“Where am I?”
Enjolras sat up weakly on the sofa and extracted his limbs from the unfamiliar blanket he was covered with. The law student’s usually sharp mind was fuzzy and his head throbbed from the events of the previous afternoon; he could recall the protest beginning peacefully enough, then descending into violence upon the arrival of some opportunistic thugs after dark. He remembered vaguely the police arriving, a cosh swinging down, red behind his eyelids, and Joly’s worried face.
“My place,” answered a hoarse voice, and Enjolras’ aching head gave a sharp jolt of pain as he turned to see a man coming down the hallway of the mystery flat, looking half asleep and wearing only black boxer shorts. His arms and chest were covered in whorls of colour and splashes of words, enough to make Enjolras blearily try to puzzle out the pattern on a shirt, but no, the detailing was on the man’s skin rather than any clothing. His hair was dark and unkempt, curls spilling almost to his shoulders, and his face was unshaven and haggard, his green eyes tinted red and underscored with deep purple bags.
Enjolras groped in his hazy mind for the man’s name, found it, lost it, seized it again and said, “Grantaire? But you weren’t even at the protest.”
“No, but I was at the riot afterwards. How’s your head?”
Grantaire was practically a stranger to Enjolras, and he wondered how he had ended up here in this (rather seedy) flat. The two had only met once or twice, being acquainted through Jehan’s new boyfriend, Montparnasse, whom Enjolras openly disapproved of.
Enjolras lifted a hand and gingerly felt his forehead, his fingers immediately recoiling from a deep gash above his left eyebrow which was held together by butterfly stitches; “Sore.”
Grantaire smiled wryly, “I’ll bet. You took quite a beating last night, there was so much blood I could have painted your portrait in it. Your mate Joly fixed you up and we brought you back here as it was closest. He reckoned you didn’t have a concussion so we let you sleep – not that we could have stopped you! You were out cold by the time we got back, Bahorel had to carry you up the stairs.”
Enjolras merely grunted in response; he was focussing hard on putting together the fragments of memory that kept drifting in and out of reach, names and faces, unfamiliar places, blood-filled dreams and the loudness of reality, all entwined…
They had arrived at the protest around 2 o’clock in the afternoon, just the core group – Enjolras, Combeferre, Courfeyrac, Jehan, Joly, Marius, and of course Cosette tagging along behind. All had been going well, and Joly had invited his old friend Musichetta to join them after her shift at the bar ended. The vivacious barmaid had arrived just as the sun was setting with one of Marius’ ex-classmates, Bossuet, and another boy in tow, a grinning hulk of a boy with facial piercings and a mohawk who had introduced himself as Bahorel…
Try as he might, Enjolras couldn’t recall the arrival of Grantaire at all, but that wasn’t too worrying – after all, he’d only met the man a handful of times, and very briefly at that.
What he did recall was the arrival of a gang of thugs not unknown to the core student group, nor to Musichetta it seemed, for she began a screaming match with the largest of the men – Gueulemer - and ended by storming off alone and in tears…
Ah! That was it, that was how they had become separated!
Joly and the others had followed Musichetta to make sure that she was ok, while he and Combeferre had been left behind to hold the fort, so to speak. As night had fallen he remembered a growing sense of disquiet at the numerous sirens that screamed a few streets away, and the acrid smell of smoke in the air…
Just as his lieutenant suggested that they call it a day, a garrison of police officers – some armed, some mounted – had stormed up the street, bottle necking the small pockets of peaceful student groups still remaining.
Enjolras, as was his wont, strode right up to the police and tried to reason with them. When his attempts at civility were shot down he had given way to righteous indignation (anger, whispered a voice in his aching head, which he quickly quashed). And the rest of the story was attested to by the gash on his forehead and the ache in his brain.
Where Grantaire had figured he was still unsure, but he was cognisant enough to swallow his pride and be grateful to this dishevelled acquaintance, who was now perched unsteadily at the far end of Enjolras’ sofa, his pale torso and arms daubed with numerous tattoos that Enjolras had never had the opportunity of seeing closely before now. Splashes of colour swirled around words and symbols, all intertwining in swooping chaos across the artist’s skin that made Enjolras’ delicate head hurt.
“So… You want some breakfast? I was just about to make coffee…” Grantaire looked distinctly ill at ease, so to spare him any further trouble Enjolras elected not to stay for breakfast. He shook his head to indicate as much and promptly slid off the sofa, his vision blacked out and his skull crackling with fierce pain.
“Shit!” yelped Grantaire, driving another white-hot lance through Enjolras’ head, but he grabbed the injured man’s shoulders and hauled him back onto the sofa, concern darkening his green eyes.
Enjolras’ vision swam; he noticed through his haze that his grey t-shirt was spattered with dried blood. Grantaire’s dark head, inches from his own, was an inky smear, and the words coming from him were indistinct.
“Right, I’m calling Joly. No, fuck it, I’m calling an ambulance, this is bad-”
“No,” Enjolras’ voice was slurred, and the sudden sound of it surprised him but also seemed to steady him, “No,” he repeated more loudly, a tone of command coming naturally to him even in his distress.
“No?” asked Grantaire, looking like he was caught half way between scepticism and panic.
“No. Thank you. I’m fine, just a little dizzy.”
As if his body had wished to underscore these words, at that moment Enjolras slumped forward onto Grantaire’s bare chest. The tattooed man gripped Enjolras’ shoulders tightly, almost protectively, as he again pushed the law student into a sitting position. He kept his grip firm as he looked Enjolras in the eye and said slowly, “I can’t make you do anything that you don’t want to, but I really think you should let me get you to the hospital.”
Their faces were so close that Enjolras could feel Grantaire’s breath on his skin, hot and ashy, and another wave of dizziness threatened to engulf him even as he stared defiantly back and said, “I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine, you’re stubborn!” said Grantaire with a low laugh, “Will you at least let me call Joly? He said he wanted to know when you woke up anyway.”
“Fine,” conceded Enjolras as haughtily as was possible, considering that he was still relying on Grantaire to keep him upright.
“Fine,” smiled Grantaire, “Where’s your phone? I don’t have his number.”
“My pocket,” grunted Enjolras, twitching his hips weakly to indicate his jeans.
“And you want me to…?” asked Grantaire with one eyebrow raised.
Eyes ablaze, Enjolras silently dared the other man to make a joke about his predicament; he couldn’t even shake his head without almost losing consciousness, how was he supposed to fish his phone out of his pocket?
The dark-haired man seemed to take the hint and murmured, “Okay…” as he bent his head and slid a hand into the pocket of Enjolras’ tight black jeans, the student’s head now resting on his bare shoulder. He fumbled for a moment against Enjolras’ thigh as the invalid breathed in a heady mixture of smells that included cigarette smoke, shampoo, stale beer, blood, and a strong musky scent all of Grantaire’s own; he was almost overcome again when Grantaire muttered, “Got it,” and withdrew.
The artist’s pale, stubbled cheeks were a little flushed, and he quickly turned his face away from the blonde leaning into his chest, pawing inexpertly at the iphone now in his hand.
Finally, he managed to locate Joly’s number, and Enjolras’ drifting mind caught only snippets of the ensuing conversation;
“Yeah, he’s awake… No, I don’t-… Just dizzy, says he’s fine… No. Well, okay… Yeah, it’s… Well you know where to find us.”
“You smoke?” Asked Enjolras thickly, his brain still fighting to process the sensory overload of a moment before.
“Yeah. I also drink, take drugs, and get into plenty of fights. That a problem for you?”
“No,” murmured Enjolras, still half lost in the mire of his sluggish brain, “It’s just the smell… It’s intoxicating…”
The student’s blue eyes were unfocussed as he said this, and Grantaire was suddenly, hotly, aware of how close they were, pressed chest to chest with Grantaire’s strong hands still wrapped around Enjolras’ shoulders and the invalid’s arms circled weakly around his waist. Their lips were so close that the artist could feel Enjolras’ dry, shallow breaths on his stubbled cheek, and he was sure that Enjolras was breathing in his own cigarette-stained exhalations.
Grantaire found himself leaning slowly down and forward, unable to stop, although it seemed to take hours to close the gap of an inch between them. For his part, Enjolras seemed to be leaning in as well, or was he just slowly giving in to gravity? He did have a head wound after all, and oh god was it wrong to want to kiss someone who was probably suffering from some kind of cranial trauma? Did Grantaire have a duty of care, was he breaching some kind of doctor-patient trust complex?
They were millimetres apart now, and Enjolras’ blue eyes were closed – yes, he was definitely into this – when;
“’Taire?” came a sleepy female voice from the hallway, making the two men lurch apart, “Where’d you go? It’s cold, come back and cuddle me, I- Oh. Hi.”
The sudden movement was too much for Enjolras, who let out a small whimper of a moan and collapsed fully onto Grantaire, out cold.
“What the actual fuck?” Éponine had emerged from the tiny bedroom that she and Grantaire platonically shared in their dingy flat wearing only a pair of knickers and one of his oversized t-shirts. Her long, dark hair was messy with sleep and hung down over her too-thin shoulders. She worked night shifts at an erotic dance club and so had been absent from the riot of the previous evening and ignorant of the fact that Enjolras was crashing (convalescing?) on their couch.
Grantaire was desperately pushing the law student upright, calling his name over and over before panicking, “Oh shit, he’s really out cold. Can you grab that phone and call Joly? What do we do? Do we put him in the recovery position? I don’t even fucking know what the recovery position is!”
Éponine was momentarily thrown by the amount of hysteria she had stumbled into only seconds after waking up, but she quickly recovered, grabbed the phone, located Joly’s number, and called him.
“Hi, is that Joly?”
“It’s Éponine, Grantaire’s flatmate. Your friend is here, he’s just passed out, we- ”
“I’ll be there in five.”
And the medical student hung up.
“Can I ask who…?”
“Enjolras, he’s one of Jehan’s mates, you’ve met him before. Last night there was a protest that turned into a riot – he got beat down by a cop. We brought him here as it was closest and he’s just fucking passed out and what if he dies, Ép? What do you do if someone fucking dies on your sofa?”
Éponine shrugged, inured to both Grantaire’s high drama and the advent of unconscious strangers appearing in her home, “Call ‘Parnasse?”
“Shit, shit, shit,” Grantaire repeated over and over like a mantra as he manhandled Enjolras into the recovery position under Éponine’s direction. Once the blonde was lying safely on his side, ascertained to be breathing, and the gash above his left eye not bleeding, Grantaire seemed to calm down a little.
Éponine lit up two cigarettes and passed one to her flatmate who took it with a grateful smile and dragged deeply.
“Was he already unconscious when you tried to kiss him?”