After so many years of solitude, with only his most loyal servants for company, Grantaire could hardly be blamed for making one little joke. The man — Valjean — had cowered in front of him, the plucked flower still in his hand, and pleaded for his life before Grantaire had even spoken a word.
"Mercy," he'd begged. "Please. It's just a little thing. I didn't know."
"A little thing, is it?" Grantaire had mused, and grinned, knowing the flash of his monstrous fangs would be no comfort. "You would take my Rose from me. And what chosette, what little thing, shall I pluck from you in return?"
Everyone knew the man's daughter was named Cosette, just as everyone knew that the mad beast in the house on the hill talked to his plants and his cutlery and his furniture as though they were living people. It had been a joke.
It had been hilarious. It was hardly Grantaire's fault that the townspeople had lost their sense of humor in the years since he'd been cursed.
Valjean had grown pale with horror, and stammered, "My Cosette? No— No, please, she's an innocent girl! Take me instead, it was I who did you wrong. Please, she's a child, and it was just a flower. She doesn't deserve this."
And Grantaire had sighed, abruptly too weary for this man and his appeals to whatever sense of mercy or justice Grantaire might have left. He snarled at Valjean, to frighten him into obedience, and bid him go home, and then he'd dragged himself out of the gardens and into his home, and reached for the first bottle of wine he came upon, and drank until all was forgotten.
He had not counted on the boy.
The brass knocker on Grantaire's front door pealed like the tolling of a church bell, jolting Grantaire from oblivion and threatening to split his skull in two. He threw himself out of the armchair he'd passed out in and staggered to the door, clutching at either side of his head, snarling, "Shut up, shut up, shut up!"
The knocking didn't stop until he reached the front door, grappled with the handle, and tore it open. The morning sun streamed in through his doorway, bright as fire and just as agonizing. Grantaire spun away, snarling, and threw an arm over his eyes.
Behind him, a bold voice called out, "I have come to address the grievous injustice you mean to perpetrate upon M. Valjean and his daughter, Beast."
Grantaire lowered his arm and looked back over his shoulder. The light stung his eyes and made them water, and all he could make out of the man was a silhouette, framed by blinding rays of the rising sun. "Who the devil are you?"
The figure stepped across the threshold and strode into Grantaire's home as though it were his right to be there. He stood with his feet planted, his hands balled, his golden hair just as bright as the sun and his eyes snapping fire as he glared at Grantaire. "I am Enjolras, and I am here to demand that you release M. Valjean from his debt at once."
"Oh, are you now?" Grantaire stalked a predatory circle around the boy, letting his lip curl and a growl rumble low in his throat. He slammed the door shut with a swipe of his paw and smiled at the way it made Enjolras jump and the hair along his arms stand on end, though he kept his shoulders squared and his fists balled as though he felt no fear at all. "And what makes you think that I shall cede to your demands?"
Enjolras took slow, turning steps, following him as he paced around, so he was never at the boy's back. "It's barbaric! You can't demand a man's daughter because he plucked a flower from your garden."
"I may do as I please." Grantaire stalked up, crowding in until the boy could feel Grantaire's breath on his face. He wanted to know how long his bravado would hold before his fear took him and he retreated. He wanted to know just what it would take to break him. "Barbarian, you call me." He bared his teeth, and licked his fangs for effect. Enjolras trembled, but held. "I think the barbarians have one up on me, don't you?"
Enjolras ran his tongue over his lips. "Take some other recompense, then," he said. "Make a reasonable demand, and I give you my word that I'll see you have it."
If it had been later in the day, or another day entirely, if Enjolras hadn't roused Grantaire from his stupor and made his demands while the cobwebs still clung to Grantaire's thoughts and even the light of Courfeyrac's candles burned his eyes, Grantaire might have been more inclined to listen. He might have agreed to Enjolras's bargain, and demanded an exotic flower or the first drop of spring rain or a lock of hair from Valjean's daughter's head, and then called the debt settled. He might have rolled his eyes and let Enjolras in on the joke and told him to inform Valjean that he wanted no recompense at all, only his privacy, and he needn't worry about the debt so long as he swore never to set foot within Grantaire's gardens again.
But he was not feeling so magnanimous this morning as he otherwise might have, so instead of any of those things, Grantaire huffed in Enjolras's face and said, "You would have me ask for something else, besides the girl or her father in her stead?"
"Yes." Enjolras stood with his spine as straight as a gun stock. He stared at a fixed point beyond Grantaire's shoulder. "Name it. I will see it done."
"Even if the compensation I claim is you?" he asked, very softly, so he wouldn't miss the swift breath that Enjolras took before he could master himself.
Enjolras stared at him now, straight at him. Grantaire watched the horror dawn behind his eyes. "That is what you want?" he asked, in a voice gone rough and soft. "You will accept nothing short of someone's life, in exchange for your rose?"
Grantaire leaned in very close and breathed against his ear, "And if I won't? If that's the price I name? Will you stand by your word, and see it done?"
He drew back and watched the boy, waiting for his courage to fail him and the fear to take hold. He didn't want a flower or a drop of rain or a lock of some stranger's hair. He didn't want to take in some townsman or his silly daughter and spend the rest of his days tripping over them in his own home. But he would take Enjolras's fear and count the debt settled, because he hurt and he was lonely and he hated to suffer alone.
Enjolras did tremble, and his breathing quickened, and his pupils expanded until the black had swallowed the fire in his eyes. But then he fixed that dark gaze on Grantaire, and tucked his tongue into the corner of his mouth, and gave a single nod as though to himself. "Yes," he said simply. "All right. If you would claim a life, then have it be mine."
Grantaire rocked back and stared at the boy, nonplussed. There was no small amount of fear there — he could smell it, coming off Enjolras in waves. But there was strength, too, in equal measure, and bravado, and perhaps a fair dose of foolhardiness, as well.
He has called my bluff, Grantaire thought. And if I fold, then he'll go back to town and tell everyone that I'm nothing to fear, and I'll never get another day's peace so long as I live.
He couldn't think of what else there was to do. So he just grinned, and tried his best to make it look as disquieting as possible. "Good. I accept."
Some small measure of color drained out of Enjolras's face, but he swallowed once and gave another nod, and said, "You will show me to my rooms, then," as brave as anyone Grantaire had ever known.
He expected it to last a few days. A week, at the outmost, and then Enjolras's strength would fail him, and he'd come begging Grantaire to release him from their bargain. And Grantaire would agree, but only after he'd intimidated him some, to keep the fear there. And then all would be back the way he was accustomed to.
A week came and went and Enjolras showed no signs of breaking at all. He did everything asked of him, he joined Grantaire for suppers and sat opposite him at the long dining table and never once voiced any of the brooding fury that burned across his face.
The first time Grantaire even heard a word from him, outside the necessary, was accidental. He was pacing the wings with a bottle of wine clutched in his paw, already more than half drunk in preparation for supper, when he would have to sit once again under the silent weight of Enjolras's judgment.
This was meant to be a trial for him, to break him and convince him to leave. Instead Grantaire rather suspected that he was bearing the brunt of it. If it weren't for the way he glared at Grantaire whenever they were in the same room, as though if only he fumed hard enough he could manage to make the heat of his fury manifest, Grantaire wouldn't have thought he was suffering much at all.
He was halfway down the long corridor, too used to his solitude, before he realized that his feet had carried him unwittingly to the room that Enjolras was given for his own. He stopped, fingers going tight around the bottle's neck, and turned to stalk away when the sound of voices just beyond the track stopped him where he stood.
He knew those voices, or some of them. He recognized Combeferre, and Courfeyrac. And the other was Enjolras, but Grantaire could hardly believe his own ears, because he was talking freely and openly, in complete sentences composed of more than two terse words spat out between his teeth. He sounded like a different person entirely.
He'd sounded like that when he came, Grantaire remembered. He'd been angry, but he spoke. The past week, though, seemed to have stolen his voice. Or maybe, Grantaire thought as he crept closer and listened through the door, maybe it had simply destroyed any desire Enjolras might have had to speak to him.
Enjolras was vibrant. Even when his voice dropped low enough that Grantaire couldn't make out the meaning through the wood of the door, he could hear the boy's passion shaking in every word.
He was drunk, and he was tired of sharing a house with somebody and still being lonely. He could hardly be blamed for closing his paw around the door's handle, turning it slowly, easing it open.
He stood there in the doorway and found Enjolras kneeling on the floor, Combeferre and Courfeyrac and Jehan on his bed before him so they were on the same level. He was gesturing wildly, upset about something.
That was no surprise, at least. Enjolras's natural state seemed to be that of outrage over something or another.
"How long have you lived like this?" he was demanding of the three before him.
Courfeyrac made a gesture with his candelabra arms that Grantaire knew, through long familiarity, to be a shrug. "Years," he said, and Enjolras hissed air out through his teeth. "You lose track, after a while." His gaze slid to Grantaire, over Enjolras's shoulder, but he didn't give away his presence.
"All of you?" Enjolras demanded, his hands curling into fists against his thighs.
"It all happened at once," Combeferre said. The curse had made him a clock where it had turned Courfeyrac to a candlestick and Jehan to a porcelain teacup painted with roses. Grantaire had made a joke once, from the bottom of a wine bottle, that it was punishment for his obsession with punctuality, and Combeferre had refused to tell proper time ever since. "All of us together."
"Happened," Enjolras echoed, low and stunned. "You were... You were people once?"
"We're people still." The hands of Combeferre's clock face swept around to show his irritation.
"Of course," Enjolras said, quiet and sincere. He dropped his head forward like a penitent. "Forgive me. I only meant..." He rubbed a hand over his jaw. "I suppose I thought he had enchanted you somehow. Gave you life, to make you his servants."
"Other way around," Jehan said, rolling about on his side in a broad arc across the bedspread. "We were servants first. And... this... later."
"You worked for him willingly?" Enjolras sounded appalled by the idea. Grantaire couldn't even blame him. He never had been sure why they'd all stuck around, even before the curse had made leaving an impossibility. "He paid you, then, I suppose?"
Combeferre's hands swept up and back down in a sharp, impatient way that said, Really? Grantaire almost smiled. He wasn't used to seeing that look directed at anyone but himself. "Of course he did."
"And he pays you now?"
They all hesitated at that. Courfeyrac glanced at him again. Jehan rolled face-own into Enjolras's blankets to hide his expression. Combeferre's hands tick-tick-ticked across his face.
"How do you suppose they'd spend their coin, were I to give it to them?" Grantaire asked from the doorway.
Enjolras spun and stared at him, his face open with shock, then burning bright again with anger.
"And how do you suppose they'd cart it about, given their current physical limitations?" he continued.
"That's a poor excuse," Enjolras snapped. "They do work for you. They deserve to be compensated. It's no business of yours what they do with it once the money changes hands."
"They are my friends," Grantaire said quietly, scratching a claw against the class bottle. "Their lives are, in fact, my concern."
Enjolras rose from his knees onto his feet in one smooth motion. He stalked toward Grantaire, his hands balled at his sides, his jaw set. "If you believed what you said, you'd pay them a living wage. If you cared about their lives you'd give them back pay for all the years they've worked here uncompensated. Or maybe--" He stalked forward, into Grantaire's space, pushing him back with the sheer force of his presence. "--Just maybe, instead of letting them suffer this fate on your behalf, you'd find a way to fix it."
"I can't," Grantaire snarled. He should have known better than to come here, to let himself be drawn into this debate. He had never been a careful drunk and the implication now that he let his friends stay this way because he couldn't be bothered to do otherwise sent the wine coursing hot through his veins. The bottle creaked within Grantaire's fist, then shattered, spraying the rug with broken glass and red wine. Enjolras flinched back from it and gave Grantaire a baleful look, as though he'd done it on purpose.
Jehan hopped upright and scooted over to the edge of the bed next to the other two. They both leaned over the edge and looked down at the mess.
Combeferre sighed. The ticking of his hands sounded an awful lot like a clucked tongue. "I'll go get Feuilly to sweep this up." He hopped off the bed and skirted around the edge of the mess, giving it all a distasteful grimace.
Combeferre followed him out with a mumbled excuse. Jehan was the last. He eyed the shattered glass uncertainly before deciding to skirt down the bedpost to the floor, rather than risking the jump. Grantaire thought he heard him sigh and say to Enjolras, "He's not so bad, you know," before he hopped out after the others.
Enjolras just stared at Grantaire, his expression set with the same fury that Grantaire had seen there at every meal for the past week. It had been a nice change, he thought with a sigh, to see him animated, at least for a moment.
"Dinner will be served in an hour," he said shortly, and stalked out of the room before he could hear Enjolras's retort.
In the second week, a pretty blonde wisp of a thing appeared on Grantaire's doorstep, Valjean looking stern beside her. Grantaire stared at them both and wondered if slamming the door in their face would be more or less likely to make them leave.
Cosette jerked her chin up and stared him down as though she were ten feet tall. "You have a man here on my account."
Grantaire sighed and leaned his brow against the edge of the door. "Go away."
It only hardened the steel in her gaze. "Is he a prisoner here?"
Christ. "No! We made a bargain. He's here of his own free will." He only barely managed to stop himself before adding, And I wish he'd leave.
"Good," she said. "Then I will see him. It's the least I can do, for the man who took my place."
He bared his teeth with frustration. Valjean tightened his grip on Cosette's shoulder and looked as though he wanted to pull her back and drag her home and maybe lock her away forever. She only pulled her shoulder from his grasp and gave him a quelling look.
He wasn't anywhere near drunk enough to deal with these people. "Come in, then," he said curtly, and stalked away. "Be quick about it. And quiet, for God's sake."
"I--" she called after him, and then hesitated.
Grantaire stopped where he was, fighting for patience. He turned back to where she stood in the middle of the foyer, looking uncertain. She glanced down the north hallway, and then the south, and then grimaced prettily. "If you could only point us the right way?"
Grantaire led them all the way there, because he had visions of them trying to find their own way, growing hopelessly lost, and never finding their way back out of his house again.
He stopped them before Enjolras's rooms and rapped his knuckles against the door. There had been the quiet noises of activity coming from within, but at Grantaire's knock, the room fell into an abruptly silence. A moment passed and Grantaire wondered if he should knock again or just let them in, but before he could decide, Enjolras's voice came, strong but wary. "Yes?"
"You've guests," Grantaire growled. "Come entertain them, won't you?"
Cosette glanced at him uncertainly. She looked like she was going to say something, or ask something, but the door opened before she could speak. She spun around to face Enjolras and smiled like the sun breaking through cloud cover.
"Cosette?" He looked stunned to see her. He glanced sidelong at Grantaire, but only briefly. "What are you doing here?"
She let out a sharp, exasperated breath. "Do you think you could just tell my father that you're going to take my place and I wouldn't at least come to thank you?"
Enjolras made a harsh sound and spun away, stalking back into the room. Cosette followed after him, and Valjean right at her heels. Grantaire lingered, watching them all through the doorway. "You don't owe me anything. It would have been intolerable to have allowed you to suffer such a harsh punishment, and for a wrong you didn't even commit yourself." Enjolras looked to Grantaire again. This time, his gaze lingered, heavy with censure.
Cosette smiled at Enjolras gently. "Yet you think I would find it any more tolerable for you to suffer the same fate, when you're no more deserving than I?"
"He made a choice," Grantaire snarled. "I told you, he's here willingly. He's not a prisoner."
She shot him a look over her shoulder. "He could walk out of here right now, then, and you wouldn't stop him?"
God, yes! Take him and leave!
He'd scarcely drawn the breath to speak the words when she huffed beneath her breath and turned back to Enjolras as though she'd had her answer. Or hadn't wanted one in the first place. "Come," she said. "Let's sit and talk." She looked about the room, then settled down onto the chair that had once been Marius. He trembled beneath her, a quick, sharp shiver of delight, and stood up straighter and prouder than Grantaire suspected he ever had before.
Grantaire left them, then. What did he care for the inanities of their conversation? The bottom of his wine bottle held far more interest.
Maybe she would convince him to leave with her. If she managed that feat, when all of Grantaire's surliness hadn't been capable of it, he thought he ought to send her an entire rosebush to profess his thanks.
He had found the bottom of one bottle and made a start on the next when the soft, almost-missed sound of a throat being cleared dragged him up from the depths of his drunkenness. He looked around and found Cosette standing a few paces away, hands clasped demurely before her and looking like she wanted something. Marius was behind her, ducked behind her legs like a skittish dog.
"What is it?"
She cleared her throat again and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
God. He never should have asked for Enjolras to stay in her place. There was hidden strength in her, but at the end of the day, she was a meek little thing. If it had been her, he'd have been able to scare her out of here in a day.
"Monsieur Bête," she said, and made Grantaire bark out a surprised laugh. "I was wondering if my father and I might prevail upon your hospitality and stay for supper."
He stared at her, wondering if the wine had gone to his brain at last. He couldn't be hearing right. "You want to stay?"
"For supper," she said quickly. "It's only, the hour's growing late and I've been greatly enjoying the conversation I'm having with Enjolras. I... I gather he hasn't had much in the way of conversation, of late."
He wasn't so drunk that he couldn't realize a dig at him when he heard it. He glared and let the tips of his fangs show. "This is short notice, don't you think. We're not prepared for extra diners."
"We could have two extra places set," Marius chimed in, sidled up beside Cosette. "It wouldn't take but a minute."
Grantaire shot him a look. "We haven't the seating."
Marius sighed dreamily and shuffled his clawed feet beneath him. "I would be more than happy to provide a seat for the lady, of course."
"Oh!" Cosette's hand flew to her mouth and she twisted to look down at him. "Oh, no, that isn't necessary, of course. If there aren't any--" She hesitated, and seemed to search for words. "Any proper chairs to be had..."
Marius drooped, his legs bowing and his back slumping forward. "It's all right," he said glumly. Grantaire hated her more than a little for upsetting one of his friends so. "There are other chairs, if you don't think I'm suitable. We've chairs enough for a full dinner party." He shot Grantaire a baleful look, like it was his fault Cosette didn't want to make use of him.
"If it were a matter of chairs," Grantaire said, "it would be no matter at all. But Cook planned on a dinner for two, not four."
"Cook always makes extra," Marius said.
Grantaire decided that he didn't hate Cosette after all. A little heartbreak was no less than Marius deserved, the turncoat.
"Do as you like," he said at last, and swept a paw to gesture her away. "Stay and eat, or don't. It's no matter of mine."
He was gratified to know that he wasn't the only one drinking heavily at dinner. Valjean, too, had more glasses of it than was strictly proper, and kept his gaze sweeping unhappily between Grantaire and his daughter.
Enjolras didn't look much happier than anyone else. Grantaire wondered, if he were less stalwart, if he'd have been drinking too. Cosette alone seemed to be oblivious to the discomfort around the table, and spoke easily and happily between bites, maintaining her own side of the conversation with Enjolras, and sometimes part of his as well. They'd found a chair for her, one that had been a chair even before the curse, and Marius had sidled in beside her at the table. Sometimes, when she let her hand curve around her chair's arm, Marius nuzzled up against her fingers with the softest part of his upholstery, and she smiled to herself and stroked the grain of his wood.
"Enjolras," she said, between the meat course and dessert. "Are you quite certain you won't leave?"
Grantaire stilled with his wine bottle in hand, trying not to make too grand a show of how closely he was watching Enjolras for his answer. Would he leave now, at least, with permission all but granted?
A better question -- why on earth would he stay?
But despite all logic and reason, Enjolras didn't hesitate a moment before he shook his head. "No. I'm not leaving. I need to be here."
"What the devil makes you think that?" Grantaire demanded, smacking the bottle down on the table hard enough that everyone jumped.
Enjolras stared at him for a long moment, as though Grantaire had missed something obvious. At length, he said, "Well, somebody has to be here to make sure you treat your servants right. You don't really expect me to leave them behind while they're left working for you uncompensated, without even a choice in the matter, do you?"
Grantaire curled his fingers around the arm of his chair, hard enough that the wood groaned in protest. Marius shot him a scandalized look and shuffled in closer next to Cosette. "My servants have managed just fine without your supervision for this long. They're all free to leave, should they care to. They all choose to stay."
"When the alternative is what? To try to make their way as cutlery and furniture in a world that doesn't understand them?" Enjolras's gaze was flat and unimpressed. "Of course they stay. It doesn't automatically follow that they're being treated properly."
Grantaire bared his teeth. "No one's voiced any complaints."
Enjolras dropped his gaze to Grantaire's hands, the claws that were digging into his chair's upholstery. It would have to be mended now. "No," he said, droll. "Not where you can hear, I imagine not."
It was too much. Grantaire shoved his chair back hard enough that it scraped across the floor as he surged to his feet. He snatched the bottle of wine from the table and stalked off with it before Enjolras said something that made him lose his temper entirely.
Let them titter and gasp over his poor manners, if they cared to. They'd have liked it even less if he'd stayed, and allowed himself to be goaded into something he couldn't take back.
Grantaire had stared at him and hadn't been willing to admit that he hadn't bothered keeping his accounts for years. Enjolras would only be disappointed -- or worse, unsurprised. So he glowered instead, and demanded to know why. And when Enjolras said, "Well, if you're not going to dole out pay to your servants, somebody has to," it had taken everything Grantaire had in him not to gape like a dumb-struck idiot.
"You want to be my treasurer?" he demanded, dubious.
Enjolras had blinked a little, but recovered quickly and nodded. "If that's what you'd call it, then yes."
"And you're going to…what? Pay my staff? Manage my finances?"
Enjolras tightened his jaw. "Do you intend to?"
Grantaire's grumbling snort was answer enough.
"Then yes. That's exactly what I'm going to do."
It seemed a dangerous proposition, to give Enjolras a job to do, a task to keep him occupied. Surely it would be easier for him to stay once he had that responsibility tying him here. But just as dangerous was the prospect of denying him. He'd made it clear he had no intentions of leaving so long as his issues remained unaddressed, and Grantaire was not about to spend his days bent over dusty account books.
"Do as you like. It's no matter to me," he said. "But I'm not going to hold your hand. Find the books yourself."
It took no time at all before the corners of the halls and the house's rooms were littered with scattered coins. Grantaire hadn't been wrong — his friends had no use of a salary, not while they suffered under his curse. They had taken to gambling them with each other, or using them as tokens in the games they played to pass the time.
He found Enjolras staring at a small collection that had gathered in one corner, a pile like a dragon's horde, his expression twisted with chagrin.
"Are you surprised?" Grantaire demanded. "I told you it was pointless. All that time you spent on it, and it was a waste of time."
"It wasn't a waste," Enjolras said sharply. Grantaire glanced at him and found him scowling. But it passed in an instant, and left Enjolras looking bewildered and more than a little at sea. He set his jaw and seemed to gather himself, pulling himself up to his full height. "I stand by what I said. They deserve pay. What they do with it once they have it is their own concern."
Grantaire let a lopsided smile pull at his mouth. "I think I saw Bahorel and Feuilly playing tiddlywinks with theirs early. Coins were tumbling through the air like snowfall. I'll probably be picking them out of the upholstery for weeks."
Enjolras's hands curled at his sides, but he gave no other reaction. "I'm glad to see the curse hasn't entirely dampened their spirits," he said, stiff enough that Grantaire knew it for at least a partial lie.
Grantaire just smiled and left him there, staring at what had come of all his hard work.
Cosette returned later in the week, to Grantaire's great surprise. The knock at the door sent tension rolling down his shoulders. "For God's sake. See who that is," he snapped at Combeferre. "And send them away."
Combeferre returned inside of five minutes with Cosette beside him. Grantaire shot him a glare, but he let it roll off of him as though he hadn't even noticed. "Back again?" Grantaire asked, with a curl to his lip to dissuade her.
She only smiled. "You did say he could have visitors," she said, and he had no choice but to leave it at that.
She became a regular fixture around the place, nearly as common a sight as Enjolras himself, or Combeferre or Courfeyrac or the others. Half the time she was bent in conversation with Enjolras, and the other half, likely to be found walking through the halls with Marius hoping along behind her like a besotted puppy hoping for a kind word.
And even when she was gone, more often than not, her name was still to be heard throughout the wings. If Marius was hopeful while she was there, he was forlorn when she was gone. Too often, Grantaire would push open Enjolras's door to summon him to supper and find Marius there with him, leaning against a wall as though his own four legs would no longer support him and bemoaning the fact that his beloved refused even to sit on him.
"I'm comfortable!" he cried to Enjolras. "I swear I am, and I'd never creak or sag, but she'll only ever sit in the other chairs." He shuffled across the bedchamber to push in against Enjolras like a dog begging for a pat. "What have I done wrong? Has she said anything?"
Enjolras looked pained. Grantaire wasn't sure what possessed him to speak up and save the man from this intensely awkward conversation, but sighed from the doorway to announce his presence and said, "Leave him be, Marius. He's not interested in your hopeless romance."
"Hopeless?" Marius quivered. If he'd been a man, his lip would have been trembling, his eyes gone huge and wounded. "You think it's--"
"Don't heed a word he says," Enjolras said swiftly, pulling at Marius's arm to direct his attention back to Enjolras. "There's nothing hopeless about it. I've never heard her speak an ill word about you, Marius."
Marius bolstered, pulling up straighter. "Do you really think so?"
"Dinner's getting cold," Grantaire growled.
Enjolras shot him a dirty look, then ushered Marius out before him. Grantaire modified his stride until he'd fallen back to walk at Enjolras's side, then kept pace with him. Enjolras glanced at him sidelong. A muscle in his jaw jumped, but he said nothing.
"Why are you encouraging him?" Grantaire demanded in a fierce whisper. Marius continued on ahead of them, oblivious. "He'll only break his heart over her."
"You'd have me dissuade him?" Enjolras kept his voice pitched low, as well, though he stared straight ahead as though they still walked together in silence. "Should he be doomed to live his life alone, on top of the curse he already bears for you?" He glanced sidelong at Grantaire, then, and his gaze was sharp as glass. "Even the cursed deserve to be loved."
It took the entirety of what little will power Grantaire possessed not to groan loud enough to attract Marius's attention. "You don't believe that."
Enjolras snapped his head around to glare at him. "I do, as a matter of fact."
"You looked like you'd have rather been anywhere else, talking about anything else in the world, when I walked in on you."
He sniffed disdainfully and crossed his arms over his chest, scowling straight ahead again. "Then I let my own bias show," he said stiffly, "and that's my mistake. Love seems to me to be a waste of valuable time and energy that could be better spent on other, worthier pursuits. I've little desire for it in my own life, but that's my life. I don't begrudge it to anyone who desires it, just because I don't."
Grantaire watched him from the corners of his vision as they made their way to the dining room, but Enjolras seemed to have said all he intended to on the matter. After a moment, Grantaire let his gait shift, let himself fall back and Enjolras advance forward to walk at Marius's side, one hand resting lightly on his back rail.
He wasn't sure what to make of Enjolras's declarations about his feelings toward love, but one thing was certain. If Enjolras meant to support this newly-blossoming romance, it seemed inevitable that they were all going to be seeing much more of Cosette around these halls.
Grantaire wasn't quite sure what he'd done to make God hate him so, but it seemed to him that this punishment was beyond excessive.
As the last days of spring began to edge toward summer, the days grew warmer and the springtime deluges less frequent. The sun's warmth brought the roses out in full, glorious bloom and filled Grantaire's courtyard with the scent of their perfume. Cosette, when she came, quickly took a liking to strolling out through the garden, trailing a hand across the leaves and blooms of the flowers.
Grantaire watched her suspiciously through the study window the first few days, still mindful of her father's first visit that had started this horde descending upon his house to begin with, but the worst she ever did was trim off a few dying, yellowed leaves before they could disease the whole plant.
It got her out of his house for hours at a time, and ofttimes Marius along with her as he hopped along the garden paths at her side, so Grantaire couldn't find it in him to mind, in the end.
His good opinion of the pastime lasted until the two sweethearts got caught in a late-season rain. Grantaire heard their laughter first, ringing off the stone walls, and came out to find Cosette with the hem of her dress all muddied, trying to dab it out with a wet cloth. Marius's upholstery was soaked and dripping, but worse, wending away behind him was a trail of mud. His claw-footed legs were encrusted with it, and shed bits of it onto the carpet with every movement that he made.
Grantaire raged. The sight of the mess, ground into the carpets by Marius's feet, kindled a fire that flared to rage between one breath and the next. He roared with it.
Cosette stumbled away, pressing her back against the wall, all the color draining from her face. Marius pinned himself tight against her side, crouching low and trembling.
A door slammed, with a loud report like a thunderclap. "What is going on out here?"
Grantaire spun to Enjolras, snarling with his fury.
Enjolras crossed his arms over his chest and looked him over, a quick glance down and then back up. He raised one brow, unimpressed.
But when his gaze slid sideways, past Grantaire to the muddied hallway behind him, his façade of cool disdain slipped for an instant. His brows lowered, his lips parting on a small breath of surprise. But only that and then he mastered himself, and was stern once more. When Grantaire drew a breath to start into a tirade about the mess that Marius had made, Enjolras slipped deftly into the brief moment of silence.
"That's quite enough, don't you think? Look at them!" He threw a hand out toward Cosette and Marius, huddled together as though they could protect each other from the storm of Grantaire's anger. "They're terrified."
"Thoughtless," Grantaire snarled at Marius, and felt no shame for the way he flinched and cowered beside Cosette. "It's not you who's going to have to clean that up, now is it?"
"Stop that!" Enjolras strode up and grabbed Grantaire by the sleeve, wrenching him around to face Enjolras rather than the frightened pair. "Is this how you inspire loyalty in your servants? Through being a brute and a bully?" His lip curled with pure disdain. "It's beneath you. It's a coward's way."
Grantaire might have worked up a fine fury over Enjolras's words, too, but he turned away before Grantaire could even start, with a decisive air that offered no room for doubt that the conversation was over. Grantaire was left staring at his back, still livid but with nowhere to vent it, as Enjolras moved over to the other two and place comforting hands on Cosette's shoulder and Marius's back.
"Go on," he said, low and gentle, and gave them both a little nudge down the hall. "Marius, take Cosette back to my rooms, let her sit for a minute, until she's got some of her color back."
Grantaire seethed while the two led each other off. Enjolras stayed, watching them go with his arms folded across his chest and his back to Grantaire. When they were out of sight, he turned again to the mess across the floor. This time, he stared at it for a long moment, then sighed and dragged a hand through his hair. "Merde. What a fool."
Grantaire glanced at him in sharp surprise. "Marius?"
He lifted his brows. "Unless it was someone else who tracked half the mud in your garden across these rugs?" He clicked his tongue before Grantaire could respond. "I didn't think so."
Grantaire pulled back and scowled at him. "If you feel the same way about the mess," he said, "then why'd you say all that--"
"Because," Enjolras snapped, a quick burst of anger. Then he stopped and seemed to collect himself. He drew a steadying breath and continued in a more moderated tone. "Because, being angry is no excuse to treat people poorly. Especially those you care about."
Grantaire just blinked at him, too startled to respond. Enjolras didn't seem to be waiting for one, in any case. His attention was back on the muddy floor. He looked at it for a moment, sighed heavily, and turned and walked away. Grantaire stared after him, baffled, then looked at the mud as well.
Now that Enjolras had doused the flames with his icy scorn, the fire of his rage was burning itself out, leaving him weary and surly. He didn't want to spend the evening trying to clean up the evidence of Marius's folly. He wanted to drink, and maybe to sulk. Maybe both together.
He could leave it, he supposed. The idea was tempting. And why not? There were so many other things around the place that had gone unrepaired because what was the point? It was only Grantaire who lived here, after all. Grantaire and the others, and so long as they carried around the weight of the curse, they weren't really living, were they?
It was easier to let this place go to ruin, than to try to maintain it and the dismal hope that they might all manage to break the curse and return to the lives they'd known amongst these walls, before. Easier not to hope at all.
He had almost convinced himself to let the carpet be ruined when Enjolras returned and startled him. He was carrying a bucket near full of steaming water, and a bar of rustic soap and a scrub brush. As Grantaire stared, Enjolras set them down by the start of the mud trail, lowered himself onto his knees, and began to scrub.
"What are you doing?" Grantaire stalked over to his side. "Why are you doing that? Stop it. You don't work here."
Enjolras brushed a lock of hair off his brow with the back of his wrist and sat back on his haunches, looking up at Grantaire. "Somebody has to," he said, as though the answer were obvious. He dipped the soap in the bucket and then scrubbed it across the mud tracks, working up a lather. "Unless one of your staff was fortuitously changed into a scrub brush when the curse struck, none of them are suited for the task. So I may as well."
"Don't be ridiculous," Grantaire snapped. "You're not here to scrub my floors or clean up after the others."
"No. You're right. I suppose I'm not." Enjolras set soap and brush both down on the carpet and regarded Grantaire with his fists on his hips. "I'm here for... what? I'm here for revenge, because you wanted something in exchange for the hurt done you. I'm not here to do anything, just to be. And I'm tired of it. It gets dull, you know. Idleness. It gets dull very quickly."
Grantaire stared at the damp circle on the rug spreading out from the scrub brush. "I know," he said quietly. If Enjolras had been a different sort, Grantaire would have joked that he should turn to drink, as Grantaire himself had done to fight back the drudgery of endless empty days. But Enjolras didn't strike him as the sort to appreciate the levity behind the sentiment. He'd have just given Grantaire that same flat, disapproving look, and Grantaire had had enough of that to last him a lifetime.
"Besides," Enjolras said, leaning his weight onto the brush to work the mud up, "I don't think any of the others are going to care to risk your anger until they're sure it's passed."
Grantaire jerked his head up. "What do you mean by that?" Just his words about it already had the anger stirring to life again, quickening the beat of his heart.
Enjolras shot him a look that brooked no nonsense and continued scrubbing as though he hadn't noticed the way the timbre of Grantaire's voice had dropped into a rumbling growl. "They're not people, you know," he said. "What I mean is-- Bodies may get damaged, but they heal. But your servants don't posses bodies of those sort anymore. If a chair, or a clock, or a candlestick are broken in a fit of pique, they remain so indefinitely. If I were pressed, I'd speculate that that's why your temper tantrum frightened Marius so, and why I was the first to come out and see what all the fuss was about, though I doubt there's a room in this house from which you couldn't have heard it. I expect they're waiting to venture out until they're sure the danger has passed."
Grantaire stared at him, taken aback. "I've never hurt a one of them."
"No?" Enjolras's brows lifted in silent skepticism. "Well, that's encouraging. But even so, you can hardly blame them for their caution."
With that, he returned to his task as though he'd decided the conversation was over. Grantaire was nonplussed, a sense of unease stirring within his chest. It was no revelation to him to be told he had a temper. He knew it well, as did all those who knew him. But his servants -- his friends -- had always seemed unfazed by it. They endured the battering storm of his anger, when it stirred, and when it had passed they all went back to their business as usual. Or so it had always seemed to him. Had his friends feared him, all this time?
The trail from the corridor to the doors that led out into the garden was a long one, and if watching Enjolras work was any indication, cleaning up the mess seemed likely to take a great deal of time. Grantaire watched him work for a moment, reluctant to stay but unwilling to leave, before he crouched, fished the soap out of the bucket of water with one paw, and began to work ahead of Enjolras, scrubbing the soap over the mud stains for Enjolras to come along after and work out with his brush.
Enjolras stopped working, though, as soon as Grantaire had begun. Grantaire could feel the weight of his stare boring into him, but he ducked his head and pulled his shoulders up and kept at it. This was dull, and he didn't care to do it. The sooner they finished it, the sooner he could go find himself a drink.
"What are you doing?" Enjolras asked.
Grantaire gave a sharp, irritated huff and leaned more of his weight into it as he scrubbed. "What does it look like I'm doing?"
"I can't be sure," Enjolras said quietly. "I think my eyes must be deceiving me."
Grantaire shot him a glare and kept working, his mouth tight.
Enjolras was a bit slower to resume the chore, but he did after a moment. His attention was elsewhere, though. Grantaire felt the weight of his gaze as they worked together in silence, making their slow progress down the hall. He twitched beneath it, but let it pass without comment until Enjolras sighed and said, "I can see you care for them."
Grantaire looked up, then, and met his gaze. Enjolras's was clear and direct. A wrinkle in the middle of his brow and the turned-down set to his mouth left him looking puzzled and irritated by it. "Who?"
The corners of Enjolras's mouth turned down. "Marius. Combeferre. Courfeyrac. All of them."
"Yes," Grantaire said. "Of course."
"Of course." Enjolras gave a hollow laugh and shook his head. He pushed his hair off of his face as he bent to scrub a stubborn bit of mud. "It's not so obvious as you might think, you know. Not at the beginning."
Grantaire waited, wondering what his point was and when he would get to it. But Enjolras said nothing more for long moments, and left Grantaire confused by the whole exchange. As soon as he had decided to put it out of his mind, though, Enjolras gave another sharp sigh and abandoned his scrubbing entirely to sit back on his haunches and give Grantaire another hard look. "If you care for them, why would you let them suffer like this?"
If. The insult of it made Grantaire's lip curl. "I have done everything in my power for them. They have a home here. They have lives and a purpose. They have pay now, thanks to you, for all the good it does them. What more would you have me do?"
"Have you given even a single thought to breaking the curse, and giving them their freedom? It's what they need from you, more than home or work or pay. Or have you been too busy feeling sorry for yourself to even consider it?"
Grantaire's hand clenched, driving his claws into the bar of soap.
"Is that what you think of me? That I've been too busy wallowing in my own self-pity to see to my friends? You think the curse remains because I don't care?"
"Do you?" Enjolras asked quietly, and it was only the honest sincerity in the question that saved him from igniting Grantaire's rage again. "Do you really? Curses are made to be broken. They're meant to teach a lesson, and end when the lesson's learned. What else is a person supposed to think, then, when they see the curse still active, though years have come and gone?"
"It's not mine to break," Grantaire snarled. The soap was splintering within his grip, breaking into pieces. He threw them all back into the bucket of water.
Enjolras snapped his teeth closed on whatever he'd been about to say next. "Whose, then? Not one of them. I can't imagine anything they might have done to earn a curse like this."
Grantaire's laughter was sharp and humorless. "No, you wouldn't, would you? I'm the only one here you still think is a beast." Enjolras at least had the decency to drop his gaze and look chagrined. Grantaire gave a sigh and let his claws flex against the weave of the carpet. "The curse is mine, that's true enough. But I can't break it. That task falls to another."
"Who?" Enjolras leaned forward eagerly, his eyes ablaze. "Who must break it? Surely no decent man would refuse."
"Do you think so?" Grantaire laughed again, bitter and wretched. "Let us see, then. You."
He had the satisfaction of watching the fire in Enjolras's eyes turn once again to puzzlement and uncertainty. "Me?" he echoed on a breath, and Grantaire waited for him to balk, to disprove his own words. But when Enjolras gasped and moved abruptly, it was to lean forward and grab Grantaire's pawn, not to retreat. "Yes," he said. "God. I've been here all this time, and you're only telling me this now? Yes. I'll do it. Tell me how."
Grantaire's heart battered itself against his ribs. He wrenched his hand out from beneath Enjolras's and brushed the fur back into place. He didn't have any right to look so eager, so sure. It was cruel. He didn't even know what he had just agreed to do. But when he knew, once Grantaire told him, he'd regret it. That excited light in his eyes would die. He'd put space between them, and he'd try to use those words of his that suited him so well to explain why it had all been a lie. Why he couldn't. Why he wouldn't.
"It's easy enough," Grantaire said, an angry snarl. "All you have to do is love me."
Enjolras blinked. His mouth opened, then shut in silence. He sat back and pulled his hand onto his lap, retreating, closing himself off. "No," he said slowly, and bitter victory burned so hot in Grantaire's chest that it almost eclipsed the pain of it. But Enjolras continued before Grantaire could rise, could tell him to gather his things and leave, could close the house up and lock the doors the way it had been before and lose himself in the bottom of another bottle.
"No," Enjolras said again, like a slow, dawning revelation. "It's not me, is it? I'd never even met you before I came on Cosette's behalf. Why would someone curse you, and make me the only one capable of breaking it?" He shook his head, hard and fast. "I don't have to love you. Just someone does. Right?"
Grantaire's lip curled. "You can see now why the curse remains."
Whatever Enjolras intended to say, Grantaire's words gave him pause. He looked Grantaire over with a speculative gaze, his eyes narrowed, his face thoughtful. "If the thing you're meant to learn is how to be loved, I don't expect you're ever going to find it here in your self-imposed exile, locked up with your servants and your wine."
"Self-imposed?" Grantaire might have laughed, if he hadn't wanted so badly to cry. "Self-imposed. I suppose you think people were lining up to be with me, before I denied them all in favor of being alone?"
"No," Enjolras said quietly. "I don't think that. I'm sure it would be more difficult than otherwise, suffering under the curse as you do. If it were meant to be easy, there wouldn't be any point in casting the curse. But I don't suppose at all that hiding in here is going to make the doing any easier."
"I don't know what you want from me." Grantaire pushed himself to his feet and backed away. "I don't know what your point is in any of this. Are you trying to make me feel worse? I could have told you it wasn't possible and spared you the trouble."
"I'm not trying to make you feel anything," Enjolras said. "But if I've been ambiguous about my point, then let me be perfectly clear now." He stood as well, and wiped his damp palms off on his trousers. "Let me help you. Let me teach you."
Grantaire stared at him. A moment passed, but his words failed to make any better sense. "Teach me? Teach me what?"
"Whatever it takes. Whatever you need to break the curse."
"If you truly believe that," Enjolras snapped, suddenly angry, "then you're deluding yourself. You have to know you're not an easy man to love, and it's nothing to do how the curse has changed your appearance. You're short-tempered and impatient, you show no consideration for or interest in others, you'd rather spend your time making the acquaintance of a bottle of wine than interact with another living, breathing person." He stomped across what space separated them and kicked the bucket of dirty water out of the way. "It's not the curse that's made you that way. That's on your head. But I can teach you what you need to encourage people to stick around long enough to give them a chance to love you."
"You?" Grantaire sneered because he knew it would upset him. "What advice can I expect from a man who freely admits that he has no interest in love for himself?"
Enjolras's mouth flattened. He crossed his arms over his chest and gave Grantaire a level look, refusing to rise to his bait. "It's your curse," he said. "It's your friends who suffer under it. Have you even come close to breaking the curse on your own?"
Grantaire bared his teeth and gave no response.
Enjolras raised an eyebrow. A smug little smile pulled at the corners of his mouth. "Then what have you got to lose?"
Enjolras shot him a quelling glance over his shoulder. "Not with an attitude like that, it's not."
"I eat dinner every day. What do you hope to accomplish with one meal that years of them haven't yet managed?"
"You eat with your hands more often than not," Enjolras said, his nose wrinkling with disdain. "And tonight we're having soup."
Grantaire pushed off of the wall, standing up straight. "We don't eat soup."
"We do tonight."
He dropped his arms from across his chest and curled his hands into fists. "I told the kitchen staff--"
"And I told them I was trying to help you, and that if I succeeded, the curse would be broken and they could all go back to their normal lives." Enjolras braced his hands on his hips and raised a challenging brow at Grantaire. "Who do you suppose they listened to?"
Grantaire bared his teeth, but Enjolras didn't react at all. He slunk over to the table, wrenched his chair out, and dropped into it, sitting slouched with his arms crossed once more and glaring.
Enjolras looked at him a moment and sighed. "Yes, well. We'll work on that later. One thing at a time, I suppose."
Grantaire gave him a mutinous glare and kicked at the leg of the table, making the dishes rattle.
Enjolras didn't snap or scold, to Grantaire's surprise. He walked over and leaned in, one hand braced against the table's edge, so that he was in Grantaire's face and there was nowhere Grantaire could go, with the solid back of the chair behind him. "You may act like a child if you like," Enjolras said quietly. "It's no matter to me. It's your curse, not mine." He paused, allowing a beat of silence for his words to sink in to their full effect. And then he went for the killing blow, and tipped his head toward the other end of the table, where Jehan was marshaling the other tableware. "And theirs, of course."
Grantaire dropped his gaze. Shame flooded him. It was their lives, not just his own. He could drink and sulk and piss his life away, and what did it matter? But theirs... They deserved better. He owed them more.
He relented with a sigh, and let his arms slide down to his sides. He couldn't help the baleful look he gave the place setting before him, though, with its shallow-sided soup bowl and delicate silverware. "Spoons and I," he grumbled, grudging. "We don't particularly get along, nowadays." He picked the spoon up between two careful fingers to demonstrate the reason. His paws were oversized for the cutlery. The spoon looked slender and tiny in his grip. "It'll take me forever to eat with this."
Enjolras raised a brow and gave Grantaire a little challenging smile. "Do you have anywhere better to be?"
Grantaire bit back the urge to comment that losing himself down the neck of a bottle would be a much nicer place to find himself than spending the evening wrestling with cutlery and impractical food. He let Enjolras's question pass without comment, and let Enjolras take his silence for assent.
Enjolras settled into his own place at the far end of the table, tasted his soup, and began to eat. He kept one eye on Grantaire, though, even as he sipped from his spoon and asked Combeferre to pass his compliments on to the chef.
Grantaire tried. Really, that ought to count for something, shouldn't it? He tried, but his spoons were meant for a man's fingers, and a man's dexterity, and Grantaire no longer had either. When the spoon's narrow handle slipped in his grip and dropped its contents back to the bowl, sending up a splash that spattered the tablecloth, Enjolras blinked but continued placidly on with supper. When Grantaire finally managed to get a spoonful to his mouth but then had to slurp and suck to get it past his teeth and into his mouth, Enjolras sighed and looked down into his half-finished bowl as though he might find some patience lurking there at its bottom.
When Grantaire fumbled the spoon once again and sent soup cascading down the front of his shirt, he lost what remained of his temper. He snarled and slammed his hand down on the table, making the dishes rattle. When he tossed the spoon from his grip, letting it clatter across the table to lie halfway between them, it was twisted and mangled almost beyond recognition.
Enjolras rocked back in his chair, looking scandalized. The rest of the silverware — that which was animate, in any case — only looked resigned.
Enjolras cleared his throat. "Ah. Perhaps you should avoid soup in the presence of others, after all."
Grantaire bared his teeth, more grimace than grin. "Do you think?"
The sandwiches, at least, Grantaire was pleased to see. He was no stranger to eating with his hands. Generally speaking, it was easier than trying to get silverware to behave, and the little snacks were well-suited to his skills, even if they would do little to satisfy a beast's appetite.
Enjolras frowned, though, when Jehan hopped up onto the table and settled in next to the regular, porcelain teacups Enjolras had already gathered. "No, that's quite all right," he said gently, trying to shoo Jehan off. "You don't have to do this."
Jehan gave a little hop, his base rattling sharply against the silver tray. "I'm not here because I have to," he said tartly. "I want to." He shuffled closer to the pot and leaned in against its warm side.
Enjolras's face seemed to go gray. He shot Grantaire a brief, stricken look, then returned his gaze to Jehan. Grantaire settled back in his seat, arms folding across his chest, and wondered bitterly if Enjolras was thinking about the spoon, and calculating the odds that Jehan might meet a similar fate at the hands of Grantaire's temper.
"It's all right, Jehan," Grantaire said quietly. "If he doesn't want you here--"
"No," Jehan insisted, at the same time that Enjolras snapped, "That's not what I said."
Grantaire raised his brows and gave a shrug. He gestured with one hand to Jehan, who stood at the tray's edge and glared up at Enjolras with all the indignation that a rose-painted porcelain teacup could manage. "Explain it to him, then," Grantaire said, and smiled in the face of Enjolras's glare.
He only did it a moment before he sighed and sank down into one of the chairs, leaning his chin on crossed arms on the dining table so that he and Jehan were on the same level, or as near as could be given the difference in size between them. "We have cups," he said gently.
Jehan rattled against the tray again in irritation. "You have me," he said. "Those cups don't care if they're used or not. But I want to." His words turned sharp and impatient. "I've done it before. He's not going to break me."
Enjolras didn't look so certain. He made a frustrated gesture and glanced at Grantaire again. As though he expected Grantaire to come to his rescue, to give them the excuse he was searching for. Grantaire could almost have laughed, but he restrained himself. He sat back, and waited to see what Enjolras would say.
"You don't have to, though," he told Jehan helplessly. "It isn't necessary. You deserve better than to be used, like you're no better than these cups here. Why would you--"
"It's the only use I have anymore."
Enjolras closed his mouth without a sound and looked at Jehan in surprise. "Look at me. I'm not good for much else but drinking out of. What else am I supposed to do all day?"
"Whatever you like," Enjolras said quietly. "Whatever you want. Cosette tells me you like poetry?"
Jehan gave a sharp sigh. "I do. But not all the time. Anything gets boring if you do it all the time." He hopped off the tray and down the table toward Grantaire. "And what I want do is this. I want to be useful." He stopped in front of Grantaire, taking up his position in the place setting before him. Grantaire ran a fingertip along the cup's edge in thanks.
Enjolras stared down at them both, his brows wrinkled with consternation. He looked like he was going to try to argue again, and the thought of that used up the last of Grantaire's patience. "He's made his choice," he said sharply, his voice pitched to carry. "Would you deny it to him? Where's the dignity or respect in that?"
Enjolras pressed his mouth to a thin line and stared at Grantaire. His hand curled to an angry fist against the tabletop.
"The tea's getting cold," Grantaire said lightly. "I can't stand cold tea."
Grantaire was smug, pleased by the knowledge that he'd done something well and taken Enjolras by surprise with it. His satisfaction was short-lived, however. As soon as Enjolras had recovered from the shock, he answered by redoubling his efforts, insisting that Grantaire picked these things up faster than he gave himself credit for.
He served every conceivable dish under the sun, and every time the meal took hours, because Enjolras would settle for nothing less than perfection before he'd consent to call the lesson finished. When Enjolras had succeeded in making Grantaire thoroughly dread mealtimes as he never had before, only then did he move on.
There were lessons in deportment, in bowing, in how to make and maintain polite small-talk with a stranger, which Grantaire found to be the most intolerable of the lot. Enjolras tore through Grantaire's wardrobe and threw out half his clothes, declaring them unsalvageable, and then brought a tailor in to poke and measure and pin. When Enjolras started asking Grantaire's input on what sort of colors or styles he might like, Grantaire decided that he was far too sober to tolerate it a moment longer. He shook the tailor's measuring tape off, snarled, "I don't care," to a startled Enjolras, and stalked off.
Enjolras gave him time, and later that night, he appeared in Grantaire's doorway, his arms crossed, looking quietly critical. Grantaire sank deeper into his chair with a snarl, waiting for the scolding to start. But when Enjolras stepped into the room and came towards him, all he said was, "I told the tailor green. You wear it often, so it seemed a safe choice."
"I don't care," Grantaire said again, a low grumble, and stared into the dwindling depths of his wine bottle.
"What do you care about?" Enjolras asked abruptly. He circled around to stand before Grantaire, so there was no possibility of staring off at nothing and ignoring him until he went away.
Grantaire sighed and scrubbed a heavy paw over his face. "I don't know," he said at last, weary beyond reckoning. He waited for Enjolras to snap back a retort, to declare that that wasn't good enough, that surely he could come up with something for an answer. But Enjolras must have heard the truth in his words, because all he did was look at Grantaire for a moment like he was the saddest sight Enjolras had ever seen, and then he sighed and ran a hand over his mouth and said, "All right. Well, we'll call that a work in progress, I suppose."
It was shortly after the new garments had been delivered that Enjolras sat down at breakfast one morning and declared, "We're going into town today."
Grantaire lifted his head from his contemplation of whether eating oatmeal with a spoon was likely to be more or less messy than the soup had been. "The hell we are."
There was a hard light in Enjolras's eyes, like a spark struck off of flint. "Yes," he said, "we are." And when Grantaire drew breath to protest, Enjolras spoke before he could. "Exactly how do you expect someone to fall in love with you if you never set foot outside your house?"
Grantaire swallowed down his response. The words I don't sat poised on his tongue, straining for freedom, but he held them back. It was the truth, but if he spoke it, it would only upset Enjolras. He would give Grantaire that disapproving look that had grown so familiar over the passing weeks, and he'd sigh like Grantaire had let him down, and remind him to think of the fates of his friends.
It was easier just to hold back the truth and skip that part all together. Grantaire knew the stakes at hand. He didn't need to be reminded.
In the end, Grantaire relented. It seemed the more prudent option. Enjolras was like a locomotive when he got on something, and it was easier by far to let yourself be carried along than to stand in his way and expect him to yield.
It was, in the end, an unmitigated disaster, and Grantaire's only satisfaction was in the knowledge that he could tell Enjolras I told you so. There was a reason he didn't leave his home except under great duress, and that reason was written in the stares that followed him as he walked the town's streets, the way women tucked their children behind their skirts and strangers whispered to one another behind their hands as they cast him nervous glances.
Grantaire could have told Enjolras this would happen. He had a reputation amongst the townspeople that preceded him wherever he might go. Enjolras would have said that it wasn't undeserved, and he'd have been right, to a point. It was no secret to Grantaire that he had a wicked temper, nor that that temper had been let loose on hapless townsmen a few times too many. But the truth was that it wasn't entirely deserved, either. What cause had he ever given any of them to hurry their sons and daughters away as though they might turn to stone if they looked too long upon his cursed face? What had he ever done to earn the open whispers and stares that trailed behind him?
In all fairness, it had been a lie to say that the only satisfaction he had out of the excursion was that of being proven right in his cynicism. He had also taken no small measure of enjoyment in the sight of Enjolras, growing more irate by the moment as they walked together and he bore personal witness to the hostility shown him by the town's denizens. A few blocks in, he began to scowl, and a few after that, he began to rant.
"It's barbaric," he snarled as they passed a little sidewalk cafe whose crowded tables had all fallen silent as they walked by. "They act like you're some sideshow spectacle to be gaped and pointed out."
Grantaire had allowed a wry smile to pull at his mouth. "You sound surprised," he said dryly. Enjolras gave him a sharp look, but Grantaire only countered it with a lift of his brows. "I did tell you, didn't I? I told you it was a bad idea."
"You only told me that you wouldn't go."
They came to a crossroads. Enjolras continued on the way they had been headed, but Grantaire's gaze was drawn down the crossing street. There was a wine shop a few blocks down from where they stood. Grantaire had been a frequent patron, before. He yearned for it now, for the alcoholic burn that would cleanse all this unpleasantness from his thoughts.
He kept by Enjolras's side instead, and said only, "Now you see why."
"Yes," Enjolras said, abruptly gentle. He sighed and pulled at the edge of his waistcoat, frowning at the ground in front of them. "I'm sorry. I didn't think-- I didn't expect it would be this bad. Not without cause."
"Cause?" Grantaire asked, disbelieving.
"If you had growled or bared your teeth at them, or if you'd had the horrible idea to attempt to eat with a spoon in front of them, then I could perhaps understand why they'd react to the impropriety in such a way. But you've done nothing, nothing but pass them by. You've been the picture of good manners."
"My appearance," Grantaire said, "what I am... that's reason enough."
Enjolras stopped abruptly and turned on his heel, looking into Grantaire's face. Grantaire didn't know what he was searching for there, or what he found. But at length, he set his jaw and pressed his lips into a flat, determined line. "They're all fools," he said at last. "Cowards, if they'd let something like how you look define how they think of you."
Grantaire just sighed. "Can we go home, then?"
Enjolras shook his head. "No," he said firmly. "Absolutely not. If you let them chase you off, they've won."
"I didn't sign up for a war," Grantaire muttered. Enjolras ignored it, which was about what Grantaire had expected.
"We're going to stay. We're going to show them you can't be run off just because no one ever taught them not to stare at someone who was different." His face was shining, bright with the light of righteousness.
Grantaire stared at him in horror, then groaned. "Oh my God, I've turned into one of your causes, haven't I? This is the worst day ever."
Grantaire slammed his cup down on the tabletop hard enough to slosh tea all over the wood. "Are you mad?"
Enjolras eyed the mess and cracked the shell of his soft-boiled egg with the back of his spoon. "Of course not."
"Do you think anyone in that town will be any happier to see me today? Do you think they'll whisper less? You want to take me on as one of your pet causes, fine, but this isn't the way to do it. You can't just cram me down their throats and hope that eventually they'll decide they like the taste of me."
"Of course not," Enjolras said, dry as dust. "Because hiding you away in here like a leper has worked so well for getting them to accept you, hasn't it?"
"I'm fine here," Grantaire snarled. "This is my home."
"Oh, are you?" Enjolras met his gaze levelly. "That's what all the wine's for, then? To celebrate how joyously happy you are?"
Grantaire snarled and shoved his plate away from himself. "My happiness is really none of your concern."
Enjolras looked startled for a moment, his eyes wide and his face pale. But he recovered before Grantaire could wonder why, and the expression was lost beneath a hard stare. "Yes, well. Be that as it may, you agreed to let me help you as I see fit. We're going. Stop scowling at your breakfast and finish it."
Grantaire went, grudgingly and making sure is reluctance was known with every step. When Enjolras led him to one of the cafés with little clusters of tables and chairs crowding the sidewalk, Grantaire nearly put his foot down. But Cosette was at one of the tables, and she looked pleased and not at all surprised to see them both, and some of the fight went out of him. Her friendly face seemed like a haven in this city full of people who looked at him with nothing warmer than contempt, if they dared to look at all. He shook off the hand that Enjolras had been guiding with and left him to place their orders while he moved over to greet Cosette.
When he neared, though, he realized that she wasn't alone. Another woman sat at her side, wearing a newsboy hat pulled down low and men's trousers. Grantaire's lip curled at the sight of her, and the realization of why Enjolras had been so insistent that they come.
"He asked you to meet us here," he said to Cosette without preamble as he dropped into a chair opposite the women. "Didn't he?"
Cosette's eyes shone bright in the midday sun as she smiled. "Do you mean did my very dear friend invite me to meet him in town for coffee and a bit of conversation? Yes."
"And he asked you to bring her?" He didn't need to ask why. He could imagine any number of reasons -- in the hopes that she'd be the one to fall in love him and break the curse, as though it were that simple; to prove Grantaire wrong about the townspeople and their hatred of him. Whatever the reason, it was bound to be infuriating.
"I brought myself, actually," the woman said, with a crooked little smile. She thrust her hand out toward Grantaire, brows lifted, smile spreading to a line as thin and sharp as a knife's blade. "I'm Cosette's friend. Éponine. Pleased to meet you."
Grantaire narrowed his eyes at her, but there wasn't any hint of insincerity in her words. "Are you?"
Her lips quirked. "Shouldn't I be?"
He wanted to say, No. He wanted to tell her, I'm a wreck, a wretch. I won't bring anything good into your life. Run away while you can, I'm nothing but trouble. The words turned sticky in his throat like honey, though, so all he said was, "Why'd you come?"
"Cosette said she was meeting a friend. I like meeting new people."
He smiled, and deliberately bared his teeth. "Have you met a lot of men like me?"
His words were sharp, but they didn't dull the edge of her humor any. She looked him over with a quick glance, down and up, and her gaze turned speculative. "I don't know," she said at last. "I guess that depends. What sort of man are you?"
And that... he didn't know how to answer that. He had only the sticky words that wouldn't leave his throat. Enjolras saved him from having to respond, though, when he joined them at the table and set down four big cups of dark, steaming coffee. "Éponine." He smiled brilliantly at her and leaned across the crowded table to kiss her cheek. "How are you?"
They exchanged pleasantries and Grantaire began to wonder if it were at all possible that there hadn't been an ulterior motive after all. But then Enjolras tipped his head towards him and said, "You've met Grantaire, haven't you?"
"Half met, anyway," she said, and her eyes glinted with mischief. "He was just getting around to telling me his name, I'm sure of it." She turned that look on Grantaire and her smile widened. "So you're the one Cosette's been talking about."
Grantaire stiffened. Nothing good ever came of people talking about him behind his back, not in his life. But Cosette laughed and said, "Oh God, don't say that, you're scaring him," and then leaned forward to pat the back of his paw where it lay on the table. "Only nice things, I promise."
"Must not have been a long conversation, then," Grantaire muttered, and immediately regretted it, because Cosette looked wounded, Éponine looked speculative, and Enjolras jabbed an elbow into his ribs and glared at him like he'd just insulted her mother.
Grantaire was in no mood to play nice. He glared right back. "Is this your big plan for breaking the curse? You're just going to throw women in my path until some poor soul is foolish enough to decide she loves me?" He slammed his back against the chair and folded his arms across his chest, fuming. "I'd rather stay cursed, and all my friends too, than let you trick some hapless girl into giving her heart away for no good reason."
Enjolras's face had been darkening with temper, but that last made him freeze, and his brows wrinkle. He turned his cup of coffee around and around in his hands. "No reason? What do you mean by that?"
Grantaire blew out a sharp breath. "If I have to change everything about who I am and what I do just for someone to love me, then she's not really loving me, is she? It might not even break the curse."
Enjolras opened his mouth, then shut it, blinking rapidly in consternation. Grantaire's mouth curled with satisfaction. He glanced across the table and was startled to see Éponine watching him, grinning. "I like the way you talk," she said when he shot her a questioning look.
"Oh God," he groaned. "It's already started."
"No," she said, "it hasn't." She settled back in her chair with a pleased little smile turning up the corners of her mouth. "I lost my heart to someone else a long while back, and he hasn't bothered to return it, so you're perfectly safe from me." She nudged him beneath the table, kicking lightly at his shin. "Friends, though? A girl could always use a clever friend."
Enjolras and Cosette were watching them both, both with similar expressions of hope and expectation pinned on their faces. Grantaire growled, irritated at being put on the spot like this. But Éponine seemed a nice enough sort, as townspeople went. She hadn't gaped or gone hurrying in the other direction when she saw him, which put her well ahead of anyone else he'd met since Enjolras. And Enjolras and Cosette both looked so hopeful, there wasn't anything to do but grumble, "All right, friends," and hope he wouldn't come to regret it later.
It was not, he had to admit, later when they were on their way home, a complete disaster of an afternoon. Éponine had been enjoyable to talk to, and she'd never once treated him any differently for the fact that he was a cursed man with a beastly appearance. If it hadn't been for her insistence that her heart belonged to another, Grantaire would have been terrified that Enjolras meant them to be a romantic match.
Enjolras, for his part, seemed unnaturally pensive on the trip home. Grantaire watched him sidelong and wondered if he'd caught on to some nuance of interaction that Grantaire hadn't noticed, but when he asked about it, careful to keep his voice light and casual when he said, "What's wrong, Enjolras? You look like you've just witnessed a disaster," Enjolras just shook his head and continued staring out the carriage window.
Perhaps he was simply disgruntled that Éponine was unwilling to lose her heart to Grantaire and break the curse. Grantaire let worry go with a shrug. Though he never would have admitted as much to Enjolras, he spent the rest of the ride home taking simple enjoyment in the fact that the afternoon had not been a complete disaster after all.
"You saw her?" He moved in until Grantaire was caught in his chair. Marius wiggled about in front of him like an overeager puppy. "How was she? How'd she look? She was beautiful, of course. She's always beautiful. Was she wearing that cornflower dress? I told her it brings her eyes out and she said she'd wear it all the time, just for my sake. Why wouldn't she have come here, if she wanted to visit?"
"How should I know?" Grantaire pushed him back with a foot braced against the edge of his seat. "She looked just as she always does."
"Beautiful," Marius agreed with a lovelorn sigh.
"She had a ribbon in her hair," Grantaire said, grinning, because it was so very difficult to resist the urge for wickedness when it came to Marius and his dramatics of the heart.
Marius listed like he was going to swoon, his eyes going far-away and dreamy. "Do you think she missed me? Did she talk about me?" He perked up, rushing in again, eager once more. "Did she ask about me?"
"We talked about no one else," Grantaire said. "She asked if I thought you were a reliable sort of chair, and I told her your stitching is coming loose on the back of your seat."
He was a cruel man sometimes, it was true. It was worth it for the way Marius's mouth dropped open and his lip trembled. When he realized Grantaire was teasing him, he snapped it shut. "That's not funny," he said, and stomped hard on Grantaire's foot.
Grantaire didn't even howl. Marius danced back, eyeing him warily like he expected retribution, but Grantaire just shook his head and let Marius have the satisfaction of his own revenge. When he turned his gaze out the window to the landscape that rolled off into the distance, Marius edged forward, eyeing him suspiciously. "You're never this quiet," he said like it was some sort of terrible accusation.
"I've had my fill of talking," Grantaire said.
Marius huffed and slid in close. "You've never had your fill of teasing any of us." He nudged Grantaire's shoulder. "What's got you so preoccupied?"
He hadn't even realized that there was a thought circling through his mind keeping him preoccupied, but now that Marius mentioned it… Grantaire grinned, and leaned in conspiratorially. "Marius," he said. "How fast do you think the staff could set something up on short notice?"
It was kindly meant, a gentle jest, so Grantaire only raised a brow in rejoinder as he settled down into his seat.
The meal passed uneventfully. It was Enjolras's choice of menu, which meant it was far more elegant and composed than anything Grantaire would have come up with. They'd fallen into a wordless arrangement where Enjolras took responsibility for deciding on the menus because his opinions about what they ate were far stronger than Grantaire's. When they'd both finished the last course and approached the time when, ordinarily, they'd have bid each other good night and gone their separate ways to pass the evening hours in whatever way pleased them, Combeferre came hopping into the dining room and cleared his throat significantly.
"Gentlemen," he said. "If you would follow me."
Grantaire rose easily. Enjolras scrambled to his feet with somewhat less composure, looking bewildered. "What's this?" he asked in an undertone as they met each other before the doorway.
Grantaire fought down a grin. "Let's see, shall we?"
Combeferre led them into the ballroom, which had been dusted and cleaned over the past two days, and every surface polished to high shine. The handful of servants whom the curse had turned into musical instruments had gathered and were quietly tuning themselves to one side of the room.
Enjolras stepped into the middle of the room and looked around, his eyes wide with surprise. "What-- What is this?"
"This is payback," Grantaire said, grinning. He caught Enjolras's hand as he started to move away and let his momentum pull him around to stand in front of him, close enough their toes nearly touched. Enjolras blinked at him, his expression gone blank and stunned. "I don't suppose many of you down there in town know how to dance, do you?"
"We know how to dance," he said sharply, annoyed and scowling automatically. "We have country dances."
Grantaire laughed quietly. "That's a no, then." He guided the hand he wasn't holding up to his shoulder, then put his on Enjolras's back. The instruments struck up a slow, easy waltz. "All this time you've spent drilling me on facts and deportment and manners, I think it's time for you to get a taste of your own medicine. You can't call yourself a proper etiquette instructor if you don't even know how to dance."
"I know how to--"
"You don't. But you will." With one hand on Enjolras's and the other at his back, Grantaire guided him into the first, flowing steps.
Enjolras moved with surprising ease for someone who'd never danced the steps before. They stumbled a little, at first, as he got used to them, but he caught on quickly. By the time the musicians kicked the tempo up to something a little faster, there was hardly a hesitation on Enjolras's steps and he only misstepped occasionally.
"I am not completely ignorant about proper dancing, you know," Enjolras said after a time, his words dry but his lips curved into a smile. "Don't think it has escaped my notice that you're teaching me to follow."
Grantaire raised an eyebrow, murmured, "I don't think you need anyone to teach you how to lead. You seem to come by that naturally."
Enjolras's gaze had drifted. He brought it back to Grantaire's face, frowning a little, like he was trying to make sense of Grantaire's words.
Grantaire stopped them, shifted Enjolras's hand from his shoulder to his back, put his own on Enjolras's shoulder to reverse their positions, and waited a beat before he swept them back up with the music with Enjolras leading, and Grantaire following.
Enjolras threw his head back and laughed. His face was bright, his grin broad, and something in Grantaire's chest caught and twisted hard enough to force the breath from his lungs.
When the swirling about started to make them dizzy, Grantaire taught him the minuet and the two-step as well. And then, beaming, Enjolras had insisted on being allowed to teach him a country dance in turn, despite the fact that Grantaire protested that Enjolras had had his turn to teach, and tonight was Grantaire's turn.
The music was dragging, the tempo slowing as the hour grew late and the musicians tired, by the time they'd had their fill. But even then they stood, hands clasped together, too close for propriety for anything but dancing. Grantaire thought he ought to release Enjolras's hand, to put a comfortable distance back between them. But he couldn't quite make himself let go the way he knew he should. Enjolras didn't either, though, so he couldn't find it in himself to do otherwise.
"Grantaire," Enjolras said quietly, when the music had faded to the faint strains of one tenacious violin. "What is this about? What is it really?"
Grantaire's heart thumped too hard against his breastbone. Lie, instinct said. Joke. Make light.
Enjolras's gaze held his, asking for truth.
Grantaire looked away and cleared his throat. "When someone does something nice for you, so you do the same thing back for them," he said. "What is that?"
Enjolras's hand jerked within his grasp. He gave a faint breath of laughter and curled his fingers in the loose fabric of Grantaire's sleeve. "That's called gratitude."
"Yeah." Grantaire's lips curved into a crooked smile. "That. Everything you've done for me…"
"You've done all the work," Enjolras said quickly.
"No. Shut up. Just let me thank you."
Enjolras stopped mid-word and pressed his mouth flat. "All right," he said. "I suppose that's fair." And then, on a long, slow sigh, "Grantaire. You're welcome."
He stayed at the table instead, and ate, and kept about him an air that seemed to suggest that he hadn't noticed anything amiss, so that when Enjolras finally deigned to join him he wouldn't have the satisfaction of knowing his absence had been noted, or that he'd been missed.
Grantaire had nearly finished eating, and was loosing the battle against his urge to track Enjolras down after all, when the dining room door swung open and Enjolras was there, standing in the doorway with his arms folded across his chest, looking miserable and not the least bit hungry.
Grantaire glanced at him, but restrained the instinct to react. He took another careful bite, then set his fork down and said, as casually as he could manage, "You've let your breakfast go cold. Cook will think it's a comment on her food, you know. She'll be upset."
Enjolras's gaze slid to the table and the empty place setting where he usually sat. It glided right over it, though, and settled off on something in the distance. "Oh," he said faintly. "Give her my apologies."
"You're not going to eat?"
"No, I--" Enjolras seemed to recall himself. He drew a breath that puffed his chest up, and pulled his shoulders back so that he looked like a soldier standing at attention. "I'm leaving," he said.
Grantaire shoved his chair back from the table. "You're what?"
"Leaving." Enjolras held his gaze even as Grantaire stalked toward him, and faced him with a steely eye and a tight jaw. "My things are all packed. I only came to say good-bye."
"Don't." The word tore out of Grantaire, more snarl than speech. Enjolras turned on his heel and strode away, but Grantaire followed, stalking after him like a beast on the hunt. "Stop! You can't."
Enjolras stopped in the foyer, where his few bags had been packed and were waiting in a cluster before the front door where they'd first met, where Enjolras had stood backlit by the sun and been the fiercest thing Grantaire had ever seen in his life.
He didn't look fierce now. He looked exhausted, with the tight, tense air about him of a man who was holding himself together through sheer force of will. "I can," he said quietly. "That was the deal, wasn't it? I'm here of my own free will. I can leave any time I choose."
Grantaire hated him for throwing his own words back in his face. He snarled, furious and primal and not human at all. Enjolras just looked at him impassively, waiting for his answer.
He was a beast after all, wasn't he? He could change his mind. He could break the rules. He could tell Enjolras he was a prisoner after all, that he would only leave with Grantaire's permission and that Grantaire refused to grant it. He could lock him in his rooms and keep him there for a month, until he stopped talking such nonsense.
It would have made Enjolras furious, and that only made Grantaire want to do it all the more. He would have fumed, he would have ranted, and he'd have been brilliant and shining again, blazing with righteousness. Not this weary, broken thing who stood before Grantaire now, waiting for his judgment. It would have been better. Enjolras was always more himself when he had something to complain about.
He could have done those things, said those things. Instead, he turned his back and pretended his heart was raging. "Go, then," he snarled. He bared his teeth and told himself it was anger, nothing more.
Enjolras hesitated. Grantaire could hear it in the way his shoes scraped across the floor and then stopped abruptly, in the way he drew a quick, sharp breath before he spoke. "Grantaire--"
Grantaire didn't move until it was done, until Enjolras had loaded up all his things and the door had swung shut behind him, as though Grantaire needed the finality of it all pointed out to him.
Even then, he didn't turn. Enjolras was gone, and there was no point. He knew what he'd see, if he did. Emptiness, nothing more.
And if he sank into his armchair and didn't move for days except to pull the curtains against the sun or lift the bottle to his mouth, well, it was only because his anger had burned through him and he had nothing left to vent it upon. Only that.
That was a lie, but it was more comforting than the truth. The truth was that Enjolras had transformed him, just as surely as the witch had those many years ago. Grantaire's face remained the same, but that was worse. The changes Enjolras had wrought in him went deeper than skin or bone. Enjolras had cursed him, and this one was harder to bear than all the others.
He was lonely. It was inconceivable, but the fact remained. He sat in his house as he always had, surrounded by the friends who had always been company enough before, and now he ached for someone to talk to, for a brilliant, golden boy to roll his eyes and call him a fool.
Enjolras had taught him to be polite, but Enjolras had left, so Grantaire put all his lessons from his mind and did as he pleased. Why shouldn't he? It was the way of beasts, and that was the only future that awaited him. He railed at Combeferre, at Courfeyrac, at Marius and Jehan, who cowered and shuddered so hard he rattled against his saucer. He snarled and snapped and growled and threw things until they cowered before him. And he didn't stop, until they began to avoid him altogether.
In the quiet, weary time between one rage and the next, Enjolras's words came to him unbidden. If a chair, or a clock, or a candlestick are broken in a fit of pique, they remain so indefinitely. You can hardly blame them for their caution. He was frightening his friends.
He couldn't quite bring himself to care. It already felt as though something had broken within him, so what did it matter?
He turned in his ratty armchair, a curse already upon his lips for whichever servant had been foolish enough to interrupt him.
The library was dark, the curtains closed and all the lamps snuffed out in deference to Grantaire's pounding head. There were lamps burning in the hallway beyond, though, and it threw the figure in the doorway into sharp silhouette, drawn in shadows and burning fire.
Grantaire jerked upright and then stood there, gripping the back of the chair and swaying. He knew the shape of that man, even only in outline. "Enjolras," he said, though he hardly dared to believe it. He was dreaming. It was the alcohol, burning through his imagination and looking for new ways to torment him.
This wasn't new. His subconscious had been torturing him with dreams of Enjolras every day in the weeks since he'd left.
But this time, he wasn't the boy of fire that Grantaire remembered from that first day, who'd stood backed by the sun with his feet planted and his fists on his hips. He was straight as a pole now, his arms pulled in close, wrapped around his middle. When he stepped into the library and the light was no longer at his back, Grantaire could see him better, could see the dark smudges beneath his eyes and faint growth of stubble along his jaw. He looked a mess, and somehow, it only made Grantaire ashamed of the state Enjolras had found him in.
He'd lost his waistcoat, sometime in the past few days. Torn off of him and left in tatters when he'd gotten irritated at the restriction, most likely, and though he'd felt nothing but vicious satisfaction then, now regret twisted through him like a narrow-bladed knife. It had been one of the ones Enjolras had commissioned for him. Now, he could only suppose that it was ruined.
He was in his shirtsleeves, and barefoot. His shirt and trousers were wrinkled from sleeping in them, and spattered with wine stains like a canvas with paint. Grantaire pulled at the bottom of his shirt and hung his head low. "You caught me at a bad time," he said, mumbling it down to the floor because he couldn't bring himself to lift his head and meet Enjolras's gaze. It hurt Grantaire's eyes to look at him. "I should go clean up."
He tried to brush by, but Enjolras caught his arm as he passed, holding him back. Grantaire's heart pounded an unsteady beat. "I don't want you to change," Enjolras said quietly, like it meant something.
Grantaire turned back to him slowly. "What do you want?" It came out in a snarl. He was almost pleased. Better Enjolras think he was angry, than that he know the truth. "Why are you here?"
Enjolras dropped his gaze and tightened his arms about his middle. "I was concerned for you," he said quietly.
Enjolras looked up at him. He swallowed once, then seemed to brace himself. "I wanted to come see how you were," he said, more firmly. A spark kindled in his gaze, a tiny hint of the fire that Grantaire had known in him before.
Grantaire let his lip curl. "How I am?" He laughed, sharp and derisive. "You'll forgive me if I don't believe that. I am just as I've always been. How did you expect to find me?"
Enjolras's gaze dropped again, and his voice along with it. When he spoke, it was scarcely a whisper. "I wanted to see if the curse had been broken."
Grantaire jerked back and stared at him, shocked out of his scorn. "Broken? Why on earth would it be broken?"
Enjolras kept his gaze fixed squarely on the floor, and didn't answer him.
"Enjolras." Grantaire growled his name, fiercely enough that the windows rattled. "Why?"
"It doesn't matter," he said suddenly, violently, shaking his head and staggering back. "I thought-- I thought it might have been, but-- But you clearly aren't, and--"
Grantaire caught him, framing Enjolras's face between his paws. "Why?" he insisted, forcing Enjolras to calm, to look at him. "Curses don't break themselves. Why would you think mine had?"
Enjolras stared at him desperately, blinking too fast. "Love would break it," he said, his voice vibrating with something. Fear? Power?
Grantaire didn't know. "Yes," he said. "It would." He shook Enjolras between his hands. "Why did you think--"
"Because I think I love you," Enjolras blurted out, and then gasped like a drowning man just come up for air. His eyes burned, now, and they stared straight into Grantaire's, lighting him up from the inside out.
"Think?" Grantaire growled, too terrified for hope.
"Thought," Enjolras said. "I thought I did--I was sure I did--it's all I've been able to think about for weeks. But now... you're still cursed and I don't know-- I don't know what that means--"
Grantaire growled and jerked him forward, bent and crashed their mouths together in a desperate kiss. The noise Enjolras made against his mouth sounded like pain and hope and joy all in one. The impact of the kiss spread out across Grantaire's skin like licks of flame. He wanted to let it consume him.
Enjolras stumbled back, tearing out of Grantaire's hands. He stared, is eyes wide as saucers. The space of two strides separated them, but Grantaire could still feel the flames licking over him, working deep into his skin.
It came on suddenly, like an explosion. Grantaire dropped to his knees, gasping, and Enjolras was there to help him up. He pressed a hand to the side of Grantaire's face and Grantaire gasped. How long had it been since he had felt someone's hand upon his skin, without the beast's thick fur to dampen the touch? He didn't want to count the years. He turned his face into Enjolras's palm and shuddered at the feel of it.
Enjolras smiled at him, lopsided and a bit bemused. He reached up and twisted a black curl around his finger, tugged at it lightly and laughed to himself. "I thought you'd be… I don't know. Bigger." And the smile turned sharp with humor. "Hairier."
Grantaire growled and snaked an arm around Enjolras's waist to pull him in for another kiss. This one picked up where the first hand ended, and Grantaire didn't break away until he was gasping for air, dizzy from Enjolras's kisses like they were brandy.
"Still only think you love me?" he asked, teasing, but it made Enjolras sober.
"I know it," he said, quiet and serious. "I knew it before. God, I knew it before I left, I just didn't want to admit."
Grantaire shut his eyes against a fresh wave of pain and leaned his brow against Enjolras's. "Why did you leave?"
"I was afraid." Enjolras's fingers twisted in the curls at Grantaire's nape. He gave a harsh, bitter laugh. "I was a coward. I'm sorry."
The apology tasted like sour wine on Grantaire's tongue. He drew back, wanting distance between them, too aware of what a filthy wreck he was to want to let Enjolras near. "I should bathe," he said in a sudden, desperate rush. He ran a hand over his jaw with a shocked sound. "And shave, God. I'm out of practice. I'll probably cut my throat." He stared at Enjolras desperately when Enjolras caught his hands and held him still. "I'm sorry. You taught me better than this."
Enjolras just smiled and shook his head. "I don't care. I told you when I got here, didn't I? I don't want you to change." He leaned in, Grantaire's hands pinned between them, and claimed another kiss. "You can slurp your soup every day for the rest of your life, for all I care. I love you."
The words humbled him, nearly took him down like a blow to the back of the knees. He wrapped Enjolras in his arms and might not have ever let go, except that Enjolras pulled back abruptly, breathless with laughter, and gasped, "Oh my God, Cosette."
Grantaire looked at him in consternation.
"I brought her with me, in case— Well. When she heard I thought the curse might have been broken, she insisted. I couldn't have kept her away if I'd tried." He slid his hand easily into Grantaire's. "Let's go tell her the good news."
There was a carriage waiting outside, but Cosette wasn't in it. Grantaire let Enjolras pull him through the corridors and hallways until they found her in Grantaire's own chambers. Marius was there too, as restored as Grantaire was, and Cosette was sitting across his lap, her arms wrapping him in a fierce embrace.
Grantaire pulled Enjolras away while the two whispered sweet words to each other. Whatever they were saying, it wasn't meant for their ears.
"Marius and Cosette," he murmured to himself as he led Enjolras away, and he shook his head with a laugh. "Who'd have thought?"
"I told you, didn't I?" Enjolras pulled Grantaire to a stop there in the middle of the hall and kissed him until he was dizzy again, and had to throw a hand out to brace himself. "Even the cursed deserve to be loved."
"So you did," Grantaire said, and pulled him into a fierce embrace. He shuddered with gratitude inside of Enjolras's arms, and pressed his face into his golden hair. Enjolras's brightness washed over him, and for the first time in longer than Grantaire could remember, he felt clean and safe and good. It felt like a fresh start.