When Grantaire finally pulled into his driveway, he wanted nothing more than to get upstairs, throw himself down on his bed, and burrow under the blankets. Forget showering, forget even undressing, he just wanted to sleep. He wanted to shut the world out and pretend it didn’t exist. He’d never have admitted it while at Courfeyrac and Marius’ apartment, but brushing so intimately up against Courfeyrac’s depression had stirred his own with a vengeance. Depression hysteria, Jehan had called it, once—the phenomenon that when Grantaire encountered people who were depressed, it made him depressed. Like a transference. It was why he avoided sad movies. It was why he avoided any kind of support groups; they did him more harm than good. The answer was usually to curl up with Jehan and watch some ridiculous movie to distract himself until it passed. So, as he trudged up the stairs, Grantaire resolved to call Jehan first thing when he got to his apartment. He knew from experience that he’d thank himself for it later.
Too bad Fate had other plans.
Someone was lying in wait for him in the alcove across from his apartment door. Grantaire closed his eyes and reached up to rub at his forehead. He really didn’t need this right now. He really, really didn’t. Still, he turned to his unexpected visitor and dredged up a smile. “So… are we doing this in the hall or did you want to come inside?”
Combeferre winced but said, “Inside would be fine. I’m sorry to barge in on you unannounced.”
“Of course, you are.” Grantaire got the door open, waved Combeferre in, then followed and turned to lock the door. “You and Enjolras are cut from the same cloth. As long as it’s convenient for you, you don’t think about whether or not it’s convenient for anyone else.”
Combeferre frowned. “That’s not fair, and you know it.”
Grantaire slid the bolt home then turned to face Combeferre. “Well you know what? I’m not in the mood to be fair tonight. I’m in the mood to kick someone’s ass tonight. I was planning on it being my own, but you’re looking like a better and better target with each passing minute.”
Combeferre held his hands up in a defensive posture and said, “I’m not here to cause you any grief. I just—“ He slumped. “I know you followed Courfeyrac when he left. I just want to know if he’s OK. That’s all. Then I’ll go.”
“You want to know if he’s OK?” Grantaire blinked, taken aback. “That’s all you want? You don’t want to know where he is? You don’t want to know what happened?” A scowl marched across Grantaire’s face to pull his lips downward. “How do you even know that’s where I was?”
Combeferre leaned back against the wall, what little strength had been holding him up seeming to dissipate all at once. “You followed him, so I just… I assumed he let you catch him.”
Combeferre took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, his eyes squinching firmly shut. If Grantaire hadn’t been certain that Combeferre didn’t do that sort of thing, he’d have sworn he was about to cry. But Combeferre didn’t do that sort of thing. He was the one who kept his shit together. He kept everyone’s shit together. That was just what he did. And tonight was no exception; by the time Combeferre replaced his glasses, he had whatever emotion was riding him back under control.
“You’re not wrong. I do want to know all of those things, but for now, I’ll be happy just to know that he’s all right.” Combeferre looked up to meet Grantaire’s eyes. “Can you tell me that much?”
Grantaire looked away and shrugged. “I guess that depends on your definition of all right.” When Combeferre moved as though to speak, Grantaire shook his head, then moved past him into the living room to hang up his coat. “He’s home and he’s safe. Marius is looking out for him.” Turning back to Combeferre, Grantaire shrugged once more. “But I’d say that saying he’s ‘all right’ is stretching the truth a bit. He’s not ‘all right.’ He hasn’t been for some time. Tonight was just the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. And I think you knew that already when you came over here.“
Combeferre ran his hands over his face, sliding them under his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose, again. It was several minutes before he even attempted to speak. When he did, his voice was harsh in a way that Grantaire had never heard it be before. “He’s exhausted. He’s in pain. I know that. But you don’t know Courfeyrac the way I do. When he’s hurting, he pushes people away. It’s just what he does. And he’ll deny it until Doomsday if you try to confront him about it. I just have to trust that when he’s ready, he’ll talk to me. I’m willing to wait for as long as it takes for that to happen.” He looked up. “That’s why I didn’t ask for details. I don’t want them from you. I want them from him.”
Grantaire met Combeferre’s gaze for a moment, then snorted out a soft laugh. “Jesus fucking Christ, what a pair we make.” When Combeferre merely raised an eyebrow in response, Grantaire shook his head. “You’ve got it as bad for him as I do for Enjolras. And I’d have bet a pretty chunk of change before tonight that you had no idea… but you do, don’t you? You’re head over heels for him and you know it. How long has that been going on?”
As Grantaire spoke, Combeferre stiffened, back straightening, hands clenching, and lips drawing down into a tight frown. He was the very picture of affronted dignity, and he proved it a moment later when he said:
“I beg your pardon?”
“I’m sure you do,” Grantaire retorted. “Look, Enjolras wouldn’t see it unless you whacked him over the head with it and I’m guessing that if Courfeyrac has missed it, it’s because he’s so wrapped up in his own shit that he’s just not looking, but I am looking and I know what I’m seeing.” Grantaire crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against his armchair. “Unrequited love is kind of a specialty of mine these days.”
Grantaire took a perverse amount of glee in watching Combeferre struggle to come up with an answer. Eventually, Combeferre’s whole body relaxed and he slumped against the wall. Quietly he admitted, “My own feelings are beside the point. You see… I don’t think Courfeyrac is as unaware of them as you think he is. I think he simply just doesn’t return them.”
Grantaire twitched. “You must be joking.”
A soft sigh. “Sadly, I’m not. I’m not nearly as good at hiding how I feel as you seem to think I am, and Courfeyrac’s emotional intelligence is off the charts. He knows. He has to. And he’s done nothing—said nothing—about it in all the years I’ve known him. I know he once had feelings for Enjolras. I think he may still.” Combeferre turned away and took a few steps further into Grantaire’s apartment, wringing his hands so harshly together that it made Grantaire fear for the safety of his fingers. “It hasn’t ever gone well when I get in the middle of that. The only time Courfeyrac was ever truly angry at the both of us was when I did.” His hands clenched even harder on each other than they had before. “I don’t think I could bear it if he were ever that angry at me, again.”
Grantaire watched Combeferre pace, still wringing his hands, for a minute more before responding. “We are both so unbelievably fucked.” He then made a decision which should have been a hard one, but ended up being nothing of the kind. “I was going to invite Jehan over to watch some ridiculous movies and eat popcorn and maybe get drunk.” When Combeferre finally stopped wringing his hands long enough to look up, eyes wide and startled, Grantaire smiled, “How do you feel about Dogma?”
Two hours later, Grantaire had been forced to reevaluate his opinion of Combeferre at least three times over. First of all, not only did he like Dogma, it turned out that he had the entire movie practically memorized, along with most of the rest of Jay and Silent Bob’s repertoire. He also had a tendency to spout random knowledge about the movie whenever the mood struck; he was like a walking, talking encyclopedia that you couldn’t turn off once you’d turned it on… and a little alcohol was apparently all it took to flip that switch.
Jehan kept shooting amused and startled glances at Grantaire over Combeferre’s head. Combeferre had slumped down among the couch cushions and was currently singing along with Serendipity’s strip number under his breath—surprisingly on-key for someone that drunk. After another few minutes of this, Jehan finally got up and moved to the other side of the couch to settle in beside Grantaire. Bumping Grantaire’s shoulder with a soft smile, he said, “You OK?”
Grantaire let out a soft snort, taking a long pull from his beer bottle before answering. “If you’d asked me that three hours ago, the answer would have been a resounding ‘no’. But, now?” Turning to Jehan, he smiled. “I’m OK.” When Jehan’s eyebrows flew up into his hairline as his only response, Grantaire laughed. “I actually mean that. I don’t know. Seeing this,“ Grantaire tipped his head in Combeferre’s direction, “Has somehow made me feel better about this whole thing.”
When Jehan continued to look skeptical, Grantaire pushed himself upright and put his beer bottle down on one of the coasters he’d left out on the table. “Look, it’s like this: I’m starting to think I’ve been going about this all wrong. Enjolras… I like him. I like him a lot. And somehow, I’ve convinced him to like me, too—part of me, anyway. But all this time, I’ve been going after him like he’s an adult who knows what he wants.” Smirking softly, he bumped Jehan’s shoulder again. “Knowing you has spoiled me that way, I think.”
Jehan bumped Grantaire back so hard in return that he nearly fell over Combeferre… who didn’t even notice. Combeferre was staring at the screen, a pillow clutched to his chest, alternately mumbling along with the characters and softly sniffling. Grantaire rolled his eyes and pushed himself back upright. “I’m serious, though. I know it hasn’t always been this easy for you, but when it comes to relationships, you know what you want and you go after it. Whether it’s a quick fuck or something more, it doesn’t matter. You’re honest about it and you don’t play around. Most people aren’t like that. Most people don’t know enough to be like that.”
“That may be true,” Jehan conceded. “But I don’t see how that helps you.”
Grantaire shrugged. “Because I never realized it before, but Enjolras doesn’t know how all of this works. It’s easy for him to be in love with Rebus because Rebus is an abstract concept. It’s like all of his passion for social justice—as long as it’s abstract, rooted in ideals and not real people, he’s fine. The minute it becomes about people—messy, emotional, imperfect people—he gets flustered and doesn’t know what to do. He still expects the lightning bolt and the happily ever after. Enjolras expects love to be perfect and that’s why Rebus is so attractive to him. Rebus can be perfect. He’s not real, so he has that luxury. I don’t. I’m not perfect. I’m so far from fucking perfect, we don’t even inhabit the same galaxy. So, Enjolras can’t love me. Not now. Not like he is. It’s like… he has to grow up first. Does that even make sense?”
“You’re not wrong.”
Having expected that answer to come from in front of him, when it came from behind him, Grantaire nearly jumped off the couch in surprise. Then, a moment later when he realized what else Combeferre had just overheard, his face drained of color and he almost jumped off the couch for a far different reason. Turning to face Combeferre, he swallowed hard and said, “You heard all that?”
Combeferre, still slumped over on his side and clutching the pillow, solemnly nodded. “I’m drunk, not deaf.” He paused for a minute, eyes wide, before adding, “I’m very drunk. And I’m not sure that what you just said would have made sense if I’d been sober, but right now it seems perfectly clear. In a lot of ways, Enjolras hasn’t grown up yet. He hasn’t had to. He’s had me and Courfeyrac to protect him from the consequences until now.” He pushed himself upright and Grantaire had to scramble to catch him once he got there, as he nearly overbalanced. Combeferre’s eyes crossed for a moment, completely unfocused, before refocusing on Grantaire and Jehan. He said, “And I already knew about you. Rebus. Courfeyrac figured it out a while ago and he told me.” His voice dropped into a whisper with his next words. “Courfeyrac tells me everything. Except when he doesn’t. Not when it matters. Not when he’s hurting and I could help. Why does he do that?”
Combeferre’s head dropped slowly onto Grantaire’s shoulder, and Grantaire reached out to run a hand down his back. “I don’t know, Combeferre. I just don’t know.”
A soft chime interrupted Grantaire before he could say anything more. He and Jehan both did a quick check of their own pockets and found that it wasn’t either of their cell phones which had gone off. That meant it must have been Combeferre’s. Combeferre, unfortunately, had finally succumbed to either the stress of the night or the alcohol and was snoring softly on Grantaire’s shoulder. Grantaire made a complicated set of gestures that fortunately didn’t dislodge Combeferre but did get across to Jehan that he wanted Jehan to check Combeferre’s pockets for his phone.
Five minutes of highly uncomfortable fumbling later, Combeferre was tucked in on the couch and Grantaire and Jehan were in the kitchen, checking the message ID of that text, though neither of them read it.
Jehan let out a soft groan while Grantaire pulled his own phone out of his pocket. “I just want to shoot him a text so he knows Combeferre is here. He’s worried enough over one of his best friends. He shouldn’t have to worry about both.”
Barely ten seconds after sending that text, however, Grantaire’s phone was ringing. After a startled moment in which he nearly dropped it, Grantaire managed to swipe the call open and get the phone to his ear. “Enjolras, what the fuck? What part of, ‘He’s passed out drunk on my couch and I’d just as soon leave him there to sleep it off’ didn’t make sense to you?”
Moments later, eyes wide, Grantaire turned to Jehan and, one hand over the receiver asked, “Would you kill me if I left you to watch him while I went out for a minute?”
Jehan’s scowl was answer enough, but he threw his hands in the air and went back into the living room to park himself on the side of the couch near Combeferre’s head. Grantaire would have laughed at the way Combeferre immediately oozed up to rest his head in Jehan’s lap, but between Jehan’s irate scowl and Enjolras’ still panicked voice in his ear, he didn’t feel much like laughing. Grateful, now, that he hadn’t had more than half of that first beer, Grantaire shrugged into his coat and grabbed his car keys. Enjolras needed him. And fuck everything, but, even with tonight’s disaster still fresh in his mind, he just couldn’t stay away.
Enjolras paced the confines of his apartment, hands clenched tightly in his hair and teeth buried just as firmly in his bottom lip. Those points of pain kept him grounded, kept him from drowning in pain of another sort. He’d hurt Courfeyrac. He hadn’t meant to, hadn’t want to, but he’d done it. And almost worse than that, he’d upset Combeferre. Combeferre didn’t get upset. Not with him. Except that clearly wasn’t true. This was the second time Combeferre had ever gotten upset with him… and it was the second time he’d done so on Courfeyrac’s behalf.
Enjolras threw himself down on the couch, planting face first in the cushions. How could he have been so stupid? It took a special breed of idiot to drive away both of one’s best friends, especially when one was trying to do the right thing for a change. And he had been! He’d been trying to do the right thing, trying to protect Courfeyrac from himself, trying to give him a break. How had that backfired so spectacularly? How?
When he’d finally gotten home, Enjolras had gone straight to Skype, hoping against hope that Rebus would be online. He needed to talk to someone. He needed help. He needed to know how he’d screwed up so monumentally so he could avoid doing it again. And Rebus gave the best advice of everyone Enjolras knew. If anyone could help him sort through this, it would be Rebus.
But Rebus wasn’t online.
Enjolras had sent a message anyway, hoping that Rebus was there and just hiding behind an invisible status, but there had been no response to his first message. Or his second. Or his third or fourth or fifth. After he sent the sixth message with no response forthcoming, Enjolras gave up. No Rebus. Fine. But he needed someone. Only… if he couldn’t have Rebus and he couldn’t have Courfeyrac and he couldn’t have Combeferre, there weren’t many other people he trusted to help him with something like this.
…except maybe Grantaire.
Grantaire had at least proven that he could keep his mouth shut. He’d even proven that he was reliable… to a point. He’d been doing his best to help Enjolras with his social anxiety issues, anyway, and that had to count for something, didn’t it?
No. Enjolras couldn’t ask that of him. He just couldn’t. So, he’d texted Combeferre, hoping against hope that Combeferre would forgive him long enough to respond. Only there’d been no response. Not from Combeferre.
The response had come from Grantaire, instead.
~He’s passed out drunk on my couch and I’d just as soon leave him there to sleep it off.~
What little control Enjolras had had over his rising panic evaporated with those words. Combeferre had been upset enough with Enjolras to get drunk. Combeferre didn’t do that. And worse, Combeferre was with Grantaire. And if he was with Grantaire, then he wasn’t with Courfeyrac. If he wasn’t with Courfeyrac, who was? Was Courfeyrac OK? Where was he? Shaking hands fumbled with the keypad badly enough that Enjolras gave up before he’d barely started and just hit the call button. And he was so relieved when his call was answered instead of going to voicemail, was so relieved to hear a friendly voice, albeit a hushed one, on the other end of the line that he’d blurted the whole mess out without giving any thought to how it would sound.
Based on how quickly Grantaire decided that he needed to come over, it must have sounded pretty bad.
That had been ten minutes ago and Enjolras was no closer to being able to calm down than he’d been when he made that call. Combeferre was passed out drunk and not speaking to him. Courfeyrac was alone, upset, and fuck only knew where, and also not speaking to him. Grantaire was on his way, but even if he’d left immediately after hanging up and come straight over, it would still be another five to ten minutes before he arrived. And now that he’d settled in one spot, Enjolras was shaking so hard his teeth were chattering. He’d alienated the only real friends he had. The enormity of that wasn’t escaping him. And for once, he had absolutely no idea what to do.
That was how Grantaire found him seven minutes later, his face firmly pressed into the cushions of the couch, his arms covering his head, and his legs lying askew half on the ground where they’d fallen when he hit the couch. It was another few minutes after that before Enjolras was even capable of understanding registering Grantaire’s actions—the dip in the couch at his hip that meant Grantaire was sitting beside him, the slowly chafing warmth low on his back that meant Grantaire was rubbing little circles there, and the low murmur of sound that meant Grantaire was speaking. Eventually those soft sounds began to coalesce, to come together to make words.
“…ok but, seriously, you’re starting to scare me here, dude. How about a sign, huh? Just something to let me know you know I’m here. Because I’m starting to worry that I should have called an ambulance for you when I got here. Any time now… Earth to Enjolras…? Hello?”
Enjolras shifted, pushed himself half onto his side so he could look up at Grantaire. Grantaire’s hand had kept up its little circles as he moved, and was now on his hip, instead of his back. Enjolras shivered at the sensation, just a small tremor, just enough to alert Grantaire that something had changed. Grantaire withdrew his hand, then, and offered Enjolras a relieved smile. “Well, hello, there. You with me now?”
Enjolras nodded, then shifted again to push himself upright. As Enjolras moved, Grantaire got up from the couch and sat on the coffee table. By the time Enjolras got himself into a sitting position, words were coming more easily, but his voice, when it emerged, was rough, like he’d smoked a few too many cigarettes. “You came.”
Another soft smile. “What are friends for?”
“Is that what we are?”
Grantaire’s smile fell.
Before Grantaire could say anything, Enjolras continued. “You shouldn’t want to be friends with me. All I ever seem to do with my friends is hurt them. Courfeyrac… Combeferre… and you can put a smile on it all you want, but I know I’ve hurt you, too. Why would you even want to be friends with someone like that?”
Enjolras was honest enough with himself to know that, in spite of his words to the contrary, he’d been hoping for Grantaire to offer a speedy rebuttal to that question, to confess his undying friendship, or to tell Enjolras that he wasn’t really as bad a friend as that. He had hoped, but judging from Grantaire’s continued silence on the matter, he was to be disappointed. Eventually Grantaire stood up from the coffee table and walked away. Enjolras dropped his head into his hands. A ringing endorsement, that was not.
Moments later, something cool and wet touched his temple and Enjolras reared back in surprise. And there was Grantaire holding out a glass of water. When Enjolras took it and took a small sip, that small, soft smile from earlier reappeared on Grantaire’s face. Finally he shrugged and said, “So, you’re a work in progress.”
Enjolras frowned. “I’m a what?”
“A work in progress.” Grantaire’s smile widened as he sat down next to Enjolras and bumped his shoulder. “So are most people. We fuck up, we learn, we do better the next time.” A soft snort. “And some of us fuck up more often and more spectacularly than others. Believe me, if anyone would get that, it’s me.” Grantaire turned, meeting Enjolras’ gaze dead on for a moment, and asked, “Did you hurt them on purpose?”
Eyes widened, then narrowed in indignation. “What? No!”
Before Enjolras could get truly worked up over the implication, however, Grantaire shrugged. “Then that’s all that matters.” As Enjolras continued to stare, Grantaire bumped his shoulder, again. “You fuck up, you learn, you do better next time. So, let me ask the million dollar question—do you even know how you fucked up?”
Enjolras busied himself with his glass of water to buy some time, not ready to admit that the answer to that question was a bit too close to “No” for his comfort. It was clear enough how he’d upset Combeferre. He’d upset Combeferre by upsetting Courfeyrac. But he still had no idea how he’d upset Courfeyrac badly enough for him to run. He’d been trying to do the right thing, for fuck’s sake! Enjolras tried to answer. He did. Even as he felt his cheeks growing warmer by the minute, he tried to come up with something. But he really had no idea.
Eventually Grantaire sighed. “You haven’t got a fucking clue, do you?”
Already miserable, and now feeling worse by the minute, Enjolras shook his head.
Grantaire lifted an arm as if to wrap it around Enjolras’ shoulder, but paused and raised an eyebrow at him before completing the motion. Enjolras didn’t waste any time in taking him up on the offer, settling in against Grantaire’s side as Grantaire wrapped his arm around him. It was Courfeyrac to whom Enjolras usually went for this kind of physical affection, but really… Courfeyrac had been sparing with his hugs for a while. Now that Enjolras was thinking about it, properly, it had been going on for months. After several minutes of Grantaire doing nothing more than lightly holding him, Enjolras finally found his voice, again. “Well?”
Grantaire merely raised an eyebrow.
“Are you going to tell me? How I fucked up?” At Grantaire’s continued silence, Enjolras frowned. “So I can avoid doing it, again?”
Grantaire’s chest rose and fell under Enjolras’ cheek, a heavy sigh on the accompanying breath. “It’s not that simple.” Another sigh. “Enjolras, you can’t always rely on other people to warn you when you’re going to screw up or to help you pick up the pieces when you invariably do. You have to start figuring this all out on your own eventually.” He fell silent again, a small frown gracing his lips, before shaking his head. “OK. This one last time. And only because I know that Courfeyrac isn’t stable enough for you to use him as a test case. You can fuck up on me all you want, but I’m done letting you fuck up with him.”
“He—“ Enjolras’ voice deserted him, momentarily as his breath caught. That was implying something significantly worse than just a momentary upset. Was what was wrong with Courfeyrac really that bad? What had he missed? Enjolras cleared his throat, then cleared it again before his voice would cooperate. Still, it sounded small and lost, even to his own ears. “He’s OK, isn’t he?”
Grantaire’s arm tightened around his shoulders, even as another deep sigh moved the chest under Enjolras’ ear. “No, Enjolras. He’s really not. But that’s not my story to tell and I won’t break that confidence, so please don’t ask me.”
“OK… I won’t.” Enjolras took a deep breath, then pushed up and away from Grantaire’s warm embrace. He was starting to feel, more and more, like he didn’t deserve it. “Will you at least tell me what I did wrong? So I can avoid doing it, again? I—“ Deep breath. “The last thing I want to do is hurt him, again, even by accident. Please?”
Grantaire watched him for a moment, then, searching his face for who-knew-what, before slowly nodding. “OK. But, I’m not just going to give you the answer. I’m going to walk you through everything I saw, and see if you can figure it out. Because you need to be able to see these things on your own. You need to be able to recognize the warning signs that things are going south, not just the disaster that happens at the end when you miss the signs.”
Enjolras thought about that for a minute, then stood and turned to go into the kitchen. Grantaire rose off the couch behind him, an eyebrow once again raised. Enjolras answered the unspoken question, anyway. “I’m going to get paper and a pen. I have a feeling I’m going to need to take notes.”
When all was said and done, Enjolras had filled four pages and half of a fifth. He was exhausted, wrung out, and more convinced of his own worthlessness than he’d ever been, but when he asked Grantaire to stay the night… he did.
And that wasn’t nothing.