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Nothing good ever comes of Combeferre and Courfeyrac appearing together, shoulder-to-shoulder, and standing somewhere between Enjolras and the exit.

Enjolras, caught with a spoonful of leftover lukewarm soup halfway to his mouth at eleven o'clock on a Wednesday night, has approximately two seconds to think this before it proves itself true. “We need to talk about the Myriel Memorial Benefit,” says Combeferre in the calm and reasonable tone that is presently doing nothing to make Enjolras feel either calm or reasonable.

“No, we don't,” he says, and pretends it doesn't sound like he's begging. “We've had the details of the night ironed out for weeks now.”

“Weeks ago, my grandfather wasn't ill,” says Combeferre.

Enjolras puts down his bowl. “Is he all right? I'm sorry, you shouldn't worry about me when—”

“He'll be fine, or I would have led with that, but I still need to go home for a week, and that week includes the benefit.” Combeferre frowns. “And since Courfeyrac is volunteering and Feuilly is working and … well, you know the list of everyone's activities for the night. I'm afraid you're on your own.”

“Oh God, don't make that face,” says Courfeyrac. Enjolras was not aware that he was making a face, but if it reflects his feelings on the matter he probably looks like an extra in an old horror movie. “We'll figure something out for you, if one of us can't make it we've got to know someone who won't say something egregious to the wrong person.”

“And if we can't?”

Combeferre seems to be trying to take him seriously, but Enjolras knows him well enough to know when he's trying not to laugh. “Then worse things have happened.”

Enjolras tries very hard not to think about benefits spent alone, where all his message gets lost in at least three people a night proposing things that have nothing to do with politics or the charity of the night. It's very rare that he regrets being Senator Lamarque's right-hand man, but the fancy parties are one of those times, and they're only made bearable by Combeferre or Courfeyrac or occasionally Feuilly running interference. The Myriel Memorial Benefit isn't the worst of them, since it's for a good cause and in memory of a good man, but Enjolras still isn't fond of most of the people who attend. “I know worse things have happened,” he says, because that's very true. “But that doesn't mean this is convenient.”

“I'm sure we can work something out,” says Courfeyrac. “Joly and Bossuet might be willing to lend their girlfriend for the night, Musichetta looks amazing in formal dresses, it's sort of unfair. Or they have a few other friends—”

“Probably not them,” says Combeferre, relaxing a little now that he's assured Enjolras isn't going to complain too loudly about his family emergency. “If you stay close to the senator, most of this should be a moot point. I know you like to see more people than he can manage, but he'll forgive you if you aren't networking everyone in the room for one party.”

“Really, he should have you on retainer too,” says Courfeyrac, grinning at Combeferre. “Don't you need to pack? I thought you were taking the late train.”

“Shit, I am. Enjolras, I'll be back a week from tomorrow, call me if you need me, good luck at the benefit, tell me about it,” says Combeferre all in one breath, and disappears into his bedroom to pack, leaving Courfeyrac and Enjolras in the kitchen, Enjolras leaning against the counter, his soup going slowly colder.

Courfeyrac, without even checking the temperature of the soup, removes it from Enjolras's grasp and puts it back in the microwave. “It might,” he says very, very gently, “be time to use that card that Bahorel gave you after you punched that CEO who hit on you too aggressively.”

“Consent is important.”

“It definitely is, but so is not getting arrested. Lamarque really doesn't want to fire you, maybe make it easy on him?” Courfeyrac claps him on the shoulder. “Chin up, it's one night, and Bahorel says they're discreet and classy and worth the expense. Call it an investment in not getting your ass pinched.”

Enjolras tries to bury his face in his hands and almost gouges his eye out with the spoon he's still holding. “Do you think Combeferre's grandfather would like a visit?”

“I think you should probably make a phone call.” Courfeyrac releases him and eyes the microwave, which is still almost a minute from done. “And I'm going to help Combeferre pack so he doesn't forget underwear again, hilarious as that was.”

Enjolras just nods, and when Courfeyrac disappears he stands and stares at the microwave and hates himself a little and wonders when he became the kind of person who calls escort services for dates.

*

It isn't until Enjolras's lunch break the next day that he gets the card out of his pocket, where he stuffed it while trying not to think too hard about it before he left in the morning. The card isn't coy, he can say that for it: Patron Escorts in elegant red type, with a number and Discreet services for your needs beneath it.

Enjolras calls from the bathroom in the basement, which is mostly reserved for interns having breakdowns and rarely used by anyone else.

The woman who answers sounds reassuringly businesslike. “Patron Escorts, how can I help you?”

“Hello, I'm not sure if this is last-minute, but I'm looking for company for an event on Saturday night, a fairly formal one. Just the event. Not … anything else.” He winces. “A male one, if possible.”

“Services at events are all we offer,” she says in a bright tone that still manages to be forbidding, and his estimation of her and the service goes up again. Perhaps it wasn't Bahorel's worst idea to give the card to him. “We do have two male escorts available that evening,” she adds after a moment. “What kind of event are you attending? What will your escort's duties be?”

Enjolras sighs and decides honesty is his best course. “Mainly keeping other people from deciding to try to pick me up instead of listening to me when I speak, and believe me, I wish I were just being self-important at the moment. Probably some implications of being a relationship, but I'm not expecting anything more than someone to stand next to me and make competent conversation. In a suit, preferably.”

“We can arrange the suit. And the rest of it. Both of our escorts available that night are very used to exactly that kind of thing,” she says, smooth and soothing. “Would you want to meet him there? Do you want to see pictures? I can text you the photos from their profiles.”

“That isn't necessary, thank you, as long as I know some way to recognize him. I'll text a picture if you like.”

“It is always helpful when your escort can recognize you,” she says, and Enjolras leans his head against the bathroom door and gives serious thought to hanging up without arranging the rest of the date. He doesn't want to face a hundred wealthy matrons on his own, though, and he doesn't have many other options, and none he likes more than this one. “You'll arrange many of the details of the evening directly with your escort, though I'll need contact information and payment information from you before I can put you in touch with whichever of them chooses you. You can pay, correct?”

“The friend who referred me made me aware of your rates, and I can pay, yes.”

“Thank you, Mr. ...”

Enjolras, against his own better judgment, fills in the gap. “Enjolras.”

“Thank you, Mr. Enjolras.” She asks him a brisk series of questions about how he prefers to be contacted and any other details he wants in a date, and then about his credit card information. Enjolras gives it all as quietly as he can and thanks her when she assures him that he'll have an e-mail from his escort before the end of the day. “Patron Escorts appreciates your business,” she says at last, “and we hope that if you enjoy your escort you'll call us again.”

“Thank you,” Enjolras says, and doesn't say that he's hoping it never becomes necessary.

When he comes out of the bathroom, Marius is over in the files on the other side of the basement, whistling to himself, and he blinks when he looks up and sees Enjolras. “You aren't an intern,” he says.

Enjolras gives serious consideration to going back into the bathroom and waiting for him to go away. Instead, he squares his shoulders and nods. “No, I'm not. What files are you looking for?”

Marius waves a hand. “Oh, the finances from last year's PSA campaign about—”

“If it's last year, it's digitized, you don't need to go into the archives for that,” Enjolras says firmly, and steers him upstairs.

The rest of the day goes normally, everyone going about their tasks easily enough, asking after Combeferre when Enjolras mentions he's out of town. Enjolras doesn't know why he expects anything different, except for a certain amount of paranoia that Marius heard part of his conversation and has told Cosette or Courfeyrac and just what kind of impact that is going to have on Enjolras's peace of mind until Saturday night.

Enjolras has almost managed to make himself forget about the lengths he's going to to protect himself on Saturday night when he checks his personal e-mail at the end of the day and discovers an e-mail from parnasse@patronmin.com.

It's short and professional, just an announcement that he's on the schedule for Saturday evening with a request for more details and a picture if Enjolras is willing to send one, or at the very least a picture of the suit he plans to wear on Saturday night. Enjolras sends a picture both of himself and of the suit and comforts himself that if they start blackmailing him he has Combeferre and Bahorel on his side.

The answer he receives in return is reassuring, and confirms all the details for Saturday night, as well as ground rules, which are much as Enjolras expected: no sex, no kissing, and as “Parnasse,” who doesn't give an alternate name, puts it, “no telling me I'm wasting my potential or that my job is anything but what I should be doing.” It also contains the only information he gets to recognize Parnasse: he'll be wearing a green pocket square when he arrives.

“It feels like one of the movies Courfeyrac picks on his nights to choose,” Enjolras says on the phone to Combeferre on Friday night, after asking after Combeferre's grandfather and being reassured that he's on the mend.

Combeferre hums. “Pretty Woman or Shop Around the Corner?”

“Probably more of the plot devices from the latter. A green pocket square?”

“You can't blame him for protecting himself—if you look dangerous, he can slip the pocket square out and disappear. He can't do that with a photo.”

Enjolras sighs. “You're right, of course. I just don't like this, it feels stupid to hire an escort just because I'm worried people will flirt with me. Not to mention egotistical.”

“It would be if past experience hadn't proved otherwise,” says Combeferre with a wealth of unsympathetic amusement. “It's one night, Enjolras. Don't ask the man about how it is to work in sex work because the agency has made it clear that isn't on the table and that's the assumption you should work on for now, don't say anything about last resorts or stooping, and … just think of him as your assistant. You're the senator's assistant and the escort is yours, dealing with an aspect of your job so you're free to network.”

“Do you think Lamarque would let me hire you as my assistant?”

“You probably couldn't afford me,” Combeferre says kindly, and changes the subject.

*

At quarter to seven on Saturday, Enjolras finds himself standing on the steps of the most famous art gallery in town (Enjolras hates this kind of thing, hates that he already knows what he's going to find inside, the classical music and art on the walls everyone politely comments on, the champagne and the appetizers expensive enough to make him sick and not even particularly appealing for it, the people all being self-congratulatory about their donations to a cause, any cause, a mix of politicians wanting to show off their culture and the art world wanting to show off their knowledge). The room behind him will be filling up, Lamarque already holding court in one corner, and Enjolras is impatient to get inside, but none of the men who pass on their way in stop, or look at him beyond a quick glance, and none of them has a green pocket square.

After a few minutes, when Enjolras is thinking he should turn his phone on and see if Patron Escorts left him a message, his eyes catch on a man about his age a few steps down, pacing back and forth, hands locked behind his back. He doesn't look like one of the usual crowd for this kind of event, with messy dark hair pulled back into a ponytail and the edge of a tattoo peeking out of the collar of his shirt.

When he turns around again, Enjolras notices the green pocket square a few seconds before he sees that the man is looking at him, scrutinizing him like he might recognize him. Enjolras takes a deep breath and goes down the steps until he can intercept his pacing. “Hi,” he says, maybe a little louder than he should judging by the wide-eyed look he gets from Parnasse. “Are you—what should I call you?”

“Pretty much anything you please,” says Parnasse, in a slow tone that sounds more shocked than seductive, and then he visibly shakes himself, holding his hand out to shake. “Sorry, that sounded like a line. You can call me R.”

“And I'm Enjolras.” Enjolras squares his shoulders and decides that if he's going to call an escort for an evening at least he can make sure it isn't a terrible one, and offers his arm once R drops his hand. “Would you like to go inside, or were you waiting for something else?”

“I was—waiting for you, I suppose.” R lets out a short bark of a laugh and puts his arm through Enjolras's. “Let me guess, you're a politician's son and you don't want to get either bored or asked about your father's shitty policies.”

Enjolras starts, but holds on when R seems to take that as a cue to let go of his arm, leading him up the stairs. “I'm sorry, my name wasn't a very good introduction at all. I'm Senator Lamarque's assistant, so his policies aren't shitty at all, even if they're hampered by the more conservative elements in—”

“Right, of course, you've got to have faith in your employer.”

Enjolras frowns and stops before they can make it through the door, and catches the edge of a sardonic smile before it turns into wide-eyed staring again. It doesn't seem like the sort of response an escort should have, so either R is very good or very new, and Enjolras can't begin to tell which. “I'm not sure what you mean by that.”

“Just that politicians are all about blaming things on the other side when they'd do the exact same thing in a vacuum.”

“I can promise you he doesn't do that,” says Enjolras, and even he knows he sounds frosty. It makes R duck his head and look away, and R is stuck with him for the night. Enjolras should at least try to be kind, even when they disagree. “I'm sorry. I may be passionate about politics and I believe in my boss, but I know the political system as a whole is a mess. That's why I'm in politics at all, to fix it.”

R snorts quietly but starts them walking again, in past the bouncer, who checks Enjolras's invitation while R looks awkward and then lets them through. “Of course that's your idea of an apology,” he says quietly, but Enjolras doesn't have time to ask what he means like that before he's interrupted by an acquaintance asking after Lamarque's latest vote. After a minute, R shifts, dropping his arm from Enjolras's. “I'll just ...”

“No, please. I'd rather you stayed,” says Enjolras, and winces at how odd that must sound to the woman he's talking to.

Sure enough, her eyebrows go up, though R's do as well. “Who's this, Enjolras? You didn't introduce us,” she says, in expectant tones.

“I'm R,” he says when Enjolras doesn't jump in, frozen and kicking himself for not coming up with some sort of glib story with Parnasse beforehand. He's clearly a professional, though, because instead of leaving it at that, he adds “And I'm an artist, Enjolras was nice enough to invite me in, I've heard a lot about some of the artists on display tonight. Actually, I'm an occasional student of Le Gros's.”

Enjolras blinks over at him in momentary surprise, but he supposes escorts need hobbies, or students need incomes, and either way the revelation shouldn't be a very shocking one. “We should go have a look at his pictures, then. If you'll excuse me, I'm sure we'll connect later.” He takes R's arm again and strikes out a little further into the room, though he has no idea where the pictures in question are. “You're a lifesaver,” he says in an undertone. “It's very rare I get out of a conversation with her without her offering to take me out for drinks.”

“You have weird priorities,” says R.

“Not at all. It's hard to do my job if people are asking me out. And believe me, I'm aware how egotistical that sounds.”

If R's eyebrows climb much higher, they'll disappear into his hairline. “Maybe, but it doesn't sound very surprising, either. And I'm not going to question your methods, it's worked out pretty well for me so far.”

Enjolras keeps his face straight as well as he can. R is charming, in a very odd way, but he's charming for a living, and Enjolras isn't going to let himself get any illusions about this. It's as Combeferre said: a business arrangement. “I think Le Gros is supposed to be here tonight,” he says as they stroll, pausing only long enough for R to filch an appetizer off the tray of a passing waiter. “Will that make things difficult?”

“It shouldn't.” R is looking at him sidelong again, like either Enjolras is missing something or he is. “But also he isn't coming, I got the news a little belatedly. Right before you came over to me, actually.”

“Enjolras,” says Senator Lamarque, coming out of nowhere with a smile on his face and a plate piled with appetizers on his hand, though Enjolras can't actually see plates anywhere. He supposes one of the staff decided to be polite to an elderly politician. “I was wondering where you'd gone.”

“Just outside to meet R,” says Enjolras. “Senator Lamarque, this is R, he's an artist and a student of Le Gros, who's exhibiting tonight, and R, this is my boss, Senator Lamarque.”

“You must be new,” says Lamarque, with a smile and a handshake for R. “Normally Enjolras's friends stop by the office fairly frequently.”

“New as of tonight, actually.” R gives Enjolras a sidelong look, but Enjolras doesn't know what he's supposed to say in response to that. They probably should have negotiated a little more before they came inside. “And I'm not much for politics anyway, no offense.”

“None taken. I'm not much for art—not that I don't like it, but I don't understand it very well either.” Lamarque nods at both of them. “Le Gros's paintings are only a few feet away, if we walk with purpose we'll make it there and you can tell me about them, R.”

Lamarque starts walking briskly and Enjolras, used to falling easily into step with him, follows, only stopping when he realizes R isn't at his side. Instead, he's standing where they left him, mouth half-open. “Aren't you coming?” Enjolras asks when he doesn't show signs of moving.

“Right, of course, why wouldn't I be giving art lectures to senators, that is exactly what I was expecting this night to be,” says R, and finally follows along, staying close enough to Enjolras that they bump shoulders every time either of them has to sidestep someone.

*

R, as it turns out, has something to say about every piece of art on the walls, especially those from his teacher, and Enjolras follows along after Senator Lamarque gets called away to speak to a local congresswoman about environmental policy, listening to him talk about brush strokes and theme and other things that have always gone over Enjolras's head. “And you don't care,” R finishes after a particularly long monologue about a painting that, as far as Enjolras can see, is just of a half-rotted barn in an overgrown field. “Sorry, you need to stop me if I talk too much, I do that.”

“No, it's really fine. It's interesting, actually. I don't know much about art.”

“Ugh, politicians, I don't know why they even pretend to care about the arts sometimes.”

“Excuse me,” says Enjolras mildly, or as mildly as he can. “I have a friend who's a poet, I understand his poetry fine. I read poetry and listen to music and enjoy both. I'm just not an expert in visual analysis.”

R grins suddenly, startling and bright, nothing like the nervous little smiles he's been giving everyone Enjolras has introduced him to so far. “Fine, I'm sorry for calling you a snob.”

“Did you? The politics side always says that you artists are the snobs,” Enjolras says, grinning himself, disarmed by how unexpectedly honest R seems. Combeferre and Courfeyrac will both scold him for letting his assumptions about R's profession overcome him.

“I submit to you that probably everyone at this party is a snob.” R snags a few appetizers off a passing tray, something involving shrimp, and hands one to Enjolras. “I'm calling myself the exception. And you're a probationary non-snob.”

“I'm honored, I think.”

“Definitely be honored. It's because you clearly hate it if you've been letting me talk shit about art for the last twenty minutes, in case you were wondering.” R goes back to scrutinizing the painting next to the one of the barn, the subject of which Enjolras can't determine, since it's only called Warmth according to the card.

“Okay,” Enjolras says after a few seconds, “you're going to have to explain this one to me, I'm lost.”

R gives him a look, checking his sincerity perhaps, and then smiles again, putting a hand on Enjolras's arm and tugging him so he's viewing the painting from the right angle. “See, the artist seems to be going for the title without using too many warm tones, which is interesting as fuck but isn't as effective as it could have been ...”

*

They make their way around the room, though Enjolras sees more paintings than he does people. He can't say he regrets it, since R keeps up his running commentary, despite occasionally pausing and then looking surprised when Enjolras stops too, like he's expecting Enjolras to walk off. R also, much to Enjolras's distraction, manages to lose his jacket somewhere on one of the benches in front of the larger pieces and then ends up with his sleeves rolled up, more tattoos showing.

Eventually, R finds a sculpture he wants to inspect and Enjolras excuses himself to the restroom. “I'll be back with you in five minutes, if the lines are short,” he promises.

R only looks bemused. “You don't have to babysit me all night.”

“You're protecting me as much as I'm babysitting you. And I'm enjoying it, before you worry about that.” Feedback is important, probably, and Enjolras has nothing but good for R so far despite how different this is from what he was expecting. “Please? I'll be back as soon as I can.”

“Of course,” says R, one eyebrow up like Enjolras is saying something strange, and then shoos him off, going back to looking at what is, from what Enjolras can tell, a bunch of twisted up wire around wood.

Enjolras gets caught by a friend of Lamarque's on his way back to R, whose wife asks intent questions about Enjolras's dating status and whether he'd like to meet a lovely nephew of hers. “I should go back to my date,” he says after the third insinuation, and extricates himself from the conversation thirty seconds later without as much grace as he should have.

R, when he finds him, is pressed against a rare clear spot of wall, turned away from the room, his phone pressed to his ear. “No, I don't,” he's saying when Enjolras gets close enough. “It's a little Twilight Zone, but Ep, I swear—no, seriously. I'm fine. And I'm not drinking, I wouldn't do that when I was—yes, I know. I'll call you again if I think I'll be out past one. Okay? Great, bye.”

Enjolras clears his throat and R jumps and turns around, hiding his phone behind his back like he's expecting Enjolras to scold him for using it. “Calling home?”

“Yeah, sorry. Just … checking in. She likes it when I do.”

“Of course,” Enjolras says, and R looks surprised again. Enjolras seems to have him off-balance more often than not, which is strange when he thinks about it. Surely an escort should check in with the office, especially with a first-time client. He can't say that out loud, though. “It's smart to check in. For all you know, I'm a serial killer.”

That, of all things, makes R laugh. “Right, you pick up poor defenseless artists and give them a night at a fancy party and then you what, kill us during the champagne toast and send us out with the leftover canapes?”

“Exactly,” says Enjolras, and sighs out at the room. “Will you hate it if I say we should do the rounds?”

“I'm sorry, we?”

“I told you you're protecting me, didn't I? It would be hard for you to rescue me from across the room.”

“A knight in shining armor I'm not.”

“You'll do, though.”

*

The second round of the room, focused more on the people than the art, is much less relaxing than the first. After the first three conversations, Enjolras puts his arm through R's to make sure no one can mistake that they're together, and he gets used to introducing him in one breath, a simple “This is R, he's an artist and my date for the evening,” which makes R look wide-eyed again the first five times before he seems to get used to it.

R, as it turns out, may profess himself an artist but knows more than a little about politics as well, judging by his rare comments in Enjolras's conversations. “It's bullshit, but I don't want to get into a fistfight at a gala,” says R when Enjolras comments on it.

They're between conversations, so Enjolras lets himself turn to R and concentrate on him. “Bullshit in what sense?”

“Just the notion that there will ever be a political system that works for everyone. I mean, clearly we can do a fu—a lot better, but from here it's kind of a matter of opinion as to what exactly 'better' means.”

Enjolras raises his eyebrows. “So, you believe in anarchy?”

“I believe in Jim Beam, Jim Henson, and Carl Sagan, and that's pretty much the end of it,” says R, and turns away to grab a few more snacks from a passing member of the catering staff. He's much better at catching them than Enjolras is, it's become obvious, but he always shares his spoils.

Enjolras knows a dismissal when he hears one, so he takes the offered appetizer (this one seems to involve goat cheese) with thanks and starts walking again, in the direction of one of Lamarque's more wealthy supporters, who has a tendency to leer but will hopefully keep it in check in R's presence. It's a longer conversation than usual, and by the end of it R is looking between her and Enjolras with his eyebrows raised. When they walk away, R is the one to reach out for him, putting an arm around his shoulders so Enjolras has to compensate and put an arm around R's waist in return, so they're walking closer than Enjolras would normally dare at a benefit.

“I'm starting to believe your story about me being your sexual harassment bodyguard,” R says quietly, breath tickling in Enjolras's ear, as they go away.

“She's never actually said anything, it's just awkward being … blatantly appreciated like that.”

“Yes, poor thing, you are found universally attractive. Should I feel honored? I definitely feel honored.”

“It's not as though you're unattractive. The opposite, in fact.”

When R stumbles, both of them do, until they're pressed awkwardly together in the middle of the room. Enjolras is dimly aware that it's probably not dignified to be caught this close to his date when he's here for work tonight, but R is still the one to move away first, unwinding their arms until they're standing close but not touching. “Thanks, I think.” R's smile is tentative, and Enjolras doesn't know how to answer that. “For the compliment? It seems like there was a compliment in there alongside all the double negatives, but it's hard to be sure.”

“You're very attractive,” Enjolras rephrases, because he may be paying R for the pleasure of his company, but it is a pleasure, and only a select group of people can manage that, most days.

“I'm … okay.” R starts walking again, though Enjolras isn't sure exactly what his trajectory is, except for maybe away from the conversation. Perhaps it's uncomfortable for a client to say he's attractive, though it seems the kind of thing he would be used to.

Maybe he thinks Enjolras will ask him to do something more than he wants to? “I don't intend to make you uncomfortable,” he says when he catches up to R again, only a few feet away where R stopped to look longingly at a member of the catering staff with a tray of champagne, which he seems to be abstaining from. “Please let me know if I do, I want to avoid it.”

“I'm not uncomfortable, I'm just … this is not how my life usually goes, you know?”

That's alarming, more than a little bit. Shouldn't this be exactly what R is used to, a nice party and this kind of atmosphere, some stranger on his arm? If it isn't, either Enjolras is doing something very wrong or everyone else is. “It's how it goes tonight, if you have no objections.”

“I think a thousand five-year-old girls started crying and don't know why,” says R, nonsensically, and points at one of the less-populated nooks they haven't managed to see yet. “Come on, we should give the under-loved artists some attention as well, if only to mock them.”

Enjolras follows, because R seems to need a minute to collect himself and nobody else is urgently catching his attention anyway. This won't be one of his better-networked events, but at least he won't be embarrassed and an embarrassment for Lamarque.

The paintings, when they get there, turn out to be a series of vaguely demonic-looking children and animals. R, after staring at them for a minute, starts saying something about folk art before sighing and shaking his head. “Some things are irredeemable. Ten bucks says she's either related to the owners or recently and interestingly perished.”

“I don't bet, I've got bad luck.”

“Funny, me too. Maybe we'd both clean each other out and come out even?”

“I don't think that's how gambling works.”

“And you call yourself an optimist.” R tilts his head, eyeing a picture of a child hugging a dog. “I feel like it's watching me. Like, it's saying 'I'm strangling this dog and you're next.' She should animate horror films, it could be a thing.”

Enjolras laughs. “Maybe we should move on? At this rate you're going to decide if we look away they'll move, and we should head that off at the pass. I still have at least three politicians and four lawyers to talk to. Are you ready?”

R holds his arm out this time, and Enjolras takes it. “The horror movie in the making over here may be better than lawyers, but if I must, I must. As long as we can find a waiter with more of those goat cheese things, all this walking around and chatting is making me hungry.”

“I think that can be arranged.”

*

Enjolras doesn't know how to negotiate the end of the night, he realizes as the room starts to empty out, the first few people claiming an urgent need to get home to their children, or an early morning run that can't be missed. Normally, Enjolras is one of the first of those, but he finds himself reluctant to go this time. He's not a romantic—he's not going to say he's fallen in love with R or even close to it in one night, but he'll regret the loss of his company, and more than that he'll regret the loss of the illusion. Outside the party, he's R's client. Inside, he's not quite sure what he is, but it's easier to deal with than figuring out how to say goodbye for the night.

“I've got to either check in with my roommate or head home,” R says when the room is half empty and Enjolras has caught Lamarque actively shooing him towards the door twice.

“I'll put you in a cab, it's late,” says Enjolras, because there's no use delaying the inevitable, and starts them walking towards the door.

R gives him measuring looks every few steps, but he's the one who ends up breaking the silence. “Sure you don't have anywhere else to drag me?”

Enjolras tries not to wince. “No, tonight was more than enough. Thank you, I wouldn't have made it through without you.”

“Thank you. Better than standing on the steps like a lost puppy all night, anyway.” R grins and somehow manages to expertly dodge a tipsy society matron who's all too fond of pinching Enjolras and telling him what a nice young man he is.

They're almost to the door, and Enjolras belatedly realizes R is still without his jacket. “You left your jacket,” he says, stopping where he is.

R shrugs. “Not worth going back for it, not the best suit in the world anyway.”

“Yes, but the sun's gone down. It will be chilly.”

“There are solutions to that,” says R, and grabs Enjolras's arm, pulling him outside while Enjolras tries not to let his inclination slow them down.

It is colder than it was, though not really enough to make Enjolras regret not bringing a heavier coat. R hunches his shoulders, hands in his pockets, and this time Enjolras is the one to walk ahead, towards the line of cabs waiting at the bottom of the stairs. “We should be able to get you one, it will be much warmer,” he says when R lags.

“And much more expensive. I'll just get to the bus stop unless you ...”

“I insist,” Enjolras says, more firmly than he means to. R frowns, then smiles, and Enjolras doesn't know which is the real reaction. “If that makes you uncomfortable, I won't, but I want you to get home safe.”

“From the nicest part of town, yeah.” R snorts, rocking on the balls of his feet, probably cold. “Fine, you've twisted my arm, a cab is okay.”

Enjolras takes them down the rest of the steps, and when R keeps his shoulders high, huddled, he shrugs off his jacket and holds it out, shaking it a little when R just stares. “I don't have long to go, and I should check in with Lamarque before I go anyway. Maybe I'll just grab your jacket from the party while I'm there.”

“You are fucking kidding me, Prince Charming, okay.” R puts the jacket on. It settles awkwardly across his shoulders, fits wrong in the arms, but he looks warmer with it on, and at this point no one will notice or care. If it bothers R, he can send it back through the agency, as Enjolras will do with R's jacket. “Thanks. So are we …?”

“We're set,” Enjolras says, waving down one of the taxis and shepherding R towards it. R goes, hands in his pocket again, and when he stops, taxi door open, Enjolras waits for him to say something. Maybe about confirming payment, or thanking him for his business, or something else to end the night, to remind Enjolras this is a professional engagement.

Instead, R gives him a long, long look, standing close enough that it's all Enjolras can do not to reach out. Maybe he expects a goodnight kiss, part of the package, but he thinks he remembers from the e-mails that it's not allowed, so Enjolras steps back instead, gesturing him into the taxi. “Okay,” says R, unsure again.

Enjolras hands the cab driver enough far to get R anywhere in the city he may need to go and shakes his head when R tries to object. “Just get home safe,” he says. “It was a good night, may as well end it on a good note.”

“Thanks for everything, Enjolras. I guess I'll ...”

“Thank you. And goodbye, I suppose,” says Enjolras, and shuts the cab door before he can say anything stupid.

He thinks he sees R staring out the window at him as he drives off, and he waves and turns around to go back inside. Lamarque is in the door when he gets there, and raises his eyebrows when he sees Enjolras on his own. “I thought you and R had left, you're here far later than usual.”

“He left his jacket, I'm finding it so I can return it to him.”

“Planning on seeing him again? I got the impression it was a first date.”

“It was. I'm not sure about the second, but I should at least get his jacket back to him.”

Lamarque waves him off, on his way out, and Enjolras finds R's jacket on a bench in front of Le Gros's paintings (which he's fairly sure is not where R actually left it) and puts it on for the ride home. It's chilly out, after all.

*

Enjolras turns his phone on once he's in a cab of his own. There are a few texts, mostly from Combeferre and Courfeyrac asking him how things are going, and a voicemail. He brings it up, giving the cab driver a tight smile when he catches him watching in the rearview mirror.

“Mr. Enjolras,” says a half-familiar voice, “this is Patron Escorts, and I'm very sorry, but Montparnasse has come down with a stomach flu and won't be able to attend your event tonight, and our other escorts are all engaged for the evening. We apologize deeply for the inconvenience and hope we haven't lost your business. You'll be refunded for tonight and if you choose to engage our services again there will be a discount on your next date. Thank you for your business, and we apologize again.”

The cheery electronic voice on his phone asks if he wants to delete, save, or listen to his message again. Enjolras is tempted to listen again, just to make sure he understands, but he doubts the conclusion he reaches will be any different.

R wasn't an escort. He was at the benefit—perhaps the date of another guest, perhaps just hoping to get in to see his teacher's paintings—and Enjolras coopted his evening entirely and assumed he was correct after a hasty assumption. It explains R's confusion more than a few times over the night, the way it seemed like he might want to be kissed at the end of the night, and a hundred other details Enjolras brushed off. It's mortifying.

It's more than that, really. Enjolras looks down at himself in R's jacket, ill-fitting because R's shoulders are broader, and clenches his fists. If there was something real there, if R put up with Enjolras introducing him around and using him as a human shield not because he was being paid but because he was helping, or wanted more, then Enjolras would be more than willing to have something more. Would welcome it, in fact.

The problem is that other than one letter, a jacket, and the name of an artist Enjolras has never met in his life, he has no idea at all who R is.

*

“You're going to have to say that again,” says Courfeyrac.

Enjolras, scowling into his oatmeal on Sunday morning, transfers the scowl upwards. “You heard me.”

“Yes, but you need to say it again so I can record it this time.”

Enjolras removes a blueberry from the top of his oatmeal and throws it across the table. Courfeyrac catches it and eats it and never stops looking expectant. “Would you at least mock me after helping me figure out what to do about this?”

“Track him down, kiss in the rain, get your jacket back. It's a nice jacket.”

R's jacket, considerably less nice, is tossed on the couch. It is, Enjolras has already discovered through more Googling than he cares to admit to, something bought off the rack in a store, and it's impossible to track from there. The jacket is the long shot, though. “Should I? What am I supposed to tell him? That I thought he was an escort and assumed he would be happy to spend the evening wandering around a boring benefit, that I—”

“It's an honest mistake. He was checking you out, you thought he was sizing you up from your pictures, he had the green pocket square, it all makes sense.” Courfeyrac frowns. “Do I need to call Combeferre? I will do it if I have to.”

“No, don't. I'll tell him about it later, he'll have some mercy and some more helpful ideas than attempting to act out The Notebook.”

“And you said you weren't watching.”

“Nicholas Sparks and his heteronormative ideas about tragic love do more damage to our culture's ideas of romance than Twilight ever did.”

“You are grouchy about this.” Courfeyrac reaches across the table and touches his arm. “Look, you like him?” Enjolras nods, grudgingly. “Then there are a few avenues to track him down, and we'll do it. Seems to me the art teacher thing is a good route to take, he'll know who his student is, especially if you show up with a description and a dramatic speech.”

“I should forget about it. That's what anyone would do. They'd chalk it up as an embarrassing misunderstanding. R has probably just marked it off as a surreal night and forgotten about it.”

Courfeyrac gives him a pitying look and then shakes his head. “For the record, that's not an excuse. If you like him, find him. Explain. And if he doesn't slap you, kiss him. Seems simple enough to me.”

Kissing R, now that it's a possibility and not something forbidden by company policy, seems more tempting than it should. Judging by Courfeyrac's expression, he knows that. “Finding him and explaining, maybe. We'll see if he still wants to kiss me after that.”

“If he doesn't, he is a very rare creature who has never read any fairy tales at all. He even left his jacket behind.”

Enjolras goes back to his oatmeal and ignores Courfeyrac's little snort and the sound of him starting to type something out, probably a text detailing the situation to Combeferre. “I can't believe this,” he mutters, and flicks another blueberry at Courfeyrac when he laughs outright.

*

It isn't hard to find Le Gros online, and even less hard to find the art program where he teaches most of his classes, and Enjolras stops by Tuesday after work, after encouragement from Courfeyrac and most of the rest of his friends in person and Combeferre over the phone. The problem, however, comes when Enjolras is told that Le Gros has flown to Madrid and may not be back for weeks. “But I can take a message,” says the receptionist at the school, too-sweetly in the way that almost certainly means Enjolras has already made her angry. “Were you hoping to sign up for classes?”

“No, I was hoping to find one of his students, I met him at the Myriel Memorial Benefit the other night.”

“I can't give out student information.”

Enjolras takes a deep breath, because he knew that. Of course he knew that, it's only logical and right. “You can't confirm if someone is a student or not either, I assume?”

“Afraid not.”

“Of course. If there's a student who goes by R who comes here, perhaps let him know that Enjolras has his jacket and that I'll return it to him if I can.”

She continues eyeing him blankly, which can't mean anything good, but it was worth a try. “If there's a student who goes by R I will definitely do that,” she says eventually, far too easy.

“I may come back and make an appointment with Le Gros when he returns. Thank you for your help,” says Enjolras, and retreats.

There are other schools where Le Gros teaches, and a community center, and part of Enjolras wants to go ask them as well, hope that R shows up or that someone takes pity on him. Then, though, he has to imagine R's reaction if Enjolras were to explain practically stalking him across the city after mistaking him for an escort. In the end, he takes the jacket and goes back home, since Combeferre will be back tomorrow and Courfeyrac has been practically living with him in the meantime and neither of them has cleaned since Combeferre left.

Courfeyrac takes one look at the jacket draped over his arm when he comes back and wisely leaves him to do the dishes in peace.

*

“I don't really have any other solutions for you,” says Combeferre the next night, sitting on the couch with a mug of cocoa, since he inexplicably hates tea. “If you want to keep making an effort on this, that is.”

“Of course I do.”

“I respect that, but it's not an 'of course.' Especially not for you.” Combeferre blows on his mug and Enjolras takes a sip of his tea. It's still too hot, but it's something to do. “Wanting to apologize and return his jacket, of course that makes sense, but I have to say that with most people you probably would have given up after visiting the College of Art. It's good for you, though. I'm actually glad I had to go away.”

Enjolras sighs. “You and Courfeyrac think this is so funny.”

“I don't think it's funny at all. Did I say I did? I said I think it's good for you.” Combeferre pauses, taking a contemplative drink of his cocoa. “And a little funny, in the interests of full disclosure.”

“Wonderful.”

“And for the record, from what it sounds like, I'd like to meet him. He seems interesting.”

“He is.”

“And that's why I think this could be good for you. If you find him. You haven't gone to any of the other schools where Le Gros teaches?”

Enjolras makes a face. “It felt a little too much like Marius's attempts to woo Cosette, and while those were effective I can't really say they were particularly well-thought-out. Or, in some cases, legal. He's very lucky she loves him back.”

“You don't think R was genuinely interested, after following you around for an evening without asking you for anything except occasional stops to see the art? Enjolras, I don't do that. I do my best, but it's still an inconvenience. He went along with it, and I really doubt, from what you've told me, that it's because he enjoys society parties.”

“So what are my options?”

“You know your options. Leaving messages, finding Le Gros, posting advertisements, maybe.” Combeferre raises his eyebrows. “I don't blame you if you don't want to go to the trouble, by the way. I'm only encouraging this because you seem interested, but if you're too embarrassed or it's too inconvenient to track him down, that's fine too.”

“And if I do track him down, I have to tell him that I thought he was an escort.”

“Yes, though if you're lucky he might be flattered. Does that mean you're going to do it?”

“I don't know. Maybe. I have work to do for Lamarque, I can't put that on hold to chase someone around the city, but I might give it a few more tries.”

Combeferre smiles and toasts him with his cocoa. “That sounds like a good plan of attack to me. And you can always ask everyone else if they have ideas—Feuilly knows some of the art community, and Musichetta as well, so Joly and Bossuet probably do too.”

“I'll ask them, then, next time I see them. I didn't get much cooperation from the receptionist at the College of Art.”

“Good.” Combeferre nods. “Now, are you going to tell me about any networking you actually did at this event?”

Enjolras drinks more of his tea, relieved at the change of subject, and starts talking. If Combeferre notices that he has less connections to mention than usual, he doesn't bring it up.

*

“How's R doing?” Lamarque asks one afternoon when he stops by Enjolras's desk, a smile on his face while Enjolras tries to sort through a day's worth of e-mails.

Enjolras thinks very carefully about that question, and the wide range of possible answers he could give. Most of them, he knows, are unacceptable, or would require way too much explaining. He's been haunting art schools and hasn't found a sign of R, and none of his friends seem to know anyone who goes by that name, or at least not anyone who would have been on the steps of the Myriel Memorial Benefit that night (Joly and Bossuet looked thoughtful and he almost got his hopes up, but they dismissed it a second later). “We haven't really been in touch,” he finally says. “Things have been busy.”

Lamarque raises his eyebrows. “I hope you didn't fight or anything, I liked him when I met him. All is well?”

“They should be, if I ever get the chance to talk to him again,” Enjolras says, and hopes he isn't lying.

*

All the warning Enjolras gets is Marius's head poking around the door, and the alarmed look Marius gives him before he starts talking. “There's someone here to see you.”

Enjolras waits, but that's all Marius seems to be giving him. “Me, not the senator? I don't have an appointment right now, do you know who it is?”

“He says he's here to return your jacket?” Marius says, and Enjolras is on his feet a second before the door opens wider, revealing not just Marius, but R standing behind him. They stare at each other for a long moment, until Marius clears his throat. “So I'll just go?”

“Thanks, Marius. I might take my lunch early, let the senator know if you see him.” Marius disappears, because he at least has the delicacy and the sense of good timing for that. “R, come in. Hello.”

R looks around his office, hands clutched on the strap of the bag he has slung over his shoulder. He looks more at home in slightly worn jeans and a long-sleeved shirt than he did in his suit, and he looks uncomfortable and determined, and Enjolras has no idea how or why R tracked him down but he's becoming rapidly aware that while he was determined to find him he had no idea at all what he was going to say when he did. “Hi,” R finally says, and then frowns, turns to face Enjolras. “So, you're kind of an asshole, and I made us lunch. Do you want to have a picnic and explain to me exactly what the fuck everything was about at the benefit?”

“I think.” Enjolras swallows. “I think that sounds fair. Lunch sounds wonderful. I have some fruit I brought for an afternoon snack, I could bring that too.” He fumbles his phone out and texts Lamarque, out on his own lunch, that he'll be out of the office for lunch and may end up having to take an emergency afternoon off. “There's a park a little ways—”

“I know where it is, I paint there sometimes.” R turns around and starts walking, and Enjolras is left scrambling, embarrassed and off-guard, to grab his jacket, phone, and snacks and catch up with him. Marius hasn't gone far, and he gives Enjolras a wide-eyed look and mouths Are you being kidnapped? as Enjolras passes, which Enjolras doesn't deign to acknowledge.

The walk to the park is silent and tense, and it's only when they sit down on one of the benches and R pulls out a bag of sandwiches that Enjolras manages to say something. “I tried to find you.”

“Yes, I tracked you down when Floreal at the College of Art told me some blond was trying to return my jacket, what I don't get is why. You were pretty clear about the benefit being a one-night … whatever it was. What was it? You just, I don't know, pick up artists on the steps of fancy events and drag them around the room and charm the fuck out of them and then very kindly reject them at the end of the night?”

Enjolras takes one of the sandwiches when R holds the bag out, still scowling. “I thought you were an escort,” he says, because it's probably best to say it right out, and if R storms away at least he's said that much.

“You thought I was what?”

Enjolras looks down at the sandwich he's holding because he can't make himself look at R anymore. “I'd hired an escort for the evening, because usually I ask my friends for help on nights like that but none of them could make it and I didn't want to deal with it all on my own. And the escort didn't give me a full name or a picture, but he said he would be wearing a green pocket square. And you were looking at me, so I thought you'd recognized my picture.”

“And didn't take into account that you're just the kind of person that people occasionally stare at? Because come on, you've got to be aware of that, it's why you hired an escort in the first place, you hired an escort? And you thought it was me?”

“That is what I just told you, yes.” Enjolras grits his teeth. “So while, by the end of the evening, I was genuinely interested, I wasn't going to kiss you or do anything else because I thought I'd paid you and that would have been coerced consent at best.”

There's a long enough pause that Enjolras starts wondering if it's going to ruin the moment if he starts eating the sandwich so he doesn't drop any of the filling on the ground. “I wouldn't believe you,” R finally says, “except you sound grudging enough about it that I sort of think it has to be true.”

“It is. If you want to call the agency and confirm, I'm more than happy to give you the number.”

“And so you just left your escort standing on the steps?”

“He was sick, apparently. I didn't know you weren't him until I checked my phone on the way home.” He finally takes a bite of the sandwich and risks a sideways look at R, who's sitting next to him with one leg tucked up under him, looking out at the park instead of at Enjolras, the bag of sandwiches sitting in his lap. “I don't actually know your name. It's part of why I couldn't find you.”

“I couldn't fucking spell yours, do you know how hard it is to Google 'Enjolras who works in Lamarque's office' when you don't actually know how to spell it? I was lucky I finally found your byline on his website. Taking on big oil, really? That's going to work out well for you.”

“I'll tell you exactly how not taking on difficult things is what makes everyone believe they're impossible some other time. I'd still like to know your name.”

“Oh.” That's the quiet, surprised tone R used a few times at the benefit, and Enjolras turns to face him for real again, just in time to catch R darting a glance at him and then away. “It's Grantaire. I mean, that's what I go by, really, that's what a Google search would have given you.”

“Grantaire.” He tests the word out and smiles, or does his best to. “I should apologize, for making assumptions at the benefit, and not explaining. It was a misunderstanding and completely my fault, and you probably had other plans that I ruined, and I apologize for that too.” He takes a deep breath. “But mostly I'm sorry for sending you away at the end of the night because I didn't realize. I didn't want to.”

“I was making it pretty obvious I wanted to kiss you. You couldn't have, I don't know, asked if it would cost extra to kiss me or something, and we could have had a blowup on the steps outside of the benefit like idiots and figured it out and not had to chase each other down?”

“Bringing up money seemed like it would ruin it, at that point.” Enjolras sighs and eats more of his sandwich, because he wants his hands free but handing it back to R—Grantaire—won't do him much good either. “Did you want some of my fruit?”

“I feel like there's a really good innuendo in there if I want to try and I just want to acknowledge it.” Grantaire pauses. “Yes. I don't actually like sandwiches all that much, but Éponine said I should bring food so I could tempt you out of your office before I started yelling and Éponine must always be obeyed. And Bossuet said that sandwiches are good wooing food but I probably shouldn't trust him because I don't think his boyfriend or girlfriend have let him in the kitchen since—”

“Wait,” says Enjolras, and closes his eyes, because no, he can't possibly have missed out on meeting Grantaire simply because he didn't mention his initial to his friends. It's not possible. “You're Joly and Bossuet's artist friend. Musichetta keeps telling them to ask you to do graphic design for events posters and campaigns.”

“You are kidding me,” says Grantaire, and then is hand is on Enjolras's arm, and Enjolras opens his eyes and turns to look at them, the two of them sitting close and staring until Enjolras loses his composure and lets out something that he can't really deny is a giggle. “You are kidding me,” he says again, and groans, and then abruptly becomes serious, grabbing Enjolras's wrists since Enjolras is still somehow holding his sandwich. “Anything they tell you, once they figure this out, is a total lie. Especially if it involves the word 'mooning' or if they start saying anything about classical statuary.”

“You've been out with Bahorel,” Enjolras continues, barely paying attention to R's speech because he's fairly certain he's been embarrassing as well, and how close he came to not having to search for him is ridiculous. “I think Combeferre knows who you are, though apparently not your nickname.”

“I've heard his name. I've heard almost everyone's name but yours, I think, seriously, how did this happen?” Grantaire releases Enjolras, and Enjolras stares down at the remains of his sandwich, which is more than a little the worse for wear. He thinks there's mayonnaise on his hand, and he doesn't even like mayonnaise that much.

“I don't know. I wish someone had figured it out, I wanted to find you much sooner. And I'm glad you found me.” He takes a deep breath. “I'd like to take you on a date, if you aren't horribly offended by the misunderstanding. I was going to ask after I returned your jacket and explained, and I don't have your jacket with me right now—”

“I have yours, and yes.”

“What?”

“You asked me out. So, yes. I'd like to see what you're like on a date when you don't think you're paying me.”

Enjolras doesn't realize that he's smiling until he catches Grantaire doing it as well. “Probably awful,” he warns. “I don't do this often, and I get distracted by work, which is why I had to call an escort in the first place, and I still won't know anything about art.”

“Okay. I'm probably going to insult your boss with generalities about polities several times a week and insult your political fervor more often than that, and some nights I am going to stay up until four in the morning painting and then yell at you if you ask me to see it before it's done. Will you kiss me?”

Before R can say anything else, Enjolras leans forward and does it, kissing him the way he wanted to at the end of the benefit, as gently as he can bring himself to do. It's R who leans into it, who brings a hand up to Enjolras's face to tilt it so his nose isn't mashing uncomfortably into R's cheek. Enjolras keeps his hands where they are, wrapped around the stupid sandwich, the bread compressing and the filling undoubtedly spilling out. R smells faintly of soap and sweat, and his fingertips are cold on Enjolras's face, sliding into his hair, keeping him where he is.

Enjolras is the first to pull back when he hears someone passing by giggle, and the first thing he does is look down at the mess of sandwich in his hands. It may still be edible, but he isn't going to eat it. “Do you have a napkin?”

“Do you have a napkin, he says. Kiss worthy of a—what's the award show that does the kissing? Not the porn awards, I don't think that does either. Kiss worthy of an award, anyway, and he asks for a napkin,” Grantaire says, presumably to himself, rummaging around in his bag and pulling out what looks like a rag, stained faintly with paint.

Enjolras takes it, dropping the sandwich for the collecting pigeons and cleaning his hands off. “I wanted the napkin because I want to put my hands on you,” he says, and drops it just in time for R to kiss him again, tugging him in by the collar of his shirt and breaking the kiss to smile when Enjolras puts his hands on his shoulders and holds on tight.

By the time they let go, the bag of sandwiches is crushed between them, a mess of bread and fillings still in the bag, one peanutbutter and jelly sandwich smashed together with the more savory sandwiches, and R starts laughing when he sees it. “Good thing you brought your snacks with you, I should have gotten these out of the way before.”

Enjolras reaches for the lunch bag with the grapes and bananas in it that he keeps for long afternoons at work with a smile, and checks his phone while he's at it. His lunch hour is more than half over, and there's the walk back to factor in after they've eaten as well. “I don't have anything urgent in the office this afternoon,” he says when R looks down at his phone and frowns. “I could call out. Nobody would mind. If you wanted to have our first date right now.”

“Second, I think the picnic counts.” Grantaire tilts his head, considering. “Third, I think I'm counting the benefit.”

“Then we can have our third date right now.”

“Right.” R nods. “Or, and I'm not saying I don't want to date you because I think all my friends would simultaneously hunt me down and murder me if I didn't make that clear, or we could go back to one of our apartments.”

Enjolras fumbles his phone into his lap and sends a text to Marius because he can't make himself say anything out loud. Won't be back in the office this afternoon, DO NOT let DB get through to the senator, tell him I'll work Sat. for this. “Where's yours? Mine's about twelve blocks away,” he finally says.

“There works,” says R, and stands up and holds out his hand for Enjolras to take.

Enjolras packs up the remains of their lunch before he stands and takes it.

*

“I'm afraid,” Grantaire says very quietly into Enjolras's mouth, pressing him against his own front door while Enjolras fumbles behind his back to lock the apartment after him, “that you're going to have to suffer through a blowjob.”

Enjolras freezes, hand clutched tight on the doorknob, and tries to breathe through the images he gets from that, of R on his knees, grinning up at him, putting his mouth … “Oh my God,” he says when R pulls away, maybe concerned about his reasons for not answering sooner.

“Awesome, good to know. So, here? Couch? Bed?”

Enjolras wracks his brains for Combeferre's schedule. He shouldn't be home for a few hours, so any of those could theoretically be an option, but he always suspects that Combeferre somehow knows when he does anything untoward in common areas. “Bed,” he says, not without regret.

“Right, step one vanilla sex, step two handjobs in the shower, I'm not sure what step three is but I'll bet you have great ideas.” R stays where he is, and Enjolras can't bring himself to go anywhere when they're pressed together. “We should move.”

“We should.”

Grantaire, after a moment, is the one to move first, catching Enjolras's hand and dragging him across the apartment until Enjolras changes their trajectory and gets to his room, with more stumbling than usual. He can't regret that, though, not with R's hands still on him.

They separate once they're inside, Grantaire looking around and Enjolras letting him, remembering the awkwardness of letting someone see his space for the first time when he hasn't done it in years. “So, if I'm going to blow you I need your pants off. Do you want me to?”

“No, I can.” Enjolras isn't shy about taking his clothes off when he needs to, a side effect of living with Courfeyrac for two years in college, so he puts deed to word and takes his shirt off and then ducks his head while he undoes his fly and gets out of his shoes and socks. He only stops when he hears R take a sharp breath. “Too fast?”

“No. I'm assuming if you're going for full nudity I should too? Give you something to look at from on high.”

“I'd object to the phrasing, but it's literal.” Enjolras keeps his hands where they are while R strips off his shirt, getting tangled in the sleeves. His tattoos are swirls across his skin, abstract and colorful, and Enjolras steps forward without meaning to, traces a line that twists across his chest like a DNA helix. R's chest moves against his hand as he breathes, and Enjolras leans forward to kiss him, urgent and deep. Their skin is fast warming from the chill outside, and it only takes a few seconds before R is impatiently pulling at the fastening of Enjolras's pants, pushing them down off his hips, Enjolras helping as much as he's able.

“You are incredible.”

“You aren't even looking at me.”

“I will be soon, go on, please, step out of those and go sit on the bed, I'm going to get on my knees the good old-fashioned way and I want my jeans on so I don't get carpet burn.”

“Right, of course.” Enjolras stumbles backwards to his bed, which could have used a change of sheets days ago but didn't get one because he was too busy hunting R down, which he now regrets. Then again, if all goes well, they'll need washing in a few hours anyway.

The second Enjolras is sitting, his legs splayed apart, Grantaire is kneeling between them, working his way busily down Enjolras's chest with kisses, hands braced on his legs. “Everything good?” Grantaire asks after a lingering kiss just below his navel, looking up through his lashes and doing the rest of the job of getting Enjolras hard all at once.

“Everything's wonderful. Are you okay?”

“Great. I am going to be better in about five seconds,” says R, and then oh, he makes good on his word, eyes closed and making little noises from the beginning like he knows exactly what that's going to do to Enjolras, like his mouth isn't enough already, like Enjolras won't be finishing embarrassingly fast.

That seems to be Grantaire's aim, though. Grantaire is thorough and quick, like he needs it, like he wants it, like he's been thinking about it as much as Enjolras has, in between just wanting to find him. He moans when Enjolras puts his hands in his hair, trying to hold rather than to pull. It's hot and wet and skilled, R's hand making up for what his mouth can't do, and Enjolras pants more than breathes, holding on for dear life.

“I'm going to come,” he says, too soon, embarrassingly soon, and then, “Fuck, fuck, I'm going to come and we forgot about condoms, stop.”

Grantaire stops right away, rocking back on his heels, eyes wide and blown, hands still braced and trembling a little on Enjolras's knees. “Options?”

Enjolras scoots back on the bed. “Take off your pants and get up here with me, come on.”

R takes him at his word, standing and getting out of the rest of his clothes in record time, hopping to get out of the left leg of his jeans and letting Enjolras have a two-second glimpse of his naked body before he's climbing on the bed and over Enjolras, his hair tumbling down around his face and, a second later, his mouth on Enjolras's.

Enjolras is the one to get a hand between them. He wraps it around Grantaire's cock, feeling for the right angle and finding it when R sighs into his mouth, a little noise behind it. He goes slow, tests the feeling, tests the stroke, and ignores that he's hard enough he's leaking. Grantaire concentrated on him, so he can return the favor at least for a few minutes.

Grantaire's kisses grow sloppier, and both of them are starting to glisten with sweat, though the position isn't particularly athletic. “How close are you?” Enjolras asks when R finally stops kissing him, moving his mouth down to the hollow of Enjolras's throat. “Should I do us both?”

“We both can, come on,” says Grantaire, shifting his weight to one hand and moving the other down, and then it's a tangle of their fingers, their cocks pressed together and their grip just tight enough, the angle perfect, and Enjolras comes before Grantaire, but only by a few strokes.

After a breathless moment, R tips to his side, his come-covered hand still laced with Enjolras's, which will probably start to feel disgusting in five minutes but which only feels good now.

R is the first one to speak, once they both have their breath back. “I am really glad I followed Éponine's advice and tracked you down. She thought I should slap you for mixed signals, but this is a better idea.”

“I will send Éponine flowers,” Enjolras says, and he's surprised at how rough his voice sounds when R was the one with a cock in his mouth. “That was good? We can do this again, after a date?”

“After a date, before a date, during a date, I'm not picky.”

Enjolras grins, already feeling lazy after sex, and turns his head so he can see Grantaire, who's still looking up at the ceiling. “Any of those can be arranged. I have another formal event in a few weeks and Combeferre would be glad to be relieved of duty. Do you want to join me?”

“If only to keep you from getting stood up by an escort again,” says R, turning to face him and smiling like he did the night of the benefit, like he's not sure he knows what's going on but like he likes it anyway. Enjolras only smiles back until R leans in to kiss him and whisper a “Yes” when they part.