Enjolras's phone rings at 4:33 AM the day before he's meant to fly home from Manaus. It's raining, he can hear it against the window of his hotel room even though the curtains are drawn, and it's only because he's trained himself well that he hears the vibration of his phone against the bedside table over it.
Combeferre is calling from Paris, where it's ten in the morning, and he knows where Enjolras is. If he's calling, it's an emergency—either Enjolras's job is compromised and he needs to leave Brazil faster than assumed, or something is wrong at home. Enjolras sits up and answers. “What's wrong?”
“We need you in Paris.”
“What's wrong? Has someone called Joly yet?” Joly has his own room, a floor down, and Enjolras hasn't seen him since the job finished.
“I think Bahorel is calling him right now, Bossuet is busy.” Someone is talking on Combeferre's end of the line, and Combeferre says something impatient away from the phone in Italian, which means Musichetta is somewhere around. “It's Grantaire.”
Enjolras pauses in the middle of swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, and thinks about the morning sunlight in Grantaire's tiny apartment, of sitting in the Latin Quarter and watching Grantaire watch the students go by. “What about Grantaire?”
“Jehan found him an hour ago when he came to bring him breakfast, hooked up to a PASIV, but his Somnacin dose was out and giving him a kick didn't help. We don't know what he was down for, how many levels there were, if he's in there at all.”
“Limbo?” Enjolras gets out of bed and finds a change of clothing, starting to throw the rest of his belongings into his bag. Anything he forgets can be replaced. “Combeferre, do you think he was intending to stay?” Grantaire wouldn't be the first dreamer to decide against reality.
“You know Grantaire,” says Combeferre, in a way that he almost certainly means to be comforting. And then, perhaps realizing that Enjolras can't feel sure of anything, before dawn and halfway across the world, he sighs. “He would have destroyed his totem, and he's holding it. Medically, he's stable, on a drip so he won't become malnourished or dehydrated, but I want Joly to look at him, he had more medical training before he entered dreamshare.”
“If he won't come out on his own, we'll need to extract him.”
Grantaire's mind is a maze without needing an architect, full of dangerous pitfalls that are good for training only because they force you to learn to escape or be trapped. Every time he mentioned going down alone, Enjolras worried and bit his tongue on it.
(“Jesus fuck,” Bahorel said after the first time he went down with Grantaire, coming out gasping and clutching at his shoulder, earlier than the scheduled kick, as Grantaire woke up beside him, “how do you survive your own mind on a regular basis, R?”
And Grantaire had laughed, and even then Enjolras didn't think it was funny.)
“I can change our flights, go through Miami instead of Panama, there to JFK to Charles de Gaulle, I think the daily flight to Miami leaves in the afternoon,” he says, after what must be too long a silence.
“You're sure you want to risk the US?”
“I don't know what else would get us home faster, and I don't think the alias I'm using has any outstanding warrants there, much less Joly's.”
Again, someone talks to Combeferre, muffled, maybe by Combeferre's hand over the phone. It sounds, from the timbre of the voice, like Feuilly. “We're calling everyone in,” Combeferre says, still muffled, and then he's back with Enjolras. “I'll see you as soon as you can get here, then.”
“We'll call when we need to be picked up. Keep Grantaire safe, see if you can figure out what went wrong so we can formulate a plan of action as soon as I'm back.”
“Of course. Call if there's trouble, we can't rule out outside causes on this.”
“Understood,” says Enjolras, and hangs up, fumbling for the light at last and wincing when it comes on, making sure he has his PASIV, the documents he needs to get home, whatever clothes he can lay hands on.
Before he's finished, there's a soft knock on his door, and Enjolras lets Joly in once he's confirmed who it is. Joly enters with a yawn but he's moving quickly and jerkily, like he does when he's on a job going rapidly south, and he checks the corners of the room like he thinks they might be compromised. “Have you changed our flights yet, or should I?”
“You do it, whatever price. Through Miami, it will be faster.”
“Plan of attack?”
“It's Grantaire. We should approach the job like we would for any mark with a highly militarized subconscious. He shouldn't be hostile, we'll feel familiar, but that doesn't mean it won't be labyrinthine.”
Joly's face looks odd without his usual smile lighting it up; it makes him look tense and tired in ways Enjolras doesn't usually see. “The job?”
“That's what it's got to be, to get him back. And we'll get him back.”
Joly looks down at his phone, and doesn't say that in this business, it's hard to go a long time without losing anyone, and that they've been lucky. He probably doesn't want to think it any more than Enjolras does. “Tickets reserved,” he says, and Enjolras doesn't feel the need to say anything to that.
“It isn't that he doesn't want to wake up, or at least he went under intending to come back,” Courfeyrac says when he's finished with the bare bones of the matter. He sounds exhausted, like he hasn't slept without a PASIV since they found Grantaire, and probably he hasn't. Where his friends are concerned, Courfeyrac doesn't believe in moderation. “I think he's just … lost.”
“No confirmation that he's in limbo? We can always call—”
“Already did. The problem with working with the psyche is that everyone's is unique, though. They didn't have any universal advice.” Courfeyrac sighs, a long breath out. “We need to do this soon, before he isn't there to bring back anymore. Combeferre is already making noises about taking him to a hospital as a coma patient.”
“The dreamshare clinic in Geneva, if we have to commit him anywhere. At least they'll let us through the doors with a PASIV.”
“Geneva isn't ideal and you know it.”
“If this is beyond us, we don't have many other options.”
“It won't be beyond us. It can't be.” There's a pause, because Enjolras doesn't know what to say to that. “We're barely holding on. You and Joly need to get back here so we can all get him back.”
“The flight leaves in an hour, Combeferre has our details.”
“Get home safe,” says Courfeyrac, and then there's the sound of someone talking to him from close by. “Sorry, it's my shift to keep an eye on R. Tell Joly hello from me.”
“I will. Tell everyone we'll see them soon,” says Enjolras, and hangs up just in time for Joly to get back. “Courfeyrac says hello.”
Joly smiles, a pale imitation of his usual, and hands Enjolras an extra cup of coffee.
The way he laughed made Enjolras suspect, but it wasn't until they got out of separate cabs at the office they were working from in Prague that Grantaire introduced himself. “I'm R, and if I'd known you were working this job I would have offered to split the cab.”
“Prouvaire is an experienced architect, I didn't know he wanted backup on this job.”
It seemed odd to him then, when Grantaire elaborated and said he was a forger and not an architect, but since then Enjolras has learned the way he only sketches people when he's working out a forge, and that when he's just thinking or bored it's the simpler lines of mazes and buildings that he chooses.
The apartment is small, and Enjolras is used to it being private, when he's there. It's strange to walk in and find all their friends there, crammed in the kitchen, lounging across the couch. “Joly,” he says as they walk in, “go check on him. I'll see what the situation is.”
“We'll update you both,” says Combeferre, eyebrows up, and Enjolras sighs and nods, going to the kitchen and starting Grantaire's coffeemaker, which is sitting cold and unused, a sure sign of how upset everyone is. “There haven't been any updates since you got on the plane in New York, so it's a short update, anyway. Grantaire had plans to meet Gavroche two hours after Jehan found him, which definitely confirms that he wasn't committing PASIV-assisted suicide. He wouldn't do that to Gavroche.”
Enjolras looks around the room for Gavroche, and for Éponine. “Where are he and Éponine, then?”
“She took him home. We haven't been sleeping except to try two at a time to coax R up,” says Bahorel, who's sitting on the floor with his head tipped back against the wall, knees drawn up to his chest. Enjolras has seen Bahorel bleeding and bruised and broken-limbed, but he's never seen him look this defeated, and the strain is showing on everyone else as well.
“No luck,” Feuilly adds, unnecessarily. “We can't even find him. We've tried a few levels, tried a few builds, but either we aren't recognizing him or he hid very well.”
Combeferre stands, taking the floor back. “At the moment, we're working on the assumption that we're all going to need to go down to find him. The compounds are unstable with that many people, but all of us might be what it takes to find him.” He meets Enjolras's eyes when Enjolras turns away from the coffee machine. “You especially. You're good at recognizing him in a forge.”
“I've had to be.” Grantaire slips out of his own skin the moment he enters a dream, like he hates being in it longer than he has to, even when they aren't under to test a forge. Enjolras has had to learn to recognize him through his little tells: the way he stands, the tell-tale reach for a pocket to look for his totem, the odd little things that make him laugh.
“You'll need to be,” says Musichetta, coming out of the back room, her hair falling out of its usually-perfect bun. They're all coming apart at the seams. “Joly, love, want to come back and see him? You too, Enjolras.”
Enjolras wants to say no, and then wonders why he wants to say no. He moves away from the coffee machine instead. “Of course.”
It's a usual sight that greets him, then: Grantaire in bed, head propped up on one more pillow than can really be comfortable, chest rising and falling softly with his breath, face slack and hair a dark spill across the pillows. There are discrepancies as well: the PASIV in the room where Grantaire never brought one (even when he dreamed at home, he dreamed in the living room, they must have moved him), the IV drip that Combeferre must have set up, and Bossuet sitting on the floor, blinking sleepily. He and Musichetta have probably just been under.
“Hey, people,” he says, smiling up at Joly, who pats him on the head on his way to the bed. When he turns to Enjolras, he's more serious. “He's still in there, his subconscious is still populating the builds when he's a subject, but he's also twisting them. Jehan went down with him and put up a familiar layout but Grantaire changed it, whatever's going on down there triggered all his defense mechanisms.”
“Are his projections hostile?” Enjolras asks, still standing in the doorway next to Musichetta. It won't do him any good to go any closer. Grantaire is obviously in fine physical condition and a touch of Enjolras's hand won't magically wake him.
“Weirdly, no,” says Musichetta. “I've been killed out of his dreams plenty, but these projections, they just watch you. It's the landscape that won't let us get to R.”
Joly is bustling, checking his pulse, checking Combeferre's IV line, muttering under his breath, a whirlwind of motion now that he has something useful to do. He was unnaturally still on the planes. “Is he protecting us, or himself?”
“We can't know that, with the given information,” says Enjolras. “I doubt it's purely either, or that those are the only motives. I need non-PASIV sleep before I can be trusted to go under, but I'll go with Combeferre once I've had a chance to rest and see if we can figure out a plan of attack to get him out.”
Bossuet stands up, unsteady on his feet and letting Musichetta take his arm, the two of them moving in perfect concert the way they always do, Joly reaching out automatically to counterbalance so they don't stumble again even while he fusses at Grantaire. “Rest quick,” says Musichetta. “The more time he has down there the less chance we have of getting him out. You know that.”
“I do know that, but it won't help anyone if we go in there exhausted. Everyone should rest, not just me, before we go under. And call Éponine, we need her too. Gavroche can watch us all while we're under.”
“I'll get in touch, she's probably sleeping right now,” says Bossuet.
Enjolras nods. “I'll leave Joly to his inspection and the three of you to your reunion, then.” He looks at Grantaire on the bed again, his face caught somewhere between the unconscious frown of PASIV sleep and the complete relaxation and unconsciousness he's used to, in this room, and then he walks out.
“We're all home now,” he hears Joly say as he shuts the door. “You can come back now.”
Combeferre is in Grantaire's room, going through the well-worn routine of setting up the PASIV even though Enjolras didn't bother to send him a message saying he was on his way. They've been together since the very beginning, after all (since a man in a uniform pressed his fingertips together in a bright, airy room and said “Gentlemen, the project I work with recruits more from the military than from academia, and I am trying to change that. Bright young minds like yours are exactly what I need,” before Enjolras learned to distrust anything said to him by men in uniform in bright, airy rooms).
“Do you have any ideas?” Enjolras asks. “It sounds to me like he's trapped, perhaps in distress, and he's defending himself as well as he can without lashing out.”
“That's all we really know.”
Combeferre frowns down at the PASIV, pressing a few buttons to adjust the dose of Somnacin, and Enjolras looks over at the bed. Grantaire has moved in his sleep, Enjolras recognizes the position of the arm, the angle of his neck, and he knows Combeferre and Joly wouldn't have moved him like that. It's encouraging. Movement means he's still there. “I've been gone for six weeks, I don't know if anything might have triggered this more than usual.”
“I wish I knew.” Combeferre transfers his frown to Grantaire as well. “His mind has always been difficult to navigate, but so has Jehan's, and Grantaire was in this business before any of us were, for better or worse.”
(“We're all old men,” said Grantaire once, outside his own birthday party. “Well, those of us who aren't old women.”)
“Are you ready?”
“I didn't put much time on the clock. It won't take a lot of time for you to see what you need to see, and we can formulate a plan from there.”
Enjolras sits on the bed next to Grantaire, and when Combeferre just looks at him, moves until he's reclining comfortably, a strange and familiar feeling. He thinks, for a second, Combeferre might mention it, ask how Enjolras is when Grantaire is something a little different to him than he is to the rest of them. Instead, when Enjolras offers his arm, Combeferre expertly slides the needle in. “Let Grantaire shape the dream,” he says even as the Somnacin climbs through his veins. “I want to see what he constructs.”
Combeferre's answer is lost to sleep and he's—
Enjolras can't be certain of that. He can be certain of hedges too tall to see over, a long green corridor he's halfway down. He can be certain (the lighter lights) of what reality he's in.
“This is the most straightforward I've seen him build, actually,” says Combeferre, next to him, where he has just appeared or been forever. Enjolras doesn't let his mind catch on that detail, he's trained himself too well for that by now. “Look.”
There's a ball of yarn on the grass in front of them, sodden and muddy but usable. The sky overhead is gray, threatening another storm. Enjolras picks the yarn up, shakes his head, smiles. “If there's a monster in the center of this maze, it's him.”
“I know.” Combeferre looks down at his hands, and there's a machete in them. “In case we stop feeling inclined to play by his rules. Shall we see how far we can get?”
Enjolras nods and reaches into the hedge to tie the end of the string, ignoring the scratches he gets from the expected brambles (and wouldn't it be easier, if Grantaire made himself the Sleeping Beauty instead of the Minotaur). Then, on a whim, he turns around, faces in the opposite direction from where Grantaire put them, and sure enough, there's a turn only a few feet away. “Come on.”
“Be on your guard.” Combeferre grabs his sleeve when Enjolras just sighs and starts walking, unwinding the yarn as he goes. “I'm serious. Grantaire would never hurt you, but we don't know how aware he is right now.”
“I'm on my guard.”
It isn't quiet, in the hedge. There's the wind rustling the leaves, and the sound of birds nearby (not crows, that would worry Enjolras less, because Grantaire likes crows and ravens, not the indistinguishable songbirds peeping away here), and the sound of people walking through the maze, just out of sight, like it's in the countryside on a summer day. Their laughter is manic rather than amused, and once Enjolras hears someone breathing, panicked, on the other side of a hedge, only to come around it and find nothing at all.
Enjolras and Combeferre take left turn after left turn, and the yarn keeps rolling out, long past when it should, by the logic of dreams. They turn more frequently as time goes on, but Enjolras isn't foolish enough to think that means they're getting closer. This is too easy, all of it is too easy. As a job, as a training exercise, he would feel confident, but if Grantaire is refusing to wake, there should be more fight than this.
The fight comes in the form of a projection. In the form of Enjolras himself, in fact. It isn't the first time Enjolras has met a projection or a forgery of himself, and for one moment he thinks it's Grantaire, forging him for some reason, here to mock or to come home with them. A second later, he knows he's wrong, that Grantaire would not be advancing on them with that fierce expression on his face, with a weapon drawn on them. “Not like this,” he snaps, and Enjolras recognizes his own voice how it sounds when he's giving orders and a job is going wrong.
Combeferre raises his hands. “We need to find R,” he says, as calmly as if this happens every day. “Why not this way?”
“Not like this,” the projection snarls, and pulls the trigger twice, and Enjolras is—
“I wonder what 'not like this' is supposed to mean,” Combeferre says quietly, somewhere nearby.
Enjolras blinks back into his body and checks his totem. Waking up in Grantaire's familiar room like this feels wrong, and he wonders if Grantaire will feel that way too, will be angry at the use of a PASIV in his sanctuary from it. Sometime in his sleep, he turned into Grantaire's warmth, face pressed into his shoulder, familiar. Combeferre doesn't comment when Enjolras sits up and checks the time. It's been well under an hour.
“No theories yet,” Enjolras confirms. “We'll have to think about it, ask anyone else if they've had interactions with familiar projections.”
“They would have mentioned. You're sure it was a projection?”
“Grantaire has forged me before. I would have recognized the forge. I suspect we met his head of security.”
“Whoever would discomfit us most, probably.”
Grantaire is between them, frowning in his sleep, and Combeferre is frowning too, in the way that means he's missing a piece of something important and knows it. “Not like this,” he murmurs. “What is he waiting for?”
“Maybe for all of us.” Enjolras fusses with Grantaire's pillows, taking one away even though Grantaire will complain of its absence when he wakes up (he always does, calls Enjolras a pillow thief when Enjolras only has one to his three). “Maybe he's repairing himself from trauma. PTSD and dreams don't mix well, but in this business we all ...”
“You think he triggered a flashback when he was under for his own purposes?”
“Maybe. It's a possibility we need to consider.” He leaves his hand on Grantaire's shoulder.
(Four months ago, he woke up in this bed for the first time, though it wasn't the first time they had sex. He woke to find Grantaire sitting much as he himself is sitting now, with a hand on Enjolras's shoulder, staring blankly around his bedroom like he wasn't quite sure where he was, his other hand wrapped around something in the drawer of his bedside table.
“What do you need your totem for?” Enjolras asked, blurry with real REM sleep, feeling triumphant for a rare sliver of a non-PASIV dream.
“Sometimes it's nice to be sure.”)
“We'll call everyone together when we can, bring it up as a possibility. It didn't seem to me that he was doing much healing of his own, in there.” Combeferre looks at him, like the question is on the tip of his tongue, but he doesn't ask it. He never needs to. “Sleep for a while more, though. We can't do anything right away. I'm going to write down my impressions and have a nap myself.” When Enjolras starts to get up, he sighs and shakes his head. “Just stay there, Enjolras. It isn't like you've never done it before.”
Enjolras thinks of the projection, angry and protective. He thinks of Grantaire grabbing for his totem like it was his only anchor in a storm, adrift after a job in Chicago that ended in both sleeping and waking gunfire. He thinks of the one text message he got from Grantaire in his six weeks in Manaus. “Wake me if you need me,” he says, and lays back down.
Enjolras surfaces only long enough to see Éponine sitting by the side of the bed, her hands clutching Grantaire's like he's the totem she refuses to show anyone, and catches the gleam of tears in her eyes before he falls asleep again.
“How long have I been asleep?”
“It's half past seven. Grantaire's vitals are steady.” Feuilly frowns at Grantaire on the bed. He rolled over in the night, and Enjolras has the irrational urge to shake him until he stirs. “We're ready to make a plan whenever you are.”
Enjolras sits up, leaning against the headboard and giving himself a few seconds to reacclimate to Paris and waking life. He can go directly from asleep to planning, but today he wants the luxury of being sharp and at his best. “What do you think?”
Combeferre would provide him with ten solutions ranked in order of likelihood to work. Courfeyrac would turn the question back on him. Bahorel would shake his head, impatient at what he would call a delay. (Grantaire would smile that not-a-smile and dismiss the question, and later Enjolras would see him with a hand clasped on someone's shoulder, making a light suggestion that would unlock the whole problem.) Feuilly stills, eyes on his own clasped hands, and considers the problem like it's only just occurred, though Enjolras knows he's been paying attention. “I think he doesn't feel safe. That's why it's going to take all of us to bring him out, I don't think he ever feels as at ease as he does when he's with the group.”
“What made him feel like reality was unsafe enough to make him stay? It's not that he's caught in a fantasy. I've seen that before, and it would look different.”
(A sweltering hot afternoon on a cold winter morning. “A little longer, Enjolras, please, just stay with me a little—”)
“It isn't that. I've seen it too, and I was the one who called Marius in Geneva. It's not the right symptoms.” Grantaire sighs in his sleep, as though he's very impatient that they haven't found the answer to this yet. “But,” Feuilly continues, standing and offering his hand to Enjolras, “I don't think it matters what the reason is yet, if we can get him back without it.”
“And if we can't?”
“Then we'll find out the reason. We do this for a living, pick people apart until we can find their secrets. If we need to do it to Grantaire, we'll do what we have to do.”
Enjolras knows it's a double standard, to draw a line between their minds and the minds of their marks when he feels so passionately about doing work to ferret out and remove corruption as much as he can, but he still hates the thought of invading Grantaire's privacy. If necessity requires it, though, at least Grantaire's secrets will remain between friends.
“There's a meeting and pancakes, if the two of you are finished being lazy,” says Musichetta from the doorway. She doesn't bother with a smile, though Enjolras knows she means it as a joke.
“We'll do what we have to do,” Enjolras says to Feuilly, or to himself, and lets himself be pulled out of the bed.
“The good news,” Combeferre says when everyone has plates of breakfast and seats, even if those seats are on the floor, “is that it's implied there is a correct set of conditions where he'll let himself be brought out. The problem is that we aren't sure what those conditions are.”
“Or if there are conditions. Or if the projection was telling the truth,” says Éponine, the only one of them without a plate. She's wearing a shirt with the sleeves pulled over her hands and probably meant it to remind her of Grantaire when she filched it from his closet. Enjolras remembers leaving it when he lingered too long before his flight to Manaus. “It shot you a second after it told you that.”
“Do you think Grantaire would dream up Enjolras to give anyone false hope?” asks Joly, an honest question that would sound insinuating from anyone else.
“I think,” says Jehan in a tone that makes it clear he's trying to rescue someone, though Enjolras isn't quite sure who, “that Grantaire is going to need all of us. That he wants all of us. It's not a secret that he's happiest when we're all together. It's going to take all of us together to bring him back.”
“Devil's advocate,” says Bahorel, putting his plate of pancakes on the floor, where he promptly loses several bites of one to Musichetta, “but I think that's what we all want to think. I'm not saying R doesn't love us, he does, but why should all of us make a difference when a smaller team could just pass on the message that it's everyone?”
“A smaller team might not make it past his defenses, though.” That's Courfeyrac, perched on a kitchen counter. “He isn't our average mark, and while he has his weak spots, we don't want to force through them. More of us under means more of us to improvise if something happens.”
“More of us also means more room for error and more chance that we'll lose each other if Grantaire takes control of the landscape again.” Feuilly elbows Enjolras gently in the side, and Enjolras takes a bite of his meal. He isn't fond of too much to eat when he's just woken, but if Feuilly is concerned, he'll do his best to assuage that concern. Grantaire is the one they need to be worrying about. “I do think it's a chance worth taking, though.”
Éponine crosses her arms. “We can talk about who's going down there all day, but that doesn't tell us anything about what we should do when we're down there. Just trying to find him hasn't helped, especially if his security system wants us to meet some conditions, whatever they are.”
“We don't have much time to research before the risk of him slipping permanently into limbo becomes more probable,” Combeferre says mildly, the words none of them want to hear. “If we can't do this, we need to decide that soon, so we can get him to Geneva.”
“No,” says Enjolras, and looks away when Combeferre raises his eyebrows. “We aren't going to have to go to Geneva. We just need the bare bones of a strategy—it will be like the Moscow job last year, and we pulled that off.”
Éponine glares. “So what kind of strategy do you suggest? He's making mazes, he's protecting himself, and Grantaire is the most stubborn person I know. All that's going to wake him is convincing him that he should be awake, and we need to find him first.”
“We'll find him,” says Bossuet, and Enjolras hates that he's grateful that he doesn't have to be the one to say it. “And we'll bring him back, whether he's trapped or down there by choice.”
“Which brings us back to how,” says Combeferre, and the argument begins again.
That night in his hotel he thought about it, but it was early in the morning in Paris by then, and Enjolras chose to go over his work one more time instead of sending anything. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.)
Enjolras doesn't ask Éponine how she knows he's the one who entered Grantaire's room when she didn't even turn around. “I know you do.”
“It would be so easy. Now that you're home, you could bring him out like he's the princess in one of those fucking creepy fairy tales, and then I could punch you and take R away, tell him to be done with you like he should have been before you started, and it would be so easy.”
“But?” She wouldn't have said any of it if there weren't one, even if Enjolras sees the justice in what she's saying, or at least can't blame her for saying it.
“But it also wouldn't get him back, because it's not true. I'm not saying you don't fuck him up, because you do, but he was fucked up long before you met him. Even long before I met him. And this isn't your fault. It would have happened eventually, and I don't think your presence or absence had anything to do with it.”
It feels like a benediction, or at least as much of one as anyone can ever get from Éponine. “What do you think did have to do with it, then?”
“Grantaire's traps, half his militarization, I think it's there to keep him from thinking about things. Keeping other people out is just a bonus.” She leans forward in her chair, pulling at the blanket even though Grantaire will disarrange it in a few seconds. “I think he broke his own locks by accident, or maybe on purpose and he just thought he could handle something he couldn't.”
Enjolras looks at Grantaire, frowning in his sleep. “Do you have any idea what?”
“I wish I did. I didn't meet him until after he started forging instead of being an architect, and he never told me what made him make the switch.”
(A hundred hundred drawings with neat straight lines, with windows and doors, and it's only now that Enjolras wonders if the portraits used to be the recreation and the buildings the work.)
“I didn't realize he ever was an architect.”
“I think he was a lot of things.” She finally looks up at Enjolras, and he doesn't mention that she's obviously been crying because they both know. “But I don't care what he was, because he came in on a job when I was still working out of Patron-Minette's stable of extractors and he got me out. The least I could do him was the favor of not asking.”
“Was it a favor, if it led to this?”
Éponine shrugs and turns back to the bed, hands pressed together as if in prayer. “It was at the time, which means pretty much the same thing. We aren't clairvoyant, and we've all got spots where it hurts when you press.”
There's silence for a while, comfortable. Silence has always been easier than words, between he and Éponine.
“We're going to find him, and we're going to wake him up,” Éponine finally says, “because leaving him there isn't an option.”
“Plan or not, we should go under within twenty-four hours,” Enjolras says, because no one else is even though they all know it's true, that the dream will grow more unstable the longer Grantaire is in it, that it may open up fissures and send Grantaire into limbo. Most people don't make coming back from limbo one of their party tricks. Grantaire wouldn't thank them for putting themselves in danger.
Enjolras doesn't say that the only place left to sit is the bed or the floor, because she knows. He chooses the bed, the mattress dipping under his weight, the heat of Grantaire's leg next to his. “Well?”
Éponine opens Grantaire's bedside table, which Enjolras has only touched to get condoms and lube out of, and takes out the sketchbook that Grantaire sometimes uses when he can't sleep, leafs past all his beautiful buildings and to a blank page. “We know R better than anyone. Let's see if we can make a design Prouvaire won't laugh at that Grantaire can twist into something that will get him less lost.”
“You think we can out-design Grantaire of all people?”
“No, but I think that something bad enough, he'll want to fix it, and if there are characteristic fixes, maybe we can find him.”
Éponine pulls the sketchbook closer to her, starting on a maze, and Enjolras settles into work, keeps his hand a few inches away from Grantaire's skin as he tries to figure out how to bring him back.
“If we give him this design, there's either a chance he'll use one of our boltholes instead of his own, or there's a chance he'll modify it logically and we'll have him,” says Éponine.
“Unless the conditions aren't met. The 'not like this' is making me nervous.”
“We can't be patient,” says Enjolras, making sure to keep his voice even, making sure not to attract attention. They're all tired and snappish and unwilling to leave Grantaire. “What would this design make you do?”
“Cry, probably.” Jehan's smile lasts barely a second before it slips back into worry, his mouth pulled tight and his back bowed, like he can't take his own weight. “It's a risk, Enjolras. Anything is a risk. It's not the strategy I would have chosen, but at this point my strategy is putting us all under as long as we can safely manage and trying everything and anything we can. We can't let him stay lost.”
(Once, Enjolras woke in the middle of the night to find Grantaire upright beside him, eyes wide, not holding his totem, and muttered, stupid and muzzy with sleep, “It's only a dream.”
“Never—Jesus, never say that again,” said Grantaire, and bent over him and kissed him, and kissed him, and Enjolras barely remembered in the morning, when he woke sore from the mark of Grantaire's hands where they'd clutched his arms and his teeth on his shoulder. Never remembered to ask him what he'd been dreaming about without a needle in his vein.)
“We're not going to,” says Éponine. “It's a stupid solution, but I can't … I can't think of anything else, Jehan. I want a solution and there isn't one.”
Combeferre has been pretending not to eavesdrop, almost impossible in an apartment the size of Grantaire's, and he chooses that moment to turn towards them, putting his hand deliberately just a few inches from Éponine's thigh so she can lean into him if she wants contact. She doesn't seem to, but she does give Combeferre a tight smile, more than anyone else can wring from her. “There is a solution, and all of us know it's the one Jehan came up with. We try everything we can. We try it until his security kills us and then we try it again, and a third time if we need to. If we don't want to have to take him to Geneva, it's all we can do.”
By the time Combeferre has finished speaking, all the other conversations in the room have fallen silent. It isn't quite all of them in the room, but it's enough of them to take a vote. “That's it, then?” says Joly, tapping a pen against his knee a few times. “We make sure we're aware of and prepared for possibilities and we just go under and try them until one works?”
“We set up kicks,” Feuilly says firmly. “We bring ourselves up regularly if it looks like it's going to take too long, I don't care if it disrupts the process, but we need to be safe.”
“Who should we get as lookout?” Bossuet asks. “I'm assuming none of us is willing to be left behind.”
“Gavroche is skipping school anyway. He'll want to help.” Éponine relaxes just enough that Enjolras can see her leg brush Combeferre's hand and stay there. “Are we doing this, then? Making a list of possibilities and just trying everything?”
They all look to Enjolras then, and Enjolras suddenly expects a voice from the kitchen, a dry argument picking apart their strategy until it makes no sense at all, what Grantaire always does (did) when everyone looks to Enjolras like he has the answers. It makes him wonder if their strategy should be picked apart. If it's even a strategy at all. Grantaire might have a genius idea, but Grantaire isn't here, and that's what makes Enjolras straighten his spine even though he's exhausted. “We're doing it.”
The sky has opened up into a half-hearted rain that can't be called a drizzle but doesn't really require an umbrella either, the kind of in-between weather that gives Enjolras headaches, makes him restless for one thing or the other. Everyone is tired, snappish, and for any other job Enjolras would tell them to go home, to debrief and choose a leisure activity for eight hours (in any other business, he would tell them to sleep). For this one, though, even if he could bring himself to do it, he doesn't think they would listen.
“When we get back,” he says. “Éponine, text Gavroche to meet us here? He's probably close, if I know him at all.”
“I've given up on making him go to school for the duration of this,” she says, and gets out her phone, only to stop before getting anywhere close to sending a message. “You're sure? You aren't going to decide there's more planning to do?”
“At this point, it's a matter of time,” says Combeferre, his voice steadier than Enjolras's would be if he forced himself to say the words. “It's already been too long. His security may not think he's ready yet but soon enough it will hardly be an option.”
“We're good at improvising, we have to be working in different combinations like we do,” says Courfeyrac. “It's what makes us one of the most sought-after teams in the world.” He looks around at them all, serious with his brows drawn together. “And you all know that. We just have to remember it when we're under.”
Everyone else is piled around the room, awkwardly close so they can all receive lines from the PASIV, and Grantaire sleeps on undisturbed in the bed, Éponine and Musichetta and Jehan up on it with him, since they were the first and the ones that fit. Enjolras claimed the spot on the floor nearest his head, and ignored Combeferre's expression when he saw.
Gavroche presses the button, too, and Enjolras wonders just how long it will take before Gavroche stops letting his sister protect him, stops being content with the job of watching, and Enjolras—
It's only now that he thinks It isn't the same without you either.)
Then he hears the ocean, and he turns around just in time to hear a gull shriek and see, at the bottom of a cliff, a beach and the water beyond, endless and grey-green-blue. Grantaire loves the water, spends hours looking over the Seine when he can, and whenever their jobs take them to somewhere with a port he's there whenever he isn't working, walking or wading or watching.
“It seems like he should just be strolling on the beach,” says Bahorel next to him.
Enjolras has already looked, but he looks again. It's Combeferre who says “He isn't,” a few seconds later.
It's been a long time since Enjolras has been in a dream with his whole team. Usually, they take jobs four or five at a time, six at most, and they get enough practice that they don't feel the need to do it in their off time. With them all here, Enjolras is struck by the differences between their waking and dreaming selves, how Éponine looks a little older and Joly a little younger, how Jehan stands straighter and Feuilly's image of himself hasn't quite caught up with a recent haircut.
Grantaire, he knows, could forge any of them exactly how they appear in reality or in dreams, but he isn't here, even though Enjolras counts twice.
Musichetta steps up to the very edge of the cliff, the toes of her shoes just off the edge, and it holds steady, never wavers. “So what do we do? First, I mean, we've established that we're going to do everything.”
“We figure out where he's hiding,” says Courfeyrac. “This is a long, open expanse, but he must have a bolthole. The fog alone can't hide him. And maybe we should call for him.”
“You think he'll come?” asks Éponine.
Enjolras takes a deep breath, because everyone looks discouraged, now that they're all here and Grantaire isn't. “We don't know unless we try.” He raises his voice and turns out to sea. “Grantaire!”
His words echo back at him, though he can't see a surface that would make an echo. The gull cries again, and another takes up the call, and then there's a cacophany of them for a few minutes, even as the rest of them call Grantaire's name. Enjolras listens to the seagulls and doesn't shout again.
“Finally,” Combeferre says, but Enjolras is looking at Combeferre, and his mouth doesn't move. All of them fall silent at once, and Enjolras dreams a gun before he turns around.
It is Combeferre, or Combeferre's waking self, a copy so perfect that for a moment Enjolras thinks he's Grantaire's forgery. It's too easy, though, and Enjolras doesn't trust anything easy in Grantaire's mind. “Finally what?” he says, because everyone else is still struck silent.
“You aren't going to find him up here,” says Combeferre's double (the shadows around his eyes are dark like they only are on Combeferre's worst weeks, and there's a twist to his mouth that Enjolras has only seen a few times, when the world makes him too angry and sad to continue as normal, Enjolras wonders when Grantaire ever saw that expression, to be able to duplicate it so well).
“Up here?” says their Combeferre, and only the set of his shoulders tells Enjolras that he's nervous, that there are a few holstered and sheathed weapons on him where there weren't before. “Is he down the beach, then?”
“No.” The projection frowns. “I can't take you to him. No one is allowed in.”
“But you want him out?” says Courfeyrac, in a slow, disbelieving tone. It's rare to meet a projection willing to contradict the landscape, or the stubborn subconscious of the subject of the dream. It may serve them well, in this case, or it may not.
The projection doesn't answer that question, but Enjolras wouldn't expect him to. Instead, he looks out to sea. Or—not out to sea, but down. “Think about what was making the echoes,” he says, and between one blink and the next he's gone.
It's Joly who makes the connection almost instantly, Joly who grew up by the sea and tells them all stories about visiting the caves at Matala when he's drunk and nostalgic. “He's underground, he's under us, there must be caves in the cliff.”
Bossuet, as always, is the first to act on Joly's words, making an impatient gesture (because even after years he can't dream up objects without) and bringing rope and pulleys and all the other equipment needed to scale the cliff into being in an instant. “Then let's see where we're supposed to go in.”
Enjolras lets those with more knowledge start setting up the equipment, because even in dreams they can fall to their deaths, and no one wants to wake up. He isn't surprised when Courfeyrac steps up by his side. “It sounds to me like the key all along was really for us all to come down together. I wonder why.”
“Because he needs all of us, not just one, I would assume.” Enjolras looks down, as though the ground will feel different under his feet now that he knows there are caves inside. “It's interesting that his subconscious chose Combeferre to give us the hint we needed to find him.”
“Are we all running around here? That was eerie.”
“We need to make sure we stay together, so no one gets lost. Physical contact is probably best. Don't shoot projections, especially not ones we recognize, because if Combeferre's projection was helpful chances are his isn't the only one.”
Courfeyrac nods. “I'll get word around.” He lingers for a second, perhaps thinking about assuring Enjolras that they'll find him, saying something comforting. Some days, some dreams, Enjolras would appreciate it. Today, he's glad when Courfeyrac steps away instead.
“Just go in, and we'll follow you to it,” Bahorel shouts down a second later, and it echoes promisingly in the passage before Enjolras, which is dark even though the dim sunlight through the clouds should at least let him see past the entrance.
“This had better be the right path,” Enjolras whispers into the passage, and doesn't expect an answer.
The flashlight he dreams up makes no dent in the darkness, might as well not even be on, so Enjolras dreams up a ball of string instead, and a metal hook embedded in the cave wall, and ties the end of the first securely to the second. At least they'll be able to find their way back.
He anchors the rope at the entrance of the cave so everyone will be able to get in and stands as close to it as he can, since he doubts they'll be able to see him otherwise. A few moments later, Musichetta climbs down and comes in, dusting her hands off on her pants and then squinting at him until he holds a hand out. She takes it without any hesitation at all. “I fucking hate heights, and it's dark in here. You couldn't dream up some light?”
In answer, Enjolras clicks his flashlight on and points it down the tunnel, where it only seems to make the darkness grayer instead of actually illuminating anything. The dark is oppressive, almost a living thing, in a way darkness only can be in dreams. “I have string, so we can find our way back out.”
“What, not breadcrumbs?” He doesn't need to be able to see her face to know she's raising an eyebrow.
“Wrong reference. Grantaire isn't fond of Grimm, he'd rather have the Greeks any day.” Jehan comes through the entrance to the tunnel and reaches unerringly for Musichetta's hand. “They appropriated the stories of the folk for their own gain.”
“And Bullfinch didn't?” says Musichetta.
Enjolras clears his throat before they can devolve into an argument. They still have time, almost a full day in the dream, before there's a scheduled kick, but that doesn't mean he wants to waste time. “Everyone is on their way down?” he asks.
“Yes.” Jehan finds the string as well, and urges them both forward so there's enough space for someone else in the entrance of the tunnel. “I've been trying to change things in the dream, the architecture, anything, but it isn't working. Grantaire is aware enough that he's got iron control over what's going on. None of us can do more than dream up objects.”
“At least that strikes a few items off our list,” says Musichetta. “And I think he's on our side. He wouldn't have let Combeferre anywhere near us otherwise.”
“I think he's on our side as well, but if he's upset enough, that won't matter. Under a cliff, if a tunnel collapses we'll be out of the dream and back at square one. We need to tread carefully, even if he wants us to succeed.”
Neither of them has an answer to that, and Enjolras lets them lapse into silence, lets Jehan reach out for Joly's hand when he comes down.
“Did you shoot yourself out after I went under?” he asked, reverting to analysis when he didn't know what else to say. “Your dreams are usually more stable, do you think it was a Somnacin issue or a problem with the build?”
“I was having an off day,” Grantaire said in a slow, halting tone Enjolras wasn't familiar with and has only heard a few times since. “It was me. Sorry. Being buried alive—”
“I've had worse,” said Enjolras, brisk, and sat up, sliding the needle out of his arm.
Grantaire watched him the rest of the day like he was afraid Enjolras would disappear, and the next day was back to his own version of normal, and Enjolras didn't ask even though he knew then that he should.)
Enjolras feels his way along the wall, and there are openings, but he keeps going straight. He doesn't know if it's the correct direction, but at least it's easy to remember, if the string should snap or they should lose someone.
When a light blooms in front of them, coming out of one of the side tunnels, Enjolras isn't the only one to let out a hiss of discomfort. After a second, the brightness recedes, and it leaves Feuilly holding a lantern, standing in front of them with a grim and satisfied smile on his face. “I hoped it was all of you,” he says. “You need light.”
“Are we on the right path?” Enjolras asks, taking the lantern when Feuilly's double holds it out.
“You wouldn't have found me if you weren't,” says Feuilly, and then he's backing away into the impenetrable darkness, leaving the lantern bright in Enjolras's hand.
“I wonder why his light works when none of ours do,” Joly says quietly from his place in the line. “We'll have to ask if he can teach us when we get him back.”
“I wonder if we'll see all of us,” says Courfeyrac, towards the end of the line.
“I wonder if he'll be kind and dream me up with some hair,” says Bossuet, and Enjolras wants to frown until it makes Musichetta laugh, quiet but genuine, as she shifts her grip from Enjolras's hand to the elbow of the arm with the lantern so he can juggle that and the string as well.
Enjolras walks on, but with the light it's much the same as it was before. The floor is smooth and the walls aren't, and he doesn't look at the ceiling because he doesn't know if it's fortified and he doesn't like the thought of tons of earth killing them all.
(A year ago, Enjolras felt trapped and terrified for one moment before he grit his teeth and ignored survival training, let himself be killed, and it was the first time he saw Grantaire panic in a dream, no matter that his dreams were the most dangerous of everyone's.
Seven months later, Éponine and Jehan woke gasping for air and Enjolras remembered some of Grantaire's expression, and he took him home and fucked him, because something was wrong if Grantaire looked like that and he wanted desperately to make it better. Because he couldn't think of anything else to do.)
“Fortify the tunnels, if you can, all of you. Dream up struts, dream up metal if you can, anything to keep the dream steady,” he says as they walk, and he knows it sounds abrupt and strange and maybe paranoid. The dream is stable, perhaps more stable than it should be.
“We can't change things,” says Jehan.
“Try. You said you can dream up objects, try with this. Better safe than sorry,” he adds when all he gets in return is silence.
Around them, the tunnels groan, but while Enjolras freezes, there isn't even the hint of dust falling down on them. The tunnels are holding steady, and whether that's Grantaire's skill or their own is anyone's guess. He wants Grantaire to be here, wants to be able to say Look at this, we can help, we can save ourselves, you're the only one you need to worry about.
“Keep walking,” says Combeferre, steady and not asking why Enjolras asked them to reinforce the tunnels, and Enjolras obeys.
And whatever the creature is—it has too many legs and too many teeth to be a human projection, must be some kind of security, or one of the darker shadows that lurks in the minds of anyone who's been in dreamshare too long—is insistent on hurting Enjolras, and then on whatever hands reach out to help him, moving too fast to be defended against, lashing out with teeth and claws.
“Has anyone run into this before?” he hears Bahorel call from the back of the line. And then, quieter, “Fuck, R, it's just us, it's just us, you hear me?”
And then from the front of the line, another Bahorel, snapping out a sharp “Get back” to everyone, joined by another figure Enjolras recognizes as Jehan before the two of them are backing the creature away, towards the far wall of the cavern they're in, leaving Enjolras breathing in, feeling bruised ribs, bite marks on his arm and shoulder, other injuries, though none of them debilitating.
“I like that I get to fight monsters,” says Jehan thoughtfully, just loud enough to be heard over the sounds of fighting. “Enjolras, how badly are you hurt?”
“I won't die, I'm just uncomfortable.” He takes Musichetta's hand up when she offers it and checks her for injuries while he stands. She's moving gingerly, but she isn't bleeding. “We need to move on while they still have it under control.”
“Thank you,” Courfeyrac calls over to the projections, and Bahorel's double raises what appears to be a sword in salute.
Enjolras still has the lantern, unbroken and shining, but when he looks at his other hand, he's dropped the string. “Who still has the string? I've lost my end.”
“Fuck,” says Bahorel. “I don't have it back here either. Anyone in between?”
They get a series of negatives, and Enjolras takes a deep breath to consider possibilities. “Physical contact, then. We've gone straight this whole time, and if we're lucky we'll find R in here and be able to synchronize a kick so we don't have to find our way back. Everyone just keep walking.”
It feels dangerous, though, with only each other to hang on to, and the ground grows rougher in the caverns after that, tripping them all up, making them have to grasp hard at each other's clothing and arms so no one falls or gets lost. Enjolras knows he's losing blood, that if they don't find somewhere light and dream up some first aid supplies he may have to drop out of the dream. Sometimes, in the dark, he hears something growl, and he dreams up a gun instead of bandages.
“Will it lead us back to the right place?”
She's avoiding the light of the lantern, face turned half away, but Enjolras still recognizes the impatience on her face. “Why would I give it to you otherwise?”
There are a hundred answers to that, but she disappears into a side tunnel, into the darkness, and Enjolras holds tight to the string instead. “Everyone, hold on,” he calls back, and sometimes he isn't sure what he did to make them all trust him, but he feels the lead go taut, feels everyone shifting around as they adjust their contact.
Around them, the tunnel shakes, and Enjolras thinks Steel, thinks of it snaking through the ground like bones, keeping it all together.
“Here,” said a projection, and flashed into Grantaire's skin for the blink of a second before becoming a young woman again, some stranger, as though Grantaire wasn't enough of one already.
“We aren't under here to test a forge,” he'd said, impatient.
Grantaire had shrugged, fingering something in his pocket. “Then it doesn't matter whose skin I'm in, does it?”
Enjolras had scowled, foiled and off-balance, but he didn't argue about it then, just noticed when it kept happening, again and again, until it was just something about him that nobody commented on, like Joly's too-frequent checks of his totem and Jehan's too-infrequent ones.
When Grantaire had teased him into going under to have sex, once, Enjolras had only said “As long as it's you,” and then wondered if that said too much.
Grantaire spent the whole dream looking as though it took most of his concentration to stay in his skin, and Enjolras didn't ask then either.)
“Stay close,” he says, “but we can come out of the line.” He ties the ball of string to the entrance to the tunnel and tells it to stay where it is. “We'll find our way back.”
“It's a familiar layout,” says Courfeyrac, pointing to their right. “I recognize that from when Jehan was experimenting with Escher. Jehan, is the whole build one you know?”
“No, but it's a patchwork, and I think I know his building style well enough to get us all out.”
“That makes the next question how we should find him in the first place,” Bossuet says. “It's a big city.”
“The next question is what kind of medical care you all need,” Joly corrects, and Enjolras knows even before he looks that this is the next projection.
Sure enough, the Joly in front of him is carrying his medical bag and frowning and doesn't look quite like Joly usually does in dreams. Enjolras gives him a nod. “You heard we found trouble in the tunnels, then?”
“Of course you did.” His frown transfers from a general one to one directed at Enjolras. “Sit down.”
Enjolras does, used to the treatment from Joly when he's injured. The real Joly is hovering at his shoulder, too, which is a comfort, but he lets the projection to the work, bandaging the bites and wrapping his ribs, making sure he's fit to walk. He does the same to others as well, though none of them are as badly injured.
“Any hints for us?” Musichetta asks when he's finished wrapping her ankle, which she did a too-good job of walking without limping on as they went through the tunnel.
Joly's projection gives one last scowl towards her ankle, as upset about her being hurt as the real Joly would be in reality. “I can't, I have to go find Jehan and Bahorel in the tunnels. They were fighting longer than you.”
Bossuet kisses him on the cheek and shrugs at the real Joly when he frowns. “What? He's R's you, so he's pretty cool, even if he's not your own you. Thanks, Joly. We'll find him.”
“Do it soon,” says the projection, and vanishes into the tunnel, the dark swallowing him. He doesn't take a lantern.
“Where do you think he'll be?” Courfeyrac asks, coming up behind Enjolras as they reach a dead end and he's forced to choose right or left. There's a cafe on the corner, and he thinks he catches sight of Bossuet and Musichetta at one of the tables, laughing so hard at something that they have to hold each other up. There's still some happiness and life in Grantaire yet, and it's more of a relief than Enjolras wants it to be.
“Somewhere with a view of the prettiest building on the street,” Enjolras says, almost on autopilot, and then thinks about his own words, starts twisting around looking for buildings particularly in Grantaire's taste.
“That's the idea,” says Courfeyrac, and is swallowed by the crowd, and it's only then Enjolras realizes that was a projection. Courfeyrac's dreaming self is closer to his waking self than most people's, but that's not a comfort. Enjolras grabs for his lighter and hopes it lights in the eerie half-light of Grantaire's city. It does.
“Was that a projection?” Combeferre asks, on his right, eyes on the flame on Enjolras's lighter. Enjolras flips it off and puts it away.
“It was, and we've had a hint. Grantaire, he'd want a view of the most beautiful building he could build. If we find that, wherever he is will look out on it.”
“I don't have the time not to be sure.”
“Look for buildings in R's taste,” Combeferre says, voice raised, and there's a chorus of ragged affirmatives from around them as Enjolras decides to turn right and starts walking.
The next day, Enjolras got a text message he still hasn't answered.)
“I don't think we have much time left until the kick,” says Feuilly, when Enjolras points it out.
“Let's go then,” says Bahorel. “I don't want to do this twice.”
Combeferre knocks on the door, and Enjolras half-expects his own projection to answer the door, but nothing happens at all. He tries the doorknob next, and it doesn't turn. “A key,” he says, looking at his own palm, and smiles, satisfied, when one appears, and when it fits the lock. “Upstairs?”
“The third floor,” says Enjolras, looking at the light again.
The stairs are narrow, and they have to go single file up them, Enjolras's lantern lighting the way again. Now that they're so close, nobody speaks even in a whisper, like they might scare Grantaire away or be able to hear him if he happens to speak.
At the door, there is a murmur of voices, and when Enjolras leans in to listen, along with as many of them who can, it's his own voice he hears. “They're on their way, R, they'll find you. You've been helping them, and they wouldn't give up.” A low murmur. “You know they're coming. You believe me, don't you?”
Enjolras isn't sure if he wants to know the answer to that question, and a few of the others have drawn away from the door as though they're overhearing something private. They are, he supposes, and he knocks on the door.
He's confronted moments later by his own face, as the door swings open, and only doesn't shoulder by the projection because he's worried it may upset Grantaire. “Will he see us?”
“They're here,” the projection calls over his shoulder, and then he's gone, which is an answer all on its own.
Enjolras leads the rest of them inside, to a messy one-room apartment that's more window than anything else. It's a mess—of course, even in his own mind Grantaire won't clean up his dirty laundry or dishes, just dreams up more to use—and sitting on a bed in one corner, looking out the window like he can't even see them, is Grantaire. He's in his own skin, but he looks terribly, heart-breakingly young, younger than he was when Enjolras met him.
(“We're all old men,” Grantaire said once, standing outside his birthday party, trying and failing to sound like he was joking.)
“R,” says Joly, and he's the first across the room, dropping to his knees in front of Grantaire and putting his hands over Grantaire's, easy with his affection and touch the way Enjolras has never learned to be. “I go away for six measly weeks, and what do you do? You pine away and get lost in a dream.”
That seems to rouse Grantaire, and he looks at them in dawning horror. “No, you'll get trapped, what did you come here for?”
“You expected us to leave you?” says Musichetta, trying for scorn even as her voice shakes. “Not bright of you.”
“No, I've been trapped, I'm not the only one who's been lost in here, you've got to go.”
Enjolras steps forward, and he doesn't know if he has any right for the crowd of them to part to let him through, but he's glad when they do. Grantaire's gaze goes right up to his, and he takes a few deep breaths and calms, not completely but some. Enjolras thinks about Grantaire's projection of him offering comfort, and knows he can't do any less. “We're safe, we have kicks set up to bring us up. We just need to make sure you come with us.”
“I've been trying, I got stuck.” Grantaire looks away again. “It was always going to happen eventually. Happened to Le Gros.” A half-glance back up at Enjolras. “I almost did it to you once, same as I did to her, and now you're all here, fuck, you can't—”
The world shakes around them, and Enjolras thinks about the weight of earth above them. “Hold the dream steady, Grantaire, you can do that.” He wants badly to ask who Le Gros is, but they've seen enough of Grantaire's secrets. All he has to do is wake him up. “We aren't going to be trapped, we have ways of getting out. Have you tried to escape?”
“I lost my totem in the tunnels, I couldn't be sure what level I was on.”
“This is the top level,” says Enjolras, as steady and as sure as he can. He wants to go over to Grantaire and Joly, but he stays where he is, even as everyone edges slowly forward, as though touching him will make him any more real. “Gavroche is waiting for us, and all of us are at your apartment, just waiting for you to wake up.”
All at once, Grantaire seems to focus on Enjolras's face, and then on Joly's. “Oh, no, fuck, you aren't my usual projections, but you're in Manaus, I know you are, so this isn't real.”
The dream is shaking again, and Enjolras hears the sound of something rumbling in the distance, like a tunnel collapsing. “Breathe, R, it's really us. Joly and I came back from Manaus a day early, when we heard you were trapped. We've been trying to find a way to you since then, it's been a little while now, a few days maybe.”
“We're getting low on time,” Feuilly says, quiet and urgent. “R, you know us, right? We have our totems, we don't look like your projections—we met them, thank you for helping us find you. You've just got to wake up.”
Somewhere, all around them, Enjolras starts hearing the distorted sound of “Bolero,” as though it's being played on a record player not spinning quite fast enough. “Do you want me to shoot you awake?” he asks, because it isn't the best way to wake him and all of them, but it's one way, anyway.
“Someone will get trapped,” says Grantaire, “that's how it happened, before, fuck, I'm—”
“Hush,” says Enjolras, harsher than he means to, because Grantaire won't like them all knowing this, when they wake up, and everyone is listening. “Everyone will wake up, and if we don't, we'll go after them just like we've come after you.” He breathes in, and thinks about what he heard his projection saying. “You believe me, right?”
“That isn't fair.” Grantaire squeezes his eyes shut for a moment, like that might make them disappear, and when he opens them Enjolras recognizes the look he gets when he's sure of something they need to do for a job and knows he'll face disagreement. “Everyone leaves before I do. I don't want to take chances on anyone getting trapped.”
“One of us stays,” says Enjolras, and then, because he can see Grantaire getting ready to object, “I stay. Then I can be sure you're following us.”
A hand lands on Enjolras's shoulder, and he turns around to find Éponine, and can't say he's surprised. “Are you sure? I can.”
Maybe she should—Enjolras is presuming a lot, by making himself Grantaire's last tether—but the music is getting louder and the earth is moving around them, so he shakes his head. “Wake up. Get five more minutes on the timer if you can, just in case.”
“Right.” She shakes her head at Combeferre when he opens his mouth to speak and looks around at everyone. “Let's go down to the street and get ourselves out of the dream, leave them alone to wake up.”
“Thank you,” says Enjolras, and watches the rest of them file out of the room, each of them waving at Grantaire, or smiling, or touching his shoulder before they go, like they're afraid they're going to have to say a goodbye. Enjolras can't let himself think about it. He waves them off instead, with a smile that feels false on his face.
“Be safe,” says Joly, the last one to stand up, and looks between them, no hint of a smile on his face. “We're not going to let you not wake up.”
Enjolras followed him out of bed, the duvet clutched around his shoulders to ward off the chill, to look out the window in the living room, at the house across the street and the first light of dawn glinting off the windows, a little pink. He'd found himself watching Grantaire instead, without being aware of it, watching him take in the sight like it was all he cared about, and he didn't care about the view, but he still couldn't regret being woken.
Two days later, he'd taken the job in Manaus.)
Enjolras sits down next to Grantaire, not close enough to touch but close enough to be sure of his presence. “I know I don't. But that doesn't mean I'm going to leave you.” He dreams up a gun, the fastest way to get out of a dream, and puts his finger on the trigger. “I'll kill you, and we'll both wake up.”
“I can't risk you.”
“You aren't. Everyone else is away and safe right now, and I trust you.” Grantaire shakes his head. “I do, R. I don't know who Le Gros was, I won't ask, but you've dreamed a lot since then. We need to wake up.”
The music is everywhere, now, and there's rubble crashing down, but Enjolras concentrates on Grantaire, with his head buried in his hands. When Enjolras touches him gently, making him look up and aiming the pistol in a gesture that feels strangely courtly, with everything between them. “If you don't wake up with me, I'm coming back down here,” Grantaire finally says, and doesn't say if it will be to drag him out or to stay. Enjolras doesn't ask.
Enjolras leans into Grantaire to give him a brief kiss. The familiarity of his mouth is a relief, and both of them are steadier when Enjolras pulls away. “I'll see you when we wake up,” Enjolras says, and at Grantaire's nod, he pulls the trigger. He knows his aim is true.
(“Wake up,” said Éponine in the middle of the night, where Enjolras wasn't supposed to hear.)
(“Wake up,” said Grantaire, “I have something to show you.”)
They're in Grantaire's bedroom, the whole mess of them a tangle of bodies, everyone reaching out for Grantaire as much as they can as he sits up in bed, clutching his totem in one hand and the lapel of Enjolras's shirt in the other. Joly is crying, wiping impatiently at his eyes, while Musichetta kisses his forehead and Bossuet slings an arm around his shoulders. Feuilly is smiling and exhausted, talking to Gavroche and half-restraining him from jumping on the bed. Éponine's face is buried in Grantaire's shoulder, and Jehan's arm is around her waist, and Bahorel has a hand on both of them like he needs the reassurance. Combeferre and Courfeyrac are winding back the cords of the PASIV, both of them looking at Enjolras and smiling in tandem when they catch him with his eyes open.
“I'm awake,” says Enjolras. He checks his totem, though, just to be sure, flicking the lighter in his pocket, glad when it doesn't do anything. “And so are you. Welcome back.”
“Don't do that again.” Grantaire looks away from Enjolras, around the room. “Any of you. Christ, that was stupid.” He tucks his totem into his pocket and rubs a hand across his face, and Enjolras is careful not to move, because it seems Grantaire has forgotten he's holding on to Enjolras as well and he doesn't want him to stop. “And embarrassing.”
“We all know a few too many of each other's secrets,” says Bahorel. His shoulders are looser, now that Grantaire is awake, his customary grin already returning to his face. “What's a few more?”
“None of us care, R,” says Éponine, lifting her face. “Whatever it was, we don't care. We're just glad to have you back.”
“Paris isn't the same without you,” Enjolras says, and knows it only betrays too much to he and Grantaire.
“Someone help me up,” says Grantaire, letting him go but throwing him a glance that says he knows exactly what Enjolras means, or that he thinks he does. Enjolras isn't sure he's guessed at the extent of it. “I need to eat everything in my kitchen, and then order something to be delivered. Does no one feed invalids anymore?”
Enjolras lets Jehan and Éponine help Grantaire to his feet, and Bahorel and Feuilly to let Grantaire lean on them as they walk him to the kitchen. He stays where he is, breathing through his relief, listening to the sounds of increasing celebration as they start in the next room.
“You're alright,” says Combeferre quietly when Enjolras manages to shift and get his feet under him, doing him the courtesy of not saying the opposite. “He's awake,” he adds, and that's true and therefore a comfort.
“He is,” Enjolras agrees, but he stays in the bedroom until everyone else is gone, holding on to the lighter and reminding himself again and again that it won't light.
People are starting to nod off when Grantaire appears in the bedroom doorway and gives Enjolras a nod before turning away, leaving Enjolras to follow.
Enjolras does, apologizing to Feuilly for breaking off in the middle of a conversation before he goes and then walking into the bedroom to find the lights off and the shades up, letting in the light from the city outside. Grantaire is halfway through taking his shirt off, moving slower than he usually does. “I'm sorry,” Enjolras says when Grantaire doesn't turn around right away.
Grantaire turns around sharply, frowning. “Fuck, what for?”
“Invading your privacy, not texting you back from Manaus, I don't know.” Enjolras spreads his hands. “You won't look at me. That seems to imply that you need an apology from me.”
“I just don't know what to say. To any of you, you all saw too much, but you, Enjolras ...”
“You don't have to say anything at all. We can forget it, we will forget it. We all know too much about each other.” Enjolras dares a step closer. “I don't want this to be the end of anything. And you can have time if you want it, but don't draw away. We would all miss you. I would miss you. I did miss you.”
There's silence, while Grantaire finishes getting ready for bed and moves back to it, making a distasteful face as he sits down on the edge. “I don't know how I can be tired,” he finally says. “I was sleeping for days.”
“It wasn't restful sleep.” Enjolras stays where he is, hovering next to the bed. “Joly says he thinks the Somnacin you were using had gone bad. There isn't any left to test, but it's a side effect of the drug when it doesn't get replaced, it sometimes won't let you wake.”
“Yeah, Joly mentioned. So did Combeferre. Stupid of me, I almost never dream when I'm at home.”
“Why did you decide to that day?”
“Come to bed, Enjolras, stop hovering. Why else do you think I invited you in here?” Enjolras takes off his shoes and his jeans without any fuss, used to stripping in front of Grantaire, and joins him on the edge of the bed, letting Grantaire lean into him. “I was restless, didn't want to be in my skin anymore. It happens sometimes. And then I ran across a projection I didn't want to.”
“He shows up sometimes.” He sighs. “I'll tell you about him sometime. Not tonight. I figure you all deserve the story, at this point.”
“We're not asking for anything from you.” Enjolras gives in to temptation and turns to tuck his face against Grantaire's neck, breathing in the clean scent of him. His hair is still wet from the shower.
He feels Grantaire breathing, shoulders rising and falling, for almost a full minute before he speaks again. “What you said earlier, did you mean it? Or was it just the moment?”
“As declarations go, it wasn't a good one. I can do better. I will, if you want me to.”
“Do you really think I wouldn't?”
“I don't want to assume anything, Grantaire. Just because you let me fuck you, just because you let my projection watch over you, it doesn't mean you love me back.”
Grantaire's breath hitches, and Enjolras doesn't lift his head, lets him have his moment to think it through, to decide whether he believes Enjolras or not. “You wouldn't do that to me if it were just because you were worried when I was trapped,” he finally says, and Enjolras is glad that he sounds sure of that.
“I knew before I left for Manaus. I might not have said it as soon if it weren't for this, but that doesn't make it any less true.” Enjolras lifts his head. “Do you want me to say it?”
“In the morning. I want to hear it in the morning, when we're both sure I'm going to wake up again.” Grantaire puts his fingers under Enjolras's chin, tips his face up so he can kiss him, tentative like their first kiss, months ago, wasn't. When he pulls away, he doesn't seem inclined to dive back in, and Enjolras follows his lead, waits for him to speak. “Stay with me tonight?”
“I won't go anywhere.”
Enjolras ends up with Grantaire's arms wrapped around him, Grantaire's chest pressed against his back, the two of them drifting slowly into a doze. “I do too,” Grantaire says quietly into the dark, and Enjolras only answers by finding one of Grantaire's hands and squeezing.
He and Grantaire have separated in the night, and he rolls over to face him. It's true sleep, he can recognize that, and it's a relief to see Grantaire snoring softly, his face slack, his arm flung off the side of the bed. Enjolras doesn't really need to, but he still reaches for the floor next to the bed anyway and finds his lighter, flips it open and watches with relief while it doesn't light.
“Afraid this isn't reality?” Grantaire asks a few minutes later, voice muzzy with sleep, smile growing on his face.
Enjolras puts the lighter down and turns toward him, kisses him until he has to pull back for air, smiling at the sight of Grantaire's mussed hair and smiling face. He's comfortable in his skin, not slipping or wanting to slip into another one, fully awake. “Sometimes,” Enjolras says, “it's nice to be sure.”