Perfection, as a rule, was unattainable. Jehan firmly believed that. There was always room to improve, always something one could do to better oneself. That didn’t mean one should aim for perfection, just that expecting to reach it was as clear a path to disappointment as any Jehan could imagine. All that being said… he’d really outdone himself with the decorations this year. They came as close to matching the decorations he’d designed in his head as any he’d ever done. They might not be perfect, but they were lovely, and he was proud of them, and he couldn’t wait to show them off. If only there wasn’t still another four hours to go before he could!
Sighing heavily, Jehan let himself fall sideways on the couch. The ham was already prepped and ready to go in the oven. The pot roast was in the crock pot. The hors d’oeuvres were prepared and ready to be plated. He even had the fire pit ready out back for the bonfire; the basket with the makings for S’mores was ready and waiting at the porch door. The Yule log was in the fireplace, the kindling already arranged, just waiting for a match. There was nothing left to do. And his friends wouldn’t even begin arriving until 4:00. He’d made this near-perfectly festive holiday nest out of his home and he had no one to share it with until later. If that wasn’t sad, what was?
Twenty minutes later, Jehan was still lying on the couch, staring alternately at his phone and the ceiling, wondering what on Earth he was going to do with himself for the next three hours and forty minutes. And several runs through his social media had let him know that it was pointless to even try calling his friends to come over any earlier. Facebook had kindly informed him that Courfeyrac had somehow persuaded Combeferre to join him at the arboretum for the day. Jehan felt a brief pang that he wasn’t there with them. The trees might be bare this time of year, but the stark branches against the pale winter sky made for some fantastic photographs and the gentle sleeping dormancy of all that plant life filled Jehan with a sense of calm, of peace.
…not that a trip anywhere with Courfeyrac was ever peaceful.
From the looks on their faces in the pictures and the number of exclamation points in Courfeyrac’s occasional status updates, he and Combeferre were having a wonderful, albeit frenzied, afternoon. And Jehan wouldn’t have wanted to intrude.
Feuilly’s Instagram showed that he, Bahorel, and Enjolras were having a similarly full day. Bahorel was a volunteer fireman and today was the day they opened the firehouse—just as festively decorated as Jehan’s home currently was—to the local children. The children could sit in the fire trucks and slide down the polls; they built up a sledding hill in Firemen’s Field and had snow sculpting contests. They had gingerbread house stations and ornament making stations; Feuilly usually helped the children make menorah sized candles. and the volunteers had as much fun as the children. Jehan had helped out more than once, usually with the gingerbread houses, but this year he’d bowed out in the interests of making sure he was ready for tonight. It was his first holiday party in his new home and if it couldn’t be perfect, then he wanted it to be as close to perfect as it could be. But when Feuilly posted the video of Enjolras clinging like a burr to Bahorel’s back, a broad smile on his face and a loud whoop on his lips as he rammed a handful of snow down the back of Bahorel’s shirt, Jehan would have traded even a chance at perfection to be there with them.
It was tumblr that informed him what Joly, Bossuet, and Musichetta were up to and, in spite of his growing melancholy, Jehan laughed out loud when he saw. Joly was posting progress photosets of the Rotation of the Holiday Decorations (TM)—a yearly tradition in their household—and it was… well, it wasn’t going so well. The three had started the tradition when they moved in together as a symbol, a way to acknowledge that they all had different traditions which were equally important and would be given equal weight in such a way as to not subsume one in any of the others.
In mid-November, for Musichetta, the house was decorated for Diwali—lamps and candles on every available surface, Rangoli designs at all the doors to their house, and small footprints painted all over the floors inside. Once the five-day festival was over, the trio would change it out for the joined secular holiday of Thanksgiving. After that, it was a menorah in the front bay window for Bossuet and one each for the three of them to light inside on each night. And finally, after Chanukah, they would put up a Christmas tree for Joly… and that was where things had gone wrong this year. Joly had come to the trio with two ferrets and a cat and Musichetta with a black Lab… and all four were having far too much fun playing in the decorations. From the progression of photos in the latest set, they’d managed to get the tree upright, at least, but one of the ferrets was hanging from the lights that Musichetta was trying to hang on the tree; the other was tangled up in the garland. Their cat was batting Christmas ornaments across the floor and it looked like their dog had already knocked over the tree twice. And though he was laughing over the chaos, Jehan couldn’t help but be grateful at that moment that he didn’t have any four-legged friends underfoot to help with his decorations!
Marius, Cosette, and Eponine were away with Cosette’s fathers for the winter, so social media was no help with keeping tabs on them except for Cosette’s occasional update Tweets. They were on a mission to try to finalize getting Eponine custody of her younger siblings, and Eponine had been determined that they weren’t coming home until they’d managed it this time. Cosette had tweeted last night that the owners of the bed and breakfast they were staying in had invited them to church for midnight mass. She, Marius and her papa had agreed to go, but Javert and Eponine were staying behind. Jehan was sure she was sad about it—like her papa, she’d found a sort of peace in the rituals of the church, and she wanted nothing more than to share it with those she held dear—but, also like her papa, she would never force her religious practices on anyone who wasn’t interested. That tweet was the last any of them had heard from that group and no one was going to push. If there was good news, it would arrive soon enough, and if it was bad news, it would keep.
It wasn’t until he finished his checking of social media that Jehan realized that one person had been left unaccounted for in that social media scan… and as if that very thought had been foreknowledge, the phone rang with his special ringtone not a moment later.
~It could have been the whiskey. Might have been the gin. Could have been the three or four six packs, I don’t know, but look at the mess I’m in!~
No sooner had Jehan swiped open the call and gotten the phone to his ear than Grantaire’s voice filled his ear. He sounded confused, a little stunned, and just a step on the way towards panic.
“So… I may have accidentally sort of adopted five cats.”
Jehan slowly sat up. “You… what?”
“It’s not my fault. It’s really not. Kodo and Podo chewed open Commander Purrington’s bag of prescription cat food and then Chelsea knocked the tree over again and spilled water over the whole mess. Joly called and asked if I could run over to his hospital before they closed for the holiday and pick up another bag, because of course they didn’t have another bag in the house, and when I got there, the receptionist was frantic because someone just dumped these kittens in front of the hospital and they’re too small to be left alone too long and no one’s going to be in again until Monday and the next thing I knew, I told her I’d take them and Jehan, I’ve never even had a goldfish—what do I do??”
Jehan took in the note of hysteria creeping into Grantaire’s tone, took one final look around at his nearly-perfect decorations and silently kissed them all goodbye. “Bring them here. I’ll help you. I’m just going to run to the store and pick up a few things, so if you get here before I do, just let yourself in and wait for me. It’s going to be OK.”
“Oh, thank fuck. Seriously, Jehan. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you—”
Jehan cut off the babbling litany of "thank you"s with a gentle laugh. “Any time, R. You know you can count on me.” By the time they hung up, Grantaire sounded much calmer—and much less likely to come to grief on the icy roads than he had sounded when he first called. And that had been the whole point.
Now… it was time to get his house kitten ready.
By the time Jehan returned home, Grantaire’s pick-up was already parked on the left-hand side of the double driveway. Jehan pulled in next to it and started bringing in his haul from the trunk. Litterboxes, food bowls, cat beds, scratching posts, toys, wet food, dry food, even some formula, just in case the kittens were younger than estimated—he’d bought it all. Bag after bag after bag got carried up to the front porch and he smiled as he passed his newly festive front yard. Every decoration that could have been an immediate kitty problem was now adorning the front yard instead of the inside of the house and Jehan had to admit… all that holiday green and red looked lovely against the snow.
It took four trips to get everything into the house, and by the second trip, Jehan had an audience. Grantaire had placed the carrier full of kittens on the coffee table and was watching him from the living room couch, his eyes getting wider and wider with every bag Jehan brought in. He said, “You do realize that you don’t need to keep them past Monday, right? They can go back to the hospital then.”
Jehan just smiled. He knew how quickly a “kitty who wasn’t yours” became yours when you fostered. It was how his parents had gotten all their cats when he was growing up. They started out “just watching them for the weekend.” Then they were “keeping them until a permanent home could be found.” Eventually the “kitties who weren’t theirs” had names and personalized toys and food bowls and their own armchair in the den. So, as far as Jehan was concerned, why not just cut the chase and tree the prey? The kittens had to live somewhere and the tiny studio he’d once shared with Grantaire was way too cramped for five cats. It had been way too cramped for them. (Really, it was too cramped for Grantaire, too, if Jehan were being honest, but try as he might, he’d been unsuccessful in convincing Grantaire to upgrade.) Besides… as much as he loved this new house of his, Jehan had to admit that he was a little lonely. And if he couldn’t convince Grantaire to move in, he could at least take in his cats… and hope that someday maybe he’d follow them.
“So, what do we do? Do they need baths? Do you even bathe cats? How about food? Who knows when they ate last! They’re probably hungry.”
Jehan reached out a hand to pat Grantaire’s cheek, that smile lingering and growing more fond as Grantaire rambled and twisted his fingers together. “Take a breath, R. It’s OK. The first thing we need to do is get them settled in a room where they can get used to the place. Which is exactly what I’ve set up the second guest bedroom for. Follow me!”
It took several more trips to get everything moved and set up, but once they had, it was a kitten’s paradise. Jehan had bought a crate and set up some blankets and one of the cat beds inside it, a heating pad underneath the copious padding where no kitten could step on it directly, and a blanket draped over the top of it to create a warm little cocoon. Slowly, checking out each kitten as they went, Jehan transferred them all into the crate. There were three girls and two boys. One of the boys was an orange tabby, the other a tuxedo with little white markings on his face that looked like a mustache and one white foot. One of the girls was a calico, one a tabbico, and the third was long haired and pure white. Lifting her to his chest, Jehan placed a soft kiss on her head. “Well, well, someone had an exotic daddy, didn’t she?” The kitten mewed softly and nuzzled into Jehan’s neck. And something about that move—tiny kitten paws kneading at the collar of his shirt, a tiny cold kitten nose pushing into his neck, and the soft snuffly noises of a baby seeking to nurse—made Jehan’s eyes well up with tears.
Seeing that, Grantaire dropped down beside him, his own eyes wide, his hands opening and closing as though he couldn’t decide what to do with them. Before he could worry too much, Jehan leaned into him and tucked his face into R’s neck, the way the little long-haired kitten had done to him. Voice rough with suppressed tears, he said, “I’m OK, R. It’s just a stupid happy cry. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed having—“ He stopped, swallowed what he’d been about to say. Because he’d been about to say that he’d missed having someone around to hold. And R didn’t need that guilt trip. He finished with, “—having cats around,” instead. But something in the way that Grantaire’s arms immediately settled around him and the way he leaned his forehead onto Jehan’s shoulder, made him think that maybe Grantaire had understood what he hadn’t said, after all.
Grantaire and Jehan sat there with the cats for the rest of the afternoon. So preoccupied were they that they missed the thirty one increasingly frantic text messages Joly had sent asking where Grantaire had ended up with Commander Purrington’s food. So preoccupied were they that Jehan completely forgot to put the hors d’oeuvres In the oven to warm… much less the ham. In fact, they were so preoccupied with the kittens that Jehan completely forgot that he had anyone else coming over until they started to arrive.
Joly, Bossuet, and Musichetta were the first ones to arrive and were much relieved to see that Grantaire was OK… and much amused to find out why he’d been delayed and never called. Bossuet went back out briefly to transfer the bag of food from R’s truck to their car, bringing Courfeyrac and Combeferre back with him when they came in. The two had on a pair of such soft smiles that Jehan nearly started tearing up again. They’d been slowly working their way towards an understanding for what felt like years and if they’d finally sorted themselves out, then that was well worth having missed out on the arboretum.
…of course, once Courfeyrac saw the kittens, he had eyes for no one else. Then again, if ever any of their friends had been a cat in a former life, it would have been Courfeyrac. He loved them, couldn’t get enough of being around them, seemed to practically speak their language… it was a shame it took allergy shots and a double dose of antihistamines before he could even get near one without puffing up. Before he could get too close, Combeferre dragged him away, no doubt to push such meds on him.
Enjolras, Feuilly, and Bahorel arrived en masse, flushed with joy from the day at the firehouse and starving… and that was when Jehan realized exactly how much he’d neglected while distracted with R and the kittens. Through the good-natured teasing that followed, Feuilly, Courfeyrac and Grantaire took over the kitchen, setting up an assembly line to get the food ready. Bahorel gave him a soft pat as he stood in the doorway, bemoaning his forgetfulness. “Eh. Don’t worry about it. We’ll just have the ham for dessert.”
Jehan let out a soft wail at that. “Oh no! I forgot to frost the cake, too!”
And that put the final nail in the coffin of Jehan’s nearly-perfect first holiday party in this house. Almost no decorations in the house, no food, he hadn’t even lit the yule fire! Then again… Looking around at his friends as they all threw their talents together to help him get everything done, Jehan still felt a warm glow of joy. He had his friends. He had five kittens. He had Grantaire—now laughing along with everyone else at the story of how they’d ended up in this predicament—and he had a home full of love. As Grantaire settled next to him on the floor in the kitten room, all their other friends crammed in around them, plates on laps—or held high in the air to keep them away from a kitten’s seeking paws—Jehan realized that nothing else mattered and that this party couldn’t have been more perfect if he’d planned it this way.
As Jehan settled against Grantaire, one kitten in his lap, the long-haired white one over his shoulder, and a smile on his face, he saw an answering smile bloom on Grantaire’s. Moments later, that smile widened and slid sideways into a smirk as something caught his attention—a piece of mistletoe which shouldn’t have been there. Jehan looked up, too, quickly realizing how this one piece had escaped his notice. It was in Courfeyrac’s hand.
Courfeyrac waggled his eyebrows, the overall effect ruined by reddened, tearing eyes but the intent clear just the same. Jehan leaned in and pressed a soft kiss into Grantaire’s cheek. Grantaire responded by pulling him closer, but just as he was about to lean in and return that softly chaste kiss… the long-haired kitten picked up her paws and placed them both firmly on Grantaire’s lips, pushing for all she was worth to keep him from getting any closer. The tableau held for all of ten seconds before everyone erupted into laughter. Laughing hard enough to be near tears himself, Grantaire gently but firmly picked up the kitten and handed her off to Joly before leaning back in to try again. This time his lips found their mark, but both he and Jehan were laughing too hard to indulge in more than a quick peck.
But that was all right. Seeing the warmth in Grantaire’s eyes, knowing the level of trust he’d had in Jehan by calling him first when he’d realized he was in over his head, seeing how at home Grantaire looked, sprawled here on the floor with him and the kittens… suddenly Jehan was sure that this Christmas kiss wouldn’t be the last they shared in this house. With any luck, it would instead be the first of many.