Grantaire has approximately five minutes to enjoy being on the surface of his first alien world, the huge bustling market with buildings shaped like nothing he's ever seen, his whole crew disappearing into various stalls with any number of products whose uses he could only make the vaguest of guesses at. Joly and Bossuet, embarrassingly, are actually holding on to the collar of his shirt like he's a three-year-old so he doesn't go running off, so Grantaire contents himself with staring at all the people. Éponine was right about this being a port, and if he thought the variety of people on the Musain was dizzying, this is only more so.
The air is mountaintop-thin, and Grantaire can see people with all sorts of breathing apparatus, in suits that must mean the pressure is too much or too little for them, someone very important-looking bouncing around like they're on the moon because the gravity must be lower than their home planet, and he knows he's gaping like he did the first time he came to Paris and realized he was there.
He's about to ask Joly and Bossuet to take him somewhere with a better view of what's around him when his phone starts vibrating intensely in his pocket, making noises and practically shaking itself apart.
Joly and Bossuet jump, probably because his phone hasn't made any noises except the occasional little game noise since he met them, and he stops walking, letting them pull him over to the side of the lane while he fumbles it out of his pocket, and—well, it looks like apparently he gets reception several light years from home. “My phone is working,” he says, because Joly and Bossuet are peering and they look worried. “My—my phone is working, oh fuck.”
There are missed calls, texts upon texts, voicemails, bosses and acquaintances and numbers he doesn't recognize, but there, there's Floréal's name, the most recent person to call, to text, to leave a message, and she hasn't stopped, not the whole time he's been gone, and it hits him for the first time that he's left her for months now without a word and fuck, she probably thinks he's dead.
He's calling her before he can begin to think the better of it, before he has time to think about things like cross-galactic roaming charges and the fact that it shouldn't connect with so much space between them, or what time of night or day it might possibly be in Paris, and somehow, impossibly, across so much empty space it's dizzying to think about, she picks up the phone.
And that's … that's Floréal, and he's never heard her this shaky before, not ever, no matter what the world threw at her, and Grantaire staggers back against the nearest wall, hand over his eyes because he can't look at Joly and Bossuet for this. “Oh God, I'm so sorry, Floréal, I'm so sorry.”
She must believe it's him, through some miracle, because she sucks in a sharp breath he can hear across the line, and when she speaks again, she's using the frosty tune that she uses on assholes in the bar who are about to require medical attention. “Four months,” she says, every consonant and vowel perfectly formed. “I really, desperately hope you have been kept as some billionaire's willing sex slave for that amount of time, because otherwise I am going to have to murder you.”
“I'm—there's no possible way you're going to believe me.”
“I'll believe anything, fuck you, I thought you were dead.” Her voice catches, and Grantaire knows he's crying now too, and it's impossible how much he missed her even when it was his choice to go. “They found your car, R, and some field nearby was disturbed, weird tracks in the snow or something, but there was no sign of you, there was no … I wouldn't. I wouldn't declare you dead until they found your dead body, and no one found your phone so you didn't run away. I kept paying your bill, because I wanted you to be able to call home.”
“I'm going to … I'm going to take a picture and send it to you, hopefully data works as well at this distance as the phone line, this is really really impossible but okay.” He removes his hand from his face long enough to move the phone and to take a selfie that manages to catch the color and incredible variety of the market, Joly and Bossuet standing awkwardly near him, with enough sense not to say anything when he's so obviously such a mess.
There's a brief silence after he sends the picture, and then Floréal, sounding genuinely puzzled, says “Are you on a movie set? Did you run away to Hollywood or something?”
“I'm … that would be such a nice logical thing, but no, I would have called you in that case. I'm.” He winces. “I'm in space.”
“I'm several light years away from you, I just set foot on my first alien planet a few minutes ago, I got sort of willingly abducted by aliens. They're all really nice.”
There's a long, long pause, and Grantaire could swear he can feel every centimeter of space in between them. It's a fuckton of centimeters. “R, do you feel fuzzy? Do you have access to medical or emergency services? Hold on, now that you've got service I think I can track your phone's GPS.”
“I swear, I'm not on drugs, I haven't had a drink since I left Earth, I have been fully conscious for every part of this except the actual abduction part.” Of course she doesn't believe him, because Floréal is practical, and this is the last thing anyone would think. “I'm going to wander a little and I'm going to take some more pictures, okay? Send them all to you? Just promise you won't share them around, I don't want the world to find out about aliens from a few Snapchats.”
“Okay, R, show me pictures of your aliens. Tell me about your trip.” She sounds careful and indulgent and he thinks he can hear her typing, either looking up the location of his phone or any currently-filming movies with aliens in them.
Grantaire knows she doesn't believe him yet, but that's okay. He fumbles his phone around until it's on speaker and gives an apologetic look to Joly and Bossuet, who are still watching him carefully. “I will.” He looks at them. “Do you two mind coming around with me for a few minutes? I want to take some pictures.”
“Of course,” says Bossuet. He doesn't look too happy, but that's something to apologize for and deal with later. For now, Grantaire just sighs his gratitude and starts walking.
“Tell me how you are,” he says, while he pulls up the camera app and starts taking pictures of everything around him, a panoramic shot so she can see there aren't any cameras but his around, no one human, the unfamiliar buildings, the peppering of vegetation in a rainbow of colors. “What have you been doing? Have you finally dumped the bank teller?”
“He got a promotion, yes I have, and fuck you, how do you think I've been? How would you be if I'd disappeared without a word or a trace for four months?”
In a panic. In a ditch. In that same field not wanting to be on the planet. “Okay, fair. But don't tell me my adventures in Starfleet are the only interesting thing that's happened in four months, I won't believe you. I'm sending you pictures now. More in a few minutes once I've found some new subjects, I can make my friends pose if I can find more of them.”
“Your alien friends.”
“Yes, those ones.” He presses send on the pictures.
Floréal doesn't answer right away, and he knows she must be looking through them, trying to find the seams, the make-up, the cameras. He can't blame her, so he gives her the time as he moves on. Enjolras is talking to a group of people near a stall, gestures big and precise, and Grantaire takes a picture of them too, looking more than ever like a statue come to life than ever, one hand extended to the sky and the sun shining down on them, making them glow like they don't in the dimness of space. Joly and Bossuet keep trailing him, and he feels bad, wants to tell them he'll stay in one place and they can go wherever they want, but he doubts they would listen. “It looks really convincing,” she finally says, “but you've got to know it's impossible, Grantaire.”
“I'll take a video, would video be more convincing?” He lowers his voice. “You trust me, Flor, you've got to trust me by now. Trust that this isn't a trick on either me or you.”
“Send me a video.”
Grantaire turns to look at Joly and Bossuet. “Do you two mind if I record you saying something for my friend? She's worried, she doesn't think I'm where I think I am.”
“That's the impression we were getting,” says Bossuet. “We can't understand her, but we can understand you, anyway.”
The translators don't work across phone lines then. That's interesting, and he'll make a note to ask them about it later, but for now he holds up his phone and says. “Give her a wave, or say something, or something,” while he presses record, hearing Floréal make a frustrated noise on the other end of the line, maybe when her attempts at figuring out where he is continue to prove to be less than fruitful.
“Hello, Grantaire's friend,” says Joly, with the universal awkwardness of someone being filmed unexpectedly.
“Her name is Floréal,” says Grantaire, and then into the phone he says “Just a minute, Floréal, they're camera shy apparently.”
“Excuse you, we are no such thing,” says Bossuet. “I just don't think she'll get our jokes.”
“Jokes don't get translated through the devices,” says Enjolras, appearing from out of nowhere, and then looks at Grantaire, still holding out the phone and filming with Floréal on the other end of the line. The video is going to be too long to send, and he stops recording and sends it while Enjolras looks from the phone to Grantaire again and frowning, or making the facial expression Grantaire always thinks of as a frown. “Is that your game pad?”
“It's a phone. A long-distance talking thing. It works here. Miraculously. Sorry, I'm talking to someone, one second.” He lifts the phone back to his face. “Floréal? Are you still there?”
“What language are they speaking?”
“I've honestly got no clue. We've got these translation things.” Her breath is shaky on the line, and he finally remembers to say “What time is it there?”
“Almost midnight. Are you actually serious right now? Aliens.”
“I'm serious. I am really, really serious. You can't find my GPS signal, can you?”
Floréal's breath is getting shakier and shakier, and he's only heard her cry twice before and he feels hellishly guilty. “I can't. Where did … how the fuck could you go to space, Grantaire? Without telling me? Without a word, without … I had to talk to your fucking parents and they said you probably just ran off and that it was just like you and I almost killed them, you could have called and I could have been in jail for homicide and it's all your fault.”
“I'm sorry, I am so sorry. I just couldn't turn down the opportunity.”
“And you couldn't tell me first?”
“I would have stayed.”
“I wish you had.”
“Your friend is upsetting you,” says Enjolras, still hovering close, and Grantaire starts, because he's in the middle of the lane again, and all three of them are looking at him, and all three of them look worried. “Is there bad news?”
“No, she just misses me. She didn't know where I was. She was worried.”
“Fuck you,” says Floréal. “How long are you going to be where you are?”
“A day or two, I think.” He looks up at Enjolras. “How long are we staying?”
“Two days. We need fuel, and to talk to the people in charge of our project a little more. You'll have plenty of time to talk to your friend.” Their face does something he doesn't recognize. “And decide if you want to go home. We have been asked already to return to that quadrant, even to your planet, to gather data on whether you're ready for first contact.”
“Two days,” Grantaire says into the phone. “I'm going to let you sleep and think, okay? But you can call me. My phone doesn't die in space, for reasons I am not going to question right now. Call me as soon as you wake up. I am definitely in space. You did not dream this. I will text you that as soon as we hang up.”
“I am going to punch you so hard the next time I see you,” she says, and he thinks she'll hang up—Floréal has always liked a good exit line—but instead she adds “I love you, you know. I'm glad you're safe.”
Grantaire puts his hand over his face again, because it's the only privacy he's likely to get. “I love you too. Sleep well.”
The line is silent after that, and Grantaire keeps his hand where it is because he doesn't know what to say or do with Enjolras and Joly and Bossuet all there. After a minute or so, one of them gently touches his arm, and he puts his hand down and squares his shoulders. “Are you okay?” Joly asks.
“Yeah, just … I'd been ignoring how much I missed her.”
“Well, as I said, we should be back in your area. We could go back the fast way, if you like, even.” Joly and Bossuet give Enjolras a sharp look at that, and Grantaire blinks, because he'd kind of assumed that faster than light was the fast way to travel. “If you miss her that much.”
“What's the fast way?” Grantaire asks, and wishes his voice didn't sound as shaky as he knows it does. He's still clutching his phone, trying to resist the urge to go through months of texts from Floréal.
“You've never done wormhole travel,” says Bossuet, like that's some kind of a surprise when humans are barely off the planet, and like he's incredibly delighted. “Enjolras, really? Can we take the wormhole? Grantaire never has.”
“Is it expensive or something?”
“No, sometimes it's just more interesting to take the long way. We wouldn't have had a chance to see Earth if we hadn't, we were en route elsewhere, but we were taking the long way and the radio signals were interesting.” Joly puts his hand on Grantaire's shoulder. “Sure you're okay? We still have things to show you.”
“Right, yeah, I'm fine. It'll be … she has to sleep. So, it'll be about the length of one of my sleep cycles before she calls again.” He figured out pretty quickly that using Earth measurements of time doesn't do anyone any good, and lots of people on the ship are incredibly vague about time measurement except when it comes to Shulia Shamia episode lengths and sleep cycles. “Show me whatever you want to.”
Joly and Bossuet look at each other for a long moment, and Grantaire wonders not for the first time if binding their lives together made them telepathic, because they do that sometimes, just look at each other until they both nod sharply and start taking action. “Enjolras,” says Bossuet, “Combeferre probably wants to find you so you can go up to the university and start giving your joint report. We're going to show Grantaire around and figure out where Courfeyrac has booked us lodgings and cheer him up, we'll meet you back there.”
“Yes, I don't want to be late,” says Enjolras, and disappears back into the crowd.
Again, Joly and Bossuet exchange looks. Grantaire decides not to ask about any of it. He's got plenty on his mind right now anyway. “Show me around, and tell me about wormhole travel while you're at it.”
“We can do that,” says Joly, “as long as you don't want anything technical, I'm a medical researcher, I don't know how the space network works.”
“I wouldn't get a technical explanation anyway,” he says, and concentrates on the two of them talking to him until he can shove the conversation with Floréal to the back of his mind.
“You are in fucking space,” Floréal shouts, and he's missed her more than words can possibly say. “You disappear on me and you go to space, are you fucking kidding me?”
“Not without telling you.” There's a pause. “When are you coming home?”
“I don't know.” He's got a room to himself, a little dormitory room on a university campus, and he's glad, because he can sit up on the bed and lean against the wall and listen to the sound of her voice. “We'll be back in the area soon, but … I want to be here. I miss you so much, but I don't know if I want to give this up.”
He lets that settle between them. Floréal waits half a minute before she speaks again. “How soon can you be here?”
“I just said ...”
“You probably didn't pack anything. Art supplies, clothes, I've been watering your goddamn cactus, and what the hell are they feeding you on that spaceship?”
“I am well-fed and not wandering around naked. But I do miss the supplies, I have to admit. And the cactus. And you. If we make it into orbit I'll come down and visit, I swear.”
“The hell you will. I'm coming with you.”
It's Grantaire's turn to pause this time, to consider that. “You've got—”
“Fuck what I've got. I don't have you right now. If you get to Earth, you tell them I'm coming with you. I'll keep my bags packed. Just tell me when to go, and I'll come.”
“I can't ask you to do that.”
“I'm sorry, did I hear you asking? And did I ask?” Her voice softens. “You aren't the only one who would like to ride around on a spaceship, R. All I'm doing is working retail and trying to get my foot in a door, here, especially with you gone. So we'll go together.”
“I'll ask them. I can't make any promises, but I'll ask.”
“Good.” Her voice sharpens again. “Now, tell me all about them, all of them, because those pictures were pretty incredible and I couldn't understand anything they were saying.”
Grantaire took pictures of the whole crew of the Musain throughout the day, expecting just that kind of reaction from Floréal, so he's prepared to send them and to tell her all about them, all about everything he can begin to put into words, Enjolras's kittens and soap operas and everything else. Eventually, it leads into Floréal talking about what she's been doing, and he feels guilty at just how many things she skirts around, trying to make it seem like she didn't miss him.
“I have to go to work,” she finally says. “We'll talk again before you leave that planet, and you'll tell me if your friends agree to pick me up or if I'm going to have to stow away.”
“Okay. Okay, I'll ask.”
“I did last night. I haven't yet today.” Grantaire puts his hands in his pockets. “And I have a favor to ask. Which I know I shouldn't, because I'm already extra cargo and Combeferre mentioned that you had to defend your choice to pick me up—”
“You were distressed. You asked. And you're allowed to ask for a favor, too. If you want to go back home, we couldn't blame you.”
“That's not exactly what I'm asking for.”
Enjolras tilts their head, thoughtful or confused or some of both. “Then what are you asking for? I can't grant you a favor until you've asked, and even then if it's ship's business we'll have to ask everyone else.”
“You're technically in charge,” Grantaire points out, because he's picked that up by now, and Enjolras looks less than pleased. “She wants to come with us. That's the favor. I told her I want to stay with you and she said if I stay she wants to come with me. She's smart, she's good. You'll all like her.” He thinks. “She's more useful than I am.”
“Nobody minds that you aren't a technician,” Enjolras says carefully, like that's the most important thing Grantaire said. “You aren't a burden. You're a friend.”
“That's very sweet of you, but seriously, next leg of this trip, I'm going to find something useful to do. I promise.” Grantaire fidgets, and hopes Enjolras hasn't learned his body language well enough to realize exactly how nervous he is right now, exactly how much he wants this, because he doesn't want Floréal to get a berth if they're going to resent her for it or think she shouldn't be there. “What do you think? About Floréal, I mean.”
“She means a lot to you.”
“Yes. She's … pretty much the only thing I regretted about leaving home. She's the closest thing to a sister I have.”
It's impossible to decipher Enjolras's tone at that, whether it's a clarification or simply a restatement of a concept they aren't familiar with. All Grantaire can do is shrug. “Yeah. It's not the most exact classification,” considering the ill-advised affair two years ago, “but it's close enough.”
“I'll ask everyone. But Bossuet came even though Joly is the one who wanted the mission, and Cosette and Bahorel are with us nearly by chance as well. They won't begrudge you bringing a friend—a sister—along with us.”
“Thank you. So much. If I knew before we take off tomorrow, that would be good, so I can let her know, but I'm so grateful you're even thinking about it.”
“As I said, it isn't up to me. And I don't want you to be unhappy.” Enjolras glances away. “But I'll make sure you have the chance to tell her before we go anywhere. And even if she can't come, the next time we get to Earth we'll find something for her that will let her talk to you more often.”
Grantaire nods. It's better than he could have asked for, anyway. “Seriously, thank you. You're great—you're all great, picking up hitchhikers and then even considering picking up another person for the sake of said hitchhiker.”
“You aren't a hitchhiker. We chose to take you on. We found you in that scan, and translated what you were saying, and we decided to bring you on, and invite you to stay even when you said that we perhaps shouldn't have taken that so seriously, and if she'll make you happy ...”
“I'm not unhappy,” Grantaire interjects, because he needs to make that clear. “I've been homesick on and off, yeah, but I'm happier on the Musain than I've pretty much ever been before.”
“That's good to hear.” Enjolras nods a few times, and it's still an awkward gesture. “I'll talk to them. Keep enjoying the market in the meantime. I'll let you know as soon as I can.”
Grantaire leans against the reassuring outside of the ship, which he'd never actually seen before they landed other than the confusing night in the field when they came for him. It's a pitted-up mess, but no one seems concerned about that, and it's going to take him back to Floréal, so he's feeling pretty fond of it at the moment. “Pack your very best spacefaring hat. Also, all my movies? I sort of promised to inflict some on them. And any science fiction books I have in my collection.”
“Okay. All mine too?”
“Sure, why not? Everyone agrees there's plenty of room.”
“And your art supplies and whatever other things will keep us going in space for however long we stay there.” She laughs, and it sounds a little hysterical, but he feels a little hysterical too so he isn't going to bring it up. “I've got two weeks to pack and figure out our excuses down here, I can't tell you how much I hate you for leaving me to do that part.”
“I will make it up to you.”
“You are in emotional blackmail debt to me for pretty much the rest of our lives, you should know that.”
“I would expect nothing less.” Bahorel and Combeferre are carrying something onto the ship, both of them acknowledging him as they go, and Combeferre points up at the planet's sun, which is a fairly meaningless gesture because Grantaire has no idea how to tell time from this particular sun except he suspects it means they have to leave soon. “You're sure you want to come? Not just for me?”
“Don't be an asshole,” she says. “How's the weather in space? Do I want sweaters? Tank tops?”
“Varies widely depending on the part of the ship, people kind of set the thermostat to something comfortable for them in whatever they're room. So, both.”
“Okay.” She breathes out. “If I haven't heard from you after two weeks, I'm going to be forced to invent space travel so I can find you and kick your ass.”
“You would be within your rights.” No one is coming off the ship now to get more loads of supplies, and he sees Feuilly coming down the street with one last box. Everyone else, as far as he knows, is on the ship. That probably means he should be there too. “I've got to go now, takeoff is soon. But I'll see you in a few weeks.”
“I'll see you then, R.”
“Love you,” he says, and she hangs up without saying it back, but that's fine, because he's going to see her soon enough. He falls in step with Feuilly as he comes onto the ship and his phone buzzes one last time before it loses network, the You too he was expecting.
“I'm looking forward to meeting her,” says Feuilly, with a little quirk to his mouth, probably amused from the context. “Sisters are important.”
Enjolras is the only person he's used the word “sister” around, and Grantaire isn't sure if he wants to ask if this is Feuilly drawing conclusions or Enjolras telling everyone to get them to agree. “They are,” he says instead. “Need help carrying that on?”
Feuilly probably knows he's changing the subject, but he just moves until Grantaire can help support his box of supplies, and they go onto the ship together.
“You're going to have to go down to the planet's surface,” Enjolras says abruptly when they're slowing down, almost out of the wormhole and ready to do the last leg of their journey.
Grantaire almost drops the kitten he's holding, less because the news is shocking and more because the past hour has been silent. “I figured. I won't be able to contact her from up here. I figure you could drop me about where you found me and Floréal could meet me there. You guys don't want to land in Paris unless we're moving up the timetable on first contact.”
“She'll be able to get her belongings there without trouble? And yours? You've said she's bringing some things.”
“Never underestimate her ability to get things done. I think she'll have figured that I can't exactly waltz back into Paris.”
“Let us know if we can help, once you've talked to her.”
Grantaire scoops up another one of the kittens, the one that's friendliest to him in general. “I will, thanks. And I never thanked you for talking to everyone, I don't think—”
“They all asked if she was coming before I could ask them,” says Enjolras, to Grantaire's surprise. “We'll like her. We want to keep you on the ship.”
That's a warm feeling, and even warmer for not really being surprising anymore, and Grantaire turns his attention back to the kittens swarming around him. “You'll like her for her too, I hope.”
“I'm sure I will.”
He stays where he is, hands shaking, and a second later the cab door flies open and she steps out, dressed like an ad in a magazine, hat and all, and he has two seconds to take in her tear-stained face and the circles under her eyes before she's in his arms, squeezing him so tight he can barely breathe, the first hug he's had since he left Earth. They sway back and forth, and it takes him a second to realize she's saying “Fuck you, fuck you” quietly into his shirt.
“Want to get your stuff out of the cab?” he asks when he trusts his voice. “I've got a cart in the woods, can't get it in sight of the cab, but it's not too far away in the trees.”
“Yeah.” She pushes him away and wipes her face and then she's his Floréal again, already planning the next move, no sign of her tears at all, opening the cab door again. “Can you open the door, please? We need to unpack.”
The cab driver clearly doesn't trust him at all, and he can't exactly blame her. “Are you going to be fine with all of this off the road, miss?”
“My cabin isn't too far off the path, this is as close as you can get,” says Grantaire, trying to look charming and non-intimidating. He has no idea what Floréal has told her. Probably, knowing Floréal, that she's running off to live with her mountain man husband in the middle of the forest.
“He's not going to kill me, don't worry.” Floréal jerks her head at Grantaire, who obediently starts unpacking her boxes and bags. That's probably going to do more to comfort the cab driver than anything else, anyway. “Just likes to live off the grid, that's all.”
“If you get things out of the car, I'll get them down to the cart,” he offers. Let the cab driver think it's some kind of rustic wagon.
Floréal clutches his arm before he can go anywhere. “No, stay with me, we'll get the car unpacked and then ferry it together.”
The cab driver seems a little comforted after that, and they get the car unloaded in short order. There's a lot of stuff, but considering Grantaire jumped on a spaceship with nothing to his name and even now his quarters are sparse that's probably a good thing. Floréal is all business, making sure the boxes and bags come out in the right order, but she doesn't go out of reach at all if she can help it. He's going to be apologizing for years.
“Everything's out,” says Floréal, and hands the driver an exorbitant amount of cash through the window. Grantaire is willing to bet she took it out of his account, but that's fair, as far as he's concerned. “Thanks for the ride.”
They get one last suspicious look before the driver nods, waves, turns around, and speeds away.
Once they're alone again, all Grantaire can think to do is hug Floréal again properly, holding on tight. “I'm so happy to see you, you have no idea.”
“I have some idea.” She squeezes and then lets go. “Come on, let's get our things to this cart and then let's go meet your friends.”
It takes twenty minutes to ferry everything into the woods and stack it to Floréal's satisfaction on the cart, and then they climb into the front and maneuver it slowly through the woods to the field where the Musain is parked. It was winter when he left, but it's spring now, damp and green, and Grantaire takes it all in as they drive, Floréal leaning into his side, both of them silent because there's too much to say and he at least doesn't know how to begin. He regrets not getting to go back to Paris again, but he won't be gone forever.
“We're almost there,” he says when they're about to come clear of the trees, and points her head in the right direction so when their vision isn't obstructed anymore she'll get a good view of the ship, taking up most of a field, the ramp down to welcome them in.
“Holy shit,” says Floréal, giddy and terrified at the same time, just like he's felt the whole time, and Grantaire grins and puts his arm around her and uses the other to wave when people start coming out of the ship to help them unpack.