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The Pangalactic Interstellar Starship Musain and the Road Trip Playlist

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Grantaire knows it's pathetic but still can't really keep himself from trailing Floréal around the ship like a lost duckling for her first few days on it. Their bunks are right next to each other and he excuses the rest of it by showing her around the ship and helping her get to know everyone, but she puts her foot down on the third day. “We may be having a road trip in space, but I may stab you if you don't get out of my hair for five minutes,” she tells him over dinner. The replicator, which gives Grantaire sullen basics, has been coaxed to disgorge salad, roast chicken, and a perfect cheesecake. He's fairly sure Floréal used sorcery.

“I'm not leaving until I've eaten about four pieces of that cheesecake. And we should save some for Éponine, teach her about her cultural heritage or something.”

“Sure. And we can make more if we want.”

“You are going to have to teach me the ways of the replicator.”

Floréal laughs. “Trust you to be on the spaceship for months and not learn how to work the damn food apparatus. It's not that hard.”

“Excuse you, I've been connecting with extraterrestrial culture instead, see how well you learn to work the electronics when I make you watch The Great Romance of Shulia Shamia.”

“I'm pretty sure I can watch it and still feed myself.” She kicks him gently under the table. “But I mean it. I'm really glad you're alive and if I see you constantly without a whole city for us to retreat to when we annoy each other I'm going to kill you. Hang out with other people. They're your friends too. And I hope they'll be mine.”

“They will.” He kicks her right back. “We should have a movie night. Introduce them to Star Wars, maybe. Or figure a few things out for game night.”

She laughs. “Game night. You've seriously found the best aliens. It's more like a road trip than Starfleet.”

“You just try telling me that Commander Spock didn't have a seriously rocking road trip playlist.”

“I have to say, I'm pretty disappointed in you for not having all these people listening to traveling music already. Doesn't it get quiet out here in space?”

“It really, really does. But I guess I figured that drivers picking the music still counted in space, and I only ever went to the cockpit on my initial tour.”

Floréal hums and takes another bite of cheesecake, which she's alternating with her meal because she's always done that, ate her dessert and dinner at the same time. Grantaire has moved on to cheesecake and cheesecake alone, and it's very possible he's going to find a planet where he can marry the cheesecake because he never wants to be parted from dessert again. “Too bad there aren't a lot of other vehicles out here in space,” she says after a bit. “We could play license plate games.”

Grantaire laughs. “We could play asteroid bingo? Ones shaped like potatoes are the free space.”

Floréal toasts him with her glass of water, since even she can't coax out a decent vintage, and takes another bite of her chicken.

*

Grantaire takes his art supplies to the viewport to use them, when he finally gathers his courage and gets them together. He's imagined amazing paintings for months now, but he hasn't exactly had the opportunity to put them together.

He paints the canvas dark first, because it's sort of inconceivable he could paint anything but space right now. It's hard to get the shade right, though. It's black, of course, overwhelmingly so, but it isn't really that either, nor is it really dark blue or purple. He uses all three colors, swirls them together, and maybe it's a little too reminiscent of Van Gogh, but there are worse people to emulate.

There are stars, too, of course, little specks of white on the canvas once the thick layer below is mostly dry, and he stares at the canvas after. It's fairly minimalist, for his taste, but it's most of the view he's seen lately and he's not quite up for painting any of his friends but Floréal yet, and she's not a very patient model when there's a spaceship to explore and she's already scolding him for not letting her settle in.

“What are you doing?” Jehan asks from the entrance to the viewport, and Grantaire jumps.

“Painting. Making art.” He gestures at the canvas. “It's the sky outside, sort of.”

Jehan scrutinizes the painting, tilting their head to see it from every angle. “I haven't seen you doing this before.”

“I didn't know how to make the supplies. Floréal brought me some. It's something I've always done.” He nods at the canvas. “Do people do things like this, where you come from?”

“Some people do. Not usually people who go to space. It's an important study, more for keeping histories than what you'd call art, I think—it's not like Shulia Shamia, or storytelling.”

“You're storytellers, on your planet?”

“I'm probably the best, of those of us on this ship. Enjolras can hold an audience but never had the talent for narrative, and Bahorel has the narrative but not the elegance.” Jehan makes the arm movement Grantaire is coming to understand is a shrug from their culture. “Sometimes we'll have nights where we sit around and tell stories—not just the three of us, everyone. We should do one soon.”

“Maybe we should.” On a whim, thinking about Floréal laughing and talking about road trips, he says “It's something that we do while we're traveling, sometimes. Read each other stories or tell ones from our lives. Floréal and I were talking about long trips, and this isn't quite the same, but it would be fun to keep a tradition or two.”

“Oh? What kind of traditions?”

“Games, music, stories like I said … the kinds of things that keep people from wanting to kill each other when the scenery all starts blending together.”

Jehan laughs. “That's what game nights are for, and any number of our other traditions. Or Shulia Shamia, which always seems to come on weeks when we're out of new conversation. Or new friends, like you and now Floréal.” They stare at his canvas for a few more moments. “Tell us, if there's something you want to do. We always want to learn, and you and Floréal are still at a disadvantage even if you have each other now.”

“I'll let you know.”

“Do.” Jehan points at the canvas. “Is it done? Or is there more?”

“Oh, there's always more. I'm going to let it dry a little longer, and then maybe I'll figure out what should be in the foreground.”

*

Word must get around what Grantaire is doing spending all his time staring out the viewport again, but this time, they aren't treating him all gently when they come to poke their heads in. They ask him a hundred questions each instead, about what he's painting and how he does it and what it's for.

Enjolras comes when Floréal is there too, curled up with a sketchbook on her lap designing what appears to be a gown for Cosette. “Everyone says you're making art. I didn't want to interrupt, but if they've all been here, I wanted to see.”

“Well, you're seeing.” Grantaire gestures at today's canvas, a view of a planet from above, ever-present space and stars in the background. He's never been one for landscapes when there are portraits to be painted, but he hadn't counted on the landscape of space being so breathtaking now that he's in it.

Floréal, looking between them, turns the music down on the player she has somehow rigged up to speakers from the ship, or more likely asked Feuilly how to rig up. “He's very good. He displayed some of his work, back on Earth.”

“I can see it. It's not a method we use at home, for art, at least not in quite the same way. We etch, or we build things in three dimensions—”

“Sculpture,” Grantaire offers. “I sort of thought you were one, when I first met you. We build sculptures in stone, sometimes. Of people.”

“That's bad luck for us, working in stone. There are superstitions about them coming alive. But there's wood, and other things.” Enjolras is still paying more attention to the canvas than to the conversation. “It's not an exact copy of anything.”

“Jehan did say that on your planet visual art is more to record history than to … well, be art. We take liberties.” He gestures to a corner of the painting. “I'm hoping to do some trails from spaceships up there, like they've been taking off from the planet. I know we don't actually leave trails outside an atmosphere, but it's about what it represents.”

Enjolras looks from Grantaire to Floréal. “And what are you doing? That looks like Cosette.”

“Designing garments. It's something I do, in general. Didn't make a living at it on Earth, though I was trying, but Grantaire taught me to sketch better so I could do it, and it's coming in handy with all the aliens around.” Floréal spends the whole answer watching Enjolras narrow-eyed, trying to figure them out, and Grantaire looks between the two of them, hoping Floréal likes Enjolras. It was probably a mistake admitting that it was Enjolras who brought him onto the ship in the first place. “Do you want me to design you something?” she finally asks.

“We don't need much protection from the elements, except for the most extreme ones.”

“Then she'll give you party clothes,” says Grantaire, drawing both of their attention. “If you want them, anyway.”

Enjolras tilts their head. “I'll consider it. Do the two of you mind being observed?”

Grantaire shrugs. “Up to her. I never mind people watching. All we're doing is listening to some music.”

“Sure,” says Floréal after another moment's pause. “Stay if you want.”

Enjolras stays until Grantaire finally drops his paintbrush and admits to himself that this one isn't going to get much better. He's going to wallpaper the Musain with paintings before he manages one that he's satisfied with, though everyone seems gratifyingly interested in and impressed with what he's doing. “I should check on our bearings, we need to turn a little, a star pulled us off course,” they say when it's clear Grantaire is done. “Thank you for letting me watch. Both of you.”

“Anytime,” says Grantaire, and waves Enjolras out.

Floréal is watching him, squinting like she's thinking about something, but she doesn't come out with anything. Instead, she stretches and shuts her sketchbook. “Come on, we've been at this all day. Let's go to the common room and see who's there, ask if they want to play a game or watch a movie or something. I think Combeferre is going to like Finding Nemo.”

*

Combeferre does in fact like Finding Nemo. Everyone, in fact, seems fascinated with everything animated or computer animated Grantaire can show them, all the talking animals and fairy tales. Courfeyrac, it turns out, has a collection of children's films from his planet, so he brings them out as well, and everyone spends time in and out of the common room for a few days watching them, before a new episode of Shulia Shamia turns up and everyone gets thoroughly distracted except Floréal, who flat-out refuses to be tempted, which is really unfair as she's the one who got him addicted to terrible American television.

“It's good,” Joly says thoughtfully as everyone's trickling out of the common room after a viewing of The Princess Bride.

“Of course it is. Everyone likes that movie, it's the rules,” says Grantaire, too lazy to get up off his couch for the moment. Floréal is chatting with Éponine and Jehan about something, probably plotting how they're going to take over the universe, so he can happily leave her to it.

“No, all of it's good,” says Bossuet, the two of them making an expansive sort of gesture that takes in the mess of the common room and the people still in it. “Thanks for coming.”

“And asking us to pick her up.”

Grantaire swallows, because he doesn't want to say something too sentimental, even if he's been thinking much the same in wondering delight since Floréal set foot on the ship. “Don't worry, everyone feels like that after watching this movie.”

“Inconceivable,” Musichetta says quietly from where she's been lurking on a couch pretending not to listen in on their conversation, and clicks her beak at him, either amused or scolding him for ruining the moment, either being a distinct possibility with Musichetta.

“We'll watch Labyrinth tomorrow,” says Grantaire, even if he's wondering if he'll have to explain the Muppets, and stays where he is to listen to Joly and Bossuet talk about films they watched as kids.

*

Floréal thrives on the Musain and it makes Grantaire grin every time he sees it. She's better with the replicator than almost anyone on the ship, has a knack for exactly which buttons to press to get not only the things she knows and wants, but things the others want as well.

“You need to teach me how to do that,” he tells her after she fabricates a color of paint he has never before seen on Earth but which will be perfect for the brightest color of the nebula they can see in the distance beyond them.

“Don't be silly, then what would you need me for?”

“Your sparkling company, of course, why would I ever want anything else?” He doesn't think she needs the reassurance, not really, but he's more than willing to give it anyway.

Floréal hums quietly and continues pressing buttons on the replicator, since apparently Feuilly has asked for some kind of finicky part for the ship and she's the replicator whisperer. “Good thing you do,” she finally says. “I like space, and space likes me.”

“Space loves you, they should have abducted you in the first place.”

Floréal puts her arm around his shoulders. “You're so stupid,” she says fondly. “They like me, and I like them, even if Enjolras doesn't seem like a fan, but I'm here because they all like you so much that they want to make you happy. Even if you can't use the replicator. Speaking of which, I'm going to see if I can get you some paint the color of Jehan, I know you, it's only a matter of time before you start in on the portraits.”

*

Grantaire does start on the portraits soon after, pulling out a sketchbook instead of a canvas, starting where he left off before he left Earth, pictures of acquaintances and pigeons from the park and Floréal from every possible angle turning into a little bit of that last, but mostly fixtures and people around the ship. It's easier to interpret expressions and gestures, he finds, when he gets them down in pencil, and he follows everyone all over the ship once he discovers that, learning them all over again. He learns how embarrassed Combeferre gets at being observed before he forgets Grantaire is there and works on his research and occasionally asks absent questions about how Grantaire's organs work. He learns how Joly and Bossuet communicate silently, through the very tiniest twitches, when they're around someone else, and how easily Musichetta settles in between them. He learns just how well Feuilly knows the ship and how Marius moves a little more awkwardly than Cosette or Courfeyrac and a hundred other little things about all of them, sketching and sketching until he figures out how they're put together.

The only one he doesn't really manage to catch is Enjolras, since he's decided that people's bunks are off-limits and Enjolras is scarce when Grantaire isn't in their room visiting the kittens. That's not totally unusual—he's been on board long enough now to recognize that sometimes someone will disappear for a few days, or at least be seen less often than usual. It's certainly an option he's wished he'd had traveling with people in the past, usually his parents, and he doesn't grudge Enjolras for needing a little space, but he finds that he misses them more than he might have realized.

That's really the only excuse he's got for loading up one of the road trip playlists he and Floréal have been working on and going to the cockpit, whistling outside the door because it's Enjolras in there and Grantaire is trying to be good about adopting other people's cultural things when it makes sense.

“Come in,” Enjolras calls after a second, and Grantaire goes in.

The view from the cockpit of the ship is pretty much the same as the view out the viewport, just with slightly different configurations of stars and with a lot more displays and buttons getting in the way of the view. Grantaire has been in the fronts of airplanes a time or two on Earth, it's not like he's bad with electronics when he gets what the buttons are for, but he's careful here not to even begin to touch anything, not the buttons and not the patterns of ever-present moss that half the crew uses like they're computer keyboards. “I brought some music. If you want to listen.”

Enjolras tilts their head, looking up from the instrument panel. “Music?”

“It's an Earth thing, I guess. On trips you take together, usually someone will pick good music to listen to. Tradition is that the person driving picks the music, but I thought, well. I could bring you some, anyway.”

“I like music. You don't have anywhere else to be? With Floréal or anyone?”

“Floréal is perfectly capable of entertaining herself, as she has been telling me at increasing volumes for the past several days. And where else would I be?”

Enjolras looks out the windshield, which really isn't a windshield, and then back at Grantaire. “Nowhere, I suppose. I'll listen to your music, only—do you mind if I turn off the translator in here? Sometimes the translator changes music from other languages, tries to factor in pitch as a linguistic factor and ruins it. I'd rather not have it ruined. But if you want conversation—”

“We can be quiet.” Grantaire produces the sketchbook he has held under his arm. “I brought something with me, and you've got the ship to concentrate on.”

“Set it up, then, and I'll turn the translator off.”

Grantaire does, hooking the speakers into the player and starting up the playlist he's made, all the things he could imagine listening to on a road trip in space, from Holst's Planets to every silly pop song he can think of. “All ready,” he says eventually.

“Turning off the translation, then,” says Enjolras, and presses a few buttons, pulling up a diagram of the ship on a screen and touching the cockpit in the schematics before nodding and saying something that sounds more like a chime than words.

Grantaire turns on the first song, the bass and the drums coming in and startling Enjolras before they nod, suddenly, face pulling into what Grantaire has come to interpret as their smile, and goes back to work. Grantaire pulls out his sketchbook and starts trying to put Enjolras on paper while they're distracted, steering or doing some kind of maintenance or something.

A few times, during an instrumental or when someone with a strange voice is singing, Enjolras will look up, catch Grantaire's attention, and touch their throat, asking if that's a human voice, maybe, and he'll nod or shake his head depending, or say a few words so Enjolras can get used to the sound of his voice when it's not through the translators. He has no idea how it must sound.

After an hour or so, Enjolras waves for his attention, and Grantaire looks up to find him pointing at the instrument panel, then at the display showing what appears to be the ship's electrical systems, then at the panel again. “You want me to help?” Grantaire asks, even though Enjolras won't understand, and Enjolras nods. “I'm not a pilot.”

Enjolras points again and says something, and after a quick look reaches for Grantaire's hand to put it over the buttons, showing him a combination that changes the display, showing a different system, then a different one, rotating through them until Grantaire can press the combinations on his own and then moving their hand to the moss pad near the display and moving their fingers in patterns, taking the displays through in the same order through a different method.

Grantaire only meant to stay an hour or two, but it's a whole afternoon and a snack from the miniature replicator in the cockpit before Courfeyrac knocks on the door, wondering why Enjolras has been in so long and stopping, startled, at not understanding Grantaire's music and at Grantaire and Enjolras frozen in the middle of attempting to sign to each other just what Grantaire is actually supposed to be doing with the ship's systems now.

“I didn't mean to interrupt,” Courfeyrac says when Grantaire fumbles with the keypad and presses the right command to bring the language back. “You've just been up here a while, Enjolras. I didn't know you had company.”

“I was introducing them to Earth traveling traditions,” says Grantaire, flipping his sketchbook closed where he left it on a free piece of dashboard. “And they were helping me learn a bit about piloting.”

“Your music is interesting,” Enjolras says, and it's startling to hear their voice again. “Perhaps next time I'll play you some of mine.”

“I'll look forward to it,” says Grantaire, and finishes packing his things up so Enjolras and Courfeyrac can talk about pilot things all they please.

*

“What are you doing?” Floréal asks from the door to the common room, hands on her hips.

Grantaire is next to the replicator surrounded by about ten bowls of various kinds of snack food with Joly and Bossuet watching in curiosity and amusement from one of the couches, so he thinks that explains itself. “I'm making snacks for our road trip,” he says nonetheless. “I managed a pretty passable tortilla chip, but you're going to have to help me with the cheap chocolate.”

Floréal watches him for another moment, eyes narrowed, and then she grins. “I think I can manage that. Joly and Bossuet, what kind of unhealthy snacks do you eat on your planet? Think we could manage some for everyone?”

“And we'll watch the first episode of Shulia Shamia,” he says firmly, because the time has come.

Joly and Bossuet are already moving towards the intercom to tell the ship it's going to be a gathering for anyone who wants to come, and Floréal sighs, and rolls her eyes, and then goes over to Grantaire, elbowing him out of the way so she can get to work at the replicator. “I guess if we're going to stay I should,” she says, and helps Grantaire start punching in combinations.