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The Pangalactic Interstellar Starship Musain and the Close Encounter of the Third Kind

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Grantaire cannot have a crush on an alien, because Grantaire does not live in the kinkier kind of Earth romance novel.

Things are different, though, after the visit to the planet Grantaire's brain and translator both insist on referring to as Forest, and he can't deny that. It's not that anything happened, in the week they stayed there, talking about political systems, Grantaire totally out of his depth and trying to be an ambassador and failing pretty miserably. Except sometimes in their nest, they weren't alone together after the festival, and Grantaire doesn't know if he was avoiding Enjolras or Enjolras was avoiding him or if it was just coincidence.

Of course Grantaire's feelings for Enjolras are different from his feelings for everyone else on the Musain. Enjolras is the one who heard him and brought him on board, the one who's spent the most time alone with Grantaire, the one teaching him system by system how to pilot the ship, the one who turns up at odd moments to have odd conversations. Grantaire is maybe closer friends with some of the others, aside from the obvious exception of Floréal—he spends more time chatting with Joly and Bossuet and Musichetta, is teaching Courfeyrac and Cosette the fine art of poker, and sometimes lets Marius take his translator out and talks at him so he can record French for his files. Enjolras is the reason he's on board, though. That makes things different.

Enjolras has always been different, but dancing with them seems to have flipped kind of switch in Grantaire's head, one he doesn't want flipped. Grantaire cannot have a crush on an alien, but more than that, he can't have a crush on Enjolras, who's the leader of their crew and keeps stone kittens in their bunk and likes Grantaire's drawings, because if he gets a crush on Enjolras, it won't stay a crush long, and Grantaire has no idea what to do.

It isn't exactly the least complicated situation he's been in.

*

“So.”

Floréal closes her eyes like she's praying for strength, but her mouth is already twitching. “Shamia is just about to go to her meeting with the Viper Queen, asshole, this had better be really good.”

“How was it having sex with an alien?”

She stares at him utterly speechless for approximately six seconds before she claps her hand over her mouth, snorting with really unsympathetic laughter. He needs a better best friend. “Really really amazing, because Irma has a lot of really lovely appendages that humans don't have,” she says when she gets herself back under control, voice still shaking with mirth, “but that's not what you're asking me.”

“So tell me what I'm asking you.”

True to form, Floréal doesn't tell him the question, she just answers it. “There's not context, is the hardest thing. You know that, I know you do. You could shake an alien's hand and end up married or fuck them and end up mortal enemies. And that's why you're fucked.”

“Because I don't know the context?”

“Because you're never going to ask.” She gestures him over, imperious as ever, and Grantaire goes and lets her slide a hand into his hair to play with it, a rare gesture from her. “You never do, R. You didn't with me till it was too late for us to be anything but fucked up, you didn't with a dozen other girls and guys, and you're not going to with Enjolras either.”

Grantaire swallows, because that's true and he never wants anything less than the truth from Floréal, but that doesn't make it any easier to stomach. “I don't know how it can work. I don't … I doubt we can stay forever even if no one's put a time limit on this, and I don't know how our bodies work, or anything, really. And I'd rather stay, if I can, than make a move and make things bad enough that I need to go.”

“That's exactly what I mean, you know.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“These people love you—shut up, Grantaire. They love you. They aren't going to send you away. All of them smile every time they mention you. So if you're scared, okay, you're scared. But there's no context here. Enjolras could think you're together already for all I know, or they could think this is normal friend behavior—but I don't think so, because I've never run across them with anyone else with the translators turned off and music playing.”

Grantaire groans and leans into her shoulder. “Don't tell me that, then I might actually have to do something.”

“You've already done a lot of things. All you've got to do now is ask.”

*

Grantaire doesn't ask. But when Enjolras gets a packet of data from the university and disappears for at least two sleep cycles, Grantaire does go to play with the kittens. They're getting a little bigger these days, and they're always ecstatic to see Grantaire, so they're a good excuse.

Enjolras answers the door to Grantaire's whistle looking distracted and tired, and they stop and stare at Grantaire for several seconds before they step aside to let him in. “Are you here for the kittens?”

“And to make sure you're okay. You've been kind of scarce, everyone says. I mean, and obviously I noticed myself.” Grantaire winces, because he always knows exactly what to say to people until he discovers a romantic interest in them, and Enjolras notices a lot more than the people he wanted to seduce on Earth. “Everything okay?”

“Yes. Though I've been thinking of how to talk to you. And Floréal, come to that.”

Grantaire's heart skips for a second before he realizes that Enjolras probably wouldn't talk to Floréal about whatever is going on or not going on between them. “About what? Do we need to start paying rent or something?”

Enjolras stares for a second and then turns away to shut the door to their chambers and gesture Grantaire to a seat, where he's immediately swarmed. “No. That's not a consideration at all, there are more than enough resources for you and we're glad to have you here. I got data from the university we're working under, and they passed our reports about you and Floréal on to the planetary union of the states, and they passed it on to the Pangalactic Committee for—well. Your planet qualifies for official first contact.”

“Wow, that's ...” It's hard to think of a reaction from Earth that doesn't end like a thousand blockbusters. “What kind of help can I give you?”

“Telling me what it's like, you and Floréal both. They'll want to have a rock-solid plan of attack, so no one gets hurt or misconstrues anything. They may want us to take you to see them, or they may want you to act as an ambassador of sorts—you can say no to any of it.” Enjolras sits next to him and takes one of the kittens. “But it's good. Even when—if you and Floréal choose to leave, your planet would be hooked into our network. We could still talk.”

“You're going to have to kick me off to get rid of me. But that's good.” Grantaire laughs and picks one of the kittens up when it tries to be a bit too insistent. “I'm sure there are going to be good things that come out of it that are a little more important than talking to me.”

“You underestimate your importance.” Enjolras pauses, looks down at the kitten in their lap. “Are you willing to tell me some about how to approach your people, then?”

Grantaire really hopes he doesn't make a face at that, because it's very tempting. “I mean, I'll tell you what I can, but … thing is, in our movies, a lot of times, when aliens show up, they aren't nice. Humans have hard-wired ourselves to shoot first and ask questions later.”

“That's why we want a strategy in place. We won't let anything bad happen.”

“We can't necessarily control—”

“This is good news. It will have its difficulties, but it's good news. You should have been contacted long since, from what you've told me about your technology and population.”

Enjolras is leaning into his space and looking him right in the eyes, and Grantaire scrambles to say anything. “You say that now, and then someone's going to remember fake aliens bursting out of people's chests and there will be mass panic.”

“You're a human. They can't all be bad or unreasonable.” Grantaire can't bear Enjolras this close and this earnest, when he's still trying to figure out how he's feeling and what to do, so he does his best to edge away without being obvious about it. Judging by the look on Enjolras's face, though, he's failing miserably. “Have I done something wrong?”

“Sorry, no, just thinking, that's all.” He takes a breath and hears it shake on the intake, but there isn't much to be done about that. “So what do you want to know?”

Enjolras stares for another second and then goes back to paying attention to their kittens. “Tell me about any planetary organizations first.”

*

Grantaire wakes with a crick in his neck and something purring in his lap. His cheek is resting against something warm and smooth and not pillowy at all, and when he opens his eyes he gets a very good view of what Enjolras is looking at on their tablet, because Grantaire has been curled into their shoulder in his sleep.

“Sorry, fuck,” he says. The last thing he remembers is telling Enjolras about the Girl Scouts as an organization inclined to be reasonable, and he really hopes Enjolras didn't take him seriously because that would be amazing and terrible and he does not want to be responsible for it. “You should have woken me. How long have I been out?”

“Approximately half of one of your sleep cycles. You can sleep longer. I kept you awake beyond your norm. Unless you need somewhere more comfortable to sleep?”

“I'm not worried about me, I've been imposing on your space and you have a lot of work to do.”

“I've been working on my initial report, and you aren't imposing at all.” They have to twist awkwardly to look at Grantaire, which is what reminds Grantaire that he's still leaning on Enjolras. He straightens up fast enough that he almost bangs his head against Enjolras's. “You were uncomfortable. You didn't sleep like this on Forest.”

“I didn't fall asleep in the middle of talking to you on Forest.” Grantaire yawns and pets the kitten that's in his lap. “And I must be imposing, because I passed out in your bedroom while you were trying to work.”

“You've only slept half your sleep cycle. Stay. I should rest as well if I want Courfeyrac to let me at the helm tomorrow.”

“Then you will need your bed.”

“We've spent nights together before.” Enjolras isn't looking at him directly, but they sound determined, like there's a point Grantaire is missing. “You're welcome here.”

Maybe it's that Grantaire is exhausted and doesn't have a filter, or maybe it's Floréal's words getting through to him, or maybe Enjolras is just different from everyone else he's ever wanted. It could even be all those things that makes Grantaire decide that he has to say something. “The thing is,” he says, and he can't choose his words carefully when he's this tired, so he just opens his mouth and hopes they fall out in some kind of coherent order. “The thing is, I don't know how to interpret things with you. With anyone who isn't from Earth, really, but especially from you. Inviting someone to stay the night with you … it's not always an indication of romantic interest. But it sometimes is. Especially when you let them sleep on you, and when you dance with them and then don't talk about it after, and I'd like to know where I stand with you.”

Enjolras withdraws, and they're silent for long enough that Grantaire thinks about leaving and pretending this conversation never happened after he gets some sleep and lets some time pass. “Gestures of unusual intimacy … they're important, culture to culture, often romantically. Joly and Bossuet are an extreme, but every planet, every society on a planet, has something different.”

“I kind of figured. That's why I'm asking.”

“I can't define unusual intimacy for you any more than you can for me, it seems. You've slept on Floréal. You're always physically close, and you exchange confidences. You've said she's your sister, so I thought perhaps that was how you were considering me, when you acted intimately.”

Just when Grantaire needs to hold on to something, the kitten jumps off his lap, and he's left bereft, twisting his hands in front of him for something to do. “What counts as unusually intimate for you?”

“We've slept together, we've proved that we can understand each other without relying on translators, I've taught you something about something that I love to do and you've given me a gift of something that you love to do ...”

Grantaire takes a second to reframe a few things. Or a lot of things. “Have you been courting me?”

“No. Not precisely. You've been acclimating to something completely new, it wouldn't be fair to court you on top of that. And nothing can be assumed, here, with all of us so different. I wouldn't expect anything from you without some kind of declaration of intent from each of us.”

“But you're interested? In declaring your intent?”

It feels weird, having this conversation sitting next to eachother and not looking at eachother, but Grantaire can't believe he's brave enough to ask at all. Looking at Enjolras will only make it worse, and he hopes Enjolras feels the same about it. “I've been intrigued by you. I picked you up because you were alone and upset, and then you've … you've changed things.”

“So that's a yes?”

“Only if you're ready. Only when you're ready.” Enjolras turns to face him, finally, and Grantaire isn't enough of an asshole not to return the favor even if it's hard to meet Enjolras's eyes when they're being so earnest. “And only if you're interested.”

If this were a movie, Grantaire could maybe kiss them. The soundtrack would swell and they'd pull together and he wouldn't have to force more words out of himself. He's never been the best with words, they come out all at once or not at all. “I'm interested. And as close to ready as I ever get.”

“Oh.” Enjolras is suddenly all little movements, even though they don't generally fidget that much. “I don't know what to do. That's data I haven't collected yet.”

“Neither have I.” This is happening. It is. Grantaire may have to remind himself of this later, when his neck isn't sore and he's not groggy from waking up halfway through the night to have an important conversation about feelings. “On Earth—or, well, parts of it, there are places where it's actually pretty taboo, but where I come from, we put our mouths on eachother's mouths. For affection or intimacy. It can be part of sex or it can be on his own.”

Enjolras tilts their head, and for a second Grantaire thinks it's their thoughtful tilt again, trying to assimilate that, before he realizes that Enjolras is leaning a little closer. “I can do that.”

Grantaire makes himself unfreeze, because he's the one who's kissed people before, and that makes it easier to lean in and kiss Enjolras, just gently. It doesn't feel like Pygmalion kissing Galatea, which he'd halfway expected. He's learned Enjolras isn't as hard to touch as Earth stone is, just the same way the kittens are. There's some give in their lips, when Grantaire kisses them, just something gentle, experimental.

“That's interesting,” Enjolras says when Grantaire pulls away, and Grantaire has to laugh helplessly, because Enjolras said that, in just that tone of voice, every time Grantaire managed to pull out an interesting fact on Earth politics before he fell asleep. “I could feel you breathing,” Enjolras adds with voice a little raised over his laughter, sounding a little offended. “That's all.”

“Okay, that's good, sorry, this is just weird.” Grantaire pulls back a few more inches, because eye contact is good, while they're doing this. “Do you have an equivalent gesture?”

“I like that one. We can do it more, if you like. But yes. May I?” Grantaire doesn't know what exactly he's giving permission for, besides being touched somehow, but he nods anyway. He trusts Enjolras, by now.

Enjolras pulls Grantaire in, settling the two of them a little closer together, moving until the two of them are resting their heads in the crooks of eachother's shoulders. It feels familiar, barely more than a hug, and Grantaire braces himself with a hand in the middle of Enjolras's back on instinct. It makes Enjolras shudder a breath out. “Is this okay?” Grantaire asks, because his mouth is free so he feels like he should say something.

“It's because fitting together like this, for us, it's a sign we're supposed to fit together like this,” says Enjolras, which is an answer and not an answer at all. “To keep safe.”

“Okay.” There's the soft sensation of Enjolras's lips moving against his shoulder, and he shivers even though Enjolras just kissed his shirt. “What was that for?”

“Compromise.”

“Makes sense.” He moves his hand to the side of Enjolras's face. “Would you mind terribly coming up here again?”

Enjolras lifts their head up, a little too quick, maybe concerned. “I wasn't very far away.”

“No, but I wanted to look at you. You're going to have to forgive some sentimentality.”

Enjolras looks down and then up at him again. “I was watching you while you were asleep.”

Grantaire, to his own horror, snorts, and holds up a placating hand when Enjolras pulls away a few inches, looking offended. “Sorry, sorry, I was really hoping to avoid that particular piece of Earth popular culture with you, it ruins the moment a little. I'll tell you later. We can go back to what we were doing.”

Enjolras kisses him again, and seems much more sure about how to do it this time, even if they stay where they are longer than Grantaire is used to at the end, Enjolras presumably feeling him breathe again. “Does this mean you'll spend the rest of your sleep cycle with me?” Enjolras asks when they pull away.

“Yeah, I'll stay. You can keep working if you aren't tired, just wake me up if I start snoring or something.”

Enjolras moves out of the way so Grantaire has an easier time of tipping to the side, his neck immediately thanking him for being horizontal. “I'll join you,” they say when Grantaire is settled, putting their tablet away and moving around until they're comfortable. “It will be easier than on Forest, I'm allowed to touch you this time.”

Grantaire is fairly sure he's living in some kind of hallucination, but that is fine by him. When Enjolras is next to him, pressed against him but not making a move to actually cuddle, Grantaire dares to duck his head and press it into the crook of Enjolras's neck. “Is this okay?”

Lips against his hairline. Grantaire is never going to be able to sleep for the way his heart wants to beat its way out of his chest, but he wants to, just so he can stay like this. “Tell me about the Girl Scouts,” says Enjolras quietly, which is as much answer as Grantaire expects.

Grantaire laughs and talks about cookies and armies of small girls, which is about all he knows about Girl Scouts, segues into the Boy Scouts and how they seem much less savory, and he finds, after a few minutes of Enjolras laughing into his hair and sometimes shuddering when Grantaire's breath tickles their chest, that maybe he can sleep after all.

*

By the time Grantaire leaves Enjolras's room, he can almost believe that it all happened. That may have something to do with how mussed his hair is, since Enjolras seems fascinated by it, or maybe it's just the way Enjolras didn't really stop looking at him whenever they were both conscious.

He's a little worried that the reality of it will slowly fade throughout the day, without Enjolras right next to him, but leaving is sort of necessary, so he can change clothes and eat food and talk to people. Enjolras has to work, anyway, since Grantaire has exhausted everything useful he knows about world government.

Floréal is sitting in the common room when he comes in to make himself breakfast, watching another episode of Shulia Shamia with a bowl of cereal in her lap and a look on her face like she hates the world, since she was dragged into space soap opera addiction kicking and screaming. She's the only one in there, so Grantaire quietly gets himself some eggs and comes to sit next to her.

“I couldn't find you last night, I was going to show Feuilly and Jehan Delicatessen and I thought you might want to join in.”

“Sure, cannibalism, that will give them a great impression of our planet. I was with Enjolras.”

“Oh?” She turns away from the episode, eyebrows raised. She's only two away from Shamia and her lover meeting, he may have to stay until it happens.

Grantaire could tell her about first contact—needs to tell her, really, because Enjolras will want to ask her questions too, and she deserves to know. He could tell her he fell asleep, or all the stupid little details he's bursting with, but someone could walk in at any minute, so he confines himself to a smile and says “I asked.”

Floréal squints at him for a second and then breaks out into a smile, shifting until she can put her leg up against his so they both still have their hands free to eat breakfast. “Good. Now shut up and let me watch this episode, I'm pretty sure she's going to break out of prison soon and I have to see how.”

Grantaire dutifully pays attention, and when they've finished breakfast she tips just far enough to lean her cheek against his shoulder.

When Enjolras walks in later, just as Shamia and her lover are about to meet (again), they're still there, and Enjolras just comes to sit on Grantaire's other side and watch the end of the episode.