That January it's snowing like Portland is auditioning for the role of Montreal, Grantaire is failing gently out of college, and Katy Perry is all over the radio asking him does he ever feel like a house of cards, one blow from caving in?
He does, is the problem. And paper thin, and buried deep, and yes, like a waste of space. It's gotten so bad that he's started flinching whenever he hears the opening notes of the song, which -- given that the café from which he will soon be unceremoniously fired tends to have Top 40 stations blaring at all hours -- is all the fucking time. The perky lyrics of the chorus are no help at all, because most days it's an effort for Grantaire to feel like a full human being, let alone some sort of metaphorical lightshow.
It's a bad winter, the kind that prompts people to curl up inside their houses and watch the sky, but there have been bad winters before. It doesn't explain why it feels like his world is contracting. There is no good excuse. Nothing he can put his finger on and say this, here, is why I woke up this morning and took two hours to persuade myself that it would be worth getting out of bed.
He finds himself saying No, a lot, and Grantaire doesn't know who he's more irritated with: the people who try to wheedle him into changing his mind and being social once the No has been delivered, or the people who take him at his word.
Paul falls into the former group. However, Grantaire suspects this is because Paul is his housemate, and is therefore harbouring nefarious plans to get Grantaire out into the world so that he can have Grantaire's room attacked by professional cleaners.
"It's barely fifteen minutes on foot, Grantaire."
"I told you, I don't want to go."
"You can drink just as cheaply at the club," Paul points out. "It's Thursday. Two for one."
"I'm tired. I'm going to have an early night."
"You slept until noon."
Grantaire looks at him, trying to work out if there is an acceptable way to say that at the moment he could probably sleep twenty hours out of every day, and would in fact prefer it to being awake.
Before he can, though, Paul gives an impatient twitch of his jaw and says, "Come on, it's that DJ you asked me about. You know? Tessa left that mix CD here after a party, and you really liked that one track on it? Well, that's the guy who's playing tonight."
That elbows something aside in Grantaire's brain, enough that he sits up and started to notice things, like how stale his room smells. He does remember that track; if he closed his eyes now he could probably hum the melody, and hear in his memory the beats woven over and under the notes.
"Shit," he says. "Really?"
"Go and have a fucking shower," Paul says, quite kindly. "I'll find you something to wear."
By the time Grantaire emerges from the shower, feeling cranky and resigned and a lot more awake, Tessa has arrived and is helping her boyfriend dig through the wreckage of Grantaire's closet.
"Hey," Grantaire protests, hands going to the towel tucked round his waist.
Tessa shoots him a speakingly disdainful look and holds out the shirt she's unearthed from God only knows where. The fabric is a steel blue shade so overwashed that it's gone almost heather-grey, and the black logo on it is faded. Grantaire rubs a hand through his hair, sending a trickle of water into his own eyes, and is about to deny ownership when he recognises it.
"Jesus, that one's ancient."
"Well, it's clean," says Tessa. She gives the shirt a maternal shake and then stands there with her hands on her hips until he's pulled it on. She gives a sort of surprised hum and looks at him, eyes wide. "Okay," she says finally. "I guess we're getting you out of the house and getting you laid tonight."
"What," says Grantaire, because seriously, what. It's just a shirt.
He is pleased with how comfortable it is, though; hundreds of washes have left it soft and yielding, gently snug against his skin. He was fifteen the first time he wore it, and it pulls a bit when he moves both of his arms at once, but there's a lot of stretch in the tired fabric.
Tessa ogles him critically all through his awkward, hopping attempts to pull his black jeans on without releasing the towel, and Paul just yawns in the doorway with a lack of concern that might be insulting if they weren't the most completely fucking married pair of twenty-year-olds that Grantaire has ever met.
The shirt comes in for further comment when Tessa's friend -- Daisy? Diana? Grantaire hears the introduction clear as a bugle note and then promptly forgets it -- turns up to the house for pre-club shots of white rum. Grantaire finds himself explaining that he and a friend made it for a screenprinting project in art and textiles class, submitting it along with a 100% bullshit spiel about the band they'd invented and how tour shirts were a unique artform because they celebrated a transient communal moment.
They got an A. Fucking high school.
"So it's a shirt for a band that never existed," the girl says, slowly.
"I told you," Tessa says to her friend, which makes no sense at all.
Actually, the band did exist, for the duration of three earnest jam sessions in Grantaire's garage. But Grantaire's friend was way more into the idea of being in a band than the actual work involved in producing music, and Grantaire was more inclined to shut himself in his room and let his mind drift as he chased the chords of his favourite songs, forming traps with his bent fingers to capture the sounds that were buried beneath the vocal layers.
"That's a nice scarf, I guess," is D-whatever's next comment, as they're arming themselves against the knifing cold of the night air.
Grantaire, feeling more balanced now that he's had a couple of drinks, pauses in the act of tying a second knot in the thing. His scarf is thin and a sort of red colour and he grabbed it out of the top of a Goodwill bin for something like two bucks. It's the only scarf he owns. He'd suspect the girl of hitting on him, but she's already made several gushing references to her Peace Corps boyfriend.
"We're going to miss the cover-free deadline," says Paul, who is easygoing as anything right up until he sees a chance to save some money. "Tess, seriously, your hair looks fine, now can we leave."
It turns out that half the city has the same bright idea as Paul and has hopefully showed up to the club ten minutes before the cover charge comes into effect, so they get stuck in a queue. Grantaire buries his hands in his pockets, ungloved fingertips drumming against the ragged lining of his coat in time with the beat that becomes louder and less atonal the closer they edge towards the door. His left hand is trying to make chords, but he's always struggled with pitch -- appreciates it in others, can sing unerringly within someone else's key, but name a note and there's nothing in his head but a glaring silence -- so he just ends up pressing his fingers into his own leg and forgetting the cold, forgetting the white noise of the traffic, until they reach the head of the line and the club belches out neon heat and swallows them up.
Grantaire makes a beeline for the bar, less because he's in any hurry to get drunk than because nursing a drink is a good excuse not to be dancing. Club music has never been his favourite, but given the right mood or enough shots he can reach a silvery plateau of appreciation for the music's backbone. And right now he can recognise in the music the same deft touch with rhythm that caught his attention on Tessa's CD.
DJ Enjolras. Tessa told him the name on their way over. She had, she said with poorly concealed pride, been listening to his podcasts for months, and he didn't do many tours outside of LA so they were lucky to be seeing him do a set in person.
Grantaire is waiting at the bar behind a group of women, all of whom seem to be afflicted with alcoholic indecision, when DJ Enjolras moves into a better angle of light behind his decks and Grantaire realises just how lucky he is to be seeing him, period.
Enjolras is wearing a button-down shirt that could be searingly scarlet in reality, but which in the uneven shadows of the club looks the same dirty dark red as Grantaire's scarf. A silver watch flashes with every movement of his wrist, his hair emerges in an unlikely wave beneath his headphones, and he has his eyes closed, his face a picture of concentration.
His fucking face.
Maybe California is full of people who look like that. But -- well, Grantaire has seen as much TV as anyone, and he's never felt anything like what he's feeling now: this nearly violent urge to run his hands through a stranger's hair and press his mouth to the hollow of their neck, to capture their attention and hold it like a high note, shimmering at the edge of earshot, forever.
What makes it worse is that he can't divorce the way Enjolras looks from the music pouring out from beneath his hands. It's all one stream of seamless appreciation, effortless desire.
"Hey," says someone next to Grantaire, right in his ear, with an irritation suggesting that this isn't his first attempt to get Grantaire's attention. "Are you going to order? There's a line here, man."
It's the most reluctant Grantaire has been in months to turn his eyes towards a person willing to sell him a drink. As he's shuffling through an absurd amount of dollar notes in search of the twenty he knows is hiding somewhere, the music begins to quieten. The impressively pierced woman behind the bar, who has been very obliging about obeying the spirit of the law rather than the letter -- she nodded along to Grantaire's shouted explanation that a double shot for the price of a single was just as fair as two-for-one beer -- takes this opportunity to tell him that his hair is cute.
"And that shirt brings out your eyes," she adds, and winks.
Maybe Tessa was right about the shirt; not that Grantaire is going to muster much more than a smile in return. He picks up his drink and extricates his change from the sticky dish.
The music is fading away now, the dancefloor falling out of rhythm, and from the speakers comes the static sound of someone clearing their throat. Grantaire locates a free piece of wall, tucks his money and fake ID back into his wallet and cradles his sweating glass in his hands, resigned to the fact that a perfectly good case of lust-at-first-sight is now going to be marred by whatever self-important Hollywood editorialising will spill from the mouth of someone who isn't prepared to let their music, no matter how skillfully crafted, stand on its own merits.
He's looking right at DJ Enjolras, fondly committing the lines of his bare forearms and the focused set of his lips to memory, when the music throbs right down to a whisper, Enjolras looks up, and those lips open. What comes out isn't a promotional spiel, or a vague set of syllables designed to lull a crowd into pausing and drinking. Instead, the DJ tears straight into a speech about the deplorable state of the commercial music industry, and Portland as a fresh hub of artistic and musical freedom in the US.
If Grantaire didn't have deeply-held convictions about wasting alcohol when he's paid scandalous club prices for it, he might be tempted to spray the contents of his mouth all over the floor. Or over the closest three people; the club is becoming more tightly-packed by the minute, and not even two-for-one drinks can explain the size of the crowd. This guy clearly has a following.
But is it a political following? Tessa said podcasts, implying more than just a few tracks strung together, but Grantaire can't see much fervour in the faces of Enjolras' audience. They're swaying on their feet, alert but impatient, waiting for the talking to finish so that the music can start up again. And for someone who clearly knows how to monitor the mood of a dancefloor, Enjolras isn't letting this discourage him in the slightest. He stands straighter, his hands animated, his face alight with conviction.
Grantaire bites his cheek and then downs most of his drink in one quick, stinging blur, because this is it, isn't it, the fucking irony driving his dreary self-contempt: Grantaire loves passion. He always has. He's always fallen hardest and fastest for the high achievers, the bright stars with a talent or a cause burning behind their tongues.
And then there's him, himself, not giving much of a shit about anything at all those days, and despising himself for it in a bitter, barbed-wire sort of way; a loathing that lives right next to his skin and has long stopped making him bleed.
All of it seems inevitable, somehow, a cruel collision of things that the universe knows he would want. Suddenly he remembers that he wanted to stay at home and sleep. The club full of people, which a second before seemed little more than a strobing background, crashes its closeness and energy and noise over his ears like a cymbal and leaves him ringing. His chest is tight, his head too hot. Right over his heart a small, sour despair unfurls like the arms of a tiny galaxy.
He finishes his drink. Enjolras' speech over, the music restarts, surging casually up into a fast beat. The joy of it catches at Grantaire's jagged edges.
Half of him wants strongly to leave. The other half would bargain away a great many days of his life -- including every damned day of this grey January and the off-white December that came before it, and all the miserably foreseeable months -- in exchange for another hour watching Enjolras try to spin revolution out of nothing like some stubborn fairytale thing.
So for that hour and the next, he watches. He listens, too, and can admit that it's the best night of music he's ever experienced that doesn't involve someone putting their hands or their mouth to an actual instrument, but mostly he watches.
At one point Tessa emerges from the mass of people he's been ignoring and drags him onto the dancefloor. She's grinning and pink with sweat and there's an uncomplicated glow of adoration on her face when she looks at DJ Enjolras, just as unthreatening as the way she eyed Grantaire's shirt and the way she dances with him now. She knows how to keep her happiness in boxes and wear her loves easily. Grantaire wonders how she learned to do it.
He still isn't drunk enough to really enjoy dancing, but he unfocuses and loses himself for the space of three songs, pausing only when Paul joins them. Paul's hands bristle with bottles of water, and he presses one on Grantaire and says something that Grantaire has no hope of hearing. It's loud. They've moved through the irregular currents of the dancefloor and now, Grantaire realises, they're standing directly beneath a stack of speakers, within a few yards of the stage. Enjolras is very close. Grantaire can see that it's a bracelet and not a watch that shines on his wrist, and that he's tapping one of his feet and checking something on his phone, letting the current track play itself out.
Grantaire twists the cap off his water and takes a gulp, and Enjolras looks down into the crowd and his gaze slides and snags, perhaps on the one person who isn't moving the way the music is urging him to move.
Their eyes meet and Grantaire thinks, God, he's young.
It's a stupid thing to think. Obvious. Of course he's young; he doesn't look much older than Grantaire himself, if at all. He probably gets carded at every one of his own gigs. And you can't, Grantaire, thinks, maintain that kind of fervent moral idealism for very long in the face of hedonism and apathy.
He doesn't know yet how wrong he is about that.
There's water pooled in Grantaire's mouth where he's forgotten to swallow. He gulps it down, and feels the plastic of the bottle click and dent in his tightening grip, but he doesn't look away. He isn't fooling himself that anything of what he wants isn't obvious as neon on his face; he can feel the naked heat of it.
Enjolras looks back at him for a long moment, eyes sweeping up and down in a way that leaves Grantaire unsure if he's being checked out or scanned like a barcode. Then a flickering little frown passes over Enjolras' face and he looks away. Which is only to be expected. The abyss of Grantaire's self esteem is more than happy to leap in with twenty reasons why a semi-famous genius DJ with an activist's mind and a face like a perfect chord of male beauty would find him utterly dismissible.
Because he's tipsy and trying to prove something, or maybe just to be a dick, he doesn't follow his first instinct and head back to his friendly piece of wall. He stays there, under the sound-shadow of the speakers, and keeps up his mediocre excuse for dancing long past the point where his feet start to ache. He doesn't make eye contact with Enjolras again.
"There you go," Paul yell-mumbles into his ear, as the clock ticks on and the Thursday night dancefloor thins. "I knew getting out of the house would be good for you."
Grantaire feels like he's looking at Paul's life across a vast fucking chasm, but he also remembers how to be a vaguely decent human being, so he just says, "Yeah. Thanks."
Not long after that Paul and Tessa bundle themselves into a cab heading towards Tessa's apartment, and Grantaire finds himself in a rambling, semi-serious conversation about house wines and the Spice Girls with the pierced woman behind the bar, all the more bizarre because he's starting to sober up by that point. It's mostly procrastination against the time when he has to step back out into the thin and quiet night.
As the house lights blink on the club starts to look greyish and small. The girl on coat check, looking bored to the point of homicide and surrounded by empty pigeonholes, hands Grantaire his coat and scarf before he can even pass her his ticket. And just like that Grantaire is standing on the street wondering for the millionth time if he'd enjoy life more if he took up smoking.
He slips his hands into his pockets and then almost trips off the curb as someone knocks right into his back, all elbows, coming out of the door that Grantaire is blocking.
Neither of them apologise. Grantaire turns around and finds himself wrapping his unbuttoned coat tightly around himself like a scandalised romance heroine caught deshabillé.
"Shit," he says, aloud, before he can think better of it.
He waits for DJ Enjolras to turn and walk away, figuring that if nothing else he'll be able to appreciate the view, but that doesn't happen. Enjolras finishes shrugging on his jacket, looking disgustingly unbothered by the cold for a Californian, and his face moves through something wide-eyed and indecipherable before it does that flickering frown thing again.
Fuck it, Grantaire decides, and takes a deliberate step forward. "Good set tonight."
"Thanks," says Enjolras, blankly.
"So," Grantaire goes on, "I was going to ask if you're actually on a one-man vendetta against the evils of the music industry, or if that's just part of your stage persona, but nobody would come up with a persona that fucking naïve."
He'd put money on either earnest evangelism or anger as the most likely response. Instead, Enjolras simply looks irritated, with a perilous twitch of something that might even be amusement trying to intervene at the corner of his mouth.
"And who says I'm just one man?"
"Ooh," says Grantaire, "do you have a posse?"
Enjolras ignores that. "There's nothing naïve about believing in the possibility of change."
"Bullshit," says Grantaire, starting to enjoy himself. "You can make all the speeches you want, but power's the only thing that can make change happen."
"And collective action can have great power."
"Collective -- so you do have a posse? Or is it a following? Because I saw a lot of fans here tonight, but none of them seemed particularly bothered by exploitative contracts and market saturation."
"Everything starts somewhere," Enjolras says, pure and clear, like belief is the easiest thing in the world. Grantaire's heart gives a bit of a kick, as though to remind him that an hour ago he was fantasizing about the fall of this guy's hair, which is even more insanely tempting without the headphones.
He tries, and mostly fails, to wipe away the besotted expression that he can feel currently parting his own lips. Hey, at least they're talking. He might as well bask in the moment.
"I'm Grantaire, by the way."
Grantaire reaches out and shakes the formally proferred hand, amused. "Seriously? You introduce yourself as -- wait, no, is that your actual name?"
Enjolras frowns and took his hand back. "Why wouldn't it be?"
"Your DJ name is just...your name."
"That is a serious failure of creativity," Grantaire says. "Especially from someone who can stand in front of a room full of drunk twenty-somethings and make it seem like Wordsworth was talking about the subjugation of vocal artists instead of Switzerland, come on now, I think I'm entitled to expect better."
Enjolras doesn't look irritated any more. He looks like he's bitten into an apple only to discover that it tastes like bacon: maybe not unhappy, but certainly as though he's still working out how he's supposed to react. He's staring, his face mobile, catching his lower lip in his teeth. Grantaire's coat has fallen open again; he's cold and distracted by the shape of Enjolras' mouth and disastrously unable to stop talking.
"But I guess you don't really have a branding issue, this whole Liberty-leading-the-people thing is clearly working for you -- hell, I'd walk over hot fucking coals to sleep with you and that probably goes the same for an easy seventy percent of --"
That, it seems, is when Enjolras decides how he's going to react: he reaches out, closes a hand in the front of Grantaire's stupid soft clinging shirt, and drags him close.
Grantaire feels himself inhale as though slapped, heady and sharp. He tilts his face up in blatant invitation, and Enjolras kisses him.
It's careful at first, hesitant, but Grantaire presses himself even closer and closes his eyes and with a hiss of breath Enjolras changes, a transition clumsier than anything that sprang from his decks tonight, and all of a sudden it's the selfish, searing, claiming kind of kiss that Grantaire has wanted since he first saw Enjolras lift his eyes to the careless crowd and needle them with his voice.
Grantaire groans, encouraging, and Enjolras' fingers tighten in his shirt, knuckles brushing his stomach. Enjolras' body is very warm in the places where it's pressed against Grantaire's. Grantaire wants to undress him on the half-lit pavement, wants deliriously to put his mouth everywhere at once, wants to take him apart -- there are so many things Grantaire wants that his brain panics through a flurry of obscenity and lands on the fact that Enjolras tastes slightly of mint. It's a flavour of polite morning-afters, domestic Sundays, not these impulsive, urgent kisses on a sidewalk, trying to learn someone's gasps for the first time. Grantaire knows that he's probably all sour bourbon, himself, but what the hell.
Enjolras makes a sound against him, a soft growl like a contented predator, and then pulls back far enough that they can focus on one another's faces.
"I'm going to. I mean, I have. A hotel room," Enjolras says. He takes a deep breath and some of the speechifying poise comes back into his voice. "I'm staying somewhere, I think it's close by."
"Yes," says Grantaire.
"I didn't ask you anything."
Grantaire nudges his cold nose up against Enjolras' cheek and kisses the side of his mouth, disbelief still warring with a hot tantrum of need that he's barely keeping at bay. "Yeah, you really did."
They sit straight and side-by-side in the back of the cab. Grantaire figures from the forbidding silence that there's probably some sort of groupie etiquette guide that would frown upon his climbing into Enjolras' lap and grinding down, or leaning across and chasing the taste of mint deep into his mouth. This awkward pause is terrible, though. He has to grit his teeth against the stream of nonsensical associations that wants to bubble out of him. Enjolras' fingers twist and tap in unlikely patterns, but he doesn't touch Grantaire at all.
It lasts for almost ten excruciating minutes, and then Enjolras' hands still and form determined fists on his knees.
"I can't believe you know Thoughts of a Briton," Enjolras bursts out, like he's been personally victimised by Grantaire's knowledge of overwrought Napoleonic imagery, and Grantaire covers his face with one end of his scarf and starts laughing shakily because Jesus, what is he doing. He isn't whatever Enjolras thinks he is. He's barely holding his life together, he's achingly obsessed with a man he's just met, and sure, he's read some poetry, but that doesn't make him -- anything.
He wants this, though. The wanting is like pressurised air turning his skin taut, the largest emotion he's felt in weeks, and he's terrified that at any moment he'll step on a tack and the whole thing will deflate.
The cab drops them outside the kind of hotel that would probably give you individually wrapped soaps, but would buy them in bulk and not bother with a monogram. Enjolras pays the fare and Grantaire hovers, counting streetlights and touching his thumb to his own lower lip. Much more silence and one of them, no prizes for guessing who, might realise that they could do a lot better. They've lost the beat, and they need it back.
"Between the two of us," Grantaire says, "you think we'd be able to manage a basic rhythm," and when Enjolras turns that questioning frown towards him, he frames it with his thumbs and presses his open mouth to it, teasing with his tongue. He can be selfish too. He can reach out and grab everything he wants, because this isn't going to be the beginning of some half-sweet and half-awkward courtship. It's going to be sex in a hotel room between someone more image than reality, and a wreck in search of an idol. It's going to be nothing more than alcohol, and abstract ideas, and a push for something warm in these past-midnight minutes.
So Grantaire slides his hands up into that ridiculous hair and pulls Enjolras forward until Grantaire's back is against the chill of the nearest wall. He looks right into Enjolras' intense, devastating eyes and he shivers at what he sees there, something in him going molten in response. He sighs against Enjolras' mouth before ducking his head to escape, to be out of that focus, to press a kiss that's worshipful against the smooth line of Enjolras' neck.
It means nothing. Take whatever. Be whomever.
"I need you to fuck me," he says, into the skin below Enjolras' ear. A shudder runs through the man's whole body and Grantaire bares his teeth in a smile; bites gently over the pulse. "You probably want to tell me that it isn't need, that human beings just need air and water and food and--" an open-mouthed kiss on the same spot, this time, tasting the warm salt of sweat like a poor echo of the blood beating against his lips "--freedom."
"Fuck," Enjolras whispers, and shoves his hips forward, just a glorious little, pinning Grantaire in place against the brick.
"You'd be wrong," Grantaire says, hearing the crack of his own voice as he tries to concentrate, to spill it all out while he's brave enough and high enough on the feel of Enjolras growing hard against him and the lingering taste of his skin. "I need you, let's say less than oxygen but more than water, I need you to work me open and fuck me into the bed until neither of us can breathe, I saw you bite your lips when you looked at me and I thought, if I don't get my mouth on his cock then I'm going to fucking die."
Enjolras has gone kind of white and looks on the verge of hyperventilating or snarling, Grantaire doesn't know which and also doesn't care, because the next moment Enjolras has one hand at the back of his neck and the other beneath his coat and shirt, sly on the bare skin of his waist, holding him firm. One, two kisses that are more like warfare, hot and merciless, probing Grantaire's mouth like an open wound, and then Enjolras drops his head and stands there, breathing unevenly, his forehead pressed to the side of Grantaire's.
"Right." Enjolras says. There's a new roughness to his voice that's intoxicating. "Inside. We're going inside, I want --"
Grantaire licks the bruised tingle from his lips and says over the sound of his own heart, "Whatever you want. Whatever."
Enjolras groans as he steps back, like he's moving painfully against gravity to do so, and the hand at Grantaire's neck slips down to take hold of his wrist.
There's a silent moment where they stand paused, like that, almost holding hands. Grantaire is staring right at Enjolras and something passes over that perfect face, a ripple of guileless and very human nerve, and Grantaire wonders whether perhaps he isn't the only one who is granting himself one night of not-being, of wonderful greedy otherness.
But then Enjolras tightens his fingers and looks away, leading Grantaire towards the hotel with no more than a single confident tug, and Grantaire remembers that he is nobody and Enjolras is -- Enjolras, beautiful and famous and high-minded.
He takes a deep breath of the cold air and lets himself be led inside.