It comes as no surprise to Grantaire when he sees the man, wrought in the colors of fire and wheat and sunshine, and falls for him instantly. Men always want what they cannot have, and why should gods be any different?
It's only later that Grantaire learns who he is. Enjolras, child of the harvest, a god in his own right with dominion over vegetation and life itself. When he learns his name, Grantaire laughs until he feels sick.
Could there be anyone further out of reach for the god of the dead?
Afterwards, Grantaire will claim it was an accident, that Enjolras crouched with his fingers buried in the earth that nourished his plants and he reached too far, past the roots and into the dark, rich depths where leaves moldered and rotted and turned back to earth. That's Grantaire's dominion, and he was reaching as well, fingers at the edge of his own domain, content simply to be near.
It was Enjolras who crossed that line and ventured into Grantaire's realm. He can hardly be blamed. How could he have known that Enjolras would push his fingers down away from the light and into the dark? How could he have known that lightning would spark when their fingers grazed, that thunder would roll and the earth would split open and swallow them both down?
It's an accident, or nearly so. Grantaire will never admit otherwise.
Enjolras blinks in the gloomy darkness, rapid but without surprise. He turns a slow circle, surveying what little can be seen of Grantaire's kingdom from this vantage. When he circles far enough to see Grantaire, he blinks again, and stops. "Where have you brought me?" he demands, imperious. He is his father's son. "Who are you?"
"Hades," Grantaire says, and answers both.
Enjolras takes a breath and nods once. Grantaire thinks that the air down here should diminish him, should dampen his brightness the way death darkens all things.
Enjolras only seems to grow all the brighter.
"Will I be staying long?"
He is deathless. Grantaire can have no dominion over him. "Do you care to?"
Enjolras smiles, slow and secret. "We shall see."
Grantaire is not generous. His kingdom is death, that last, final fate of men. He does not give back the souls he's claimed for his own. It goes against his nature to consider allowing Enjolras to make that return journey. And Grantaire loves him with a love that is selfish and greedy. Now that Enjolras is within his grasp, he cannot find it in himself to release his grip.
It's inevitable, of course, that someone would miss him. That someone turns out to be Enjolras's mother, come pounding upon the gates of the dead as though it's her right.
Grantaire stands with Enjolras, listening to the reverberation of her fury. Enjolras stands tall at his side, unbowed and unmoved. "What would you have me do?" Grantaire asks, when it seems she'd tear down the very heavens to see her son returned.
Enjolras's expression is like stone. "Let her rage," he says at last. "Or tell her that I will not leave, not yet, if you think she'll hear you." He sounds dubious about that prospect.
Grantaire does not tell her a thing. He knows better than to court another god's wrath. It's enough that Enjolras is here, and that he chooses to remain.
"Why do you stay?" Grantaire asks, when days have become weeks and Enjolras still walks through his realm as though trying to discern secrets from its gloom. As though there are any secrets to be discovered in the first place.
Enjolras turns that look on Grantaire, narrow-eyed and contemplative. Grantaire's breath turns thick in his throat and he almost regrets attracting Enjolras's attention to himself, when it burns as bright as the sun that never shines down here.
"Why did you bring me here?" Enjolras asks, not accusing, just curious.
"I didn't intend to," Grantaire admits, honest for once.
Enjolras nods as though the answer is no surprise at all. "I've walked in my mother's footsteps all my life," he says. "I have seen new life blossom and the harvest come, and I've grown weary of it. This, though." He tips his head, though what he might be indicating, Grantaire couldn't begin to guess. All there is here is shadows. "This is new." Enjolras's smile is slow and sharp as a knife.
Grantaire resolves to show him everything, anything he might not have already seen for himself. He takes Enjolras to Elysium, though he seems unimpressed by it, and by the heroes who reside there. They walk to the banks of the Styx, and Enjolras stands as though overseeing it all when Charon paddles his ferry to the shore and delivers the souls of the recently-deceased.
Asphodel blooms in the depressions left by Enjolras's sandals. Grantaire shows him, and shows him how he has forged his own way, free of the shadow of anyone else's path.
Enjolras burns with a ferocious satisfaction when he looks at the asphodel growing where he's trodden. When he turns his gaze on Grantaire, Grantaire expects it to dim, but Enjolras just glows brighter.
When he curls his fingers in Grantaire's collar and pulls him in, lips sharp and demanding, he's blinding.
Enjolras watches Grantaire for two days, and then he steps forward without a word to meet Charon and greet the souls who have come to Grantaire's realm.
To their realm. It hasn't been so long, but Grantaire is already forgetting what it was like to do this alone.
It's a dangerous sort of complacency. Enjolras can't stay, no matter how disinclined he seems to be to leave. His mother continues to try to tear her way in to her son with the sheer force of her fury. A god of life and growing things cannot continue to flourish in the realm of death and stagnation. It cannot be sustained.
Enjolras does not seem to understand that. Grantaire does not intend to be the one to tell him.
The next time they kiss, it's Grantaire's idea, a moment of selfishness and greed that leads him to guide Enjolras in with a hand on the small of his back and the other curved around his neck. Enjolras grins sharp against his mouth and Grantaire thinks he might try to take control of the kiss, but he allows Grantaire to lead, for once.
Grantaire sips from his mouth like it's wine, cradles Enjolras's face between his hands like it's something precious. When they part, Enjolras looks at him with a little frown pinched between his brows, and Grantaire feels like a puzzle that Enjolras is trying to figure out how to reassemble.
It's nothing new for mortals to seek to reclaim the loved ones they've lost. Men have always fought against death's inevitability.
Grantaire seeks Enjolras out, and finds him on the banks of the Styx, head canted to the side. Music drifts across the water, mortal music, the kind Grantaire has never heard down here. He stands beside Enjolras a moment, listening, then sits. "What is happening?"
"Someone is charming Cerberus." Enjolras looks charmed himself.
"That isn't possible."
"Tell him that."
Enjolras is smiling. It's faint, but there, and Grantaire cannot look away from it. When Cerberus, impossibly, is lulled to sleep by the music, when this living, mortal man bribes his way across on Charon's ferry, Grantaire still cannot bring himself to look away from that faint trace of pleasure on Enjolras's face.
Enjolras pays more attention than Grantaire does, when the man stands before them and demands his beloved's life. He is slight and fair, but he grips his lute with knuckles gone white and an unyielding fierceness on his face that reminds Grantaire of Enjolras, and stills his tongue when Enjolras glances at him in query and Grantaire knows he should protest.
"What will you say?" Enjolras asks him, an undertone. There's hope on his face. He is as bewitched by the musician as Cerberus is, and Grantaire is bewitched by him.
Leniency is not in Grantaire's nature, but Enjolras desires this. Grantaire clears his throat, says, "The beauty of your music has convinced me," because he cannot admit the truth. "But I cannot simply allow your beloved to walk out of the underworld, or every mortal who's lost someone will think that they can have them back, and Hades will lie deserted."
"Make him work for it." Enjolras grips his hand and stands at his side, as bright and fierce as an ember. "Make him prove his worth, and the depth of his devotion."
"Yes." Grantaire grasps at the lifeline that Enjolras has thrown him. "A trial, to prove yourself."
"Anything," the mortal man says, his shoulders squared, his jaw set.
Enjolras looks so pleased and so proud. Grantaire cannot look away from him.
"Would you stay?" Grantaire asks, and offers him a crown of hematite and onyx. "It's yours, if you want it."
Enjolras takes the crown and fingers the stones. Grantaire imagines he sees a hint of a smile flitting about the corners of his mouth, but it could just be a phantom of his imagination, borne of hope.
Enjolras hasn't shown any inclination to leave, it's true. But he also hasn't made any promises to stay.
"Perhaps," Enjolras says quietly, setting the crown in his lap. "Perhaps I would."
That's not a promise, either, but it's enough to make Grantaire's heart soar.
There are rituals that must be followed for a marriage, and gods are not exempt. They have no family here to aid in the ceremony, but they do what they can.
Grantaire helps him out of his clothes, peeling off each garment with careful precision, until Enjolras stands bare before him, stripped of all remnants of his former life. He is unashamed, and Grantaire is humbled before him.
Grantaire dresses him again, in garments spun from the black of the midnight sky. Even these cannot darken his beauty. He glows like a star against them.
They walk to the Styx and kneel together at its bank. Enjolras casts his old clothing into the waters, and they both pour libations in honor of Aphrodite and Peitho.
Grantaire guides Enjolras back to his home. He has lived there these past months, but this time when Enjolras crosses the threshold, they are wed. Grantaire places the crown upon his head and places a kiss against his lips.
There ought to be a feast next, but with only the two of them there to dine, there seems little point in the formality. Stilll, Grantaire has a platter of fruit to choose from, figs and dates and quince, for the symbol of it if nothing else. He offers the plate to Enjolras.
And Enjolras hesitates.
He knows the rules of the underworld, he always has. To eat of its food is to be bound, as Grantaire is. Enjolras has made no promises, and he sets the plate aside without choosing from its offerings.
It doesn't matter. They are wed. It's enough.
In the bedchamber, Grantaire disrobes Enjolras again. This time, Enjolras undresses him in turn, until they are both nude before each other, and Grantaire skims his hand over golden skin and marvels at its warmth, marvels that Enjolras is here at all, that he lets him touch him, that he has stayed.
Enjolras leans into the touch. He fits his hand to Grantaire's hip and they guide each other to the bed.
Their consummation is slow, unhurried. They have all the time in the world. Enjolras's touch feels like sunlight upon his skin, his kiss is ambrosia, he takes Grantaire apart and leaves him shuddering, undone. Enjolras has always been able to move Grantaire in ways that no one else has, and in this, he is no different. He makes it seem easy.
Grantaire spends with Enjolras's name on his lips, a paean to Aphrodite, to Peitho, to Eros. Enjolras follows shortly after him, with teeth pressed into Grantaire's shoulder and breath gusting against his nape.
When Enjolras has dislodged himself, Grantaire rolls and wraps him in his arms, determined to keep him there, at least for the night.
Later, when they have roused, Grantaire presses Enjolras beneath him and takes him apart just as carefully, if not quite so easily as Enjolras had managed it. He doesn't relent until Enjolras gives his own cry, an exaltation to the gods, and then they lie together once more, replete.
It's Enjolras who notices first. He has always been keen-eyed and sharp-witted. They stand on the banks of the Styx, hand in hand, watching Charon deliver his latest boat of the dead, and Enjolras narrows his eyes as they begin to disembark. "There's more."
Grantaire glances at him, and then back at the boat. "More?"
"He comes more frequently than he used to, and his boats carry more than they had."
He's right, of course, though Grantaire might never have noticed on his own. The number of the dead waxes and wanes as surely as the moon, less in peacetime and prosperity, more when there are wars being waged or droughts plaguing the land. It's no matter to Grantaire. Everyone comes to his shores eventually.
Droughts end and wars, eventually, are won or lost or abandoned. But the dead continue to come, as fast as ever. Faster. Charon's boats never have an empty seat now, and he never breaks between trips, and still the dead keep coming.
A messenger comes, and stands before them in their throne room with a grim set to his mouth. Enjolras, at Grantaire's side, grips the arms of his throne with fingers that are stiff and knuckles that have gone white. "She's doing this," he says before their visitor can say a word.
He inclines his head in acknowledgment. "The seeds don't grow. The crops wither and die in the fields. She is raging, and grieving, and the land rages and grieves with her."
"It is his choice," Grantaire snaps. His words are violent, his voice snaps with the fury of thunder. "I have never kept him here. He chooses to stay."
"She wishes the return of her child," the messenger says.
Grantaire snarls. "We are wed. He is hers no longer."
"Nevertheless. She is his mother, and a mother's grief is enduring."
Enjolras says nothing in his own defense, or Grantaire's. He looks thoughtful and troubled in a way that Grantaire knows can mean nothing good. But when the messenger leaves, Enjolras doesn't go with him, and Grantaire clings to that.
The far bank of the Styx is crowded with the dead, now. They stand shoulder to shoulder, too thick to see through. Too many for Charon to ferry across, and still they come.
Enjolras stands at the river's edge, watching them. His eyes are hollow, haunted.
Grantaire is going to lose him. He can see it coming, and there's nothing he can do to stop it.
"I rule here with you," Enjolras says, his eyes still on the dead. "But I am still who I have always been. I am the god of vegetation and life, and this…"
"It's wrong," Grantaire says quietly. He is selfish and greedy, he always has been, and he already knows he's going to let Enjolras go.
"There can be no life without death, and the same goes in reverse. Who will we rule, if there are no more men who live, and no more men to die?"
"Go," Grantaire says, and turns away, because he cannot look at Enjolras as he says it. Enjolras will know what it costs him, if he sees. "Go to her. End this."
Enjolras draws a breath that's swift and startled. His hand weighs heavy on Grantaire's shoulder. "She won't let me go again."
"No. I don't expect she will." He shuts his eyes. "Go anyway."
Enjolras is silent a moment, then turns and walks away, back to the house. It doesn't hurt, Grantaire tells himself. He has no cause to be hurt. He always knew this couldn't last.
Gods may not die, but nothing is eternal. Everything changes, everything ends. He's the god of death, shouldn't he know that better than anyone?
Eventually, when the river grows too lonely and the silhouette of Charon bringing another boat full of the dead across has become too ominous, Grantaire follows Enjolras back up the slight slope that leads away from the Styx.
Enjolras meets him halfway back to the house, his eyes bright and his face aflame. He carries a pomegranate in his hand, Grantaire recognizes it from the tray of fruits Enjolras refused to eat when they were wed.
Enjolras thrusts the fruit into Grantaire's hand. "Give it to me."
Grantaire shuts his eyes and fights for breath. "Enjolras—"
"It only counts if it's from your hand. Give it to me."
A stone sits lodged in Grantaire's throat, as heavy as Sisyphus's. He could hate Enjolras for this, for giving him hope, which is more painful to endure than grief, but he loves him too well. "You are sure?" he asks, because he must. "Your mother will continue to rage. The crops will continue to fail. Men will continue to die, and to crowd our shores. That isn't what you wanted."
Enjolras's face is a beacon, a flame. He burns with conviction as he grips Grantaire's hands in his. "Give me the fruit, Grantaire. Please."
Grantaire gives it to him. He cannot refuse.
Enjolras splits the pomegranate open. Juice spills out to stain his fingers like blood. He counts six arils into his palm, careful and precise, then lets the halves drop to the ground between them.
Only six. It's not enough. Grantaire knew this hope would bring him nothing but pain. He would shut his eyes beneath the crushing weight of it, but he has to keep them open. He has to watch as Enjolras eats them, one at a time, and swallows them down seeds and all. He has to be sure.
It's not enough. But it's more than he had thought to have, all the same. Grantaire is pathetically grateful for it.
Enjolras cups Grantaire's face in his hands, staining his cheeks, his jaw. He leans in and kisses him. "I have to go," he says, and Grantaire holds on to him tight, just for a moment.
"I'll come back." He kisses Grantaire again, as though to prove it with the taste of pomegranate upon his lips. "We are wed. She cannot keep me. I will soothe her anger and her grief, I'll set things to rights, and then I'll be back."
Grantaire has little faith in his mother's willingness to honor their marriage, but he nods even so. "Go," he says, a broken whisper. It's the best he can manage.
"I'll come back."
Grantaire forces a smile. "I'll be waiting."
Enjolras nods, squeezes Grantaire's hands once. And then he is gone.
Months pass, and Grantaire refuses to count them. Whatever Enjolras is doing up above, though, it must be working, because the number of dead begin to slow. The far bank of the Styx is no longer crowded with those waiting their turn to cross, and Charon's trips across the river become less frequent, his boat less full. Everything is as it should be.
Grantaire thinks of how pleased Enjolras must be about it, and he can at least take pleasure in that. But Hades is a dark and gloomy place without Enjolras's light to brighten it, and for the first time in his memory, Grantaire is lonely.
Grantaire stands at the edge of the Styx to greet each passenger that Charon ferries across. It is his duty.
Usually the dead weep or beg for mercy. Sometimes they are numb, resigned to their fates. Very rarely, when their death was prolonged or full of suffering, they are pleased to find themselves on Hades's shores. But Grantaire has never before seen one who stood proud at the prow of Charon's boat, shoulders back, chin high. He is nothing but a grey shape through the mist, and Grantaire doesn't dare to hope until Charon's boat scrapes ashore and his passenger steps off onto dry land.
He is wearing the clothing Grantaire made for him, as black as midnight, as bright as starlight.
He is smiling.
Grantaire starts towards him, and in two strides he is running. Enjolras opens his arms and absorbs the impact when Grantaire crashes into him, face pressed to his shoulder, arms wrapped so tight Grantaire thinks he'll never be able to let him go.
"I told you I'd be back," Enjolras says fondly, gently. His arms circle Grantaire just as tight, just as secure. "Did you doubt me?"
"Never." It was never Enjolras he doubted. "I missed you."
Enjolras's lips curve against his hair. "And I you." He steps back, takes Grantaire's hands with a grip that's just as tight as their embrace. "Come. Welcome me home properly."
They walk up the bank, hand in hand. Six months will pass too soon, and Enjolras will have to leave again. But they have better things to think about, better things to talk about, until then.
Grantaire refuses to squander even a second.