The first Les ABC meeting of the September semester was a gigantic disaster.
Grantaire had expected that. Fuck, she'd put money down with Bahorel on exactly how much of a clusterfuck it was going to be. Meetings of the ABC usually involved fireworks, sometimes literal, and it wasn't a formal meeting if Courfeyrac didn't have several terrible and/or amazing stories to share, and the Joly-Bossuet-Musichetta ménage wasn't experiencing drama, and Marie wasn't mooning over some impossible straight girl she was never going to get anywhere with – even if she could bring herself to talk to her. Éponine glaring at Grantaire from the corner for encouraging Marie to wax on just added spice.
Enjolras getting impossibly frustrated with everyone's willingness to be drawn away from the items on the agenda in favour of dirty and salacious gossip – that, too, was predictable, and therefore a total sucker's bet. Bahorel wouldn't even take Grantaire's perfectly good money.
“Are you kidding?” she said, stuffing the five Grantaire'd already given her somewhere the sun didn't shine. “I let Courfeyrac and Bossuet bet on how long it would take Enjolras to snap at you, but I made them give times – I didn't let them just bet that she would. I'm not running a charity here.”
Grantaire laughed. “Oh? What do you call bankrolling the post-meeting drinks with your ill-earned cash?”
The meeting was due to start, and she was late already, but there was no need to go in just yet. Not when she could lounge against the wall with Bahorel outside while she played bouncer and finish her cigarette. The look Enjolras would give her when she strolled in late was just a bonus. What did another black mark in the little black book of fuck-ups Enjolras kept in her head matter, anyway?
“I call that due recompense for pain and suffering,” Bahorel said, the legal lingo quick on her tongue.
“I can fix it for you,” Grantaire offered, and blew out a mouthful of smoke. “I mean, what odds did you offer Courf and Bossuet? Cut me in, I can perform on cue – or not – and we take them for everything they've got. It's what they deserve, for betting on me, and it's what I deserve, because if anyone's going to suffer –”
“Bossuet bet that Enjolras would rebuke you before the third order of business.” Bahorel grinned at Grantaire's exaggerated look of outrage. “Courfeyrac thought that it wouldn't take ten minutes.”
That made Grantaire actually choke on her next exhale, and she had to fend off Bahorel's attempt to thump her between the shoulder blades. “Seriously? Hurtful.”
“I have more faith in you than that,” Bahorel assured her. “I bet on you being kicked out in five.”
“Fuck you all.” Grantaire took one last, long drag – it was almost down to the filter now, and her fingertips were tingling – and stubbed her cigarette out on the brick. Then she flicked the butt away and straightened up.
She hadn't dressed with any particular care – it wasn't like Enjolras would notice – but she was wearing the jeans without the torn seams, and she'd added to her sleeve since the last meeting. There was nothing she could do with her hair, so she'd shoved a red knit cap on it and called it Good Enough. “How do I look?”
“Like a lot of trouble in a short little package,” Bahorel said cheerfully, and waved her in.
Inside, battle was already raging.
“I don't understand why this is so contentious,” Combeferre said. She sounded unnaturally precise, which was roughly analogous to blaring orange lights and loud warning sirens in anyone else.
“Because – my apologies, Feuilly,” Enjolras said, and received a slight nod, “there's a reason we broke away from the broader movement in the first place. Our focus is necessarily limited. That's what makes us effective.”
“So we just say, 'sorry, you don't exactly fit under our umbrella, get the fuck out'?” Éponine folded her arms.
“That's the point I was trying to make,” Combeferre agreed. “–Albeit with slightly less polemic.”
Grantaire leaned against the doorframe, taking it in. Marie was the first one to notice her there, and she fixed tragic blue eyes on her from across the room. Make the yelling stop!, they begged.
“Why are Maman and Maman fighting?”
Grantaire had pitched her voice to carry, and the result was instantaneous: Éponine's jaw clicked together. Courfeyrac brightened, sitting up straighter.
Enjolras said, “You're late.”
“I'm fashionable,” Grantaire corrected her with barely a glance in her direction, and raised an eyebrow at Courfeyrac for answers. (“You're here!” Bossuet said, sounding delighted). It was easier not to look at Enjolras, most of the time. It was a little like looking straight into the sun.
“They're having a slight difference of opinion,” Courfeyrac said. The slight was stressed. “Our legal clinic received a new walk-in yesterday, but Enjolras isn't entirely convinced we should take him on.”
The masculine pronoun said it all, really.
Les ABC had broken away from their student association's existing LGBT(TIQQ2SAA) group late in their first year of university. Grantaire had shown up to the group meetings in the first place because it was an effortless way to meet girls, not because she gave much of a shit about the politics, and she'd followed the others when they seceded – was it secession if you were being thrown out? – because Enjolras, who did give a shit, was their leader, and Grantaire was more than a little gone on her already.
(The name had been a joke, and not a great one. “Why not ABC?” Grantaire had said. She hadn't expected to be taken seriously. “It's as likely a collection of random letters as any of that bullshit.” That had earned some sarcastic applause, but Enjolras had looked away from the whiteboard and focused on her, almost for the first time. “Why not?” she'd said.)
They tended to give other reasons when they explained it now; the usual acronyms were unwieldy the longer they grew, and were never complete, and therefore were necessarily exclusive no matter how fast they were expanded. Why not simply wipe them out? The whole point of their splinter group's secession (expulsion) had been because women's issues were being drowned out by the loud voices of white gay men; why not start again, and afresh, with a focus on queer women? Les ABC had limited its focus to their issues, with an open door to trans issues; no more, and no less. And like Enjolras had said, it made them effective. Stripped down for action. A razorblade.
“Did this hapless male wander through the wrong door?” Grantaire asked rhetorically now. “Were they lost? Why would a dude come to you for help? Don't they know Enjolras gets her superpowers from drinking the blood of angry men and howling at the moon?”
That drew a quelling look from Enjolras, and amused glances from the others. Grantaire had too much fun tweaking her tail. Enjolras was unreasonably attractive when she was mad, and when she was mad at Grantaire she was actually paying attention. Her direct attention was devastating, like everything else about her.
It had been bad enough before she got serious about the legal clinic. Grantaire had wanted to eat her alive when she dressed like any other student, her masses of baby-fine golden hair pulled into a careless ponytail. Now there were blazers, and god help Grantaire, messy buns that begged to have their pins pulled out, and slim tailored trousers that made her long legs look limitless, and the things Grantaire would do to her –
Well, they were dirty, filthy things, best not mentioned. Marie would probably faint to hear them, because Marie lived in a dream-world of hand-holding and shared ice-cream cones and daisy-petal she loves me/she loves me not, and if she had a real thought that went beneath the waist Grantaire would be shocked.
Unfortunately, the same thing could be said of Enjolras, who didn't appear even to have Marie's romantic day-dreams. Enjolras was an ice-maiden. Enjolras was a Valkyrie who rode through grey skies and never looked at the ground. She ran their queer splinter-group with an iron fist, but as far as Grantaire knew, she lived like a nun; in a small circle full of incestuous hook-ups and girlfriend-swapping, she was an island without bridges, an ivory tower without a door.
“He is my little brother,” Éponine said, and Grantaire looked away from Enjolras – she knew better than to get caught staring – and gaped at her instead. “He needs good legal advice, and since we can't afford a lawyer I thought I could ask my lawyer-to-be friends to give something to him.”
Enjolras's mouth was a stubborn straight line, but she'd been trained by all of them too well over the years to make the 'We're political allies, not friends' rejoinder Grantaire just knew was on the tip of her tongue. “We can refer him to people better placed to help him,” she said. “I have contacts –”
“But you know you're the best,” Jehanne said, the first time she'd spoken. She had a soft, shy voice that firmed unexpectedly when she forgot people were paying attention to her, and long chestnut hair and red-gold eyelashes that were blond at the roots. She went pink from the throat up when she came.
Grantaire hadn't hooked up with Jehanne for ages, but that didn't mean that she didn't throw her a half-fond, half-warning look for saying flattering things to Enjolras, which Grantaire considered her personal preserve. Of course, Grantaire also considered saying unkind things to Enjolras to be her personal preserve. She knew it was irrational. She didn't care.
“Jehanne, you labour under a misapprehension,” Courfeyrac said, sounding wounded. “I'm the best, and you should already know that.” Her tone created considerable doubt that she was talking about the practice of the law. “If you need a reminder –”
“Ladykiller,” Bossuet said, slapping her hand. It was a fair call.
“Éponine, why didn't you ask me?” Marie asked, looking wounded. Grantaire herself was a strict masochist when it came to feelings, and she generally didn't bother with them at all when she fucked, but Marie's denseness made her want to slap sense into her sometimes. She could see what Éponine saw in Marie, if she squinted – the coltish awkwardness, the cinnamon-scattering of freckles, the aristocratic cheekbones and sensitive mouth – but Marie didn't seem worthy of it, and every day she didn't even notice it, she deserved it less.
Éponine shrugged, not looking at her. “I just thought you could help,” she said, and it was directed to Enjolras, and it was brittle. “Give me the fucking references, then.”
“Hey,” Grantaire said. “Enjolras, take the case, and let's move onto the next item on the agenda. Fuck's sake.”
There was a small silence, and Grantaire suddenly remembered that people had money riding on how long it would take her to be reprimanded or kicked out, and that lately she only saw Enjolras at ABC meetings, or at the occasional full-group gathering for a birthday. The fourth year of her law degree was turning Enjolras into a ghost, and the emotionally taxing events of the past year had made Grantaire into some gross kind of revenant that struggled back from the dead to trail pathetically after the living. Even Combeferre and Joly were around more often, and they were studying medicine. She modified her tone.
“Or don't, but let's stop wrangling, okay?”
“That's an unusual refrain, coming from you,” Enjolras said, but she nodded curtly. “Send me the details, Éponine. Can we start the real meeting now, or does anyone else have anything to share? No?”
The real meeting business was boring. Grantaire found an empty seat near Feuilly and slumped comfortably into it, and watched Enjolras through her eyelashes. She tuned out most of whatever was being discussed; if she didn't hear it, she couldn't pick holes in it. She'd taken care to show up mostly-sober and a little buzzed and therefore unlikely to start pitched battles, and there was no point wasting all that effort.
“– Don't you, R?”
When Grantaire looked up, Courfeyrac was grinning at her in a way that only meant diabolic mischief. That look in her roguish dark eyes was never a good thing.
“Sure,” she said cautiously, and Courfeyrac grinned wider.
“Really,” Enjolras said, tilting her head. She looked sceptical, which was typical, but also – slightly pleased? Both deepened when Grantaire nodded like an obedient idiot marionette. “Very well. Next issue, then –”
Joly and Bossuet were smirking, and that was never ever good. Motherfucker. What had she agreed to? Musichetta looked amused, and that was even worse.
Musichetta wasn't part of Les ABC the way the rest of them were, but she'd been grandfathered in around the time she started dating Joly, and out when Bossuet declared her love for Joly, and Joly had realised hers for her, and back in when she'd started dating both of them. She was a grad student. She wasn't political. She was a cool, self-contained creature that reminded Grantaire of a cat, and she tolerantly watched their various ventures the way a parent watched their children play. Musichetta brought books to most meetings, heavy books of post-structuralist criticism and slim volumes of incomprehensible Italian poetry, and read through Enjolras's best polemics and Grantaire's best shit-stirring. She was similarly detached when it came to Joly's anxious worries and Bossuet's bad luck, and seemed quietly amused by their relationship drama when it went gone down, content to wait and let the dust settle rather than lift a finger.
“What did I agree to?” Grantaire whispered, and received no answer. A pleading glance at Feuilly got her a slight flicker of eyes and a lifted hand – wait, and I'll tell you – and she subsided grudgingly, kicking the leg of her chair.
The third and fourth items on the agenda were as boring as the others. The supplies and information Joly and Combeferre were trying to make sure the younger students had access to; free gloves and dental dams for all the baby lesbians matriculating that year to be handed out alongside the ubiquitous free condoms the university gave the straight kids. Legal issues. Immigration aid for non-French partners of queer French women. The custody battle being waged by a woman with a shitty lawyer who was screwing her on billable hours; Enjolras and Courfeyrac were helping her with the paperwork that would help her hold onto her kids, since her dick of an ex-husband seemed to be using them as collateral against her for coming out as lesbian and leaving him. Good, virtuous things.
Nothing that Grantaire could help with, if she was the sort of person who offered help, and not the sort who continued to drink Smirnoff despite the boycott call because it was still vodka. She should make a point of ordering it when they all went for drinks later, if Enjolras unbent enough to come along instead of rushing home to study. The way those cold blue eyes went hot with anger did things to Grantaire, things that made her clench her thighs together and shudder surreptitiously; things she got off to alone when she finally got home.
“You agreed to join Enjolras's merry band of poster-posters,” Feuilly whispered to her as soon as there was enough cover, under the noise of the meeting breaking up. “Pretty sure you signed up to design them, too. Congratulations.”
“Ugh,” Grantaire said. “Doesn't she have trembly-kneed, dewy-eyed disciples for that? I thought she was picking up drones among the first years.” Feuilly didn't even need to speak to point out that Grantaire answered her own description perfectly – if you ignored all the ugly personality odds-and-ends hanging out beneath the edges of the cookie-cutter. He just bit his lip on a smile, and Grantaire glared at him.
Then she glared at Courfeyrac, author of her misfortunes. Bossuet and Joly, for their pernicious treachery. Musichetta, for her unhelpfulness. Marie, for being dense. Jehanne, for being sweet. Éponine, for not telling Grantaire about her brother in the first place. Bahorel, for the roll of cash in her bra at this very moment. Combeferre, because Grantaire darkly suspected her sometimes of being more than a close friend to Enjolras – their friendship was simply too close to be natural, although their silence on the matter, if any of her suspicions were true, was more unnatural still.
Enjolras, out of habit.
Unfortunately, Enjolras happened to be looking back at her – which never happened – and looked startled to be on the receiving end of Grantaire's scowl. Then she came over.
“Grantaire. Have I offended you somehow?”
“Athena,” Grantaire said, waving a hand weakly. “Of course not. Goddesses don't incur the wrath of mere mortals. I wasn't looking at you.”
“You were glaring into the distance? A distance I happened to be filling?”
“Obviously.” Grantaire shrugged. “Anyway, about this poster project – I think I'm going to have to beg out. I have a shit-ton of work –”
“I was looking forward to working with you on it,” Enjolras said. It was the sort of thing Enjolras often said to rally the troops, with apparently no awareness of how hollow her passionless assurances rang. When Enjolras truly cared, it sang out of her like a trumpet-blast. “Are you sure you haven't the time?”
“Well,” Grantaire said, and crumbled like stale cake. “I can move some stuff around, maybe.”
That got her a nod. And then, oh jesus, Enjolras put her hand inside her blazer and brought out her phone, flicking through the screen. “Do I have your current details? We're going to need to liaise more closely over this.”
Who said liaise these days, except for asshole brokers and snake-oil salesmen? Enjolras would hate that comparison if Grantaire pointed it out to her. She was tempted to, anyway, for the hot-cold lash of her eyes. But Enjolras was standing in front of her with her phone out and an expectant look on her face, and Grantaire had had fantasies that started just like this.
“Probably not,” she said, reaching for the phone; amazingly, Enjolras allowed her to take it. No, definitely not. She still had the number Grantaire had abandoned several annoying bad hook-ups and asshole dealers ago, and the address of the shithole Grantaire had been living in last year. The email was right, but only through the virtue of Grantaire being too lazy to change it.
She made the corrections, trying not to glance up at Enjolras looming over her.
“There,” she said, shoving the phone back. “Try not to abuse it – no three AM booty calls, no answering the phone to air horn blasts when you're pissed at me.”
Enjolras looked exasperated by the first stipulation but terrifyingly intrigued by the second.
“R!” Courfeyrac called out. “Don't give her ideas!”
“Too late,” Enjolras said, tucking her phone back into her jacket. “Thank you, Grantaire. I'll be in touch.” There was the faintest smile lurking at the corner of her mouth. “Not at three AM, though.”
“Well, thank fuck for that,” Grantaire said weakly, and proceeded to get very drunk at the post-meeting drinks. Drunk enough to put her hand up Jehanne's skirt - “Sorry, chérie,” Jehanne said, extracting it, and blushing like a beautiful sunrise, “I'm kind of seeing someone at the moment,” – and drunk enough to propose making their threesome a foursome to Joly, who was the worst person of the ménage to suggest that to, because she took it seriously and looked frightened, and then did her best to turn down Grantaire's very kind offer without hurting her feelings.
(It was entirely worth it for Joly's flushing and stammering, for Bahorel straining her fractured rib laughing, for Bossuet's uncontrollable laughter which turned into uncontrollable hiccups. The interested gleam Musichetta sent her over her sticky glass of crème de cassis, though – that was a little terrifying, and had caused an entirely new ferocity in their hiccupping accompaniment.)
Drunk enough to pull a giggling Courfeyrac into her lap at the bar, but not quite drunk enough to go home with her and loudly renew their old acquaintance on the kitchen floor; however easy it would be, clutching air in her hands as Courfeyrac's dark head settled between her thighs and the lino was cool under her back and Courfeyrac's asshole neighbour thumped on the wall; however bitterly satisfying it would be to throw her head back and think do you hear that, Enjolras, do you –
She was getting better.
Enjolras called her three days after the meeting to make an appointment to work on the posters, like the insane person she was, and Grantaire's tongue went heavy and useless in her mouth and all she could manage was, uh-huh, uh-huh, sure.
It was only after the call ended that she realised that she'd agreed to Enjolras coming here, to her messy flat: to see her single bed and posters and sketches and drawings, the piles of dirty and clean clothes tangled together, the line of empty bottles arranged like trophies along the bureau. She couldn't remember the last time she'd changed her sheets. Not that it mattered, but – what if it mattered? Fuck, fuck, fuck.
The fact that Enjolras made appointments paid dividends: unlike the texts that only came from their disreputable friends when it was already too late (I'm on my way over! Get naked. Or, where are you, i'm on your doorstep with a bottle of red and you're not answering the door?!!!) Grantaire actually had a day in lieu, enough time to get her shit – and her flat – together, her dodgy flatmate out, to hastily brainstorm a welter of ideas instead of showering repeatedly.
It made her seem prepared. So when Enjolras finally unbent enough to listen to her, Grantaire would be ready. To say, with studied coolness, “I have some ideas,” and start flipping through her sketchbook. It was going to go smoothly.
“Mariage Pour Tous?” Grantaire asked. “Seriously?”
Enjolras looked back at her like she didn't see what the problem was. The blazer was gone; she was wearing simple straight black jeans and a white t-shirt, and she looked as effortlessly put-together as a Chanel intern. Her fair hair was loose today, in a cloud that clung to her neck. Grantaire couldn't blame it for that. Maybe in another life she'd be reincarnated as a lock of Enjolras's hair, and she'd get to wind herself around her throat and kiss her tender earlobes and the underside of her jaw. “What's wrong with that?”
“It's boring?” Grantaire said. “It's ridiculously boring?”
Enjolras folded her arms. “It's clear. And it draws a connection with their slogan –”
“That's exactly my point. We should be making our own message, not springboarding off fucking La Manif's bullshit. Besides, we've already won the marriage fight. We won, Enjolras.”
That made Enjolras’s defensive posture relax, her mouth soften a little. It was like watching the spring thaw. “We did,” she allowed. She looked almost dreamy, caught in the memory of their triumph. A late April day and cheering crowds. Lipstick and marker. Grantaire had hugged people, drunk on it. She'd hugged Enjolras, who had hugged her back. “We did, and there's nothing they can do about it.”
“Right,” Grantaire said, and grinned. “That's the point we should be making. Let's rub it in their faces and make them eat their own shit.”
“I could get behind that,” Enjolras said. “Okay. Whatever. Let's get under their skin.”
She’d been edgier than usual since Grantaire opened the door to her. She'd cast a skittish glance around the living room when Grantaire ushered her in, and she was still standing by the table instead of taking a seat, her arms wrapped around herself like she was cold.
Enjolras drew closer to peer at the sketchbook. Standing behind Grantaire's chair was bad enough, with her invisible eyes everywhere on the back of Grantaire’s neck; then she leaned down over her shoulder to see better. Grantaire stopped breathing.
“Oh,” Enjolras said, sounding unflatteringly surprised. “I like that one.”
“That's nothing,” Grantaire said, clearing her throat. Breathe. In and out. Enjolras didn't wear perfume, but the scent of white soap and clean girl rose from her skin like a ghost. Her hair smelled faintly of daffodil.
“It's better than what I had.”
Grantaire forbore to mention that a twelve year old with MS Paint could have done a better job on Enjolras's last protest posters than Enjolras herself had. The message was good; the execution wasn't. Unfortunately, Grantaire had forfeited her right to criticism. She licked her finger and flicked hastily forward a few pages.
“There. That one.”
“That's your favourite?”
“There are others,” Grantaire said, “but, yeah. That's the one I think would work best.”
“I like it,” Enjolras said, with measured consideration. It was the nicest thing she'd said to Grantaire since April. She nodded. Grantaire didn't see her do it, but she felt the motion running through the arm resting so casually against the back of her chair, brushing the back of her neck. Enjolras tended to make up her mind fast, and once she had made it up, it was hard to change it. “That one. We'll go with that.
“I can alter it,” Grantaire added nervously anyway. “I mean, this is just a basic sketch, I haven't transferred it to my tablet yet – I can basically do anything you want to it.”
“I like it,” Enjolras repeated, but she tilted her head, willing to hear more. Again, Grantaire felt rather than saw it. “Show me.” She was quiet as Grantaire filled in details, nodding. Quiet as the process moved from paper to tablet, as Grantaire began to refine rough lines and mocked up colour blocks.
“See, this is a protest poster,” Grantaire said, carried away by the encouraging lack of argument. They hadn't circled back to slogans yet – that was when the fighting would start, when Enjolras felt she stood on solid ground. “This should kick the wasp's nest.” She glanced sideways at Enjolras. “If I get punched again over this –”
“You're planning to protest with us?” The surprise in Enjolras's voice hurt, like salt on flayed skin.
Grantaire didn't look at her again as she worked, but despite her best efforts to maintain her tone the happiness had gone out of her voice when she spoke again, like soda gone flat.
“Of course. There's nothing I like better than making assholes eat shit.” She flicked a glance at Enjolras then, from the corner of her eye. You included, the look said.
It made Enjolras's pale face close off again, her red lower lip vanish between her teeth. “Oh,” she said. “Well. It'll be appreciated.”
It should have been easy. Gay marriage was passing in a rising tide across Europe. It was France. No one had seen the backlash coming; if anything was going to be contentious, it should have been the free abortion for girls of all ages, but that had passed without a whimper. Gay marriage was low on President Hollande's list of election promises, and it seemed an easy afterthought, a final improvement on the civil unions that already existed. No one expected a battle.
And then in April the riots had broken out, and they’d rolled on through May, June, July without stopping. Protests in Paris on a level not seen since the days of '68, when the students had taken to the streets to the sound of American rock and roll and fought under the red and black, chanting communist slogans; now it was homophobes playing MGMT and wearing crucifixes, putting their tiny children between them and the police batons and tear gas, shouting on met les enfants devant! On met les enfants devant!
It was envelopes of gunpowder being sent to the president of the Assemblée Nationale for passing the law; it was Dominique Venner walking into Notre Dame Cathedral at four PM on a Tuesday and putting a pistol in his mouth, and his blood and brains splattering all over the ancient stone and the horrified tourists.
It was pink and blue flags waving around Les Invalides, with their images of men and women as something hopelessly separate, binary, and unbending; cries of “Un Père, Une Mère, C’est élémentaire!” It was right-wing ultras chaining themselves to metal barricades on the Champs-Élysées.
It was protesting the protesters before the gendarmes moved them on; Bahorel's fractured rib and Grantaire's broken nose, Courfeyrac putting a hand in Marie's hair and sweeping her into an unexpected, showy kiss in front of the assholes that bent her back like a bow and left her shocked and wide-eyed. Enjolras looking like a human Fury, hoarse from shouting, one cheek red with the heart Musichetta had drawn on her with lipstick, the other black with marker shaping a doubled Venus sign. Her hair had been whipped about in the summer wind like a living thing, one moment streaming behind her like a banner, then in her eyes like a veil.
It was the tight security surrounding the first legal same-sex marriage months later, for fear of violence (“Of course it was white gay men,” Enjolras had said, staring at their images on the laptop feed from Montpellier, despite the celebratory ABC party going on around her; apparently determined never to be happy. “Of course – who else would do as the poster couple?”). It was the endless succession of victory parties through the summer, fierce in the face of the hate most of them had never had to confront, which had slumbered quietly below the surface of society before making its vitriolic last stand.
Grantaire hadn't gone to all the victory parties – just the last one, for the first marriage. Which seemed improbable even to her; there was nothing she liked better than getting drunk on someone else's money, and nothing she liked better than getting utterly shitfaced when it could be explained away as legitimate celebration. But it was hard to rejoice in a victory she'd had little to do with; hard to explain to her friends and her political allies why she'd skipped out on their protesting as soon as the bill passed in April, even though there was still work to be done, counter-protests to make, marching and fighting in the streets.
The informal meetings of Les ABC were less tightly controlled than their formal meetings, and therefore infinitely more chaotic. No one kept notes, and there was no agenda to follow.
And to the next one, after the abortive poster-designing fiasco, Marie brought a girlfriend.
“Er,” Combeferre said, and even her magnificently controlled voice cracked a little.
“Er,” Courfeyrac echoed, with more emphasis.
“Holy shit,” Grantaire said, and Feuilly kicked her ankle.
Marie’s girlfriend was stunning. That was expected. She was extremely feminine, and that, too, was expected. She looked, at first glance, very like Enjolras, and that was not.
On second and third glances, the differences were there, and strong. She was several inches shorter, and girlish in a way Enjolras wasn’t. Enjolras radiated a certain sexless purity, like the helmeted statues of Athena Grantaire had nicknamed her for. The massed blonde hair was straight, not curly. This girl's eyes were a deep cornflower-blue, not the clear colour of artic ice. Her eyelashes were painted a vivid black. Her cheeks were pink. She looked like an Enjolras seen in a wavy mirror, a hand-tinted photograph in bright and improbable hues; an Enjolras that hadn’t been bleached of colour by the force of her passion. An Enjolras who wore lipgloss.
They all knew Marie’s type, but Grantaire saw Éponine crumple slightly out of the corner of her eye as she took in every difference between the new girl and herself.
“Hey,” the new girl said, with a small uncertain smile. Marie squeezed her hand. “I’m Cosette?”
“My girlfriend,” Marie added proudly, as though that needed to be explained and underlined. Her wide infatuated grin dimmed slightly as she glanced around the room. “It’s okay that I brought her, right? This is just a regular meeting, right?”
“Correct,” Enjolras said, an edge to her voice never the less. “However, we’re still running to time, and you’re still late.”
“If you make a move on Marie’s girl I will end you,” Éponine whispered to Grantaire in an undertone too silent to be heard.
Grantaire put a hand to her heart. Would I? she mouthed.
You would, Éponine’s glare said. It was sweet, how she worried. It would be sweet how defensive she was of Marie, but Grantaire firmly believed that selfishness was a much healthier emotion. She was allowed to diagnose emotional health in others, however unhealthy she was herself.
Would Grantaire? Probably, given the chance. Fucking pretty girls that looked a little like Enjolras on first impression was a whole new level of fucked-up even for her, which meant it was inevitable she’d try. Or maybe she wouldn’t; maybe that would be worse than fucking girls that didn’t remind her of what she didn’t and couldn’t have. Maybe she wouldn’t even have the option, because Cosette was staring as besottedly at Marie as she was staring at her. Well, well.
“I’m sorry!” Marie said. “I didn’t mean to be, but I was meeting Cosette at the library on the way, and we got distracted!” It was obvious what the distraction had been. She was pink under her freckles. So was her new girlfriend. It was so sweet it frankly made Grantaire’s teeth rot. Candyfloss and daisy-petals; endless rounds of I love you and I love you not.
She’s safe, she mouthed at Éponine, who pursed her mouth and looked minutely less likely to take Grantaire’s head off with an axe. If she had a mythological counterpart, it was Clytemnestra. Electra, possibly, given the existence of the little brother.
Enjolras would make a good Iphigenia, lying down at Aulis to make the wind fill the sails, a virgin sacrifice. But then she’d rise from the altar with her hair in a stiff halo of dried blood, fresh blood running down her body from her cut throat like a cloak, preserving her modesty, and turn the knife that had been used on her on the men who wielded it –
“Stop staring,” Feuilly whispered, and this time the kick was on Enjolras’s behalf, not Cosette’s. “You wanted to know when you were being creepy, right? You’re being creepy.”
“Fuck you,” Grantaire muttered, but she dropped her eyes to her lap. There was another hole starting in her jeans. She picked at it, the fraying thread coming away between her fingers.
“If you’re all quite done,” Enjolras said, every word a dagger, and the assembled ABC stopped their sotto voce gossiping. Marie and her girlfriend took their seats, still blushing. “We’re here today to talk about one thing: the next La Manif/Printemps Français planned protest, which is less than a week away.”
“Enjolras, we know that,” Bahorel interrupted her. “It’s on the group Google calendar. It came up on Twitter. You texted the alert to every single one of us when it was announced. You mentioned it at the meeting last week.”
“But we haven’t discussed what we’re doing,” Combeferre said, picking up Enjolras's slack as effortlessly as she usually did, the constant counterpoint. Then she passed it along. “Grantaire?”
“Um,” Grantaire said, as attention switched to her. “We have posters? I designed some posters.” She stopped unravelling the denim and scratched behind her ear awkwardly. “Enjolras?”
“We have posters,” Enjolras confirmed to the room at large. “Posters which are considerably better than the last set.” The glance she sent Grantaire’s way was almost approving. No, it was. Grantaire could get high off (get off) to that, alone, for weeks. “Feuilly, if you turn on the powerpoint –”
Of course there was a powerpoint, even at an unofficial gathering. Grantaire rolled her eyes. The lights went off. It was dark for a moment, and then the projector hummed into life, and her artwork was on the whiteboard, blown up at ten times the size it had been on paper and then on her tablet, a furious image in white on red. Blindfolded Justice folded Marianne of France in her arms, knocking her helmet askew and sweeping her back so far she had to clutch Justice’s robe for balance. Above it, bold black said Vous pouvez avoir le rose et le bleu, nous avons le rouge et le noir!
Enjolras clicked through to the other variant, a stylized Napoleon embracing a curly-wigged Sun King that Grantaire had insisted upon.
(“It’ll balance," she’d argued. Enjolras had looked mulish. "No one will recognise Robespierre tonguing de Gaulle. Also, come on, who wants to think about that?” Enjolras had continued to look mulish, so Grantaire had played her trump card: “It’ll piss the ultras off, bad.”)
Now Enjolras looked at it approvingly, another image Grantaire was going to cast in bronze and enshrine in her mind forever. Progrès véritable, l'égalité véritable, France véritable! this one said.
“We’re going to put them up around the Invalides, all the way to the Pont d’Alma along the Quai d’Orsay. Clustering them near the Tour and the Manif Pour Tous offices, too. We need to start at dawn, before the police and the protesters get there. The night before would be even better. Combeferre’s already seen the printers – we ordered three thousand, this time.”
There was a small silence.
“How are we going to put up three thousand posters?”
“We’re not magic –”
“I still have soreness in my arm from the last time,” Joly said mournfully. “I’m sure I have a repetitive strain injury in my wrist –”
“We have resources,” Combeferre said, over the sound of snickering and the lewd alternate suggestions being offered for the strain in Joly’s wrist. “One of our associates has offered his services –”
“I thought we weren’t speaking to any of the other queer groups,” Grantaire said before she could think better of it. The last time she’d checked, they hadn’t been. How much had she missed, these past few months of lurking and avoiding and drinking, showing up to meetings drunk to stare at Enjolras and then scuttling away?
“We’re not,” Courfeyrac said, with an exasperated glance for Enjolras of her very own. “This associate –”
“Stop beating around the bush to save face,” Éponine broke in. “My brother has volunteered himself and his idiot army of kids to your cause, as payment for Enjolras’s gracious aid with his emancipation paperwork.”
Gracious, my ass, her face said.
Enjolras coughed a little. She had turned a very pale pink. Grantaire tried not to find her embarrassment adorable, and failed. “It was straightforward enough,” she said, awkwardly. “And there are enough of them, plus my first and second-years, to cover everywhere we need to be, but I don’t want the kids – or anyone who’s not prepared for the ultras and their tactics – showing up for the actual counter-protest. The police have been getting laxer the longer this goes on. They could get hurt.”
There was a cracking sound: Bahorel’s clenched fist smacking into her open palm.
“I don’t think you should go,” Marie whispered to Cosette, too audibly. Everyone else had their quiet pitched discussion it down to an art; Marie had never managed their subtlety.
“I want to,” Cosette whispered back, also too loud. She patted Marie’s knee reassuringly, and Grantaire noticed that her fingernails were painted with small hearts and flowers. The thumbnails were rainbow-striped. She decided, abruptly, that she was probably going to like her.
That didn’t stop her whispering to Feuilly as soon as the boring but important planning for the counter-protest was over, and the meeting began to break up. “Do you think Marie noticed?”
“That she’s dating Enjolras-lite, or that she might have a weird repressed thing for Enjolras?” Feuilly wrinkled his nose. “It’s Marie. Neither, ever.”
Bossuet came up behind them, winding her arms around their shoulders. “Are we gossiping? I want in.”
Grantaire jerked her head towards Marie, who was kissing the back of Cosette’s hand as a preamble to helping her out of her chair. It was nauseating. Daisy-petal love. “Do you think she has a weird repressed thing for Enjolras?”
“Enjolras would eat her,” Bossuet said instantly. “And not the good way. Marie? Nah. I mean, she might, but she’d never ever recognise it, and if Enjolras made a move on her – and the sun will burn out first – she’d die of fear. Like a little palpitating bunny-rabbit having a heart attack.”
“Which is the only sensible way to respond to an overture from Enjolras,” Bahorel added, looming up suddenly behind them. “Except for Grantaire, whose weird thing for her is not as repressed as we all wish it would be.”
“Shut up,” Grantaire hissed, glancing around with sudden paranoia. “Also, fuck off.”
“Drinking,” Bahorel said, raising her voice to normal levels. “We’re going to get drinks. If you have a lecture, skip it.”
“Musichetta says she’s coming,” Joly reported, glancing up from her phone. She’d probably been asking permission to go.
Grantaire was sick of other people being cute and committed and in her face. Maybe she would skip her studio this afternoon. Maybe she’d drink; maybe she’d see who she could get to come home with her.
Enjolras came with them, Courfeyrac tugging her by one arm and Bahorel by the other – gently, like a mother cat picking up a kitten by the scruff of her neck. Bahorel overpowered her so ridiculously she could probably pull Enjolras’s arm out of the socket with only a little effort. It would probably be easier on everyone all round if she just swung Enjolras up over her shoulder and carried her off like a Sabine woman, but instead – dragging, while Enjolras dug her heels in.
“This is undignified for everyone,” Courfeyrac informed her, eyes full of smothered mirth. “You don’t have a lecture, you don’t have tutorials, you don’t have the clinic. You are free as a bird, ma soeur, and you’re coming with us.”
“I have work,” Enjolras complained, but it was half-hearted. The collective Les ABC swooped on her weakness like vultures and carried her off, and in a quarter-hour they'd left the university grounds behind and were installed at the Corinthe, where their money was good and their conversations and occasional bursts of affection were tolerated fondly. It was a safe space in the heart of the Marais, the gay heart of Paris itself, but it wasn't clean or trendy enough for the hipsters. The wine list wasn't as much a list as it was a short suggestion, and the liqueurs were old-fashioned: crème de menthe, crème de cassis, crème des Noyaux, crème de violette.
Grantaire applied herself to a bottle of rough red wine.
“Are you at least going to use a glass, you animal?” Bahorel asked, ruffling her hair affectionately.
“Why waste valuable time, and give Matelote more washing up to do? Think of the environment,” Grantaire enlarged, with an outflung hand to emphasis her point. “Think of all the tainted waste-water, the plastic bottles of detergent sent out to sea to suffocate innocent porpoises – ask Enjolras, she'll tell you.”
Enjolras glanced up from conversation with Combeferre at the sound of her name. “What?”
“Environmental conservation,” Grantaire said. “You agree with me, right?”
“I'm sure I do,” Enjolras said, dry as the white wine in her own untouched glass. She turned back to her discussion.
“Enjolras!” Bossuet reproached her. “Never, ever agree with R. It just encourages her.”
“I care about the porpoises,” Marie put in, and then made the most incredible face. “Porpoise – porpoisi?”
“You were right the first time,” Courfeyrac said, and hugged her around the neck. “Cherish it, chérie; it may never happen again.”
Cosette was watching them. It was different to the way Musichetta watched them; not with half an eye, but with total attention, flickering from one speaker to another. Her small face was unduly serious, as though there would be an exam later, and she might need to produce notes.
I see you, Éponine mouthed at Grantaire over Feuilly's head later, when she caught Grantaire studying Cosette again. There was nothing subtle about the way she drew her forefinger across her throat, but her point was magnificently communicated.
Grantaire made a face at her, and took another swig from her bottle. It was a new bottle. Every bottle was a new start.
“You disgust me,” Bahorel said. She put out a hand and caught Jehanne by the wrist as she went by. “Princess, where are you going?”
“There aren't enough chairs up here,” Jehanne said. She didn't try to escape; there was no point. Bahorel's hand lapped her wrist easily. She blushed, though. Grantaire wasn't sure that there was a question Jehanne wouldn't blush in response to. “I was going to go downstairs and bring some up – there are more of us than usual and Musichetta's not here yet.”
“I'll help,” Bahorel said, and got to her feet. “Chair-wrangling's more my line, anyway.”
“Abandoned, deserted,” Grantaire told her emptying bottle sadly as she found herself alone. She missed Bahorel already. Bahorel was her favourite drinking companion. Joly and Bossuet had jointly held that designation, but since they'd started dating both Musichetta and each other, some of the joie de vivre had gone – or perhaps it was simply that they weren't able to commune on quite the same level. They were happy. They'd always been happy, but it had been the sort of bright spirit that laughed defiance in the face of misfortune and sulky older women. Now they had Musichetta and no misfortunes, and Grantaire's continued to multiply.
There was a king cursed in ancient times to turn everything he touched to gold; Grantaire sometimes felt similarly burdened. Everything she touched turned to shit.
“Why so sad, my dark angel?” Courfeyrac asked, coming up behind her stool and wrapping her arms around Grantaire's waist. Her chin fit neatly into the curve of her neck. Her nose buried itself in Grantaire's black curls. “Be happy! I want everyone to be happy. I'm happy.”
“Never,” Grantaire said with grandiloquent melancholy. It came out sounding more like nevaire. “Come home with me.”
“Oh, bébé,” Courfeyrac said, sounding sad herself. Grantaire was contagious. She kissed her ear. “That wouldn't make you happy.”
“Nevaire,” Courfeyrac said, and kissed her again. “Wait there. I'll get you something that'll make you better.”
“I'm drinking red!” Grantaire yelled after her, but it didn't really matter. She put her head back down on her folded arms and let the room reel around her.
When a hand settled on her shoulder, she shrugged it away. Bahorel, back from her chair-stealing at long last – no, too light. Courfeyrac, come with wine?
“Grantaire,” Enjolras said, and Grantaire lifted her head off the bar so fast she saw stars as the blood rushed back into it; everything swam and lurched in sudden darkness, and then cleared.
When she twisted around, Enjolras was standing between her chair and Bahorel's, looking down at her with her straight brows drawn together.
She was so beautiful. It wasn't just the wine or the low light. So remote and lovely and untouchable she scarcely seemed human. Pallas Athena with eyes of grey lightning, imperturbably chaste, goddess of the just war. Athena Parthenos, who took no lover and bore no child. Born in an instant, sprung from the head, never passing through the cunt.
“Courfeyrac asked me to see to you,” Enjolras said. She sounded a little irritated still, but the frown was fading, smoothing away into something like concern. Grantaire was going to kill Courfeyrac for sending Enjolras over here to see her at her worst, even as she drank her in with her eyes. It did make her feel a little better. “She said you wanted – R, are you –”
“Courfeyrac is an asshole.”
“Courfeyrac is hurt,” Courfeyrac said, appearing behind them and squeezing past Enjolras to claim the vacant seat. “Is this how you talk about me when I'm not present?”
Enjolras looked irritated again. This time the irritation wasn't directed at Grantaire. “I tend to assume you're always present. It's usually true.”
Grantaire liked it when Enjolras was intentionally mean. It didn't happen often. She could almost pretend that Enjolras was vexed for the same reason she was – the interruption.
“You wound me,” Courfeyrac said. “Sit down, Enjolras, and get over yourself.” She gestured grandly, but there was patently nowhere to sit. Enjolras's raised eyebrow pointed that out. “Don't stand there like an idiot. Take a seat.”
The outflung arm windmilled, wild, and then swept forward, catching Enjolras in the back and shoving her at Grantaire.
Grantaire caught her, reflexively.
They both froze.
“There you go,” Courfeyrac said, and patted her lap. “That's what friends are for.”
Grantaire's arm was around Enjolras's waist where she'd steadied her. She could feel Enjolras breathing, the way her stomach muscles locked together in outrage at Courfeyrac's gestured suggestion. In a moment she was going to jerk upright and tear herself away, furious, and –
Grantaire had to get out of here.
“Fuck you, Courf,” she said, letting Enjolras go hastily. She got to her feet, shoving her stool back with a loud, discordant scrape that cut conversations short all over the room. “Come home with me or don't, but don't fuck me around. I'm going.”
Enjolras had caught herself against the bar. She was staring at them – no, at Grantaire, like the whole mess was her fault. Her fair hair was wound around her throat and tangled over her shoulder.
Grantaire gave her her wildest smile, suddenly reckless. “Unless you'd like to come home with me? Maybe a few orgasms would loosen you up. It would be a service to everyone.”
Enjolras, always pale, had gone patchily red. Grantaire was probably yellow, or green. She felt ill.
“Never mind – I didn't mean anything by it. I never do, do I, Courfeyrac?”
She had to go. She brushed past Bahorel and Jehanne on her hasty way out, and didn't stop to say her goodbyes.
The counter-protest of the Manif Pour Tous protest was five days after Grantaire made a fool of herself in front of everyone. She would have liked to forget the date, but no one was letting her.
How's your head, Joly sent her the morning after. Drink lots of fluids, and no ibuprofen!!
Musichetta's sad she missed the fireworks, Bossuet texted, moments later. They were probably tangled under the same duvet, the three of them, in cosy domesticity. Says next time wait till she's there before you go off. Need hangs or hugs?
Bahorel. Feuilly. Jehanne. Nothing from Combeferre, which Grantaire expected; they weren't close. A string of hearts and sad faces from Marie. A belated sorry :( from Courfeyrac that Grantaire eventually answered, because Courfeyrac was a well-intentioned, if overwhelming person, and she wouldn't have meant to cause any of that unravelling disaster. That was on Grantaire.
I hope you're well, Enjolras sent her at midday, which showed considerably more consideration for her hangover than most of their friends had. A day later: I'm sorry Courfeyrac hurt your feelings. I've spoken with her.
Grantaire had been feeling better, but that text was enough to make her want to see if she could drown herself in her inadequate bathtub. She could barely squeeze into it with her knees folded up to her chin; but they said it only took a few inches of water to die, right?
Bad plan, Feuilly sent her when she shared it with him. You want to leave a beautiful corpse for Courfeyrac to weep regretfully over, right?
Fuck you too, Grantaire flicked back, but it was true enough that she didn't want Enjolras to give the funeral oration – because Enjolras would – standing over some soggy, shapeless white mass. She didn't answer either text, but Enjolras didn't stop. She just held off for a day, letting Grantaire hope that her magical avoidance plan might work.
The day before the protest, Enjolras texted her again. We made an appointment to put up posters tonight. We're meeting the students at 2am at the Quai d'Orsay. Police won't arrive until five hours before the La Manif protest, which gives us three hours to put up posters, and another hour or two after that to get ourselves organised. Get some sleep during the afternoon.
Then, I really hope to see you there tonight.
Then, Don't worry about chains, I've got someone else bringing enough for everyone.
Grantaire didn't get any sleep during the day; she spent it skipping studio time and dithering about whether or not to go. She was chicken-livered, that was all. If she had any liver left, after her excesses, it was failing her.
Grantaire could deal with drunken fallout. She just didn't want to. It wasn't like Enjolras had a particularly nuanced grasp of human emotion. If Grantaire showed up bare-faced and blasé, she'd accept her word on it. That was how Enjolras worked. If she didn't show up – if she didn't show up, however, Enjolras was unlikely to forgive her.
Not for anything to do with sprawling forward into Grantaire's lap and the awkward, terrible way Grantaire had suggested hooking up – like a slap in the face, a hasty afterthought, an insult – but for failing Enjolras when it came to this, when she'd failed so much already. When she'd promised.
She hadn't stood with Les ABC since the bill had passed. She'd called her parents a few days into May, although they’d barely spoken since the previous summer.
“We saw that picture of you on the télé,” her father had said, absolute disapproval more than audible over the line, all the way from Angoulême.
Grantaire knew which one he meant. Les ABC behind the barricade the police had thrown up to keep them separate from the assholes from La Manif, the day before the amended bill passed the Assemblée. Enjolras looking like an avenging angel, with Courfeyrac and Combeferre at either shoulder, and Grantaire further down the line in her riot gear, her pulled-off shirt tied around her hips by the sleeves. Torn-off duct-tape in ironic crosses over her nipples, as a concession to modesty. Her short hair bristling around her head like an inverted halo torn out of black light and dark matter. Curling ink climbing up her wrists like gauntlets, unique as a fingerprint and as undeniable.
She couldn’t say, no, Papa, that wasn’t me and hope to be believed. Couldn’t cry like a little girl and beg forgiveness. Not when it had been made so clear to her the last time she was home that it would never be hers.
“Hope you liked it,” she’d said instead, bitterly. The tears she was holding back had been too clear in her voice. “Hope you put it in the family album. Hope you pasted it around the city. Did you send a copy to Grand-mère, make sure she saw it? All the aunts and uncles? Do that. Let them all get a good look.”
She'd worn the memory out until it was faded and soft-edged, but it still hurt. It hurt afresh every time she passed pink-and-blue signs in the boulevards on her way to work or class, a vicious ache that only alcohol seemed to dull.
Grantaire wanted to get in those intolerant faces again, make them look at her when they shouted their particular brand of hate, but at the same time she wanted nothing less. It was hard, even though the bill had passed, to see how much they were still hated. It was hard to have to keep fighting battle after battle even after the war was won. It was easier to just give up.
She didn't text Enjolras back.
She showed up at the Quai d'Orsay near the Pont d'Alma at five past two in the morning. It was too close to the main thoroughfares, to the tourist centres, to be empty even at this time. The cluster of young people gathered under the plane trees by the bridge drew anxious glances. The hooded sweatshirts and pulled-down caps didn't help, or the faces lit by the eerie blue glow of smartphone screens.
Grantaire was going to have to have words with Enjolras about how she organised her troops.
“You need to make it clearer that you're the good guys, not the creepy hobgoblins who crawl out the Seine once upon a blue moon to drink blood and carry off virgins,” she said when she came up behind them from the bike path. They were also going to have to talk about posting sentries.
Enjolras whirled around. “Oh,” she said, all the sudden tension leaving her just as quickly as it had arrived. “You came.”
“I came, and I came with coffee,” Grantaire agreed, and shoved one of the tall cardboard cups she was carrying at her. “I thought maybe you'd need it.”
Their fingers brushed as Enjolras took it. She was wearing a red jacket Grantaire had never seen before, with gold frogging like an Imperial officer, and black beneath it. They hadn't talked about it, but they matched.
Grantaire was wearing her black jeans and a loose black wifebeater Bahorel had been stupid enough to leave behind at her flat one day after a session of GTA: it was huge on her, falling past her hips, neckline sagging past both breastbone and shoulder blades. A bra, in deference to what her grandmère would say if she saw her on the télé. Her knitted cap because, thanks to the unholy hour, it was cold; because it was red, and those were the colours they were claiming today.
“Who's this?” the hooded kid Enjolras had been talking with demanded. He squinted at her suspiciously.
“This is Grantaire,” Enjolras said, and took a sip of coffee. She closed her eyes involuntarily at the caffeine, and when she opened them she smiled, and that was all the gratitude Grantaire needed for bringing it; for being there. “She designed the posters we're about to put up.”
“Really?” The kid squinted harder, then suddenly relaxed. “They're pretty good, bro. You got coffee for me, too?”
“It'll stunt your growth,” Grantaire told him, and got a nod, like that was fair enough.
“Don't give the boy cigarettes, Grantaire, he's too young,” Enjolras said, severe again. Like the kid wasn't obviously under sixteen, which was Grantaire's personal limit for Corruption Of The Young With Devil Nicotine. Not that she handed them out in the playgrounds, or anything, but when someone asked her for one, she usually obliged. She'd been young; she'd been there. “This is Éponine's younger brother, Gavroche.”
“I figured,” Grantaire said. She jerked her head at the motley assemblage. “These his guys?”
“Some of them. The ones over there. The others are the first and second years who expressed interest – we're going to split into three teams and cover a section of the route each. Gavroche is going to supervise his people, I'll take the first years, and you're taking the second years.” Enjolras was smiling again. Under the fey light of the nearest streetlamp, her eyes shone.
Grantaire had forgotten the way political disobedience brought her to life. “Giving me the ones who need the least supervision, I see how it is,” she said. “Are we splitting up?”
“Now you're here,” Enjolras said, turning to address the troops. She paused for a moment, glancing back over her shoulder. “I'm very glad you're here.”
“Right,” the kid Gavroche said loudly, and they began.
Grantaire's arms and wrists and fingers and neck and back hurt by the time they'd put up as many posters as they could. She had to have put up a few hundred. She hated the sight of tape. The smell of the glue. The sound of it as it peeled away from the roll; the taste of it between her teeth before she tore strips away.
“Okay, kids,” she told her second years, who looked as weary and tired as she felt. It was past five in the morning, and the streetlamps were still bright, but the dawn would be on them soon. “You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here, you know the saying.”
“Why not?” one of the more useless ones asked.
“Enjolras doesn't want you in the first line of fire,” Grantaire said. “Look, no one's saying you can't wave signs or make out provocatively or whatever, but do it safely – don't do it here, where Les ABC are setting up. Go back towards the Tour, and wait for the police to set up their lines. Get behind them, and do what you want, they'll look out for you if you behave yourselves. Don't physically engage the assholes in Printemps Français or La Manif.”
“You're going to, aren't you?”
“I am,” Grantaire agreed. She was. She was; getting out there and doing something – it had to feel better that sitting alone in her room drinking, right? “I'll give them shit for you. Go get coffee, help yourselves to the spare posters if you need signs, and get in their faces, but don't get in their faces, okay? Annoy the fuck out of them.”
It was fun, Corrupting The Youth. She could see why Enjolras got such a kick out of it.
Enjolras herself was standing under the plane trees when Grantaire caught up with her, and she didn't look tired or worn-out at all; she looked as rosy and excited as she had hours before. She really did get off on it. “All done?”
“All done, Fair Leader,” Grantaire reported, and Enjolras gave her another smile – god, Grantaire was on a roll today – and moved away to check on something else. The others had started to show up. The metal barricades were being put in place around the patch of garden. They wouldn't get in trouble for that, because the bridge was going to be shut, anyway, under the Manif Pour Tous permit – but the police were probably going to be pissed about them chaining themselves to them.
Whatever. The assholes had used the tactics earlier; why couldn't the ABC use them back?
Combeferre was there, checking the first aid supplies in her backpack. She was wearing her contacts, which she didn't, often. They gave her headaches.
"Yes, but broken glass in the eyes tends to hurt worse," Combeferre said dryly when Grantaire made that observation. Her clover-honey hair was pulled back in a ponytail today, and there were lines of stress around her eyes that the glasses usually obscured. She spent her days learning how to fix people. It couldn't be easy for her, watching others preparing to break them.
"Careful, you sound like Joly," Grantaire warned her, feeling a little ashamed of her occasional bursts of passionate jealousy. Just because Combeferre got to bring Enjolras tea and tug the coffee from her hands, got to rub her back, to encourage her to go to bed – Well, Grantaire had good reasons for jealousy, but none at all for hating Combeferre herself. She was too decent. She radiated goodness the way Enjolras radiated purpose. She'd probably even attend to the ultras, if they got seriously fucked up in the fray.
"Speaking of Joly," Grantaire added, gesturing at Combeferre's over-stuffed backpack. "Looks like she's already tending the wounded."
Joly was examining the strapping on Bahorel's almost-healed ribs, looking dour. Beside her, Bossuet was tapping something out on her phone, entirely distracted.
She'd oiled her bare scalp for battle, and it gleamed a smooth shining brown even in the low light. The little ridge of dark hair running down the center of her head – "Landing strip," Courfeyrac liked to joke when it was buzzed short, running her palm over it – was longer lately, flopping to one side or the other like a fringe, bent under its own weight. Today it was stiff with product, spiked straight up like the bristles on a Roman helmet.
Grantaire was going to bother her, but zigzagged at the last moment when she spotted Musichetta slouching against a tree over a block away. She was on her phone too. Texting Bossuet, probably. Her slim shoulders were hunched against the early morning, and she was dressed head to toe in the anonymous black uniform of Parisiennes somewhat older than Musichetta herself. At that distance, she was likely to be taken for a spectator when the street filled up, melting back into the crowd. No part of the melée.
When Grantaire drew close, Musichetta's dark eyes rose, assessed her, and then slid away. Grantaire followed their direction to where Joly was now padding Bossuet's knuckles in the melancholy expectation of brawling to come. "Came to watch?"
"They're hot when they're bloody," she said, unapologetic. "Got a cigarette?" When Grantaire offered her the battered pack, she snorted. "Gauloise. You have no taste."
"You're a bad woman," Grantaire told her. There was no rancour in it. They smoked companionably in silence as the sun came up.
It gave her too much time and quiet to think. Her part in the poster-posting was done. No one had said she had to stay for the fight. Grantaire thought about that. Then she decided not to think about it, and studied the stark line of Musichetta’s cheek against the brightening sky instead. It was difficult to come up with a neat ancient archetype for her. Musichetta was too utterly herself, steeped in the new century from head to toe like Achilles dipped in the Styx. A sleeker, updated Simone de Beauvoir. In old age, a tricoteuse.
"Grantaire!" someone was shouting. Éponine. "We need you over here!"
"No rest for the wicked," Grantaire said. She tossed her cigarette aside and crushed the smouldering remains out with her heel. "If I die –"
"Have fun," Musichetta said. Grantaire made a face at her and jogged off, back to the barricades.
Feuilly had the chains. Éponine was helping him untangle them, and they were working in a quiet unity only interrupted by the kid brother who hadn't let himself be dismissed with the others.
“Go away,” she hissed at him furiously. Her long dark hair was tucked up in a boy's cap. “You shouldn't be here!”
“Yeah, clear off,” Grantaire said. “Enjolras doesn't want you at the pressure point. Go find the other minions.”
“How did the poster-posting go?” Feuilly asked, busily laying out chain. That didn't stop him from slanting an amused glance at Grantaire. “You're alive and unmurdered, that's a good start. Is Enjolras? Because she can be an asshole, but we need her.”
“I'd never hurt her,” Grantaire said. It came out too earnest, and the kid snickered. “Fuck off, kid.”
“Poor R,” Bahorel said, looming out of the dim and taking up a tangle of links. “No cred, even with the new recruits. He can stay, by the way. Courf likes him.”
Éponine blew out an aggravated breath, but she didn't argue. She was probably doing the same sums Grantaire was, and deciding that since she couldn't get rid of Gavroche, she might as well keep him where she could at least see him. “Fine,” she said, grudgingly. “But you hand over any weapons you have on you, right now. You get picked up by the clics with as much as a duster...”
“Ep, he's just a kid,” Feuilly began. Stopped. “Um.”
There was a small armoury rapidly piling up on the cobbles. Boxcutters. A set of spiked knuckledusters that looked like it had been shoplifted from a cheap jewellery shop, then cunningly repurposed. Spray paint. A flick-knife.
Éponine closed her eyes. She looked like she was getting a headache. That was, of course, the moment Marie and her new girlfriend showed up.
“Hey,” Marie said in her husky voice, strolling over. She was wearing a white man's shirt over jodhpurs, with her hands stuck in her pockets like a schoolboy. And riding boots. “What's going on? What's all – you'd better get that stuff out of here!”
Cosette was a pace behind her. Grantaire was not going to stare creepily, but at least she'd shown up looking ready for protesting, and not like she'd stopped for afternoon tea in the middle of a game of polo.
“I need it,” Gavroche said, sounding affronted. Cosette dimpled at him, unhooking her hand from Marie's elbow.
“I can see that, but you can't get caught with it, frérot, can you? Pick it up, and I'll show you where to stash it. I know the man with the kiosque a block away – if we give it to him, he'll keep it for you.” She turned the dimples on Feuilly. “Do you still need that bag?”
“Take it,” Feuilly said, sounding dazed. “It's empty now, anyway.”
Éponine looked like her headache was getting worse. Grantaire would shake Combeferre down for painkillers if she thought the look on Éponine's face had a physical rather than metaphysical cause. The unhappy dents at the corners of her mouth only deepened as she watched Gavroche follow Cosette's suggestions like they were marching orders.
“Well, at least she's useful,” she said once they were gone. “Can she fight?”
Marie had also been staring after the vanishing Cosette and kid, the backpack of contraband swinging jauntily between them. Now she blinked. “Hm?”
“You're all useless,” Éponine said tiredly. She swept up a length of chain and disappeared after Bahorel.
They were safely chained to the barricades by the time the police and the CRS showed up. Not all of them; that would be stupid, Enjolras explained, her straight nose a knifeblade in silhouette against the pale morning sky. “Combeferre and Joly need to be able to attend to the wounded – and I want to be able to move.”
“We all want to move,” Courfeyrac said. “Suck it up and put your shackles on, Andromeda. We only need to stay chained up until the police realise it's a waste of their time to move us on, and then I want out before the ultras get here.”
Enjolras glared at her. Courfeyrac blinked sweetly back.
They stood off against each other sometimes, but not often. Enjolras might differ with Combeferre or Courfeyrac, but they were her closest friends; they didn't argue knock-down and drag-out the way Grantaire and Enjolras did. Grantaire had never seen her look at Courfeyrac quite like that.
“Fine,” Enjolras said at last, through her teeth.
Grantaire wasn't keen on anything that left her pinned and helpless, but Combeferre looped the bicycle chains around her waist and the bars of the barricade loosely enough.
“It's not for long,” Combeferre said quietly, by her ear. She was too close for comfort. The click of the lock setting only deepened Grantaire's sense of claustrophobia; then Combeferre stepped back. “Just to let the gendarmes know we're not going anywhere.”
“I know that,” Grantaire said. She didn't need the reassurance. Not from Combeferre. She folded her arms. “Go do the others.”
“Do I have to? I'd rather not.” It was an entendre, but delivered so dryly Grantaire didn't realise it until Combeferre had already moved on, began winding Courfeyrac in the truly ridiculous amount of chain she considered necessary to hold her back.
That was a revolting spectacle. Courfeyrac used the opportunity to trot out all her best bondage jokes, and wriggled and squirmed unhelpfully to the point when Grantaire wouldn't have blamed Combeferre for slapping her – Enjolras certainly would have. Combeferre just let her rattle on, looking tolerant and a little fond.
“Éponine!” Bossuet called out from down the line, where she was already hanging forward from the railing by her chains. “I just figured out a use for the kid! Can we send him to get coffee? Hey, garçon!”
“You'd better not cause any trouble,” the gendarme warned them. Grantaire was envious of his battle-gear. He was dressed for a riot, with a full-face helmet and armoured shoulders, a clear fibreglass shield in one hand. He looked like a cross between a futuristic mercenary and an Athenian hoplite risen from the tomb. He sounded bored. He'd done this before. They all had.
Grantaire was out of practice.
“We won't, sir,” Enjolras said. She sounded unduly respectful. Grantaire had seen her spitting fury at policemen before, in the early days, when the Printemps Français wasn't even a distant cloud on the horizon. Now Les ABC were on the side of the establishment. They fought on the side of the law as well as the angels. Grantaire knew that, but she hadn't realised it, really; not in her bones. La bataille est déjà terminée. They just needed to make these fuckers realise it.
"See that you don't," the gendarme said. There was a warning purr to his voice, as though he remembered Enjolras only too well. She didn't look much like the wild-haired fury from April in her neat red coat with her fair hair pulled back, but Grantaire was sure it wasn't just her own dumb adoration that made her certain that Enjolras was unforgettable. He gestured around the quai with his shield. "Is this vandalism your work?"
"No, sir," Enjolras said, straight-backed and clear-eyed. She didn't bother looking to see where he was gesturing – at the red and black posters taped to every available surface. No one had ever sounded more truthful than she did.
The gendarme gave their ranks a stern looking over and grunted in dissatisfaction. "Mm," he said, and it was disbelieving, but the matter dropped. He moved on, and the man who came after him winked solemnly at them.
“Be careful,” he said. “The government is tired of these protests; it's time they came to an end.”
Enjolras's face changed. Grantaire was watching her, the way she did whenever she could get away with it, and she saw it happen. That was all the man said, but when he, too, moved along the quai, Enjolras turned in her chains to look down the line, and triumph shone from her face like a sunburst.
“They start marching in two hours,” she said. Her voice was controlled, and there was no elaboration. “We should be able to hear them soon.”
They heard them long before they saw them. Manif Pour Tous – and Printemps Français, for all they tried to pretend the two weren't braided together in some inextricable tangle, obverses of the same hateful coin – started the rally outside their offices, near the base of the Tour. It was a good spot to draw attention to themselves, and their cause; it brought the heart of Paris to a halt. It drew tourists to the spectacle like flies to rotting meat. There was distant music and indistinguishable shouting from a bullhorn, and the sound of many people packed into one place and talking and chanting at once, rising up over the buildings and the trees to reach them like a swarm of invisible bees –
“Some of them are on our side, remember,” Enjolras said quietly. “It's not just La Manif making noise. We're not the only protesters. Our brother and sister groups are up there shouting them down while we wait for them to come here to us.”
“Still,” Feuilly said. He was pale. Somehow he'd ended up wearing Éponine's cap. Grantaire's mind was running on metaphors today, and Feuilly, slight-shouldered and slim-backed, listening to the distant roar, made her think of Daniel among the lions; boy-David taking up his sling against the giant.
“Still,” Bahorel agreed. “But at least we're winning, hé?”
"They shouldn't finish making their way here for at least another hour," Combeferre said, sounding distracted. "Ms. Barjot likes to pontificate. But since the police are letting us be – anyone who wants to be unchained, should be."
"Please," Enjolras said, heartfelt.
Grantaire laughed, a short burst of sound louder than the distant harangue. It made Enjolras glance along the line. "You took the words out of my mouth."
Joly was humming under her breath as she loosened bonds right and left, too far away for Grantaire to kick her. Must have been why you were kissing me –
The noise got louder and louder as the La Manif protesters drew nearer; crashed down on them like a human wave. The police were lined along the quai. Their armoured backs and their lapped shields were a wall, a barrier, between Les ABC and the chanting crowd – Un Père! Une Mère! C’est élémentaire!
"Fuckers," Éponine snarled. Grantaire bared her teeth in vicious agreement, and the line of police between them and the ultras surging through the street buckled under the onslaught, firmed up; buckled again.
"Are we going to get some punches in, or what?" Bahorel shouted, tossing her poster aside. She put a hand on the frail barricade and then she was over it, pushing her way through policemen, and swept into the heaving mass and the blue and pink. Behind her, Feuilly grit his teeth and swung himself over; Éponine followed. Courfeyrac. Bossuet. Enjolras. Jehanne. Cosette, still holding Marie's hand.
Being in a fight felt like being in the pit for a hardcore show when a circle started. Grantaire had been in plenty. If you knew how to move with the crowd, it wasn't too hard; knew how and when to snatch your breath, when to give and when to stand firm. How to push between resisting bodies and tear a path out for yourself.
It made a difference that it wasn't excitement they were shouting with. It made a difference that many of them were middle-aged, old; that one could be the man who taught you maths, the girl who served you coffee, the guy who rotated your tires. Could be your mother, your father, your aunt or your cousin. The kids you grew up with.
"Get back!" the gendarmes were shouting. They weren't just standing in their lines. Everything was breaking up; the man who had given a message of some kind to Enjolras was in the thick of it, too, tearing the pink-and-blue placards from the protesters.
"This is a lawful protest!" one of the ultras shouted back. Someone tore the sign from his hands. "You have no right –"
Cosette was far from useless, as Éponine had allowed. Éponine was rarely wrong. Someone had taught her how to fight. Instead of cowering uselessly she stayed on her feet and held her position, tore signs from ultras the way the police were doing. Marie seemed to be simply battling to stay near her.
Blondes and tall people stood out in the melée. Grantaire was neither. She was breathing when she could, in huge gulps that filled her lungs and had to last. It was making it hard to shout back in the ultras' faces the way she wanted to. Every now and then, she caught flashes of bright hair through the crowd from the corner of her eye. She fought her way towards them like a flower seeking out the sun.
Enjolras's red coat made her a target. Someone had torn it half off her. Her hair was coming out of its elastic; otherwise she seemed fine, and whole. Printemps Français had no qualms about hitting girls, but some of the more staid Manif protesters and general conservative assholes that’d been pulled into the marriage maelstrom still drew the line.
Just before Grantaire reached her, someone got a hand in Enjolras's long hair and pulled her head back.
Enjolras punched him.
Grantaire saw her do it; the sudden savage light in her eyes, the hit landing clean and clear. The way her face went blank with surprise the moment after it connected, shock running up her arm to her shoulder. Then Grantaire was there beside her, shoving people out of the way, and sinking an elbow into the man's belly before he could respond. He fell back, gasping, and the crowd swallowed him up.
It surged around them. Enjolras had her fist curled into the back of Grantaire's shirt. "Get back," one of the policemen shouted, shoving at them with his shield and knocking Grantaire off-balance. It wasn't meant to hurt. There was a baton in his other hand. The loose shirt stretched impossibly.
Around them, everything was changing. The march was moving on, over the bridge. The quai was emptying.
"Are we following?" Grantaire asked, breathless, her voice rough and pitched high, and Enjolras looked at her like she'd just fully realised that Grantaire was there, and who she was.
Watching her eyes focus was like watching a berserker coming out of blood fury, or a mortal possessed by a god feeling the divinity drain out of them, the ichor lift from their blood.
She shook her head.
"Kittens!" Bahorel said, appearing behind them. She was grinning; there was blood on her teeth.
"You're the image of an Amazon," Grantaire told her giddily. It made Bahorel laugh.
"Close enough," she said. "They had one tit, right? So I'm halfway there. Maybe I should get my surgery done like that, one put in at a time, eh?"
"You could work it," Courfeyrac said, tilting her head. "– R, you are not working that shirt. It was a sack; now it's a tent. Not only can I see everything you've got, I behold your navel."
"How terrible for you," Grantaire said wryly. She plucked the shirt away from her ribs and assessed the damage. For once, Courfeyrac wasn't exaggerating.
"Put those away." Éponine threw a box of band-aids at her. She was probably aiming for the cleavage, but Grantaire caught them first.
Combeferre was smoothing a butterfly-bandage over the split in Feuilly's eyebrow with more than usually distant care, but the tilt of her head said, children, behave.
"We have to get out of here," Enjolras said, staring around her. "Where's Joly?"
"She and Bossuet already left," Courfeyrac said instantly. She was going to have an amazing black eye tomorrow. "Marie and Cosette, too. Jehanne's just waiting for Bahorel, up by the next bridge. Now you and R are here, everyone's accounted for." She gulped with sudden remembered hilarity. "Did you know that Cosette's papa is CRS? I wondered why she was hiding her face when they were speaking to us before. Someone's going to be in trouble when she gets home."
"I think her plan right now is to hole up with Marie and never go home," Éponine added. She almost sounded amused by love's young dream and its travails. "I'm sure that's a functional long-term solution that won't cause issues in any way."
"We need to go," Enjolras repeated. "As soon as the protest finishes, the police are going to start mopping up the streets, and we don't want to get caught in that filter."
"The police!" Bahorel said, with renewed delight. "Did you see those fuckers getting their hands dirty? Beautiful!"
Combeferre started zipping up her backpack. "Go find Jehanne," she said. "Courf, I'll put you back together at home. Feuilly, you're clear –"
"I still have to check that Gavroche went when I told him to," Éponine said. "I knew I shouldn't have let him hang around – "
"Let's check if he got his things from the kiosque before we worry," Feuilly said, helping her to her feet. She winced with the movement, like something hurt.
Enjolras was all but vibrating with impatience. Combeferre gave her a swift up and down look. "You're okay."
"Take R back with you; you're closest. Find her a shirt. She shouldn't take the métro all the way out to her neighbourhood looking like that."
Enjolras shrugged again, and glanced around the quai. There were torn signs everywhere, and clusters of people, some who had been in the brawl and others who patently hadn't. There was still sound coming clear across the Seine from where the protest had moved on. "Get out of here, everyone. Get some rest. We'll meet in the morning to check in."
Grantaire fully expected Enjolras to stride off alone as soon as Combeferre's grave attention was diverted to Courfeyrac, and she was right. She didn't expect Enjolras to get five metres away and then glare at her over her shoulder, one eyebrow raised, are you coming or not?
It wasn't yet two in the afternoon.
Enjolras lived near the Marais. Grantaire knew this; since the Marais was where the ABC did most of their drinking, across the river from the university, the fact that Enjolras lived nearby in a flat that her parents paid for was common gossip. They often joked about its potential as a crashpad for whoever was too drunk to manage the métro home, but as far as Grantaire knew, only Combeferre and Courfeyrac had ever been there.
"I don't live in the Marais," Enjolras corrected her when they got off the subway at Strasbourg-Saint-Denis. "I live in Beaubourg."
"A distinction without a difference."
Maybe rich hipster children could draw that precise line, but Grantaire couldn't; so Enjolras lived a few blocks further from the canteen that made the veggie milk smoothies she sometimes showed up to meetings with in lieu of a proper lunch? It was the same thing.
She bit her tongue on the observation. They didn't talk. Enjolras led, up the escalator and out onto the street, and Grantaire followed.
Enjolras lived in a tall old apartment building without a lift. There were so many jokes Grantaire wanted to make about that. She was going to have to save them up and share them with Feuilly or Bahorel later – in fact, Éponine could probably use the levity. It would cheer her up, Enjolras subject to the indignity of climbing the old wooden stairs every morning and night. That was what you got for living in an area with historical protections. They could laugh about the ancient stairwell all the way from their rented shitholes out in the banlieues.
The stairs were probably what kept Enjolras's ass so perfect, Grantaire thought, climbing behind her.
"Sorry," Enjolras said at the top. She didn't sound out of breath at all, which was just not fair. Of course she lived on the fifth floor. "Are you okay?"
"Just unfit," Grantaire said. It was mostly a lie. She didn't dance anymore, but she kickboxed, when Bahorel dragged her ass there, and she hit the gym whenever she needed to get out of her own head, which was often. Her stomach hurt. Someone had caught her there with a fist and driven all the air out of her lungs less than a minute after jumping the barricade. Feuilly hadn't been far off yet, so he'd seen Grantaire buckle, and got to her before the asshole got a second blow in. "So this is where Sleeping Beauty lays her head?"
"When I can," Enjolras said, rueful. She pushed open the door.
The first thing Grantaire thought was: it was tiny. The second was: it was clean.
The third was: Bed. Bed. Bed.
It was a studio. A tall, small room. There was a tiny kitchenette that Grantaire knew Enjolras well enough to doubt was used often; a desk, covered in clutter and a familiar laptop. A lofted bed, cutting half the room short. Under it, bookshelves and a fluffy rug where other people would have a couch and TV. That was all. It was full of light from the tall shuttered windows that ran from wooden floor to white-washed ceiling. It was calm. Everything was white or pale honey-coloured wood, except for the red bed.
Grantaire had known she was going to Enjolras's flat, but she hadn't realised that flat was synonymous with bedroom. This was the holy of holies; the sanctum sanctorum, the inner cella of a private temple. She didn't belong here. It wasn't right.
"I should go," she said, aware that she sounded desperate and not caring. "Just toss me an old shirt, and I'll go."
"You just got here," Enjolras said. That tiny, confused crease that drove Grantaire crazy with wanting to kiss it was forming between her straight brows, but she nodded. "Okay. Wait there?"
"I'm not going to vanish when you turn your back." Grantaire laughed hollowly. It hurt. She was here in the too, too solid flesh.
Enjolras had her back to her, rummaging through her closet, but Grantaire wasn't going to watch her. She was trespassing enough. She looked down at the desk instead, where paper went to die.
She could see the edge of one of the posters they'd put up today, buried a few layers deep. There were print-outs everywhere, with amendments in Enjolras's clear hand.
Dans le souci de laïcisation conforme aux idéaux de la déclaration de la droits de l'homme, mais aussi au nom de l'égalité de tous citoyens devant la loi, one began. Another picked up halfway down the page, in cross hieratic: La France reste structurellement attachée à un trait du mentalité historique qui lui interdit de rendre égal autrement qu'en rendant identique...
She was fucked. So fucked that even snatches of Enjolras' hasty words on paper were recovered treasures. It was unfair. Every tiny detail Grantaire gathered about Enjolras only made her more hopelessly in love with her. It was like she'd been putting together a portrait in mosaic for years, and every stolen observation only added to the perfection of the overall work. It didn't matter if a new tessera was pretty or hideous in itself; it was part of Enjolras.
Who had a mind like the diamond point in an industrial drill, destructive and constructive at once. Clear and hard. Sometimes in meetings Grantaire just closed her eyes and let her words wash over her, and got called out later for not paying attention.
"I'm going to put that on my wall," Enjolras said behind her, and Grantaire whirled around. She nodded at the slice of poster. "Marianne and La Justice."
"I'm flattered," Grantaire said, too close to sincerity. She nodded at the shirt in Enjolras's hand, grateful for the distraction. "Is that for me?"
"Oh – yes,” Enjolras said, and held it out. “It should fit okay." Then she kept standing there.
She wasn't looking in a pointed way that Grantaire could quirk an eyebrow at, but she was still there, looking about abstractedly. There was nowhere to go, after all, and Grantaire's patience abruptly ran out. Enjolras had seen her half-naked with only pieces of duct tape on her tits, hadn't she? What was modesty, after that? She was wearing a bra.
She pulled her shirt – Bahorel's over-sized, much-abused shirt – off, and heard Enjolras's breath catch. It wasn't with lust. Grantaire could never be that lucky.
"Your side – you're bruising."
Grantaire shrugged, putting her head through the shirt Enjolras had given her instead of answering. She jerked the hem down over the bruise, but not before checking it out herself. It was colouring up nicely already, blooming interesting shades of red and purple. Almost patriotic of it, if the purple turned dark enough to be taken for black. "Not a big deal."
"Don't be a hero," Enjolras said sharply, moving towards the dinky kitchenette. "That needs icing. Stay there."
As if Grantaire aspired to heroism; as if Enjolras could consider her anything but a coward. She shrugged again at Enjolras's turned back. Felt her mouth twist with familiar bitterness. "Has Combeferre been rubbing off on you? That sounded almost medicinal."
"Don't be an asshole."
Enjolras was suddenly back from her rummaging, and in Grantaire's face, looking like Athena about to hand down judgment.
"I didn't mean –"
"I know what you meant." She tugged Grantaire's shirt up, and then pressed something so cold it flash-froze the skin it touched to her belly.
"You deserved it," Enjolras told her. She was still holding the ice-pack in place. The cold seemed to grow more unbearable the longer it was held against her skin. Oddly, this was exactly the way Grantaire had imagined it would feel, being tended to by Enjolras; painful and confusing, but ultimately good for you, the way visits to the dentist were. Corrective. "You say that kind of thing a lot."
"Compare you to a ministering angel?"
"Insinuate I fuck my friends."
Enjolras was as rigorously exact with her nomenclature as she was with everything else. Friend wasn't a word she used easily, or lightly. They'd barely trained her out of referring to Les ABC as her allies; in a year or two, perhaps she'd extend friend to them casually, and mean it. When she said it now, she meant Combeferre and Courfeyrac.
"Don't you?" Grantaire asked, and met her gaze stare for stare.
"I don't," Enjolras said, with even more crystalline precision. "I never have.”
Grantaire swallowed down improbable, glorious delight. Enjolras was watching her, and she was still holding ice to Grantaire’s navel like she was pointing a gun to her head. “Really? Everyone's slept with Courfeyrac.”
“Um,” Grantaire said. Why hadn't she seen that coming? “Yeah, of course.”
Enjolras nodded. She looked like she'd already known the answer to that question, but wasn't pleased to have it confirmed. Or perhaps she was just making her point, underlining how Grantaire's own fevered suggestions were things she was only too guilty of herself, and disliked having had to stoop to the same level to do so. “Don't tell me about it.”
Grantaire blinked. She hardly needed the caution, even if they were apparently having a moment when they talked like normal people about the kind of shit normal people talked about. Or Les ABC did, anyway. Grantaire knew the sexual pedigrees of most of their friends. If she had access to a fifth dimension, she could probably build an accurate model of how they fit together, where their histories crossed and re-crossed – except for Enjolras, who was still an island, alone. A map of Paris to hang up on the wall somewhere.
"I'm not much for girl-talk," she said, glancing down. "Have you tortured me enough now?”
"Yes, I think so."
Weirdly, Grantaire missed the freezer-burn when it was gone. She rubbed her stomach gingerly, and the numbed skin made her own touch feel like a stranger's.
Enjolras was fidgeting with the icepack. It had been out of the freezer long enough to lose some of its absolute rigidity, and the edges were thawing back into gel. The torn golden braid on her once-dapper coat was hanging by a few stitches. The white t-shirt she was wearing under it clung to her like a second skin, and there was a spray of dried blood across it, brown against the white.
There was a nasty cut on her left hand, across the back of her third knuckle. The knuckles themselves looked puffy. Grantaire reached out and took it away from her.
“Fucked your hand up on that guy’s face, huh?”
Enjolras looked surprised to see the damage. "It's not bad.”
Grantaire turned her captured hand back and forth in the bright light streaming through the shutters. It was a pretty hand. It wasn't a pretty cut. “If you cut it on his teeth, you'll have problems. Human mouths are filthy.”
“I can believe it,” Enjolras said dryly. She glanced at Grantaire's mouth. “There's iodine under the sink, if you're going to insist.”
“It's only fair,” Grantaire said. Torture for torture. Besides, this was what Les ABC did after protests and rallies; they took care of each other. She gave Enjolras her hand back and nodded at the icepack. “Put that on them, for now.”
The bathroom was behind a door she hadn't noticed. The iodine was easy to find. There was a full first aid kit on the shelf. In the mirror, she looked wrecked. The non-smudge mascara she'd put on – yesterday, god – was more smudge than mascara, and through the black blur her eyes looked a startlingly pale blue. That was a thousand-yard stare, if she'd ever seen one. Her dark curling hair was standing up in rumples and licks, and when Grantaire raked her fingers through it, it refused to be tamed. She'd bitten her lip sometime in the melée, too. Fantastic.
Enjolras was flexing her fingers experimentally when Grantaire came back out. The icepack was sitting on her desk, abandoned, and threatening to send a precarious stack of paper torrenting to the ground.
“Come here, Athena,” Grantaire said, setting the kit on the kitchen bench and pulling out what she needed. Wondrously, Enjolras did, with only a slight flicker of eyebrow at the nickname.
Grantaire took her hand. Rubbed her thumb over the thin skin inside her wrist. It made Enjolras look at her, and she was still looking when Grantaire dabbed at the cut with iodine-soaked cotton wool.
Air hissed savagely between her teeth.
“Sorry,” Grantaire said perfunctorily. “It's better if you're not expecting it.”
“Warn me next time,” Enjolras ordered. She'd jolted like a startled cat, but now she was rigid, making herself stand still as Grantaire cleaned the wound out.
“If there's a next time, I'm going to teach you how to throw a proper punch.” Grantaire plucked at a stray wisp of cotton sticking to the cut and kept cleaning. “Don't tuck your thumb in. It hurts the other guy a lot more, and you're less likely to break it.” She paused. “Why do you have band-aids with Disney characters on them?”
That explained everything; Enjolras didn't need to say more. Grantaire laughed under her breath, tearing one open. It was pink, and there was a cartoon princess on it. It was absolutely incongruous. She set it over the little gash carefully and smoothed it into place.
Then she gave into impulse, and bent her head to kiss the skin just above the bandaged knuckles before she let Enjolras's hand go.
When she glanced up, Enjolras had flushed a sudden and startling hot pink to match the band-aid. Her fair riotous hair was slipping out of its ponytail, there was a graze on her cheekbone, and blood on her shirt. She was the most attractive thing that Grantaire had ever seen.
“That's supposed to make it hurt less.”
Enjolras looked away and turned her hand over. “Thank you.”
“You're welcome,” Grantaire said. Then she felt even more awkward, so she picked up the little bottle of iodine and tried to screw the lid back on. Idiot, idiot –
Enjolras was making an tentative fist. She was still doing it wrong, so Grantaire abandoned the iodine and uncurled Enjolras's fingers for her. Then she set them into the right shape.
“Come on, it's not that hard to remember,” she said. “For punching, thumb stays out. For fisting, thumb goes in. if you forget it after this, I'm going to laugh at you.” Enjolras was looking at her. “Hey, next protest, we should use that on our posters. Take the Communist fist and give it a whole new connotation, let the ultras know where we want to put it –”
“Not a bad idea,” Enjolras said, cutting her rambling off at the knees. “Will you be coming to the next protest?”
There was a small silence.
“Probably,” Grantaire said carelessly. “Was that the first time you got someone in the face? It looked like it.”
“Yes,” Enjolras said. She was still studying her, and Grantaire's attempt at lightening the discussion, changing the subject, wasn't working. She was the focus of Enjolras's attention for once, absolutely. “The police have been strict about keeping us separated from them since what happened in May. We hadn't been allowed to do much more than shout at them since the last one you were at. Today was a step forward.”
“Well,” Grantaire said. “It was fun.” She was still holding onto the curl of Enjolras's hand, shaping her fingers into a weapon. Enjolras's thumb lingered on hers.
“It was,” Enjolras said. She gave Grantaire a wary look through her eyelashes. “I thought it was the violence that scared you.”
It wasn't quite a statement, and if Grantaire was capable of it, she might have hated Enjolras for the question in her eyes. "No,” she said. "Not the violence."
It was the first time they'd talked about it in all these months. They'd fought about so many other things in meetings. Stupid things. Things that didn't matter. This was the first time Enjolras had asked her why she'd stopped fighting at her side, however obliquely she was doing it.
"It wasn't the violence," Grantaire said again, looking down. She liked the violence. "It was the hate."
Enjolras shifted, the scent of daffodil rising from her falling hair. Grantaire breathed her in, for courage, and looked up to meet whatever judgment she'd find in those cool eyes.
Enjolras kissed her.
Her mouth was there and gone before Grantaire had time to react. She jerked with the delayed shock of it anyway, as though what Enjolras had done was iodine on an open wound, and knocked the cardboard carton of band-aids off the counter.
They landed with an almost soundless tic, utterly inadequate for encompassing the sudden wrench in the fabric of reality. There should be glass breaking. A redwood that had stood in a forest for a thousand years falling with a mighty roar. If Enjolras had kissed her with no one else around, had it really happened?
“Was that okay?” Enjolras asked, sounding uncertain.
Grantaire wanted to tell her yes, yes, obviously, anything you want, ever, but she couldn't seem to do anything but stand there with her hand over her mouth where Enjolras had kissed her like she was stealing something. She managed to nod, and the sudden doubt that had been sitting uncomfortably on Enjolras’s face lifted.
“Okay. Can I do that again?”
Grantaire jerked her head again, yes, please, yes, and Enjolras moved forward, and this time Grantaire was ready for it.
Enjolras kissed roughly, taking no prisoners and asking no questions. She tasted like blood and iron, and her hands were on Grantaire's waist a heartbeat later, sliding under her shirt and finding skin. Grantaire let her take what she wanted, and when at last Enjolras seemed to falter, her burst of assurance running dry, Grantaire pushed her against the wall and kissed her back with all the frustrated passion she'd been holding in since – forever.
Enjolras's fingernails dug into her skin and her mouth opened under hers like a flower.
A flower with furious teeth and claws; a succubus with a wet hungry mouth. Grantaire shoved her knee between Enjolras's legs and rode her thigh as she kissed her, on and on, until at last that wasn't enough anymore, even with the snug seam of her jeans pressing against her in just the right way and Enjolras's tongue in her mouth –
Grantaire pulled away, gasping. Fuck. She'd been making out with Enjolras, and she could probably get off with just a little more time, a little more directed pressure. This wasn't the way she usually – usually, she was drunk and clumsy, and if it was with a friend, everything was slow and easy and there was laughter. Sometimes it was perfunctory, a means to an end, and she shut her eyes and let her body do what it was good at. This had to be the fastest and hardest desire had ever slammed into her, like a sledgehammer to the head. A fist to the stomach.
“I don't want – fuck,” she said, and pushed her hair out of her eyes crossly. Her mind was spinning with everything she wanted, too much of it. Not enough.
Enjolras was watching her. She'd stayed pressed back against the wall where Grantaire had put her, and her swollen mouth was the reddest Grantaire had ever seen it. Her chest was rising and falling with her quick breath. “Are you okay? Is this – that was still okay, right?”
“Yes, Athena, that was okay,” Grantaire said, and briefly shut her eyes. It was too much. “– Take your shirt off.”
She half-expected Enjolras to refuse and throw her out, but Enjolras blinked, and then she undid the remaining buttons on her jacket. Dropped it, bit her lip, looked at Grantaire again, and pulled her thin white t-shirt over her head.
The jacket was lying crumpled at her feet, a ruined rag of its former bright self, donned for a day and then disregarded. Looking at it made Grantaire's stomach turn over, so she looked back at Enjolras instead.
The t-shirt had joined the jacket on the floor. The delicate winged hollows of her ribcage could have been carved by Canova. Her bra was white. Her stomach was the colour of heavy cream, paler than the pale gold of her arms, and Grantaire wanted to savage it with her mouth like an animal.
“The bra, too?”
“No,” Grantaire said. “I want to take that off you myself.” She closed her eyes again. “What – What the fuck is going on? Why did you kiss me? Tell me. Please.”
“I wanted to,” Enjolras said. She sounded sure of herself again. She was much better at handing down pronouncements than she was at asking questions, and everything about her hesitant checking – was that okay? Is this okay? – was unlike her. “I've wanted to for a while. Since April, at least. That day, when the bill passed – But then you weren't around much anymore, and every time I spoke to you –” She shrugged. “I'm not suggesting anything serious, R. I wouldn't ask that from you. But we could – if you want, we could do something.”
Grantaire could fill that telling caesura with a dozen suggestions: Every time I spoke to you, you ran away; you were impossibly drunk; you seemed set on pissing me off; all our friends were there; you were draped over one of them; we had a knock-down drag-out fight; all of the above. Instead, she said, incredulously, “Are you asking me if I want to fuck?”
Her coarseness made Enjolras frown at her, and that was something normal enough that it anchored her to reality. Enjolras was suggesting – It hurt a little. I wouldn't ask that from you. But she was suggesting –
“Fuck, of course. If you mean it. If you really want–”
“I don't ask for things I don't want,” Enjolras said. She seemed to decide that Grantaire had freaked out long enough, because she came forward, curled her hand into the hem of Grantaire's borrowed shirt, and kissed her, taking control back.
It was smoother, this time, like she was learning Grantaire and what she liked, but no less intense. Her knuckles pressed into the thin skin of Grantaire's belly. She must be able to feel the betraying artery in her stomach pounding like a hammer, the impossible secret flood of her pulse close to the surface.
Grantaire had so many fantasies where Enjolras barely bothered telling her what little she wanted from her and just took it, tall and blonde and autocratic and utterly certain. They all seemed to be coming true, because Enjolras popped the button on her jeans open with a flick of her thumb and shoved her hand down Grantaire's pants.
“Fucking – fuck,” Grantaire said. She didn't get frowned at. Enjolras was watching her for her reactions, and she looked satisfied with herself. “That better be your good hand, Athena,” Grantaire warned her breathlessly, and then, as Enjolras cupped her, she longer cared whether it was or not.
She grabbed Enjolras's wrist and held it in place, shoved her face into Enjolras's neck as she rocked her hips, and came shuddering against the heel of her hand. “Holy –”
“Did you just,” Enjolras said, and she sounded as breathless as if she'd been the one with the orgasm.
“A little bit, yeah,” Grantaire said against her throat. Enjolras's clouded hair had almost entirely escaped its ponytail and was everywhere between them, fine silky skeins of it tickling her nose and getting in her eyes and between her teeth. “Sorry. I'm kind of easy.”
“I'd heard that,” Enjolras said. Her voice had gone cool again. Academic. Grantaire shuddered happily. “I wasn't aware it would be that easy, however. I thought it took more work.”
“Well, you're special,” Grantaire said, not thinking. She was stupid right after she came. Then a little of the fog lifted. “You thought?” That couldn't – She pulled back a little; not too far. “Please tell me that wasn't the first time you got someone off.”
“Of course not,” Enjolras said, and the panic abated fractionally, and was replaced with jealousy. “– We seem to be wired differently, that's all.”
“Enjolras,” Grantaire begged. Fucking law students. “Am I the first person, apart from yourself, you've gotten off?”
“I don't know if it counts as getting you off when you did all the work,” Enjolras said, maddeningly thoughtful, and extracted her hand from Grantaire's pants.
No. Maybe Enjolras had just had a lot of really bad, unsatisfying sex. “Please tell me that wasn't your first anything,” Grantaire said. Not being shoved up beside her refrigerator and kissed rough as Grantaire shoved her knee between her legs. “Please tell me – Please.”
“You haven't done anything to me yet.” The way Enjolras tilted her head was an invitation to try.
Grantaire squeezed her eyes shut again. “No one?”
“You're the first person I wanted,” Enjolras said, devastatingly straightforward again, and shrugged like it was just that simple.
It probably was, for Enjolras. She'd just looked at Grantaire the day of the bill, the day of the photo, thought I want that like someone picking out a new cereal on a supermarket shelf, and had her. She could have anyone she wanted with a curl of her finger; with a curl of her hand she could have them writhing and begging and spasming.
Grantaire was an idiot. Nevertheless, she said, “Combeferre?”
“I love her,” Enjolras said. Which was what Grantaire got for asking questions. “But not like that. We're too –” She frowned. “We work too well.” Like milk and water; comfortably, striking no spark. Grantaire could see that, actually, when she turned off the jealous and illogical parts of her brain.
And yet – “Courfeyrac?”
“I really don't want to talk about Courfeyrac,” Enjolras said, and hooked her fingers in Grantaire's beltloops and pulled her in again.
Fucking Enjolras made Grantaire get all toppy. It was the opposite of whatever she'd imagined, which had mostly involved a lot of Enjolras humiliating her while she got off on it. Enjolras pulling Grantaire down by her hair and forcing her head between her legs. Enjolras getting disgusted with Grantaire's fumbling attempts to please her and shoving her away, getting herself off with ruthless competence as Grantaire watched with abject longing.
She'd never thought about an Enjolras who wasn't quite sure of herself, and didn't know what she wanted. An Enjolras Grantaire wanted quite desperately to be gentle with, to be good to, at the same time that she wanted to eat her alive and make her come screaming on her fingers like it was the first time for that, too. An Enjolras who lay back against her pillows and stared up at her in a way that was trusting and challenging at the same time.
She had small breasts; they almost vanished when she was lying on her back. Her nipples were an absolutely pale pink, only a few shades away from her fair skin. And soft, and sweet. They looked like rose-petals.
Grantaire wasn't going to say that and sound like a sentimental asshole, so she bent down wordlessly and took one in her mouth, dark hair falling into her eyes. Enjolras flinched under her at the contact, and then relaxed slowly as Grantaire's mouth worked. Her chest moved with her shallow breath. Her heart hammered against Grantaire's cheek.
“Marshmallow,” Grantaire said when she broke away, to get the balance back. Annoy. It made Enjolras frown up at her, that little line reappearing between her eyebrows.
“That's what they remind me of.”
It wasn't exactly true anymore; she'd bit and sucked that one into hardness, and now it was furled like a bud about to bloom.
Enjolras had her mouth open to argue when Grantaire bent her head to the other. The way whatever she'd been about to say died in the air was intensely satisfying; the way her back arched off the mattress was even better.
Grantaire had had a theory about how sensitive her breasts were, and now she'd confirmed it.
Enjolras was like warm wax coming to life in Grantaire's hands. She exhaled through her nose when Grantaire did something she liked. Went tense, bit her lip. Went red. Every bit of her body sang in silence. Grantaire had fucked quiet girls before, in shitty apartments where they were worried about the neighbours overhearing. Girls that grew up sharing bedrooms who had trained themselves to come noiselessly. Neither of those things applied to Enjolras, she was simply quiet; but Grantaire didn't have to worry that she wasn't enjoying it, not with the look on her face and the feel of her –
Enjolras had been cautious with her hand in Grantaire's pants. Grantaire had assumed she was taking her measure, but now, after the revelations in the kitchen, she thought that the delicate way Enjolras had touched her was probably the only way she knew – the way she liked it herself. Grantaire liked it a lot rougher.
But that was okay. There were interesting things she could do for sensitive girls. For now, she just rubbed Enjolras through her underwear while she focused most of her attention on her breasts. Simple black cotton briefs, as warm as her body.
Enjolras made a shocked sound when Grantaire pushed them aside and slid two fingers into her. It wasn't a protest.
When Grantaire crooked her fingers, she arched again and came around her hand.
“How sensitive are you, after?” Grantaire asked curiously. “Can you go again?”
Enjolras blinked at her. “I don't know,” she said. “Usually when I – I get off, and then I stop.”
“Mm,” Grantaire said. “Let's find out.”
Going down on cool, calm, self-contained Enjolras was something Grantaire had wanted to do since, oh, forever, and it didn't disappoint. The taste of her. The tremble in the thigh hitched over her shoulder. The way Enjolras was hesitant at first, and then the tension melted away. The involuntary sounds and movements Grantaire was able to coax out of her after that, being slow, cruel, gentle –
The satisfying way she finally bucked after what she wanted.
“Hey,” Grantaire said, pulling back. “Careful.”
Enjolras stared up at her, hazy-eyed. There was hair sticking to her neck, turned a darker gold with sweat. She was pink from her sternum to her hairline. “Hm?”
“I've already broken my nose once in the line of duty,” Grantaire explained. “I don't want to have to explain breaking it again in the course of – Well, you know.”
“Oh,” Enjolras said. She blinked twice. Her gaze didn't sharpen noticeably.
Grantaire kissed the inside of her knee. Then she moved inland, kissing and sucking as she went. “Aurélie –”
That made Enjolras focus. “No prénoms. I hate them.”
“I know,” Grantaire said. It didn't feel right, anyway. Nineteen year-old Enjolras had declared in a flame of fury that had had something to do with her parents that girlish prénoms should be shed within Les ABC – surnames only. And they had been. It was a badge of belonging, a forging of new and shared identity. (The rule had never applied to Éponine, who flatly refused to answer to Thénardier, or to Marie, who had tried, but couldn't do it for Pontmercy. Jehanne had never taken it seriously in the first place). If they were Enjolras and Grantaire in Les ABC, they were Enjolras and Grantaire in bed.
Still, though. They were in bed, and Grantaire was the first person to ever do this for her. She was going to claim, a little bit. Aurélie, she whispered into the inside of Enjolras's thigh, quiet enough not to be heard. She traced it out with her tongue. When she used her teeth, Enjolras thrummed, like a harpstring plucked just right.
Afterwards, Grantaire had the strong feeling she should be leaving. Going home to shower and crash. Enjolras had got what she wanted from her, right? Twice.
She was just so fucking tired, and climbing back down the ladder seemed like an impossible effort. They were curled together in the eagle's nest close to the ceiling, and inertia was keeping her there.
“Your turn,” Enjolras said sleepily into her ear, which was something like permission to stay. She was curled against Grantaire's back, arm draped over her side.
Grantaire laced their fingers together. Enjolras had beautiful hands; the sort of hands artists were supposed to have, long and fine-boned. Aristocratically attenuated. It was ironic. Grantaire's own fingers were shorter, rougher, but she knew what to do with them and didn't mind getting them dirty. “Nah,” she said around a yawn, and squeezed her hand.
It was light with afternoon summer sunshine when they went to sleep, and dark again when Grantaire woke up. She had no idea what time it was. Her time-sense was more than normally fucked up, thanks to the all-nighter she'd pulled to put up posters. Her phone was in her jeans. Which were on the floor, six feet below her.
She was in Enjolras's bed. Jesus wept.
Enjolras was asleep. Her mouth was a little open. Her eyelashes were golden-brown and she seemed to have several thousands of them. Her naked back was one smooth beautiful curve.
Grantaire was calculating whether she could get down and dressed and out without waking her – because it had been fun, it had been brilliant, she'd be living on this for the rest of her life, and she didn't want the morning-after to ruin it – when those eyelashes fluttered. Lifted.
“Were you leaving?” Enjolras asked.
“No,” Grantaire lied. She couldn't quite interpret Enjolras's tone. “Unless – was that a suggestion?”
“Unless you want to,” Enjolras added, and it may not have been a suggestion, but now it was certainly something. Ugh. Grantaire should have crept out when she had the chance, not lingered to watch Enjolras sleep, but she was an idiot when it came to Enjolras, that was acknowledged fact. Her lashes dipped down, and came up again. “I still owe you one.”
“Athena, it's not a competition.”
The idea of having a lot of competitive, athletic sex with Enjolras was the opposite of incentive to get out of bed, though, so Grantaire flung herself back down and let Enjolras try to make up her debt.
“Give me your hand,” Grantaire said, and guided Enjolras's fingers for her, showing her where she liked to be touched, and how. At first it was almost like doing it for herself – and then, abruptly, it wasn't.
When she started talking again, more than yeah and like that and no, there, and good, it was breathless.
“Do you know what I thought about, the whole way between here and the quai d'Orsay? That I was going home with you – and you were going to lend me a shirt – and I was going to go home and, oh – going to go home wearing it, and, and, smelling like you, and then, as soon as I was home – oh – I was going to shut the door and get off just like that, on the living room carpet –”
The thought of that was enough to do it for her, and it did something for Enjolras, too, apparently. When Grantaire stopped riding her hand and rolled back, feeling considerably more relaxed, Enjolras was looking at her, surprised and more than a little impressed.
“How are you so good at this?”
Grantaire stretched. Her bruised stomach protested a little, but the satisfied, sensitive ache between her legs was enough to combat it. That was how she liked it, the rough and smooth together; the painful underpinning the pleasant, keeping her grounded.
She shouldn't have said the t-shirt thing. It had been hot, talking about just one of the things she'd wanted to do while Enjolras was there to hear it, watching and touching her, and it wasn't like Grantaire's thing for Enjolras had ever been much of a secret – but now she'd gotten off she felt less drunk on it, and more naked.
“I'm not bad,” she said lightly. Then she raised herself up on her elbow, and her tone got sharper without her quite meaning it to. “That's why you wanted to give me a go, right? Because I'm good at it? I mean, Courfeyrac's better, she's had more practice, but –”
“Shut up,” Enjolras said. “I told you I didn't want to talk about her.”
“Yes, but I don't listen to you, Athena,” Grantaire said. She stretched luxuriously again, enjoying the pain-pleasure of it and the sight of Enjolras naked in bed. “It's kind of my thing.”
“That's not negotiable,” Enjolras said, pulling the sheet up and ruining the view. She sounded clipped; almost angry. “If we're going to – if this is going to be a thing –”
“I don't know!” Enjolras did sound angry now. “Do you want it to be?”
Grantaire stopped stretching. “You can't ask me that.”
That was where she drew the line. She was okay with fucking Enjolras until Enjolras got whatever she wanted out of this – it was painful how terribly ‘okay’ understated the case – but she wasn't okay with Enjolras acknowledging Grantaire's stupid, desperate feelings, as out-of-place as a litter of unwanted kittens left out on the curb. It could only work if she didn’t.
And if Grantaire didn’t mention Courfeyrac, apparently.
She was running their conversations back in her head; the way Enjolras had glared at her in the Corinthe, and the way she'd avoided Grantaire's question about whether she'd ever wanted Courfeyrac, although she'd been willing to make it clear that she didn't feel like that about Combeferre, and oh, fantastic, Grantaire was the idiot who'd been focusing on the wrong threat the whole time, of course Enjolras didn't want her to talk about her while she was in bed with Grantaire –
The terrible fucked-up thing was that if Enjolras did want to make this a thing, Grantaire would do it; fuck Enjolras whenever she wanted, whenever she needed it, as long as she wanted it, and eat out her own heart when she was alone and trying not to think about the fact Enjolras might want someone else.
“I know you don't – I know you have feelings for Courfeyrac,” Enjolras added, and the chances of Grantaire saying anything reasonable suddenly burst into bright fragments like a blast from a confetti cannon. “And I respect that, but you should know – she's not – she is seeing other people.”
“I'm sorry,” Enjolras said. “I shouldn't have mentioned – I don't know whether it's selfish of me to mention it at all. I didn't mean to. Not like this – but I happen to know that she's seeing someone, and it's – well, it could be. Serious.”
“Courfeyrac?” Grantaire said, and for a moment she wanted to laugh wildly at the sheer idea of it: Courfeyrac, seeing someone seriously. The earth would start to spin east to west first. The stars would fall down from their firmament. The sun would die. Grantaire would stop wanting Enjolras the way iron wanted the magnet; like the quivering compass-point seeking true north. And then – “Courfeyrac?”
“I'm sorry,” Enjolras said again, and she was obviously a better person than Grantaire, because she looked genuinely apologetic.
Grantaire wanted to laugh in sheer wild whoops and ragged torn breaths at how utterly insanely wrong the whole thing was; why did Enjolras think – well, okay, she was kind of terrible at emotional observation, they all knew that, and sure, Grantaire had hit that, but –
“Oh my god,” Grantaire said, and fell back onto the pillows, and did laugh. Long. It made her battered stomach muscles contract painfully, and when she could open her eyes Enjolras had gone from serious and concerned to shocked to outright disgruntled. Her furious beautiful face just made Grantaire crack up again, rolling over on her side and hugging her knees. “Oh my god.”
It was like champagne, fizzing through her blood. A warm, diffuse kind of feeling that wasn't just directed at Enjolras and how ridiculous it was, but the idea of all of them, kindly keeping secrets for each other; Enjolras, trying to protect Grantaire's feelings for Courfeyrac, oh my god, and all the others biting their tongues on Grantaire's actual feelings and never, for all their gossiping, letting it slip to their obtuse object –
“I think you're supposed to slap hysterics,” Enjolras said, folding her arms. Her voice could etch glass.
“Athena,” Grantaire said, when she could breathe. “Why would you think – you’re supposed to be the smart one. Why would you think I’m in love with Courf?”
“You’re not?” Enjolras said, and for a moment the cross look slipped. “But –”
“I’m really not,” Grantaire confirmed. The urge to whoop had died. She sat up, cross-legged, and grabbed for Enjolras’s hand.
Enjolras let her take it, looking confused, and watched as Grantaire ran her thumb over the pink band-aid, and then lingered meaningfully over the spot she’d kissed in the kitchen.
“I’m really, really not in love with Courfeyrac."
Amazingly, Enjolras flushed. Then she frowned and pulled her hand away, looking like she was ready to argue about how Grantaire felt and who she felt it for, looking like she had dozens of reasons and rebuttals and counter-rebuttals, and looking absolutely, unimaginably kissable. The sheet had fallen into her lap again and her hair was curling around her shoulders.
Grantaire was torn between kissing her and explaining to her exactly why she was wrong and how many levels she was wrong on. It was a hard choice. She'd wanted to righteously tell Enjolras she was wrong about something since the day she’d walked into her very first GLBT outreach meeting, hoping to pick up, and had heard Enjolras laying down the law with absolute surety – and not a little unconscious, exquisite arrogance – to their supposed (and soon-to-be-deposed) leader. She'd been the most beautiful and certain person Grantaire had ever met, constant as the sun itself.
Fuck it, she could do both.
“Courfeyrac must never know,” Enjolras said, some considerable time later.
“Never,” Grantaire agreed.
They looked at each other.
“We're telling them about us, though?” Enjolras said. It came out hesitantly enough to teeter on the border of question and statement.
“What are you planning to tell them?”
“What do you want me to tell them?”
“Whatever you want, Athena. It's up to you.”
“You're impossible,” Enjolras said, with a frown of such severity it was almost possible to imagine that the past few hours were just the unusually vivid products of Grantaire's love-struck, libidinous imagination. “I'm trying to have a proper conversation with you. We're doing this again,” she said, her tone firming. “We're doing this often.”
Grantaire raised an eyebrow. “Whenever you want.”
“What if I want to, and you don't?”
“R,” Enjolras said. She closed her eyes. “Please work with me.”
Grantaire took pity. “I'm not fucking you around,” she said. “I'm serious. You can have whatever you want from me. It's yours.” She wet her lips. That was the question, wasn't it? “What do you want?”
The post-protest meet-up was in the park at Tour Saint-Jacques. Most of their post-protest meet-ups tended to be held in the open air or at someone's flat, away from their usual haunts. Grantaire had her theories about Enjolras's paranoia, but today it simply seemed like a good idea. It was one of the last good days of autumn. The morning was fine and clear; birds were singing. Bells were ringing.
Enjolras had insisted on walking there from Beaubourg, but she didn't stride off at her usual clipped pace.
“Should we bring anything?”
Enjolras looked genuinely nonplussed. “Why would we?”
“Well, breakfast,” Grantaire said, "and politeness, possibly," but she let it go. “Enjolras, coffee is not negotiable.”
Enjolras made a great show of checking the time on her phone while Grantaire stopped for coffee, but she took a sip as soon as Grantaire handed one to her.
“You're late,” Joly said percipiently. She eyed them, but her suspicions seemed to be centred on their cardboard cups. “And you didn't bring enough for all of us?”
“I brought coffee,” Cosette said peaceably. She had, in thermoses. Grantaire nudged Enjolras, who could take pointers. Cosette and Marie had also supplied blankets and a picnic hamper and their usual shady gathering had turned into a regular déjeuner sur l'herbe. The general air among the sprawled Les ABC was one of pastoral abandon.
There were daisies behind Jehanne's ear and stuck through Cosette's braid, which was raggedy with escaping wisps of hair, as though she'd gone straight from protest to bed to breakfast. Marie was watching her with a moony adoration that had to be seen to be believed.
Bossuet had taken her shirt off and was lying on her stomach in the grass, soaking up the thin sunshine in the absence of rain or wind. Musichetta was using her as a pillow. Tall tanned Courfeyrac was lounging on her back, a pair of oversized sunglasses perched on her nose. Beside her, Combeferre was balancing her laptop on her drawn-up knees and typing. Éponine was working on her tablet, and there was a bruise on her cheekbone, but other than that – and the cut on Feuilly's brow, and the impressive black eye Bahorel was wearing as a badge of honour – everyone seemed hale, and whole.
For some reason, looking at them made Grantaire's throat swell a little. It was the opposite of yesterday's massed, shouting, angry crowd, her father's voice on the phone; her friends, casual and lazy and dear.
There were croissants. Enjolras glanced at Grantaire as if to say, see?, and Bossuet grudgingly yielded them a fraction of blanket.
Grantaire lay back with her eyes closed against the sunshine and listened the others' reminiscences of yesterday's action; the articles in the newspapers, the foaming rage on ultra blogs. Beside her, Enjolras was giving every sign of rapt attention to the reports, but her third and fourth fingers had curled themselves into Grantaire's beltloop like they belonged there, and she was stroking the little bit of bared skin above Grantaire's hip with the rest.
When Grantaire opened her eyes, she focused on a daisy. It was a pathetic thing, its pink-edged petals wilting.
“What are you doing?” Enjolras asked her quietly, in a conversational lull. Grantaire handed her the bedraggled flower, and watched Enjolras turn it quizzically back and forth. When she glanced sideways, Grantaire reached over and tore off a petal, and blew it away into the still air. Then another. Then another.
It took Enjolras a moment to understand what she was doing, and then she smiled.
“What are you doing all snuggled up over there?” Bossuet asked loudly. “I see you, R, picking petals with Enjolras!”
Combeferre glanced up from her laptop. “Is that a euphemism? That's disgusting.”
Marie said, confusedly, “What would that be a euphemism for?”
“Sometimes I wonder how you even live,” Grantaire told Marie, not entirely joking. They were all looking at her. Her, and Enjolras, and Enjolras's hand comfortable on her hip. “Mind your own fucking business.”
“Your fucking is our business,” Musichetta said, sounding intensely bored.
Enjolras brushed daisy petals out of her hair. “Our relationship, however, is not.”
“Ugh, are all the couples coming out of the woodwork?” Éponine asked. “You sicken me.”
“Like you can talk – I saw who you went home with, miss.”
“What?” Courfeyrac demanded, and the disconcerting, laser-like focus of Les ABC's collective attention shifted. “Tell! Tell!”
“There's nothing to tell,” she said, but her mouth smiled. “Nothing to share, anyway.”
“Are we all coming out of the woodwork?” Jehanne asked, and she was serious. She reached out and took Bahorel's hand, and then flooded red from hairline to neckline. It clashed with her hair.
“Jehanne!” Grantaire said, with delighted shock. “Tell me everything.” She lowered her voice. “Does she –”
“No details!” she squeaked.
“Does she treat you right, I was going to say,” Grantaire said, attempting wounded dignity and genteel shock. Strangely, that made Jehanne blush harder.
"Y-yes," she said. "Very well."
There was whooping and whistling and the usual off-colour jokes. Enjolras hadn't taken her hand away, and in the ensuing distraction she leaned in quickly and kissed Grantaire's shoulder.
Courfeyrac missed nothing under her ridiculous sunglasses. "Look at you," she said. "Look at both of you. After all the shit you've given me over the years – another of the sickening lesbian couples that give the rest of us a bad name."
"Élodie," Combeferre said, using the rare prénom and dug her bare toes into Courfeyrac's bare calf. Amazingly, Courfeyrac desisted. Grantaire squinted at them, suddenly suspicious.
Courfeyrac blinked sweetly in answer to her raised eyebrow. Then she grinned. Feuilly was whistling around a grass blade. Cosette was tickling Marie with one.
Enjolras lifted her chin, and Grantaire bent down and kissed her to the rising sound of laughter, under the wheeling blue sky and gentle sun.