“I brought you presents!” Grantaire calls, banging through the door of Sur-Mer Antiques. And then, arrested by the vision standing behind the counter looking disapproving, “I did not bring you presents, because I didn’t know you existed, which seems like a vast oversight on my part. I brought Fantine presents.” He raises his voice. “Fantine, you seem to have hired an angel in my absence! Or Cosette got turned into a man, which I think you would have at least texted me about!”
The angel—who is not Cosette, because Cosette has neither that impressive jawline nor that ability to scowl—crosses his arms. “Please don’t shout, this is—”
“An antiques shop, not a library,” Grantaire finishes, giving a look around it. It’s more cluttered than usual, which means Fantine found either a good estate sale or a very stupid dealer. “And I know that, I work here. I’m Grantaire, call me R, I restore the paintings and have the apartment on the third floor. You, however, are new.”
Fantine chooses that moment to come out of the back room, dusting her hands off on her skirt. She’s wearing her glasses, so she’s been doing appraising, and her close-cropped hair is all in a mess, but she gives Grantaire a wide smile when she sees him. “I wasn’t expecting you until later, or I would have been waiting out front.”
He shrugs. “The train was a lot faster than I was expecting, no delays at all.” He thinks about dropping his duffel on the shop floor, but the angel is still glaring, and he doesn’t quite have the heart to do it. “Did you miss me?”
“I have a few things I want you to take a look at,” she says, but her smile means yes. “Cosette said you should call her when you’re back in Paris, she wants to catch up, Éponine and Gavroche—”
Éponine and Gavroche fairly often leave messages that he wouldn’t trust around strangers, so he cuts her off there. “Paris has missed me, then. I suppose it’s much more boring when I’m not around.” He raises his eyebrows. “Other than your new habit of hiring archangels to work behind the counter. Is this a new marketing strategy? Because I’m completely in favor.”
“Enjolras is an expert on antique books,” she says, a smile twitching at the corner of her mouth. “Cosette introduced him when I mentioned I have a backlog of books and papers in storage, and I agreed to take him on a few days a week to help with that and watch the counter when one of us can’t.”
Enjolras, who now cannot be called an angel because that’s far too easy, extends a grudging hand, and Grantaire crosses the shop to shake it. He’s got a firm grip and smooth hands, and Grantaire lets go a beat too early. “Pleased to meet you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve spent the last twenty-four hours on trains and nobody ever sleeps on a train, so I’m going to catch up with Fantine and then take a nap.”
Of course, because Grantaire’s life is not a romantic novel, Enjolras looks relieved rather than disappointed about his imminent departure. “I’ll watch the front, then.”
Most days, Grantaire would say something about pining for him in his absence, but he’s presently too exhausted, so instead he just gives him a sharp nod and hefts his bag so he can be sure it won’t hit anything breakable as he passes through the shop and into the back. Fantine stays out front, talking quietly with Enjolras, but he doesn’t bother listening in (doesn’t particularly feel like hearing what Enjolras has to say about him, because Grantaire is fully aware that he doesn’t make the best of first impressions). Instead, he looks around the back room. Fantine’s table is covered in what looks like half the mismatched porcelain in Paris, there’s furniture to dust and polish, any number of other sundry things that weren’t there a week ago, and a new desk wedged awkwardly in one corner, covered in papers and with a book spread open on it smelling strongly of glue.
“We’re bringing the books and papers out of storage a little bit at a time,” says Fantine, coming in the back room and shutting the door behind her. “And then there was an estate sale.”
“It’s not my workshop, I don’t mind.” Grantaire jerks his head towards the door. “How much does he know?”
Fantine sighs and goes back to her table, so the “Nothing” that comes next is pretty unnecessary. As is the “Cosette said she had a friend who was looking for a job, and I’ve been wanting someone to look through all our papers and books for a long time.”
Grantaire rubs a hand across his face. “I trust you, you know I do, but what happens when he starts asking why a lowly art restorer gets asked to travel all over the world?”
“We say you’re very good, which you are.”
“And if he starts noticing that my trips happen to coincide with some buzz in the art world?”
“R.” He looks over at her, dropping his hand guiltily to his side instead of fumbling out a flask that isn’t even in his pocket today. “He won’t. And if he does, we’ll figure it out. You don’t go out that frequently, anyway, and he’s too busy with the books to care what you do. Do you want him gone?”
Grantaire has more than a few reasons to be paranoid, but if Enjolras is a danger, it isn’t to his career. “No, it’s fine. Sorry, I’ve been traveling, and before that I was working, and I haven’t had a drink all week.”
Fantine smiles. “Tell me about Stockholm, then, and then you can go upstairs for a nap. I take it the job went well? Or at least you didn’t call me from jail.”
“I resent your implications. The job went perfectly, except the target had this fucking yappy little poodle, and I kept thinking it was going to set off the alarms …”
Fantine relaxes, going back to sorting through dishes looking to see if the estate sale gave them any unexpected gems, not to mention for any cracks that need fixing, and lets Grantaire tell her the story of the latest painting he stole and passed on into more deserving hands like he has many times before.
Éponine is on his bed when he gets there, and the only reason she doesn’t end up with injuries is because he was expecting her (and because she’s terrifying, but Grantaire doesn’t bring that part up if he can help it; it’s sad enough that she gets the drop on him. The fact that her little brother generally does too is too depressing to contemplate). She’s staring at the walls, which everyone who ever enters his bedroom does, since it’s as accurate a copy of Starry Night as can be made on four walls with totally the wrong materials, but she grins and sits up when she sees him. “You met the new guy.”
Grantaire stares at her for a second, dropping his duffel on the floor. Everything breakable in it is all wrapped up, anyway. “Normally you ask me about crime. This is new.”
“He is gorgeous. And he has large amounts of gorgeous friends. One of whom I think Cosette is in love with, which is probably why she asked Fantine to give this one a job.”
He sits down next to her and flops backwards. The ceiling is unnervingly white, but he can never be fucked to paint ceilings, he isn’t Michelangelo. “We can meet gorgeous men in bars. What’s the deal with this one?”
Fantine has had a terrible life, at times (it’s a common theme among their little almost-family, with the thankful exception of Cosette), but she’s inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt in ways that Grantaire and Éponine aren’t. Which is probably Valjean’s influence, because Valjean is a scarily nice person, but either way it means that Grantaire likes to get Éponine’s opinion, and often Gavroche’s as well, before he really relaxes around someone new. “He’s smart,” says Éponine, and doesn’t make it sound like a good thing.
“Smart enough to figure out just what goes on behind the scenes of Sur-Mer?”
“He might have already.” Grantaire tenses. “He’s not a cop. And he doesn’t seem to like cops very much, he’s some sort of radical. He’s sort of an asshole, but aren’t we all here?”
“Cosette’s not an asshole,” he points out, to be fair. “Is he the one she’s in love with? They would have disgustingly blond and perfect children.”
Éponine shudders and digs a pack of cigarettes out of her pocket, offers him one that he turns down. “Thank God, no. It’s one of the other ones.” She lights up and takes a deep breath. “Gav likes them. I’m inclined to give them a chance. Just don’t fuck up.”
“That’s a lot to ask of me.” He may not be Michelangelo, but he really does have to do something about the ceiling. The paint is dingy, but the contrast is still enough to be distracting.
“No, R, it’s really not.” She isn’t looking at him, but he can hear her grinning. Éponine’s grin is a wonderful and terrifying thing. “So, Stockholm is all abuzz about one of their more terrible politicians losing the prize painting in his collection.”
“Your ability to get information makes me wonder if you are working a long con waiting for evidence to arrest us all,” he says even though it’s a blatant lie. “It wasn’t even insured, he was practically asking for it.”
“You are the fucking Robin Hood of art thieves, it’s ridiculous.”
“I make a lot of money,” he corrects. “But yeah, I have rules, we all know the rules.”
Éponine snorts. “I am going to have the rules embroidered on a pillow and give them to you for Christmas.” He prods her with a knee and she squeezes his kneecap until he hisses. “So what’s next?”
“No jobs lined up right now, which is good, what with the new guy. And Fantine didn’t mention anything new downstairs, so I might actually get a chance to catch up on the restoring I’ve been waiting to do for her.” He makes a face and sits up in time to steal a drag off Éponine’s cigarette. “I could put out the word, do a few murals while I’m spending time in the city.”
“Don’t see that there’s a need, Mr. I Stole An Eight Hundred Thousand Dollar Painting Last Week. Speaking of which, the drinks are on you tonight. Cosette is coming, maybe she’ll bring the boyfriend, and he and his friends are almost as codependent as all of us are, so they’ll probably come.”
“I’m not paying for a bunch of strangers’ drinks.”
“Not even if Enjolras comes out as well?”
Grantaire props his chin on her shoulder to watch her finish her cigarette, letting it burn down in her fingers before she stubs it out on the ashtray he keeps next to his bed even though she’s the only one who uses it. “You keep asking me about him, and I met him for all of thirty seconds. He’s very pretty. Is that what you want to hear? Or do you want to know if he mentioned you?”
“Fuck no. I don’t think he plays for my team. I don’t know if he plays for any team, to be honest. I’m just … curious.”
The pause before the last word is just deliberate enough to put him on edge. “What do you mean by that?”
“Wait till you hear him talk for more than two sentences, you’ll see what I mean. Hopefully he comes out with us tonight.” She eyes her pack of cigarettes and puts it away instead of taking another out, then stands, leaving him sitting on his bed, still fully dressed and definitely confused. “Get some sleep, call me later. You can have dinner with Gav and me before we go out. Cosette says she’ll catch us at the Musain, we haven’t done it in a while and his friends love it.”
“You are a goddess among women,” he tells her, mostly because she’s up to something and having her on his side is never a bad thing, and then waves her out the window, which is her preferred entry and exit to his apartment.
Grantaire barely manages to wriggle out of his clothes before he falls asleep.
The Musain is crowded by the time they get there—Éponine makes for the bar with Grantaire’s wallet in hand, and it takes him a second to find Cosette at a table full of others who are all laughing over something, shoulder against one of theirs. When she sees Grantaire, she abandons them, though, which is good for his ego if nothing else. He gives her a hug. “I brought you something from Stockholm, Fantine has it. And who are all your friends? I go away for one week and suddenly you’re Miss Popularity.”
“I’ve known them for a while, but … you know, you should come meet them,” says Cosette, and blushes, which is more telling than anything Fantine or Éponine said.
“I met one earlier.” Enjolras is squeezed against the window, the only one of the men not laughing, and he acknowledges Grantaire with a brief nod when he looks up to find him watching. “That one. Tell me truthfully, did you befriend an underwear catalogue? Just walk into a modeling shoot and invite everyone for brunch?”
“You can do better than that.” She puts her arm through his and drags him over to the table, giving him a quick litany of names that he barely catches and ending by presenting him to a gangly, freckled fellow who’s watching Cosette like she’s the most amazing thing in the world. “And this is Marius Pontmercy,” she finishes, and Marius Pontmercy blushes like a tomato. It’s a little bit sickening, really.
“Pleased to meet you, Marius Pontmercy. And everyone else, of course.” As a collective they seem friendly, with the notable exception of Enjolras, but considering it’s Cosette, he can’t really expect different. Everyone’s friendly around Cosette, because Cosette is Glinda the good witch.
“Cosette has been telling us about you,” says one of the mass—the other one with a first name, Grantaire thinks, he’s going to have to be reintroduced to everyone when Cosette isn’t hurrying to get around to her paramour. “You should sit down.”
Grantaire looks around the already overstuffed table, and then at the bar where Éponine is talking with two men—either they’re planning crime with her or they are trying without much luck to pick her up, and either way she’ll be over in under five minutes, and there’s definitely no way the both of them will fit. “On the floor?” he hazards.
There’s a great reshuffling that ends with several people sitting on each other’s laps (including Cosette on Marius Pontmercy’s, with said gentleman looking like he’s debating whether his delight, his embarrassment, or his erection is going to kill him first) and approximately a chair and a quarter free. Grantaire sits down even though he’s fully aware that Éponine is going to stare at him until he takes up less space when she gets there. “So you restore art,” says the one with glasses when conversation starts again, mostly focused on a fierce argument about current events down the table.
“Some people make it, some can only aspire,” he says with a shrug. “But yes, I’m told that I’m decent.”
“He’s more than—and so is his art,” Cosette says, leaning forward and making Marius Pontmercy look like he’s wishing for a quick death. “You should see his apartment, he’s adapted masterpieces all over the walls. And that does too count, R, and even if it didn’t all your sketchbooks would.”
The one with the glasses—C-something, there are two Cs besides Cosette, the other one is sitting next to Enjolras—asks about the walls, and Grantaire only has the chance to talk about it for a minute before Éponine comes over at last, two drinks in hand, one of which she passes to him, and makes him rearrange himself so they’re both uncomfortable and squished into too little space. Like she’s closing a circuit, the conversation goes table-wide then, focusing mostly on the news, which Grantaire is a week behind on due to having other things to concentrate on in Stockholm.
Enjolras is mostly silent and intense in the corner he’s wedged himself into, and Grantaire has about decided that his looks have been balanced in some sort of universal book of how perfect a human being is allowed to be with an antisocial and quiet personality when C-with-the-glasses (Combeferre, Grantaire discovers sometime halfway down his third glass of scotch) asks him what he thinks of something—voting reform, perhaps. And then he starts talking.
It doesn’t really matter where he starts, because once he’s going he only pauses to hear others’ contributions and doesn’t stop until he’s called for a new movement of justice and equality for all, fighting against corruption in the government and the glorification and idolization of the rich. Grantaire does his best to be on good behavior, since he’s meeting new people and Cosette wants to be friends with them, but he can only take so much, and when Enjolras, all impassioned, says “We should steal back everything from them that they’ve stolen from us over the years,” he snorts. That makes Enjolras pull up short and glare at him, which turns out to be much more pointed than what Grantaire is beginning to suspect was merely mild annoyance back at Sur-Mer. “Did you have something to contribute, Grantaire?” he asks, very careful and flat.
Grantaire can’t very well say that he was just entertained by the fact that he’s proposing something Grantaire does for a living, even if he doesn’t do it for such altruistic reasons. Instead, he does the next best thing. “Just wondering how you intend to go about this great goal. Fighting the system is all well and good, but you’re going to … what, break into the national treasury?”
Éponine leans into him, but he keeps looking at Enjolras, whose scowl is getting more pronounced by the second. “If that’s what it takes,” he snaps. “But it wouldn’t be my first solution, no. Protest, a revolution of the people—”
“Yes, because historically those work out very well.”
“After a few tries, yes they do, or governments would never change.”
“Do they change? All the radicals are conservative by the time they get old in office—living long enough to see yourself become the villain, I suppose.”
Enjolras’s knuckles go white around his glass, and then he starts giving a speech again. And if he was good before, and charismatic, if ridiculously idealistic, when he’s angry it’s one step worse, all fiery passion and his eyes on Grantaire because now he’s trying to convince him. It’s almost enough to make Grantaire want to be convinced, and definitely enough to make him think that any number of master painters across the years would have begged for a chance to have Enjolras sit for them. It’s even enough to make him leave off with his intentions of getting so drunk he can’t see, which he knows Éponine and Cosette both notice. Even once the conversation moves on, Combeferre and the other one with a first name (which proves to be Jehan) and Cosette jumping in to mediate, it’s hard to get through half a conversation without Grantaire gaining Enjolras’s attention and further disdain.
Grantaire would love to stay all night, but he finds himself yawning before midnight, still not quite recovered from his travels and how much he had to be awake during them. Éponine and Cosette are both shorter than him but they still manage to exchange looks over his head and then Cosette is levering herself off Marius Pontmercy’s lap and holding her hand out expectantly for Grantaire’s. Marius Pontmercy looks like a heartbroken puppy, but he peps up a little when Cosette kisses him on the cheek before dragging Grantaire out of his chair.
Enjolras, to his surprise, doesn’t dismiss him entirely, or tell him not to come back (which would be rich, considering Grantaire has been coming to the Musain for ages). Instead, when he realizes Grantaire is leaving, he pins him with a thoughtful look. “We meet here fairly often,” he says at last. And then, “I’ll see you at work first, though. I’ll let you know.”
Grantaire makes it outside before he turns to Cosette and gives her a plaintive look. “He’s very confusing.”
She laughs and squeezes his hand. “He’s not used to being argued with by people who aren’t bigots. I was hoping you two would like each other.”
“I think we’re destined to be at each other’s throats.”
Cosette hums. “Maybe. But it’s good for him to deal with intelligent disagreement and good for you to be reminded that maybe humanity isn’t awful.”
“I don’t think you’re awful. I don’t think Fantine is awful. Or Valjean. Or Gavroche.” He pauses. “Éponine is a little bit awful, but I love her because of that, not in spite of it.”
“We’re not the same as humanity. But thank you for giving him—them—a chance. I like them. And it seems like they like you, judging by how entertained Courfeyrac was by the whole argument.” They walk the rest of the way to Sur-Mer in silence. She’ll spend the night at Fantine’s next door, probably, and then spend the day moving a ridiculous amount of merchandise with her wide eyes in between beating everyone at poker.
“He’s the kind of person you steal the Mona Lisa for,” Grantaire says when they get to the door, and Cosette nods like that makes perfect sense. At least it does to one of them.
Grantaire wakes earlier than he’s expecting to the next morning and shuffles around his apartment getting used to it again, begging the coffee machine not to hate him for abandoning it and eyeing the walls, wondering if it’s almost time to repaint the Monet in the bathroom. It probably is. Water Lilies is too much of a cliché to keep forever, maybe he’ll switch to Mucha. He needs work on his lines, anyway.
Once he finishes scraping together a breakfast out of the mostly-stale cereal and highly dubious yoghurt that’s all he has in his kitchen, he goes to his studio, which is the biggest room in the apartment, meant to be the master bedroom, and which is the only room with white walls. Fantine left a small stack of paintings, probably from the estate sale, leaning against the wall, and Grantaire shuffles through them—most of it’s easy work, removing grime and dust without damaging the paint, but there’s a gash in a particularly nice landscape that will take some time and effort to fix. He starts with the cleaning, though, as a warm up.
There’s a knock on his apartment door, sharp and decisive, some time later, when he’s just beginning to register that he’s getting hungry again. “It’s unlocked,” he shouts, which doesn’t usually need saying.
The apartment door opens, but nobody comes into the studio. Grantaire puts down his tools and pokes his head out, expecting to find Fantine or Cosette making sad faces at the contents of his fridge or Gav playing with one of the brainteaser puzzles he keeps on the coffee table. Instead, much to his surprise, Enjolras is standing right inside the door, staring around at the Dali desert that encompasses the living room. “Fantine wanted me to ask you down to the second floor for lunch,” he says after a beat, his gaze finally snapping to Grantaire.
“Who’s in attendance?”
“Fantine, Cosette, Cosette’s father, Éponine and Gavroche.” Enjolras is still paying much more attention to the walls than to Grantaire. “Cosette said you have a different painting in every room.”
“I’d get bored if it was all the same one. We’re closing the shop for lunch, then?”
Enjolras frowns. “I suppose.” He looks around again. “What else do you have, then?”
“This for the living room and kitchen, Monet in the bathroom, Van Gogh in the bedroom, nothing in the studio because it would be distracting.” Grantaire comes out of his studio all the way, shutting it behind him. He keeps evidence of his criminal activities locked safely up in the secure storage room in the building’s basement, but he prefers to keep his studio private anyway. Gavroche is the only one who comes in on a regular basis—even Éponine mostly keeps her visits in the other rooms of his apartment.
“Nothing more modern?” Grantaire raises his eyebrows, but Enjolras doesn’t back down. “You seem the sort to be interested in modern art, that’s all.”
“Not at all. I restore paintings for a living, after all. Do you like modern literature better when you fix old books for a living?”
Enjolras looks surprised, which is equal parts endearing and annoying, if that pitiful an argument is enough to shock him with Grantaire’s intelligence. Grantaire rolls his eyes and starts looking for a shoe that isn’t missing its mate. “I’ve always liked old things,” he says when the silence has stretched out long enough to warrant a change in topic, apparently committed to this nonsensical conversation.
“Thus why you restore old books instead of doing politics,” Grantaire offers, hopping his way into a shoe, finally having found a pair. It’s possible he needs to clean. “Unless this is just a stopping point on your way to office.”
Enjolras makes a disgusted noise. “Not with the way the government is now. Besides, it’s important to learn from history—”
“So we don’t repeat it,” Grantaire finishes, hopping into his other shoe. “Ever think that learning from history just blinds us to the possibility of anything turning out different?”
“You believe that?”
Grantaire snorts and finally straightens up to find Enjolras watching him, frowning. He looks more thoughtful than angry, anyway. He still looks like he should be carved out of marble, though. “I don’t believe in much, Apollo.”
He waves a hand. “The angel thing was too easy. Now, are we going down to lunch? You didn’t have to wait for me.”
“It was the polite thing to do.” Enjolras starts for the door, though, and Grantaire follows him, shutting the door after him and going down the narrow stairs to the second floor. Most of it is taken up with storage and Fantine’s office, but there’s a tiny parlor jammed into the front of the building, and when they all have lunch together, that’s where they have it. It gets redecorated every few months when Fantine decides she ought to move the furniture through, but the art always stays the same, because it’s all Grantaire’s fakes, and they can’t exactly sell those.
Enjolras looks around a little startled when they get in, which means this is his first lunch with them. Fantine and Valjean are sitting on the loveseat, talking about Valjean’s neighbor, Cosette and Gavroche are putting sandwiches and finger foods onto some plates that are too cracked and chipped to sell, and Éponine is pouring wine into glasses (and water into another, for Gavroche, not that he couldn’t and wouldn’t steal someone’s wine if he wanted).
Grantaire decides to abandon Enjolras to everyone else’s tender mercies and goes over to her, tossing an arm around her shoulders. “Some extra for me, because you love me and I had to go a whole week without our wonderful French wine?”
“Some extra for you because you’re a whiny bitch,” Éponine corrects and hands him a nearly-overflowing glass. Grantaire salutes her with it just to show off that he can do so without spilling and takes a healthy gulp so he doesn’t tempt fate. “And you take the new kid his and give him the art talk.” She nods over to where Enjolras is staring at the Vermeer fake by the window. “You know you want to.”
“This whole enterprise is a terrible idea,” he says, but he takes the second glass of wine and goes back over to Enjolras even though he’d much rather sit with Gavroche and Cosette. “Like the art?”
“Are these yours?”
Grantaire rolls his eyes. “No, I scrawled my initial all over several priceless pieces of artwork for fun. They’re fakes, and not very good ones. Modern materials instead of contemporary. I like seeing how well I can imitate, and since selling these things gets you arrested …” Leaving them in the attics of estate sales sometimes leads to them in the middle of a bidding war and then being put in a museum, but that’s a long and embarrassing story and only happened once, and that was a much better fake anyway. “Anyway, Fantine likes them.”
“Do you paint anything of your own?” Enjolras sounds, of all the things, frustrated.
“These are my own.”
Valjean, bless him for a saint, chooses that moment to interrupt. “Grantaire, I haven’t seen you since you went to Stockholm, come and tell me about it.”
Grantaire shoves his extra wine glass into Enjolras’s hands and goes to sit on the chair next to Valjean to give him a carefully-edited account of his time in Sweden, mostly about the scenery and the private collection he was supposedly doing maintenance on. Cosette serves the meal while they’re still talking and then retreats to a conversation with Enjolras by the wall. Grantaire sticks with Éponine and Gavroche, who launches into a long story of something he got up to with some friends that was in all likelihood incredibly illegal.
Fantine asks him to watch the front after lunch so she and Valjean can go over some papers (and probably have sex, Grantaire has no idea how Cosette handles their casual relationship at all, considering it must be awkward enough that her birth mother and adoptive father are friends, let alone fucking), so Grantaire goes down while Cosette and the Thénardier siblings start a game of poker. Enjolras, he knows, comes down soon after to sit in the back room and work on sorting through a box of papers, but Grantaire resists the temptation to go back and bother him even though the flow of customers is slow. Enjolras doesn’t seem to like him much, and more to the point Enjolras is far too interested in Grantaire’s art for an expert in antique books with a fondness for arguing about politics. It’s probably better for everyone if Grantaire avoids him.
Enjolras, on the other hand, doesn’t seem interested in being avoided. He shows up behind the counter the next day while Grantaire is watching it, taking a break from the landscape so he doesn’t stab another, less easily fixed, hole in it. Grantaire, busy doodling and making sure the nervous-looking man who just came in doesn’t knock anything over, ignores him until he actually speaks. “What are you drawing?”
“Fantine.” He pushes the paper over when Enjolras keeps peering at it. “As done by Mucha, normally I go for Vermeer for her, but you have to admit the line work works with her face.”
“Do you draw everyone you know in different styles?”
Grantaire takes his paper back and puts a few more lines on it. “Yes. It’s good practice, and as a bonus it’s really good for Christmas presents. Éponine has a picture of herself as a Degas ballerina, and Cosette has one that’s her as a Woodhouse, she’s always pre-Raphaelite for me. Valjean is da Vinci most of the time, and I haven’t settled for Gavroche yet.” He grins. “Your friend Marius Pontmercy is pure Disney, I’m afraid. It’s the wobbly legs and freckles.”
Enjolras frowns, but he seems more thoughtful than annoyed. He’s got a pair of glasses perched on his head, which Grantaire tries very hard for his own sanity to ignore now that he’s seen them. “What would you paint me as, then?”
“I couldn’t possibly paint you. It would be a disservice. You’re meant to be sculpted in marble.”
That twitches the frown over to annoyed, but Enjolras persists, for reasons Grantaire can’t begin to comprehend. “How about yourself?”
Grantaire snorts. “What’s the name of whoever sculpted the gargoyles?” When Enjolras only scowls, he relents. “I don’t paint myself, Apollo, so I couldn’t tell you. Dionysus in a neo-Classical bacchanal, maybe.” The man wandering the store finally arrives at the counter with a hideous little figurine of an angel in hand. Grantaire takes his money and doesn’t even mock his taste, because he doesn’t want Fantine’s store to fail. And besides, Enjolras seems horrified by the concussed-looking expression on the tiny angel’s face, that’s quite enough judgment from the staff. “Now,” he says when the man finally wanders out, still looking no less lost and dazed than he did upon entering, “did you come out here for a reason, or could you just not stand sitting at your desk another minute? Because believe me, I understand that, but I thought I should ask.”
“Oh.” Enjolras blinks. “I have an illustrated book in there, I wanted you to have a look at the illustration on a ripped page to make sure I’m fitting it back together correctly.”
Grantaire eyes the street, but no one is pausing at their window (he needs to re-do the display, he meant to before he left for Stockholm), so he feels justified in going to the back room and leaving the front unattended. Anyone who steals from Sur-Mer is in for a surprise anyway. “Sure, Apollo, I’ll see what I can do. I’m better with canvas than paper, but I can at least be a second pair of eyes.”
Enjolras nods and leads the way, pushing his glasses back down to perch on his nose as he goes, and Grantaire bends to peer over his shoulder when Enjolras sits down at the desk. The book open in front of him is some book of fairy tales in Italian, old enough that it’s still charmingly gory rather than moralistic, and there’s a rip right down the middle of one of the black-and-white pictures, going about a third of a way down the page. “I know how to repair it, of course,” says Enjolras, “but since it was an illustration I thought that I would double check with you.”
“I’ve done a book or two in my time too, but really, this isn’t hand-painted, it’s just printer’s ink. I’d say as long as you’re competent enough to line everything up properly, you shouldn’t have too much trouble.” Enjolras tenses, bristling, and Grantaire backs off, going back around to the front of his desk. “Not used to dealing with pictures?”
“I started learning when I worked at a university library, on academic texts. Not very many pictures, no.”
Grantaire nods at the book. “Well, that’s a good introduction to it. Book that old, people buy it to show off, so they’ll expect it to look good.” He grins. “You seem like the kind to work well under pressure.”
That makes Enjolras smile, pushing his glasses up his nose. “I suppose I do. Do you?”
“Ask anyone, I don’t work well under any circumstances,” Grantaire says with a dismissive wave, and that gets him the scowl right back again. “Better under pressure than without it, I suppose,” he relents, because he does have something resembling a work ethic, even if most of that has to do with stealing art.
“I’ve heard different.” Enjolras raises an eyebrow, which makes him look even more like a hot librarian. Grantaire hadn’t ever realized that was his kink before, but it seems it is. “Fantine tells me you’re well-respected enough in the community that you travel frequently to restore paintings. I would say there are circumstances where you work well, if you’re that in-demand.”
“I suppose I’ll allow that, Apollo. I do try never to turn down a compliment, especially ones from statues come to life.” That brings the scowl back. Grantaire grins. “Now, I can’t leave the front empty for too long, so unless you have some other illustrations for me to look at, I’d better leave you to your work. Feel free to ask me to consult any time.”
The look Enjolras gives him makes it clear just how much help he’s been helpful in this particular consultation, but it was a ridiculous thing to consult for in the first place, so Grantaire can’t say he minds very much. Instead, when Enjolras gives him a nod that’s clearly a dismissal, he salutes and wanders back out to the front, where Gavroche is wandering around eyeing the merchandise.
He perks up when he sees Grantaire and insists upon showing him the new magic trick he’s been learning because Éponine thinks teaching him magic tricks that he can concentrate his unique skillset on will keep him from becoming a master criminal. Once he’s showed off quite enough, they start planning out what Grantaire will be painting in his bathroom next (Gavroche is pulling for Mondrian or an epic mural done in comic book style, but Grantaire is far too much in the mood for art nouveau to do that).
Some time later, after Grantaire has dealt with a few customers and moved on to doodling the adventures of The Amazing Gavroche, Paris’s newest superhero, while Gavroche eggs him on, he looks up to find Enjolras watching in the doorway from the back room, glasses still on, eyes unfocused. “Can I help you, Apollo?”
Enjolras snaps to look at him. “Sorry, I was just taking a break to stretch,” he says, and disappears into the back again.
Fantine walks into his apartment while he’s putting a white coat over the Monet in the bathroom a few days later. It’ll take a second coat to properly get rid of the dark colors, but it’s at least a start. He puts his roller down when she taps on the bathroom door. “What can I do for you?”
“I had a call this morning.”
Grantaire straightens up. If she’s not being specific, it’s under-the-table business. “Problems with a past job, or—”
“A new one,” she assures him, and he relaxes, even though he doesn’t like taking more than one job every couple of months. “I almost said no for you, but it seems up your alley. Milan in the spring, a low-profile painting you get to steal from someone who is by all accounts terrible at taking care of his collection …”
“If it’s low-profile, why does someone want it stolen?”
Fantine shrugs. “She likes it. She’ll pay well. She even said she might hire you on for some legitimate business afterwards, so you have a cover.”
“Standard in-and-out beyond that?”
“Looks like it. I’d say you’d be back within two weeks, given how fast you usually work. Should I say yes, get you more details?”
Grantaire sighs and looks sadly around his bathroom. He hates leaving a project undone, but work is work, and even if he doesn’t technically need the money he can’t really object to it. He likes being busy. “Get me the details before I say yes, I’ll want to check them over.”
Fantine gives him a kiss on the cheek. “You can stop any time, you know.”
He raises his eyebrows. “Why would I want to? The adrenaline rush is second to nothing.”
She laughs. “I just feel like I should offer sometimes, that’s all. Call it a guilt complex.”
“I figure doing this with you filtering my jobs is a lot better than what I’d get up to on my own, and Gav and Éponine are glad to have you as well. You’re running a home for wayward boys and girls. Though Cosette isn’t particularly wayward.”
Fantine picks up his extra roller and sets to work on a still-painted patch of wall. “If you ever move out, I’m going to have to hire an excavator to scrape off an inch of paint on every wall. And no, Cosette isn’t wayward. You think Enjolras is?”
“I get the impression Enjolras spends most of his nights talking radical politics with his friends,” Grantaire points out. “He may not be a thief, but he’s not exactly a regular upstanding citizen. Or at least I hope he’s not.” Because Fantine is attached, and Cosette is attached, and Gav likes him, and Éponine seems to be on her way there, and Grantaire is so fucking attracted to him it isn’t fair, and if he’s more upstanding than he seems, then eventually they’re fucked.
“I only hire people with criminal records.”
Grantaire almost drops his roller on the ground. It’s like Christmas. “Fantine, you are my favorite person in the world. Tell me all of Apollo’s dirty secrets.”
“I do have something resembling morals.” She keeps rolling the paint even and easy, and Grantaire joins in again. “He asked about you.”
This time, Grantaire keeps going. “About my dubious morals?”
“Just about you.” Fantine nudges him with her shoulder. “I didn’t tell him anything you would consider important, and I won’t. You know that.”
He slings an arm around her shoulder. She’s wearing the clothes she wears when she’s cleaning or restoring and doesn’t expect to have a meeting or take over the front of the store, so she won’t mind getting a little paint on her. “You’re a saint. I should paint you like the Madonna, all gold leaf and—”
“If you’re uncomfortable with him, I’ll pull some strings, ask Mabeuf with the used book store to take him once he’s organized a few more boxes of papers. He’s a friend of Cosette’s, yes, but you’re family.”
He kisses her on the temple, squeezing tight before he lets go to get both of them back to their painting. “You’re too good for me. But I’m not a delicate flower, Fantine, and I can talk to people who aren’t criminals. I may not trust him, but I didn’t trust you at first either, and now I let you curate my criminal career.”
“If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.” They paint in silence for a few minutes, covering the space efficiently, before Fantine’s phone buzzes in her pocket and she grimaces. “Coat of varnish on a table I’m repairing is dry, I should go down and have a look at things. I’ll get you more details about the Milan job, come over for dinner tonight and we’ll go over it then.”
“Absolutely. Your cooking is better than mine, anyway.”
Fantine rolls her eyes. “You just don’t go to the effort very often. Next time you repaint the kitchen and living room, you should pick something that is more likely to make you want to spend time there.” She puts her roller down.
“I like the Dali just fine,” he says, a little bit offended. “I’ve only had it for six months.”
“Enjolras liked it, I think. He asked about your forgeries and fakes.”
Grantaire shrugs. “He knows I’m a little shady, obviously. Let’s hope he thinks it’s just an eccentric hobby.”
Fantine hums thoughtfully. “I don’t know if that’s why he was asking, but sure. Now, I’ve got to go. See you for dinner?”
“See you for dinner,” he confirms, and waves her out of the room and listens until she shuts the apartment door after her. He goes back to painting in silence after that, covering over the Monet with white and trying not to think about Enjolras, which is damned hard when nobody will shut up about him.
Grantaire leaves for Milan four days later, giving Fantine his assurance that he’ll do his best, Cosette a promise that he’ll try not to get arrested, Éponine a kiss on the cheek, and Gav an assurance that he’ll remember to send his usual postcard for his collection. Enjolras is out with his friends and doesn’t see him off, but Grantaire gets a text on the train, a simple Good luck with your work this week followed two minutes later by This is Enjolras, by the way.
After a confused minute, Grantaire sends a quick thanks and wonders if he should have a discussion with Cosette about giving his number out to gorgeous blond men (the conversation would probably be encouraging, though, if he’s being totally honest). On a whim and after a few more minutes’ deliberation, he texts him again. hope you won’t pine too much without me. There’s no response, but he figures that’s normal. Enjolras was just letting him know that Cosette gave his number out, and maybe they’ll text about work shifts once in a while.
The next day, he sends out a text to the various people from Sur-Mer. Not about his criminal activities, which are off to a good start, but to let them know he’s safe in his hotel and that the collection he’s maintaining (and adding to) for his contact is very lovely. He adds Enjolras to the list mostly on a whim, but doesn’t expect a response like he gets from everyone else. To his surprise, though, Enjolras’s message is one of the first to come in. If you have time while you’re in the city, you should go see the Duomo, he’s written.
Are you a world traveler, then? Grantaire responds instead of saying he’s been there in the past.
Not as much as I’d like to be. And then, a few minutes later, once Grantaire has responded to Cosette and Gavroche and Valjean, My friends say hello.
Grantaire has no idea what to do with that, so he goes back to planning his job now that he knows something about the security on the mark’s house. The piece he’s meant to steal is a piece the mark doesn’t even care about very much but still refuses to sell, which is one of Grantaire’s favorite kind of things to steal. Unappreciated art should be taken to a place where it can be appreciated, it ought to be a law.
The routine of working up towards stealing something is almost a comforting one, getting the mark’s routine and likely deviances from it in his head, checking on the security, ascertaining the exact location of the piece he wants, and staying in contact with the woman who hired him, who is a delightful fount of information and banter both. She takes him out for dinner and he repairs a few paintings in her collection, which is eclectic but select, one of his favorite kinds. It is, on the whole, a delightful job, since he loves Italy in general and Milan in particular, and he even takes the time to walk by the Duomo and text a picture of himself there to the crew at Sur-Mer.
Enjolras only texts him once more while he’s there, giving him the address of a used book shop he recommends near the via Dante, but by that point Grantaire is concentrating too much on preparing for the job to spend time browsing through a store.
The theft itself is almost textbook, requiring just enough delicate work to keep him interested but still easy enough that he doesn’t make a wreck of himself with paranoia. There are no yappy poodles, unexpected mistresses or cleaning crews, sudden changes in the collection, or anything else untoward. He takes the painting for his boss and, on a whim, pauses in the library on his way out to grab what turns out to be a beautiful copy—not first edition, but certainly early—of Le Contrat Social. He doesn’t even bother pretending it’s not for Enjolras.
In the end, he spends ten days in Milan, and by the time he gets back to Paris according to his sources the idiot he stole the painting and the book from hasn’t even realized they’re gone. All the better, then, and even less to lead back to him.
Cosette meets him off the train, to his pleasant surprise. “I thought you might want some company back home,” she explains, and he isn’t about to turn her down.
“From you, always. Tell me all the gossip. How are things with you and Marius Pontmercy?”
She grins. “Very well, I think. We’ve been out to dinner twice and I think I even managed to make him realize the second time was a date.”
“Good for you. Or him. Not very bright, is he?”
Cosette whacks him on the arm, and since her father taught her how to give a hit and her father is mildly terrifying when threatened, it hurts. “Don’t insult him, you hardly know him. And he’s just nervous. It’s sweet.”
“What else has happened, then?”
“Papa is fighting with the police inspector next door again, Gavroche managed to convince someone to buy a chair for twice what it’s worth, Fantine found some sort of job for Éponine, and Enjolras has been grumpier than usual.”
Grantaire laughs. “All sorts of excitement, then. Should I bother asking what kind of job this is? Second story work of some sort, I assume.”
“I didn’t ask.”
“Fair enough.” He pauses. “And what has your already-broody Apollo in a snit? He seemed perfectly normal when he texted me.”
Her eyebrows go up. “He texted you? I didn’t know. No, he’s just been out of sorts, from what I can tell.”
Grantaire decides it’s in his best interest to change the subject, and he and Cosette talk about Gavroche’s supernatural ability to sell anything for more than it’s worth and how it means he’s going to make a terrifyingly good politician someday, all the way home. Enjolras is at the counter when they come in, and he barely looks up from what he’s doing. Grantaire rummages around in his bag until he comes out with the Rousseau, properly boxed and wrapped up. “Found this for you in your bookstore,” he lies without shame. “They didn’t seem to know what it was worth.”
Before Enjolras can open the present, or say anything more than a stiff thank you, Grantaire excuses himself, claiming tiredness, and drags Cosette through the back and upstairs, since Fantine isn’t in. “Did you bring me a present?” she asks, sounding amused.
“As always,” he assures her. “Now, I don’t think I’m ready for my post-job nap yet. Do you want to help me get started on the second coat of primer for the bathroom?”
Cosette looks like she’d like to ask another question or two, but she leaves it be, for which he can’t thank her enough. She’s too good for all of them.
Fantine invites them all for dinner the next day. Ten minutes before they’re meant to be there, Éponine drags Grantaire away from his bathroom, where he’s started the line work for his art nouveau piece. It isn’t precisely Mucha, since Grantaire doesn’t want a picture of a woman staring at him from his bathroom wall while he takes a piss, but he thinks he’s achieving the style, anyway. “I hear you brought Enjolras home a present,” Éponine offers while they walk down the stairs. Fantine’s house is the only one she would never break into, which means instead of death-defying jumps from one building to the next they’re taking the long way.
“I brought everyone home presents, I couldn’t exactly leave him out,” Grantaire points out.
Éponine is ahead of him on the stairs, but she is staring at him judgmentally through the back of her head. It’s her superpower. “Yes, but you didn’t bring everyone home priceless books by their favorite philosophers.”
“I didn’t spend any money on it, if it helps.”
She laughs. “Of course you stole him his present, why am I at all surprised?”
“I’m not made of money.”
“You’re doing pretty well for yourself,” she says with no shame at all, because he’s fully aware that she’s a snoop and also sometimes she balances his books for him when he’s too busy in his studio to worry about reality. “But no, I’m a little jealous. You don’t steal me priceless books or knick-knacks.”
He raises his eyebrows even though she’s still ahead of him and isn’t bothering to look back as they get to the ground floor. “Are you going to start collecting Dresden figurines, then?”
That makes Éponine finally turn around so he gets the full effect of the face she makes at that. Grantaire just grins and pushes the back door open. “If I were going to collect something, it would be much more interesting than that,” she says once they’re outside, the door locked behind them, and heading next door. “I’ll have to think about it.”
Grantaire doesn’t bother answering, since they’re all of ten feet from Fantine’s back door. Instead, he gives her a companionable nudge and lets her go on ahead, knocking on door. Valjean answers it, wearing a patchwork apron and not caring at all about it. He gives Éponine a quick hug around the shoulders and Grantaire a firm handshake and ushers them inside. “You’re the last two to get here,” he says. “Dinner’s a few minutes from ready, still, though, so you should go to the living room and relax.”
“The last two? We’re five minutes early,” says Éponine, shrugging off her jacket and hanging it on one of the hooks.
“Cosette’s been visiting Fantine all day, Gavroche came over to beg for cooking lessons, by which I mean batter-licking, earlier, and Enjolras turned up a few minutes ago.” Valjean shrugs, information imparted, and disappears into the kitchen.
Grantaire follows Éponine to the living room. Cosette and Gavroche are sitting cross-legged on the floor playing some very cutthroat card game that seems to involve a lot of slapping of various stacks of cards and triumphant shouting, and Fantine and Enjolras are sitting in some of the chairs, not talking when they come in. Enjolras, to Grantaire’s surprise, shoots to his feet the second time he sees Grantaire come through the door. Grantaire raises his eyebrows and waves around the room. “Evening, all.”
Fantine and Cosette look at him with almost identical expressions of long-suffering amusement, and Gavroche just flat-out grins and then uses the moment of distraction to get one over on Cosette in whatever game they’re playing. Éponine rolls her eyes and goes to sit on the couch near Fantine. “We’ll all pretend not to eavesdrop,” she says, and turns to Fantine to start talking about something she read in the news earlier.
Enjolras walks over to Grantaire looking like he’s approaching something dangerous and liable to explode, like a volcano or a small child. Grantaire stands his ground. “What’s up, Apollo?”
“What’s—you gave me an early-edition Rousseau from a shop that takes very good care of its inventory and it must have been far too expensive for me to accept. So, thank you for thinking of me, but I really should give it back.” He looks sort of like that thought makes him want to cry, but Grantaire doesn’t answer, just crosses his arms and waits for more, waits for the inevitable gearing up, the “Why would you even give me that?”
“I wanted to, simple as that. Saw it and thought of you.” He puts on his most charming grin, because he knows it will annoy Enjolras, and sure enough it makes him stand up impossibly straighter, brows snapping together. “Okay, you caught me, I didn’t make it to your bookstore and felt bad, so I stopped by a cart that sold books on my way out of the city, and he did not know the worth of his best treasure.”
“I didn’t expect you to—that’s still—I really can’t accept it.”
Grantaire shoulders by him to get all the way into the room but doesn’t take a seat quite yet. “And I won’t take it back. Money’s already spent, Apollo, and what would I do with it in my apartment? Drip paint on it?” That looks like it hurts Enjolras in his soul. “There, see? It’s all yours.”
Enjolras deflates, all at once, but he holds Grantaire’s eyes for another few seconds. “Thank you, then. It’s still too much, but—thank you.”
“It’s really, really nothing. If you want to make it up for me, next time you go on a trip you can bring me something back.” That, he thinks, ends the conversation quite neatly, and he’s about to excuse himself to go sit next to Éponine and have a conversation that feels a little safer than this one when Valjean clears his throat from the doorway.
“Dinner’s ready,” he says, giving Grantaire a suspicious look, and turns around to go to the dining room, where he’ll already be serving everything up.
Grantaire seats himself between Gavroche and Cosette at the table, leaving Éponine and Enjolras to talk about Enjolras’s friends and some protest they went to a few weeks ago. He concentrates on telling Valjean and Gavroche about Milan, and Cosette about the painting in his bathroom, and curses himself for being stupid, and impulsive, and stealing something for a man who doesn’t know what he does for a living.
He catches Enjolras looking at him a few times throughout dinner, but he decides to leave it. He needs to be careful.
After two jobs in such close succession, Grantaire is glad for the chance to rest and spend some time in Paris. He finishes his bathroom mural in four days, during which time he sleeps and eats very little, and then goes to work on some paintings that Fantine has waiting for him, fussing with repairs until they look as good as new or better. He minds the front of the shop when it needs minding, he gives serious thought to painting a good fake for an excuse to stay in Paris for a while, and he gives more serious thought to repainting his living room area even though he tries not to do two rooms so quickly after one another.
Enjolras becomes a fixture around Sur-Mer, fitting in seamlessly in what seems like no time at all. He talks about world events with Valjean, antiques with Fantine, can keep up in a conversation with Éponine, spends ages talking with Cosette about their friends and whatever else, and gets Gavroche on a truly terrifying fuck-the-government kick. He spends less time there than the rest of them, because of his group of friends (who wander through the shop on occasion) requires his presence, but he fits. Even Marius Pontmercy, who continues to be sickeningly adorable with Cosette, doesn’t fit in so well, mainly because he seems terrified of them.
The only person Enjolras doesn’t fit well with is Grantaire, really. Though that may be unfair—Grantaire doesn’t try. Grantaire is a thief, and Enjolras is too smart for his own good, and the suspicion in the face of his gift is quite enough to make it clear it’s best if they avoid each other where possible. And that’s fine. That would be fine, anyway, if Enjolras weren’t as good as a magnet where Grantaire is concerned. When they’re in the same room, it’s a chore not to look at him, not to respond to whatever he’s saying, even if more often than not his response is a scathing argument.
“Are you okay?” Fantine asks when he’s been home for two weeks, after the third blow-up argument in as many days. The shop is in an afternoon lull, the weather too nice for anyone to think about coming inside and poking at dusty antiques, which is a blessing, since otherwise they would have scared any customers off.
Grantaire makes sure the door to the back room is shut (he knows it is, Enjolras didn’t slam it for fear of rattling the breakables, but he still managed to make it feel as though he slammed it) before he answers. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“The shouting was a clue,” she says, dry as dust, and leans her head on his shoulder. “This isn’t good, R.”
“Believe me, I know. And I don’t mean to bother you with it.” He’s careful not to dislodge her, only shrugs with the shoulder she isn’t leaning on. “We just rub each other the wrong way. Cynicism and idealism, the wrong side of the law and the right, art and the written word. Never the two shall meet.”
She sighs and steps away, straightening his collar like she can’t help it. “You respect each other’s work, that’s something. And you brought home a gift that was tailor-made for him.”
“He doesn’t respect all of my work, and he tried to return the gift, so I don’t think it counts.”
“And he tries to ask you questions and you shut him down.” She catches his eye. “R, I’m not telling you to tell him what you do for most of your living, but Enjolras is smart, and Éponine and Gavroche don’t care to be discreet around him. He knows something is going on here. He hasn’t reported us to the police yet.”
“Not to be self-centered, but there’s a large difference between what they do and what you or I do. Though maybe he would consider it to be fighting the man, it’s hard to say.”
“I just don’t want my employees at each other’s throats. Is that so much to ask?”
Grantaire ducks his head. Nobody’s ever been able to make him feel ashamed of himself quite as quickly as Fantine, not even his own mother when they were still in contact. “I’ll work on it.”
“I’m not asking you to be his best friend, or even to stop arguing philosophy, I know how you get. Just try to trust him—or at least trust that I wouldn’t hire and keep anyone who would make your life harder.”
The door opens then, and it’s a customer they don’t know, so Fantine lets the conversation end with a quick squeeze of his arm and goes back to her workshop, since the shouting interrupted her trying to repair a turn-of-the-century teacup. Grantaire helps the woman who came in find the perfect vintage clutch to bring to a party and feels quite virtuous about it.
By the time the shop closes, there’s been no sign of Fantine or Enjolras coming out of the back, so he closes and locks up and goes into the back room. Fantine went upstairs at some point, probably to her office, but Enjolras is still there. He looks up just long enough to give Grantaire a distracted nod and then goes back to sorting through what looks like a packet of letters.
Grantaire eats dinner and then shuts himself in his studio, staring at a blank canvas and not putting a single brushstroke on it for hours, until he gives up and drinks half a bottle of wine instead, sulking on his couch and wondering if he needs to repaint his living room after all, if only for something to do. When he gets too sick of his own walls, he wanders the building, down to the first floor, expecting to be the only one around.
Instead, he finds Enjolras asleep slumped over his desk, glasses askew and face mashed into an open book that luckily looks contemporary rather than like something he’s been restoring. Grantaire should probably wake him, but instead, on a whim, he steals a blank sheet of paper and a pen and does a quick sketch of Enjolras, not imitating anyone in particular, just the lines and angles of him. He leaves it on the desk, settles Enjolras’s jacket over his shoulders, and goes back upstairs.
Enjolras is on duty in the front the next day, so Grantaire avoids it, but he does stop down in the back room to chat with Fantine for a minute and finds that his stupid doodle is tacked up on the wall next to Enjolras’s desk. He doesn’t know what to do with that, so while Fantine is talking about the auction she wants him to accompany her to so he can advise her on paintings and sculpture he makes another doodle of Enjolras, this time standing at the counter with the judgmental look that he gets whenever one of the customers buys something truly ridiculous, and leaves it on the desk.
Fantine smiles when she sees what he’s doing. “I suppose it’s one way to make peace,” she allows, and doesn’t mention it again. That’s why she’s his favorite.
And if Grantaire sneaks down after closing and sees that the second picture is pinned up next to the other one, that’s nobody’s business at all.
Grantaire assumes that his pictures will count as a ceasefire and acts as scrupulously normal as he can the next day when he comes downstairs around lunchtime to take over the front from Fantine, who had it all morning. Normal, of course, for he and Enjolras, is tipping an imaginary cap to him on the way through with a cheerful “Apollo” (and arguments, those are also normal, but Grantaire is trying, for Fantine’s sake), but at least it pretends at being civil.
“I’m too full to finish lunch,” Enjolras says just as Grantaire is almost at the door to the front, thinking he’s escaped further conversation. It sounds as though he rehearsed the line, of all things.
Grantaire turns around very slowly, trying to figure out what on earth that has to do with him. “I’m very sorry?”
Enjolras’s lips thin. “I mean I have extra. If you’d like it. Cosette says you skip more meals than I do, and she says that’s saying something.” He opens up a bag and tosses an orange in Grantaire’s direction. Grantaire catches it even though it’s a low and poorly-aimed throw, still staring at Enjolras in bemusement. “So enjoy it. Don’t drip juice on the books.”
If Enjolras hadn’t already blatantly admitted to Cosette’s being involved, Grantaire would accuse him of getting her involved, because she’s the only person nice enough to remember stupid things like his favorite fruit (well, Éponine might remember, but she wouldn’t tell Enjolras to buy him one and then transparently give it to him as a peace-keeping measure). As it is, he just stares for a minute, the orange in his hand. It takes a noise from the front to start him out of his stupor, and all he can think to do is mutter a quick thanks and go to take the front from Fantine, clutching the orange so tight he’s half afraid the peel is going to split.
Fantine gives him a curious look when he appears at the counter, still feeling mildly shell-shocked and holding the orange. “Are you okay?”
“Your newest employee is very confusing.”
After a second, she seems to decide that whatever it is, it isn’t urgent. “Well, that makes him fit in very well with the rest of them. Don’t drip orange juice all over my store, please.”
“I won’t.” He doesn’t end up eating the orange, but he does end up leaving it on the counter and staring at it periodically all afternoon and catching it no less than six times when it starts to roll off. Enjolras leaves through the front entrance, earlier than usual, and gives Grantaire a nod on his way out, his eyes catching on the orange, and Grantaire isn’t sure what to do with that either.
Cosette stops by just as the shop is closing, and she doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to go next door or to the back to visit her mother, which makes Grantaire suspect the universe is conspiring against him. Or that Cosette is conspiring against him, which is nearly the same thing. “You have an orange,” she says when he doesn’t make a conversational sally, which only confirms it.
“I have an orange thanks to you, I hear.”
She smoothes her skirt down primly. “Thanks to Enjolras. I just told him what sorts of things you like.” He can’t even pretend to be stern with Cosette, but he does cross his arms and wait for her to say something. “You gave him a priceless book and sketches of himself not based off classical statuary, he wanted to know how to reciprocate, that’s all.”
“Was it bothering you that much that we don’t get along?”
“Yes, because it’s stupid. So you disagree on most things philosophical and political. I think you’re good for each other.”
He eyes her suspiciously. “You aren’t getting ideas because you’ve found Marius Pontmercy, are you? Because I won’t stand for that.”
Cosette puts her hands in the air. “I’m not matchmaking, I promise. But you were arguing, and he won’t shut up about you, and believe it or not you won’t shut up about him, and things will be a little easier if you two get along.”
“Fine, fine, I will continue making an effort. And he’ll reach out with citrus, apparently.”
She rolls her eyes and hops over the counter, which they all do their best to keep clear of unnecessary debris because everyone but Fantine and Enjolras has a habit of using it to climb over instead of walk around. “He’s good at restoring books, arguing about politics, and making awkward gestures, so this is him trying the last one. Now, are you going to invite me upstairs so I can beat you at poker? Éponine and Gavroche are coming over too.”
“I don’t recall scheduling a party,” he says, mostly for form’s sake. Éponine and Gavroche’s apartment is tiny, and Cosette lives with her father, so when they all want to spend time together they mostly go to his place.
“Amnesia,” she says gravely, and then helps him close up the shop in record time before hooking her arm through his and dragging him upstairs. He barely remembers to grab the orange along the way, since there’s no use letting it go to waste.
Éponine and Gavroche are already there, Éponine texting someone and Gavroche sketching something definitely not age-appropriate in one of Grantaire’s throwaway sketchbooks. Grantaire greets them and grabs himself a bowl for his orange peel while Cosette goes to his coffee table and starts dealing out the cards for poker, which she only likes playing because she always wins.
If Grantaire is a little quiet during the game, none of them mentions it, and Cosette only raises her eyebrows once when he starts eating the orange. As well she should, because it doesn’t mean anything at all.
Grantaire decides that the orange means it’s probably his turn to make a gesture and stops to lean on Enjolras’s desk the next day on his way out to the shop’s front. Enjolras, unusually, isn’t feverishly restoring an under-loved book or sorting through a box of letters and dance cards and other paper keepsakes. No, he’s reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a gorgeous leather-bound copy, and is completely engrossed to the point that Grantaire has to clear his throat to be acknowledged. “Gavroche is a fan of Verne as well,” he says when Enjolras starts and looks up at him. “He keeps pestering Éponine and me to take him to Nantes to see the elephant.”
“It’s a classic.”
“Not your usual fare, though.”
To his great delight, Enjolras actually blushes. “I do read things besides philosophy and politics, you know. I like Verne. This is a lovely copy.”
“So it is.” He tilts his head. “How’s your English? If you like Verne, you might like Wells, and I’ve got The Time Machine upstairs.”
Grantaire isn’t used to Enjolras smiling about anything he says. It’s a little unnerving, actually. “I’ve read a lot of Wells. So much good science fiction is in English, it’s hard not to learn it. I do read French when I can, but—”
“But the market is pretty saturated,” Grantaire finishes for him. “Wait, aren’t you the man who said he’d never seen Star Trek that one time? If you read science fiction, then watching it shouldn’t be a stretch.”
Enjolras rolls his eyes. “I don’t have the time for that. I can read in between other things.”
“Well, if you ever want to watch, I have a lot of Star Trek on my computer.” And it may not all be strictly legal, but it isn’t as though episodes of television are the biggest concerns where his larceny is concerned.
Enjolras nods slowly. “I’ll keep it in mind.” Grantaire is nearly certain that’s a “no,” but it’s a kinder “no” than he could have expected even a few days ago, so he’s going to take what he can get. “Can I help you with anything?”
“No, nothing, I just thought I would say hello on my way out to the front.” He shrugs. “Everyone has a vested interest in our not fighting like cats and dogs, for some incomprehensible reason. Maybe they’re invested in not getting hearing loss before their time, we do have a tendency to get loud.”
That makes Enjolras quirk his mouth in a way Grantaire doesn’t recognize. “We’ll have to be careful to argue more quietly the next time we do, then.”
Grantaire laughs and salutes. “Of course, Apollo. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going out to work for my living.” Even if that’s not strictly true.
It’s a quiet, sluggish morning on Paris’s streets, cloudy and on the edge of a drizzle, with enough pressure in the air to leave a headache lingering at Grantaire’s temples (though some of that may be a hangover, not quite cleared away by the coffee he drank before coming downstairs). In between rare customers, he sketches on scrap paper until he ends up with a whole comic about all of them in space, quick drawings of Fantine as a ship’s captain, Gavroche climbing around in the bowels of a spaceship, Éponine and Cosette back to back with Princess Leia braids and guns in their hands, Enjolras declaiming a speech to a mixed group of aliens, even a rare sketch of himself as some sort of strange alien taking a drink of something.
Enjolras turns up at his shoulder sometime near lunch, startling him so badly he nearly tips over the porcelain vase he was cleaning the fingerprints from. “Are these for me? Not to assume, of course, it’s just after our conversation earlier I wondered.”
“They can be if you like. They’re just doodles.”
Enjolras leafs through the pages, considering, and eventually takes out the picture of himself and the one of Grantaire. “You should give the rest to the others,” he says, like it’s some sort of explanation. “But for now I’m here to relieve you for the afternoon, Fantine says I’ve been staring at the box of letters I’m sorting for too long.”
“Then I’ll go get some other work done. I’ve got a few landscapes I’ve been meaning to clean up for a while.” He makes a face. “Landscapes are on the whole boring, in case you hadn’t been clued into that fact of the trade.”
“I guessed, anyway.” Enjolras sets the pictures he chose on the counter next to him while Grantaire gathers up the rest of them to join the other doodles he makes during shifts that nobody has claimed yet. “You’ve never wanted to paint professionally?”
“I do. Just not the way you mean.” Enjolras frowns, and Grantaire searches for an answer when he would have left it there otherwise. “I draw, and even paint some, and give them to my family, because I don’t fancy all the rejection that comes with trying to show in galleries. I restore paintings for work,” not to mention stealing them and forging them if the price is right, “and I paint for people who have the decency to be kind to me about it. I don’t need more.”
Enjolras’s face doesn’t wear confusion well. It’s a scrunch-nosed expression, like he’s smelled something unpleasant, and it’s not particularly attractive but Grantaire’s fingers itch for a pencil anyway. Still, Enjolras doesn’t try to argue, which Grantaire has to admit to some gratitude about. “As long as you’re happy,” he says after a moment.
“I do my best,” says Grantaire, and ducks out before Enjolras can say anything else, the papers clutched in his head, probably wrinkling them.
Fantine is in the back room, doing inventory on a set of dishes to see how complete it is, and she looks up when he comes through, checking him over like she’s afraid he’s been injured and then smiling. “I’m glad the two of you are getting along better.”
“I do my best,” he says again, and goes upstairs, because things are much less confusing upstairs.
He goes down again at the end of the day to talk to Fantine and finds that Enjolras has put the portrait of himself up on the wall, and that the one of Grantaire is half-hidden under a pile of papers, with little holes in the corners like it had been tacked up and taken down again. He isn’t at all sure what to do with that, so he goes back to talking to Fantine and ignores the way she smiles whenever his attention strays to the wall by Enjolras’s desk.
When Grantaire goes downstairs the next morning, bright and early because Fantine wants him to help her repair a few figurines, he’s greeted by the rare sound of Enjolras’s laugh. Well, it’s rare around Grantaire anyway, which is a pity because he sounds delighted and years younger than he usually does. To Grantaire’s surprise, he’s gestured over the second he enters the back room. “R, come here, you’ll appreciate this, Fantine doesn’t seem to,” he says, and Grantaire can’t help going to see.
Enjolras has a tablet on a news site, and Grantaire almost tells him he isn’t interested on principle when he recognizes the picture that’s at the top of the article. Recognizes it, in fact, because he stole it only a few short weeks ago. Apparently the previous owner has finally realized it’s missing. “If you think I’m interested in all news about art—”
“Don’t, just read the article, it’s a masterpiece and it was stolen from a monster of a politician who deserved everything bad coming to him.” Enjolras scrolls down and Grantaire obediently reads over his shoulder, since Enjolras doesn’t seem inclined to surrender his tablet. Police think the trails are cold enough that it must have been stolen a while ago, and they’ve as good as admitted they won’t be able to track it, thank goodness. Even more thankfully, the missing book from the library isn’t mentioned once. Grantaire suspects, though, the part that entertains Enjolras is that the politician was going to have a dinner party and take the picture out of storage for it, had even bragged to all his friends about it. Sure enough, when they get to that part, Enjolras starts laughing again. “See? Sometimes things work out.”
“Don’t tell me you believe in karma, Apollo.”
“No, I believe we have to punish them ourselves. As this thief apparently did.” Enjolras starts grinning down at his tablet and Grantaire can’t stop the helpless half-a-thought, the I did that that he really can’t allow himself to think, especially since he didn’t, not really. “I would like to shake hands with whoever did it.”
“And if they did it for selfish reasons? A paycheck? I don’t think most thieves are Robin Hood.”
Enjolras shrugs, smile dimming but not disappearing. “Then they did it for a paycheck, and I still get to hear this man’s thinly veiled rage in his comments to the press.” He scrolls back to the top. “Do you know the painting?”
“I’m passingly familiar, anyway.” He did some maintenance work on it when he took it to its new home, so passing familiarity is a bit of an understatement, but he’s good at those. “It’s a nice one, but not too famous, so it’ll probably be hard to find a postcard of it to paste in your scrapbook.”
The look Enjolras gives him at that is half familiar exasperation and half something warmer, leftover amusement still coloring his face. “I’ll have to get you to sketch me a copy, then.”
“You are definitely overestimating my skills.”
Enjolras raises his eyebrows. “Experience tells me otherwise. As do the walls in your apartment, from what I can tell.”
He could argue, but everyone is always telling him to take compliments, and Fantine is poking her head out of the front, maybe having heard them talking, so he doesn’t want to take the time to demur the compliment. He knows he’s a good imitator, anyway. “Well then, if I have time at the register maybe I’ll make you a copy for your little wall there.” He nods at it and waits to see if Enjolras has anything to say about it.
Enjolras doesn’t, or at least nothing useful. “Or my scrapbook, as you said.”
“You need some art by people who aren’t me up on your little display there, Apollo. People will say you’re biased.”
Enjolras shrugs and goes back to grinning at his tablet screen. “Maybe when other people start making art for me, I’ll display that as well.”
“I feel like a five-year-old whose parents are putting his finger paintings up on the refrigerator,” Grantaire mutters, more for something to say than because he actually feels that way (no, those feelings are reserved for his collection of fakes in the sitting room upstairs), and goes to the front to help Fantine open the shop.
Fantine has a worried wrinkle between her brows the same way she does every time one of his thefts makes the news. They both know he’s good—theft is one of the few things in the world Grantaire will admit to having skill at—but there’s always a worry that he’ll fuck up, that he’ll be taken away from their little family. Worse, that he’ll expose their little family, that everyone but Cosette and maybe Valjean will end up in jail. He was reckless sometimes before Fantine took him in, but he’s careful now. Doesn’t stop the worry, though. “The trail is cold,” she whispers, starting up the register.
“I saw, in the article.” He stops her, putting his hands on her shoulders. “We’re okay.”
She sighs. “Maybe you were right, and I shouldn’t have hired Enjolras. At least not on this long-term a basis.”
“Hey, he’s got nothing to do with this. He just found the article, that’s all. It would have been out there either way.” He lets her go and busies himself making sure the display cases are properly lit and opening the shutters. It’s raining in Paris, so it will probably be a quiet day. Quiet enough to draw a picture for Enjolras, anyway—not that he even should, or knows why he would want to, except that Enjolras asked him to. And that’s a dangerous thought, but there it is. Nobody ever accused Grantaire of making good decisions.
“I know you’re right, but it’s a security risk.”
“You heard him. He approves.” He knew Enjolras might, given his distinct fuck-the-establishment leanings, but it’s different, seeing him so obviously delighted about it. “Even if he finds out, he won’t tell.” Grantaire makes a face. “Maybe you were right before, and we should just tell him what all this is. More cards in our hand that way, if he figures it out in public who knows if he’ll blurt it out?”
Fantine shakes her head. “Not with this so recent, not now it’s out in the news. You can tell whoever you like, whoever you trust, but … I’m spooked. I know I shouldn’t be, they often come out, but I never like it when it does.”
“Then we’ll keep him out of it, as easy as that.” He raises his voice before Fantine can start fretting again and before Enjolras can get suspicious as to why they’re speaking in whispers to open the shop. “I haven’t seen Valjean in a little while, how’s he doing?”
“Well.” She smiles. “I’m going to his and Cosette’s for dinner tonight with Marius, she wanted him to meet us properly. Or ask her father to just intimidate him all at once so they can actually start getting along after that.”
Grantaire grins at her. “I’m glad to hear it. And he seems like a good kid. It will take some time to fit him in around here, and he and Enjolras seem to come with their pack of politically-minded friends, but I suppose new blood is a good thing.”
“That’s a change of tune, you’ve been the one mistrusting it all.”
“Not Marius Pontmercy, he’s almost depressingly harmless.” He walks over to the door and unlocks it. It’s five minutes early, but he isn’t expecting a rush unless Fantine got in a shipment of fine collectible china without telling him again. “And that was when you were wholeheartedly in favor of new blood. You know me, I always have to argue the opposite side.”
Fantine laughs and shakes her head and leaves the subject, since now they could be interrupted at any moment. “Are you fine to watch the shop for a while?”
“Great, nothing going on in the studio today, I’m caught up on the restoration for right now, unless you have some consulting work lined up for me.”
“I’ll put out word to the auction houses you’re available if they need some work done, one of them is bound to have something fun for you to work on.” She straightens his collar like she just can’t help it and gives him one last long look before going into the back room to do her work, or maybe to get in touch with people to see if they’ll keep him out of trouble for a while.
If Grantaire spends the quiet moments of the morning drawing a sketched copy of the painting he last stole, that’s his own business. And if he can’t help grinning in response to Enjolras’s smile when he hands it over, that’s even more so, no matter what Gavroche’s facial expression may imply.
Fantine is fast about finding him some legitimate work, and Grantaire spends the next few weeks at one of the auction houses barely on the legal side that Fantine works with fairly often, who lost their best restorer recently to a dramatic elopement to Kyoto. He restores several very nice paintings that have no distinction whatsoever other than the one landscape that family legend claims got the slice in its corner from Napoleon’s sword at some point, and then fixes up a few pages from an illuminated manuscript and a minor Cezanne, neither of which he has any idea how they got their hands on.
He doesn’t see Enjolras much, since he isn’t fully integrated into their group outside of working hours, but he does come home four days in to find a packet of yellowing letters wrapped carefully in tissue and a plastic bag sitting on his doormat. There’s a post-it note stuck on the top that simply says I thought these might be of interest, and when he opens it up he finds a series of letters from one man to another, probably a friend rather than a relation, written while abroad and full of sketches of the scenery and people around, sometimes even in the style of well-known painters. There’s a pretty good Cubist rendering of someone’s dog, and in one of the ones lower down a few sketches of the presumed recipient of the letters.
Grantaire spends his next lunch break at the auction house doodling the people who work there, writing little notes along with it about what he’s been doing, and leaves it on Enjolras’s desk when he staggers home from a night out with Éponine and some of her shadier friends. There’s no sign of it the next day when he checks, on the wall or the desk, but presumably Enjolras didn’t just throw it out or anything. From there, he’s busy and from what he hears from Fantine Enjolras is as well, so they don’t do more than just pass each other on their way in or out of Sur-Mer for the rest of the time he’s at the auction house.
When he finishes all the work they have for him, with a virtuous and legal paycheck in his pocket, Fantine has bought a few more paintings, probably just to keep him busy, but she looks much less stressed than she did the day the news of his latest theft was made public.
The day after he gets back to working at the shop, there’s a knock on the door to his apartment while he’s in his studio, and when he calls for whoever it is to come in, it turns out to be Cosette, Enjolras at her heels. “To what do I owe the honor?” he asks them, stripping out of the plastic gloves he’s been wearing to handle an older painting and going out into the main room before they can find their way into the studio. The chairs are more comfortable there, anyway.
“I just missed you, and Enjolras thought he’d come along for the trip. You don’t mind?”
Grantaire smiles at them and grabs Cosette the cup she usually uses, a porcelain teacup with roses on it that’s been repaired a few too many times for Fantine to sell, and plain glass for Enjolras, since he hasn’t earned his own special cup yet. “Water?” he asks belatedly, but gets two yeses, so he fills their cups and one of his own, water instead of wine because he still has delicate work to do.
“Did you have fun at the auction house?” Cosette asks, toasting him when he serves her.
“As much fun as I ever do. What have I missed gossip-wise? You still with Marius Pontmercy?”
That gets her talking about Marius, lighting up like he’s never seen her do before, and how he wants to take her to some family home near Giverny and how she wishes he could go along to see Monet’s home. Enjolras stays quiet, though he’s listening judging by how he rolls his eyes every time Cosette starts waxing too poetic, and looks through the books and things on his coffee table. The packet of letters is there too, wrapped carefully up again, but Enjolras doesn’t touch that. “And how about you?” Cosette asks at last, pulling her feet up on his couch and looking at him expectantly.
“I’m thinking it’s about time to repaint the living room,” he offers. Normally, he would do the bedroom next, but he’s still enjoying sleeping in the middle of van Gogh’s masterpiece too much, and Dali gets tiring after a while.
“Oh? As who?”
Grantaire shrugs. “Gavroche insists it should be comic book heroes, but that would be too busy, I think. Any requests?”
Cosette hums. “I do like the idea of it being a cartoonist. You had fun with the lines on the Mucha, right?”
“And my line work could use a little more work,” he agrees.
“Oh hush, you’re wonderful. Isn’t he wonderful, Enjolras?”
Enjolras looks up a little too fast from where he’s going through a coffee table book on the art of the French Revolution, because of course he is. Grantaire really needs to rotate his selection. “I’m no art critic, but I do think he’s very good.”
“Flattery will get you everywhere. Do you have any requests, then? To replace the Dali?”
“I don’t know what you’ve done before, and I tend to like your original pictures over your copies anyway,” says Enjolras with a shrug.
Cosette grins like she’d like to say something about that, but Grantaire hastens himself to interrupt before she can. “I’ll take that under advisement, Apollo. It’ll be a few days before I have time to see about paint and designs.”
“Let me know if you want some help,” Enjolras says, going back to looking at the books on the coffee table. Over his head, Cosette gives a wide-eyed look between them. Grantaire scowls at her. “I’m not very artistic, but if you tell me what color goes in what spot, I can help.”
Grantaire tries not to stare. “I’ll keep it in mind.”
“Do you like revolutionary art, then?” Enjolras asks next, still looking at the coffee table book.
“Less that, more modern graffiti, but that’s what was on sale at the secondhand book shop, so I got it. But yeah, for all your talk about revolution, the arts are an important part of it. Don’t try to tell me the 60s would have happened without music. I mean, it’s a different debate than anything about the 60s having been helpful long-term, but the music helped.”
Enjolras smiles. Grantaire tries to remember if it’s the first smile he’s managed to get out of him that wasn’t by stealing art. He doesn’t think it is, but it still shocks him into smiling back. “I would never say that. Culture is very important in changing the world, cultural works of both the past and present.”
“And how do those of the past help?” Grantaire asks, eyebrows raised, while Cosette grins into her teacup. “I know you’re a believer in learning from history, but I’m interested to see you justify the culture as a function of that. Is it possible to get the culture without the context, or does it just turn into meaningless reference that the elite pretend to like and understand?”
“I think that judging by the amount of people who still listen to Bob Dylan and look at paintings like this, there’s still some relevance, and not just to the so-called elite,” Enjolras says, and then they’re off. It manages to stay more good-natured than most of their arguments, by some miracle, and while Cosette chimes in a few times she mostly stays silent and watches them with her eyes crinkled up in amusement.
Grantaire has no much time passed until Éponine and Gavroche come in through the window easy as anything, giving Enjolras and Cosette friendly greetings while Enjolras stares at them for entering that way. “Let’s order dinner,” says Éponine. “I don’t feel like waiting for you to cook tonight.”
“Cosette, Enjolras, are you staying?” Gavroche asks, giving them his best pleading look. He is going to take over the world someday.
“You’re both welcome,” Grantaire assures them when they both start to protest they can’t just invite themselves for dinner, and is gratified by Enjolras settling back into his spot onto the couch and starting an argument with Éponine over what kind of takeout they’ll be getting.
Fantine stops by about the time Grantaire starts teaching them about the art of making mug desserts in the microwave, and Marius Pontmercy calls Cosette and gets put on speakerphone to settle a dispute between Enjolras and Gavroche about whether Batman or Superman is the better superhero, and Grantaire sits back with a glass of wine, day’s work forgotten, and watches it all with a smile.
Grantaire spends the next week painting his living room and kitchen white, layer on layer until it’s as pristine as his studio. Everyone pitches in when they can: Cosette brings Marius Pontmercy, who manages to get paint all over himself but luckily not on the floor, Fantine helps whenever she stops in to see his progress on his actual work, Valjean comes once and does half a wall in one go, Éponine and Gavroche cover all the space they can, and even Enjolras helps once or twice, helping carefully with a brush and the edges of windows and floors. The whole apartment smells of paint, but Grantaire is used to that.
When it’s all painted, a blank canvas, he leaves it for a while. It makes his apartment feel like an echoing cavern more than a home, but somehow more confining, and he spends more time in his bedroom than he normally does, but every time he picks up an art book to find a masterpiece to paint he thinks of Enjolras telling him to do something original and puts it down again.
Fantine doesn’t have any jobs for him, either because his last so recently got in the news or because there are none to be had, and Grantaire doesn’t ask. He’s got more than enough money, enough that if he doesn’t buy a boat or something he’s set for at least the next decade, and probably longer. It’s just the thrill he’s after, and Enjolras is around more to argue with him about politics and the subjectivity of the study of history and methods of preservation, which is at least one form of excitement. Fantine despairs of them, but Grantaire enjoys it, and thinks Enjolras does too, judging by the way he invites Grantaire out for a few evenings with his friends that Cosette doesn’t have to inform him of, where he finds friends in some of Enjolras’s, now that he can tell them all apart.
Enjolras also starts looking up art thefts worldwide, as if he’s attempting to follow the career of the thief who stole from the politician he hates. Grantaire could tell him that one art theft is much like another, since doing things with panache is an excellent road to getting arrested, but mostly he just watches, amused, as Enjolras slogs through notes of what’s been stolen and what’s gone out of the public eye in recent years. “Do you have aspirations to be a cat burglar?” Grantaire asks one day when they’re both watching the front (or, more technically, Grantaire is watching the front and Enjolras is avoiding restoring a book with more sympathy for the monarchy than he deems worthy). “You’d look very fetching in the skintight black, I admit.” Not that any thief wears anything like that as a matter of course. Or at least Grantaire doesn’t.
Enjolras gives him a withering look. “I have no intention to start stealing art. It’s not my preferred method for making a statement.”
“Or a paycheck.” Grantaire sets about sketching Enjolras’s dramatic frown. “Not every thief is Robin Hood.” Even if many of them, Grantaire included, have their own kind of moral code.
“Do you know a lot of them?”
“Antiques are a shady business.” Grantaire grins and carefully doesn’t implicate any of his friends, not to mention himself. Instead, he starts drawing a few kids dressed up as princes and princesses to be the draw of Enjolras’s ire in his sketch, and doodles a speech bubble filled with words against the monarchy.
Enjolras rolls his eyes when he catches on to what Grantaire is doing. “I know not everything is aboveboard, I suppose I’m just curious.” He pauses. “And I would never scold children for doing what their culture has indoctrinated them to do.”
“Unfortunately, Apollo, I suspect your version of removing this indoctrination would involve a lot of shouting.” Grantaire shrugs and gives one of the girls an especially elaborate hairdo.
Enjolras’s eyebrows draw together, and he taps his fingers a few times on the counter. “I’m good with children,” he says after a few seconds, with a bit of a huff.
Grantaire bites his cheek to keep from smiling at the image of Enjolras, who looks like something our of a fairy tale book or a classical sculpture, and the impression he must make on kids. He probably would have followed him around all starry-eyed, if Enjolras had been one of his teachers or babysitters, so he can’t blame kids today for having good taste. “I’m sure you are.”
There’s a pause while Enjolras goes across the shop to help a young man decide what teapot to get for his grandmother’s birthday, and Grantaire puts his first sketch aside and starts another, quick black lines on the white page, a few Escher-esque doodles and then a picture of Cosette and Éponine the last time he saw them, on their way out for some shopping, both of them dressed to kill. When Enjolras finishes helping the customer, Grantaire rings him out, and they stand at the counter again, though Enjolras shows no signs of continuing any of their conversations and Grantaire is content to sit in silence.
“I should go restore that book,” Enjolras says at last, on a sigh. “It’s horrible, but it’s valuable, Fantine will want to sell it.”
“And not burn it?” Grantaire grins when Enjolras can’t seem to decide whether he’s horrified at the thought of burning a book or pleased at the thought of no one being able to read this particular one. “Go on, by all means. Restore your book and daydream about thieves.”
Enjolras snorts and leaves him be, and it’s a quiet day, so Grantaire takes out another sheet of clean paper and starts putting lines down: a city street, but the kind that Paris only has in illustrations and romantic movies, the kind Grantaire likes to pretend is there underneath the dust of it all, and a few objects that have to stay in black and white, but which he knows the colors of. A windowbox full of Fantine’s favorite pink flowers, a blue bicycle like Cosette rides when she’s feeling whimsical, a pair of orange shoes dangling over the edge of a building like Gavroche does when he finds a roof to sit on, Valjean’s huge and inexplicably yellow umbrella leaned against a doorstep, a little dog like Éponine always denies wanting trailing a purple leash behind it. After some thought, he wraps a green scarf around the posts of a gate, and then leaves a book with a red cover on a park bench.
Grantaire hides the paper before anyone comes in (or out of the back room), and when he gets back to his apartment he tacks it to one of the white walls and smiles. If Enjolras wants original art, then maybe Grantaire will give it a try.
It’s been a while since he painted anyone else a mural, though sometimes when he’s in Paris half his time has been taken up by them, but Fantine gets a call for one the next day. This time, it’s a Monet mural for someone’s bedroom, and he’s half tempted to turn it down so he can work on his living room.
Grantaire takes the job anyway, because it’s another way to keep his life interesting, and when his life is interesting he doesn’t have to try to make it more so. It’s most of the way across Paris, so he spends his days there, and takes the opportunity to visit a few museums that he doesn’t often get to.
To his surprise, Enjolras takes to texting him. It’s not anything like frequent or regular, but it’s often enough that he comes to expect it—for every four or five texts from Fantine or Éponine or Cosette or Gavroche, there will be one from Enjolras. The first one just says I hate having to call the National Archives, of all the things, but he also gets commentary on politics, on art, on whatever book he’s restoring, on customers, mysterious rants whose tipping points Grantaire can’t begin to guess at (I am going to murder whoever at Disney decided to glorify the monarchy, for instance, which Grantaire had to start a debate about, which led to him nearly dropping his phone in a bucket of blue paint), and once a hello from his friends, followed closely by a picture from an unknown number of Enjolras, looking grumpy, with Courfeyrac’s arm thrown around his shoulders, the Musain’s familiar bar behind them.
Grantaire doesn’t text back often, because he has a mural to do, after all, but he does sometimes, starting up intermittent debates on disagreements and catty conversations on the subjects they do agree on.
“I’m betting you don’t want to talk about it,” says Éponine one night when she meets him at the Metro station to walk him to a bar for a night out.
“Do I ever want to talk about things?”
“At length, sometimes. And poetically.” She snorts. “But not about Enjolras, funnily enough.”
He points at her. “You aren’t Cosette.”
“Thank God.” Éponine pauses, linking her arm through his. “I’m not saying marry him, or any of that shit. I’m just saying he’s got you drawing on your own, and he’s apparently a fan of all your work, and you could do way worse.”
“Unfortunately, he could do a lot better.” She smacks him in the shoulder, hard enough to remind him of the self-defense classes she sometimes teaches when the centre she learned at is short of instructors. “You aren’t allowed to hit me for telling the truth.”
“I am, however, allowed to hit you for bullshit.” Éponine rolls her eyes, but she lets it stand and changes the subject to Cosette and Marius Pontmercy and how she’s fairly certain the latter is going to go shopping for wedding rings soon if he hasn’t already found one. She’s tense about it, even if she would never admit it, and Grantaire lets her have her privacy, since he’s the only one of his friends with any manners.
He gets a text from Enjolras halfway through the evening, a brief and obviously grumpy I will never get these letters sorted if you don’t finish that mural soon, and Éponine takes his example and doesn’t mention it.
Grantaire takes three more days to finish the mural before getting his paycheck and going back to the shop, miraculously during its open hours still by the time he gets there. Enjolras is running the front and gives him a surprised and then suspicious look when he walks through the door. “Are you going to drip paint on the antiques?”
Grantaire laughs. “I would never dare, Fantine knows all the places to hide bodies. Give me the rest of today, Apollo, and I’ll be back to work tomorrow so you can do more than tempt customers in off the street to see who the angel behind the counter is.” He grins unrepentantly at Enjolras’s glare. “I would say god, but most people don’t have my fine sense of classical reference and my heroic ability to refrain from the obvious pun.”
Enjolras rolls his eyes. “I don’t think bringing it up counts as refraining. But I’m glad. That you’ll be back to work, I mean.”
“So am I, that was a big bedroom and Monet is boring to copy on a large scale.” He puts his hands on his pockets. “I should talk to Fantine, let her know I’m back.”
“Of course.” Enjolras gives him a nod and goes back to reading whatever he was reading on the counter before Grantaire came in (The Time Machine, as it turns out when Grantaire sneaks a peek brushing by him to go to the back room, and he can’t help a smirk).
Fantine gives him a hug and sends him upstairs, saying he smells too strongly of paint to be around customers or antiques. Grantaire goes, and thinks very seriously about taking a shower and crashing on his bed for the rest of the day, but his sketch is still taped up on the wall and he gets distracted by it the moment he walks in.
It’s hard, figuring out the lines of architecture and where they fit on the angles of his walls, with the doors and cabinets and everything else in the way, but it’s an interesting puzzle nonetheless. He doesn’t take his paint out, just one of his sturdier pencils, and he wears it down to a stub putting the vaguest lines of a sketch all over the walls.
The next day, he works in the front of the shop for the whole day, chatting with Cosette when she comes in and getting in a friendly argument with Feuilly, one of Enjolras’s friends, about brushstroke techniques. Enjolras only works half a day, some sort of meeting in the afternoon, but he pops out to see him several times in the morning, to see what he’s sketching or just to complain about the backlog of work that came up while Grantaire was away.
It is, on the whole, a peaceful day in the good sense. Normally peace means Grantaire is itching for a chance to steal a masterpiece, or find a fight to get in or a precarious building to climb, but sometimes, when enough of his makeshift family is around and the stars are aligned, it just leaves him smiling and wanting to paint. It’s easier with Enjolras, whose idea of peace includes liberal amounts of arguing about everything.
When he gets back to his apartment, he works on the mural some more, moving walls and benches around until everything looks balanced, getting out a stepstool so he can reach the sketch all the way to the ceiling.
There’s a knock on his door just as he’s thinking about getting out his brushes and starting the first few tentative lines, and when he opens it, Fantine is there, mouth flat and eyes serious. “Come in,” he says immediately, stomach already sinking. “What’s the matter? Am I in legal trouble? Is Cosette in trouble?”
“Neither.” She purses her lips. “Or I hope neither.” When he tries to ask a question, she holds out her phone, an article open on it. “Read.”
It’s a follow-up article on his last job, and at first his heart is in his throat, wondering if it’s going to say that the police have a lead, wondering if he slipped up or his client slipped up and he’s about to be arrested. It doesn’t say anything of the kind, though. Instead, as a point of interest halfway down, it also mentions the later-discovered loss of a precious book from his library, an early edition of Rousseau. It doesn’t take much thinking to remember that Enjolras is still keeping an eye on the case and on art theft in general, and Enjolras isn’t an idiot. “Fuck,” he whispers. “Shit, I am so sorry.”
Fantine puts her hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it on my account. I trust Enjolras not to out us to the police, given his feelings on the establishment of law and justice in general. I just know that you didn’t want to tell him, at least not yet, and this took the choice out of your hands.”
Grantaire sighs. “It’s my own fault. Fuck. He’s going to be so fucking pissed off.”
“You think so?” She gives him a searching look and then wraps an arm around him, pulling him slowly into a hug like she’s worried he’ll push her away. “We’re going to be okay. We were okay when Cosette found me and I had to tell her and Jean what we do here. We were okay back when Éponine and Gavroche found their way to us. You and I were okay when I caught you stealing my painting.”
Grantaire can’t quite explain that he isn’t sure what he’s worried about, really, whether it’s that Enjolras will hate him for being a liar and a criminal or that he’ll call him a hero when he really isn’t one, fighting for the people or something else noble when the only people Grantaire has ever fought for are his family. Instead, he wraps his arms around her just as tight. “Best decision I ever made, stealing that painting.”
She kisses him on the forehead. “We’ll be fine.”
His phone vibrates in his pocket, and he turns it off without checking the caller ID.
Grantaire manages to avoid Enjolras for twenty-four hours.
Mostly, the credit for that goes to Fantine for telling him she’ll cover his shift in the front of the shop and to Cosette and Éponine for running interference (and Gavroche bringing him food through the window when he runs out, though he charges exorbitantly for this “delivery service”). He doesn’t turn his phone on all day and concentrates on his living room walls, although he’s jittery and making the lines feels excruciatingly slow. Enjolras doesn’t knock on the door either, which he thanks everyone for collectively and silently. He won’t be able to put Enjolras off forever, but a day to prepare himself is a blessing.
That lasts until evening, when he’s smoking out his bathroom window and wondering how much Éponine would judge him if he asked her to deliver a handle of something strong and hears a crash from his bedroom. Éponine and Gavroche are both too quiet, and Fantine and Cosette would knock on the door and wait, which means either it’s a very inept criminal, or …
“Grantaire, I know you’re in here somewhere, I saw the lights from the street,” Enjolras calls from the bedroom, sounding out of breath and patience both.
He stubs his cigarette out on the windowsill and wonders exactly how childish it would be to lock himself in his bathroom. Probably very, he decides, and calls out, heading into the living room as he goes. “It’s polite to knock.”
Enjolras comes out of the bedroom, in a fury with a bird’s nest for hair, a rip in his jeans, and with scrapes on his hands. “You wouldn’t have answered, so I did this.”
Grantaire sighs and turns back towards the bathroom, and looks over his shoulder when Enjolras makes an indignant noise. “You’re scraped up, come on. Shout at me while I disinfect your hands, God knows what kind of diseases you got from the fire escape. What made you think that was a good idea, by the way?”
“I saw Éponine do it once, and it didn’t look hard.” His red face means he’s learned the lesson that Éponine can do things mere mortals (or law-abiding citizens) can’t. “What made you think stealing a priceless book for someone who didn’t know you’re a thief is a good idea?”
If Grantaire has a skill beyond art and crime, it’s deflection. “Someone should introduce you to the concept of small talk, Apollo, you’re somewhat lacking in the area.” His medicine cabinet is well-stocked, because Gavroche’s fearlessness and his own carelessness means it would be stupid not to keep a good store of things. He takes out some hydrogen peroxide and a little cloth to dab it on with.
“I’m not going to turn you into the police, I just—you stole me a book.”
“That is generally the prerogative of thieves. Hands out.” Enjolras obeys, scowling all the while, and hisses in air when Grantaire starts cleaning out his scrapes. “You felt guilty about the expense, now you don’t need to. It’s not like I thought you would sell it, so I didn’t worry you’d get me in trouble passing on hot goods.”
“That’s not the point.”
“Then what is? Going to congratulate me on stealing from terrible people too cocky to insure their art collections? Because that’s not some sort of statement, I just like messing with people.”
“Éponine told me a little about some of your jobs, yes.” Grantaire immediately marks Éponine down as a traitor. “I don’t—it’s not like this is a surprise.”
Grantaire raises his eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
“It doesn’t take a lot of thought to realize that not all of Sur-Mer’s business is aboveboard, and that you’re involved in it somehow, and with the traveling it makes sense, now that I think about it.” His hands are soft, a little dry, no calluses when he spends his days working on books with only a few delicate tools, and Grantaire concentrates on them, not on Enjolras’s face as he works his way around towards some sort of point. “I’m not angry.”
“Funny you should say that, because it seems like you are.” He puts bandages over the worst of the scrapes, but it’s more to keep dirt out than because they need it. “Are you going to tell me I shouldn’t have lied to you? Or that I’m wasting my potential? You already implied it a few times asking why I restore other people’s paintings rather than making my own, which is a bit hypocritical of you come to that.”
“I never meant that, and obviously you aren’t. You’re good at it. The police haven’t found any leads on the last one, anyway. Or any previous ones, if you’re still free.” Enjolras sighs, and Grantaire goes about putting his supplies away again. “I know why you kept it secret, but people are still allowed to be angry when they find out what your secrets are, and then when you won’t talk to them about it, and R, you stole me a book, what if that had gotten you caught?”
“Obviously it hasn’t.”
Enjolras makes a frustrated noise. “I don’t understand you.”
“I’m a mystery.” Grantaire scrubs his hand across his eyes and wishes for a drink. “I don’t know what to say to you.”
“I don’t either. I’m—it’s not like I care, really, I’ve been arrested four times.” Grantaire snorts and finally manages to meet his eyes. Enjolras is staring at him, giving off the impression he’s been doing it this whole time, brows drawn together and mouth a flat line. “You’re very confusing,” Enjolras adds at last, vaguely accusatory.
“You don’t trust me, but you steal me amazing books, and you draw amazing pictures and paint on your walls—the bedroom is beautiful, I’d never seen it before.” He stops like he expects any of that to make sense at all, and Grantaire stares at him. He’s standing in his bathroom having an argument with Enjolras about his career, or not trusting him, or something, he will eventually figure out why they’re snapping at each other, and Enjolras is telling him that the imitated Van Gogh in his bedroom is beautiful.
“I forge, too,” he says, for something to say, when Enjolras doesn’t seem inclined to pick his thoughts up again. “And do fakes. Not often, it’s more trouble than it’s worth, but I do.”
“That’s not surprising, what with everything.” He waves around at the walls and seems to realize that they’re in a bathroom. For some reason, it makes him deflate, and he stops staring at Grantaire in order to show inordinate interest in the detailed flower painted next to the sink. “You must have thought it was funny when I started following your career.”
“You really weren’t doing it for justice or anything, though.”
Grantaire shrugs. “Everyone’s got their own moral codes. I’m definitely more inclined to steal something if it’s from a dick of a politician.” That makes Enjolras smile, and Grantaire clears his throat and prods them out of the bathroom and into the living room again, where there’s more space to breathe. “Are we okay on this?”
“Yes, we’re okay.” Enjolras looks around at the walls, glancing over at the sketches. “Your own work?”
“Yeah. Thought I’d give it a try. Someone’s been encouraging me to.”
Enjolras grins, and Grantaire thinks a few truly stupid things. He doesn’t say any of them, though, and Enjolras seems content to look around at the walls for a few minutes before finally saying “I’ll probably ask you a lot of questions until I get used to this.”
“I won’t tell you anything technical, you’ll try to turn yourself into Robin Hood or Zorro or something,” Grantaire counters immediately. “But yeah, everyone has questions, I’ll answer what I can.” He goes to the couch and sits down, mostly for something to do. “You can’t tell your friends, okay? I know you trust them, but the more people know, the more people can get in trouble with the law someday.”
“Of course.” Enjolras fidgets for a second, which Grantaire can’t help staring at. Enjolras isn’t given to fidgeting. “I suppose I should leave you to your evening. I just wanted you to stop avoiding me, so things could go back to normal. I’ll see you in the morning? Or Fantine can take your shift again, but—”
“I’ll see you in the morning.” He eyes Enjolras’s hands. “Maybe you should go out the door this time.”
Enjolras doesn’t blush, precisely—Grantaire doubts he has the capability—but he does look down at the floor, the very picture of discomfort. “I haven’t worked here long enough to have a key to the building yet, I always get in after Fantine in the mornings. And either way I didn’t have a key to your apartment, and you wouldn’t have let me in if I had knocked.”
“Well, you can go out like a regular person, anyway.” That sounds rude, so he tacks on a lame “Unless you want tea, or something.”
Almost before he’s finished saying it, Enjolras shakes his head. “No, sorry, I just wanted to talk to you. I’ll go. Sorry to bother you.”
“That’s more apologies than I’ve heard out of you total in the space of three sentences.” Bemused, Grantaire goes to open the door. “And thank you for your gallant assurance that I’m forgiven for being a liar and a thief.”
“Of course.” Enjolras brushes by him on the way to the door and then stops in the doorframe. “Thank you again for the book, now that I know. I have to keep fending Combeferre off from stealing—taking it from me.”
Grantaire laughs. “Next time I run across a copy, I’ll steal it for him.” Enjolras doesn’t have an answer for that, just a nod. “Good night, then. See you in the morning.”
“Good night.” Enjolras’s hand twitches, but he doesn’t make any more moves, so after a second and an awkward nod, Grantaire shuts the door.
He leans on it for a minute, trying to fit his mind around the conversation, and listens to the stairs creak slowly as Enjolras walks down.
Less than five minutes later, Grantaire is waiting for his kettle to boil, attempting to prove that a watched pot can in fact do its job, when someone pounds up the stairs and then pounds on his door. It’s definitely pounding, which means Éponine in a mood, Fantine in a panic, or Enjolras at normal intensity level. And Enjolras just left, and why would he be pounding on the door, but when Grantaire opens the door, there he is, pink in the cheeks, and Grantaire shouldn’t know him well enough to know he was probably pacing back and forth downstairs before deciding that what he has to say can’t wait, but he does.
“That wasn’t the conversation I meant to have,” Enjolras starts.
Grantaire can feel his eyebrows climb up into his hairline. “What conversation did you mean to have, then? The one where you tell my I’m an amoral crook and you’re going to report me to the authorities?”
Enjolras stares at him for a second. “I would never. I meant to say—you stole a book for me.”
“Yes, we’ve established that.”
“It wasn’t in the vault, the article said, you just passed it by and took it, you hadn’t planned that, what if you’d been caught because of that? Because of me? You can’t do things like that.”
Grantaire sighs. “Look, Apollo, it obviously worked out fine, right? Police are stumped, the politician you hate is down two precious pieces from his collection—”
“But what if it hadn’t?” Enjolras shakes his head sharply before Grantaire can answer. “This isn’t the conversation I meant to have either. But I don’t know how to say it, other than to say you’re apparently amazing at everything you do, and I don’t know how you do it, and I’d rather have a hundred of your sketches than one book if it means you’re going to get arrested and sent away, and maybe even if I knew you’d never be caught that would be the same, and fuck, R, I’m sorry if you don’t want this—” and then Enjolras is kissing him.
Enjolras’s mouth is warm and soft, and his nose is pressing into Grantaire’s cheek, and it’s like one last piece of a puzzle slotting into place when he didn’t know he was putting a puzzle together in the first place. Because of course this is where it was all going, their arguments, the sketches, the fucking orange Enjolras gave him, and in another world where Grantaire didn’t have so much to lose trusting people, he would have realized it weeks ago, that this is more than just attraction and someone he enjoys baiting, that it might even go both ways. He would have realized it the first time Enjolras texted him in Milan. Fuck, he would have realized it that first day walking into Sur-Mer after his trip to Stockholm, beyond acknowledging how gorgeous Enjolras is, and that makes him put his hands up to Enjolras’s collar to stop him pulling away and kiss him harder.
Eventually, Enjolras pulls back to heave in air, leaving Grantaire to chase his mouth, the feel of it more important than oxygen at the moment. He ends with his lips on Enjolras jaw instead, feeling the pulse thrumming in his veins where his fingers found just the right spot on his neck. “Okay,” says Enjolras, voice several tones deeper than usual, and he sounds like he does during political arguments when he’s about to muster up one of his dramatic speeches, but he just stops instead.
Grantaire manages to move back, even if he keeps his hands where they are, just enough to see Enjolras watching him, all dark eyes and red lips and so still it’s like someone pressed a pause button on him. “Are you okay, Apollo?”
“Yes, I—I’m doing this conversation wrong too. I’m fairly certain I should have asked you on a date first. Or just asked first.”
The kettle chooses that moment to start shrilling, and both of them jump. Grantaire manages to get himself under control enough to take another step back, and is gratified when Enjolras follows, making it through the door. Another step and Grantaire pushes it shut behind him. “It’s a yes. In case that wasn’t clear. To a date, to the kiss.” He clears his throat. “Just let me turn that off, and then we can get back to it.”
Enjolras nods, and instead of waiting where he is he trails Grantaire to the kitchen, even when Grantaire drops his hands. He doesn’t quite touch him, but he hovers, close enough to make Grantaire’s skin feel electric while he turns the stove off and doesn’t bother pouring himself a mug of tea. He can always heat the water again later. “I can leave,” Enjolras offers.
“Or you can stay the night.” Enjolras sucks in air, and Grantaire turns and grabs onto his collar again, liking the way his hands rest there, so close to Enjolras’s pulse. “Or not. Whatever you want, anything you want. As far as you want. I won’t say no.”
There’s a second of shaky silence. “I’ll stay. I’ll have to borrow clothes in the morning, though, do you have anything that isn’t covered in paint?” Grantaire nods. The question of whether it will actually fit Enjolras is harder to answer, but they’ll think of something. “Then I just … I’ll text Combeferre, let him know I won’t be home.”
Grantaire goes to the couch, mostly for something to do, and ends up fidgeting with the paintbrushes he left there earlier, before Enjolras came tumbling through his window. Enjolras stays in the kitchen, texting for a much longer time than it would take just to send a quick informative message, but considering Grantaire is fighting the temptation to call Éponine asking for a reality check, he can’t really blame him.
Eventually, Enjolras comes out again, standing over Grantaire with a thoughtful look on his face, the one that Grantaire is used to seeing when he’s debating how best to completely dismantle Grantaire’s arguments. It’s a planning face, and that makes Grantaire grin despite himself and reach a hand up, waiting to see if Enjolras takes it, uses it to pull Grantaire up or himself down. What happens is that Enjolras bends just enough to catch his hand and press a kiss in the center of his palm, and Grantaire’s brain shorts out as he pulls Enjolras closer.
Somehow, he ends up on his back on the couch, Enjolras over him, kissing like their lives depend on it. “I meant to get you to the bedroom,” Enjolras says after a few minutes, words indistinct, muttered as they are into Grantaire’s neck.
Grantaire grins, feeling half-drunk and wondering if he’s hallucinated the whole night, if he fell asleep before Enjolras came crashing in, either the first or second time. “The bedroom is very far away.”
Instead of tempting him to stay where they are, Enjolras’s weight pressing Grantaire down into the couch, their legs a tangle, their hands everywhere, their hips pressed tantalizingly close, it makes Enjolras pull back. “I want to do this on a bed. Come on.”
“You are cruel, I take it all back, we aren’t doing this.” He laces his hands in Enjolras’s hair. “Stay.”
Enjolras groans. “You’re going to kill me.” He bends enough to kiss Grantaire’s collarbone, his shirt askew and out of the way, and Grantaire thinks he’s won until he pulls away again, even farther, and then manages to get himself standing before Grantaire can get a hold on him enough to keep him there. “Come on, I’d rather do this in a bed, and without my clothes on.”
As an incentive, it works quite well, and Grantaire struggles to his feet while Enjolras walks to the bedroom, shedding clothes like breadcrumbs behind him too impatiently for it to be meant as a striptease. By the time he gets to the bedroom, he’s down to his briefs, and Grantaire is struggling out of his shirt, a few steps behind. “Michelangelo’s fucking David,” he says when Enjolras pauses long enough for him to get a good view, just inside the bedroom door. And then, on second consideration as Enjolras rolls his eyes and starts stepping out of his briefs: “With a better dick.”
“Take off your clothes, Grantaire,” says Enjolras, and it would be sexy if he didn’t sound so exasperated, and Grantaire laughs until Enjolras hauls him closer by his belt loops, all that naked skin pressed up against his, and starts working on the button of his jeans. He’s a little clumsy with the bandages still covering his palms (they’re coming loose, and Grantaire should feel guilty, but he can always wrap them again in the morning, and Grantaire moves to help, stepping out of the tangle of pants and underwear when Enjolras shoves it all impatiently down, and then they’re naked, and this time Grantaire is the one to push Enjolras down on the bed and climb on top of him, straddling and looking everywhere he can, from the tiny Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité in beautiful script on his side (he is a cliché of a human being, and Grantaire isn’t as horrified as he should be when he realizes he’s finding it endearing) to his cock, well on its way to fully hard.
Enjolras is looking too, judging by the way he reaches up and traces a random path across Grantaire’s chest, from collarbone to sternum and down across his stomach, stopping short with his palm resting just below Grantaire’s navel. “What do you want?” Grantaire asks, whispering even though there’s no reason to.
“No, that’s a copout, come on.” He bends down and kisses Enjolras, long and slow, memorizing the taste of him, the way he gets rougher when Grantaire tries to pull back, using his teeth. Grantaire could kiss him for days, forever, and he’s almost annoyed at the insistence of his hard cock wanting him to go faster, do more. He wants to, but it’s hard to remember that when it might mean stopping the kissing.
“This, just keep doing this,” Enjolras manages when they break apart so Grantaire can bite a bruise into his neck.
Desperate frottage it is, then. Thank fuck, because Grantaire is doubtful of his ability to do anything more coordinated, or to convince himself to let Enjolras go long enough to go into his nightstand for lube that might well be mostly gone anyway. “More than okay,” he says, shifting his hips and watching the way Enjolras’s expression changes, cycles through surprise and arousal and that planning look again, which lets Grantaire get a good grip on them before he tries to flip them over. “Stay there for a bit?”
Enjolras rolls his eyes, but he nods and catches Grantaire’s mouth with his own again, so Grantaire lets himself get lost in the kissing again, in the hand Enjolras settles between his shoulderblades to keep him where he is. The bandage is a little ticklish in contrast to Enjolras’s skin, but he really doesn’t care. “This is not how I expected tonight to turn out,” Enjolras says the next time Grantaire relinquishes his mouth, sounding a little dazed.
“Out of curiosity, how did you expect all of this to go?”
“I don’t know, I thought there would be more shouting.” Enjolras grins, and Grantaire wants to sketch him like that, once he manages to get his hands off him. He wonders if Fantine would object to his trailing Enjolras like a duckling for the foreseeable future. Probably. “This is much better.”
“I can make you shout if you want,” Grantaire says, mostly to make Enjolras groan, and then slides down to fasten his teeth around Enjolras’s nipple just to prove his point. Sure enough, Enjolras arches up against him, hand moving to his hair, and makes a noise. Grantaire licks and bites again and sets himself to work, hands and mouth, everything he can do to wring a reaction out of Enjolras.
He loses himself in the movements, in Enjolras’s clever hands and the easy shift of their hips until he finally lets Enjolras roll them over to be on top and make explorations of his own while Grantaire tries to keep the stupid grin off his face and thinks inanely about painting the ceiling because if he and Enjolras are going to be on their backs in this room on a regular basis maybe it’s worth playing Michelangelo after all.
Grantaire comes first, with Enjolras’s hand on his chest and their mouths crashed together, too turned on for finesse, and he reaches out for Enjolras’s cock while his chest is still heaving, jerking him off quicker than he’d like, but Enjolras is desperate and leaking and staring down at him like he’s something wonderful, and there will be time to go slow later. He hopes. There will be, because Enjolras wants him for whatever reason and if Enjolras wants him Grantaire would never turn him down.
Enjolras collapses at his side after he comes, smiling like he won an argument, eyes unfocused—or, Grantaire realizes after a few hazy minutes, focused on the wall. “It’s my favorite painting,” Enjolras explains when he catches him looking.
“I’ll steal it for you,” Grantaire promises, a little giddy. “Just for you, to keep on your wall for a few nights until you feel like returning it, if you ever do.”
“Or I could stay here and look at it.” Enjolras turns his head until their noses brush together. “And someday we can go and see the painting in person together.”
“It’s a deal,” Grantaire says, and kisses him.
It’s some terrible hour of the morning, Grantaire could look at his phone and see what it is, but that would only make him depressed when his body is still recovering from three hard weeks in Budapest and he’s been traveling nonstop for what seems like years. Still, it’s good to be back in Paris with the air crisp and the streets mostly empty but for the truly dedicated night people staggering home and the truly dedicated morning people going in search of their second cup of coffee.
Sur-Mer is quiet when he gets there, as he’d expected, and he gives serious thought to sleeping on the floor in the back room except that the thought of his own bed is too tempting, and if he sleeps on the floor then he’ll be woken up far too early for his taste. So he trudges up the stairs, staying quiet more out of habit than for any other reason, and lets himself into his apartment.
It’s mostly as he left it—he still likes the mural, which he didn’t expect he would keep this long, but there it is, and there’s Marius Pontmercy’s olive green messenger bag hanging from the handlebars of Cosette’s bike, which he put in just before he left. There’s a stack of comics on the coffee table, probably Gavroche’s fault, and a coffee table book of pulp science fiction art that he doesn’t recognize either, most likely dropped off by Enjolras at some point.
He goes to the bedroom and drops his bags on the floor before he realizes his bed is already occupied. Enjolras doesn’t sprawl when he’s left alone, which surprises Grantaire whenever he notices it. Instead, he’s a neat curve on his side on the side of the bed that’s usually Grantaire’s, mouth open against the pillow, covers kicked off even though the window is open (probably climbed through it, Grantaire decides, Enjolras has made a goal of it to get as good as Éponine and Gavroche are at climbing up to his window). Grantaire strips much more quietly than he tossed his bags around and climbs in bed beside him, even though he smells like travel and sweat and probably won’t be a very good bedmate.
Enjolras shifts when he gets in the bed and rolls towards him, getting a hand on him and then waking up halfway to give him a bleary look. “R?”
“I really hope you aren’t expecting anyone else.”
In answer, Enjolras kisses him, uncoordinated but firm, already moving to accommodate him in the bed, settling into his side. “Just wasn’t expecting you yet. You thought you might not make that train.”
“I’m glad.” Enjolras moves his face into his shoulder. “Everything went fine?”
“Everything went fine. I brought you a present.” Enjolras glares at him blearily. “A legal one. I saved the receipt, you can look at it.” The glaring continues, and Grantaire laughs. “We’ll deal with it later, go back to sleep. I’ve been traveling for ages.”
Enjolras has the talent of falling asleep in under five seconds, so after one last absent-minded kiss to his neck, he goes back to sleep, leaving Grantaire to stare at his ceiling (painted, after a lot of work and a lot of swearing, in an extension of the rest of the mural in the room) for a few minutes before drifting off after him. Fantine will know he’s back and he’ll talk to her in the afternoon.
When Grantaire wakes, it’s nearly noon and he’s alone in the bed, sprawled out over it with a note from Enjolras on the bedside table: Watching the front this morning, come see me when you wake up. Welcome back.
Grantaire takes a shower before he goes anywhere, and by the time he’s out he has an impatient text on his phone from Éponine telling him to get some pants on and come downstairs, everyone is having lunch on the second floor. He gets dressed and goes down quickly, finding everyone already there. Fantine is pouring drinks, Valjean and Gavroche are serving sandwiches, Éponine, Marius, and Cosette are talking about some concert they all went to, and Enjolras is—staring at one of Grantaire’s paintings, which he has a habit of doing, much to Grantaire’s embarrassment. “Hello, all,” he says, and gets an immediate inundation of greetings and questions.
“Budapest went well?” Fantine asks somewhere in the middle of the mess.
He does her the courtesy of answering her first, even though Marius looks uncomfortable. He’s new to knowing what they do here, and he’s still nervous about it, but he’s still here, and still stupidly in love with Cosette, so Grantaire is willing to trust him. “A few hiccups, but it went well in the end.” Enjolras may kill him when he sees the bruise he picked up during one of those hiccups, but that’s a separate issue.
“Should we be on the lookout for trouble?” That’s Valjean.
“Not any more than usual. Nobody caught me, just some interesting times, I’ll give you more details later.” Cosette gives him a grateful look and he kisses her on the cheek on his way over to Enjolras.
“Sorry I couldn’t wait for you,” says Enjolras the second he’s within reaching distance, grabbing on to his sleeve like he’s going to run away. “I wasn’t expecting you back until afternoon, so I told Fantine I would watch the shop.”
“You would have just been watching me sleep, and evening is fine. Right? You don’t have one of your meetings?”
Enjolras shakes his head. “Cancelled it.”
Grantaire kisses him and does everyone the favor of stopping before Éponine decides to break it up. “Glad to hear it.”
Gavroche interrupts, because he’s been sitting on Budapest jokes for weeks now and can’t wait another minute to unleash them (Grantaire blames Courfeyrac, the two of them have bonded and now nobody is ever going to be safe from bad puns or attempted charm ever again), and lunch moves on as their lunches usually do. Enjolras and Marius argue about whether a new biography of Napoleon gives him too much credit or not, Cosette tells Fantine about the yoga class she’s signed up for, Valjean and Éponine get into an intense discussion about education reform, and Grantaire tells Gavroche everything legal he can about Budapest.
Fantine is the one to break lunch up, after Grantaire has eaten far more than his fair share of sandwiches and Enjolras has had to be talked down from dragging Marius to the library to cite his sources. “R, you and I will debrief properly tomorrow. Enjolras, you have the afternoon off, I’ll take the front.”
Cosette immediately offers to do it instead, and Grantaire takes advantage of everyone’s distraction (except Valjean’s, but Valjean just gives them a long-suffering look) to grab Enjolras’s hand and tow him away before he can decide that an afternoon off means more time to argue with Marius or sort through his latest obsession, a box of letters that mostly seem to be between revolutionaries.
Enjolras goes without arguing, though, and follows him up to his apartment, where Grantaire kisses him at the door and they spent at least ten minutes propped up against it getting used to the taste and feel of each other’s mouths again. “I missed you,” says Grantaire when they finally make it through the door only to decide to sprawl on the couch instead of going to the bedroom.
“I love you,” says Enjolras, and immediately turns pink.
Grantaire knows Enjolras well enough by now to curb his first reaction, which is stunned amazement that even if he feels it he would say it. That kind of thing only upsets and annoys him, and in the wake of that Grantaire would do a great deal to keep him from being upset or annoyed. He kisses him instead, a romance-movie kind of kiss, only it isn’t raining and no one is lifting anyone else up. “I love you too,” he finally manages. It seems like a woeful understatement, but it makes Enjolras smile. He does a lot of things to make Enjolras smile, like paint him murals and send him postcards with sketches of people he sees on his stakeouts and drag him to museums and whisper in his ear about who painted which forgery and who stole what when.
Enjolras kisses him, lacing their fingers together like he’s worried Grantaire is going to pull back. Grantaire kisses back, squeezing until Enjolras relaxes and eventually letting them fall apart. They’ve got the rest of the day to savor this, after all. “I missed you too,” Enjolras says finally, leaning his forehead against Grantaire’s.
“Good. I brought home a bunch of sketches for you. And a present, like I said.”
Enjolras, predictably, looks more excited about the former than the latter. The wall next to his desk is full of overlapping pictures now, of himself and Grantaire and the rest of the family around Sur-Mer and Enjolras’s friends and sometimes random strangers, as he has a tendency to magpie away pictures that Grantaire would have finished and tossed before. “Show me, then.”
Grantaire levers himself off the couch and rummages through his suitcase until he comes out with the messy folder of pictures, drawn on receipts and notebook paper and anything else he could find, and the toy rocketship he couldn’t resist buying when he saw it. Enjolras laughs about the toy and goes to looking through the sketches, sorting out his favorites, while Grantaire looks around his living room, re-familiarizing himself with everything after his time away.
The mural looks good, even after months, and he smiles at the spots of color, at Valjean’s umbrella next to Fantine’s flowers, his own scarf tossed across Enjolras’s book on Enjolras’s insistence, and the new addition of Marius to the scene. Courfeyrac will probably be next at this rate, then maybe Combeferre, and then it will start looking cluttered, unless Grantaire extends it into the bathroom like he’s been thinking about. Bahorel would get a kick out of having his splash of color in the bathroom, anyway. “What are you thinking about?” Enjolras asks, startling him.
“I love you,” he says instead of explaining, and kisses Enjolras again, pressing him back against the couch. They can finish sorting through the pictures later.