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The first thing that Grantaire ever says to Enjolras is this: “Get thee to a nunnery.”

But that isn’t entirely accurate, because Grantaire doesn’t say it, he screams it. At the top of his lungs. While brandishing a rapier and making a dramatic spin in the middle of Enjolras’s living room when Enjolras walks through the door with an armful of groceries.

It comes across more like “GET THEE TO A NUNNERY!”

Enjolras blinks. The strange man in his living room gapes at him.

“I have so many questions,” Enjolras says.

This spurs the man into action. He drops the rapier and darts forward to help Enjolras with the bag of groceries, all the while letting apologies and justifications spill from his mouth. “Fuck, I’m sorry– I thought you were Feuilly– he said he’d be right back, I don’t think he expected you to be home– I am so sorry.”

Enjolras lets the stranger take his groceries into the kitchen before he even tries to respond. “So you aren’t here for a themed robbery,” is the next thing he manages to say.

The man stares at him again. He has wide eyes, which are an actual unfair shade of blue, and ridiculously curly black hair that is tucked untidily behind his ears. “How would that even work?” he asks, a little breathlessly. “Are robbers supposed to recite antique plays while they steal your TV?”

“You were yelling Shakespeare in my living room.”

“I was practicing with Feuilly!” The man still looks stricken. “He ran out to get dinner, and I thought you were him!”

Enjolras crosses his arms and raises his eyebrows. “And you were going to welcome him by screaming Shakespeare at him?”

“Yes?”

Enjolras doesn’t have a response for that. He steps farther into the kitchen and ignores the way the stranger squeaks and moves quickly out of his way. If Feuilly is bringing food home then he isn’t going to bother making dinner, so he starts putting all of the groceries away.

“Can I help?” the stranger asks tentatively.

Enjolras shakes his head. “You’re welcome to go wait in the living room for Feuilly,” he says as he reaches up to put a jar of tomato sauce in the cupboard. He’s tired, and it’s hard to keep his tone civil. “I don’t need any help.”

He doesn’t turn to watch the other man shuffle into the living room, just keeps relegating different food products to their respective cupboards and shelves. He has a headache like a knifepoint in the temple and he’s so hungry he feels weak with it, so he doesn’t hesitate to swallow an aspirin and tear into an apple as soon as the groceries are all put away. He wanders back into the living room with one hand pressed to his forehead to find the strange man sitting on the maroon couch with his curly head bent over a book. His rapier is still lying in the middle of the room. Enjolras crunches on his apple and just looks for a moment.

“Would you like something to drink?” he finally asks. He’s being a terrible host and he knows it, but he still feels wrong-footed.

The stranger’s head jumps up in surprise. “Oh– no, I’m fine,” he says quickly. “But thank you.” And then he smiles.

Enjolras turns right around and walks back into the kitchen.

Feuilly walks in the door barely three minutes later and brings the smell of fresh pizza with him, which is enough to tempt Enjolras to leave the kitchen– he’s taken to angrily staring at the fridge as he finishes his apple.

“Enjolras!” Feuilly says as he sets the pizzas down on their little table. “I didn’t realize you would be here. I would have warned R.”

“Yes, we both got a bit of a shock,” Enjolras says dryly. The stranger– R– gives a choked laugh. Enjolras feels like a literal black hole has taken up residence in the pit of his stomach. “Is this dinner? I feel like I’m about to pass out.”

“Help yourself,” Feuilly says generously. He unwinds a long white scarf from around his neck as Enjolras collapses into a seat and opens the top box.

When he resurfaces, three slices later, Feuilly and the stranger are bantering easily with each other, still only on their first slice. Enjolras gets up to fetch napkins from the kitchen. When he returns, Feuilly is grinning at him.

“R said he gave you quite a scare when you walked in,” he says. R’s face is red, and he has his blue eyes cast down. Feuilly laughs. “I’m sorry I didn’t warn you.”

Enjolras sets the napkins on the table and considers not sitting down again. “No harm done,” he says, mostly for R’s benefit. He doesn’t feel like going into the shitty day he had. “It’s not every day you get accosted in your own flat by a man shouting Shakespeare and brandishing a rapier.”

“I’m sorry,” R says earnestly, and he fixes those wide eyes on Enjolras again. They really are unfairly blue.

“It’s technically a foil,” Feuilly says into his pizza.

Enjolras just shakes his head jerkily. “I might turn in early,” he says next, because trying to respond would only make a bigger fool out of him than he currently is. Feuilly gives him a curious look and Enjolras shrugs. “I had a bit of a day.”

“Fair enough.” Feuilly tips one hand toward the open pizza boxes. “Take another slice or two, though.”

“Yes, mom,” Enjolras mutters, but he does as Feuilly says and is on his way out of the room just a moment later when something occurs to him. He turns around to look at the dark-haired stranger again.

“I’m sorry,” he says, as formally as he can with two drooping pieces of pizza still balanced in his hands. “I don’t actually know your name.”

The guy smiles at him again, as though it’s his reaction to being caught off guard. As though it’s his default. “Grantaire,” he says.

Enjolras just nods shortly. “It’s nice to meet you, Grantaire,” he says. Then he turns back around and gets the fuck out.

He doesn’t leave his room again until late the next morning, when the sunlight is almost all the way across the wood floor of the living room. Enjolras rubs his eyes and goes to sit right in the patch of light. He’s never here at this time of day; he might as well enjoy it.

Feuilly comes out of the kitchen a moment later with two mugs of coffee. He hands one down to Enjolras and goes to sit on the couch. Enjolras cradles the mug in his hands and takes one bitter sip.

“You’re late to work,” Feuilly says cautiously.

Enjolras takes another sip.

“You haven’t been late to work in the entire time we’ve lived together. In the entire time I’ve known you. I think you’ve been on time for everything since your first day of preschool.”

“I won the perfect attendance award in preschool,” Enjolras allows. Feuilly raises his eyebrows. Enjolras sets the coffee cup on the wooden floorboard, right in his shadow, and takes a deep breath. “I was fired.”

Feuilly makes an alarmed noise and swallows his mouthful of coffee far too quickly, judging by the pained expression that immediately takes over his face. “What?”

“You heard me,” Enjolras says moodily. He curls his knees up to his chest.

“Enjolras, you practically run that newspaper!”

“Clearly not.” He picks up his coffee mug again. “Do we have any sugar?”

“Enjolras.”

“I’ll go check.”

Feuilly follows him into the kitchen like an exasperated cat. “Why did they fire you?”

“Where did you put the sugar?”

“Top shelf, cupboard by the sink, why were you fired?”

“Creative differences, probably. You know how journalists are.” Enjolras decides to pour an extra spoonful of sugar in his coffee. He’s usually fastidious about keeping all things in moderation, but it’s been a terrible week.

Feuilly is silent for several long moments while Enjolras drinks his sweet coffee. He feels well-rested, which is a little unusual. Even when he goes to bed early, mornings feel like the worst of trials and tribulations. Being able to sleep in, at least for a few days, is something he’s looking forward to.

“Just let me know that it’s all okay,” Feuilly says.

“It’s not.” Enjolras gives him a grimace and shrug, more cavalier than he usually is, but he doesn’t currently give a fuck. “But I’ll figure it out.”

He’s out of the apartment barely half an hour later, wearing a clean white t-shirt and holding his messenger bag. He doesn’t have his laptop or a to-go cup of coffee it all feels so strange, but he hums to himself as he goes downstairs. It’s a new day.

Old Madame Houcheloup is coming up the stairs and he smiles at her– she smiles back widely but doesn’t stop to chat, which Enjolras thinks is a blessing. When he and Feuilly first moved in there had been some muttering from the other tenants about “those two black boys living together on the third floor,” but Mme. Houcheloup has never been anything but perfectly kind to the two of them.

The sun is still shining, though the air is chilly. Enjolras should go for a walk in Central Park, or sit on a bench somewhere, just to be idle and outside and free in a way that he hasn’t been ever since he got promoted at the newspaper. He can’t really bring himself to be upset about time wasted; right now, he just feels tired. Like it doesn’t matter. It’s unusual. Usually he’s vehement and determined and driven but now he feels content to just let it all slip through his fingers like sand.

Today, he’s just going to run errands. All of the gentle, necessary things that he’s been putting off with the promise that he’ll take care of them later, later.

He has to get used to not being the boy with newsprint tattooed on his fingertips.

*

When Feuilly comes home that night, Enjolras is curled up on the couch with a newspaper and his laptop. His phone is very pointedly turned off.

“Hey,” Feuilly says. “Dinner?”

“I made pasta,” Enjolras says, glancing up. “It should still be in the sink.”

“Brilliant.”

Enjolras makes it through a few more pages of the paper before he sets it down and joins Feuilly in the kitchen. The redhead is staring contemplatively out the window, though he has a full plate of food at his elbow. “Everything okay?” Enjolras asks.

Feuilly looks around. “Yeah,” he says. He bites his lip. “What did you get up to today?”

Enjolras takes a seat at the table with him and sets down his newspaper. “Just ran some errands. Things I’ve been putting off.” He considers getting himself another helping of pasta, but the thought is forgotten when he glances up at Feuilly.

The redhead has an odd expression on his face. “I know you already have recruiters in your inbox,” he says slowly. “Do you have any idea what you’ll do next?”

Enjolras shrugs. “I’ll look through them and pick someplace to start over eventually,” he says. He does have people in his inbox, and contacting him on social media, and even calling his phone. Their tones are sly, confidential, winning. They want to seduce him over to their side, but more than that, they want to know why he was fired. He has a goddamn reputation and no one in the business assumes it was his fault. “I’m definitely going to take a fair amount of time before accepting anything, though. I need to readjust.” He leans his chin on one hand and taps his fingers moodily on the table. “I would take an extended leave, but there’s the rent to think of.”

He’s going to take an extended leave anyway while he sorts out everything with the New York News-Review, but he doesn’t feel like elaborating on that. He’ll also have to find pay for a lawyer, but he doesn’t want to elaborate on that either.

Feuilly hasn’t lost his quizzical expression. “Don’t say no right away.”

“To what?”

“Come help with Éponine’s production.” He holds his hands out pleadingly when Enjolras sits up with a murderous glare. “No, hear me out! We need a stage manager.”

“I haven’t even touched a production since college,” Enjolras says sharply. “That was six years ago, Feuilly.”

“If I thought you couldn’t do it I wouldn’t have asked,” Feuilly shoots back, just as strongly. “This is nothing like what you used to do, Enjolras, come on.”

The newspaper is still sitting on the table where Enjolras had thrown it down earlier. He picks it up and holds it next to his face. “This? This is what I’m good at. This is what I do. Not theater.”

“If you’re so violently opposed then don’t do it!” Feuilly says loudly, throwing his arms up in the air. Their neighbors will probably be able to hear them, which is why Enjolras makes a shushing motion with one hand. “You’re good, and this show is good, and you’re going to be free–”

“I’m not going to be free,” Enjolras says. He spins the newspaper back onto the table. “I have the fucking editor of the Times sniffing around in my inbox, do you really think I’m sitting on my hands here looking for work?”

“Is it work that you want?”

That brings Enjolras up short. He blinks at Feuilly for several long moments, then scowls when Feuilly raises his eyebrows triumphantly.

“It’s a limited run,” Feuilly says then, softly. “You’re not signing yourself on to something that’s going to take years. Rehearsals have already started. It’s eight weeks of preparation, two weeks of shows, and then done. I’m sure the Times will wait for you.”

“I– but– dammit, Feuilly.” Enjolras hasn’t been in a theater in years. He remembers the last article that he wrote about the performing arts, and he also remembers cheerfully burning it when he got a lucky break and a good promotion that pulled him out of the dreary hell of writing fluff pieces for the rest of his life. He told himself then that he would be content to never step foot in another theater.

Feuilly finally drops into the chair on the other side of the table. “Right now Éponine’s doing all of the directing and stage managing herself, because the guy that was supposed to do it fucked off when he found out she was going to be running it,” he says. His mouth twists in distaste and Enjolras scowls. “We just need someone who isn’t an asshole and knows what they’re doing.”

“Six years, Feuilly.”

“Do you honestly expect me to believe that you wouldn’t be able to do it?” Feuilly demands, staring Enjolras down. “Look, if you don’t want to, don’t. I thought I’d ask because I know you’re good and because Éponine is desperate.”

Enjolras drops his head into his hands. He’d hate to leave Éponine in dire straits, though he hasn’t spoken to her in over a year. They were friends in college; both of them had been pursuing degrees in the theater department, though Enjolras had changed his major to journalism halfway through sophomore year. It was the final step in cutting himself off from the performing arts. He hasn’t looked back once.

The kitchen is silent, other than the ever-present ambient noise of cars and people down on the street. Dusk is falling over the city. Out the window, Enjolras can see the postage-stamp windows lit up gold against the darkness, and further away he can still see the outline of the skyscrapers. The city, much like Enjolras, never sleeps. He’s always loved it.

Resentment stirs in his chest. He’s been hardworking. He’s been faithful. He drove himself into the concrete looking for stories, looking for the truth, and now he’s been dropped unceremoniously, as though none of his words ever mattered.

He surprises himself by saying, “I’ll think about it.”

Feuilly looks cautiously optimistic. “That’s all I ask,” he says. He finally turns his attention to his plate of pasta and begins to eat.

Enjolras does think about it. It stays on his mind as he cleans up after dinner, and when he tries to fall asleep. He doesn’t dream, but he wakes up thinking of ghosts.

The cautious sunshine of the day before has dissolved into a thick, relentless fall of rain that streaks down the apartment windows. Enjolras eats a bowl of cereal and tries not to feel like a petulant child as he looks out at the gray cityscape.

Feuilly braves the weather to go to his day job a little before noon, dressed in a white shirt and black pants. He’s the daytime maître d’ at a ridiculously upscale restaurant in the middle of Manhattan, an arrangement that leaves his evenings free for various theatrical pursuits. Enjolras isn’t sure how his roommate found the job– he didn’t even know daytime maître d’s were a thing– but the hours are good and Feuilly often returns home with free steak or wine or soup, so neither of them feel the need to complain.

Enjolras lounges on the couch in his underwear, wearing nothing else but a white t-shirt and a pair of thick red socks. He reads the Times and thinks about Hamlet. He makes an omelet and frowns the entire time he eats it. He watches the rain on the window and feels perfectly useless for the first time since he started working at the newspaper.

He makes the executive decision to categorize it as a depressive slump in the early afternoon. He celebrates the decision by laying facedown on the couch, feeling sorry for himself, for about ten minutes before he makes himself get up and actually put on clothes.

His phone rings just as he’s buttoning up one of his favorite shirts. He answers it absentmindedly, expecting it to be Feuilly. The exuberant voice on the other line takes him by surprise.

“Enjolras, how the hell are you?”

He grins and tips his head back. “Éponine. I should have expected this.”

“You really should have.” He can hear the smile in her voice. Goodness, it’s been a long time. “Feuilly let slip that you may be considering giving your old college friends a try.”

He leans against the door to his room and looks over the main room of the apartment. The light has grown more dim as the afternoon has worn on, and rain is still falling heavily outside. “Considering is the key word, unfortunately,” he tells her candidly. “I’ve been staying far away from theaters lately.”

“Well that’s a damn shame.” Éponine is as relentless as a rainstorm. He forgot what it was like to be so swept up. “Listen, come along with Feuilly to our meeting tonight. It’s not a proper rehearsal, just getting everyone together before the serious work starts. You can talk to the actors and see what you think.”

Enjolras runs one hand through his wiry hair. He thinks about it. He sighs. “Where’s the theater?”

Éponine doesn’t rub in her victory, but he can hear it in her voice. “4th Street, between Bowery and 2nd Avenue,” she tells him. “Just come with Feuilly, you’ll be fine.”

A low sting of anticipation and nerves strikes him in the stomach. “Okay,” he says. He sighs again. “Okay. I’ll see you tonight, Éponine.”

“Brilliant.” He can still hear her triumph. “Take care of yourself, E.” She hangs up.

When Feuilly gets home from work he has Grantaire with him, and the two of them find Enjolras lying facedown on the couch again. “Éponine told me the good news,” Feuilly says, sitting directly on Enjolras’s feet. “I was going to make a bite to eat and then we can all head out.”

Enjolras makes a vague noise of confirmation.

“Do you want anything to eat?”

“No.”

Feuilly gets up. Enjolras can hear him moving about in the kitchen, undoubtedly making himself something easy, like a can of soup. Enjolras hauls himself up into a sitting position and realizes that Grantaire is still in the room and is watching him with unabashed curiosity.

He has an odd face. He’s about Enjolras’s height, if he had to guess, and his dark hair is curly and slightly unkempt. The collar of his t-shirt is wet from walking through the rain.

Enjolras spreads his palms out. “Welcome,” he says flatly.

A sudden grin spreads across Grantaire’s face. “You’re the very picture of hospitality. Bad day?”

“Not as such.” Enjolras rubs the back of his neck and looks out the window.

“I’m sure I’ve seen you somewhere before,” Grantaire says conversationally, and Enjolras stiffens. “Movies? Modelling? Wanted posters?” Enjolras gives him an incredulous look. Grantaire shrugs.

“I’ve never met you,” Enjolras informs him. Thankfully, Feuilly comes out of the kitchen at that moment, eating soup out of a mug.

“We have to leave soon,” he says. “Are you all set?”

Enjolras and Grantaire answer in the affirmative at the same moment. Feuilly ruffles Enjolras’s hair fondly and walks back into the kitchen, loudly slurping his soup, as Enjolras gets up to find his jacket. They set out a few moments later.

The sidewalks aren’t empty, and it appears that the rain is finally beginning begin to lighten up, though the air in the city is almost unbearably cold nonetheless. Enjolras is surprised the weather never turned to hail or snow.

The theater is close enough that they don’t need to take a cab or the subway, though Enjolras is still cursing and shivering five minutes into the walk. Reaching the theater after carefully navigating the slick, shiny streets is a relief.

It doesn’t look much like any theater that Enjolras knows. It appears to be an ordinary storefront, except for the words New York City Theatre Workshop above the door. They waste no time in getting inside.

Enjolras recognizes a few faces once they reach the green room, mostly from past productions with which Feuilly has been involved, but most of the milling crowd are strangers to him. Grantaire and Feuilly plunge in directly. Enjolras hovers by the door.

“Enjolras!”

He turns just in time to catch a hug from Éponine, who grabs him and holds him fiercely. She’s a full head shorter than him and she’s grown her long black hair out since he last saw her; it flounces easily around her head as she moves back to look him up and down. “Christ, you’ve gotten skinny. Been living on nothing but newsprint?”

“If that,” Enjolras says with a smile. Éponine was one of the first people he ever met at college, and also the first person to ever punch him in the jaw, though she hadn’t been the last. Their friendship has come a long way. “You look great. It’s good to see you.”

“You mean I haven’t wasted away due to stress?” She rolls her eyes and tugs him further into the green room. Enjolras steels himself as people surround him on all sides. “I’m ecstatic that you came,” Éponine is saying. She pauses beside Feuilly and elbows him in the ribs. “I’ve been tearing my hair out trying to find someone– we’re fine right now, rehearsals have barely started, but once we get closer to showtime you’re going to be able to help with all of the technical aspects.”

“If I do,” Enjolras says quietly.

“Enjolras.” Éponine turns to face him. Her tone is fond but her eyes are steel. “Would you have come tonight if you weren’t gong to do it?”

Lost, Enjolras shakes his head. Feuilly starts grinning widely, and after a moment, so does Éponine. “Well then,” she says simply. “Welcome aboard.”

Feuilly crows in triumph and punches Enjolras on the shoulder. He smiles; he can’t help it. There’s still a thick, queasy feeling of trepidation in his stomach, but when Éponine hands him his very own script with Hamlet emblazoned across the front, he can’t help but feel a stir of excitement. It’s been so long.

“Go meet your actors,” Éponine says then, making a shooing expression with her hands. “I want everyone to get all nice and introduced, go on.” He goes.

The green room is a long, rectangular space, full of tables and mirrors and the usual debris of theater. A lot of the space near the door is dominated by a large ugly pink couch.

As Enjolras keeps looking around he gets a shock; someone is pushing her way through the actors towards him, and when she gets close enough she throws her arms around his shoulders in a hug. “Hello, Enjolras!”

He hugs her back, almost lifting her off her feet. “I didn’t know you would be here,” he says happily.

Cosette bobs back on her heels to smile at him. “I could say the same to you,” she says. “Last I heard you were still running a newspaper, fighting the good fight.” She raises her eyebrows quizzically.

“I was never running it,” Enjolras corrects, with only a hint of bitterness. “And I’m taking a break from that as well. Feuilly asked me to come back and play stage manager, as a favor to Éponine.”

“It’s good to see you, either way,” she says. “We have plenty of catching up to do.”

“You’re welcome over at mine and Feuilly’s anytime,” Enjolras decides. “We can do dinner.”

“You’re welcome tonight, even,” Feuilly cuts in. He’s standing only a few feet away with Grantaire and Éponine.

Grantaire is watching Enjolras with wide eyes. Enjolras can’t decipher his expression; he doesn’t know how much of the exchange the other man saw.

Éponine is smiling. “I know you already know some of the others in the cast, but I figure introductions won’t hurt?” She waves the other actors over– they’ve already begun shaking hands and politely asking questions. Enjolras drapes an arm over Cosette’s shoulders and turns to face Feuilly and Grantaire.

Cosette beams at Feuilly. “You must be the famous roommate,” she says, and holds out her hand. Feuilly grins back.

“I’m Feuilly. I’m playing Horatio.”

“Ophelia,” Cosette says, and she shoots a smile at Enjolras when he laughs. She’ll be perfect. He can see that already.

Feuilly gestures to the man at his side. “This is Grantaire, another good friend of mine.” Grantaire smiles crookedly and reaches out to shake Cosette’s hand as well.

Enjolras blinks at Grantaire and frowns a bit to himself. “Which role are you playing?” he asks. He can’t remember Feuilly ever mentioning it.

Grantaire looks at him, startled. Next to him, Feuilly starts to snicker. “How can you be this oblivious, Enjolras?”

Enjolras bristles. “What?”

“I’m playing Hamlet,” Grantaire says, now looking like he’s trying not to laugh. “The, uh, lead.” Cosette shoves at Enjolras with her shoulder.

Enjolras presses his fingers wearily to his eyes. “Please don’t assume I meant any offence,” he says dejectedly. “I’ve had quite a lot on my mind.”

“No, it’s fine,” Grantaire assures him swiftly. He has the slightest furrow between his brows. “It was a bit of a surprise casting choice, anyway.”

Enjolras nods, but Feuilly scoffs. “No one was surprised but you, R,” the redhead says. Then he looks back at Enjolras. “Grantaire here is one of the best and brightest. Critics are predicting that he’ll become the next master tragedian.”

“What, really?”

Grantaire rubs the back of his neck uncomfortably. His cheeks are pink. “Really,” Feuilly says. “You’re in the presence of a great Shakespearean actor, here.”

Enjolras hopes that his absolute mortification isn’t apparent on his face.

“Looks like Enjolras hasn’t done his research, for once,” Cosette says. Her eyebrows are raised. “Grantaire, I look forward to working with you. This is all a bit new to me– I can’t say I have your accolades in the realm of Shakespeare.”

Bless Cosette. Bless her, and her father, and her cows. Enjolras bites his lip and lets her lead the conversation; Feuilly rocks into his side, for just a moment. His shoulder is warm. Grantaire’s odd face is bright and animated as he talks to Cosette. He uses his hands a lot when he speaks, Enjolras notices. It’s probably his job to start noticing. From here on out.

Éponine is standing by the door to the stage with her arms crossed as she regards the milling actors. Enjolras briefly touches Feuilly’s elbow before exiting the conversation and making his way over to her. She’s loosely piled her dark hair on top of her head in a bun that looks like it’s staying together out of sheer power of will. Enjolras takes up a position at her side that already feels familiar.

“You have a lot of talented actors at your disposal,” he says quietly.

The look that Éponine gives him is pleased. “I’m glad you think so,” she mutters. “I’ve been fighting people on my casting decisions every step of the way so far.”

“Who is there to fight?”

“Surprisingly, not the other actors. They’re excited for this and they respect the vision I have.” Éponine turns her eyes to the stage again. “This almost didn’t happen. The producer didn’t want to hand over Hamlet to me, even though he wanted to use the actors and workers that I already had assembled. So I found a new producer.” Her smile quirks up. “Musichetta. I don’t know much about her but she lives and breathes Shakespeare, from what I can tell. She was part of the production team for Sleep No More.”

Enjolras whistles. Éponine claps him on the shoulder.

“It’s my first time being the solo director,” she adds. “There’s a lot of pressure. Do I give a fuck? Not really. The actors I’ve worked with before are close-knit, and the additions I’ve added will bring everything I think we could be lacking.” She gives Enjolras another look. “I wish you could have been here for auditions.” She focuses on the milling actors. “Grantaire’s going to be sublime. Feuilly’s going to make you cry. Joly and Bossuet are ridiculous– I’m bringing them both back the next time we tackle a comedy.”

Enjolras hums. Then Éponine nudges him and points to a dark-haired boy standing with Cosette and Grantaire. “That’s our Laertes– Montparnasse. I’ve never worked with him before, but his audition was incredible.” Montparnasse is pale and lean, and every move he makes seems calculated to be as charming as possible.

“He doesn’t look much like Cosette,” Enjolras notes. Montparnasse’s hair is as dark as ink.

Éponine grins. “He’s going to dye his hair.” Then her smile goes flat. “I didn’t know you and Cosette knew each other.”

“She’s engaged to the friend of a friend,” Enjolras says, giving her a sideways look. “I didn’t know you knew her either.”

Éponine shrugs. “I met her when we were really young,” she says. “We’ve kept in touch.”

A story is hanging over her head like a raincloud, but Enjolras doesn’t press. Éponine has been an enigma since before he even met her in college; she had a reputation as ‘that crazy Jondrette girl in the theater department.’ When they actually did meet, she and Enjolras got in a screaming match over the interpretation of a scene that was little more than a thinly-veiled fight about different types of privilege. It had taken an incredible number of late nights tearing their hair out over monologue assignments for anything like a friendship to form. Enjolras will still hold that he only stopped smoking because she stole all of his cigarettes.

By the end of the evening, Enjolras has made sure he knows the names– and roles– of each of the actors involved in the production. He’s introduced to icy Montparnasse, whose handshake is like a vice. He meets Joly and Bossuet, who appear to be close friends of Grantaire, and to whom Enjolras takes an instant liking. He also meets many of the older actors, who have worked in the theater for years and inhabit the stage with a gentle, loving air of possessiveness. Mabeuf, who wears a red cap, is to be Polonius; an old bishop named Myriel will play Claudius and the ghost of Old Hamlet; a slightly younger woman named Fantine, who has a soft, lined face, will be Gertrude. They are each exceptionally kind to Enjolras, especially Fantine.

They do not read any lines that night, just spend time in each other’s company, getting a feel for their group as a whole. Though Feuilly had said their rehearsals had already started, Enjolras gathers that Montparnasse, Cosette, and Fantine did not appear to fill their roles until very recently. Now that every character is accounted for, Éponine tells him, they can begin in earnest.

Enjolras and Feuilly try to convince Cosette to join them for dinner when they all leave the theater, but she declines, explain that she’s already promised to spend her evening with her father. Enjolras gives her another hug before she slips out the door.

He and Feuilly take the subway together. The strange underground breeze is light in Enjolras’s hair, and he doesn’t blink when the subway appears out of the darkness and goes screaming past him. He and Feuilly are right on the yellow line next to the tracks, barely too close. They hop on the train and sit down in a pair of empty seats with their shoulders brushing. Enjolras sways slightly as the train begins to move again.

At the next stop, two men get on, holding violins. Feuilly nudges Enjolras, but Enjolras is already watching.

When the train starts moving they begin to play.

Their balance is good, to stand on the moving subway car without a hand on the rails for support, and their playing is good, even with people around them to hinder their movements. One of the violins is dyed aquamarine. They play something mournful, something that fits right in with the weary crowd of people on the subway, and Enjolras doesn’t take his eyes off of the two men until they get off at the next station.

Feuilly is smiling. Enjolras cranes his head to look out the window at the two musicians as they walk away. He can only watch for a few seconds before the train enters the tunnels once more and his line of sight is drenched in darkness.

He and Feuilly get off in their neighborhood walk the extra block up to the correct building. The night air is brutal against their skin, though Enjolras feels it most in his teeth, when he opens his mouth to speak. He feels like he has chips of ice on his tongue.

“Christ God,” Feuilly says, when they make it through the door. “I always forget how cold New York stays in the spring.” Enjolras brings him a blanket so he can knot it around his shoulders while they heat up pasta and throw together a salad. Enjolras pours a glass of wine for Feuilly as well, though he steals a sip before handing it over.

“I wasn’t exaggerating earlier,” Feuilly says at one point. He doesn’t look up as he stirs the pasta sauce. “Grantaire really is very good. Some people think Éponine settled on Hamlet with Grantaire specifically in mind.” He takes a small taste of the sauce and wipes at his mouth. “This is the kind of production that everyone hopes for. The right time, the right place. We’re going to get a lot of attention for it.” He finally looks over at Enjolras. “Grantaire will benefit the most. If he pulls this off– and he will– there’s no telling what doors could open for him.”

Enjolras’s mouth falls into a small frown. “I didn’t think it would be that monumental,” he says. “A group doing Hamlet in New York City. It’s the most frequently performed play in the world.”

“Is it really?”

“There have been sixty-four performances of it on Broadway alone,” Enjolras says dryly. “The number of times it’s been done off-Broadway are innumerable.” He’s spent a lot of time with the Hamlet Wikipedia page these past two days.

Feuilly shrugs. “Well, we’re doing it again. This is the best of experimental New York theater, mate. If you have enough prestige, anything that you try is going to get a lot of attention. Taking on something like Hamlet is even more worthy of it, because either it’s going to be absolutely terrible or it’s going to be the best thing in Manhattan since the opening of The Lion King. Everyone will want to know which it’s going to be.”

Enjolras turns of the stove and moves to strain the pasta in the sink “I didn’t realize.”

“I thought you did,” he says. “I’m sorry. I should have told you the scope of it beforehand.”

“I don’t think it will be a problem.”

“I’m glad.”

Enjolras pulls two plates out of the cupboard next to the sink and hands one to Feuilly. “I feel like an absolute ass, though. With regard to Grantaire.”

“Ah, he doesn’t care.” Feuilly takes the plate. “Thanks. You shouldn’t feel bad about it. There was no way you could have known.”

Shame lingers in Enjolras’s stomach anyway. It stays, cold and uncompromising, as he and Feuilly finish their meal and linger over the bottle of wine. It stays in his throat as he offers to let Feuilly use him whenever for running lines and memorization. And it stays in his hands as he lays in his own bed, home with the triumph of a new project started, trying to sleep in the dull orange glow of city lights that spills in through the window.

*

The first official rehearsal that Enjolras attends arrives with as much noise and clamor as a subway train appearing from the dark. He has spent hours buried in his laptop, fending off people who want to hire him and explaining that he’s taking a hiatus from writing to help with a friend’s production. The responses he gets are equal parts impressed and dubious, especially on Twitter, which is one of his favorite platforms for discussing his articles. Not writing for such an extended amount of time is bound to be difficult for him. However, he expects that he will emerge on the other side of this process with a lot of new experiences and a fresh approach to enslaving himself to a keyboard.

When he arrives at the Theatre Collective that night he is almost attacked by a young man in a yellow button-down shirt, who circles him in a predatory manner and declares, “I hope you’re an actor, because costuming you is going to be an absolute joy.”

“He’s not,” Feuilly says, grinning as he walks through the door after Enjolras. “Prouvaire, this is Enjolras. He’s our new stage manager. Enjolras, Prouvaire here does the costumes.”

“Helped immeasurably by Boissy, of course,” Prouvaire says with a gesture to a girl on the other side of the green room, who is standing with Grantaire. He holds out his hand for Enjolras to shake. “I’m incredibly pleased to meet you, and incredibly sorry that I won’t get to put you in a doublet!” Then he spins away before Enjolras can even respond.

Feuilly laughs and claps him on the shoulder. “We usually don’t start thinking about costumes until closer to showtime, but Prouvaire was enthusiastic to get started. Several of us have already been fitted.”

“I like him,” Enjolras decides.

“Enjolras!” Éponine pokes her head out the door to the stage. Enjolras taps Feuilly on the wrist and goes to join her.

“I figured it would be best to give you a run-down of what we need from you throughout all of this,” Éponine says as she takes him through the wings and onto the stage, where two men are standing. “We unfortunately don’t have a large crew to work with, but we’re doing our best. Now, I think you know Combeferre?”

Enjolras blinks in surprise before breaking out into a grin. “How many of my friends did you recruit for this thing?” he demands as he shakes Combeferre’s hand. “Christ, Combeferre, it’s good to see you. How have you been?”

“Fairly good.” Combeferre beams at him. “Courfeyrac is saying we need to have you around for dinner soon.”

“Definitely. It’s been too long,” Enjolras says. “Are you doing lights for us?”

Combeferre nods and smiles. Enjolras smiles back before he turns to the other man.

“This is Bahorel,” Éponine says. They shake hands. “He’s our main crew guy, I don’t think any of the other crew members are here tonight. He’s also our fight scene choreographer.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Enjolras says. Bahorel has a wide, infectious smile and a very firm handshake. His skin is dark but he has freckles all over his face and lips, a little like Feuilly. Unlike Feuilly, Bahorel’s dark hair is cropped closely to his head.

“Pleasure to meet you all,” he says. His voice is very deep.

“You’ll be working with these two a lot to gut the cues written down,” Éponine says, “though I’d like you with me during rehearsals as well to get down the blocking. We don’t have most of our props yet but we do have the lights up, thanks to Combeferre, so we can start work on that right away.”

“Sounds good.”

“Now if you’ll come with me I can show you the files we have so far for you.” She takes him back out into the green room. More of the actors have arrived and are milling around the couch, where Grantaire and Feuilly are lounging with their scripts. “I don’t have a prompt book yet– it looks like the guy who you’re replacing didn’t bother starting one.” They stop at the desk by the door to the green room. She lays her hand on a stack of files. “These have contact info for the actors, this is the cast list, these are drawings for the set design, and these are rudimentary light, sound, and speech cues. Some of these are subject to change but I thought you could at least start pulling them together with your script to get the prompt book together.”

“I can take these home?” Enjolras checks.

“Of course.” Éponine smirks. “Just make sure you bring them back.” She turns back to the desk and taps her fingers on a copy of the script. “I know I already gave you your script but this one has all of the cuts that I’m considering. This is Shakespeare’s longest play– it runs at about four hours. I’m not about to tear it to pieces but there are sections that can definitely be shortened. I thought you could spend your time tonight familiarizing yourself with it.”

“You don’t want me watching the rehearsal itself?”

“Not tonight.” Éponine looks fondly at the milling cast and crew members. “None of these guys are off book yet, so there won’t be a lot of definite blocking being done. If anything significant comes up, I’ll be sure to tell you.”

Enjolras looks back at the stack of files. “Sounds perfect,” he says honestly. The less time he spends in the theater, the better.

Éponine punches him in the arm. “Brilliant. I have to herd these guys onstage now– come find me if anything occurs to you.”

Enjolras sits at the desk and starts going through the script with a pencil as the actors drain out of the green room and onto the stage. He doesn’t try to read the thing in its entirely, just looks through for Éponine’s edits and makes a few notes of his own. The script that Éponine gave him is still pristine but he knows how worn and abused the pages will be soon– he thinks idly that it might be worth it to keep two copies with him. He’ll certainly need two copies of the prompt book.

Actors flow in and out throughout the evening, and Enjolras gathers from listening to them that Éponine is trying to focus on scenes that contain most of the characters. They’ll have to hold rehearsals for specific actors as they go– Enjolras makes a note to start making a schedule for Éponine.

He looks up when Feuilly comes in and starts reading the very first scene with the two guys playing Marcello, Francisco, and Barnardo, obviously killing time while Éponine doesn’t need them. Enjolras props his chin on one hand hand and listens.

“For this relief much thanks,” says Francisco, trying to rub his hands together even though he’s still holding his script. “’Tis bitter cold, and I am sick at heart.” Once his lines are finished he wanders away to find food while the others continue conspiring.

Feuilly breaks in as Horatio soon after with all of the requisite skepticism, despite the warnings of the guards.

“Sit down a while,” Barnardo insists, “and let us once again assail your ears, that are so fortified against our story, what we two nights have seen.”

Horatio sighs. “Well, sit we down, and let us hear Barnardo speak of this.”

They collapse onto the couch. Barnardo elbows the other two and continues reading from his script.

“Last night of all,
When yon same star that’s westward from the pole
Had made his course t’illume that part of heaven
Where it now burns, Marcellus and myself,
The bell then beating one–”

He breaks off with a yelp of alarm, for Enjolras had crept up behind him and seized him by the shoulders at the correct moment. Feuilly and the man playing Marcellus collapse with laughter.

“Peace, break thee off!” Marcellus wheezes. “Look where it comes again!”

“In the same figure like the King that’s dead!” Barnardo cries as he climbs over the back of the couch to get at Enjolras. Horatio and Marcellus haul him back. Enjolras, grinning, walks around the couch to sit before the others in an armchair with ripped upholstery. Barnardo gives him a mock glare of murderous intent.

“Thou art a scholar– speak to it, Horatio,” says Marcellus lazily.

“Look it not like the King?” Barnardo looks Enjolras up and down skeptically. “Mark it, Horatio.”

“Most like,” Horatio says with a straight face. “It harrows me with fear and wonder.” The other two snicker. It isn’t difficult to understand why; Enjolras, with his dark skin and odd blond hair, looks nothing like the elderly Myriel.

The impromptu scene gets cut off there as Feuilly and the guards are summoned back to the stage. Enjolras returns to the desk and buries himself back in the script for another hour or so without interruptions. He listens idly to everyone that goes in and out of the green room as he starts sorting through the files Éponine gave him. It’s getting late; rehearsal must be ending soon.

“Goodness, Grantaire,” Boissy says from somewhere in front of him. “You’re impossible.”

Enjolras looks up.

Grantaire is standing in the center of green room without his shirt on while Boissy bobs around him and tries vainly to find a costume shirt that will fit. “You’re too skinny by far,” she sighs. “And I don’t know what we’re going to do about your face.”

Grantaire is smiling at her despite all of this. He doesn’t seem perturbed by her public critique of his body; Enjolras wonders absentmindedly what could have given him such a thick skin. Grantaire’s face isn’t pretty, surely, but even Enjolras would flush if someone referred to him as ‘impossible.’

Prouvaire doesn’t seem to share Boissy’s reservations. He’s looking Grantaire up and down with a speculative look in his eye. “I might have just the thing, actually,” he says slowly. “Let me check in with Éponine, Grantaire, and we’ll get back to you. We may need you again.”

Grantaire agrees and pulls his gray Captain America t-shirt back over his head. Enjolras looks back down at his script.

After a few minutes, the other actors leave the theater and come into the green room to fetch their coats and bags. Some of them stop to conspire with Prouvaire and Boissy.

Enjolras stands up as his friends enter the room, chatting amiably. “I wonder if you could all lend me a hand,” he says, when they get close enough to him. “I can’t carry these files home by myself, and I’d hate to try hailing a cab here.”

“We’ll make you dinner,” Feuilly offers to their friends as he accepts the first few files. “You can all come over, we’ll make a night of it.”

They leave in a group together: Enjolras, with the beginnings of the prompt book in his hands; Feuilly, Cosette, and Grantaire, all carrying files; and Combeferre, who has his own lighting work with him. They invite Bahorel and Montparnasse along as well, though only the former accepts. He strolls alongside Feuilly as they leave the theater and set out towards Feuilly and Enjolras’s apartment.

“What were you up to all night, then, E?” Combeferre asks. “I didn’t see you onstage again.”

Feuilly snorts. “Seeing him onstage at all is rare! You should have gotten a picture.”

“I’ll remember next time.”

“I was reading through Éponine’s edits,” Enjolras says, above the snickering. “Everything she wants to cut and all. I need to get familiar with it.”

“How well do you know it already?” Cosette asks him.

Enjolras shrugs. “I saw it performed live once, and I’ve read it a few times for school and pleasure.”

“It’s not too hard to get,” Grantaire cuts in. “It’s just like The Lion King. Only without lions.”

Cosette laughs. Feuilly reaches over and drags his thumb across Grantaire’s forehead. “Simba,” he announces gravely.

They continue to heckle each other all the way to the apartment, where they drop the files and their coats and spread themselves out over Enjolras and Feuilly’s modest collection of furniture. “We were promised dinner,” Combeferre says as he leans back in Enjolras’s armchair.

“Not for you, you didn’t help,” Feuilly says, sticking out his chin. “No, I’m joking, don’t look at me like that. What do you all want?”

Enjolras sighs. “Can we please make something other than pasta?”

“You come into my house–”

“It’s my house too!”

They bicker as they pull together a modest meal of chicken and kale. Both of them drift between the kitchen and the living room to stay abreast of the conversation and provide their friends with drinks. Grantaire laughs himself silly over Combeferre’s wry description of the two of them as ‘the epitome of an old, gay, married couple.’ Enjolras only sniffs and says, “As though you and Courfeyrac are any better.”

They eat and talk in a loose circle. The table is a mess of scripts and phones and glasses of wine, and Enjolras finds himself laughing often from his seat on the floor with his back to the living room wall. He feels unbearably fond of everyone in the room, even Grantaire and Bahorel, who he does not know very well. The whole apartment seems to fill up with their chatter and cheer as they eat their meals and fight over the last of Feuilly’s stash of ice cream.

Combeferre begs out early– “I said I’d go surprise Courfeyrac at the stage door, he’ll get upset if I don’t go”– and Bahorel leaves shortly after him, but Cosette and Grantaire stay late into the night.

“You’re welcome to stay, if you’d rather not trek all the way back to Brooklyn,” Feuilly says to them both when the conversation grows quiet. “We can all go for breakfast in the morning as well.”

“That would be nice,” Cosette says around a yawn. Grantaire murmurs his acquiescence as well.

They stagger to bed not long after. Grantaire takes the couch, with as many extra blankets and pillows as possible. Enjolras gives his room to Cosette and then he goes and climbs into bed with Feuilly. His roommate pats him blearily on the head before he rolls over and falls asleep. Enjolras sinks down into the soft pillows and sheets and follows closely behind.

The group breakfast in the morning doesn’t happen. When Enjolras wakes up Feuilly has already gone to work, and Cosette is just making her way out. Enjolras sees her to the steps of the building and sends her on her way with a hug. When he gets back up to the apartment he finds that Grantaire is still asleep on the couch. All Enjolras can see of him is his wild, curly hair above the edge of his pile of blankets. Enjolras decides to start quietly making breakfast.

Grantaire wakes up as he’s finishing a modest batch of pancakes, and they eat together in the kitchen as sunlight starts creeping across the apartment floor. The dark-haired man seems surprisingly alert but he doesn’t speak very much at first. He does blink in surprise at Enjolras’s black glasses, but thankfully doesn’t comment.

After a few moments the silence seems to be stretching itself too thin. Enjolras decides to break it. “How did you get into acting?” he asks as he pours orange juice for them both.

He doesn’t miss the pleased curl of Grantaire’s mouth as he considers the question. “It’s a bit convoluted,” he says. “My little sister was always more into it than I was. She convinced me to do the school play when I was in eighth grade– A Midsummer Night’s Midterm. It’s a spoof, obviously, but one that nonetheless stays pretty true to the source material.” He pauses to take another bite of pancake. “I was cast as Lysander.”

“Even though you’d never done a play before?”

“It was middle school theater, my guy. You know how desperate they can get for boys to fill all the roles, especially in a small town.” Enjolras shrugs. Grantaire continues after taking a sip of juice. “I absolutely loved it. Had the time of my life. Going into high school I tried all sorts of stuff, different sports, some dancing, but I kept coming back to the theater department.” He smiles down at his plate.

Enjolras looks over the sun-drenched apartment. His early experiences with theater weren’t half as idyllic.

“So I went to NYU,” Grantaire finishes. “Tisch. Graduated five years ago and I’ve been fucking around in the city ever since, doing whatever I can find and bartending when there’s nothing to be found.” Enjolras has another questioned poised at the tip of his tongue but before he can ask it Grantaire points at him with his fork. “Your turn. How did you get into theater, then journalism, then theater again?”

His tone is teasingly curious, but not prying, so Enjolras only hesitates for a moment before he answers. “When I went to college I started in the theater program– that’s how I met Éponine, and Feuilly. But I changed my major to journalism hallway through sophomore year.” He glances away from Grantaire’s deep blue eyes. “Then I moved to the city as soon as I graduated, because I had interned here and I had a job lined up. Feuilly came with me. We’ve been roommates since the start, though this isn’t the apartment we first moved into.”

Grantaire has abandoned his breakfast in favor of watching Enjolras speak. “And now you’re in Hamlet?”

Enjolras sighs. “I’m doing a favor for Éponine while I’m between jobs.” His tone is slightly more severe then seems polite. “That’s all.”

Grantaire doesn’t seem perturbed. He regards Enjolras for another moment before he resumes his attack on his breakfast. “Well, we’re glad to have you,” he says without looking up.

Enjolras takes a long sip of orange juice and doesn’t respond.

They don’t speak much more as they finish their breakfasts and Enjolras rinses the plates in the sink. When he stands up, after putting them in the dishwasher, Grantaire is standing in the door to the kitchen with his bag slung over his shoulder.

He tips his head to one side, which causes several curls to tumble that way as well. “Thanks for breakfast.”

“No problem.” Enjolras leans back against the counter. Grantaire is still in his sleep-rumpled clothes from yesterday and seems entirely at ease with it.

Grantaire ducks his head. “Right. I’m gonna head out, then.” He takes a step towards the door of the apartment.

“Have a good day.”

After Grantaire leaves, Enjolras meanders around the apartment, cleaning up the dishes from the night before. He finds that Grantaire has folded all of the blankets he used and left them in a neat stack on the end of the couch. Enjolras picks them all up and puts them back in the closet. Then he sits down with the files that he and his friends had hauled home.

He hasn’t had to put together a prompt book since he was in school, but Enjolras remembers finding the process to be rewarding and almost soothing. He repurposes an old binder full of newspaper articles and begins sorting through everything that Éponine gave him.

Most of the documents can be consolidated down and added directly on the script. He writes in pencil to allow for edits as they continue the process, and he organizes the cast list and actor information. When Grantaire’s sheet shows up in his hands he very pointedly does not look too long at the information, just orders it away with the others.

The prompt book doesn’t take all of his time; he closely scans several news sites for anything that seems relevant to him, and he also obsessively checks his inbox every few minutes, waiting for a summons that seems determined to not arrive.

He only stirs from the couch to get food and to change his glasses for contacts. By the time Feuilly gets home from work to get ready for rehearsal, Enjolras has made a damn good start at a coherent prompt book, if he does say so himself. He’s also checked his email about twenty times in the past hour. He leaves his laptop behind when he and Feuilly set out walking to the theater but he keeps the prompt book tucked under his arm.

“You’re with me today,” Éponine tells him when they arrive. “We can take notes and start talking about blocking.” He gives her the beginnings of the prompt book, and her smile is bright and confident as she looks through it.

Montparnasse shows up a few minutes later with immaculately dyed chestnut hair. Everyone exclaims at the sight of him. He matches Cosette perfectly, and the color does wonders for his pale face; his eyes, which had been a flat, inscrutable gray, seem to hold more green.

Grantaire starts calling them the ‘chestnut twins.’ He seems well-rested and cheerful, and he winks at Enjolras when they first start gathering onstage. Enjolras bites his tongue and starts rifling through the prompt book.

Montparnasse’s hair isn’t the only surprise that day– when Prouvaire arrives, halfway through practice, he’s carrying a present wrapped in white paper. He carries it right onstage with him into the middle of a scene.

“What says Polonius?” Myriel is asking.

Mabeuf, as Polonius, looks around and says, “What do you want, Prouvaire?”

Several cast members drop character and laugh. Éponine grins and throws down her script, as though she were expecting this interruption. Enjolras sets his script down more slowly and follows her.

Prouvaire walks up to Grantaire and sinks elegantly onto one knee with the white package held out in front of him. With his head bowed, he announces, “A present for the Danish prince.”

Grantaire looks delighted. Everyone gathers around as he takes the offered parcel and unwraps the layers of white tissue paper to reveal rich, thick fabric.

“Put it on!” Someone insists. Prouvaire jumps up to take the tissue paper as Grantaire shakes the garment out to its full length. It’s a cape, made of midnight blue velvet. Several of the cast members clap as Grantaire swirls it dramatically around his shoulders. He stands before them, beaming, with the cape falling elegantly down the line of his body to barely brush the floor. He is every inch a young prince in that moment.

“It seems like it fits,” Fantine says devilishly. Grantaire turns on her at once.

“’Seems,’ madam?” he thunders. “Nay, it is. I know not ‘seems.’” He throws out his arms.

“‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor the customary suits of solemn black,
Nor the windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shows of grief
That can denote me truly. These indeed ‘seem’,
For they are actions that a man might play;
But I have that within which passeth show–
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.”

At these last words he draws the cloak up against his chest and bows to his mother.

Enjolras feels as though he has been hit over the head with something heavy. Perhaps one of the stage lights has plummeted down to kill him. Maybe he was hit with ice falling off the skyscrapers on his way to the theater.

He’s never really seen Grantaire act before, he realizes. And this is mostly playing around– everyone else still reads their lines from the scripts. They have so far to go, and yet… He stays still as the other cast members applaud and tease Grantaire, who has dropped back into his own personality as though he hasn’t just brought Hamlet directly into their midst.

Éponine is watching Enjolras with a knowing look in her eye. He turns away from her.

Cosette peers out the green room door to see the source of the commotion. Grantaire catches her eye and holds out a hand to her, making sure to flourish his new cape. “What do you think, fair Cosette? Fair Ophelia?” He screws up his nose.

“We all need nicknames!” Joly explodes. “Cosette, you can be Cophelia. R, you can either be Gramlet or Hamtaire.”

The scene devolves from there.

“Montparnaertes,” someone says thoughtfully.

“Poloneuf!”

“Jolycrantz? Jolystern? For the love of god, which one are you?”

“I’ll be Foratio, I guess. That sounds dirty. Why does that sound dirty.”

“At least yours doesn’t sound like a breakfast food.”

“’Hamlet’ sounds like a breakfast food anyway.”

“You GUYS.” Éponine waves her script in the air. “Can we get back to the scene? Please?”

Everyone settles and goes to their places with grins on their faces. Enjolras and Éponine return to the lip of the stage as they jump straight back into the text.

Enjolras keeps his eyes on Grantaire as they move through the banquet scene. He has his script in his hand, though Enjolras has just seen that he clearly has most of it memorized already. Indignation and disgust show on his face, though he also maintains a wide-eyed sense of loss that forces the audience to remember that he is still a young boy whose beloved father is dead.

Grantaire is earnest in this, and it’s heartbreaking. Enjolras can’t look away. This is just a rehearsal. Grantaire is still wearing skinny jeans. They have lights and phones and textual analysis and thousands of years of history between now and then and yet–

When Grantaire speaks, the distance collapses.

“O that this too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God, O God,
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!”

Enjolras has only ever seen Hamlet performed once. The actor playing the titular character was blond and seemed to spend an improbable amount of time without a shirt on. He was very good, certainly, and Enjolras had enjoyed watching the performance, but in his memory now he finds it pale and clumsy.

Grantaire seems to hold every word in his hands with the utmost care, as though they are made of glass. Even when he is quick, even when he is scathing. He lays his lines down to be inspected by the courtiers around him, with an expression on his face that says he knows he will always be found wanting.

*

Over the next several weeks, Hamlet works its way into Enjolras’s every waking moment. He walks down the city streets with a ghost at his back and a thousand ideas sparking and changing in his brain. His thoughts build themselves into iambic pentameter. More than once he finds himself quietly reciting a soliloquy.

They have to operate under several limitations. Enjolras knows from experience that most productions rehearse six hours a day, six days a week, but because most of Musichetta’s actors have other jobs to worry about, they devote as much of their evenings as they can, five days a week. They fly on a level just below those of the actual professionals. Enjolras still isn’t sure where Éponine found all of her actors, or how she got them the New York Theatre Workshop, but he never asks. He just shows up to rehearsal and helps where he can.

He frequently helps Feuilly when they’re home together, as well. It isn’t unusual for the two of them to be draped in various places in the living room like a pair of cats, reciting lines back and forth, Enjolras with his script and Feuilly narrowing his eyes in concentration.

Occasionally Enjolras plays three characters at once, trying to pitch his voice differently for each one so Feuilly can differentiate between them.

“And now, good friends,” he reads as Hamlet, hanging upside down over the edge of the couch, “as you are friends, scholars, and soldiers, give me one poor request.”

“What is it, my lord?” Feuilly asks. He’s lying facedown on the rug in a patch of sunlight. “We will.”

“Never make it known what you have seen tonight.”

“My lord, we will not.”

“Nay, but swear’t,” Enjolras insists.

Feuilly flops over onto his side. “In faith, my lord, not I.”

Enjolras deepens his voice comically for Marcellus’s line– “Nor I, my lord, in faith”– before returning to Hamlet’s lines: “Upon my sword.” Marcellus: “We have sworn, my lord, already.” Hamlet: “Indeed, upon my sword, indeed.” Then Enjolras sits up and bellows a single word in the voice of the ghost: “SWEAR!”

He and Feuilly both collapse with laughter.

Actual rehearsals are much more serious, and Enjolras is only ever called upon to read when someone misses rehearsal, which does not happen often. He usually sits with Éponine. This lends itself to a certain amount of isolation from most of the actors, but Enjolras still finds that he has more than enough opportunities to grow closer to them, especially Grantaire.

Grantaire is hardworking and intelligent, which Enjolras thinks is completely at odds with his devil-may-care attitude. He wonders if Grantaire is determined to make it look like he isn’t working hard so he can keep up his veneer of lazy disinterest and skepticism. The layers of antagonism are stripped away when he jumps into the character of Hamlet, but once he’s offstage Enjolras frequently finds himself struggling with the urge to shake Grantaire by the shoulders and demand that he be serious, for once in your life!

After some time has passed, Éponine has Enjolras run a next rehearsal by himself, because she has a family matter uptown that she needs to attend. Enjolras approaches the evening with some trepidation, but the actors are all perfectly lovely, and do not deviate from the plan for the rehearsal.

Halfway through, however, Enjolras finds himself unexpectedly missing one Hamlet.

“But look where sadly the poor wretch comes reading,” Fantine says. The actors onstage all look to the left and blink in surprise when Hamlet does not appear.

“Away, I do beseech you, both away,” Mabeuf continues doggedly as Polonius. “I’ll board him presently. O, give me leave.”

Claudius and Gertrude both exit and Polonius turns to face the empty stage. “How does my good lord Hamlet?” Polonius asks valiantly. Then he looks around, befuddled, as Hamlet still doesn’t come staggering out of the wings.

Enjolras stands up. “Oh for the love of– where is Grantaire?”

He spins around and searches the seats with eyes before he stalks offstage and into the green room. He can hear the other actors chuckling behind him when he finds Grantaire sprawled facedown on the ugly pink couch with his headphones in his ears.

Enjolras picks up a script from the table and drops it on Grantaire’s head.

“What–!” Grantaire sits up sharply, looking alarmed. “Enjolras?”

Enjolras crosses his arms. “’How does my good Lord Hamlet?’” he says. “You’re supposed to be onstage.”

Grantaire stands up and picks up his script. “Well, God’a’mercy,” he says with a straight face. “I was listening to blink-182. I find that it really helps me get into character.”

Combeferre, passing by with a truly frightening number of electrical wires draped over his shoulders, starts to laugh. Enjolras just raises an eyebrow, unimpressed.

“You should try Fall Out Boy,” he says shortly. “’Nobody wants to hear you sing about tragedy.’ But do it after you get onstage.”

Grantaire’s expression splits into one of pure joy, and he gives Enjolras a lazy salute as he slips past him towards the stage door. Enjolras clenches his fist around the prompt book, takes a moment to breathe, and follows him.

He emerges just as Grantaire, lying on the stage with his book held in front of his face, inquires, “Have you a daughter?”

“I have, my lord,” Polonius replies.

Hamlet rolls over onto his stomach. “Let her not walk i’the sun:

conception is a
blessing: but not as your daughter may conceive.
Friend, look to’t.”

Enjolras makes his way down to his seat slowly, trying to walk and follow along in his script at the same time. He almost trips down the steps for his trouble but no one seems to notice; everyone is watching Hamlet bicker with Polonius.

Grantaire plays belligerency very well, which comes as no surprise to Enjolras. The weaving monologues and verbal traps of Hamlet’s feigned insanity are very similar to that way Grantaire usually speaks anyway. Enjolras remembers that Éponine had chosen to do Hamlet with Grantaire in mind. Her reasons for doing so seem more and more obvious as the rehearsals continue.

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” Polonius turns to Hamlet once more. “Will you walk out of the air, my lord?”

Grantaire jumps up and marches directly forward. “Into my grave!” he says loudly, and then he jumps off the lip of the stage.

Polonius looks after him, bewildered. “Indeed, that is out o’ the air.”

Enjolras sighs.

They collectively stagger into the green room and gulp down water at the end of the night, even Enjolras. He’s certain that they have all worked longer days and lived through more frustrating rehearsals, but this is the beginning of the end. At a certain point it seems that the only time constraint in theater is the looming threat of opening night.

Grantaire flops down onto the couch with a prolonged moan. His voice is muffled by the cushions. “So dies Hamlet, crown prince of Denmark.”

Joly gets a rather wicked look on his face. “Are you the crown prince of melodrama as well?”

Grantaire’s head shoots up. “No,” he says dramatically. “You’ve been reading Hamlet fanfiction?”

“What?” Enjolras finally turns around.

“Fanfiction Hamlet gets laid a lot more than Grantaire does, that’s for sure.” Bossuet chimes in.

Joly airily inspects his nails. “Even actual Hamlet gets laid more than R.” He has to jump away with a shout when Grantaire, whose face is flaming red, lunges for him.

“I’m pretty sure that never happens in the play,” Enjolras say. He has to say something.

“Please,” Feuilly says distractedly. “Everyone in Hamlet wants to bang Hamlet. Ophelia, Horatio…”

Joly and Bossuet break in together: “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.” Joly dissolves into peals of laughter as Bossuet attempts to press a messy kiss to Grantaire’s cheek. Grantaire laughs and attempts to pull Bossuet’s green sweater up over his face.

Enjolras just blinks at them. “You seem to have read a very different version of this play than I did.”

“More things in heaven and earth, Enjolras,” Joly says with a grin. “Shakespeare can be interpreted a thousand different ways.”

“Tell me another one.”

“Asexual Hamlet,” Feuilly says. Enjolras turns to look at him with his eyebrows raised and Feuilly smiles. “I thought you might like that one. ‘Man delights not me, no, nor woman neither…’”

Grantaire looks between the pair of them thoughtfully.

“Half the fun in Shakespeare is fucking it up as much as possible,” Bossuet says.

“Half of the Shakespeare you see these days is already fucked up!” Feuilly crows. “Grantaire, you can do OP, can’t you?”

Grantaire rolls his eyes. “You’re exposing my best party trick,” he complains.

“Go on,” Joly says, “I bet you’ve never done it for Enjolras.”

“Well, Enjolras doesn’t ever party. Hey!” Feuilly yelps as Enjolras swats him on the back of the head.

“What’s OP?”

“The sexiest accent you will ever hear,” Bossuet says solemnly.

“You only think that because you have a thing for pirates.”

“Can you blame me?”

“It stands for original pronunciation,” Grantaire says loudly. He catches Enjolras’s gaze and holds it. “We’re not bothering with accents here, we’re mostly American, it’s not worth the hassle– but most Shakespeare is done in ‘received pronunciation.’”

“He can do that too,” Joly breaks in. “Our Grantaire has a very talented tongue.”

“Will you fuck off?” Grantaire waits until Joly mimes zipping his mouth shut. “Anyway. I did some Shakespeare classes in the UK while I was still in school– took a semester abroad. That’s where I learned all of my accents, including OP.”

“Come on, then,” Feuilly says. He leans back against the couch with his arms crossed. “Give it a go.”

Grantaire meets Enjolras’s eyes once more before quickly darting his gaze away. “Ah, not now,” he says. He rubs the back of his neck with one hand. “Maybe some other time.”

No amount of ribbing or pleading can convince him otherwise.

Enjolras looks up original pronunciation in his spare time– he feels vaguely like he’s turning into a Shakespearean scholar, except that his main source is still Wikipedia– and finds several videos with examples. It does sound vaguely pirate-like. Enjolras can’t say that he’s ever had any particular fondness for accents, but he does wonder what it would sound like from Grantaire’s mouth.

The moment strikes him as uncharacteristic. From what Enjolras has seen so far, Grantaire likes to be loud and impressive and the center of attention. But when faced with Enjolras and his friends, he had seemed… shy.

It’s a slightly startling revelation. Once Enjolras has the thought he can’t let it go. Almost against his will he finds himself watching Grantaire even more closely as they wind their way through the play in the following nights. The more he watches, the more he finds that Grantaire is not nearly as cavalier as he often seems. Even around Enjolras he is often teasing and irreverent, but every once in a while something somber and dark will strike him silent. His easy smile will disappear in those moments. There is far more to him than loudmouthed bravado.

Enjolras should have known. It should have been obvious, from the way Grantaire speaks Shakespeare: bittersweet and aching.

“Nymph,” Grantaire is saying. His voice is very tender as he gazes across the stage at Cosette, seated with her ankles crossed and a slim volume in her hands. “In thy orisons, be all my sins remembered.”

They’re nearing the end of another rehearsal; Enjolras catches the lines as he slips onstage from the green room, where he had been sitting with Combeferre and writing down lighting cues.

Enjolras drops into his seat next to Éponine and watches silently as Grantaire hardens his expression and ambles across the stage with his hands in his pockets. He goes right by Cosette, who pretends not to see him until he is almost offstage– then she looks up swiftly and says, “Good my lord!”

Grantaire turns around.

Cosette swallows. “How does your honor for this many a day?”

“I humbly thank you, well, well, well.” Grantaire’s voice is very calm. He doesn’t move away from the edge of the stage.

The other cast members are scattered among the first several rows of seats, watching the scene with interest or perusing their own scripts. Enjolras takes notes while Éponine keeps her eyes on the stage. She has her chin propped on one hand. Enjolras can’t read her expression.

Cosette has steeled herself and is now standing, with an imaginary handful of letters held out in Grantaire’s direction. “My lord, I have remembrances of yours that I have longèd long to redeliver.” Grantaire stares at her. She waves her hand slightly. “I pray you now receive them,” she presses.

In a characteristic burst of energy Grantaire storms across the stage and catches a startled Cosette by the wrist. He twists her hand to read the address on the imaginary letters without actually taking them. Then he drops her wrist in disgust and turns away. “I never gave you aught,” he says harshly.

Éponine stands up. “Try again,” she calls out. The actors onstage startle away from each other. “Grantaire, hold onto your anger until later in the scene. Let it build, act by act, throughout the play, please.”

Grantaire shades his eyes with one hand so that he can see Éponine in the audience. “Am I confused, then?” he asks. “By her desire to return these letters?”

“I imagine you know why she’s doing it, but you needn’t condemn her for it yet,” Éponine decides. Then she sits back down.

Enjolras watches closely as Grantaire and Cosette both pace themselves backwards a few steps, physically and mentally. Then Cosette goes directly from, “How does your honor for this many a day?” The scene plays on, and Grantaire keeps himself in check in a way that makes Enjolras’s skin crawl. He seems lightly amused by this betrayal, rather than angry. It is another attack against a man who has lost nearly everything; he is unlucky enough to have lost his two friends and Ophelia to the scheming of Claudius, and he laughs.

“I never gave you aught,” Hamlet insists, wide-eyed, still on the edge of the stage.

Ophelia’s face crumples in confusion.

Éponine stops them.

“The rest of you are done for the night,” she calls as she stands up and makes her way to the stage. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Enjolras, would you…?” He follows.

Grantaire and Cosette watch their approach with some trepidation. It’s late, and all of the actors are tired, but there isn’t any frustration in either face at being stopped. Cosette has the patience of a saint. As for Grantaire, Enjolras supposes the other man must be either very professional or very patient as well. He doesn’t know which option is more likely.

“We need to pick an angle for you and Ophelia, and we need to pick it now,” Éponine says once her feet touch the stage. “Every production has to choose a path. Do you love her or not? Do you know that’s she’s being placed in your path here or not?”

Enjolras joins them. The small group of four stays stationary on the stage while the other actors pack up their things and leave the theater.

Grantaire laces his hands together behind his back and stretches his arms out. “Textually I’ve always believed that he loved her,” he says thoughtfully. “This scene reads like an attempt to drive her away. Especially taken with the scene where he– I– he bursts into her rooms to hold her. It seems like the last looks of a man who knows he has to destroy the relationships he has.”

“But not with Horatio?” Cosette asks with her hands on her hips. “I don’t think he ever tries to send Horatio away, does he?”

“Well that wouldn’t fit with Horatio’s role within the play, as the man who sees it all and lives to tell the tale,” Enjolras points out. “But as far as the relationships go, Horatio is someone with whom Hamlet feels he can conspire. He tells Horatio all of his plans. That’s not the relationship he has with Ophelia.”

“Ophelia is a character whose movements are largely dictated by the will of her father, and the king,” Éponine breaks in. “Hamlet could be trying to send her away because he knows that she could be more easily caught in the intrigue than Horatio, who is not even a member of the court at Elsinore.”

“So you really want Hamlet to know?” Grantaire tips his head to one side. “This scene, you want him to know that Ophelia has been deliberately placed in his path?”

Éponine thinks for a long moment. Then she rests her eyes back on Grantaire. “Yes.”

Enjolras moves back through his script. “You could have him enter earlier,” he suggests. “When the king and Polonius are still talking. So he hears what their plan is, and then he confronts Ophelia.”

“We could even have him walk in from the back of the theater,” Éponine says thoughtfully. “He can walk down there– through the seats– so he’s watching them conspire, though they don’t see him.”

Grantaire and Cosette both slip down to the edge of the stage to write the addition into their scripts. Éponine checks her watch and sighs.

“We’ve already gone over,” she sighs. “Cosette, Grantaire, are you both okay to stay a bit longer…?”

“I can,” Cosette says. Grantaire looks up and nods also.

“Good. Take it from ‘Nymph, in thy orisons…’”

Grantaire picks up the words as he looks at Cosette. “Be all my sins remembered.”

They don’t act out any of the blocking for the scene; instead the two of them stay standing in front of Enjolras and Éponine, speaking the words with their eyes fixed on each other.

“Antagonize her,” Éponine says in a low voice. Neither Cosette nor Grantaire look at her, but Grantaire takes a step forward and runs his hands up Cosette’s sides.

“Are you honest?” he asks. His tone is mocking but his face is crystalized in anger.

Ophelia jerks back, startled. “My lord?”

Hamlet puts his hands on her again and demands, “Are you fair?”

“What means your lordship?”

“Stop,” says Éponine.

Grantaire’s shoulders drop. He steps away from Cosette and says, “Sorry.”

Cosette gives him a smile. “I know you don’t mean it.”

Éponine is chewing on the end of her pencil. Her eyes dart between Grantaire and Cosette. “I don’t like the anger there,” she says slowly. “I’ve changed my mind. Grantaire, you don’t know why she’s here, but you figure it out when she tries to give the letters back.”

Grantaire nods.

“You’re vicious in a different way,” Éponine continues. Her eyes are now fixed thoughtfully on the ceiling. “Be sweet, at first. Be kind. Then push her away, right before you say, ‘I did love you once.’”

They start over. Grantaire follows Éponine’s directions to the letter. He takes Cosette’s hand in his and runs his fingers over her jaw with an expression of utmost fondness. His tone is teasing and light before he forces her away from him and declares, “I did love you once.”

Cosette’s eyes are wide and bewildered. “Indeed my lord, you made me believe so.”

“You should not have believed me,” Grantaire tells her. He’s flippant now, and uncaring. “Virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall of it.” He seizes her chin in his hand again, but the move is anything but tender. “I loved you not.”

“I was the more deceived!” Cosette cries.

“Stop,” Éponine says.

Grantaire, Cosette, and Enjolras all round on her, but she actually looks pleased. “That was good,” she says. “I don’t want to keep you too late, and I’d like you to go at that scene again when you have time on your own, but that was good. Can you do it again?”

Cosette nods. After a moment, so does Grantaire. His brow is furrowed already in concentration.

“You’re good, then,” Éponine decides. “Go home.”

“This is why I fucking hate theater,” Enjolras grouses as he leaves the theater with Grantaire and Cosette a few minutes later. “You do the same thing over and over.”

“It was different every time,” Grantaire says. He doesn’t meet Enjolras’s eyes. Off the stage and faced with Enjolras’s ire, he seems to have shrunk back into himself somehow. Enjolras bites his tongue and tries not to show the frustration welling up in his throat.

“You’re very good,” he says a few minutes later. Cosette has already left them to go to her train stop, but Grantaire is still ambling at Enjolras’s side.

The dark-haired man shoots him a surprised look. “Thanks,” he says warily.

There’s no trace of the easy confidence he held when Enjolras made him breakfast, or the general attitude of antagonism he wears around rehearsals. Enjolras is intrigued enough to say, “Are you coming back to mine and Feuilly’s? You’re welcome to.”

Grantaire looks even more startled. He pauses in the middle of a step to shoot a wide-eyed look at Enjolras before turning his head quickly forward again. “I, ah, I shouldn’t,” he says. “I have work in the morning.”

“Oh.”

They don’t speak for several blocks. Enjolras is lost in thought; Grantaire is darting looks at him and trying to pretend like he’s not. At a certain point he coughs and says, “I’m going this way.”

“Okay.” Enjolras pats him on the shoulder once. “Goodnight, Grantaire.”

“Goodnight, Enjolras.” Then he’s gone.

When Enjolras gets home he asks Feuilly, “Where does Grantaire live?”

Feuilly doesn’t look up from his script. “In Brooklyn, like Cosette,” he says. “I think the two of them usually take the same train after practice.”

Enjolras decides not to worry about that. He puts it thoroughly out of his head. The thought doesn’t cross his mind for the rest of the night.

*

As the play and the set grow more complex so do Enjolras’s duties. The prompt book is thriving on cues and notes. It’s already begun to weigh a few more pounds than it did when this whole endeavor began. Enjolras feels vaguely like he should measure it against a wall and feel nostalgic.

He doesn’t spend all of his time with the book, sadly. Éponine springs a brand new horror on him a few nights later.

“Enjolras!” She appears out of nowhere at his shoulder and hands him a camera. He freezes instantly with it in his hands, and she rolls her eyes, unimpressed. “You can take headshots of everyone,” she tells him. “Just grab them at any point when they’re not onstage and have them stand against a blank wall.” Then she’s gone, and Enjolras is left blinking at the camera in his hands. The lens looks back at him intimidatingly.

He goes to find Feuilly.

“There are going to be way too many shots of me on this,” his roommate says some minutes later, laughing as Enjolras attempts to take another picture and almost drops the camera. “Don’t let go of it when you press the button, Enjolras!”

The blond scowls. “I’m a journalist, not a photographer,” he mutters. Feuilly is slumped against a convenient stretch of white wall with his most winning smile on and his hair in its full orange glory, and Enjolras still can’t do him justice.

“I have to be onstage soon,” Feuilly adds. And Enjolras scowls and presses the button again and shouts in triumph when the display finally shows a decent picture of Feuilly, with the hint of a smile and one eyebrow raised in a perfect arch.

“I’ve got it.” He makes a shooing motion with one hand. “Go, Éponine will flay me alive if I make you miss your cue.”

Feuilly laughs at him and disappears back into the green room. Enjolras stays in the hallway for a moment longer, trying to delete the blurry shots of Feuilly without accidentally erasing the good one, before he gives it up as a bad job and goes back into the green room himself.

He catches Joly and Bossuet right away and manages to get good headshots of each of them in a surprisingly short amount of time. Joly looks kind and sincere in his as he gazes straight at the camera; Bossuet is shown almost in profile, grinning at something out of the frame.

He gets through most of the minor cast members too; they’re all kind with him and don’t fault him for taking their pictures more than once, to be sure he has a perfect shot of each of them.

Cosette comes to find him next, and she is so overwhelmingly photogenic that Enjolras shoots one picture of her and calls it good. She instructs him to stand on an upturned bucket so that she’s looking up at him slightly; then she smiles, and he takes the shot, and they’re both so incredibly pleased with the result that Enjolras doesn’t bother taking another.

When Éponine calls a break the cast comes spilling into the green room, full of laughter and quoting bastardized versions of their favorite lines at each other. Enjolras bites his lip; he doesn’t want to pull anyone out of the revelry, but he assumes that Éponine wants the headshots done tonight.

Éponine breaks it up for him. “Who hasn’t gotten their picture taken yet? Grantaire? Go now, then Montparnasse. I want the rest of you back in the theater in ten minutes. Anyone who gets onstage late has to do Grantaire’s soliloquy for him.”

Grantaire follows Enjolras into the hallway.

“Is there something specific I should be doing?”

“Not really?” Enjolras frowns slightly at him. “With everyone else it’s just been trying to find the ‘right angle’ or something. Just do whatever, to start.”

Grantaire flails for a moment before settling back against the wall with his hands in his pockets. He looks directly at Enjolras and smiles.

It’s a good picture. “Let me take another,” Enjolras says. But when he lifts the camera to his eye Grantaire is looking at him in confusion.

“I thought that one was fine.”

Enjolras shrugs but doesn’t lower the camera. “Smile, Grantaire.”

Grantaire smiles but it isn’t nearly as genuine. Enjolras takes one shot and then lowers the camera with a sigh. “Grantaire.”

“Did you have this much trouble with everyone else?” Grantaire asks. His false smile is completely gone and the enviable posture he has onstage has fallen into slightly.

Enjolras blinks at him. “Do you know how many fucked up shots of Feuilly I have on this thing?” he asks, hefting the camera in one hand. “I usually have someone doing this bit for me. Yours was good, but I think I can do better.”

Grantaire still looks confused, but pleased as well, and he smiles more easily at Enjolras when the camera is aimed at him again. But Enjolras frowns. “What are you wearing underneath your sweater?”

“Um.” Grantaire pulls on the collar to check. “A gray t-shirt?”

“Take your sweater off?”

“One would think you’ve already seen enough of a show from me,” Grantaire says, and then pulls his brown sweater off while Enjolras bites his tongue. “Good?”

Enjolras peers at him through the camera again and takes a tentative shot. The blue of Grantaire’s eyes shows up more, as Enjolras had hoped it would. “Better,” he allows. “Don’t look at me. No, do.” He takes another picture and looks at it critically. “Should you be smiling? You die.”

“So do most of the cast members,” says Grantaire. “Did Cosette smile?” Enjolras nods. “Then I will too.”

He’s very pleased with several of the shots that he gets of Grantaire. So much so that he isn’t sure which one he should pick to actually go in the program. He’s still tapping through them when Montparnasse comes out of the green room. “My turn?”

Enjolras looks up, then gestures to the wall. Montparnasse leans his shoulders back against it and levels Enjolras with a challenging stare. The collar of his black button-down shirt makes a stark line across his pale throat.

“Would you like me to smile?” Montparnasse asks, raising an eyebrow.

Enjolras considers him for a moment, then shakes his head. “You take a better picture when you look severe.”

He doesn’t think Montparnasse would be capable of taking a bad shot even if he tried.

“Would you like me to bring in my mugshot instead?” Montparnasse asks with a grin.

Enjolras gives him a twisted smile. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

“You’ve been arrested?”

“Yes.”

Montparnasse looks impressed. He crosses his arms and freezes for one moment so that Enjolras can take a shot before he asks, “What for?”

“Protesting.”

Montparnasse laughs once, sweet and sharp. When his pictures are done, he salutes Enjolras and goes back onstage.

Enjolras doesn’t want to know what Montparnasse could have been arrested for.

After most of the actors have gone Enjolras takes a picture of Éponine, and she immediately retaliates by stealing the camera and taking several of him, though most just show him chasing her through the green room in an attempt to steal it back.

Grantaire and Feuilly find them in the midst of the mayhem, and Enjolras grins at them both. He’s laughing so hard that his chest is aching with it, and it only gets worse when Éponine takes advantage of his distraction to shove him down on the couch and take another shot of his disheveled hair, reaching hands, and wide, happy mouth.

“Someone mark the calendar,” he hears Grantaire say. “Enjolras actually laughed at something.”

Enjolras flips him off. That gets an even bigger reaction out of Grantaire; he all but tackles Éponine and demands to know what she’s done to the real Enjolras. Enjolras himself is laughing so hard he fears he’ll choke on it. Feuilly is beaming too. His face is radiant when he smiles, but it’s been a long time since Enjolras has seen him appear so unrestrained.

It’s been a long time since he’s felt so unrestrained. The stress of Hamlet– on top of everything else– is like a weight around his neck, but the moments of joy that he finds between the acts and scenes seem entirely new and wonderful. He tries to catch his breathe with one hand on his ribs and tracks the small miracle of his chest moving in and out, in and out. His own motions startle him with how alive and real they feel.

It helps, to be so aware of himself.

He spends a lot of time in his head. Some days he feels like he doesn’t have a body at all.

He has no more visceral markers– he played the violin as a child, and he still remembers the rosin, sticky and tacky on the palms of his hands. Then it was newspaper ink on his forearms and occasionally swiped across his cheekbone. Here, in this theater, the only comparable marks are those on his fingers from attacking the script with a red pen, night after night.

Watching Grantaire is a reminder of what it’s like to be explosively present in his body. So much of Grantaire’s stage presence can be attributed to his overt physicality. He hardly ever sits still, as Hamlet, and when he does the contrast is striking enough to make the audience sit up and take note. When they rehearse, it makes Enjolras sit up and take note.

He keeps his eyes on Grantaire as the weeks march through the theater and the play grows and grows. Grantaire is even more alive than Enjolras can ever remember feeling.

His directions to the players, newly come to Elsinore, are grandiose. “Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus,” he orders, and he makes a mockery with his fingers before moving on. “But use all gently. For in the very torrent, tempest, and as I may say the whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.” His motions calm as his words do, until he is standing quite simply before the players his hands held together in front of him. “Pray you avoid it.”

“I warrant your honor,” murmurs one of the players.

Hamlet continues to stalk around them. “But not too tame, neither; but let your own discretion be your tutor.” The players exchange exasperated looks. “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance: that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature.”

The stage around them is bare of all but the most rudimentary of props and scenery. The lights change occasionally, as Combeferre acquaints himself with the light board. Enjolras and Éponine are sitting together in the house seats, as usual, each armed with a water bottle, a script, a red pen, and a frown.

“There are more parts of this scene that I would like to cut,” Éponine says quietly as she taps her red pen against her bottom lip. “The best production I ever saw had this scene pared down quite a bit, here…” She circles several lines on Enjolras’s script and then looks up again to watch Grantaire orate while Enjolras considers the changes. He flips a page in his script.

“This too,” he suggests quietly. “Cut off this monologue after ‘Vulcan’s stithy’…”

“Perfect,” Éponine mutters. She stands up just as Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern enter. “Stop. You three, five minutes. Grantaire, we have edits for you.”

Grantaire goes to fetch his script.

Enjolras takes advantage of the break to set down the prompt book and take a long drink of water. He almost chokes on it when his phone begins to ring, and almost drops his phone and the water bottle as he puts the phone to his ear. “This is Enjolras.”

“Enjolras, hey. Mavot here. From the New York Times?”

Enjolras furrows his eyebrows. “Hey,” he replies, belatedly. “Christ, how have you been?”

“Ah, still kicking.” Enjolras can hear the sound of paper rustling in the background and feels a pang of nostalgia for his own newspaper. “Listen, E, I was calling to ask about this Hamlet you’re in right now.”

“What, really?” Enjolras leans back in his red velvet seat. He had assumed right away that this was still about recruiting him, but he shouldn’t have been so hasty. It certainly explains why Mavot is the one calling.

“Really. You know I’ve got my ear to the walls of every theater in town, and there are whispers about yours in particular. I figured we could sit down and have a coffee about it.”

Enjolras will never tire of the vast machinery of New York journalism. “Just a chat, or are you looking for a piece?”

“I mean, I can’t have you write it yourself, but I think there’s a place in the Arts section for whatever it is you’ve got going on over there.”

Enjolras laughs and tips his head back to look up at the high, vaulted roof of the theater. “Lucky for you to have someone on the inside,” he mocks. “But Mavot, really, if you want to get a good piece on this production you need to talk to my director. Éponine Jondrette. She’s the one that can spin it into something great for you.”

Mavot makes an interested noise. “I’ve heard the name,” he allows. “But I gotta tell you, E, I wasn’t looking for another powerhouse piece about the best and newest female producer.”

Enjolras tries not to grind his teeth. It never takes long before he finds rust in the machine. “Talking to her doesn’t make her femininity the automatic focus,” he says pointedly. “You’re a better writer than that, Mavot. She’s a great director who’s doing a great show, and if you talk to her you’ll get something out of it that’s more than worthy of being put in the Times.” He looks at the stage. Éponine and Grantaire have their heads bent close together, with Feuilly nearby. “It’ll be worth it.”

“I forgot about that feminist slant of yours,” Mavot says musingly. “All right, you have me convinced, you bastard. Shoot me her number?”

Enjolras slumps his shoulders in relief. “As soon as I hang up,” he promises. “She’s great, Mavot, you’re going to love her.”

“Ah, I hope so.” Mavot sounds like he’s spinning idly in his desk chair. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a Hamlet that I cared about, you know? Shakespeare. Hard to do well. There’s a lot of people here at the office that are keeping an eye out for your little show.”

Enjolras swallows as he feels a familiar bolt of anxiety in his stomach. “Éponine will only make them more curious,” he says. It isn’t his little show. “Listen, Mavot, I have to run.”

“I wouldn’t dream of keeping you, I have lunch with one of the gals in Shuffle Along in ten minutes.”

“No rest for the wicked, I guess.”

“It’s theater, she probably won’t be on time either. But I ought to get a start anyway.”

“I’ll be sure to send you that number.” Enjolras watches as Éponine claps Grantaire on the shoulder and makes her way off the stage again.

“Make sure you do. Take care of yourself, E.” Mavot hangs up. Enjolras doesn’t move the phone away from his ear for a long moment. He stays frozen until Éponine drops into a seat next to him and rolls up the sleeves of her large green sweater. The scene has moved forward while he wasn’t paying attention; he forcibly focuses on the stage.

Horatio has entered, and Hamlet watches sits and speaks and watches him. His expression is one of admiration as he addresses his friend.

“Dost thou hear? –
Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
And could of men distinguish, her election
Has sealed thee for herself; for thou hast been
As one in suff’ring all that suffers nothing,
A man that Fortune’s buffets and rewards
Have ta’en with equal thanks; and blest are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled
That they are not a pipe for Fortune’s finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.”

He crosses to Horatio and hugs him fiercely. They hold out the embrace for a moment before Hamlet pulls back with a rueful grin. “Something too much of this,” he says quietly. Horatio nods.

Enjolras can tell, of course, when Feuilly is being Feuilly and when he’s being Horatio. Though the drop in character is not obvious, Enjolras sees the moment in the middle of the speech where Feuilly is present in his own face, warm and pleased, enjoying the finely scripted words full of admiration for him. The hug he and Grantaire share is brotherly and affectionate. It’s genuine. It makes for an incredibly touching scene. Enjolras glances sideways and sees that Éponine still has her gaze fixed on the stage. She looks pleased.

Enjolras will admit that he’s a little irked by how well Grantaire carries the scene. He’s wearing a snapback, for fuck’s sake.

They stop there, due to the lateness of the hour, though Éponine asks Grantaire and Montparnasse to stay behind a moment. Enjolras tells her about Mavot’s call as she takes them into the green room, where Bahorel is holding an easy conversation with Prouvaire.

“Where did you even get these?” Prouvaire is asking. He has one resting on a bright red equipment bag that’s sitting on the table.

Bahorel shrugs. “I know a guy.”

“You’ve all met Bahorel,” Éponine says, leading the boys over. She grins at all of them. “He has the equipment we need for the fight scene.”

Grantaire and Montparnasse shove each other excitedly as Bahorel unzips the bright red equipment bag laid out on the table and takes out two fencing… implements. Enjolras doesn’t know if they’re rapiers or foils or what, so he doesn’t say anything as Grantaire and Montparnasse each take one.

Grantaire tosses his experimentally from hand to hand. “We chose sabers so you wouldn’t feel like you can only strike each other with the point,” Éponine says, as Bahorel hands one to Montparnasse. “I assume that won’t be an issue?”

Grantaire and Montparnasse share a glance. “I’ve trained trained more with a foil,” Grantaire admits.

“I have too.”

Grantaire swings the saber lightly. “But we’ve both done bouts with sabers,” he adds generously.

They all look to Bahorel, who shrugs. “I usually work with guys who are starting from scratch,” he says. “If the two of you already know how to fence then this will be a breeze.”

Enjolras watches the entire exchange with a small frown on his face. He makes a small note on his clipboard. Sabers. Feuilly makes a small noise of amusement from over his shoulder.

“We won’t practice the fight tonight, then,” Éponine decides. She plants her hands on her hips. “When do you think you’ll be ready to start rehearsing it?”

“Probably as soon as Monday,” Montparnasse says, and Grantaire nods.

When Enjolras gets home after rehearsal that night, he looks up fencing on Wikipedia and reads the articles while he and Feuilly make dinner.

“You’re going to get tomato sauce on your keyboard,” Feuilly warns.

Enjolras waves him away. “No I won’t.”

*

The next day is Saturday, and Courfeyrac invites Enjolras over to his apartment in Brooklyn for lunch. Enjolras reads the text in his sun-drenched living room while Feuilly makes eggs in the kitchen without a shirt on. The redhead shoos him out of the kitchen as soon as Enjolras mentions the invite. “Grantaire and I are going to get smashed and watch the 2000 Hamlet,” he says around a mouthful of his breakfast. “You’re welcome to stay and join us if you feel like it, but you should go see Courfeyrac.” He gets up when the coffee machine starts to beep. “Don’t make that face. It’s the best of bad Shakespeare.”

“We should have a movie night anyway,” Enjolras says. He has his hips settled back against the counter and his arms crossed. Mornings like this one have always been his favorite, when Feuilly is happy and the apartment is full of light and nothing too pressing hangs on his shoulders. “We can queue up the 1996 Romeo and Juliet.”

“Don’t threaten me,” Feuilly says severely.

A knock on the door comes just as Enjolras is doing up the last buttons on his shirt. When Feuilly answers it, he automatically wrinkles his nose.

The man on the other side looks greasy in every sense of the word. His hair is slicked back, his jaw in unshaven and rough with stubble, and he wears a leather jacket that looks like it was pulled out of an oil spill. He stares belligerently at Feuilly and asks, “Is there an Enjolras in residence here?”

Oh, fuck. Enjolras steps forward. “Here,” he says. He knew this was coming, but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant. He can feel Feuilly’s uncomprehending stare on the side of his head.

“Nice place you have here,” the guy says.

Enjolras nods tersely and holds out his hand, just to be polite. “What can I do for you, Mister…?”

“Brujon,” the man says. He nods very self-importantly and does not shake Enjolras’s hand. “I have something for you.” From within the depths of his jacket he pulls out a sheaf of white paper.

Enjolras suppresses a sigh as he takes it and reads it over. At his back, Feuilly is still, but the man Brujon keeps shifting his weight from foot to foot and clicking his teeth.

“Okay,” Enjolras says finally. He looks up and gives a compliant smile. “Do you have a pen?”

Brujon pulls one out of his jacket and hands it over. Within seconds the paper is signed and back in his possession; he smirks triumphantly as he takes a step back from the door.

“We appreciate your cooperation,” he says. His small eyes stay trained on Enjolras. “I hope you have an excellent day, sir.”

Enjolras does his best to smile back before he shuts the door in the other man’s face. He leans his forehead against the back of the door and tries to ignore Feuilly breathing over his shoulder. Feuilly, however, is not one to be ignored.

“So, uh,” he says after only a moment. “Not to pry, but what the hell?”

Enjolras takes a deep breath. “I’m being sued,” he says valiantly.

Feuilly pulls him away from the door. “What the fuck?” he breathes.

He stares at Enjolras. Enjolras walks self-consciously into his room and sits on the bed so he can put on his socks. Then he turns to face his roommate and crosses his arms. “I’m being sued.”

“By who? And why?”

“Libel. By Senator Thénardier.”

Feuilly’s mouth is one thin, angry line. “What did you do?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Enjolras–”

“I’ll tell you, all right? Give me a moment to gather my thoughts.”

Feuilly sits at the other end of the bed and waits. “This is why you were fired,” he finally says.

Enjolras doesn’t look up. “Yes,” he says.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

That is enough to make Enjolras pause. He stares at his feet and feels shame well in his stomach, thick and disgusting and entirely at odds with the beautiful morning. “I made a mistake,” he says in a low voice. “I’m ashamed of it. I was going to tell you, Feuilly, I promise– but I wanted to put it off for as long as I could.”

Feuilly leans forward, with his hands clasped before him, and asks, “Enjolras. What did you do?”

The ensuing moment of silence is among the most terrible that Enjolras has ever known. It is worse than the all-encompassing void of a dark, empty theater; it is worse than the horrified hush of the city after a catastrophe.

Enjolras runs a hand through his hair. “I wrote an article about Senator Thénardier, exposing him as a fraud, petty criminal, and tax evader. I also heavily implied that he was in the back pocket of a gang leader.”

Feuilly’s mouth has dropped open in shock. “I didn’t realize you were going after someone so prominent,” he says, after several stunned moments of silence.

A low drumbeat is thrumming in Enjolras’s veins. He ducks his head. “I needed to be cautious about it,” he says. “It was all for naught anyway. One of his lackeys got wind of the story before it ever went to print.” He scrubs at his eyes for a moment. “I fucked up. I thought the evidence I had for his gang involvement was ironclad, but it fell apart within two minutes under the scrutiny of his lawyers. Every single witness that I had went back on what they told me.”

Feuilly’s expression holds more shock than anger; the anger belongs to Enjolras alone. He looks down at his hands and curls them into fists. “Everything else in that document was true,” he says quietly. “But once such a large part of it was disproved the entire thing lost credibility. So the paper fired me and Thénardier is suing me for defiling his good name.”

“Why haven’t we heard about this?”

Enjolras looks Feuilly directly in the eyes. “They’ve been keeping it quiet. It’s bad press.”

Feuilly’s eyes widen. “That’s why you wanted to wait before getting a position at another paper. Christ, Enjolras, he’s going to try to stop you from reporting for good.”

“I know.”

“What are you going to do?”

Enjolras shakes his head. “I don’t know. Find a lawyer and do my best.” He’ll have to call up Pontmercy, though the thought is an unpleasant one. Marius is perfectly nice but there’s no way he won’t tell Cosette what’s going on, and from there it could spread to the entire theater. Enjolras would prefer to keep this particular wildfire away from the production, if he can.

Feuilly’s expression is tight. “You should get going,” he says shortly. “Courfeyrac will throw a fit if you’re late.”

Enjolras doesn’t say anything. He can handle many things, but Feuilly’s disappointment isn’t one of them. He leaves the apartment within ten minutes. The train over to Brooklyn isn’t too crowded, but he stands anyway, with one hand wrapped around the safety rails. The sun casts odd shadows through the windows as they go over the Williamsburg Bridge into Brooklyn.

The air is warm, even early in the spring, and Enjolras spends the walk from the train station to Courfeyrac’s with a gentle breeze playing though his hair. Mornings in New York are difficult to improve upon, when they present themselves like this. Even with the maelstrom of emotions in Enjolras’s chest he can recognize that today is a beautiful, beautiful day.

As soon as he knocks on Courfeyrac’s door it flies open and Enjolras finds himself with an armful of his shorter friend.

“My love!” Courfeyrac says happily. “Christ, did you grow again?”

Enjolras smiles and knocks Courfeyrac’s hands out of his hair. “I stopped growing when I was eighteen,” he says as he walks over the threshold. “It’s not my fault you stopped when you were eight.”

Courfeyrac punches him right in the ribs.

“Is that Enjolras?” Combeferre appears around the corner of the curved wall that splits the studio apartment into two rooms.

Enjolras gets a hug from him too before he can get his coat off. Then Courfeyrac shoos him over to the low gray couch. “Food will be ready in a minute,” he says. “Do you want anything? Water? Wine?”

“Water is fine.” Combeferre brings Enjolras a glass and sits down on the couch next to him in an easy sprawl.

Combeferre is comfortable here, in an easy and charming way. He used to be one of the most highly-strung people that Enjolras had ever met. He never slept. His eating habits were atrocious. He gave incredible advice to anyone who needed it but never followed his own good sense.

In his own apartment, however, the sharp lines of his shoulders will ease and the worry around his eyes will disappear. Courfeyrac is a good influence, Enjolras thinks.

“Courfeyrac has imposed a Shakespeare ban for the day,” Combeferre says with an apologetic smile. “He says if he has to hear us talk about lighting cues again he’ll fling himself from the window.”

“I mean it,” Courfeyrac says severely. He doesn’t look up from whatever he’s chopping up on the kitchen counter. “No shop talk. I’m not even going to tell you about the super cool audition I have coming up.”

Combeferre rolls his eyes fondly. “He’s been trying to get me to ask about it all day,” he says to Enjolras in a low tone. “I refuse.”

Enjolras twists to look over at Courfeyrac. “What could possibly be auditioning right now?” he asks. “Isn’t everyone in a fervor because the Tony Awards are coming up?” He grins widely as Courfeyrac glares and points a knife at him.

“I was snubbed for that nomination and you know it,” he says sternly. “But we’re not talking about it.”

Enjolras holds his hands up in surrender and settles back on the couch. Combeferre is smiling down at his hands.

He’ll have to tell them, Enjolras realizes. He should have told Feuilly the moment everything with the Senator happened– he’s just lucky the story never made it into the newspapers. Feuilly’s wrath would have been a thing to behold if he had to find out his roommate was getting sued from some cheap two-cent magazine.

“I’m being sued,” he says out loud. Then he cringes as Combeferre and Courfeyrac fall absolutely silent.

Combeferre takes his glasses off and starts wearily cleaning them on his t-shirt. Courfeyrac comes marching over to the couch with the knife still in his hand. “You’re what?”

*

Grantaire comes to the apartment early the next day with a dark blue sweater on and his script in his hands. “Practice again,” he says, eyebrows raised, when Enjolras opens the door. “Do you mind?”

Enjolras shakes his head and steps back to let him in.

“I noticed you weren’t at rehearsal yesterday,” Grantaire says as he struggles out of his shoes. He has his head down, so Enjolras can’t read his expression. “Everything okay?”

Enjolras has already hashed out this problem with Feuilly, Combeferre, Courfeyrac, and Pontmercy; he isn’t eager to add another name to the list. “I had a personal matter to take care of,” he says, somewhat stiffly. In this case, ‘personal matter’ had meant going to find Pontmercy and begging for mercy. “I’ll be there tonight.”

There’s a question in Grantaire’s eyes when he looks up, but he doesn’t press it. “I hope everything is all right,” he offers cautiously.

Enjolras nods. “Just tying up loose ends,” he says shortly. Then, because Grantaire’s expression is still far too guarded, he adds: “Newspaper business.”

Except that Grantaire’s eyes grow bright and interested. “Right, you moonlight as a writer, don’t you?” He flops down on the couch but keeps looking curiously at Enjolras. “I guess I should have known, I’ve seen your byline.”

Enjolras shrugs, one-shouldered. Grantaire seems to be entirely oblivious of Enjolras’s work, and he’s perfectly content to leave it that way.

A moment later, Feuilly walks in from Enjolras’s bedroom. The moment is worth it just for the look on Grantaire’s face. Feuilly seems oblivious; he yawns as he pulls on a shirt and goes into the kitchen. They hear him rusting around in the fridge a moment later.

“Do we have any milk?”

Enjolras is still maintaining terribly prolonged eye contact with Grantaire. “No,” he says out loud. It feels like an answer to more than one question.

Feuilly reenters the living room a moment later, looking disgruntled and drinking orange juice from the carton. “Here, sweet lord, at your service,” he says, after taking a long swallow. “What are we up to?”

“Drilling Enjolras about his absence yesterday,” Grantaire says as he settles back on the couch. His eyebrows still seem to be positioned slightly too high on his face. “Apparently while we were slaving away he was perusing the daily paper?”

Enjolras stiffens. Feuilly shoots him a glance, then takes another drink of orange juice. “He likes newspapers,” he says noncommittally.

Feuilly deserves the entire world.

“We can start, if you want,” the red head offers next, and Enjolras revises his earlier statement. Feuilly deserves the entire universe. “Did you have a particular scene in mind?”

Grantaire heaves himself up of the couch and goes to stand in the middle of his room. He’s already begun affecting the posture he uses onstage– the line of his shoulders has changed slightly. Enjolras tilts his head to the side and watches. “After the play again,” Grantaire says. “I’m still not convinced.”

Feuilly takes another long swig of orange juice that breaks off into a muttered curse when some of it drips down his chin and onto his shirt. “Give me just a sec, sorry,” he says, and he goes into his own room to change. Grantaire’s posture slumps.

Enjolras decides to settle himself on the couch and reaches for Grantaire’s script– he supposes he’ll have to play both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern– but he suddenly stops short when Grantaire says, “Is this you?”

He realizes that Grantaire is looking at the picture frames on the windowsill. The dark-haired man reaches forward carefully to pick one up from among the potted plants and turns toward Enjolras with a curious expression on his face.

Enjolras shrugs noncommittally.

Grantaire holds the picture frame forward. “Is this you?” he asks again. Enjolras doesn’t need to look at it to know what picture Grantaire is holding forth; it’s an old promo shot of him shaking hands with the mayor of New York.

That picture seems to show up everywhere Enjolras works. He avoids cameras on principle, usually, so it must have been the only shot any other reporters could find when they were reporting about him. It’s one of the only pictures of himself that he likes, luckily. He’s dressed in a well-tailored suit that is pulled into impressively sharp lines by virtue of his posture at the moment the shot was taken.

He’s just lucky that no one seems to have gotten wind of why he was fired. He’s certain that every newspaper would drop that picture and start using his mugshot instead.

“It’s him,” Feuilly says. He’s back with a new gray shirt on and a crooked smile aimed at Grantaire. “He cleans up well, doesn’t he?”

Feuilly still deserves the universe, Enjolras decides, but mostly the bits with black holes that will take him apart atom by atom with the sheer force of gravity.

Grantaire can’t stop looking down at the picture and up at Enjolras’s face, as though he’s hoping to find any discrepancies that would prove the whole thing to be an elaborate ruse. “I didn’t realize you knew the mayor,” he finally manages.

“You didn’t know?” Feuilly raises his eyebrows. “Enjolras was the darling of the journalism world.”

“Feuilly,” Enjolras grinds out. His roommate finally falls silent, finally sensing that Enjolras isn’t comfortable with this particular line of conversation.

“I’ve seen some of your articles,” Grantaire says. “I didn’t– I guess I didn’t realize– you’re very good at what you do, aren’t you?” This last bit is said with a sort of desperation; Grantaire can clearly tell that he’s put his foot in his mouth, but he isn’t sure how or why.

“We should start practicing,” Enjolras says. Feuilly’s gaze is a bit too piercing, but the redhead doesn’t say anything as he picks up his own script and flipped through the dog-eared pages.

Grantaire glances at them both before moving uncomfortably to stand in the middle of the living room. “Horatio,” he starts, “thou art e’en as just a man as e’er my conversation coped withal.”

Enjolras goes to sit on the couch and listens.

If he has one flaw, it is his reluctance to let anyone know what he is thinking. His emotions are his own, his thoughts are his own– why does it so often seem that everyone is determined to wrench them out of his head? Isn’t he allowed a level of privacy?

He scrubs a hand over his eyes. That thought has to be at least slightly hypocritical. He’s a journalist. Privacy is a barrier that he continually breaks open. But there is no truth at stake here, no right or wrong that will be affected if he admits that he fucked up, so why does it matter?

“I’m sorry,” he says abruptly, cutting Feuilly off in the middle of a line. “I need to go.”

He leaves the apartment with nothing but his keys.

You get angry too easily.

He walks. It’s a beautiful spring day, picture-perfect and warm.

It isn’t realistic to try and keep this whole mess a secret. Once Thénardier actually takes Enjolras to court (unless he decides to have him knifed in an alleyway first), it will be all over the papers. Enjolras can only assume that Thénardier’s men are keeping the story quiet now for fear that someone else will look into it too closely. They’re clearing biding their time before making their next move, which means that Enjolras’s hands are tied. He can’t get his job at the New York News-Review back, and he can’t apply anywhere else until this is all over.

He keeps walking. Manhattan is beautiful in the spring, before the city gets too hot and busy for the summer. It never settles, of course, but the neighborhood around Enjolras’s apartment usually holds onto a veneer of calm anyway. It’s isn’t peaceful, but it is manageable. Enjolras wouldn’t know what to do with perfect peace.

He misses writing, for fuck’s sake. He jams his hands in his pockets and hunches his shoulders as he turns the corner by Feuilly’s favorite diner, the one with the purple awning. He misses writing and reporting like an actual ache in his teeth. Pontmercy had said it was best to lie low for now; Enjolras hasn’t been writing anything, not even a tinyletter for his Twitter.

It won’t be long before someone takes note. Enjolras is young, he still has a lot to earn in the world of journalism, but his writing has been incendiary enough in years past to gain an impressive following. If he remains silent, people will start to wonder why.

He’s helpless, and he hates it.

There’s a bookstore on the next block. Enjolras ducks inside and nods politely to the man behind the counter. Bookstores are comforting. The air smells like ink and paper and everything is neat; Enjolras doesn’t stop by the newspapers by the door but instead makes his way over to the dark shelves of biographies. He runs his fingers over their spines, though his mind is far away.

When Enjolras was younger he wanted to be a war correspondent. It was his most fervent desire when he switched his major to journalism; it seemed like the ultimate way to discover the truth. He wanted to help people.

He knows, now, that rushing to the sight of the deepest atrocity is not the best or only way to aid his fellow man. He’s content in his glorious, sprawling city. He loves his work, and he loves knowing that he has made a difference.

Often, though, in the pit of his stomach, Enjolras will still feel the burning desire to fling himself around the globe and into the thick of any conflict. He thrives on danger. It’s a dangerous trait to have. He keeps a stern hand on it, always, for fear that he will endanger himself or his friends beyond all probable cause. But still. Still.

He shakes his head and keeps moving.

The next section is poetry, and then travel, and then mystery. Enjolras drifts past them and comes upon the store’s generous collection of Shakespeare.

“Of course,” he murmurs. He runs his finger along the spines. As You like It, Coriolanus, Cymbeline… Hamlet.

He flips it open. Act 3, scene 2.

They had rehearsed this just the other day. It was a rough rehearsal, in part because the scene was so long, and because it required a lot of Grantaire. He had to yell his lines so often that he was near to losing his voice. Enjolras scans the lines with a frown on his face.

Fury had looked so odd on Grantaire’s face. Usually, he’s loud, never livid. Melancholy, not mutinous. Enjolras doesn’t think he’s ever seen genuine anger from the other man. As Hamlet, however, he had unleashed all of his anger against the traitorous Guildenstern. It was a fearsome moment.

“’Sblood,” Hamlet had screamed, throwing a pipe at Guildenstern, “do you think I am easier to be played upon than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me!”

Enjolras sympathizes.

It’s an uncharitable thought. His friends aren’t treating him like an instrument to be played, to be made to sing, however much it might feel like it. He agreed to do this production. There’s no use in getting angry at anyone involved with Hamlet; every issue that he has right now is of his own making.

The sun is still shining when he leaves the bookstore.

Why had he been angry with Grantaire and Feuilly? They’re blameless. It isn’t like Enjolras to hang the blame for a disaster upon any neck but his own. He’s vaguely disgusted with himself.

He gets Chinese food on his way home, as a peace offering. Feuilly and Grantaire eat with him gladly and don’t talk about it. Enjolras eats and listens to them chatter at each other. His head hurts, in a low, throbbing way, and he is grateful and ashamed.

*

“IS THERE A PARTICULAR REASON YOU AREN’T STARTING THE NEXT SCENE?” Éponine yells the next day.

Joly, Bossuet, and Myriel all hurry onstage with bashful expressions.

“Forgive me,” Myriel says gently. “I am often caught off guard by the end of his speech.”

Grantaire glances up from his script. “Most of the monologues end in couplets. Just listen for those.”

Everyone on stage turns to look at him except for Éponine, who has her eyes on her own script.

“I never noticed that!”

Grantaire recites back the end of his speech:

“Let me be cruel, not unnatural.
I will speak daggers to her, but use none.
My tongue and soul in this be hyppocrites–
How in my words somever she be shent,
To give them seals never my soul consent.”

He says the words easily, without pause. “It’s a couplet. Once you hear the rhyme you know scene three needs to start.”

Joly and Bossuet exchange a look and a smile. Enjolras sees Myriel write a note in his script.

“Can we continue?” Éponine asks. The actors murmur their consent and the play starts up once again.

Enjolras keeps his gaze on Grantaire. Something dead is looming behind his eyes and coloring his words and mannerisms gray. As Hamlet, he is often struck silent with guilt and grief, but this is different. This is Grantaire.

As Claudius conspires with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Enjolras goes backstage and catches Grantaire in the crossover hall. He’s curiously out of breath and his face is flushed, but his blue eyes still seem dull.

“Are you okay?” Enjolras demands.

Grantaire’s head shoots up in surprise at the sight of him, and he stops moving completely. “I’m okay,” he says. His eyebrows are raised.

“You don’t look okay.” Enjolras takes a step closer and ducks his head. “Is anything bothering you? Do you feel well?”

Grantaire’s expression is almost panicked now, and he seems to be exerting all of his force to not let his mouth tremble. “There’s nothing wrong with me.”

“I know there’s nothing wrong with you,” Enjolras says, as gently as he can. Grantaire’s expression wavers even more, and he presses a hand over his mouth. The movements of his shoulders and hands seem frantic. He can’t stay still, and now he won’t meet Enjolras’s eyes.

“It’s just, you know, it’s a lot,” he says. His voice is unsteady. “I promise nothing is wrong, I don’t know why this is happening.” He pauses and puts his hands over his face. He begins to cry, though his breathing doesn’t change. “This happens sometimes,” he says weakly. “Don’t worry.”

“You’re my friend,” Enjolras says with a frown. “Of course I’m going to.” He doesn’t care about whatever happened yesterday, or whatever Grantaire thinks of his journalism. He’s a damn fine actor and right now all Enjolras cares about is making sure that he’s okay.

He doesn’t touch Grantaire, just waits while he shudders and breathes and wipes at his eyes. His shoulders are curled in as though he needs to protects his collarbones, his chest. Grantaire lets out one sharp laugh. “What a fine Hamlet I make,” he mutters. “I would swear Éponine wanted me for my melancholy as much as for my skill.”

“Do you need anything?”

“I need to go kill Polonius,” Grantaire sighs. He gives Enjolras a ragged, fierce smile. “I won’t snap in the middle of the performance,” he says. His bravado is thin. “This isn’t Slings & Arrows.”

Enjolras doesn’t smile back, but he does move out of the way so Grantaire can go into the wings for his entrance. Enjolras feels useless. His hands are empty and aching and an uneasy shame has taken up residence beneath his breastbone.

Grantaire is already back onstage, spitting his lines out in fury while Claudius prays on his knees at center stage. Hamlet paces behind him. He has a sword in his fist, dull but realistic, and his shaking hands make the scene that much more thrilling. Everyone watching looks enthralled. Enjolras frowns.

Eventually, Hamlet stalks offstage again, on the opposite side from where Enjolras is standing. Claudius looks up from his prayers.

“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

His mouth quirks up at the couplet as the lights dim, ending the scene. The next one starts immediately. Enjolras stays in the wings. His prompt book is here, so he can keep one eye on the cues and another on the stage. They haven’t done any full run-throughs yet, so Enjolras hasn’t had a rehearsal where he stays backstage with his headset on for the entire time, but he knows that time is fast approaching. Opening night is a large, frightening deadline that hangs over all of their heads.

Fantine-as-Gertrude is standing onstage, hugging herself and looking distressed. “Hamlet, thou hast they father much offended.”

“Mother, you have my father much offended,” Hamlet sasses back.

Grantaire is very good at what he does. Often it seems to Enjolras that the only time Grantaire isn’t acting is when he’s onstage– his Hamlet is sincere and alive. But that isn’t quite right either. Grantaire had tears in his eyes five minutes ago, but there he stands, vicious and talented and revealing nothing of the rainstorm in his chest. Enjolras wants to stop the rehearsal and order everyone home. He can’t imagine the repression that Grantaire’s current performance must take.

However, as the scene progresses, Grantaire’s melancholy is repressed less and less. His hands shake again. His voice wavers. His eyes are bright in the glow of the lights and Enjolras knows that they are once more lined with tears. He doesn’t know if Grantaire is pretending in this, too, or losing his grip on his emotions, or purposefully releasing his emotions just enough to work for him. It’s a chilling progression to watch. When Enjolras glances down at the prompt book, halfway through the scene, he realizes that he’s a page and a half behind. He’s been too focused on Grantaire to follow along in the script.

Hamlet kills Polonius in a rush of fury. Polonius’s death is a thing of beauty; he staggers and falls at Gertrude’s feet with a drawn-out groan before Hamlet quickly whips around and realizes his mistake. His dread is terrible to behold, even as he uses it as a weapon against his mother.

“Oh shit, we’re way over,” Éponine says suddenly. The scene shatters into a million pieces and Enjolras watches, frowning, as Grantaire’s shoulders drop. “Good work tonight, everyone!” Éponine calls. “I’ll see you all tomorrow! Grantaire, Fantine, will you stay a moment?”

Enjolras finds Feuilly in the swirl of actors and catches him by the wrist. “Are you okay if Grantaire comes to ours tonight?” he asks in his roommate’s ear.

Surprise flits across Feuilly’s face, but he nods. “I thought you would have wanted him to stay away,” he says quietly.

Enjolras shakes his head. “That doesn’t matter. I don’t think he ought to go home alone.”

“Okay.”

“Will you tell him? Invite him?” Enjolras grits his teeth when Feuilly raises his eyebrows. “He’ll take more kindly to your invitation than mine,” he adds defensively.

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” Feuilly says. His gaze is sharp and perceptive, but he doesn’t press. “I’ll ask him as soon as Éponine is through with him.”

“Thank you.”

Enjolras runs into Cosette just a moment later. On a whim he invites her a long too, but she declines. “I’m going to dinner with Fantine,” she tells him cheerfully. “Apparently she and my father are old friends.”

Enjolras bids her goodnight and goes to catch up with Feuilly and Grantaire.

Five minutes later the three of them are kicking their way down the pavement, and it feels familiar. Enjolras doesn’t know what these streets look like past the profiles of Grantaire and Feuilly, who walk on either side of him and carry a light conversation about the merits of New York and Chicago-style pizza.

Enjolras doesn’t try to enter the conversation. Grantaire is still wary, and still holding himself with slightly too much tension, and Enjolras is certain that he would only make things worse. He keeps his eyes fixed forward on the orange-lit landscape of concrete.

“Now we need to get pizza,” Feuilly grumbles as they drag themselves up the stairs of their building. “We should have ordered it on the way.”

Grantaire makes a vague noise of agreement as they enter the apartment. He’s clearly hungry, but he just as clearly doesn’t want to impose upon their evening. Enjolras takes his coat with something nearing aggression and indicates that Grantaire should sit down. Grantaire furrows his brows, but he does relax.

There’s no tremor in his mouth or hands, so Enjolras is willing to count his idea as a victory.

“I’ll call for a pizza,” he says. “New York style.”

Grantaire’s eyes flash over to him. “How could you do this to me?” he asks. His mocking voice is a touch lighter than usual.

“I’m worried that your sanity has been affected, if you think that deep dish monstrosity counts as pizza,” Enjolras says, straight-faced as he dials the number of a place down the street. “I’m doing this because I care.”

“Tough love,” Grantaire mutters.

Enjolras glances over at him as he lifts the phone to his ear. “I must be cruel only to be kind.”

Feuilly laughs. After a moment, Grantaire starts to grin. His face makes the most sense when he’s smiling.

Grantaire and Feuilly drink beer while they wait for the pizza to arrive, and while they eat the pizza, and after the pizza is gone. Enjolras nurses one glass of wine the entire time but barely takes more than a sip. He’s much soberer than his two friends by the time midnight hits, so it falls to him to be the voice of reason.

“Time for all good little actors to get in bed,” he says, hauling Feuilly up off the couch. “We have rehearsal again tomorrow, and you need your sleep.”

“But mom,” Feuilly complains. He grins sharply with his face pressed against Enjolras’s collarbone. “I’m going, I’m going.” He gives Enjolras a clumsy kiss on the cheek and staggers off to his bedroom.

Enjolras goes to fetch extra blankets and pillows. When he returns to the front room, Grantaire is curled at one end of the couch with the Hamlet script in his hands. Though he seemed cheerful enough once they got him out of the theater, his mouth has fallen back into a melancholy line.

“What are you doing?” Enjolras asks as he drops the blankets. He’s dimmed most of the lights already, so Grantaire is little more than a profile against the windows.

“Just thinking,” Grantaire says. He drops the script on the floor and stretches himself along the length of the couch. “Just thinking about death. Shakespeare death. The way Shakespeare writes death.”

Enjolras settles back in his armchair. “Why?”

“Because he gets it.”

The apartment is silent for a moment. Enjolras frowns and leans forward. “What do you mean?”

“It’s like this,” Grantaire says. His voice is blurry with sleep and Enjolras can’t tell if his eyes are open. “You don’t get to create that kind of pain unless you’ve lived it. You don’t write your boy pleading with a ghost unless you yourself have looked into the face of death and wondered what he wants from you.” He yawns widely, in a flash of white teeth and a slip of pink tongue. Then he starts to recite:

“Do not look upon me,
Lest with this piteous action you convert
My stern effects. Then what I have to do
Will want true color– tears perchance for blood.”

Enjolras is not a writer. If he could, he would press Grantaire down into parchment and keep him forever like this, half-asleep, quoting Shakespeare in the dimly-lit room. He wants Grantaire to keep speaking. “What does it mean?” he asks quietly.

“It means he’s afraid,” Grantaire says quietly. He has the phantom of a smile on his face. “If he looks into the eyes of his father he’s going to cry. That’s what it means. Hamlet is scared shitless and trying so hard not to be. One moment among dozens that remind me how young he is.”

A siren wails out on the streets. Both boys fall silent, listening to its pitch fall as is speeds further and further away. When the noise has faded completely, Grantaire sighs.

“His son died,” he says quietly. “Shakespeare. The kid’s name was Hamnet, can you believe it? He was only eleven years old.” He shakes his head slowly. Enjolras doubts that Grantaire will remember any of this in the morning, but the moment is as fragile as glass, and adding another voice would only break it. So Enjolras listens.

“People go back and forth, back and forth about who inspired what and when it was written,” Grantaire mutters. “You can hardly recite a sonnet without someone telling you thirteen different conspiracies about its subject. But Shakespeare had a son, and he died. Maybe you have to suffer to write the way he does.” His face cracks into a more complete grin. “Maybe you have to suffer to be able to perform it. It rings true for me. Maybe that’s why I do it well.”

“What do you mean?” Enjolras asks quietly.

The low light doesn’t do justice to Grantaire’s eyes. “What does Hamlet want more than anything?” he responds, just as quietly. “He wants to die.”

If the evening was unsteady because of Grantaire’s hands, it freezes because the breath in Enjolras’s lungs catches and the beat of his heart stops. This honesty feels too heavy in his palms but he doesn’t dare let it fall onto the floor. In some distant way, he has his fingers wrapped around a part of Grantaire’s heart now, and he cannot drop it.

“Don’t say anything,” Grantaire whispers. “I’m drunk. You don’t need to worry about me.”

“I’m going to,” Enjolras whispers back.

“I’m okay. Promise.” Grantaire blinks lazily at him, and then his eyes close completely. He’s asleep within moments.

Enjolras stays frozen in his armchair for several minutes before he finally makes himself go to bed. The chill in his chest is deep and aching, but his head is as restless and undone as the wind in the leaves.

He lies back and thinks about death.

*

In the morning, Grantaire is hungover and wretched and forgetful. He sits at the counter with his head in his hands while Enjolras makes pancakes. Feuilly hasn’t even dragged himself out of bed yet, but it’s okay. This feels like a ritual between the two of them, and Enjolras doesn’t mind staying quiet for the sake of Grantaire’s head.

“I remember being distinctly maudlin at some point last night,” Grantaire says after some time. “Can’t figure out what I said for the life of me but it must have been pretty bad.”

Enjolras flips a pancake. “What makes you think that?”

“You’re being nice.”

“That’s offensive.” Enjolras sets the spatula down and takes a drink of orange juice. “I make you breakfast whenever you’re here.”

“You’re usually much more judgmental about it.” Grantaire waves an errant hand to stave off Enjolras’s response. “I’m sorry about whatever I said. Yes, I’m fine. Yes, I’m on medication. There’s nothing to be concerned about.”

He falls silent then. Enjolras can read real concern behind his flippant words, so he takes the plate of pancakes over to to him. Grantaire darts a quick look at him and begins to eat.

Enjolras isn’t on meds for anything but he probably should be– depression, anxiety, whatever it is that makes him forget to eat when he gets too stressed. He isn’t about to kick Grantaire out of his building for it. There’s no need for both of them to play the martyr.

When Grantaire does leave, the apartment is quiet. Enjolras is still tired but going back to bed isn’t a reasonable option. He drags the pile of blankets off of the couch and onto the living room floor instead, so he can sit in the sunlight with his computer and work on the digital side of Hamlet.

A determined, pulsing headache makes itself known throughout the day, even though Enjolras drank next to nothing the night before. He feels wrong-footed and undone. His skin doesn’t fit over his bones. He wants to cut off all of his hair and throw his possessions in the East River. He’s hopping with frustration by the time he and Feuilly set out walking to the theater, but being out in the city air helps clear his head.

The first part of the rehearsal goes fine. Everyone is working hard and moving swiftly through the scenes, with an easy deftness that has been building in the past several weeks. They’re more confident and assured now. Cosette is radiant. Montparnasse is a charming devil. Grantaire, of course, shines onstage even when the spotlight isn’t illuminating his pale face.

Halfway through the rehearsal Éponine calls a break, and Enjolras realizes that has a message from Mavot on his phone. He finds a quiet corner of the green room and plays the message back with his phone pressed to one ear.

“Enjolras, you were right, your Éponine is an absolute gem. I’m more excited than ever for this show she’s got going on. Also…” His tone lowers and becomes more conspiratorial. “I wasn’t going to ask, but the curiosity is killing me. Are you planning on jumping back into the newspaper business once all of this is over?” Enjolras’s stomach drops. “Because I’ve gotta say, we’d love to have you here at the Gray Lady. You can even do entertainment and stay in the loop about all of the plays your friends are doing. Call me back, will ya? We can chat about all of this.” He doesn’t offer a farewell, just hangs up in a style characteristic of many New Yorkers that Enjolras knows.

The evening gets worse from there.

When Enjolras reenters the theater he immediately notices tension in the faces of every actor in the audience. They have their eyes fixed on the stage. Enjolras carefully makes his way down to where Éponine is sitting and picks up his script before he focuses on the actors in front of them.

Then he understands.

Grantaire is spinning in a circle with his arms extended. “A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of the worm,” he sings out.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern both grab Hamlet by the elbows to keep him still. “What dost though mean by this?” Claudius demands.

Hamlet’s head lolls towards him. “Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.”

Claudius hits him.

Enjolras flinches.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exchange an anguished look but do not release Hamlet, who stares at his uncle in shock.

“Where is Polonius?” Claudius yells at him. Hamlet’s expression shifts into anger.

“In heaven,” he spits back. He begins to struggle against his two friends.

“If your messenger
find him not there, seek him i’th’ other place yourself.
But indeed, if you find him not this month, you shall
nose him as you go up the stairs into the lobby.”

Claudius spins around. “Go seek him there,” he orders an attendant.

The man begins to leave. Hamlet shouts after him, “A will stay till ye come.”

Claudius stalks forward and grips Hamlet by the chin, forcing the younger man to meet his eyes directly. His voice, when he begins to speak, is chillingly soft.

“Hamlet, this deed of thine, for thine especial safety–
Which we do tender as we dearly grieve
For that which thou hast done– must send thee hence
With fiery quickness. Therefore prepare thyself.
The barque is ready, and the wind at help,
Th’associates tend, and everything is bent
For England.”

He releases Hamlet and lets his nephew’s head drop.

“For England?” Hamlet asks listlessly.

“Yes.”

Hamlet is quiet and bitter. “Good.”

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern release him. He falls to his hands and knees on the floor.

Something terrifying is happening behind Enjolras’s eyes. He’s strangling the prompt book but he can’t convince his hands to unclench; it’s frightening, and familiar, though he has not felt this overwhelmed in years.

It’s a play. Claudius’s anger is feigned. He hadn’t truly hit Grantaire across the face. Enjolras is frozen in his seat as he watches the two of them exchange their final words before Hamlet is hauled offstage. He hasn’t seen this scene played out before. He’s heard them read the lines, certainly, and he’s often felt Feuilly’s careful touch on his arm or shoulder when they discuss Claudius’s abuse, but seeing them acted out before him is very, very different.

“Enjolras,” Éponine says quietly. “Go get a drink of water.”

He drops his script. Éponine doesn’t attempt to touch him as she leans down to pick it up, just slides it underneath her own and continues watching the scene. She’s providing him with an escape. He takes it.

Going into the green room would mean crossing the stage and facing the other actors, which Enjolras cannot do. He walks back past the rows of plush velvet seats instead, out the doors into the lobby, out the doors into the street. He leans against the front of the building. He breathes.

Feuilly comes to find him several minutes later. “We can go home,” he says instantly, but Enjolras shakes his head.

He has managed to calm himself down. 4th Street isn’t very busy, and no one that did drive or walk past gave him more than a cursory glance, so he was able to gather the loose threads of his thoughts and weave them together once more into coherency.

“I’m fine,” he says.

Feuilly nods. He takes a small tin of mints out of his pocket and offers one to Enjolras, who accepts and lets the sharp flavor numb his tongue. He can feel his hands again.

“Rehearsal is almost over,” Feuilly tells him. “If you’re determined to stay, it won’t be too long.”

Enjolras nods. “Better go in, then.” He rubs a hand over his eyes and pulls open the door. Feuilly follows.

They bypass the theater and go into the green room so Enjolras can collect his water bottle before he goes back out. The actors are on a five-minute break, it appears, because Grantaire is standing there with his hands in his pockets. He peels away from the group to come talk to Enjolras. “You okay? I know that sort of thing is hard on you.”

“I’m fine,” Enjolras says shortly.

Grantaire’s eyebrows go up. “Right,” he says. The word is dragged all the way through skepticism and straight into disbelief. Enjolras scowls, but before he can respond, Grantaire is called away again.

He leaves without looking at Enjolras, who struggles to not run after the other man and fight him in the middle of the green room. You have a hot temper, he can remember being told. You need to learn to control yourself. He very prudently does not throw his water bottle across the room but instead sets it down on a table and goes back into the theater to sit with Éponine.

She has a young boy sitting on her other side who is reading a battered paperback. “My brother, Gav,” Éponine says when she notices Enjolras glance at him. “He and I are going to a movie after this.”

“She promised,” Gav says dryly. He waves absently at Enjolras. He has a lime green backpack stuffed in the seat next to him– it has GAVROCHE T. written on it in big Sharpie letters, so Enjolras takes it to be the boy’s full name. He frowns absently as he settles into his seat and looks at the stage. Isn’t Éponine’s last name Jondrette?

Grantaire is already Hamlet again. He’s pacing agitatedly on the stage and reciting a monologue with which Enjolras is completely unfamiliar. He paws through his script but cannot find it. He feels like a hot-headed bastard and his hands are shaking again. “Where are we?” he asks quietly.

“It’s not in that script,” Éponine murmurs back. “There’s a section in the second quarto that intrigues me.” They watch Grantaire storm about the stage. “Act four scene four. I asked Grantaire to memorize it just in case I might want it in the production.”

Enjolras turns to face the front.

“How stand I, then,
That have a father killed, a mother stained,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep while, to my shame, I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men
That, for a fantasy and trick of fame,
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
Which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain.”

Hamlet’s voice has been rising and growing more passionate throughout the speech, but then he freezes and stares out at the audience. His eyes are wild. “O, from this time forth,” he vows, “my thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth!”

The same shame as yesterday pools behind Enjolras’s ribs. Why is he so quick to demand that others need help, when he is so adamant in refusing it for himself?

*

The next few days are a blur. Enjolras is working himself too hard, he knows, but he isn’t sleeping well and his dreams are disorienting and uncomfortable. He sees ghosts and castles. He sees Cosette, holding a bunch of flowers and crying; she turns into Montparnasse, who laughs before he begins screaming.

It isn’t so far-fetched, certainly, since they spend a lot of time focusing on Cosette’s scenes in those days. Prouvaire works magic on her hair and make-up, so she comes onstage like a half-dead nymph. Her hair is a wild tangle and her eyes are wide.

She’s restless and terrible when she sings. Her steps weave and move all over the stage and her expression is vacant.

“By Gis, and by Saint Charity,
Alack, and fie for shame!
Young men will do’t if they come to’t,
By Cock, they are to blame.
Quoth she ‘Before you tumbled me,
You promised me to wed.’
So would I ‘a’ done, by yonder sun,
An thou hadst not come to my bed!”

Then she tumbles to her knees and shrieks.

It’s no wonder Enjolras is having nightmares.

He’s worried about Cosette, too. She’s paler than usual, and she doesn’t speak nearly as much in rehearsal. She follows directions without a murmur and seems to always have her eyes on either Éponine or Fantine. Her acting is very poignant. Enjolras finds himself clearing his throat to stave off the burn of emotions several times, particularly when Cosette goes around sweetly distributing flowers and sighing, “O, wear your rue with a difference!”

Her insanity is much more sorrowful than the kind that Grantaire has crafted for Hamlet. He’s antagonistic and almost violent. Ophelia, in comparison, seems to fade away like a remorseful spirit. She sits well on Cosette’s petite frame.

Enjolras is worried though, for Cosette as well as for Grantaire. He doesn’t want them to be consumed.

Even Feuilly seems to have retreated into himself somehow. Enjolras probably wouldn’t notice, except that he’s been living with Feuilly since he was nineteen. He knows the redhead’s tells.

They go for a walk in Central Park one Sunday, when the sun is shining and the air is crisp and clear. Enjolras wears his favorite red coat, while Feuilly opts for his jean jacket. They make quite a pair together.

Feuilly idly recites lines as they walk. Enjolras has no script, so he can’t match him, but Feuilly isn’t hindered at all. He goes through Hamlet’s letter to Horatio, line by line, with an expression on his face like he’s enjoying a particularly fine drink. He’s content, but he hasn’t been lately, so Enjolras takes note.

“He that thou knowest thine, Hamlet.” Feuilly drawls. He glances at Enjolras. “I love that line.”

“That’s how I sign all of my emails,” Enjolras says, deadpan. Feuilly laughs.

The tips of Enjolras’s nose is cold. Nonetheless, it’s an absolutely gorgeous day in the city. The apple trees are in full bloom and the grass is lovely and green. There are flowers everywhere, and the colors are exquisite after a gray winter of snow and concrete.

Enjolras is at peace, here. “Cosette once told me that walking through Central Park is like writing a love letter to your city,” he says.

Feuilly hums and sticks his hands in his pockets. He has his hair twisted up into a bun today, and his ears are slightly red.

“Are you okay?” Enjolras asks.

“Hmm? Yeah, I’m fine.” Feuilly gives him a grin. “Don’t worry about me.”

They keep walking. Feuilly makes them stand under the apple trees to take selfies with the pink blossoms on their heads and sends them to everyone in the cast. Enjolras rolls his eyes and bears it; he wants Feuilly to keep smiling.

“What do you think of Bahorel?” the redhead asks some minutes later. He’s snacking on some roasted almonds he bought from a vendor, and his expression is thoughtful. Enjolras glances at him sharply before he answers.

“I think he’s good at what he does,” he says simply.

Feuilly hums. “That’s high praise, coming from you.” He doesn’t bring up Bahorel again, and Enjolras doesn’t push the issue, but he keeps the exchange in mind. It’s another gleaming strand in the complicated web of drama in which Hamlet is tangled.

It isn’t unusual for a production to go through a period of oddness, certainly. Enjolras has seen it several times. The Hamlet cast is just hitting it harder than usual, though it might only seem like that to Enjolras because he’s so close to so many of the actors.

Perhaps the only persona that doesn’t seem bothered by anything is Montparnasse. He keeps his cool in every situation and never has a single chestnut hair out of place. As far as Enjolras can tell, his only vice is that he smokes like a fucking chimney and wears a lot of all-black outfits.

He’s also quick to indulge everyone else’s vices, including Enjolras’s.

“You have shit taste in cigarettes,” Enjolras grouses. He and Montparnasse are smoking in the alley behind the Theater Workshop, next to the green room door. They don’t do this often, but they both had a moment to spare, and Montparnasse seemed to have a sixth sense for when someone needed a cigarette. He’s leaning against the wall with his eyes closed; Enjolras is pacing.

“You’re a fucking purist,” Montparnasse replies easily. “I’m surprised you don’t vape.”

“Excuse the fuck out of you.”

Montparnasse grins and blows a plume of smoke in Enjolras’s direction. “What has you so tightly wound, anyway? You look like you’re about to crack.”

“I’m not the one that’s going insane,” Enjolras says primly. “That’s everyone else’s job.” Then he frowns. “Literally.”

It isn’t dark in the alleyway yet, but the orange streetlight at the end flickers into life. It adds an odd, colorful shadow to Montparnasse’s silhouette. “I’m pretty sure none of us are crazy.”

“Not really,” Enjolras groans, “but everyone is under a ton of stress anyway. I’m worried about them all.”

“This is about Grantaire and Cosette, isn’t it.”

Enjolras draws furiously on his pilfered cigarette. “I was more worried about Feuilly than Cosette,” he admits. “Is she okay? Did something happen?”

Montparnasse groans. “Christ, I forgot you’re one of those.”

“One of what?”

“Hero types.” Montparnasse pulls a pair of black fingerless gloves out of the pocket of his coat and pulls them on. “Savior types. You think you need to defend everyone.”

Enjolras bristles. He thinks of warzones. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“I mean, it’s certainly very noble.” Montparnasse stubs his cigarette out against the wall and pulls out another one. “But it’s a fucking pain to keep up with, isn’t it? When was the last time anyone saved you?”

“I don’t need saving.”

“I’m sure you don’t.” Montparnasse offers another cigarette and grins when Enjolras takes it with a glare. “And I’m sure everyone else would say the same thing. Listen, it’s okay to support your friends, but if you try to carry all of their problems for them you’re going to burn yourself out.”

Enjolras leans forward so that Montparnasse can light his new cigarette before drawing away to pace around the alley again.

“I get it,” Montparnasse says. His voice is unusually serious. “I know about the reporting you did, I know about the protesting. You’ve done some good shit. But it isn’t your responsibility to help everyone.” He takes another drag. “And it’s okay to let other people help you.”

Hadn’t Enjolras been telling himself that just the other day?

He finally stops the restless motions of his feet and leans against the wall at Montparnasse’s side. “Thanks,” he mutters after a moment.

“Don’t worry about it.”

They smoke silent for another moment. Then Enjolras mutters, “This is weird.”

Montparnasse snorts. “For you, maybe. I’ve had a lot of magical things happen in alleyways.”

Enjolras groans and shoves him. “Shut the fuck up.”

They go into the theater a moment later. Montparnasse has the same bored, unimpressed look as ever, but Enjolras isn’t fooled by it anymore. He watches the other man closely as they circle back into one of his scenes, where he conspires with Myriel to bring about Hamlet’s demise. He’s a chilling actor. His tone is cold and impressive. Enjolras props his head on his hand and tries not to get too lost in thought.

Cosette sits quietly next to Enjolras at the start of the next scene. He shoots her a quick smile in welcome, and then blinks when she reaches across him to grip Éponine’s hand. The two girls share a long, fierce look.

“Thank you,” Cosette whispers.

Éponine squeezes her fingers and then releases her. They both turn to face the stage as though nothing has happened.

After a moment, Enjolras gives up on trying to decode the moment. He watches the actors instead.

Fantine is coming onstage, slowly, with a stricken expression. “One woe doth tread up another’s heel, so fast they follow,” she says slowly. She reaches out for Montparnasse. “Your sister’s drowned, Laertes.”

Montparnasse goes still.

Enjolras knows the value of silence in a performance. A production is made of loud, moving parts, and so much of it depends on the actors’ ability to take the words and fling them out into the cavernous space of the theater for everyone to hear. But for moments like this, when shock and grief play so openly on the face of Laertes, his silence and stillness is more profound. He does not wail or tear at his hair. He sways in place, as though his knees have betrayed him.

When he finally does speak, the words are strangled and incredulous. “Drowned? O, where?”

Gertrude lays a hand on Claudius for support. Slowly, she unwinds the tale:

“There is a willow grows aslant a brook
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.
Therewith fantastic garlands did she make
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them.
There on the pendant bows her crownet weeds
Clamb’ring to hang, an envious sliver broke,
When down the weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,
And mermaid-like awhile they bore her up;
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and endued
Unto that element. But long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.”

Enjolras glances to his right. Cosette is crying silently in her seat with her eyes fixed on Fantine. The soft line of her mouth is closed but her eyes are wide open, and she does nothing to stem the flow of tears that drip, silvery and slow, down her cheeks.

After a moment of hesitation, Enjolras looks back at the stage. Fantine is looking back at them. Her eyes are similarly bright with tears, though she does not let them fall. Her eyes are fixed on Cosette.

On his other side, Éponine is sitting with her head bowed. She reaches over to take Cosette’s hand again.

Enjolras understands nothing. Montparnasse, apparently, understands everything.

Enjolras sighs.

“Be on time tomorrow!” Éponine yells at everyone at the end of rehearsal. “It’s our last one before dress rehearsals and tech week!”

The green room is an explosion of sound and chatter. “If you need final costume changes, come see me!” Prouvaire yells. He holds a prop dagger in the air to catch everyone’s attention, and several actors begin cheerfully yelling at him for it.

Grantaire catches Enjolras by the wrist in the chaos.

“I wanted to apologize about the other day,” he says quickly. “I know you value your privacy, and I didn’t mean to pry.” His eyes are wide and earnest, and his hair is a mess on his head. Enjolras frowns and pulls him into a corner of the green room where they won’t be overheard.

“You don’t need to apologize,” he says, pinching the bridge of his nose. “If anyone should, it’s me. I’m rather… severe. When it comes to who I trust. And from whom I accept help.” Apparently Montparnasse makes that cut, which is bizarre.

Grantaire, bless him, isn’t offended. He nods. He seems to understand, which makes Enjolras so grateful he could choke on it. “I can tell that things aren’t great,” Grantaire says carefully. “I just want to say that– I’m sorry. For whatever it is. And I hope things are okay.” He scrubs awkwardly at the hair at the base of his neck.

“I– thank you.” Enjolras watches the red flush that lingers, ghost-like, on Grantaire’s face. “It will all be fine.”

“Good.” Grantaire ducks his head and gestures back towards everyone else in the green room. “I’ll just–”

It’s Enjolras’s turn to reach out and take him by the wrist, though he lets go almost immediately. Grantaire’s eyes snap to him. “Feuilly and I are having a movie night on Saturday, since we can sleep in on Sunday,” Enjolras tell him. “You should join us.”

Grantaire’s best surprised grin blooms on his face. “That would be nice,” he says.

*

When Enjolras arrives in the green room on Friday, with a scarf wrapped around his neck and a cup of coffee in his hands, Cosette is already there. She’s sitting primly in a yellow plastic chair while Prouvaire winds fake flowers into her hair.

“Hello, Enjolras!”

He drops his messenger bag and script on the desk by the door and goes to sit on the floor by her feet, safely out of Prouvaire’s way. Cosette beams at him and tries to reach forward to play with his hair without disturbing Prouvaire.

“I was trying to convince Éponine to let me use fresh flowers for this,” Prouvaire says down to Enjolras. “But she said it would be too much of a hassle to buy them each day, and pick them up off of the stage.”

“I offered to buy the flowers,” Cosette chimes in.

“And she still said no.” Prouvaire sighs. “This would be easier if your hair was braided, Cosette, but I feel like that would be too orderly for a madwoman.”

Something sad and plaintive is playing from Cosette’s phone, which is set on the table among the flowers. Enjolras recognizes it vaguely as being from a musical in which Courfeyrac had played a role, though Enjolras can’t remember the name.

“We’re playing Ophelia songs,” Cosette says, tugging lightly on Enjolras’s hair. “Grantaire and I have been trying to put together playlists for everyone’s characters.”

“They’ve been naming them very creatively, too,” Prouvaire says. “My favorite is called Hamlet: he that was mad and sent into England.”

“It has a lot of shitty British rock on it,” Cosette confesses.

Enjolras smiles and tips his head back to look into her eyes. “Are you okay?” he asks softly. That question has been falling out of his mouth too often lately, and he knows he can’t solve all of her problems for her, but he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about the silver tears in Cosette’s eyes the night before.

The smile on Cosette’s face now is very sweet. “Everything is brilliant,” she says gently. “I’ll tell you about it soon– it’s all very new.”

“Okay,” Enjolras says. He drops his chin down again so Cosette can keep playing with his hair. A few minutes later he says, “You should come to our movie night on Saturday.”

Cosette and Prouvaire accept with pleasure.

Enjolras’s hair has several small, intricate braids wound into it by the time the other actors have all gathered in the green room. It earns him several amused looks, especially from Feuilly and Grantaire.

“I forgot to tell you, you were right about that Mavot,” Éponine says to him when she arrives. “He’s a good reporter, but he’s a dick.”

Enjolras grimaces. “I wouldn’t have pointed him in your direction if I didn’t think it would help,” he says apologetically. Éponine waves him off.

“It’ll get us a lot of attention, and I’m glad about that. He was just a dick. He wanted to focus on how our cast has so many diverse actors.”

Enjolras blinks and looks around. “What, Feuilly? And Bossuet?” He can’t keep from laughing incredulously.

“I know, right?” Éponine runs a hand through her dark hair. “He mentioned you too, though, as part of the theatrical crusade against racism. And then he asked what race I was before I finally get him talking about something else.”

“For fuck’s sake.”

She claps him on the shoulder. “It’ll be worth it,” she says solidly.

Then she has to run and confer with Bahorel, so it falls to Enjolras to speak to all of the actors before they begin the rehearsal.

“Last night of rehearsal before tech week,” he says to them all. Their faces are all turned towards him, excited and trusting. He hadn’t ever expected to care as much as he does. “Don’t let your energy fail you; don’t try to change anything without permission. We’re focusing on act five tonight and I want it to be performance-ready, understand?” He makes eye contact with as many of the actors as he can, though his gaze alights on Grantaire’s face more than anyone else’s. “Be good. I have faith in you all. Now, get to your places– we’re starting from ‘Is she to be buried in a Christian burial that willfully seeks her own salvation?’”

The actors scatter. Enjolras doesn’t follow them to watch the start of the scene; he stays back with Grantaire and Feuilly, who are running lines together in the short time before they enter. Enjolras reads the part of the first clown for them to play off of. “This same skull, sir, was Yorick’s skull, the King’s jester.” He doesn’t have the skull prop so he lays a hand atop his own head instead.

Grantaire plays along by laying his hand on top of Enjolras’s. “This?” he demands, giving Enjolras’s head a shake.

He and Feuilly are mostly in costume; for Grantaire, that means that he’s dressed in a white button-down shirt and black pants with shiny black shoes. He doesn’t have his cape on at the moment, but he holds his shoulders back nonetheless.

Feuilly is similarly dressed in gray, with a vest of darker gray and maroon. Everyone’s outfits are slightly anachronistic as far as identifying a time period goes, but Éponine had decided that was best, after much time spent conferring with Prouvaire. Prouvaire had been very sad about not being able to stuff anyone into a doublet, but he eventually agreed.

Enjolras nods in answer to Grantaire’s question. “E’en that.”

“Let me see.” Grantaire cradles Enjolras’s head in his hands and pulls him away from the wall so he can inspect Enjolras’s face thoroughly. They both fight valiantly to keep a smile from the corner of their mouths. Grantaire keeps going. “Alas, poor Yorick. I know him, Horatio– a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred my imagination is! My gorge rises at it.” In the background, Feuilly does not try to contain his laughter.

Their faces are very close together, and Grantaire is still watching Enjolras intently. When he speaks again, his voice is not as mocking. “Here hung those lips which I have kissed I know not how oft,” he says.

Oh, fuck, Enjolras thinks. He doesn’t catch the next few lines out of Grantaire’s mouth. He closes his eyes instead, to clear his mind. Literally what the fuck.

“Prithee, Horatio, tell me one thing.”

“What’s that, my lord?”

“Dost though think Alexander looked o’ this fashion i’th’ earth?”

“You have to go onstage soon,” Enjolras interrupts, opening his eyes. Grantaire is still very close, but he smiles and releases Enjolras jaw.

“E’en so,” Feuilly says. “Come on, R.” The two of them push through the door into the wings, leaving Enjolras in the green room.

He takes a deep breath.

“That was interesting,” Prouvaire says.

Enjolras spins around. Prouvaire is sitting on the hideous pink couch with Boissy; the two of them are mending a pair of white shirts. They also both have raised eyebrows and devilish expressions.

“Not one word,” Enjolras tells them both severely.

By the time he makes it into the theater, the actors have already covered the first few pages. Enjolras goes to sit in his familiar seat next to Éponine and watch the burial.

Ophelia’s grave is not set down in the stage as one would expect, but up on a raised platform, the better for the audience to see when Laertes jumps on it to mourn. It’s a masterpiece of carpentry, made entirely by Bahorel, and it dominates the scene of Ophelia’s funeral. The other actors are all circled around it.

Grief plays prettily across Montparnasse’s elegant face as he climbs up onto the platform. “Hold off the earth awhile, till I have caught her once more in mine arms,” he pleads. He kneels over Cosette’s– Ophelia’s– body and leans down to embrace her. Their chestnut heads, bent close together, are as alike as any siblings could be.

Hamlet circles the platform with his eyes fixed upon Laertes’s kneeling figure. His words are slow and full of vitriol. “What is he whose grief bears such an emphasis, whose praise of sorrow conjures the wand’ring stars and makes them stand like wonder-wounded hearers?” He vaults himself up onto the platform and stands over Laertes like an angel of death. “This is I, Hamlet the Dane!” he cries.

Laertes launches himself at the Prince and knocks him backwards off the platform. “The devil take thy soul!” he snarls.

“Thou prayest not well,” Hamlet manages. “I prithee take thy fingers from my throat.”

Enjolras smirks to themselves as they grapple and Hamlet does his best to convince Laertes to release his grip. Everyone else on the stage is in turmoil; Gertrude cries, “Hamlet, Hamlet!”

“Good my lord, be quiet!” Horatio shouts.

Enjolras remembers when this scene had been awkward and fumbling; when Ophelia laid directly on the stage in death; when Laertes had done nothing more but press a finger to Hamlet’s throat; when the surrounding courtiers had been hesitant and unsure of how to react without drawing too much attention away from the fighting. The scene now is polished and convincing, and Enjolras is proud. He feels it, bright and golden on his tongue. The chaos looks entirely natural, and every performer knows that the hardest thing to emulate is effortlessness.

They’ve come so far.

They keep going.

They aren’t bothering with light cues tonight but Enjolras leaves his seat to go sit up with Combeferre anyway, just so they can talk about anything if it occurs to them. Combeferre is businesslike and stern when he’s in the sound booth, which is a blessing. He never presses about personal matters when he is within a theater, working. Enjolras muses that he should sit with him more often.

They don’t speak much at first, other than to share thoughts on how well Grantaire flips between sanity and insanity when he is with Horatio and Osric. Then the conversation lengthens and deepens.

“Do you have a favorite character?” Combeferre asks idly. “In Hamlet, I mean.”

Okay, so, Combeferre isn’t that focused.

“Hamlet is the obvious answer,” Enjolras says. “It’s his play, we sympathize with him the most because we hear his thoughts the most. So he’s my favorite.”

“Fair.” Combeferre props his chin on one hand and fiddles with one of the switches on the soundboard. “My favorite was always Horatio, though.”

“Why?”

“He always knows what’s up.”

Enjolras looks down at the stage. Hamlet and Horatio are standing together, conspiring. “He’s a rather passive character, isn’t he?”

“I suppose so.” Combeferre shrugs. “But I like him. He’s devoted, polite. He’s the only one who lives. The burden of telling the story falls on him.”

Onstage, Horatio is gripping Hamlet by the wrist. “You will lose this wager, my lord,” he cautions. Feuilly plays the words with just enough quiet desperation for the audience to hear and for Hamlet to ignore.

He’s right, of course. Hamlet shakes his friend off, but Horatio knows that if Hamlet goes to duel Laertes, he will die.

“And that,” Combeferre adds. He looks thoughtful. “He knows. He’s the only one that seems to know how everything is going to turn out. He can’t do anything to stop it, mostly because he loves Hamlet too much to try and tame him– for want of a better word.”

Enjolras glances at him.

Combeferre catches his eye with a rueful smile. “They do say that it’s easiest to love the characters that remind you of yourself.” His eyes go back to the stage. “I asked Grantaire the same question. He said he likes Hamlet and Horatio equally.”

They watch silently for a moment. “I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me,” Enjolras says finally.

Combeferre just shakes his head. “It doesn’t matter much, anyway.”

Hamlet is speaking with a rueful expression. “We defy augury,” he says to Horatio. “There’s a special Providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ‘tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is’t to leave betimes?” He crosses over to Horatio and lays one hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Let be,” he says softly.

Horatio nods, visibly attempting to quell his fear.

Rehearsal ends soon after that. Enjolras leaves Combeferre in the sound booth and makes his way down to the green room, where everyone is shoving each other around and getting ready to go home. They can’t leave until Éponine comes out– she had mentioned having some sort of speech for them all– but Enjolras is tired, and he wants to know what Feuilly wants to do for dinner. A quick sweep of the green room reveals that his redheaded roommate is nowhere to be found. Enjolras goes into the theater to look for him.

Music is playing very loudly, something classical and familiar. Enjolras walks into the wings and stops to stare.

Grantaire and Montparnasse are very clearly practicing their fight choreography– they’re circling each other predatorily, with their sabers held at an angle, each giving every impression of watching the other for a sign of weakness. Both of them are shirtless.

It’s like a scene from a movie, with the music providing a suitably dramatic score. As the instruments crescendo upwards, Grantaire and Montparnasse strike. They aren’t bothering with lines, just letting their bodies fall into the now-familiar paths of perfectly crafted choreography.

They’re mesmerizing like this. Both actors are tall and pale; Grantaire is more physically imposing, but Montparnasse is faster. He fights like a quicksilver fiend. Enjolras can see the notches of his spine and the jut of his shoulder blades as he moves.

When Enjolras looks at Grantaire, he gets distracted by his eyes. He has perfect control over his body, as ever, but his expression blazes with poorly-concealed glee. He looks exhilarated and his eyes are bright, bright blue.

“This is a cliché,” Enjolras complains out loud, even though there is no one there to hear him.

Feuilly and Éponine are sitting on the lip of the stage with Bahorel, and Éponine’s little brother Gavroche. They wave Enjolras over when he pokes his head out of the wings, so he goes to sit by them.

“We’ll be out in just a moment,” Éponine says. “I just wanted to have them run this once more.”

“Slow that bit down and do it again,” Bahorel calls out. “R, watch your step so you don’t trip.” Gavroche watches him in admiration.

“Who picked the music?” Enjolras mutters in Feuilly’s ear.

The redhead grins. “Bahorel picked it. He likes his fight scenes to be ‘more badass.’”

“Good,” Bahorel is saying. Enjolras glances over at him and realizes that Bahorel has one hand twined loosely with Feuilly’s, though all of his attention is still focused on the choreography. Feuilly looks happy and comfortable at his side. Enjolras nudges him and raises his brows. Feuilly flips him off.

“That should be good,” Bahorel says, as Grantaire’s last steps wind down. He taps a button on his phone and cuts off the dramatic music. “Éponine, anything to add?”

“It looks good,” she says.

Montparnasse and Grantaire have not yet broken character. They have both dropped their swords and are on the ground; Montparnasse rests heavily on one elbow, while Grantaire is on his hands and knees, breathing heavily.

Though their fight was conducted in silence, Montparnasse speaks. He stretches a trembling hand out to Grantaire and says, “Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet.”

Hamlet looks at him. Then he painfully crawls to Laertes’ side and embraces him. Laertes grips him by the shoulders and tries to look him in the eye. “Mine and my father’s death come not upon thee,” he says fiercely, “nor thine on me.”

Hamlet releases him. Laertes falls onto his back, dead.

Grantaire glances at Éponine. She nods at him to continue, so he takes a deep breath and addresses Montparnasse’s body. “Heaven make thee free of it! I follow thee.” He looks around for Feuilly, who goes swiftly to kneel by his side. Hamlet grips his wrist.

“I am dead, Horatio. Wretched Queen, adieu!
You that look pale and tremble at this chance,
That are but mutes or audience to this act,
Had I but time– as this feel sergeant Death
Is strict in his arrest– O, I could tell you–
But let it be. Horatio, I am dead,
Thou liv’st. Report me and my cause aright
To the unsatisfied.”

He falls into the circle of Horatio’s arms.

“Never believe it.” Horatio casts about for an invisible goblet, his eyes filled with suicidal resolve. “I am more an antique Roman than a Dane,” he insists. His eyes are locked on Hamlet. “There’s yet some liquor left.”

Hamlet twists himself up and grabs Feuilly by the wrist. “As thou’rt a man, give me the cup,” he insists. Their faces are very close, their lines said almost into each other’s mouths, and Enjolras can tell that Éponine has given them leave to show Hamlet and Horatio as very, very in love. It’s a reading that he particularly likes. As he watches, Hamlet flings the imaginary cup away from himself and collapses once more onto Horatio’s lap.

“O God, Horatio, what a wounded name,
Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me!”

He breaks off to cough.

“If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,” he says, fighting to keep his voice even, “absent thee from felicity awhile, and in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain to tell my story.” He reaches for Horatio’s hand.

They pause for a moment, not looking away from each other, and Enjolras knows that they’re allowing space for the parts spoken by the other characters in the scene, who announce the arrival of Fortinbras. He wishes he had his script on him; he could give them the correct lines. Before he can offer to go get it, Hamlet begins his final lines, and Enjolras settles and listens to him speak.

“The potent poison quite o’ercrows my spirit.
I cannot live to hear the news from England,
But I do prophesy th’election lights
On Fortinbras. He has my dying voice.
So tell him, with th’occurents, more and less,
Which have solicited.”

The words are given their weight and measure very carefully in Hamlet’s mouth. “The rest is silence,” he finishes, in a low voice. His dark head falls back against Horatio’s chest.

“Now cracks a noble heart.” Horatio says softly. He brushes Hamlet’s hair out of his face and gently closes his eyelids. “Goodnight, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

For a moment, the stage is very quiet.

“Right,” Éponine says. “Good.”

Enjolras covers his eyes with one hand while Bahorel helps Feuilly to his feet.

“Into the green room with you all,” Éponine says. She pauses to put a hand on Grantaire’s shoulder and speaks into his ear. Enjolras can’t hear the words that pass between them, but Grantaire’s expression is completely broken open. He squeezes Éponine’s hand and then goes to put on his shirt.

Enjolras averts his eyes and follows Feuilly, Bahorel, and Gavroche into the green room.

Once they reach the rest of the cast, Éponine hops up on a table so that she can be sure she has everyone’s attention.

“Friends,” she says loudly, “I regret to inform you that next week is our last week of rehearsal before opening night, on Friday evening.”

Grantaire wails in false fear, and everyone joins in within a few moments, filling the green room with a cacophony of caterwauling.

Éponine quiets them like a maestro before an unruly orchestra. “No need to fear,” she cries. Her voice is loud enough to fill up the space alone. “This is the final stretch. I’m proud of you all, of the time you’ve put in, the work you’ve done– all of it. This is going to be the best production of Hamlet this city has ever seen.”

“Hear, hear!” Feuilly calls out. The room bursts into sound again, until Éponine reigns them in again.

“As a treat,” she calls, “I’m giving you Sunday off.”

Another explosion of noise. Enjolras has to laugh at how easy it is to set off the actors and crew; he supposes it only makes sense for them to have a lot of tension that needs to be released, this close to the performance.

“I expect you all here on Monday, ready to work hard and finalize every single aspect of this show!” Éponine shouts over them. “So: full dress rehearsal tomorrow, starting at noon and ending when I’m satisfied. On Sunday you can sleep in, eat, drink lots of water, run your errands, get laid–”

Someone shoves Grantaire. “Not likely, for some of us!”

“Fuck you!”

Éponine keeps going, as though she hadn’t been interrupted. “Then let the hell start. I expect all of you to be here on time every day, or god help me I will string you up by your feet from the traveler curtains on opening night.”

“I’d like to see you try!” Joly and Bossuet call in unison. They make a show of flinching back and cringing when Éponine raises an eyebrow at them.

“Sleep well tonight,” Éponine finishes. “I’ll see you all bright and early tomorrow.” Then she claps her hands and jumps down off the table.

*

The Saturday rehearsal is a complete disaster, which everyone takes as an excellent sign. A spotlight burns out in the middle of one of Grantaire’s soliloquys, plunging him into darkness; Joly and Bossuet miss a cue and bring an entire scene come to a grinding halt; Montparnasse misplaces his saber and comes onstage without it, which almost leads to the dueling scene being battled out hand-to-hand before Éponine and Enjolras intervene.

“We should totally make it a boxing match,” Grantaire complains as Enjolras hauls him backwards. “I know how to box, it would be great.”

“How would you poison him, then? With your boxing gloves?”

Grantaire beams at him. “Enjolras, you’re a fucking genius. We should tell Éponine.”

Enjolras sends him back into the wings with a rough shove. “Go.”

And they start the scene over again.

Grantaire is given the final part of his costume that day. At the end of rehearsal everyone gathers around and watches him kneel before Éponine, who carefully places a circlet of gold atop his head. It looks striking against his dark curls, and Enjolras isn’t the only one who whoops and claps when Grantaire looks up, beaming, at them all.

“A crown fit for a prince!” Feuilly yells.

It takes several minutes for everyone to quiet down so Éponine can give them their final notes.

They’re done by late afternoon, much to the relief of everyone involved. Even Éponine looks pleased, but tired, and she sends everyone home for their day of rest with merry threats about tech week.

Enjolras, Grantaire, and Feuilly head back together to get ready for movie night. The sun hasn’t set yet but the streets are filled with shadows, since the light can’t make it over the buildings of Manhattan. The sky is a gentle blue. The air is cold on Enjolras’s tongue. He wishes he had a cigarette.

“You play Hamlet and Horatio very close,” he says at one point. He’s still thinking about the rehearsal from yesterday. “I like it.”

“That makes it all the more devastating, though,” Feuilly says thoughtfully. He has an apple from somewhere that he keeps tossing form hand to hand. His hair makes a perfect copper halo around his head.

“It could be worse,” Grantaire says. “Sometimes Horatio dies too.”

Feuilly makes a wounded noise and clutches at his chest. Enjolras tilts his head thoughtfully. “How does he die?”

“Fortinbras kills him.” Grantaire shrugs. “Or he actually drinks the rest of the poison in the cup. Or he tries to kiss the poison off of Hamlet’s lips.”

“What, really?”

Grantaire grins and reaches to run his fingers tenderly down the side of Feuilly’s face. Feuilly responds by pushing Grantaire sideways, pinning his shoulders against the brick front of a building, and kissing him soundly on the mouth.

Enjolras gapes at the pair of them. Feuilly resurfaces a moment later, looking inordinately pleased with himself.

“I will kiss thy lips,” Grantaire quotes wickedly from where he’s slumped against the wall. “Haply some poison yet doth hang on them.”

“Wrong play,” Enjolras says in a daze as Feuilly swats the side of Grantaire’s head. “And shouldn’t Feuilly say that?”

The redhead bites into his apple. “I don’t think the world is ready for that mash-up.”

“Horatio and Hamlet,” Grantaire says from a step behind him. “Instead of Romeo and Juliet. West Side Story ending so Juliet– in this case Horatio– stays alive to tell the story. We have to tell Éponine.”

“You just want an excuse to make out with me on stage,” Feuilly laughs. Enjolras realizes abruptly that he has drawn to a complete stop. He clears his throat and start walking again.

“I feel like you shouldn’t change that sort of thing right before tech week,” Enjolras says. He feels foolish and clumsy, as though he’s going to trip with every step.

“Éponine would kill us,” Feuilly says cheerfully. He takes another bite of his apple.

“We’re going to be eating dinner soon,” Enjolras reminds him with a frown. “You’ll spoil your appetite.”

Grantaire laughs at them both from. “You really are an old married couple.”

“Enjolras wouldn’t want to marry me,” Feuilly says with mock sadness. “The only mistresses that can keep him happy are paper and newsprint.”

“That’s a rather loveless existence.”

“Yes, but it suits him well.”

“Fuck both of you,” Enjolras says mildly as they reach the door to his and Feuilly’s building.

“At least I don’t have to worry that Bahorel is breaking up your marital bliss,” Grantaire teases. Feuilly gets a rather sheepish grin on his face but doesn’t bother denying it.

“I would be more concerned that you’re breaking up their marital bliss,” Enjolras mutters.

“What Grantaire and I have is special,” Feuilly says, deadpan. “Bahorel understands.”

Grantaire grins. Enjolras rolls his eyes and starts up the uneven wooden stairs.

They start making dinner as soon as they reach the apartment, helped along by the arrival of several of their friends, and then migrate to the living room to start on the stack of truly terrible Shakespeare movies that they collectively own.

It’s almost comical how everyone jams themselves together on Enjolras and Feuilly’s small couch and on the floor. Plates and bowls are passed around and food is fought over good-naturedly. Enjolras and Feuilly do their best to play good hosts and get everyone something to drink, but it isn’t long before everyone insists that they sit down so they can start out the night.

They stay up ungodly late, working their way through the good, bad and dirty of Shakespeare adaptations, including things like Kenneth Branagh’s work (which belong to Combeferre) but also cinematic masterpieces like She’s the Man (which belongs to Joly and Bossuet).

The evening is all the more hilarious because Grantaire refuses to condemn any production as all bad.

“I actually really love this one,” he’ll say. “Wait, okay, come on. This one is a fucking masterpiece.” Joly and Bossuet laugh themselves silly over him.

They aren’t afraid to shout at the shows and characters, or quote their favorite parts aloud. At one point Feuilly stands up and gives a flawless performance of the letter scene in 10 Things I Hate About You (which Courfeyrac brought).

It’s a beautiful evening.

“Are you crying?” Enjolras asks during Private Romeo.

“Fuck you,” Montparnasse and Bahorel both mumble.

Everyone has contributed enough food and movies to get them through the entire night, if they want, but people start trickling out a little past midnight. Cosette leaves when The Lion King is done, after pressing a kiss to everyone’s cheeks. Joly, Bossuet, Combeferre and Courfeyrac duck out after Much Ado About Nothing. Montparnasse disappears at one point, though no one is sure when, and Prouvaire leaves a little after that.

It isn’t long before the group has dwindled down to only Enjolras, Feuilly, Bahorel, and Grantaire.

They call it quits after Macbeth. Enjolras’s eyes are burning. Feuilly stands up right away, then almost loses his balance when he’s overtaken by a massive yawn. He looks blearily around the room. “Let me speak to th’ yet unknowing world how these things came about,” he recites to himself. He continues to mumble the rest of the lines as he staggers from the room and goes to collapse in his own bed. Bahorel laughs and follows him after bidding Enjolras and Grantaire goodnight. Both Enjolras and Grantaire look after them fondly.

“You have an actual cat for a roommate.”

“I know.” Enjolras leans back more comfortably against the couch. “I’ve lived with Feuilly for so long. It would be weird not to have him around.” He likes having Bahorel around too. It’s nice.

“You said you met Feuilly in college, right?” Grantaire asks tentatively. He clearly doesn’t want to pry too deeply into Enjolras’s past, but Enjolras feels like Grantaire deserves his honesty.

“We were roommates my sophomore year,” he says. “So he was there when I changed my major and stuff. He helped me through the worst of it. He’s great.”

“Changing your major was that bad? Did you realize you were a lesbian at the same time?”

Enjolras levels Grantaire with a glare.

“Fun Home joke, sorry. I couldn’t help it.”

“It’s fine.” Enjolras takes a drink of his wine. “It’s one of those, like, tragic backstory things.”

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

“I know.” Enjolras sighs, and decides to let it go. “I had those, like, overbearing theater parents,” he says. “The bad kind. I went into theater in college because they wanted me to. And then halfway through sophomore year I quit. I would have quit university completely if it weren’t for people like Feuilly and Ép. I switched to journalism instead and, ah, my parents disowned me.”

“Holy fuck.”

The story is worse. Enjolras has memories and scars that he isn’t going to display now. Someday. He’ll tell Grantaire about it all someday. But not now. He shrugs. “It had a lot of negative connotations for me. Theater. I don’t go to shows often, and I definitely haven’t been a part of one since college.”

Grantaire looks distressed. “Why did you do this, then?” he demands. “Feuilly and Ép didn’t pressure you, did they?”

Enjolras grabs his wrist. “I walked into this willingly,” he says sternly. “Of course they tried to convince me. But I came into this project with my eyes wide open. It wasn’t about doing what they wanted me to.”

“But they shouldn’t have–”

Enjolras cuts him off. “They didn’t do anything wrong.” He knows they never would have pushed too hard. “I’ve been fine this whole time. The things that have bothered me– the things that have made me remember– it isn’t the stage, or the curtains, or the green room. I’m glad that I’ve done this. I’m glad I came back.”

Grantaire looks down to where Enjolras still has a tight grip on his wrist. Enjolras lets go.

“The concept of free will,” Grantaire says quietly. “I suppose it makes all the difference when you’re doing things because you want to.”

“You say that like you don’t have free will.”

“I was thinking about Hamlet, actually.” Grantaire gives Enjolras his best crooked smile. “Heaven forbid I go five minutes without talking about it, right? Sorry. I don’t mean to hijack your story.”

“It’s not much of a story,” Enjolras says. “I don’t mind talking about Hamlet instead.”

“Normally I would love to indulge you but I think my eyes will actually rebel if I attempt to keep them open any longer.”

Enjolras cranes his neck around to look at the clock. “Oh fuck,” he says. “Yeah. I should go to bed.” He looks back at Grantaire. “You good here on the couch?”

“As always.” Grantaire waves him off. “Go to bed, Enjolras.”

“Don’t order me around in my own apartment,” Enjolras grumbles. But he goes.

*

Feuilly has work on the morning. Enjolras wakes up right when the redhead is heading out, with a promise that he’ll be home as soon as his shift is over so they can enjoy their last day of peace before tech week. Enjolras drags himself out of his room once he hears the door close behind him and Bahorel.

Grantaire is asleep on the couch, which is familiar. One elegant hand is thrown over his eyes while the other stretches up over his head. He isn’t in his day clothes, for once. Enjolras recognizes the old cast t-shirt he wears as one that belongs to Feuilly.

When all of this is over, Grantaire won’t likely be taking up residence on their couch as often as he has these past few weeks. Enjolras realizes abruptly that he’s never even seen Grantaire’s apartment. He knows that the other man lives alone; maybe he comes to seek company as well as additional practice. The thought makes the corners of Enjolras’s mouth turn down slightly.

He brings the prompt book and the set sketches into the living room so he can keep an eye on Grantaire while he works. Sunlight warms his spine and shoulders as he sifts through his papers and makes notes. Every time Grantaire shifts in his sleep, Enjolras looks up to see if he’s awake, but the dark-haired man doesn’t fully open his eyes until almost noon.

Enjolras is humming lightly as he types up the program. He stops as soon as he notices, but the damage is done: when he looks up to check on Grantaire, Grantaire is looking back.

“Sorry,” Enjolras says immediately.

Grantaire shakes his head. He stays silent for a long moment, so Enjolras looks back down at his computer and keeps typing. Finally, Grantaire clears his throat and says, “You have a halo of gold.” His voice is rough with sleep.

It takes an immense amount of willpower for Enjolras to not reach up reflexively and run his hand through his hair. He pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose instead. “I can make breakfast, if you’re hungry,” he offers.

“You don’t have to feed me.” Grantaire sits up and stretches. When Enjolras glances at him, his eyes catch on the sharp edge of Grantaire’s hipbones. He quickly looks back down at his computer.

He almost jumps in surprise when a large pile of blankets lands on the ground next to him, followed by Grantaire, who curls up in the sun like an overgrown black cat. He sighs in contentment. Within moments he appears to be asleep again, which gives Enjolras ample opportunity to look him over.

Grantaire has an odd face, and not a particularly pretty one. With a touch of resentment, Enjolras remembers Boissy’s comments as she struggled to find him a costume, and then another time when she had despaired over finding the right shade of stage makeup. Why should that matter, when Grantaire is kind and funny? Why should that matter, when his face is so full of Hamlet’s towering passion?

He likes this, Enjolras realizes. His fingers hesitate over the keyboard. He likes Grantaire in his sunshine apartment in the morning, asleep in a pile of blankets on the floor, or reluctantly letting Enjolras make him breakfast. The routine seems familiar. When they aren’t buried in scripts or staying up with Feuilly to laugh at horrendous adaptations, what will they do?

Hopefully Grantaire will still want to come around, when all of this is over. Enjolras gets back to typing the notes and lets Grantaire stay curled up at his side.

*

Years later, when Enjolras tries to think back on the week leading up to opening night, he will mainly be preoccupied with wondering how in hell all of them managed to make it out alive.

Fantine, Mabeuf, and Myriel are the only ones that stand strong as their bastions of self-care; every other cast and crew member runs on wretchedly low levels of sleep and dangerously high amounts of caffeine.

Rehearsals start early and end late, and the extensive notes that Éponine continues to give out take even longer to get through. Though the actors complain and sigh and threaten lawsuits, they all arrive to the work eagerly and let the immortal words of Shakespeare pour out of them to the beat of their pulse. They cling to their lines like desperate sailors to their ropes, even as rehearsals stretch later and later.

They also spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out everyone’s makeup. Enjolras ends up wearing eyeliner more than once, because he can never escape before someone decides to try it out on him. After the third time, when Grantaire almost chokes on air at the sight of him, Enjolras begins to suspect that everyone else is doing it on purpose, to make him ridiculous.

Feuilly and Grantaire look good in eyeliner, though. Montparnasse looks almost criminally attractive in it, but he usually does anyway. Éponine tells them that they’re going to run rehearsals in full makeup all week and turns a deaf ear to all complaints about how long it takes to wash off.

Mavot’s article comes out on Monday, and the number of people calling in to the ticket office triples. Even Enjolras has to admit that it’s a good article, and he pins it up in the green room for everyone to see. Several cast members crowd around it in awe throughout the night; Enjolras reflects that they may never have seen their names in newsprint before, let alone in The New York Times. It lends a spark to everyone’s performance, but they’re still exhausted by the time Éponine releases them.

Then Éponine and Enjolras end up sleeping at the theater Tuesday night, slumped over next to each other on the couch with their scripts still in their hands. One of the younger crew members misplaced the prop list and the two of them had stayed up all night remaking it and creating copies, since the printer in the green room had long since shuffled off this mortal coil. When they wake up on Wednesday morning, bleary and exhausted and aching, Éponine orders Enjolras home to sleep until rehearsal time. He follows her instructions gladly.

He gets his court summons that day and has to fight against the urge to throw the papers out the window and abandon them to the mercy of the city streets. “I can’t deal with this right now,” he says out loud to the empty apartment. “I’ll think about it at the end of the week.”

It’s a long week.

Some fiasco with the men printing the programs has Éponine staying away from rehearsal that night, which keeps Enjolras running double-time as he takes over her portions of the work in addition to calling cues and checking props. Every single night starts out with a full run-through of the show. Afterwards, they redo any scenes that didn’t run smoothly. It’s exhausting. Even with the edits and cuts the whole thing is ridiculously long, and Enjolras doesn’t think he’s imaging the rising hysteria that shows up in Grantaire’s voice in particular as they repeat, start over, repeat the same scenes.

Enjolras catches Grantaire in the crossover hall at one point and traps him there with one hand on his shoulder. Grantaire is panting– he always takes the crossover hall at a run, god knows why– and he looks tired.

“If you die before you’re supposed to Éponine will kill you,” Enjolras tells him. “When was the last time you slept, Grantaire?”

“I slept last night.”

“For how long?”

Grantaire shrugs. He actually isn’t doing half-bad; his acting is still annoyingly perfect, he hasn’t stumbled or forgotten anything, and the dark circles under his eyes look like something Boissy did intentionally. But this close, Enjolras can tell that Grantaire is exhausted.

“Sleep in tomorrow,” Enjolras says. He’s frowning. He can’t help it. He doesn’t want any of his actors running themselves this ragged, and Grantaire’s eyes are always too heavy, in a way that speaks of some bone-deep fatigue that Enjolras cannot fathom. “Sleep in, and eat a good breakfast somewhere, for god’s sake.”

He can almost see Montparnasse rolling his eyes.

Grantaire is frowning back at him, which is uncharacteristic. He’s holding himself very still under Enjolras’s hand, and the line of his mouth is turned down. “I could say the same to you,” he says calmly.

“I’m not actively performing.”

“Doesn’t mean your job is any easier.” Grantaire ducks his chin. Some of his curls fall over his forehead, almost close enough to brush Enjolras’s jaw.

Enjolras jostles him so that he’ll look up again. “I mean it,” he says.

Grantaire sways forward and kisses him.

When Enjolras was a teenager– a time that he often does his best to forget– he was kissed on the mouth by a girl wearing a sky blue dress. She had dark brown hair and dark brown eyes and she kissed him once, quick, while the two of them were sitting on a school bus returning from an inane field trip. Enjolras pushed her away in shock, and then had to endure her hurt feelings for several months afterwards.

When Enjolras was in college– a time he remembers with only marginally more fondness– he kissed Feuilly exactly once. Neither boy had ever kissed another boy, and so a pact was made and one curious mouth was pushed against another. The experience, while better than the one with the girl in the blue dress, was never repeated.

Grantaire pulls back slightly. Enjolras chases after him to kiss him again.

Enjolras is not a scientist. He operates daily on a very limited set of givens and does not often attempt to broaden his horizons either through fieldwork or theory. After the incident with Feuilly he ruminated briefly on the two kisses he had received over the course of his life and decided that such matters were not to his liking. The conclusion was filed away and never re-tested.

To his surprise, he likes being kissed by Grantaire.

The other man is very gentle. He doesn’t try to take anything from Enjolras; he just presses forward, very softly.

Enjolras still has one hand on Grantaire’s shoulder. He’s very aware of that point of contact, though he doesn’t move, other than to angle his face slightly so that Grantaire can kiss him again. He doesn’t remember closing his eyes.

Their interruption is swift and brutal. The door to the crossover hall flies open; as Enjolras and Grantaire jerk apart, Éponine yells, “YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO SEDUCE MY STAGE MANAGER IN THE MIDDLE OF TECH WEEK.”

Enjolras presses one hand over his eyes as Grantaire starts to laugh.

Éponine puts her hands on her hips and glares at them both.

“I’ll wait until the end of the week, then,” Grantaire says. He raises his eyebrows at Éponine and lifts Enjolras hand to his mouth so he can press a kiss to the knuckles. “Until then, Enjolras.”

Then he pushes his way through the door and into the wings.

Enjolras is left standing in the hallway with Éponine, feeling as though he’s taken the full force of a thunderstorm to the chest. “I, I don’t,” he tries to say. He stops. Breathes. Looks at Éponine. “What?”

“I’m sending you to the ticket office in my place,” she tells him. Her tone is stern but a smile is playing across the corners of her mouth. “Hopefully you’ll have more luck than I’ve had.”

Enjolras takes the clipboard from her and doesn’t move as she goes back into the green room, letting the door swing shut behind her. He feels curiously numb, except for his mouth, which is hyper-sensitive in an odd and unusual way.

“Oh,” he says out loud. Then he shakes his head and pushes his way out of the crossover hall. He’s a professional, dammit, and he has a job to do. Everything else can wait until the end of tech week.

He goes to terrorize the man in the ticket office and emerges victorious just as rehearsal is officially letting out. Something ill-defined is burning underneath his sternum, but he recognizes it. It belongs to this theater and this play. It belongs to the sunshine in the early morning and the cold kitchen floor under his feet when he makes breakfast. It belongs to Grantaire.

He can hear Cosette’s voice from the hallway. She’s loudly quoting something, and she sounds happy, and Enjolras stops in the green room door to watch a curious scene unfolding before his eyes.

“–told me, ‘All right then, get thee to a nunnery, or go get married to a fool!” Cosette cries. She and Prouvaire are dancing around Grantaire and pulling at the edges of his dark blue cloak to make him spin.

“It was the sort of thing that princes always say!” Prouvaire continues in jubilation. “But these are words that one remembers!” Grantaire laughs loudly and ducks down to haul the shorter poet up onto his shoulders while Cosette shrieks with joy.

Prouvaire spreads his hands wide to finish the poem: “May they flow a hundred centuries in a row,” he recites, as Grantaire flings his cloak out dramatically, “like an ermine mantle from his shoulders!” Then Prouvaire throws his arms straight up in the air and cries, “Akhmatova!” Enjolras has no idea what the name is supposed to mean, but every other cast member takes it as their cue to shout and applaud. Cosette turns to face them all and curtsies very prettily, but Grantaire doesn’t dare bow with Prouvaire still on his shoulders. He waves his hands elaborately instead.

Oh, Enjolras thinks again. And then, Not until the end of the week.

It’s a very long week.

The Thursday night rehearsal is tense but spectacular. Everyone is acting smoothly and remembering every line and hitting every single one of the impossible number of cues. Éponine looks like she could weep for joy at every scene break, and Enjolras keeps beaming into the headset as he stands by her side with the prompt book.

He’s lost track of the number of times he’s watched Grantaire die– that’s what he sees, of course, Grantaire only acts when he’s offstage– but he still positions himself in the wings so he can watch. There’s a familiar ache in his throat to accompany the somber lights and devoted words. Hamlet dies, Horatio bows his head over him, and the play draws to a close in Fortinbras’s fist.

Éponine strides out onstage as soon as the last lines are done. “I’ve ordered you all pizza,” she tells them, and she gets several cheers for it. “Enjolras and I are going to pick it up now. Practice your bows with Combeferre and we’ll be in the green room by the time you’re done.”

Enjolras, though he hadn’t been privy to this plan, follows her devotedly as she leaves the theater. It’s dark out but the air has not yet dropped to an unbearable temperature.

“It’s tomorrow,” he says dazedly as they walk down the street. “Ép, fuck, it’s tomorrow.”

Her smile is wide and terrifying. “I know,” she says. “I know.”

The pizza parlor is only two blocks down from the theater. Enjolras hadn’t even known it was there. It has all of the hallmarks of a good New York City pizzeria, from the buzzing neon lights in the windows to the cramped interior and the overwhelming smells of grease and cheese. Éponine sits down at one of the tables to wait for their order. Enjolras slips into the bathroom.

He catches sight of his reflection when he’s washing his hands, and he takes a long, considering look at his own face. His hair has grown slightly too long. He doesn’t look tired, which is a blessing, but exhaustion has never been very prominent on his dark skin. He smiles and enjoys the stark contrast of his white teeth. He frowns and notices how easily his skin falls into lines of worry and stress.

Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.

His hands have almost completely dried. Enjolras gives himself a shake and pushes his way out the swinging door.

One of the workers sets the stack of pizza boxes on the counter and calls out Éponine’s name just as Enjolras reaches her table. Éponine throws her credit card at him before he can sit down. “Go pay,” she says. Enjolras rolls his eyes and goes up to the counter.

His hand freezes right before he can forge Ép’s signature on the dotted line of the credit card receipt. The tiny printed name– and the name on the card, too, once he checks– is Éponine Thénardier.

He takes the pizzas back to the table. He sits down. He hands Éponine her credit card and says, “I thought your last name was Jondrette.”

Her expression goes grim and pointed and she doesn’t meet his eyes. This is more like the girl that Enjolras remembers from college: razor-sharp and as fidgety as a child.

“My legal name is still Thénardier,” she says slowly. She plays with the card in her hands. The movement is restless and uncomfortable. “And yes. That Thénardier. But I haven’t spoken to my father since I was seventeen.”

Enjolras stares at the ridiculously-patterned table. A sharp ache is developing between his temples. All he can manage to say is, “Oh my god.”

She narrows her eyes.

Enjolras rubs the bridge of his nose. “I didn’t tell you why I was fired from the New York News-Review, did I?”

“No.”

He lays his palms flat on the table and leans toward her. “Ép, I was fired for an article I wrote about your father.”

Her mouth twists into a distasteful curl. “You should have known better,” she says automatically.

“I really should have.” Enjolras feels ridiculous, having this conversation in the middle of a pizza parlor with the glow of neon lights all over his face and hands. His heart is beating madly in his chest. “I was in over my head. But, Éponine–”

“No.”

He tries again. “Ép–”

“Absolutely not.” She picks up the pizza boxes and glares at him. “I made a decision a long time ago that I wasn’t going to run with reporters to expose the shit my dad gets up to. If you want to get him, you have to do it without my help.”

“Just like you’re doing this play without my help?” Enjolras stands up and takes the boxes from her. He’s taller, but he doesn’t use it to be intimidating. Éponine could thrash him in a fight any day of the week. “I’m doing all of this as a favor to you. Right now your father is suing me and trying to say that I made everything up.”

Éponine grimaces.

“It’s all true, and you know it, don’t you?” Enjolras asks. He tries to keep from sounding too insistent. “I have no witnesses that will see me anymore, I have nobody to back me up– do I have you?”

She takes the pizza boxes back. “I can carry these myself,” she tells him. Then she bites her lip and stares him down for a long moment. Something in her expression breaks. “We have to get through opening night without fucking everything up.”

“Of course,” Enjolras says. He can feel his pulse, rabbit-quick, in his wrists. “I know that.”

“We’ll talk about it,” she promises. Her eyes are shuttered and upset but the line of her mouth is firm. “But Hamlet comes first.”

“Of course,” Enjolras says again.

Everything is moving too quickly. Éponine keeps up a determined stream of conversation all the way back to the theater but Enjolras barely participates. He doesn’t feel his feet hit the pavement; he can hardly hear over the rushing in his ears. It’s like the streets of New York City have flooded and he is being swept down the avenues by an all-encompassing rush of water, past the theater, past his apartment, past his old office. His body feels too small to contain every street and lamppost and skyscraper but he is so full of it all that his hands are shaking. He’s talking to Éponine but he is also floating past her, and he is also suspended among the clouds above her head.

It’s a windy day. His hair is blown straight back from his face. Looking down the street gives Enjolras an awful sense of vertigo, but he looks anyway, and tries to convince himself that he isn’t falling down, down, down the length of his city.

Thénardier will drop his case. He’ll have to, when faced with whatever evidence Éponine can give. Enjolras’s report won’t be in disgrace. He can write again. He can investigate again. He can go home.

When he goes home, after rehearsal, Feuilly is already there. Feuilly hadn’t stayed for pizza. Enjolras hadn’t stayed long either, because he was lit-up and electric and watching everyone eat made him feel like he was about to vibrate out of his own skin, so he had left.

“Why didn’t you stay?”

The lights are off in the apartment. Feuilly smiles over at him. He’s lit up all sodium-streetlight orange, pressed up against the window so he can smoke. “Nerves,” he admits. “The night before opening night is the worst. I was too anxious to stay in the theater another minute.”

Enjolras hums in agreement. His chest is cracking open. “I need to tell you something,” he says.

“I know.” Feuilly tips his head back and blows out a plume of smoke.

“You know?”

“Éponine texted me when she saw I had gone.” Feuilly isn’t looking at him. He’s perched on the windowsill like a statue, brilliant and still. “She thought I should know.”

“You know what this means, right?” Enjolras asks. “I can go back. He’ll drop the charges and I can go find another job, he won’t be able to drag the lawsuit up in front of any potential employers.”

“So that’s it, then.”

Enjolras bites his lip. “I have to go back.”

“You could stay,” Feuilly says quietly. “You could keep doing theater with all of us. This is the best city in the world for it, and you’ll have this production under your belt.” He closes his eyes when he inhales the smoke. He savors it. Enjolras has never savored anything so sweetly.

“I’m not going to,” he says softly.

Feuilly doesn’t open his eyes.

“I need to feel like I’m making a difference,” Enjolras says quietly. The lights still aren’t on, and he’s grateful. He can only say these words in the dark. “When I write, I feel like it makes things change.”

“So can theater,” Feuilly mutters.

“I know.” Enjolras bows his head. “I do know. But not in the way that I need.”

“You’ve enjoyed it though, haven’t you?” Feuilly demands. “You’ve loved every minute of this, don’t lie to me.”

“I wouldn’t lie to you. I have loved this.”

“Then why won’t you stay?”

Enjolras makes his way across the room, navigating perfectly in the dim glow from the city outside, until he can climb up on the windowsill next to his roommate. Feuilly watches him the whole time. Their feet and knees are pressed up against each other, and the lower pane of glass is cold against Enjolras’s side where he leans on it.

“I’m never going to stop being a journalist,” Enjolras says quietly. “Never. No matter how many times I papercut my fingers and wrists. No matter how many policemen try and beat me back when I’m trying to find out the truth. No matter how many politicians try to sue me.” Feuilly offers his cigarette and Enjolras gladly takes a drag. “It’s what I do and it’s what I love. Hamlet has been amazing. I wouldn’t trade these past few months for anything.” He hands the cigarette back. “But I need to go back to work.” He isn’t going to go rushing off to a warzone; he doesn’t need to be a martyr to help people. He’s going to stay here, to do the work he does best.

Feuilly watches him for a long time. They don’t speak until the cigarette has burned down to a glowing ring of orange, almost singeing Feuilly’s dark fingers. He stubs it out and takes a deep breath. “Okay,” he says. “Okay.”

*

The knock on the door comes exactly at midnight.

Feuilly is in bed but Enjolras is awake, sitting on the couch and reading a mercifully unmarked copy of the script. He looks up in surprise when he hears someone at the door, but he goes and pulls it open without a trace of fear.

“I hope you won’t find this too forward,” Grantaire says, “but tech week is technically over, isn’t it?”

Enjolras has to fight to keep a smile off of his face. Grantaire looks hesitant and bashful in the dim lighting of the hallway, but he fixes his eyes on Enjolras with affection.

“I didn’t ask Éponine for the exact boundary, unfortunately,” Enjolras admits.

Grantaire presses one hand to his heart. “Thwarted again! You don’t know how my poor heart suffers.”

His eyes are still bright. He would turn around and leave if Enjolras asked him too, and that is perhaps what makes Enjolras take a step back and open the door. He bites his lip and raises his eyebrows at Grantaire. “We could talk, at least?”

They won’t be able to stay up for very long. Grantaire needs his sleep; opening night is tomorrow, fuck. But Enjolras doesn’t want him to leave. He wants to talk. He wants to make breakfast with Grantaire in the morning and sit where the sun can fall on their shoulders. He wants to tell him everything.

Grantaire’s eyebrows go up as well and he ducks his head. “If you’ll have me,” he says. “I’m sure I can dredge up more maudlin analysis of Hamlet, if you’d like.”

Enjolras reaches out his hand. “I’m being sued, and Éponine is going to save me,” he says. Saying the words out loud makes him want to laugh until there is no more breath in his lungs. Grantaire’s head snaps up; he looks stunned. He reaches out to take Enjolras’s hand as the blond smiles and says, “Won’t you come in?”

He draws Grantaire inside.

“It seems like there’s always more to you than I’m expecting,” Grantaire says. He turns Enjolras’s hand over so he can kiss his palm. His mouth is very warm.

“I could say the same about you,” Enjolras says dryly. He closes the door behind him. “Will you stay?”

“If you’ll have me,” Grantaire repeats. His voice is fond.

In the morning they make pancakes. Enjolras has his glasses on and Grantaire is flipping through the unmarked script when Feuilly finds them. “I hope there’s enough syrup,” is all he says as he sits at the counter. “Good morning, Hamlet.”

“Good morning, Horatio. You ready?”

Feuilly grimaces. “Feed me and then knock me out until five o’clock, honestly.”

Grantaire’s hair is a mess of riotous curls and he looks more pale than usual. He doesn’t set the script down while he eats, but Enjolras has the prompt book at his own elbow, so he isn’t going to judge. Feuilly just puts his head down on the counter and sighs periodically, as though he’s in pain.

“It’s today,” Grantaire says at one point, looking up with a horrified expression. “It’s today.”

Feuilly slides out of his seat and directly onto the floor. “Fuck.”

The day passes far too quickly. Grantaire does eventually go home, to get changed and prepare everything he needs for the first performance. Feuilly doesn’t have work so he stress-cleans his bedroom. Enjolras leaves for the theater almost as soon as Grantaire is gone, so that he and Éponine can pull together every single last detail that still needs to be done.

It’s too fast. The past several months seem like an eternity, and now everything is moving far too quickly. It’s like waking up from too many hours of sleep. Enjolras is dizzy with it, though he keeps his outward demeanor calm.

“Did you figure everything out with Grantaire?” Éponine asks at one point.

Enjolras hums thoughtfully. “He stayed over last night.”

Éponine punches him in the arm. “You’re both fucking oblivious,” she says, but she’s smiling.

Enjolras smiles back. They keep working up until the actors begin to arrive.

Grantaire all but ambushes Enjolras as soon as he gets to the theater; he finds the blond overseeing the arrangement of the set and kisses him soundly, in the center of the stage, behind the red curtain. Enjolras has a script and a clipboard and a pencil in his hands and he can’t decide whether or not to drop them or use them to swat Grantaire away, but he isn’t exactly trying too hard to make a decision, not when Grantaire is cradling his face with his hands and kissing him as though he’s something precious. The gold circlet is already nested in his unruly curls, and he smells like makeup and hairspray. The scent is almost as familiar as the warm feeling of Grantaire’s mouth.

Enjolras has just decided to drop the clipboard (the clipboard can go fuck itself, he thinks distantly) when Grantaire pulls away. They watch each other closely. The crew members are also watching them and pretending not to. They’re being terribly obvious. It’s no wonder they aren’t actors.

But Grantaire is right there, and his expression is sweet, so Enjolras grants him a smile as he bats him away so they can both get to work.

Backstage, he encounters Éponine, who raises her impeccable eyebrows at him to such a level that he can’t even begin to discern her meaning. He gives her a one-shouldered shrug and slips on his headset.

So it goes. Where was Enjolras at the beginning of this? Where will he be when all is said and done?

The actors grip each other’s hands and hug fiercely. Cosette has her arms wrapped around Fantine; Bahorel is standing at attention next to Feuilly. Enjolras, at a signal from Éponine, pushes his mike close to his face and welcomes everyone to the theater, and asks if they would please turn off their cell phones? He can hear his own voice magnified throughout the house. It’s odd. Everything feels odd.

Everyone is in position. The actors are all on the tips of their toes. Enjolras cues Combeferre to dim the lights; Bahorel hauls on the ropes to open the curtains; it begins.

“Who’s there?” Barnardo cries. The stage is dark and full of smoke.

“Nay, answer me,” Francisco calls, entering from the other side. “Stand and unfold yourself!”

“Long live the King!” Barnardo yells back.

The play rolls forward like an unrelenting wheel, drawing everyone through the mystery and the fear. Enjolras stays still as actors and crew members rush past him. Feuilly goes onstage, followed by Myriel, who is wearing elaborate ghost make-up. Enjolras imagines he can hear the rustle of fear and interest from the audience, though he keeps all of his attention on the prompt book so he can accurately relay cues to Combeferre and Bahorel. The play is like crystal in his hands. He holds his work as delicately as he can. He loves this. He loves this.

Just before Grantaire goes onstage he kisses Enjolras again. His expression is wide-open and happy and alive in a way that Enjolras isn’t used to; he doesn’t get caught-up in the energy of opening night, he never has, but he can feel it pulsing through the cast members and in the insistent press of Grantaire’s hands on the small of his back. Enjolras still has his headset on but he pushes it away from his mouth and kisses back with a smile and a bite.

Then Grantaire lifts his head, settles his expression, and walks onstage.