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A Walk In The Dark

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Grantaire's room at college is little more than a tiny box, four walls and a laughable attempt at fitting a window into the layout, squeezed into a forgettable corner of one of the on-campus dorms. It's cramped and stuffy and on his bad days, when getting out of bed is a struggle and making it all the way to class feels entirely impossible, his whole world is reduced to that cramped space.

Right now, Grantaire would give anything to be there instead of here, because it's still a million times better than being forced to go home for the holidays. He doesn't know how to deal with this, with his parents arguing with each other as naturally as breathing, alternating between ignoring Grantaire entirely and stopping to criticise everything about him, from the holes his thumbs have worn into the sleeves of his hoodie to the way he's simply sitting there on the couch instead of doing anything. He doesn't understand why they'd been so damn insistent on him coming home, just for this.

The worst part is that the university campus isn't even that far. It's an hour and a half by train, at most, and would be even easier to get to if he had a car. He could, in theory, just go back and spend the rest of the holidays curled up in bed. The problem with that is it would only make his parents that much more difficult to deal with. No matter how badly everything might be falling apart at the seams, they insist on pretending that everything is absolutely fine where others can see and that's always been especially true when it comes to Grantaire.

The preparations for Christmas dinner might actually kill him. Both his parents are snapping at each other as they finish up their preparations before the rest of the family arrive, and Grantaire is sitting on the couch, out of the way, because he's been told that if he tries to help, he's only going to make things worse.

"Why are you just sitting there?" his mother asks sharply. "Everyone else is going to be here soon, go and get ready! Don't bother coming back downstairs until you're dressed properly."

"If only," Grantaire mutters under his breath as he walks up the stairs and to his room. It's about three times bigger than his shoebox of a dorm room, but Grantaire can't even quantify how much worse it is to be here instead.

His room is uncharacteristically clean because his mother had gone through everything while he wasn't home. She's thrown most of his things out, calling it unnecessary junk, and Grantaire doesn't even have the energy to be upset with her about it. He regrets the fact that he hadn't taken all of his paintings with him, but he supposes that everything else is replaceable if he really needs it. Perhaps his mother is onto something, perhaps everything else is just junk, but Grantaire has no interest in giving her any credit for that right now.

He rummages through his closet for something that his parents won't complain about. It's much easier said than done, considering that his parents are extremely good at finding things to complain about. He settles for a wine red button-up shirt with long sleeves. He figures that it will go with his drinks tonight, and the long sleeves give his parents one less thing to complain about, because they cover up the scars on his forearm. His parents have only ever responded to Grantaire's self-harm with anger. They hate the fact that it's an incredibly obvious sign that things aren't going as well as they like to pretend. They ignore his drinking, the way they do with most of their bigger problems, hoping that it will go away, and then growing enraged when it only worsens. At least that's something he doesn't need to deal with quite so much, now that he's living on campus. Being away from home means that he's doing a lot better than he was before and while that might not be saying much, since he's yet to have a week where he hasn't felt absolutely worthless and struggled to get out of bed, it certainly makes a big difference. The problem is, with every second he spends with his family, he can feel all of that coming undone.

He picks out a black tie for good measure, smiling humourlessly at his reflection as he yanks it up, mimicking a noose before tying it properly. He'll get through his. At least he doesn't need to do it sober.

The family dinner would be so much easier to deal with if there were any family members that Grantaire actually liked, but there aren't. As soon as he gets downstairs, he's forced to welcome family members that immediately start commenting that his hair is too long, one relative saying that he's lost too much weight while another says that he's gained too much. He settles for plastering a smile on his face and not replying to any of them as he takes their coats and scarves and hats and whatever else they load into his arms, to keep himself occupied. His relatives are all more interested in talking to his parents anyway and Grantaire is more than happy to stay in the background, hoping that they forget about him for long enough that he can slip out of the house without anyone noticing.

Of course, he's not that lucky. Once everyone has caught up on each other's lives, they all turn their attention on Grantaire together. He hasn't told his parents anything since coming home and they bring that up now, pretending that they actually care. They don't do it very convincingly, but Grantaire doesn't have the energy to call them out on it and deal with the aftermath.

He makes it all of two sentences into talking about his art degree when his uncles start questioning the point of it, instead of doing a degree that will get him a real job. His father makes a disparaging remark about Grantaire's mathematic abilities or lack thereof, and the rest of his family goes from there, making jokes at Grantaire's expense while he's stuck where he is, not making any contributions, but simply being laughed at. They don't tire of it for a long time but when they finally do, Grantaire is left hating every single member of his family, and hating himself even more.

A better person would be able to actually stand up for themselves. In fact, a better person wouldn't even end up being the butt of every joke, wouldn't be as ugly and awkward and untalented as Grantaire is. A better person would know exactly what they want to do with their life and how. They would be passionate, driven, and would be able to put their thoughts into words without ending up with the rambling mess that Grantaire barely bothers with any more because he can't stop once he gets started, even though he knows that nobody is listening and nobody cares.

Grantaire doesn't know who this better person is, but is pretty sure that he would hate them on sight.

He fills a glass to the very brim with wine, because he probably shouldn't start drinking from the bottle straight away. It still earns him a raised eyebrow from his mother but he ignores her, draining half of it in one long gulp and then topping it up before he walks away from the drinks table.

Dinner itself is just as unpleasant as Grantaire had expected. The arguments start five minutes after everyone sits down and even though Grantaire knows to shut his mouth and stay right out of it, his relatives are insistent on trying to drag him into it too, and then proceed to get angry with him when he refuses, deeming him a coward for avoiding arguments. He hasn't had enough wine to deal with this, and suspects that there is no such thing as enough wine for this kind of situation. He has another three glasses, for good measure. They don't help.

At least when dinner is over, everyone else is too drunk to pay attention to him. He goes upstairs and grabs his coat, because if he stays for much longer, he knows he's going to start looking for something sharp.

It's cold outside, but Grantaire doesn't mind that so much. He shoves his hands into his pockets and picks a random direction. It's difficult to get lost when he's lived here for so long, but he keeps walking until the streets are no longer familiar and he has to think twice before he remembers the way back home. Maybe if he just keeps going, he'll end up back at the university dorms and then he can crawl back into bed and pretend that none of this is even happening.

The streets are mostly empty, because everyone is inside where it's warm. There's only one other person out on the street, wearing a hoodie and a scarf, walking in Grantaire's direction. He's broad-shouldered, tall, and would be threatening, if not for his friendly smile as he and Grantaire walk closer to each other.

"Good night for a walk," he remarks, and Grantaire snorts quietly.

"Good night for getting the hell away from my family."

"Oh hey, me too. Except I'm kind of… giving them space from me. I think they need it right now."

"Oh?" Grantaire asks with a raised eyebrow.

"Yeah." Unzipping his hoodie, the guy shows off his shirt, black with white lettering that reads, DOES YOUR MOTHER KNOW I'M GAY. "I kind of. Came out to my whole family at once."

"Shit," Grantaire says, impressed. "And you actually walked out of the house of your own accord? Instead of being kicked out?"

The guy frowns. "Are you speaking from experience?"

"Well, I never came out to my entire family like you did," Grantaire replies with a shrug. "But if I did, I'd probably be disowned for embarrassing my parents."

"Ugh. Fuck that." The guy wrinkles his nose. He holds out a hand. "I'm Bahorel, by the way."

Grantaire takes it. Bahorel's handshake is firm. "Grantaire. Nice to meet you."

The surprising thing is that Grantaire actually means it. He's not good at dealing with people, even when he already knows them. New people are difficult and exhausting, and Bahorel is not.

"You walking anywhere in particular?" Bahorel asks, and smiles when Grantaire shakes his head. "Awesome. Me neither. You mind if we walk together?"

Grantaire gives Bahorel a genuine smile. He doesn't even remember the last time he's managed one of those. "Not at all. Lead the way."

They walk through the cold, quiet streets for over an hour, swapping stories. They find out that they go to the same university. Bahorel's family wanted him to do law, but he'd lasted all of one week before switching to business instead, and now he avoids the law faculty like the plague. He lives in an apartment close to campus with Feuilly, his workaholic friend who is working all the way through Christmas at three different jobs.

"He doesn't really have a family to go home to, so he says it doesn't matter." Bahorel's furrowed brow tells Grantaire exactly what he thinks of that. "I wanted him to come home with me for Christmas but I guess now that I think about it, that would have made the coming out thing weird, because everyone would have assumed that I'm with him. Anyway, he's a great guy. You should meet him, when we're back near campus."

Grantaire frowns slightly. "Are you sure you want to… keep me around?"

Bahorel raises an eyebrow. "Uh, yeah? We've managed to get along for a whole hour without me wanting to punch you. We're good. I mean. That's if you want to. If you don't…"

"But you don't care that I'm…?" Grantaire trails off. He'd told Bahorel about the depression, the self-harm, the drinking, everything. In one hour, he's told Bahorel more than he's told anyone else in his entire life. Upon reflection, Grantaire realises that this is partially because he doesn't actually have very many people in his life. He has passing acquaintances from the people in his course, the bars he frequents, and people that he's regularly sparred with at the gym. No actual friends.

"I don't give a fuck," Bahorel tells him. "Well, I do. Because you're dealing with all that shit and you're my friend now. But it's not going to scare me off, or whatever you're thinking."

"Oh." Grantaire smiles again. "Thanks."

"I should probably get back home and see how my family's doing," Bahorel says, "but give me your number, and we'll hang out soon. I'll see if I can bring Feuilly along too."

"That sounds good," Grantaire says, taking his phone out.

Bahorel's number is the first one he's saved into his phone since getting it. They part ways with a smile and Bahorel clapping a hand on Grantaire's shoulder, promising they'll hang out soon. Even Grantaire, paranoid and self-doubting as he is prone to being, knows that Bahorel means it.

It's a long walk home, and an even longer night ahead of him, but Grantaire tries to focus on the things he has to look forward to. In his immediate future, there are at least two wine bottles with his name on them. All he needs to do is get through tonight, then a few more days, and then he'll get to see Bahorel again.

It's odd to have something to look forward to, but it's also incredibly nice.

He can do this.