosses his arms over his chest. “And leave you to face a fully-armed subconscious army? I don’t think so.”
They wander further through the University building, on the look out for where Marius has appeared in this dream. If he’s still thinking about his father, he won’t be going to the classes, will be looking instead for a quiet place to think. Enjolras steers them towards the library.
On the way in they pass Cosette, she stumbles on the top step, steadies herself against Grantaire, transfers an umbrella over to him. “You’re welcome,” says Éponine, as she walks off again.
Enjolras finds Marius on the third floor, staring up at a floor-to-ceiling bookcase but not reaching for anything. All of the books are far newer, far more pristine than anything that can normally be found in a university library. He glances across at Grantaire but he’s busy, focusing in on the subtle changes that will make the library remind Marius of the one that is no doubt at his grandfather’s manor.
“Excuse me!” Enjolras raises his voice, slips into his most charming mode as he holds the umbrella out to Marius. “Is this yours?”
Marius startles, turns around on the spot to look. He glances down at the umbrella then up at Enjolras, says, “Have we met before…?”
“It’s a big campus,” Enjolras replies, and doesn’t let go of the umbrella when Marius reaches out for it. “Sorry,” he says, affecting sudden surprise, “I don’t think it is yours after all, there are initials on it. GP? What did you say your name was?”
“Marius,” he answers, sounding a little stunned, and Enjolras wonders how Éponine got her hands on an umbrella belonging to his father, what memory or conversation she pulled it from to get them here. “But that is mine - I mean - it was my father’s, but he gave it to me. Georges Pontmercy. Can I—”
He reaches to take it and Enjolras pulls it back, saying, “I thought you lived with your grandfather.”
“I did,” Marius says, getting frustrated, “I left. Can I just—”
He reaches for the umbrella again, and this time Enjolras says, “I’ll just give it to your father then.”
“You can’t,” says Marius, sounding defeated, “He’s dead.”
“I’ll be taking that,” says a new voice, and Gillenormand appears soundlessly in the room, which abruptly shifts, and Enjolras can see Jehan’s hand at work here, crafting everything perfectly into the memory Marius wants to see, a memory of being back in his home, a place that could not have held much love for him at all.
Grantaire’s hand encircles his arm, pulling him back into the shadow of a bookcase, away from the scene that’s unfolding.
“It’s mine,” says Marius.
“It’s a relic,” replies Gillenormand, “Belonging to a man who no longer has a place in your life. It no longer matters what he wants.”
“I don’t know what he wants!” Marius yells, “Because you never let me see him.”
“Because he doesn’t know what’s best for you, Marius. I do.”
“No you don’t!” Marius yells this, and before any of them can stop him he’s storming out of the room, somehow making it seem like a dignified response when it’s usually the go-to of frustrated teenagers, and Enjolras glances at Grantaire once before tearing after him. They go running through a building that reeks of old money, ornate and decorated lavishly, but Enjolras barely has time to appreciate it before they burst out into the rain.
The weather has turned torrential, the wind whipping around his face, and Enjolras loses sight of Marius in the storm. Georges umbrella goes up and then he’s gone, tearing across the field and, “Shit,” swears Jehan, appearing at their side.
“What’s over there?” Enjolras demands, “What’s he going to see?”
“Nothing he wants to,” Jehan says, grim, and takes off after him. Enjolras hesitates for as long as it takes him to realise that they’re being watched, that bursting out of the front door of Marius’s grandfather’s manor has gained them attention, and none of it is wanted. The gargoyles on the pillars have twisted, their faces leering in the darkness, and lighting flashes ahead, illuminating a groundskeeper and a maid.
“We need to get out of here, we need to get to the next level,” Courfeyrac bellows, as he comes barrelling out of the house, still half-forged into Gillenormand.
“Where the fuck is Marius?” this comes from Éponine-as-Cosette, appearing drenched in the rain. “How did you manage to lose him?”
Enjolras ignores them in favour of taking off in the direction Jehan had ran, his feet slipping across the stones in the rain, trying to remember the mazes that he’d studied to get to the core of them. They were all built with a centre-point in mind, so Marius would be forced in the same direction, no matter what he intended, and Enjolras thinks up the cut through, the escape route to take them straight across.
His heart pounds in his chest, the rain and wind roaring in his ears as lightning sparks across the sky. If they don’t find him, if they lose Marius in his mind, they won’t be able to plant the idea, won’t be able to synchronise the kick and come back out into reality.
They skid across the grass and Enjolras tumbles, the speed of his running taking him further than he intended, rain clouding his vision as he falls to the floor. When he looks up he’s in the middle of a funeral congregation, with a coffin being lowered into the ground in the middle. Marius is standing to one side, his tears mingled with the rain, and in his hand is a gun.
The gun is pointed straight at Jehan.
“This isn’t real,” Marius says, “This is a dream, it’s not happening.”
Courfeyrac’s gaze is sharp, when he looks across at Enjolras, an I told you so for blowing the lid on their dreamsharing in the first level. Enjolras’s hands clench in the mud beneath his body, trying to find his grip.
“Of course it is, Marius—” starts Jehan, and Marius shoots him.
“MARIUS!” the scream comes from Éponine-as-Cosette, rushing over to grab his arm as Grantaire falls down next to Jehan, tearing his jacket off and balling it up to press against the wound in his stomach.
“Don’t do this,” Éponine pleads, “Please. Look at me, you know me, I wouldn’t harm you. I love you.” And it would be heartbreaking if it wasn’t so sad, if the dream wasn’t crashing down around them. “This isn’t what your father wants, Marius, please. Your grandfather - you don’t want to turn into him.”
“I don’t know what my father wanted,” Marius says, sounding wretched, “I never saw him before he died. I was too late.”
“I know, I know,” says Éponine, and in her hands is the umbrella, held out to protect him against the rain, against his misery, “But what would he have wanted? What would have been his dying wish for you?”
“I don’t know,” says Marius, and falls forward against her, burying his head in her neck, his arms wrapping around her body. The gun falls to the floor and Enjolras snaps it up as he gets to his feet, shoves it into his pocket as he falls to his knees next to Grantaire and Jehan.
Éponine’s hand smooths through Marius’s hair, down his back, releasing the tension before she twists her wrist, suddenly, and drives the IV into his arm.
“He’s not going to make it, look at him,” Grantaire says, and his hands are bright red and sticky with blood, “We have to kill him.”
“What do you mean I can’t kill him? We kill people all the time to get them out of dreams. The guy’s dying, put him out of his misery for god’s sake.”
“It won’t work.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite get that. I think you said something absolutely ridiculous?”
“It won’t work,” Enjolras repeats, as Éponine lies Marius flat out on the grass. “The sedative Joly came up with, to get us down this far it had to be strong enough to keep us from kicking ourselves. If you kill him he won’t wake up.”
“What?” demands Courfeyrac, coming up behind them, “But he’s the Architect - if we - if you - we can’t build the next level without him!”
“Do you think you can do it?” says Grantaire, and he turns his attention entirely to Enjolras, finds his eyes through the rain, holds tight. “Can you plant the idea on the next level?”
“Give me the IV,” he says.
Courfeyrac glances between them, then over at Éponine, who is still curved protectively over Marius’s face. “She won’t follow you down there,” he says, “And someone needs to stay to look after Jehan. You won’t have a forger.”
“I don’t need one,” says Grantaire, jerking his sleeve up, “I can make his projections the forgery I need.”
Courfeyrac addresses him with an unspoken question, one Enjolras’s mind had already formed. Down on the next level it will only be himself, and Grantaire. The last time it had been the two of them, they had been in Sicily. The last time it had failed, and the dream had shattered. Courfeyrac, Éponine and Jehan can’t follow them, Combeferre is the next level up. Joly, Bossuet, Feuilly and Bahorel wait in the real world.
Marius is already down below, waiting for them.
He takes the IV from Grantaire and rolls his own sleeve up. “We’ll be right back. Organise the kick.”
- - -
He wakes up at the top of a very large hill, looking down on a small village below. His feet follow the cobbled stone path, kicking up dust as he walks. The town is mostly empty, save from a few people he glimpses out of the corner of his eye. When he turns to try and get a better look at them they disappear into the shadows, invisible.
Between the buildings he can see landmarks, huge and indescribable, belonging to famous artists and sculptors he never knew the name of. His feet lead him to the one house with an open door, a simple, one-story building with a thatched roof. He has to duck his head as he enters, and when he looks back up again he's in a busy city in another part of the world.
Tower blocks loom to his left and his right and behind him is a battered old fire escape. He tries pushing on the handle but nothing happens, it stays in place, then as he moves his hand it shifts, becoming paint suddenly, an artist's impression on a wall.
The whole place is an oddity, twisting streets that turn back in on themselves and impossible structures that startle the skyline. He could get lost in here for hours, exploring the different contradictions and impossibilities, but that's not what he came here for. As soon as he thinks it he sees the Café, the huge glass window looking out onto the street, and a bell chimes above the door as he steps in. Grantaire's sat at a table next to the window, a sketchpad open in front of him.
“Figured you’d come here eventually,” he says, not looking up when Enjolras approaches. There’s ink smudged on his fingertips and a lit cigarette resting in a glass ashtray. For a second the ink looks red, then Enjolras blinks and it’s back to blue. Grantaire picks up the cigarette as Enjolras sits down opposite him at the table.
“What are you drawing?” asks Enjolras, trying to get a look. There’s some memory at the back of his mind, something he should be thinking about, but it’s as insubstantial as the smoke from Grantaire’s cigarette, disappearing when touched.
“Nothing,” says Grantaire, and tilts the sketchpad away from him.
A lorry goes thundering past outside, there are ripples in Grantaire’s teacup.
Enjolras glances across the room, at the other patrons of the Café. A few look familiar, but none stick; no one he knows. Again, he has the strange feeling of vertigo that leaves him thinking, leaves him wondering, why am I here?
Rain hits the window, startling him, and he looks up sharply, a memory surfacing of a man, crying in the rain and a girl, running to hold him. A gun. Then he realises that it wasn’t rain at all, it was grit, kicked up by a passing car, and the sky outside the window is blue and clear.
“Grantaire,” he says warily, still looking at the sky, hears a hum in response. His stomach sinks, his heart hammering in his chest, and he turns to look at him slowly, dreading what he will see, and his fears are confirmed when their eyes meet.
Grantaire’s eyes are a dull, entirely normal, shade of blue.
He panics. His mind flies in a hundred directions at once, remembering everything that happened and where they are, why they were there. Jehan bleeding out across the grass in the garden of Marius’s grandfather’s manor. They came down here to find Marius and fix it all and somehow they’ve been caught up in Grantaire’s dream, in his insecurities, in his self-imposed prison.
“Where are we?” he asks slowly, carefully, testing the waters. There are raised voices in one corner of the Café, an argument that breaks out.
“We’re in a dream,” Grantaire says. His lips twist. “Within a dream.”
“And why are we here?”
“To pay for what I’ve done,” says Grantaire, “You’re the final punishment.”
His mind races. He wants to reach out. He wants to touch him, to ground him, but he knows any sudden movements and they’re both dead. Grantaire’s projections balance on a knife-edge, their awareness growing, their countenances vicious.
“Why am I a punishment?”
“Because I failed you. Because you trusted in me and I didn’t come through,” says Grantaire, turning his attention back to his sketch, his impossible drawings. “Then you were caught and I wasn’t there to stop you and you went to prison. It’s my fault.”
The depth of Grantaire’s self-hatred is astounding, it permeates even this many levels in. Enjolras curls his hands into fists on the tables, unable to reach out and says, “No it’s not. We both made mistakes. I was too proud, too stubborn, and I didn’t listen. I forgive you, Grantaire.”
“It’s not that simple!” Grantaire explodes, and the Café goes along with him.
The window shatters and tables fall, chairs are overturned and projections converge. Enjolras finds himself on his feet, but so is Grantaire, eyes locked with his. “You can’t forgive me, I’m not worth it. I never was. You wanted someone who never existed - all I did was build on what others made, all I’m good for is forgeries and fakes. I’m nothing special.”
If Grantaire’s projections kill him here, he’s lost; he never wakes up.
But it doesn’t bother him, he realises. Nothing does, beyond the man stood in front of him, the one who’s been killing himself for the past four years, to the point where he can’t even dream.
“I love you,” says Enjolras, and it’s as simple as breathing, an admission that makes everything slot into place and releases him completely from the fear of this dream. “And you can tell me I’m lying all you want and deny all my words while your projections kill me, but it’s not going to change a damn thing. I love you, Grantaire, and I forgive you.”
The dream collapses.
- - -
He opens his eyes, and he’s standing on the corner of a busy street.
Traffic flies past him at an alarming speed, buildings reach towards the sky. The whole city is still impossible, it’s architecture brilliant and imperfect and twisting, building upon itself impossible structures. Enjolras turns around on the spot, tracing the lines of the skyscrapers, and when he looks down, someone is standing in front of him.
“Can’t do anything by halves, can you?” asks Grantaire.
“Not really my style,” Enjolras replies.
Around them the city carries on as usual. There are no tremors, no disturbances, the projections just carry on as if they aren’t even there. Enjolras doesn’t recognise any of them. The edges of Grantaire’s invisible tattoo are just visible at the edge of the vee of his shirt, ink black in the dream world. Enjolras catches his finger in the shirt, pulls it down so he can trace his thumb over the pattern.
“So what happens now?” asks Grantaire, his hands skirting Enjolras’s hips then coming to settle on his waist, secure.
“Now,” says Enjolras, looking up from the tattoo, “We finish what we started.”
- - -
They find Marius in the hospital downtown, in a private room assigned to G. Pontmercy.
He’s sat in the chair next to the bed, clasping his father’s hand tightly. Enjolras knows it’s somehow a projection of Grantaire’s, not a forgery, but he can’t help but marvel at how real it all feels. His gaze shifts across to Marius, only twenty-one, a boy he’s pulled through so much in the name of changing the world.
He doesn’t need to hear Georges say it to know that inception has taken place, that the idea has been planted in Marius’s mind. Come next election, or even earlier, should Gillenormand force it, he will be made Premier Ministre.
They still don’t know what Marius will do with the power, once he has it, but there is something innately good about him, something that can’t be faked. Éponine and Courfeyrac will find it hard to disappear from his life - if they ever do - and will always remember him fondly.
He looks up at Enjolras and Grantaire now, and Enjolras isn’t sure who he sees, but he smiles, and there’s only one word to describe it.
Enjolras turns off the life support.
- - -
When the music starts, synchronising the kick seems almost child’s play, compared to what they’ve all already been through. They snap through the layers like a book falling closed, Grantaire’s hand caught between his at all levels, till they emerge blinking and shaken in Marius’s bedroom in Paris.
Jehan is back in one piece. He gasps in sharply, coughs, and then presses his hands gingerly to his stomach, where there’s no blood at all. His hands are shaking, but when Bahorel crushes him in a hug they go still and then clutching.
Bossuet and Joly fall on Grantaire, as Combeferre and Courfeyrac stare at eachother like they can’t quite believe they are real.
Éponine sits by herself. Her admission of love will be forgotten by Marius, or else attributed to someone else, the girl who she was forging in the dream. Her eyes when they meet Enjolras’s are sad, but she’s resilient, and he knows that a broken heart will not keep her down. She’s the first to disappear out of the room to check her totem, followed soon after by Combeferre. Jehan goes next and then Grantaire, who throws a look over his shoulder at Enjolras before he’s obscured by Feuilly, throwing an arm around his shoulders.
Courfeyrac stays behind to lie to Marius as he stirs, to smooth over his memories and say it must have all been a drug-induced hallucination.
Enjolras makes his way back to the Musain alone, just enjoying the feel of being back in reality. His fingers twist his totem in his pocket, and when he gets back to his room he sets it down on the windowsill, with a view of Paris at night spread out before him. Tomorrow a new day will dawn, with a new man about to make history. Even now it doesn’t seem real.
He spins the totem.
He looks up when he hears a creak by the door. It’s Grantaire, watching him. The tattoo under his top has disappeared, hidden by reality, but Enjolras’s mind traces it anyway, as he closes the distance between them. Grantaire opens his mouth to say something but he never gets to, because Enjolras immediately crashes their lips together.
The kiss is fierce, passionate, saying everything he can’t with words. Grantaire’s hands don’t hesitate, just wrap around his waist, pulling him close, and they stumble over to where the bed is, tearing at clothes and with teeth. He leaves bruises in the shape of his fingers on his hips, drags his lips over his throat and his chest, traces the invisible tattoo with his tongue.
And then slowly, they find a rhythm, a beat where they’re finally in sync. Grantaire gasps against his mouth and arches up against him and Enjolras takes a second to just sit back, looking down at him spread across the bed. He’s had four years without this and it’s been too long; they have time they need to make up.
Tomorrow dawns on a new day, and he has nowhere else he’d rather be.
Grantaire’s eyes are blue, where they look up at him.
The totem —