Enjolras stands outside Grantaire's door for longer than he should, when Grantaire asked him to go away, and wants to knock again, wants to demand an explanation he has no right to, wants to shout it out loud. Instead, he looks down at the tablet he's still holding, at the text on it, not erased from his last conversation (he hasn't been erasing his conversations with Grantaire, just saving them and coming back to them every time he's faced with another instance of how very little he knows him, which has been too often for his comfort since he was cursed).
I just wanted to see you. They're Enjolras's words, there in the middle of a paragraph, and he doesn't understand those either, but he can't ponder them now. If Grantaire comes out his door now, he won't be pleased to see Enjolras.
He understands less about Grantaire the more he learns about him, and he hates it.
Coming home, he texts Combeferre. Should I pick anything up?
It's less than a minute before he gets a response, even though Combeferre is in class. Combeferre is too inclined to indulge him, since the curse. No thank you. Heard from Courfeyrac today?
Grantaire's honest, smug smile. Grantaire pulling him aside after last night's meeting and letting Courfeyrac get away. Courfeyrac's text, received at almost three in the morning (All is well. Be kind to R). Enjolras wants to call Combeferre, to get that all across in speech instead of inadequate text, but he can't. He's fine, he texts.
Less fine. I don't understand him.
We'll talk about it at home. Heading there right after class.
Enjolras dawdles on his way home. He gets more than a few odd looks from strangers, and every time there's the paranoid thought he hates, the wondering if they've guessed that he's cursed even though there's no outward sign of it (despite groups the world over campaigning for the cursed to have to wear some sort of mark like Cain in the monotheist myth, and that's something else Enjolras wants to bring up at meetings). It's probably more the keyboard on his back than anything else, and the tablet he's still clutching, but every time it makes his breath catch.
Home is quiet. Grantaire's apartment never is, because Grantaire is never still, never quiet even when he thinks he is. Everything about him is loud, from his huffing when a book says something particularly egregious to his fingers tapping on the armrest of the couch. He doesn't whisper around Enjolras now like so many people do, an instinct Enjolras remembers whenever one of his friends gets laryngitis. Grantaire and Fantine are the only people who have never done it to him since the curse.
At home, though, especially without Combeferre, there isn't much to stop the silence. Enjolras turns on music when he gets there this time, needing to pace instead of play his keyboard, and tries to let the music and the movement erase everything else for at least a little while.
This time, Enjolras shakes his head and reaches for his tablet. I upset him. I don't understand what to do around him now that we're friends, I keep making him unhappy, crossing boundaries.
Combeferre sheds his jacket and bag as he reads, and frowns thoughtfully the whole way tot he couch, where he beckons Enjolras closer to him and puts an arm around his shoulders, always an instant remedy when Enjolras is closing in on frustration and headaches. “But you're not just friends, are you?” Enjolras doesn't bother taking back his tablet to ask him to clarify, just gestures. “He's in love with you, Enjolras, and you know it. What do you expect of him? Of course the boundaries are different.”
If he loves me, shouldn't I be able to make him feel better when he's sad? What good does being in love with me do him otherwise, if all I can do is make him unhappy? I just wanted to help. He's helping me.
Seeing his words written instead of saying them out loud makes him feeling childish, as though he's whining. If this is what he sounds like when he speaks to people, or even only Combeferre, when he has his voice, it's something to be remedied. “If you think that love only makes people happy,” Combeferre finally says, so gentle it's unbearable, “you haven't been paying attention.”
I don't understand why he loves me. Enjolras doesn't look at Combeferre's face while he reads that, and then wonders why he can't bring himself to do it. Grantaire's feelings are Grantaire's, as R himself has been telling him for weeks now. Enjolras shouldn't feel guilty for his love except that he does.
“I don't think that's the core of the matter,” says Combeferre. He's kinder than Enjolras deserves, sometimes. He doesn't even make Enjolras ask what the core is before continuing. “Why does it upset you so that you can't help him? You couldn't help Courfeyrac when he was upset over Marius. I understand that Courfeyrac's feelings weren't about you, I understand the sense of responsibility, but still, this seems odd to me.”
Enjolras thinks of his own words again, the I just wanted to see you that didn't seem odd until afterward. I don't know what to do with him, he finally types, after thinking too hard. Now that we don't—can't—argue as much, I truly enjoy spending time with him, I'd like to do it more, but that's selfish when it hurts him. And everything I do to thank him, or to try to make him more comfortable, only makes it worse.
“He fell in love with you before, Enjolras,” says Combeferre, and the words sound as strange in his mouth as they feel in Enjolras's head, even though Combeferre admitted the day Grantaire made his declaration that it wasn't a surprising one. “Is it so strange that he doesn't expect your behavior to change? Of course it's throwing him off.”
I was terrible to him. I don't know how he fell in love with me. Enjolras frowns, types again. I still am terrible to him, even if it's in different ways. Even and especially when I try to fix it. He won't let me touch him.
Combeferre, unexpectedly, smiles, and then leans back against the couch, lacing his fingers together on his stomach and tipping his head back like he does when he's thinking how best to lead Enjolras to a conclusion that he doesn't just want to tell him about. “Let's forget Grantaire's feelings for just a moment,” he finally says. “Why does it distress you so much that you can't touch him, or that you keep upsetting him?”
Enjolras doesn't make him move, just holds his tablet up at the right angle when he finishes typing. He's my friend. Right now physical contact is one of the few ways I have of expressing affection for my friends.
“You didn't express much affection to him before.”
Enjolras flinches, and knows when Combeferre feels sorry, but Combeferre also doesn't back down. I didn't know him very well before. Which I regret. He pauses, but Combeferre doesn't seem to have anything to say to that. Just because we weren't good friends before doesn't mean I want to upset him.
“You upset him all the time before,” says Combeferre, and Enjolras flinches again. This time, Combeferre moves to rest a settling hand on his knee before he can get defensive. “It's just a fact, Enjolras. It wasn't deliberate on your part, except that you gave him more rough handling than you give the rest of us. You didn't mean to be cruel, he just rubbed you the wrong way. And he would be the first to say that you hurting him doesn't have anything more to do with you than him loving you does.” Combeferre shakes his head. “But we were talking about you.”
You have something you want me to figure out. What is it?
“I'm not sure, that's why we're doing it this way.”
You're leading me, though.
“Yes.” Combeferre squeezes his knee, his expression going serious. “I'll come at it more head-on if you prefer, though: how would you react if I said that probably the best thing for Grantaire would be if you left him completely alone?” Enjolras doesn't know what his face does, but he can't make himself move his hands to type a response, even if he knew what he might say. “Then maybe you need to think about why that thought distresses you so much, when you wouldn't have thought anything of it a few weeks ago.”
There are ready answers to that—that Grantaire has helped him, and it doesn't seem fair that he only makes things worse in return. That Grantaire's feelings may be his own responsibility but that it doesn't mean Enjolras has no reason to be kind in response. But if Grantaire's feelings are his own, then Enjolras's are his own as well, and it isn't fair to sidestep it all about Grantaire's needs. How Enjolras feels, though, that's the question, and the heart of what he thinks Combeferre is aiming for. I hate this, he finally types. Not being able to really talk things out.
“It's just a little slower.” Combeferre sighs. “I'm not going to make you admit to anything you aren't ready for. Just think about it, will you?”
Enjolras thinks about Grantaire's hair tangling in his fingers and the stiff set of his shoulders when he asked Enjolras to stop. He thinks about talking to hurt Grantaire when he'd heard the curse in his own voice, and how Grantaire went towards him instead of away, and the moment of stillness when Grantaire covered his mouth, both of them breathing hard, Enjolras's stomach twisting. I doubt I'll be able to stop.
Combeferre stands up, smiling, and Enjolras tries to smile as well, because Courfeyrac looks simply and honestly happy, something rare since Enjolras's curse and rarer since Marius was arrow-shot. There's a red mark just under the collar of his shirt that says a lot about where he's been all day, and worried for him as Enjolras is, he's glad as well. “That shouldn't be the first thing out of your mouth after the day I suspect you've had,” says Combeferre, giving Courfeyrac a brief hug. “Things are good?”
“Yes. I was going to stop by Grantaire's to thank him, Cosette tells me the whole thing was basically his idea, but he wasn't there and Éponine wasn't there to tell me when he'd be back or where he was.”
Enjolras grabs for his tablet while Combeferre asks a few more details, still smiling in that way he does whenever any of their friends is happy (Enjolras would worry about Combeferre not seeking out his own happiness if that of his friends didn't so clearly and truly delight him). He hesitates over his phrasing but eventually decides honesty is the wisest way to go. Grantaire is at work. I don't know where he would have gone. I don't know where Éponine is either, but she's upset at Grantaire and left.
Both of them read it together, and Combeferre is the one to answer first, the smile falling from his face. “What's wrong with Éponine? You didn't mention.”
He takes his tablet back. Grantaire told her about Courfeyrac and Marius and Cosette. She's angry with him. Hurt.
“I'm sorry about that. I wish I thought it would work with all four of us, but I'm pleasantly surprised enough about three,” says Courfeyrac, and frowns between Enjolras, the tablet, and Combeferre for a few seconds. “What's wrong here, though?”
Combeferre gives Enjolras a brief look, and at Enjolras's nod, he speaks. “We're still working out exactly what is. Enjolras upset Grantaire, is the short version.”
“And that's upsetting.” Enjolras is always grateful for his friends, and only more so when Courfeyrac phrases that kind of thing as a truth and not a question. He knows Enjolras too well for it to be a question. “Want to talk about it yet?”
Enjolras shakes his head, even in the face of Combeferre's there-and-then-gone frown. He thinks he knows what he needs to know, but it's no use talking about it until he decides what to do about it. If there's anything to be done about it.
Judging by Courfeyrac's expression, he understands at least some of that. “I'll leave you to it, then. I'll stop by tomorrow, maybe, and give you all the dirty details you don't want.”
“You can stay,” Combeferre says immediately. “You're our best friend, Courfeyrac, and something good happened to you. That doesn't matter any less than Enjolras figuring out how he feels about things.”
“Ah, but I'm selfish, and you'll be much more inclined to celebrate tomorrow. Won't you?” Enjolras nods, though he's not at all sure, and after a second, Combeferre does the same. “Well then.” He hugs Combeferre and then Enjolras, holding on tight for a few seconds longer than usual. “It will work out,” he says quietly, quiet enough that Combeferre can pretend he didn't hear. “And I'm going to find him and make sure he's okay, and maybe treat myself to some celebratory drinks.”
Enjolras opens his mouth, the instinct still to talk, and shuts it a second later, pulling away and grabbing his tablet. Thank you. And congratulations. I'll look forward to hearing how things have gone.
“It's very nice that you're willing to pretend,” says Courfeyrac, and ruffles his hair, then steps back far enough to see the two of them at once. “Call me if you need me. Two heads are better than one, since you two are basically the same person, and I can celebrate any night.”
“We'll keep it in mind,” promises Combeferre, and shoos him out the door, Courfeyrac already texting someone on his way, probably R. “Want to talk about it more?” he asks when they're alone again.
Enjolras shakes his head, clasps Combeferre's shoulder, and goes over to his keyboard on the couch, shifting it to his lap and switching it on. He can't settle on a tune, anything to get his feelings out with sound, since he can't have words, or at least not the kind that satisfy.
Combeferre joins him a few minutes later, two mugs of coffee in his hands. He puts one where Enjolras can reach it and holds the other, sipping and wincing at the heat. “We should download some sheet music for you,” he says when Enjolras wanders from Bach to Schumann to John Williams in under a minute. “Just for fun, not for communication.” When Enjolras doesn't comment musically or textually, he shrugs and reaches for the book he always has within arm's length, pulling it into his lap. It's a biography of Galileo this week, Combeferre has been working his way through the famous cursed since Enjolras lost his voice. “Play some Gershwin, it's good reading music.”
Enjolras segues into “Rhapsody in Blue” while Combeferre reads, remembering what he can and faking what he can't, and switches to Cole Porter after.
When Combeferre goes to bed, he lets the keyboard fall silent, and he thinks about Grantaire again, about Grantaire provoking him into speaking, about Grantaire willing to let Enjolras hurt him, about Grantaire sending him away when he wants to help but taking his anger like it's his due. He thinks about how selfish it is to only start noticing someone truly after they say they love you, and how that doesn't mean he thinks he can stop noticing Grantaire.
I just wanted to see you, he thinks, and quietly plays a few measures of “Chopsticks” on his keyboard.
Enjolras pulls his tablet over and wakes it up. I think we confuse each other, he types, though it seems inadequate.
“Probably. It's a damn farce, is what it is. You didn't know he loves you, though nobody else managed to miss it, and now he doesn't know ...” Courfeyrac stops, and Enjolras lets him work out whether he wants to say what it is or not, how much he was told in confidence or at least in the unspoken trust that he wouldn't tell Enjolras what he and Grantaire discussed last night. “The thing is, you're the crux of the matter here,” he finally says. “R already knows how he feels. That isn't likely to change. It hasn't—you got cursed, and he still loves you, he's been helping you.”
I know he has. I'm grateful.
“Well, that's not at all what he'd like to hear, but we'll leave that aside for the moment.” Courfeyrac pours his own mug of coffee and sits down next to Enjolras, shoulders just touching. “He's been helping you. Why have you been letting him?”
Enjolras sighs in exasperation, taking care he shouldn't have to take to make sure it's noiseless. Sometimes he worries even his audible breath will cause pain (he's only lucky he doesn't snore), but Courfeyrac doesn't seem ruffled. Because I'm not stupid enough to turn down help.
“That's the wrong question, okay, I get that. And asking why you went to him in the first place is the wrong question, because you were mad at him and he's never managed to move past that. But I don't think you'd keep coming to him or letting him keep coming to you if it were supposed to be penance.” Courfeyrac takes a sip of his coffee. “What is it, then? You don't owe me the answer, but you might owe R.”
In answer, Enjolras opens up his conversation with Grantaire from yesterday and highlights the relevant paragraph and hands it over to Courfeyrac to let him read it over.
“I wondered,” says Courfeyrac after a few seconds, and hands the tablet back. “But I didn't want to get ahead of myself guessing. So, you have feelings for him? How long?”
This is the part Enjolras isn't sure of, and that he doesn't necessarily like himself for. I'm not sure. I think it started after he told me he loved me.
“Or after he became one of the people you could rely on most,” Courfeyrac points out, always giving him the benefit of the doubt. “But if you aren't sure, Enjolras, you've got to be. I love you, you're one of my best friends, but R is my friend too, and if you're going to pull back, decide you can't be with him when the curse is broken, you can't do it.”
The thought of Grantaire's likely reaction to Enjolras loving him and then letting him go is like a punch to the windpipe, enough that he lets out a breath even imagining it. The worst thing is that he thinks Grantaire would accept it, the way he accepted Enjolras laying the blame at his feet that first day, and it makes Enjolras want to hold him and never let go. And that, he supposes, is an answer all on its own. I wouldn't do that to him. Won't.
“Of course, you're the most decisive person on the planet, why did I not expect this?” Enjolras moves to stand up and Courfeyrac grabs his elbow. “Be careful, okay? This is going to be an uphill battle. It's complicated, and I'm not stupid enough to tell you to wait, but take care. Of both of you.”
I will, Enjolras promises, and goes to his room to get dressed and get his keyboard. If Courfeyrac was just at Grantaire's and Grantaire lost one of his jobs yesterday he'll almost certainly be at home, and if this is going to take convincing, he wants to begin as soon as possible.
He doesn't turn around and go upstairs. Grantaire doesn't want him there, and Enjolras should have remembered yesterday before trying to start this, but he wasn't working with full information until a few minutes ago.
Enjolras is good at arguing. More often than not, it's how he synthesizes his thoughts, arguing Combeferre or some strawman or, often enough, Grantaire, and he's not sure if it's better or worse that arguing about this has only made his feelings painfully clear.
I might have taken a while to come around, but you can't punish me for that, says his tablet, and he shuts it off and starts the walk home.
Courfeyrac is still there when he arrives, and Combeferre is there too, the two of them laughing about something when Enjolras pushes the door open, Courfeyrac caught in one of his expansive gestures and Combeferre half-tearful with silent laughter, arm wrapped around his stomach. For a second, it erases the rest of the morning, seeing them happy and not worried about him, but it only takes a few seconds before they turn to face him and get slowly less happy. Enjolras has never disliked himself more than he has since the curse, and that makes him want to fight the gods more than anything else.
“I take it that didn't go very well,” says Courfeyrac.
Enjolras shrugs. This conversation, more even than the one where Grantaire admitted he's in love and Enjolras was cruel to him, seems too private to share, but he's not sure he trusts himself to give an account without bias either. When his shrug keeps them looking at him expectantly, he shakes his head and slings the strap of his keyboard off his back, putting it on the ground.
Combeferre, after a second, gestures him over, putting his arm around Enjolras's waist when he comes to stand next to him. “Courfeyrac was just telling me about Marius and Cosette. Want to hear?”
Enjolras nods, because Courfeyrac's happiness is as important as his own frustration. Maybe more so.
“Actually, I was mostly talking about Cosette, since you both know Marius. Oh!” He points at Enjolras, then at the chair next to Combeferre, which Enjolras obediently takes, once Combeferre releases him. “Her adoptive dad is cursed, I keep meaning to tell you and you keep having Grantaire-related crises. His is inconsistently rated—M-scale rather than G-scale, and it doesn't actually harm anyone but him but it's disruptive enough that it's been classed both at four and six.”
“I was e-mailing with Fantine the other day about how curse rubrics haven't been updated since the seventies and it really needs more than one axis, since harm and life disruption are important but very different to measure,” contributes Combeferre.
“But the deal is that he was a convict, broke some parole agreement, and the police officer who chased him down said that if he was going to run, he was going to do it forever. Obviously the officer got fired, but the end result is that he can't stay in the same twenty-kilometer radius for more than three months in a row or he starts getting sick. Messed Cosette's life up a lot, but she assures me it's a lot better than the home she was in before, and she wouldn't want to be anywhere else.” Courfeyrac turns a little pink, a rare occurrence. “Well, except now, I suppose.”
Combeferre smiles. “I'm surprised the system let him keep her, if he was a fugitive and then a cursed one.”
Courfeyrac shrugs. “It's all fairly shady. She hasn't told me a lot about it, something about some agreement he made with her mother? She couldn't afford to keep Cosette, but Valjean could, and I don't know, it was all sort of Dickensian.”
Enjolras grabs his tablet and opens a blank window. How long does Cosette have before he has to leave?
That makes Courfeyrac frown. “A few weeks. She's torn up about it but she was probably going to stay in Paris eventually anyway, she says. Can't do all her classes online, and she says he comes to Paris more often than he comes anywhere else.”
If she thinks it would help, I could get her in touch with Fantine. Is her father's curse reported?
“The officer reported it, so yes. There are some arrangements involving his criminal past and reporting his movements. He's got a curse counselor of his own, but apparently only reports to him when he's in Marseilles. Cosette would probably be glad for someone to talk to. Thanks, Enjolras.”
My pleasure. Fantine says she doesn't have a full caseload right now, and I'm sure she'd be more than willing to help Cosette with this transition and possibly with breaking her father's curse.
“If he's interested in breaking it,” says Combeferre, and touches Enjolras's shoulder briefly. “No progress on yours, I assume? The case of John Adams does present some interesting possibilities, but I suspect you don't want any of us prostrating ourselves for you.”
“If that's what happened,” Courfeyrac points out, because of course there's no certainty that it was Abigail after all, though the burning of the letters certainly points to her being involved. “Any of us would, though. R would, he's apparently more devout than I thought.”
I don't want to ask that of him, much less anyone else. He's asked for boundaries, and he told me no when I kissed him. That's sign enough that I can't ask him for anything more, not right now.
Combeferre hisses in a breath but doesn't comment beyond that on his summation of events with Grantaire. “What do you want?”
“A kneeling apology from Zeus, no doubt,” says Courfeyrac, but he says it with a smile. “Has it occurred to you that we want you free of this just as much as you do, and that we have less scruples about your pride?”
I can't go back on what I said. Can you look at the world the way it is an honestly say the gods are just?
“I don't really think it's a useful observation, regardless of its truth,” says Combeferre. “We can't change the gods. We can change people, so we should concentrate on them, not on baiting the sky.”
“But I doubt we're going to convince you to ask Zeus for mercy now,” Courfeyrac says, and points at his tablet. “Ready to tell us about Grantaire yet? Or is it that private?”
Enjolras pulls up the right window and pushes his tablet to where they can both see it. He'd marginally rather talk about Grantaire than about apologizing to the gods, which the two of them may have been counting on. They know him that well.
Neither of them says anything while they read, and Enjolras fidgets, left without a way to ask what they think of it all, wishing for his keyboard but unwilling to get up and get it. When they finish, they exchange a quick look and Courfeyrac is the one who leans forward and puts a hand on Enjolras's arm. “You tried.”
Enjolras stays like that for a second before he takes his tablet back and leaves the window from his conversation with Grantaire (I'll prove it if I need to, says the screen, like they came back to that at the end) to return to this one. You aren't going to tell me I did it all wrong?
“You did it too fast, maybe,” says Combeferre. “I can see why he reacted the way he did. R doesn't expect anything from you, which is good in some ways and bad in others, but it means that when you do try to give him anything he's never prepared.”
So how do I prepare him?
Courfeyrac taps a little rhythm out on the table. “You give him space, and say you haven't changed your mind when he's ready to talk.” He smiles a little, thoughtfully, and looks down at their hands, all of them within reaching distance of the tablet. “And then you prove it to him. That this isn't just you finally deciding he's really your friend, which is how he's been interpreting things.”
“It's easier said than done, and we can't really tell you how to do it,” says Combeferre, “but it's going to take some thought. It's hard to do grand gestures without your voice, and there's no guarantee he'll even listen to a grand gesture.”
“But in the meantime, let him know you're around when he wants you.” Courfeyrac nods at him. “Go on, take your phone out of your pocket, send him a text.”
Enjolras does, because it's rare that Courfeyrac gives a serious out-and-out order, and it's usually wisest to obey them. I'm here to talk whenever you're ready, he sends, because it's the simplest thing.
He isn't surprised when he doesn't get an answer, as the conversation moves back to Cosette and Marius and Cosette's father and eventually the Maudit mais pas mauvais campaign, but he is disappointed.
He sends a sixth in the morning, when he wakes to find Combeferre left a note on the refrigerator saying he'll be back late from classes and to a reminder on his phone of an appointment with Fantine. Tell me what I can do, he says, even though he isn't expecting an answer, and then goes about getting dressed and heading for the Curse Bureau, his keyboard on his back.
Fantine is in the lobby when he gets there, conferring with the receptionist. “There you are, only eight minutes early today,” says Fantine, and gives him one of her warm smiles.
Enjolras just nods, since he's still walking towards her and she's good at reading his body language anyway. Before he makes it to the desk, the receptionist (whose name Enjolras has not managed to learn after long enough that it's embarrassing) shakes her head. “You don't have any forms to do today, you can go up.”
“I'm never sure whether to congratulate people who come here when they're well-known enough not to have to fill in forms to get past the lion at the gates,” Fantine says, smiling at the receptionist and gesturing Enjolras through the door to the upstairs, keeping up a soothing chatter about the office and his case until they're settled in her office, where the smile falls from her face. “You seem stressed today. Something to talk to me about?”
The excuse of setting up his keyboard and getting into a position where she can easily see his tablet gives him a few seconds to consider how much he wants to—much less should—tell her. In the end, he goes with honesty. She knows Grantaire, and from what he heard of their private conference when he brought Grantaire to meet her, she knows some of the circumstances as well. Stressed, yes, but mostly unrelated to the curse. More related to Grantaire.
“I see. How so?”
I have feelings for him, and he's having trouble believing it, and I'm having trouble trying to make him believe me with my primary mode of communication cut off.
Fantine looks down at her desk for a moment, sighs, smiles again, and then looks up at him. “By 'having trouble believing it,' what do you mean, out of curiosity?”
I mean I kissed him and he asked me to leave. While assuring me he still loves me. And this doesn't have anything to do with my curse, so I shouldn't be wasting your precious time with it.
Fantine frowns. “Does it have nothing to do with your curse? I think highly of Grantaire, and I don't want to disparage either of your feelings, but the curse is at the least acting as a catalyst. And if you think he won't believe you because you can't say it out loud ...”
Enjolras considers that, because he can't do any less. It's less that, he finally types, and more that I don't think he'd believe me either way but it's easier to refute his arguments when I don't have to take the time to type everything up.
“As long as you're sure. If the curse isn't impacting the matter beyond that—and I'm going to trust you on that—then do you want to talk about it any more?”
He does, but he doesn't want to waste Fantine's time. We should talk about breaking the curse.
Her eyebrows go up. “Should we? I've been talking to your university about options for next semester—you should drop the classes you're in before they go on your permanent record, I want to say, and I know you think it's some kind of moral loss but it's also practicality.”
I will if you really think I should, but I want to talk about breaking the curse also.
“I really think you should.” She hands a folder across the table to him. “That's your options for next semester and this semester, as the university sees it. I'm still fighting them on a few things, those are highlighted, so you'll be able to see how things are going, but unfortunately some things are a matter of time. Can I trust you to look them over before our next meeting?” He nods. “Then tell me about your latest thoughts about breaking the curse. The last I heard, Grantaire and Combeferre were helping. Are you frustrated with the speed of the research?”
Somewhat. And they are helping. But increasingly it's looking as though my only option is to apologize, to break down and grovel, and I don't know if I can do that, but I know I can't stay cursed.
Fantine stares down at his words for a minute once he's written them, reading and rereading until he taps out a few measures of Edith Piaf on his keyboard, the signal they agreed on for her. “It's a moral judgment I'm not comfortable making on your behalf,” she finally says. “I'm not going to say you should violate your principles, or that you should stay cursed and risk hurting someone, which I know bothers you.” He must flinch, remembering Grantaire's mouth against his and then Grantaire flinching back, the pain reminding him that Enjolras hasn't proved himself yet. “Have there been any incidents you should tell me about?”
Brief accident with Grantaire, he types, because this kind of thing has to be reported and recorded, so they can figure out his patterns and prevent them. I kissed him, I made a noise.
That makes her bite down visibly on a smile. “As long as it was only that,” she says, and when he nods, returns to what she was saying before. “As I was going to say, there are several options, and it isn't an either/or choice like I just narrowed it down to. There are other avenues.”
Abigail and John Adams.
“If you say so,” she says, one eyebrow raised, and Enjolras thinks about asking Grantaire, or Combeferre, or anyone to beg on his behalf, which scholarly articles insist is what must have happened. He wonders if Grantaire would ever believe he wants him from anything but gratitude, after that. “There's not breaking the curse and finding a magic-worker willing to work against the gods enough to give you some way of having your voice back. There's doing a service for another god—Combeferre and I have been e-mailing a little about Galileo. You've been cursed for a relatively short time, Enjolras. When a curse is broken it generally takes between three months and two years, depending on the severity of the curse and accessibility of resources.”
Enjolras thinks about waiting two years to speak again and wants to scream, but he keeps his expression as blank as he can, and plays a few snippets of phrases on his keyboard before he takes his tablet back to write on again. Those are my options as you see them?
“No curse-breaking is exactly the same. They are possible options. I'm very sure there are any number of options that I'm not seeing because I can't know every aspect of your life and your relations with the gods. Much less those of your friends, which is a factor. John and Abigail Adams may be a famous case, but they aren't the only one where someone close to the person cursed is the one who broke it.”
Enjolras asks, because she clearly expects him to, and they spend the rest of the session talking about methods of curse breaking, though the conversation somehow always seems to wind itself back around to Grantaire. By the last five or ten minutes Fantine doesn't bother changing the subject, just smiles and lets him type out his thoughts, and play music quietly in between when he can't quite think of what to say about how much it bothers him that Grantaire won't let him convince him.
It's only by chance that he remembers Courfeyrac mentioning Cosette while he packs up. Sorry, I forgot to say: Courfeyrac has had recent contact with someone whose father is cursed and who is going to be living separately from him for the first time, and his counselor is in Marseilles. Can I refer her to you?
Fantine smiles. “Of course, I'm always glad to help. I'm not sure how much funding we'll be able to get for regular visits unless she wants to pay out-of-pocket. Do you know anything about the nature of the curse?”
Apparently her father gets ill if he has to stay in one place for more than a few months, Courfeyrac's friend has lived a very disrupted life.
There's a pause long enough that Enjolras looks up from packing up his keyboard, and he catches Fantine flexing her hand around the edge of her desk, grip white-knuckled, although her face is as smooth as ever. “It's not the first time I've heard of a case like that. I'll certainly do my best to help your friend.”
Her voice is off, and Enjolras is surprised he notices, but then again, it's easier to concentrate on other people's voices when he doesn't have one of his own. Was it a case that impacted you particularly? Should I refer her to someone else? Do you have recommendations?
Fantine is finally smiling again. “That's kind, but no. You have my card?” He nods. “Then pass it on to her, I'll be glad to schedule her an appointment. It's only that the person I met with the similar curse, he's the one who inspired me to go back to school to do this. I'm sure it isn't him, coincidences aside, it just gave me a start, that's all. What's your friend's name, so I know when she contacts me?”
Cosette. I'm not sure of her last name, the father's is Valjean so it's probably that. Thank you very much, Courfeyrac will be glad to hear you're willing to help.
“Of course.” Her voice is still off, but she's Enjolras's curse counselor, not her friend, so much as he'd like to ask what's so odd about the situation with Cosette, he probably doesn't have the right. “Thank you, Enjolras. Keep thinking about options, don't decide on anything permanent, and please, please look at the materials about the university that I gave you, because I don't want this curse impacting your education any more than it already is.”
Enjolras bows his head in acknowledgment, packing up his tablet and his folder and slinging his keyboard over his back, taking the extra business card she offers him to pass along to Cosette.
“Take care,” she says. “Of yourself, and of Grantaire if he lets you.”
Enjolras nods again and leaves, going out of the building himself, waving at the receptionist as he goes and getting a more half-hearted glare than usual. His phone, when he checks, is empty of texts, and he sends one to Courfeyrac about having a card for Cosette and resists the urge to send another to Grantaire. He takes the long way home instead, hands stuck in his pockets to resist temptation.
It's more of a shock than he wants to admit when he gets a reply almost an hour later, when he's in the middle of sorting through the university policies and concessions Fantine gave him. I'm okay, Grantaire says, just need a little while to think. I don't want to be a mistake. Or make one.
Enjolras knows he shouldn't push his luck, that he should give Grantaire his time to think and just hope that the thinking comes out in his favor. He wants to convince him, to send him a battery of texts now that he knows he's reading again, or still, but that won't help his case. You aren't a mistake, he sends instead, and spends fifteen minutes staring at his screen.
Combeferre comes home in the middle of that, fiddling with his phone as he goes, and he smiles when he sees Enjolras, closer to teasing than he's really been in weeks. “I would ask if you're expecting an important text, but I don't really need an answer to that one.”
Enjolras makes a face that probably makes him look very immature and puts his phone down, going back to his papers.
“Your meeting with Fantine was good?” Enjolras nods. “And Grantaire is still not talking to you.” He nods again. He might as well keep the text to himself. “Joly says he heard from him, so he isn't in a ditch anywhere or anything. You'll give him time to process?” Another nod. “You aren't feeling talkative today. I was thinking of ordering something in for dinner, want to go in on it?” Enjolras is sick of nodding, and shaking his head, and everything else that's the fastest communication he can manage. He nods anyway. “I'll take care of it, then,” says Combeferre, and goes into his bedroom.
Enjolras checks his phone every five minutes for the rest of the night, but other than an exchange with Jehan about something he calls the Curse Museum and doesn't seem to care to explain more than that other than discussion over its potential use to their visibility campaign, he doesn't hear anything more.
He probably shouldn't have expected anything different.
They have a meeting, and Enjolras tries not to jump every time the door opens after it starts and fails. After at least the fifth time he turns to look at the door too quickly to handle, Bahorel sighs, interrupting Courfeyrac and Jehan discussing the Curse Museum (which turns out to be exploitative in the extreme but also the sole keeper of a lot of information, art, and primary sources about curses, which Enjolras will have to think about fixing along with everything else). “Are we going to talk about this?” he asks. “Not you, Enjolras, obviously, but nobody's even been gossiping about it.”
“Nobody should be gossiping about anything,” Feuilly says mildly. “That's why this is a meeting and not a night out for drinks.”
“Like we do anything but gossip,” returns Bahorel, giving a pointed look over at Grantaire's usual corner and then at Cosette and Marius with their arms twined around each other and an extra chair next to Marius that Courfeyrac was sitting in before it was his turn to speak. “And this is relevant to the health of the group. Anyone know specifically why R is avoiding us all?”
Enjolras sighs and takes his tablet, typing so it will go up on the whiteboard and no one else will feel the need to ask him about it. I'm afraid it's my fault. I'm working on it.
“Is it him being stupid, or you being stupid?” Joly asks, apparently in the spirit of scientific inquiry, and just shrugs when Combeferre frowns and Enjolras has to clench his fists in his lap. “I've been curious, and it's kind of an important question.”
Both of us, types Enjolras, because it's true, and bangs on his keyboard before anyone else can ask another question. If you must discuss it, please do so when we don't have business on the table. Courfeyrac, Jehan, if you would?
The meeting continues, but it's even more distracted than usual, when Enjolras always thought Grantaire's sometimes-disruptive presence would mean his absence would make for productive meetings. They do some discussion of the visibility campaign, of the problems with using the museum as a resource and whether they really have any other options, and Combeferre gives them more figures from his research on worldwide Curse Bureaus.
At the end, Enjolras is half-afraid the whole group is going to turn to talking about Grantaire again, but most of them are busy chatting to each other about classes and work and the campaign, so Enjolras lets himself relax.
It's only a few minutes before Bahorel comes to sit with him, and he shouldn't be surprised. He isn't as close to Bahorel as he is some people, but he values his honesty, and more than that, he values the moments when he chooses to use it. Judging by his expression when he sits down, this is one of those times. “I'm guessing it's him. Being stupid, I mean.”
Enjolras takes his tablet out of its connection to the whiteboard so the whole room won't be able to see their conversation. Why do you say that?
“Because you're all being great at being discreet, but I'm guessing you finally pulled your head out of your ass, and now he's being stubborn because he doesn't believe you.”
That's just about exactly it. Though I'm certainly not removing my culpab
Bahorel waves his fingers still before Enjolras finishes typing the word. “So what are you planning to do to get him to believe you?”
I wish I knew.
“R will never in a million years say he wants a grand gesture, but the way I see it, you can't go wrong.”
Jehan chooses that moment to appear, hand on Bahorel's shoulder, rolling his eyes with all the drama he can muster. “You can go wrong. In lots of ways, in fact. Creative ones. Nothing is infallible that way.” He smiles at Enjolras. “But for what it's worth, Bahorel is probably right.”
“Aren't I always? Can't you do your seeing-the-future thing and just tell him what to do?”
“Not in this particular case. And I don't think Enjolras appreciates my gift much more than he appreciates the gods' interference.” Jehan shakes his head when Enjolras reaches for his tablet. “And that's fine, I promise. I wish I could tell you some of what I've been seeing since your curse, but either it will happen or it won't and either way I think it would just stress you out more at the moment.”
“Which is why I'm the better bet for advice-giving,” says Bahorel, and then instead of giving advice puts his hand around Enjolras's wrist and squeezes. “Find something he won't be able to explain away.”
“And be aware that R is really good at explaining things away,” says Jehan.
“You might say it's easier said than done.”
Enjolras has to bite back his laugh at that, and Bahorel grins at him triumphantly and lets his wrist go. I might say the opposite, he types, and Jehan smiles at them both. It's good, spending time with them, especially because he suspects Jehan has been steering clear of him for his own reasons since he was cursed. He doesn't need anyone else avoiding him.
“Jehan,” Feuilly calls across the room, “I found an advocacy group looking to get the Curse Museum shut down, come over here and see if it looks legitimate.”
“Don't do anything stupid,” Jehan says, and goes.
Bahorel grins the second he's out of earshot. “Definitely do something stupid. I miss R. Now, if you'll excuse me, Joly is sadly in need of my advice and I'm going to bestow it on him.”
Enjolras waves him off and thinks about getting up and taking his advice, going and pounding Grantaire's door and at least asking what he can do to someday convince him. The meeting isn't the same without him, and he wants to say that too. It might be a beginning, anyway.
Courfeyrac extricates himself from Cosette's arms and Combeferre's conversation just when Enjolras has almost made the decision to get up, and sits down across from Enjolras, attempting to pick out a tune on his keyboard even though it's facing away from him rather than towards. “Give him a chance to come to it on his own,” he says, and Enjolras doesn't question whether he was eavesdropping or if he just knows. “Grand gestures are fine, but if you try to convince him when he's upset and getting used to a new job it's only going to make things worse.”
So when can I try to convince him I love him?
“I don't know. Not tonight. Ask Combeferre, he knows all things. Or Éponine, who knows most things. Or Marius, who knows more things than we give him credit for. Like this thing with his tongue—”
Enjolras smashes his keyboard to shut him up, and rolls his eyes when Courfeyrac only laughs. I don't even know what I would do for a grand gesture. I just hate that he thinks it can't be real, wouldn't even consider it.
“You'll think of something. You're good at plans. Just think of something and don't do it impulsively. Remember how impulsive worked out for you last time?” He waits for Enjolras's nod and then reaches out and holds his hand briefly. “Then give it a few days. Give it until he misses another meeting. And maybe think about the fact that you just used the word love.”
With that, he goes back to Cosette and Marius, who have gone back to rubbing noses or whatever it is they do in his absence, and Enjolras goes back to watching his friends and doing anything but thinking about what Courfeyrac asked him to. When he can't resist it anymore, he takes out his phone to text Grantaire. Courfeyrac says I'm not allowed to go try to convince you. Bahorel says you're being stupid. I'm inclined to believe him.
He doesn't receive a reply until he's walking back home with Combeferre, who's conspicuously not weighing in on the subject of Grantaire and what Enjolras should do about him. New job, had to change shifts at the old one, I have excuses. We can go back to not-normal soon.
Enjolras wishes he could go back in time and stop himself ever complaining that he wanted things to go back to normal when he didn't know what he was asking for at all. When he can have better than normal. The normal idea was stupid, he texts, and doesn't get anything back.
“Text him with the day of the next meeting,” Combeferre says when Enjolras almost trips on the sidewalk looking at his phone waiting for a reply. “See if he comes. Work on breaking the curse in the meantime. I know one problem at a time has never been your forte, but it's worth trying.”
Enjolras opens his mouth and only realizes how stupid that is when it makes Courfeyrac flinch. He changes screens on his tablet instead. Fantine is what?
“Cosette's mother. It's the weirdest story, remember how I said it was like a Dickens novel? This is like the sappy end of a Dickens novel, except since you're cursed you would be an awful human being and possibly attempting to keep Cosette away from her adoring boyfriends or something instead of reuniting Cosette with her mother. And Cosette's dad would be locking her in dank garret rooms instead of rescuing her from the people who did.”
You aren't going to explain any more than that?
“Apparently Fantine recognized the name when you brought it up, and Cosette recognized the name on the card, and there was a happy family reunion. I haven't asked too much about the circumstances when Fantine gave Cosette up. Marius might know a little more.”
I'm not sure how to feel about that.
“Happy, I would think. Cosette says she'll talk to you about it at some point, since you know Fantine and all and Fantine probably won't talk about her personal life with you very much.”
Enjolras looks back at his tablet, and taps out a tune while he thinks of what to say. He only realizes it's “We Are Family” when Courfeyrac snorts. I'm glad for Cosette. For all of you. That things are working out.
Courfeyrac puts his arm around Enjolras's shoulder. “No word from R, then?” Enjolras shakes his head. “And, I assume, none on the curse?” Again. “You'll work both of them out. I know you will. They're just hard questions to tackle at the same time.”
I'm so tired of this.
“Then fix it,” Courfeyrac says, like it's that simple. “You've never taken anything laying down in your life. And it would give the chance for the rest of us to have a little attention.” He ruffles Enjolras's hair before he can object or apologize. “So as penance you get to listen to me gloat about my boyfriend and girlfriend for a little while, because Combeferre is working on an assignment and told me I wasn't allowed to.”
Tell me, says Enjolras, and starts playing love songs to make Courfeyrac smile.
Nobody mentions it this time, though Bahorel rolls his eyes at Enjolras every time they end up looking at each other, but the meeting is quiet, and afterward everyone seems to be making too much of a point of enjoying themselves.
Cosette comes over to where Enjolras is shortly after Marius and Courfeyrac get into a heated argument about some superhero movie Combeferre has been talking about lately. “I wanted to thank you,” she says when she gets close enough, and he raises his eyebrows. “I know you did it by accident, but you put me back in contact with my mother, and that means a lot to me. And to my father.”
I'm glad, he writes, because it's only polite. If I'd known before, I would have done it much sooner. It's an incredible coincidence.
“It is.” She sits down across from him, hands folded neatly in her lap, and when Enjolras blinks at her, not quite sure what more there is to discuss, she smiles like that confirmed something. “I'm aware you don't like me. Or maybe you just don't know what to do with me. But I sort of think we should try to get along, for Courfeyrac's sake.”
If it's any consolation, it's the latter rather than the former. She smiles again when she reads that, and Enjolras lets himself relax a little from his surprise. You seem like someone I'd like to know. I haven't had much energy for making new acquaintances lately.
“Curses are tiring,” she says, with all the experienced sympathy he hasn't had from anyone else but Fantine. “I made some friends in Brest when I was fourteen and when dad started getting sick I ran away, stayed with them, and he stayed around and looked for me instead of leaving like I thought he would, and … and you don't need every story about us. But they're tiring. I know that, and I definitely don't blame you for it.”
That's kind of you. He sighs and starts writing again, because she deserves honesty for honesty. It would be easier if I weren't worrying about R as well.
Cosette's smile gets a little more thoughtful. “That's the other thing about curses. They sort of get into everything, don't they? It all sort of turns into one big problem, tangled up with whatever else.” She pauses, moves her hands flat on the table in a way that reminds him of Fantine, the first time he's really sure that she's Fantine's daughter. “The thing is, that means the solutions tend to get tangled up too.”
“Cosette,” Joly calls across the room, drawing her gaze in time for Enjolras to keep his reaction to himself. “Come on, Lesgles and I need you to moderate a dispute, you're the only one anywhere close to impartial in here.”
“Thank about it,” says Cosette, and leaves him be.
Enjolras thinks about Grantaire and the curse and how the two of them have been connected since the first day, for better and worse. Thinks about proving his feelings. Thinks about John and Abigail Adams, and Grantaire mentioning early on that he's more devout than everyone assumes.
He's still thinking about it when Combeferre collects him to go home.
It's his first time since he moved to the city, and the temple where he grew up was different, a neat little place his father sniffingly called a brothel and his mother avoided in favor of Hera's temple. He's been to clubs, but people go to Aphrodite's temple for a reason, and he has one, if he can bring himself to do what needs to be done.
The temple is loud, pulsing to the beat of the music coming from all the speakers, and it's filled with moving bodies, everyone touching mouths or hands, people kissing to the sides, or touching even more intimately. Enjolras lets himself be conducted around the floor by the press of other people's hands, and their mouths as well, gently disengaging himself if anyone seems to want him to stay, clutching his tablet close to his side despite the strange looks he gets.
The altar is busy as well, a few people kneeling close to it, a girl pushed against it by her girlfriend or partner for the night, the two of them moving together, one of the worshipers nearby with a casual hand on her ankle. Enjolras kneels and tries not to bristle at it. He's here to beg, after all. Just not on his own behalf.
He starts with the correct tributes, lighting one of the nearby candles, placing a fragrant and hastily-purchased little bundle of myrtle next to it before lacing his hands and closing his eyes, trying to remember the prayers he had to commit to memory when he was younger (his parents may have looked down on those who worshiped love, but they weren't going to let him go out into the world without knowing the correct prayers for each god either). Aphrodite Ourania, Aphrodite Pandemos, lady of Cyprus, he begins in his head, feeling like an idiot and a child, and stops.
Nearby, one of the worshipers moans quietly, palming the front of his pants.
I know Grantaire, he thinks instead. And then, in correction, because it matters here, I love Grantaire. And I'm not going to ask for anything on my own behalf. If what everyone says is true and you can hear us when we pray to you, you already know I'm not sorry for what I said. I am sorry he won't believe me. Can't believe me. And I want him to be able to, I want to be able to make him happy and I hope that his faith in you isn't misplaced. His candle flickers at his side. He deserves someone who can tell him they love him out loud. I'd like it to be me.
There's nothing more to add to that, nothing he can say that will make Aphrodite listen and give him the solution he wants. Enjolras stays where he is instead, long after his knees get sore, watching his candle gutter when he opens his eyes and thinking about Grantaire, and the visibility campaign, and Grantaire again, the expression on his face after Enjolras kissed him.
I'll come back tomorrow, he finally thinks. And the next night. Until you tell me no or yes.
“It's yes,” someone says, intruding on his thoughts, and Enjolras doesn't let himself jump in surprise, just waits a second and looks up. The woman who interrupted him is probably a priestess, judging by her clothing, with short hair and a stud in her nose and, apparently, a message for him. Or a proposition. The question is which. “Come with me.”
Enjolras goes. If he has to say no, at least he can be assured she'll listen.
She takes him to a room off the side, equipped with a bed and condoms and, more importantly, privacy. He lets her shut the door and takes his phone out so he can communicate. “She has a message for you, and said that you couldn't answer back,” says the priestess, and there's a light in her eyes that says maybe she isn't as casual about carrying a message from her goddess as she'd like him to think. “She also says that this is for him, not you, and that you should take advantage of her blessing as much as you can.”
Enjolras nods, still standing in the door, every muscle as still as he can make it, hardly daring to hope. It feels as though Aphrodite has been waiting for him to walk through the doors of her temple, and he's not sure if he should resent her or thank her.
The priestess walks back over to him, frames his face in her palms and presses a surprisingly chaste kiss against his mouth before letting him go and stepping back again. “What you need to do to break the curse is this: kiss someone you love.”
Enjolras blinks and reaches for his tablet, typing out a sentence and then facing it towards her so she can see. Anyone I love?
“Someone you love, it's all the instruction she gave me. But I think,” she says with a little smile, “she's trying to give you a choice. Or a chance to back down.”
Thank you, Enjolras types, and prays at the same time. He'll have to make offerings after this, if it works, but it isn't as galling is it might be for most of the rest of the pantheon. Grantaire chose his goddess well, even if he doesn't realize it. I should go, he adds when the priestess keeps watching him expectantly.
“Good luck,” she says, and lets him out the door.
By the time he gets there he's jogging more than running, eager and scared, and it's only when he wakes his tablet up to pre-type the sentence he needs that he realizes it's nearly one in the morning, that Grantaire could easily be asleep or out. Please kiss me, he types anyway, and then on consideration, adds I'll explain afterwards.
Enjolras goes up the stairs to Grantaire's apartment more slowly and knocks quiet enough that if he's asleep in his bedroom he won't hear.
To his surprise, it's only a few seconds before R answers the door, tired but obviously not having been in bed, his hair mussed and dusty in a way that makes Enjolras wonder if he's been cleaning, if Combeferre texted to ask if Enjolras was with him and if he guessed Enjolras might be coming. He puts his tablet in Grantaire's hands and goes past him into the apartment, since he doesn't want the door shut in his face.
When he looks at Grantaire again, he's scowling, looking at Enjolras. When he speaks, he keeps his voice low. Probably Éponine is sleeping. “I'd prefer an explanation now, thanks. This is what the problem was before.”
Enjolras takes the tablet back from him, since his grip on it is loose, and puts it somewhere out of reach. If Grantaire will listen, will just trust him this far, he can have all the explanations he wants later. And if he won't, Enjolras will go to Combeferre and come back. He takes Grantaire's sleeve and mouths Please and sees the exact moment when he gives in, hears the way his breath goes unsteady.
The first time, Enjolras kissed Grantaire, in a flurry of nerves and worry and confusion and hope. This time, it's Grantaire who kisses him, gentle and sweet and something close to reverent, his stubble pressing against Enjolras's cheek and Enjolras's hand still holding on tight to his sleeve. Grantaire pulls away, but not far, and Enjolras lets him, wondering if he should feel any different, if he can risk it, if he can even open his mouth.
He keeps his eyes closed, but Enjolras has never let himself be a coward and Grantaire, he thinks, will forgive him for any pain if he explains. But he loves Grantaire, that's something he's only becoming more sure of, and that's what lets him take in a breath and whisper, as quietly as he can while still making sure it makes a sound, “Grantaire.”