When the machines first appeared in every doctor’s office and pharmacy, reception from the public was mixed at best. A machine, sleek and silver, similar in all aspects to a photo booth aside from its service? Could an invention like that really predict how you die?
According to studies (long-term ones of course; patients needed to DIE before any conclusive data could be compiled), it could. With 15 deceased members of society all dying just as the machine had predicted to vouch for its reliability, the Micromort Machine soon popped up in everyday places: movie theatres, malls, even at theme parks. If public reception was mixed at best, we must turn to Enjolras to see it at its worst.
“It’s absolutely disgusting, Grantaire. Can you believe those corporations would go that far? If decimating the female image for their own monetary gain wasn’t bad enough, now they’re preying on humanity’s obsession with death? I’d thought rock bottom was already hit, but it seems that these”—he gestured towards the machine he and Grantaire were about to pass vigorously—“Angels of Death are taking their pickaxes and finding their way past the lowest of the low.” Grantaire simply laughed and patted Enjolras on the cheek. “You’re cute when you’re flustered.” Enjolras glared in response.
“It’s tacky, probably unsanitary, and oversteps so many morals.” Grantaire shrugged. “I guess it is pretty tacky to have one in a movie theatre, but I mean…I really don’t see the harm in them. Don’t you want to know how the world will kick you out of corporeal existence?” he asked. Enjolras raised his eyebrow at Grantaire. “No. Believe it or not, I like surprises. Why? Do you want to know?” Grantaire shrugged. “Sure. I mean, it’s no big deal. Everyone dies. The way you go doesn’t matter in the end; you’re still on a one-way trip.”
Enjolras stopped walking. “So, do you want to do it then?” Grantaire shook his head. “Nah. I wouldn’t want to offend you for kissing up to The Man after all,” he gave a small smile. It made Enjolras’ stomach do little flips.
The two of them hadn’t been dating for very long, but they had been dancing around each other for years: first with disdain (on Enjolras’ part), then with adoration (on Grantaire’s), then a period where disdain morphed into respect and adoration turned to understanding. Most of all, the two had fostered love.
Love, as the reader may already know, makes people do crazy things.
Enjolras found himself saying: “If all that’s stopping you is me, then you can do it.” Grantaire looked at him incredulously. “Enjolras? Are you feeling okay? Are you sure your popcorn wasn't laced with something to make you more compliant?” Enjolras just rolled his eyes. “Come on then.” He took Grantaire by the hand and led him back to the Micromort. “Are you sure, Enjolras? I won’t do it if you don’t want me to. Especially not if it clashes with your morals and shit.” Enjolras pressed a kiss to the corner of Grantaire’s mouth to shut him up. “You’re allowed to make your own choices, Grantaire. I shouldn’t dictate your life.”
The machine did indeed look like a photo booth. Grantaire and Enjolras could barely fit themselves into the cramped space behind the curtain, but managed it by having Grantaire sit on Enjolaras’ lap. Not that Enjolras minded.
Grantaire pulled his debit card out of his wallet and swiped it where indicated. A darkened window within the booth lit up, revealing machinery that displayed the changing of needles in a rather gaudy fashion. “Well, it’s sanitary at least,” Grantaire laughed. Enjolras made a show to roll his eyes at Grantaire. The new, clean needle stuck out through the window via a small hole and the screen indicated that Grantaire should press a finger onto it. He felt the stinging prick as the metal pierced a small way into his skin. He held it there until the machine beeped and the needle retracted once more.
The screen flashed his blood type on screen as it analyzed the sample (“I didn’t know you were O negative.” “I didn’t either,”) and finally, a small card fell into the tray, the printed side facing away from them. It hit the plastic with a strange finality.
Neither Grantaire nor Enjolras made a move to pick the card up.
You see reader, when faced with the idea of death, even the most well-built men can crumble to pieces.
In a matter of seconds, a reality dawned upon both Grantaire and Enjolras. Whatever was printed on that card would change how Grantaire would see the rest of his life. The machine, after all, was never wrong. If his card read ‘Drunk driving’, Grantaire would know that his sobriety from having dated Enjolras would end. If his card read ‘Cancer’, there would be expenses to think about, treatments to consider, Joly to console. And all this before it even happened.
In the end, it was Enjolras who made a choice.
He pulled the debit card from between Grantaire’s fingers, swiped it in the machine, and obeyed the instructions on screen when presented with them. He reached around Grantaire, who was still perched on his lap, and pressed the tip of his index finger on the needle and waited for the beep.
“Enjolras, what are you doing?” Grantaire asked as ‘A positive’ flashed on screen. A second card landed in the tray and Enjolras grabbed the two with his eyes closed and brought the cards behind his back. “Get up, Grantaire.” “Wha—” “Just, get up, I can’t feel my legs.”
When the two maneuvered their way out of the booth, Enjolras procured the cards from his behind his back, still face down. He shuffled them one over the other for a moment and then placed them in his boyfriend’s hands. “There. It’s less frightening this way.”
Realization dawned on Grantaire. “But…don’t you want to see yours?” Enjolras shook his head. “I told you, I like surprises.”
Grantaire read the cards in the privacy of his bedroom that night. Enjolras thought that not knowing which one was Grantaire’s would make things easier.
When Grantaire walked into the Corinthe bar the next day, Musichetta knew something was bothering him. She was a fine woman, in tune with emotion as women who spend long days listening to drunk patrons sob about their lives tend to be. “Grantaire?” she asked, “What are you doing here? Are you okay?” Grantaire slumped into the stool in front of her. “A coke please, ‘Chetta. I’ve got a lot on my mind.” She hummed and turned to fetch him a glass. “You sure you don’t want anything stronger?” Grantaire shook his head, casting his eyes down. “Three months sober. I’m not going to give in now.” She smiled as she placed the drink in front of him, leaning on her hand to look him in the eyes. “What’s bothering you, love?”
Grantaire liked Musichetta. Often it felt impossible not to. There was an assertive yet soft quality about her; she was fiercely protective of Les Amis de l’ABC (“My boys, my lovely alphabet boys,”) and always willing to lend an ear if needed.
“Do you know those Micromort machines they’ve been putting all over the place?” Musichetta nodded. “What do you think of them?” Grantaire watched as her eyebrows furrowed together.
“Well, they’re strange. It’s like receiving an invitation to a birthday party without being told the time or place or the date or even whose party it is. You have to worry about buying presents and looking nice, but you won’t know when it happens until it does and by then the singing is already over and the candles are all blown out.”
She smiled at him sadly. “Why? Did you allow yourself to be invited to the party?” Grantaire looked down at his glass. “Yeah, something like that.” He felt Musichetta’s strong arms reach over to him from across the bar, pulling him into an embrace. “‘The fates lead the willing and drag the unwilling.’ It is always better to be willing, R, remember that.” Grantaire nodded and allowed her to pull him up, relishing in the comforting kiss she placed on his forehead.
Eventually life went on as it is wont to do.
Marius and Cosette were married and soon a small troop of Pontmercy children were being carried or pushed into the Musain café every Thursday for the meetings Enjolras still ran there. The revolutionary fervor had never left, though there was much less shouting on Enjolras’ part. Shouting made the little ones nervous.
Enjolras was still as handsome and as severe as ever. Over the past five years, his Apollonian features had angled out. Aging suited him, though Grantaire would never have doubted that. He often thought about how the years had changed Enjolras. The silver band around his ring finger for one, was always the nicest change by far. Grantaire had never thought he would like the idea of wedding rings, yet the one both he and Enjolras wore suited even his own stout fingers.
Enjolras caught Grantaire twirling his wedding ring absentmindedly and smiled. Courfeyrac followed his line of vision and laughed softly. “You’re going to miss him, huh?” he asked as he stood up and slipped his laptop into his bag. Enjolras nodded, which earned him an empathetic pat on the back. “It’ll only be two days. The senator won’t keep us there for any longer than that,” Enjolras snorted at the thought of having to sit in the same room with a bumbling man such as the senator for any longer than two days. “The meeting will be over in a few hours if I can help it.” Courfeyrac threw his head back with a laugh. “Let’s hope you stare him into submission.”
At the end of the night, the goodbyes were harder than usual. Grantaire and Jehan were linked arm in arm, waving as the car Combeferre was driving disappeared from sight. Grantaire watched as the blond mass of curls in the backseat for as long as he could before Jehan gave his hand a comforting squeeze. “Let’s go back to my place. There’s a stack of shitty horror films and 3 bags of marshmallows waiting for us.” Grantaire smiled as Jehan tugged him along. “Jean Prouvaire, you are a saint.”
It seems, however, that Grantaire’s being in the presence of a saint by no means blessed him with good fortune.
The phone call came in at 3:30 am and woke Jehan up before Grantaire.
Combeferre’s voice on the other end was wrecked and hoarse. “Jehan? You and Grantaire need to get the hospital now.” Jehan didn’t need to hear anymore. He nearly dragged Grantaire out of bed himself. “R, wake up! Get up!” The urgency in Jehan’s voice tore the sleep from Grantaire’s hazy mind. The words flew out of his mouth before he could stop them: “What happened to Enjolras?”
Combeferre, bandaged around his head and sporting four broken ribs explained all he could when they arrived. The other driver was drunk and rammed into the passenger side of the car. The car flipped three times. Enjolras was tossed from the car after the second one. He had been in surgery for nearly 2 hours now.
Grantaire stayed seated in the hard plastic chair next to Combeferre’s bed until the doctor walked in. The look on the man’s face was grim. “I’m very sorry,” were the first words to came out of his mouth. Grantaire turned his head up to look into the doctor’s eyes and Jehan hiccupped, already in tears. “He’s lost a lot of blood due to severe internal injuries. We’ve had to remove one of his kidneys and his spleen. His other kidney is severely damaged.” Grantaire was suddenly very glad that there was a chair under him. He could barely feel his own limbs. The doctor continued. “We’ve had to stop surgery for now. We'll resume when he’s better healed and we'll try to repair the damage done to his remaining kidney but—”
The familiar feeling of losing consciousness swept over Grantaire. He dug his fingernails into his palm and tried to blink the black spots away from his vision. “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” he asked.
The doctor nodded and repeated himself.
Grantaire made his choice.
On what would have been Grantaire’s 28th birthday, Courfeyrac wheeled himself to Enjolras’ side and pressed an envelope into his hands. He recognized Grantaire’s loopy handwriting immediately and felt the stinging of tears in his eyes. He leaned down as best he could around the wheels of Courfeyrac’s wheelchair and hugged him tightly. “Thank you,” he whispered quietly.
He excused himself from the party Musichetta had put together at the Corinthe in Grantaire’s honour to pry the envelop open. She gave him a sympathetic look, one that seemed as if she knew something he was yet to find out about.
The letter wasn't long. Enjolras wasn't sure if that relieved or saddened him more.
The difference between certainty and chance is love, and I love you a whole fucking lot. From the very first moment I saw you I knew that was it, love; Neruda and Keats and Shakespeare, eat your heart out.
For a couple years, I thought knew exactly which card was mine. When we got married that changed. It’s been a toss up since you said ‘I do’ and in all honesty, that scared me more than anything.
It doesn’t scare me anymore. The doctor said he can operate on your kidney and try to save it. Or we can wait for a donor.
You know, if you never sat me down in that goddamn machine, I would have never known I was O negative.
Anyways, I’m going to give you one of mine. God knows it deserves a better home than this old wine cask. The doctors have assured me that it should be fine despite my old drinking habits by the way.
Have I ever told you that you’re the reason I quit drinking? I don’t think so. There are so many things I haven’t told you. I guess they’re not so important now, though. I’ve told you I love you and that’s really all that needs to be said, right?
I’m rambling, I’m sorry.
I know what all this might mean for me, but I also know what it might mean for you. Someone wise once told me that it was always better to be willing.
I love you, Enjolras. I love you to the moon and back.
Enjolras fished into the envelope for the two cards that were slotted together. He breathed deeply, preparing himself, and then read the first one: Kidney operation. He bit his lip as the tears streaked down his face.
He read the second one and choked out a sob he had been holding in since he woke up and found that Grantaire was not there, nearly a year ago: Old age, surrounded by loved ones.