Grantaire's second alien planet, two new episodes of Shulia Shamia and probably a few light years beyond Earth later, is a lot different from his first, perhaps partly because he pays attention to this one instead of talking to Floréal on his phone.
Here, they land in a forest of trees he immediately wants to sketch, a jungle more strange and beautiful than he could have imagined, and their surroundings immediately light up, bioluminescent probably, before their hosts appear from the forest. The hosts are bioluminescent too, tall and glowing and many-limbed, moving slowly.
Enjolras, much as they deny being the leader of the expedition, is the one to go forward to greet their leader. “I'm sure you were told to expect us some time ago, but we had to take a detour.” Grantaire, of course, being the detour.
“The University board let us know you were running behind schedule,” says one of the people, the words low and slow. Grantaire is reminded of the whale song CDs one of his professors used to listen to when they were doing art in class. “But you've come at an opportune time, the Festival of Stars is tomorrow and we would be honored if your crew would join our celebrations.”
Combeferre is the next one to move forward. “The honor is all ours. What time is it locally? We don't want to disrupt your schedule any more than necessary, and we can bunk on our ship—”
“We have rooms prepared,” says the person. “Some of you may have to share, so if you prefer to stay on your ship, you're welcome to, but we enjoy giving hospitality at this time of year. There are a few hours still until most will be going to bed, and everyone is preparing for the festival. There would have been more people to greet you otherwise.”
“We're happy to share,” says Courfeyrac. “Thank you. And we don't mind the size of the welcoming committee at all.” He turns around to look at the crew. “Everyone have their overnight bags? We'll talk about what we need to know about the festival when we get there.”
Grantaire looks behind him, because Floréal was almost the last off the ship, and finds her staring up at the tree cover above them. There's light up through the trees, and the sky is faintly pink from what he can see, but there are more shadows than there is light where they are. “Enjoying your first foreign planet experience?” he asks quietly as everyone starts moving, still exchanging pleasantries with their hosts.
“Don't get like that with me, it's not like you're a seasoned galactic traveler,” she says, taking a second more to look up at something moving in a tree before she looks at him and comes up to put her arm through his as they start making their way through the woods. Almost everything that travels through them glows somehow, flashes of light in the corners of his eyes, and he's already regretting leaving his paint on the ship.
The place they're staying, when they get there, is a bowl-like lake in the middle of the forest, crossed over and over with layers of bridges built between the trees, which are filled with a city of treehouses hanging like massive hornet's nests from the branches. The air is warm and soupy, humid like Grantaire isn't used to. Floréal pulls her shirt away from her neck, and when he glances at Éponine she's fanning herself discreetly with a bright purple leaf pulled from one of the trees.
People are everywhere, decking the bridges with some kind of flower, ones that don't glow, and building something at the edge of the lake with wood and any number of other materials Grantaire can't begin to identify. “Preparing for the festival?” he asks one of their hosts, walking to his side and a little behind.
“You'll see it better in the morning. The festival lasts all day, and all night as well, we'll tell you more about it then.” The person looks at Grantaire and Floréal, taking in every detail. “I don't recognize your species. Where are you from?”
“A place called Earth,” says Cosette from beyond them. “Your closest intelligent neighbors, probably, but they haven't technically been contacted yet. Soon, probably.”
The soon part is news to Grantaire, but it's probably not smart to say that in front of a bunch of strangers. He'd like to check with someone, but that seems rude, and anyway, Enjolras is still up at the front of the group, still talking to the person who greeted them. “You seem like great neighbors. I'm betting your parties are great, anyway.”
The person laughs, or at least Grantaire assumes it's a laugh. “The Festival of Stars is, anyway.”
Éponine, still fanning herself, falls into step with them. “Just to let you two know,” she says after a nod to the person they're talking with, “chemical composition in the food here should be edible for us, I wouldn't try their party drinks, and we should filter the water. You have filters in your packs, right?”
“Yes,” says Floréal, because she's the one who packed since Grantaire was in the cockpit doing his best to help with the landing sequence and mostly getting in Enjolras and Courfeyrac's way. “Have you ever been to this party before?”
“No, but I hear it's good.” Éponine grins at the people around them. Her smiles are rare and a little terrifying, but it's good to see her happy. “Maybe there will even be ethanol, if we go back to the ship and get it since we can't use their intoxicants.”
Everyone, despite being serious as they were disembarking from the Musain, seems to have relaxed into the party mood, walking along laughing and waving at the people they pick up on their way to what seems to be the biggest hornet's nest in the city, which people are coming in and out of at great speed. Probably some kind of central meeting hall, by his guess.
He must be lagging, because he finds that Floréal is pulling him along while he stares around them, and Enjolras has almost reached the big nest up ahead. “Come on, I want to see inside my first alien building,” she tells him, and he laughs and follows.
“We'll take you to where you're staying for the night, if you wish,” says one of their hosts after they've feasted on the woven-reed floor of one of the meeting rooms and talked to at least five different people whose patterns of bioluminescence Grantaire is aching to sketch. “It should be about three to a nest.”
The worst thing about the translators, Grantaire has discovered, is that if he starts thinking of something strange in some term in his head, that's what it ends up translating as, so he will probably never know whether the nests are rooms or houses or some other kind of building he doesn't have an easy translation for.
Enjolras is the first to stand, taking easy charge. “Joly, Bossuet, Musichetta, you take one. Courfeyrac, Cosette, Marius. Bahorel, Jehan ...”
“I'll room with them,” says Éponine, standing up as well and slinging her pack over her shoulder.
“If you wish.” They turn to look at the remaining four, head tilted, considering, and Grantaire thinks he knows what they're about to say when they start by pointing at Combeferre and Feuilly, but finds himself surprised when they finish “Do you two mind being our group of two?”
Combeferre, judging by the twitch of a few limbs, is just as surprised as Grantaire is by that. “You'll stay with Grantaire and Floréal?”
“It's Floréal's first planet and Grantaire's second.” They look at Grantaire and Floréal. “I thought you might want company?”
Floréal is grinning, already ten steps ahead of Grantaire like she always is. “Sure, company is always good. You can tell me all about all the planets you've visited. Just be warned that R snores.”
“I'm aware,” says Enjolras, which would be terribly damning if Grantaire was just overhearing this conversation instead of being the subject of it. “I don't mind.”
“Let's go to bed without slinging mud, please,” says Grantaire, and gives one of their hosts an appealing look since they're the only quarter he's likely to get sympathy from, considering he woke from a nap on the common room couch once to find no fewer than four people staring at him in apparent fascination.
One of Grantaire's gifts is knowing if he's being laughed it even if the body language and noises are completely different, apparently, because these people definitely think this is funny even if Enjolras seems to be entirely unconcerned about it. “Of course. We're honored to be the first stop on your tour,” says the person who seems to be in charge of them for now. “Would all of you follow me? You're all welcome to leave your nests whenever you choose tonight, of course, we just want to make sure that you've found your way to them.”
They're a pretty ragged group, trying to break into threes as they walk, and Grantaire falls into step with Floréal again, mostly for the chance to whisper in her ear. “What are you calling the buildings? The only thing my translator is supplying is not helpful.”
“Pods. Okay.” Sometimes triangulating words between the two of them is helpful, and sometimes it's not. He has no idea which one this is. “I was going with nests, but pods works.”
“They do kind of look like nests.” She sighs. “Damn it.”
Enjolras is the one to stop them with a hand on Grantaire's arm before they go walking by one of the nests. “This is ours.”
There's a ladder made out of some kind of glowing vine going up to the nest, or pod, or whatever they're calling it. “Home sweet home,” says Grantaire, and eyes it. It looks sturdy enough. “I'll go up first.”
“Impatient,” says Floréal, but she lets him go without rolling her eyes, and Enjolras doesn't seem inclined to object, so Grantaire starts climbing. It isn't very far up—he suspects their hosts are trying to be nice to the poor pitiful people who don't live in trees—but even at the entrance to the nest he can see all the way across the lake, to where there are even more glowing movements.
Inside, it's cozy. The bottom is curved, so they'll all inevitably end up tipping into the middle in the night, the bedding welcoming and soft-looking and all in a pile so they can arrange it however they like. There are hooks in the wall as well, presumably in case they feel like rigging up hammocks, and a few windows with murky glass he can only see trees out of. “Home sweet home,” he says to whoever comes up behind him—Enjolras, by the heaviness of the step on the ladder.
“It's nice,” says Enjolras, dropping their pack and peeking back down the ladder like they're worrying about Floréal making it up. Grantaire certainly isn't, Floréal is used to climbing rusty fire escapes and dangling her feet off the edges of Paris's roofs. She can handle a ladder. “You'll be comfortable?”
“Yeah. You might have to sleep in the middle unless you want to make yourself a hammock, you're the densest so if you sleep on an edge and roll to the middle of the floor we may end up getting crushed.”
“Nobody's getting crushed,” says Floréal, coming through the entrance. There isn't a lot of space to move when there's all three of them—they aren't in eachother's personal space, but considering their hosts are universally seven feet tall and taller, they must be really used to getting close and curled up at night. “And Irma asked if I want to join a pre-party bonfire once I'm settled in. You two can join in, if you want.”
“Irma?” asks Grantaire, shuffling through his pack looking for the extra water he brought from the ship.
“You are the worst,” she tells him. “Irma has been guiding us around tonight, and Irma is very nice, so I am going to the bonfire. I'll try not to wake you up coming in.”
“Who says I'm not coming?”
“You're already looking for your sketchbook.” She kisses him on the cheek. “Don't wait up. Enjolras, coming to the bonfire? I think Irma is inviting everyone.”
Enjolras looks between them, face completely neutral until they shake their head. “I have some work I should be doing for the university, and tomorrow will be a long day. Don't worry about waking me when you get back.”
Floréal grins like that was the answer she was waiting for. “Don't worry, I won't. Anyone can give you directions if you change your mind and need them. Irma is making sure the rest of our party has the word too, but considering it's a few hours later for us than for them I'm guessing not many will come.”
“It's up to them,” says Enjolras. “Will you be comfortable among strangers if they don't come?”
Grantaire has his suspicions about Floréal's plans for the night, given how much of a point she's making of mentioning Irma, so he's not particularly worried about what she might get into. “I don't think she's ever been uncomfortable around strangers in her life.”
Floréal tosses her pack into the nest next to Grantaire. “Have a good evening. I'll tell you how the bonfire is, R.”
With that, she's out the entrance again, climbing back down the ladder and reuniting with Irma, who was waiting for her at the bottom for the whole conversation from what Grantaire can tell.
Enjolras is silent for a moment and then seems to shake something off. “You wanted to draw?”
“I do, yeah. Lots of new sights today, and I can't quite capture them without something that glows, but it's worth a shot. You're working on a report?”
“Just an initial contact report, there will be more details for everything about this trip but I like to do them day by day instead of all at once back on the ship.”
“At least we both have something to work on, then.” Grantaire finally manages to put his hands on his sketchbook and pulls it out, along with a pencil, before he separates a few cushions from the mess of them and sets up against one of the walls of the nest to work.
After a few seconds, Enjolras picks a few cushions as well and comes to sit near him, opening up one of the transportable holographic displays he's seen people use around the ship and starting to put data in. “It's good to have something to work on,” Enjolras finally says, and Grantaire doesn't have anything to say to that, so he starts drawing the bridges over the lake and ignores it when Enjolras stops working after fifteen minutes and watches him until he gets tired and flips the sketchbook shut.
“The party isn't until evening,” Enjolras says, and everything settles into the right place and time in Grantaire's head as he forces his eyes open. He and Enjolras are in the middle of the floor, their bedding wrapped and tangled up, Grantaire's elbow dug into Enjolras's chest. “I didn't hear you come back last night.”
“Irma asked me to stay the night,” Floréal says without blinking, rummaging in her pack for something to wear and then stripping off last night's shirt without worrying about either of them looking at her. “And I figured I should say yes, since I didn't want to wake you. Did you sleep well? And the party is all day, the exciting part is just after dark.”
Grantaire manages to sit up. “I slept great. Hope you did too.” She's just as smug as he would expect her to be after spending the night with someone else, and he's glad. Floréal gave up more than he did to go out into space, but she hasn't had to give up the occasional liaison, it seems. “Enjolras?”
“I slept fine,” says Enjolras, who seems pretty bemused at the human wake-up ritual of asking how people slept. “I need somewhat less than you do, I think.”
“Human bodies are incredibly inefficient sometimes,” Grantaire agrees, and stumbles to his feet and his own pack, getting ready to change since Floréal is doing it with no concern whatsoever for the third person in the room. Enjolras has never seemed to care much about nudity one way or the other, judging by how some people on the ship wander around clothed or naked according to their moods.
“Human bodies are fine,” says Enjolras, sitting up. They're averting their eyes, which makes Grantaire feel a little guilty for stripping without asking if it was okay, but it might be worse at this point to stop and ask so he turns to the wall and hurries up as his best compromise. Floréal, of course, managed to pick the perfect dress for a party to pack before she left the ship, and she's dressed a lot more quickly than he is. “Did Irma tell you much about the celebrations, Floréal?”
“We might have to learn some dancing on the fly, everyone dances at night,” she says, handing Grantaire his shirt when he can't quite put his hands on it. “And during the day everyone feasts and drinks and tells stories—Jehan said you're storytellers, Enjolras, you may get called into service.”
“Any rituals we should know about?”
“Everyone toasts to the stars today, so maybe keep that in mind. But I didn't get the full cultural etiquette rundown, so you may know more than me.” She shakes her hair out and then frowns at Grantaire until he bends and lets her tousle his to her satisfaction.
“The two of you should go down, find the others and breakfast,” says Enjolras. “I'll be another minute or two.”
Grantaire wants to ask if something's the matter, if he's done something to offend or said something stupid in his sleep or if he should have asked before getting dressed in front of Enjolras, but he doesn't want to do that in front of Floréal. Enjolras isn't really inclined to talk about their discomforts, though, Grantaire knows that much, and even if they were, Grantaire and Floréal probably aren't the people they'd want to do it with. “See you down there, then. I'll tell Jehan and Bahorel to save some food for you.”
Outside, even in full daylight, the sunlight is still diluted by all the trees. It's glinting off the lake in a reassuring way, but the lake is covered in platforms like ice floes connected by little paths, and people are running across them easily. They don't glow as much in the daylight, and it's easier to pay attention to the shape of them and not the patterns of bioluminescence on them. Grantaire clutches his sketchbook against his side, since he'll have an easier time sketching people as they are in the daylight, and follows Floréal to the platform where the rest of the crew is meeting for breakfast, mostly pulled from their various packs and supplemented by what looks like some very strange fruit that must be harvested on-planet.
“It's safe to eat,” says Éponine, who's slow to get started in the mornings and is leaning on Marius as she eats. “In case you were curious. It tastes a little like your citruses.”
“That's a good recommendation,” says Grantaire, and sits down to take one and peel it. It's just barely more sweet than it is sour and bright purple inside, and it's pretty thoroughly delicious even if it does make his mouth tingle a little bit.
By the time he's managed to conquer the fruit, everyone but Bahorel has appeared at breakfast, Enjolras included, and a few of their hosts, Irma not included, have stopped by to tell them about what they can expect from the Festival of Stars. Floréal was right—mostly it seems to be dancing and drinking and stories, and they're told to go wherever they want as long as they participate wherever they end up.
“I'm going to explore a little on my own,” says Grantaire when they finish breakfast. “I promise I won't wander off too far.”
“He does this,” says Floréal, already taking his sketchbook from him. “Always wandering. To space, sometimes. Meet us for lunch? Right back here.”
“Sure.” He looks around at everyone else. Enjolras looks like maybe they want to object, but they don't say anything, so Grantaire will leave it be. “I'll see you all in a few hours.”
“Be careful and send up a beacon if you need us,” says Combeferre. “We'll all be looking around as well, so I'm sure you'll see us at some point.”
“I'll keep an eye out.” It's not that he minds the thought of spending his time with them. It's more that Grantaire has always liked exploring on his own, when possible, making his own judgments about people and museums and restaurants. It's hard to do that, traveling with the Musain, but this is at least something like it. “Don't get up to too much trouble without me.”
Everyone is friendly, he discovers. He gets stared at by almost everyone but only talked to by a few, one of whom explains that not everyone has a portable translator and most people won't understand him. That suits Grantaire fine. He wanders a little way into the woods and sees that there are ladders and bridges and nests on nearly every tree that will support them, without much pattern that he can discern for the ones that aren't used. Some of the nests are attached more than others, whole networks of them in different shapes that could be family homes or public buildings.
There's only so much to see in the woods, though, so he comes out to the lake again, where most of the population seems to be building all over the lake. That's a more interesting walk, with a view of the sun that casts an unsettling pinkish light, though he doesn't know if that's chemicals in the atmosphere or cloud cover or something different.
After what must be almost an hour, he runs into the edge of a platform with nothing else built from it and finds a group of several people building it out further, all of whom look up at him when he gets close in unison. “Need some help?” he asks, because it would be something to do, anyway.
One of them, thankfully, seems to understand. “Help is always welcome. Do you know how to build bridges?”
“No, but I'm a fast learner.” He hopes. They don't seem to be using hammers and nails so much as they're fitting slabs of wood together by fitting them together like puzzle pieces, but he was always good at puzzles.
“It's good luck to have guests help,” says the person, and puts him to work.
Bahorel and Cosette find him, eventually, both of them pausing on a platform that isn't quite connected to his yet and tilting their heads in unison, trying to figure out what he's doing. “I thought I would help out,” he says, since neither of them seems inclined to speak to him first.
“You removed some of your clothes,” Cosette observes. “You don't usually.”
“Well, it's a little cooler on the Musain and it isn't such sweaty work. Did I miss lunch?”
Bahorel nods. “You did. Enjolras and Floréal were both unhappy, but we figured you weren't in any trouble. You may want to find them and reassure them later, though.”
“Fuck.” It's very easy to tell who around him has translators by the way they react whenever he swears, which he's done a few times for splinters and mistakes while he's been working. “If you see them before I do, let them know I'm safe?”
“No need, you're coming back to shore for a while,” says Cosette with unwonted firmness. “It won't do for you to overheat, and they're starting the storytelling. Do you want to miss it?”
“I don't,” he admits, and turns to the nearest person with a translator that he can see. “Are you going to be fine on your own? It seems I'm wanted back by my friends.”
“Nobody works for more than a few hours on the Festival,” says the person, nose moving in the way he suspects means a smile judging from context. “Your help has been appreciated, go enjoy the party.”
“Anytime. And I always enjoy parties.”
“Yes, well you can enjoy this one back on the shore,” says Cosette. “We'll come back out here later for the dancing, Bahorel and I have been learning the steps, we'll teach you.”
“Good, I'm a great dancer.” He falls into step beside them as they go across the web of platforms and bridges again. It's all solid—he's been looking at it for hours, he knows it isn't going to fall apart—but it still feels like walking on a water mattress that someone put a plank over, unsteady and moving at unexpected times. “Sorry,” he says when they're a little ways away from the crew he was working with. “I didn't mean to make anyone worry.”
Bahorel just laughs. “Yeah, Floréal warned us that even if you were being an asshole—her word—it's not unusual behavior for you. She says you wander off a lot and we should be prepared for that. So she was annoyed and Enjolras was worried and the rest of us trusted her.”
Grantaire winces. “I'll apologize to Enjolras, then.”
They reach the shore and Cosette helps him off the platform even though he doesn't really need it. “They saved some lunch for you,” she says.
If there's anything tailor-made to make him feel guilty, that's it, so Grantaire hits dry land feeling uncomfortable and ashamed and is almost immediately confronted by Enjolras. Though Enjolras isn't precisely confronting him so much as they're lurking sort of near the docks where Grantaire would have disembarked if he were going to have lunch with them, talking to some of their hosts and looking around every few seconds looking for Grantaire. “I'll go deal with them,” he says, because he owes it to Cosette and Bahorel.
Enjolras notices him when he's halfway to meet them and starts off towards him at something that's not quite a jog. “You didn't come to lunch,” they say reprovingly as soon as they're in earshot. “I saved you some food, Floréal said I should.”
“I was helping them build platforms and I lost track of time,” says Grantaire. “I'm sorry, I didn't mean for you to worry. Thanks for the lunch.”
“I've been invited to one of the storytelling fires. You're welcome to join me, eat your lunch there.”
Grantaire isn't sure if it's a peace offering or an order or what, but it definitely doesn't sound optional given how intensely Enjolras is watching him and it's not like he wants to turn it down anyway. He'd like to hear the kinds of stories their hosts tell on their holidays, not to mention Enjolras's stories, since their planet apparently specializes in stories. “Sounds great.”
Enjolras taps their pack. “It's in here, and so is your sketchbook. Floréal thought we should consolidate your belongings, and Irma invited her to a different fire.”
“Awesome, thanks.” When he glances over his shoulder, Cosette and Bahorel have already disappeared somewhere into the crowd. Traitors. He and Enjolras do fine on their own, but there's always something a little awkward about it, the conversation off a beat or two. “And I hear we have some dance steps to learn as well?”
“We'll learn them in between the stories, apparently.”
Enjolras starts walking, and that's cue enough for Grantaire to follow, falling into step with them a few seconds later. Every new planet or species Grantaire runs across makes him glad that Enjolras and at least parts of the crew of the Musain are approximately his height, it makes it easier to walk together.
A few people who look familiar from the night before greet them when they reach what's less a fire and more a glowing pile of rocks that's giving off a pleasant kind of heat in front of them. It makes Grantaire itch for some kind of radiation counter, but everyone swore up and down the planet's surface would be safe for he and Floréal so he's going to trust that he will be okay. “Welcome,” says one of the familiar people. “We're about to tell the first story.”
“I'll look forward to hearing it,” says Enjolras, pulling Grantaire to sit on the ground next to them and handing him the food and his sketchbook and pencils.
As it turns out, they're good storytellers. The first story isn't some big legend, just the story of someone's ridiculous adventure while on intoxicants, and judging by how embarrassed the person to the right of the storyteller is, it's a true story. It sounds just like a hundred bar stories Grantaire has heard and told, and lasts maybe ten minutes, long enough for Grantaire to eat most of his lunch.
After that, there's some kind of story Grantaire doesn't have any context for, about a hunt, and people nod along, so it's well-known or it's fictional. The one after that is definitely fictional, since it has people living on their moon without helmets and Grantaire is completely sure that the air on their moon isn't breathable, he was told so in the informal briefing they had before they landed.
An hour or so in, Grantaire is sketching people's stories, doing his best to capture the movements in a few lines, and he's acquired a small audience of people about half the size of the adults who are probably children if things work at all the same how they do on Earth.
When Enjolras starts speaking, he's a little startled at first, since he's been paying attention to his work instead of who's talking, and he wasn't expecting the familiar voice. “There's a story we tell about the first person who went to space from my planet,” Enjolras says, and Grantaire looks up at them for a second before going back to his sketchbook, pencil over the paper, waiting for more to draw. “How they froze but lived, and someone who swam through the air saved them and warmed them up and they're probably still traveling today.”
It takes Enjolras twenty minutes to tell the story properly—it can't be true, or his friends have been holding out on him with space mermaids, but Enjolras tells it like it's true, and Grantaire scrambles to sketch every image he can even if it can't possibly be anything like Enjolras is imagining as they speak. It's all rough, but his audience seems just as enthralled by the pictures as by Enjolras's story, and when Enjolras sits down, Grantaire hands them the sketchbook.
“These are beautiful,” Enjolras says under cover of someone else starting a lively story, flipping gravely through the pages. “May I have a copy when I get home?”
“You can have them outright. Or tell me more details and I'll make you a better version, those are kind of shitty sketches.”
Enjolras clutches the sketchbook a little tighter. “They are no such thing. I'd like them, or a version of them, that's all.”
Grantaire ducks his head, because there's not much else to do. “You're welcome to them.”
“Well, thank you.” Enjolras glances at the person just starting a story and lowers their voice. “Did you want to tell a story?”
“No, I'm not much of a storyteller. I'm just happy to listen and draw.” He nods at his audience, sitting where they can peer over his shoulder and shifting like they're impatient now that Grantaire is conversing instead of drawing. “And learn how to dance, eventually.”
One of the kids behind him taps his shoulder. “We'll teach you how to dance. If you draw us a picture. They'll start telling grandparent stories soon.”
“And you're bored?” Grantaire surmises, and looks at Enjolras. “Do you want to go learn how to dance?”
“We'll have you back to the feast for dinner and the sunset story,” says the kid, making some kind of gesture Grantaire suspects means cross-my-heart. “Everyone wants to teach the aliens to dance. Especially the new ones.” Grantaire finds himself on the receiving end of a very effective set of puppy dog eyes. “No one's heard about your planet before.”
“Will they think it's rude if we leave in the middle of a story?” Grantaire asks.
“No, everyone does it. Come on.”
Grantaire looks to Enjolras. “You seem to be enjoying yourself—”
“I need to learn the steps.” Enjolras stands up and nods at the children. “Come on, take us somewhere where we can learn.”
Grantaire doesn't know anything about caves, but this doesn't seem like the time for questions. There's a hush over everyone, who's been chatting away, pleasantly full and some of them heading towards intoxicated. The whole group from the Musain is together, comparing afternoons and gently scolding Grantaire for wandering off, and they're more rapt than some of the audience, which has no doubt heard this story before.
“And the only lights in the dark moved—we were the lights, and the insects and birds, and the plants that shifted in and out of sight. We never thought to look up at anything but the sun.”
Everyone is swaying just a little bit, the force of the crowd doing it making even Grantaire move in sympathy. As everyone's features get less distinct in the fading light, it becomes a sea of gently moving lights.
“But we traveled farther and farther afield from the caves, building ourselves new homes, and in time, we came upon the lake, something new, something we hadn't seen before.” It's impossible to tell how old a story this is, how long it's been since they found the lake. “And the first night when the sun went down over the lake, Seed heard a bird and looked up to the tops of the trees, and found lights instead, hundreds and thousands of them, stretching beyond the hole in the canopy.”
The story goes on from there, on to the people climbing up into the canopy to look up and see just how far the forest went, well out of view, around the curve of the world, on to the people building their homes in the trees, as tall as they could manage, so they could see the stars. On to Seed, the hero of the story who doesn't have another name, seeing a pattern in the sky that looked like the marking's on a person's face and falling in love and vowing a visit. On to Seed never making it to the sky but passing the dream on and on until they did, sending their first visitors to space and meeting other people there. Grantaire hasn't seen anything like a space-worthy vessel in his time on their planet, but then again, he hasn't been there for long, and not every space vehicle has to look the same.
“And there,” the storyteller says at some well-rehearsed, perfectly-timed point, and the whole crowd looks up at once to the stars coming out, one shining bright in the direct center of the lake. “There's the light between the eyes of Seed's Love, the first star in the constellation, the reason our world grew so much. We should all give our thanks to Seed and to the stars for the life we have, for the visitors we count among our number tonight, and ...” The storyteller's voice gets much lighter, and it's too dark to see a smile even if Grantaire knew what a smile looked like for these people, but Grantaire suspects there's a smile anyway. “And for the dancing and festivities to come, until the stars set.”
“Until the stars set,” the crowd echoes back, the crew of the Musain half a beat late, and then suddenly they're all moving, yelling and cheering, the sound of drums coming up at the edge of the crowd as everyone runs out onto the platforms on the water.
No one else he knows is too close to him—he knows it because they're all glowing too, thanks to Irma and a pot of paint made out of smashed-up bugs, but messily and unevenly, with obvious marks from fingers and other appendages where they all helped each other. Grantaire has one of Enjolras's handprints on his shirt and collarbone, which feels somehow weightier than the other smudges, but he doesn't know what to do with that, so he raises his arms and dances along with everyone else, linking arms and bumping shoulders with strangers who seem to have the exact pattern of the platforms mapped out in their heads.
Some of the dancing involves jumping from bridge to bridge, propelled and caught by people on either side, probably a move evolved to let the crowd circulate more easily, and Grantaire finds himself caught in a group of people who seem inclined to hop all over the lake in some elaborate pattern that he can't follow at all. If he doesn't find one of his friends he's never going to make it back to his nest, because he can't tell what side of the lake he's even on at this point.
The jumps, he starts to notice, are getting longer and longer, the people he's with propelling him a little harder every time, and on one particularly long one, he windmills and almost falls in the water only to find himself not caught by one of his new friends by by Enjolras, who looks just as startled to see Grantaire as Grantaire is to see them.
“Thanks. Sorry.” Grantaire straightens up and takes his weight off Enjolras, even though Enjolras is more than strong enough to hold him up. “That was a long jump.”
“Why are you jumping?”
“Seems to be part of things. Are you having fun?”
Enjolras tilts their head, considering. “Yes. Do you want to join me here for a while?”
“Don't want me jumping across any more gaps?” Enjolras doesn't answer that. “I'll stick around for a while.”
Enjolras, in answer, backs off a few steps so they're solidly on the platform, not close to the water. The water's warm, Grantaire has been splashed with it enough to know that, but he appreciates not getting wet without a change of clothes on him, anyway.
They don't start dancing right away, either of them, and Grantaire feels like he felt when he was a kid and dragged to some sort of event that required him to dance with anyone, how he would stand awkwardly there and wait for something to happen. He's a few years beyond his awkward pubescent infatuations, though (and isn't that a big word to think, with Enjolras's handprint glowing on his chest), so it only takes Grantaire a few seconds to shake it off and find the rhythm again, joining in the dance. Enjolras, luckily, follows suit.
Enjolras is a good dancer. Grantaire somehow manages to find that surprising—Enjolras is one of the more serious members of the crew, less inclined to join in Floréal's watch of Shulia Shamia or join in movie nights, barely tapping their fingers when Grantaire brings music to the cockpit for them. They know the steps, though, and how to move so they can stay close to Grantaire without running into him constantly.
There isn't a lot of difference between dancing next to each other and dancing with each other, Grantaire knows, but it's still a surprise when he breaks the barrier by accident, arm wrapping around Enjolras's above their heads when he tries not to tip over as someone passes them.
Enjolras freezes. Grantaire isn't sure why—it's not like it's the first time they've touched tonight, but Enjolras goes still, Grantaire stumbling to a stop as well, his arm still tangled with Enjolras's.
“You okay?” Grantaire asks, because it suddenly seems necessary to say something.
“I'm fine,” says Enjolras. “Let's dance a little longer?”
Grantaire leaves his arm where it is and tries very hard not to think about why, because that's a big question and he's nowhere near ready for it. “Only a little longer? Not all night?”
“You can, if you want. But work starts in the morning. I'd like to be prepared.”
“Well, I can't get home without you, I'm hopelessly lost, so when you go, I'll go. But not yet?”
People around them are starting to look at them like maybe they're wondering what's going on, and that's the only thing that gets Grantaire moving again, Enjolras falling into step a second later, both of them working to catch up to the drums.
They stay late, probably later than Enjolras intends, and Grantaire can't come up with anything neutral to say the whole time, so he keeps quiet, even when he has to drop his arm because it's getting tired. He doesn't see any of the rest of the Musain's crew, but then again, he isn't really looking, and they'll all see each other in the morning anyway.
The shore is quiet when they get there, the people still beside the fires more inclined to be quiet and listen to the drums come across the water. Enjolras talks briefly with one of them while Grantaire stands awkwardly nearby, and then the two of them go back to their nest, climbing the ladder in silence.
“Do you want to read, or anything?” Grantaire asks.
“No. Not unless you want to sketch.”
Grantaire doesn't know what he'd end up drawing tonight. “Tomorrow. It will give me something to do while you're—while everyone's in meetings.”
Enjolras looks at him, startled and less awkward than they've been all day. “You aren't coming? Everyone is curious about you and Floréal. They've seen humans like Éponine before, but no one's known your planet of origin before. You're their neighbors. You should know them.”
“Floréal seems to be making intimate acquaintance.” Grantaire takes off his shirt, reaching for a clean, non-glowing one to sleep in. Enjolras is quiet on the other side of the nest. “I should have known she would have a person in every port, everyone loves Floréal.”
“Do you think she'll be back tonight?”
“It's not worth staying up to see, would be my guess.”
“Then I suppose it's just the two of us for now.”
“I suppose it is.” Grantaire changes his pants while he's at it, which would somehow seem less intimate with Floréal there as well. “At least we'll have the drums to lull us to sleep.”
It's dark in the nest, but when he turns around Enjolras is still glowing. They'll have to wash themselves off in the morning, because Grantaire at least doesn't care to do it tonight. He can deal with a little glow while he tries to sleep. “And I should sleep,” says Enjolras. “Join me if you like, or stay up a while.”
“I'll join you. My sketchbook can wait for tomorrow.”
“I hope you'll show me, when you've drawn it.”
Grantaire isn't shy about sharing his drawings, but somehow it seems very weighty to say “You'll be the first person I show, don't worry.”