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Persuasion

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The day on which the Duke of Stamford and owner-to-be of half the South Downs found out he was engaged started with his valet poked him gingerly to ensure he was still alive, to which he replied “ngh.”

“Begging your pardon, I’m sure, Your Grace,” said a voice like a stiletto in silk, “but your aunt has asked me to ensure your wakefulness before the afternoon, and I would be very grateful if you were to oblige.”

“From your tone, I gather this is not a debateable state of affairs, Montparnasse.”

“That is certainly the impression I got, sir”

The Duke heaved himself up into existence, the covers piling around his torso, and fixed the valet with a hard stare.

“Now why the bloody hell would you agree to a thing like that?”

“I can assure you I was handsomely rewarded, Your Grace.”

“Well, I may rest easy then, as long as one of us is pleased.” He held onto one elbow behind his head and stretched. “For damages, I assume?”

Montparnasse shifted to the other foot and looked ahead.

“Quite, sir. But from yourself or others I am not sure.”

“Montparnasse.” Grantaire shifted his impressive bulk up into a more respectable sitting position. “Tell me you have now managed to dig yourself into the pockets of some other debtor.”

“Sir, I have always loved the honesty in our relationship.”

Grantaire fell backwards with a flump.

“When the Devil rises, I hope the first thing he does is take both you and your horses and have them eat you for my amusement.”

“The horses are not so much the problem, Sir, it’s the damn riders that have a mind of their own, and I can’t say I’m best pleased with this turn of events. Independent thought is so inconvenient in people who aren’t me.”

“If the horses are so fond of you, perhaps you should consider a change of profession” said his master’s voice flatly from the pillows.

“Now, I know that my master would not leave me in such a state of limbo, especially when the man to whom I am endebted appears to have the service of three larger gentlemen.”

Grantaire sat up again.

“Oh, for God’s sake Montparnasse, why?!”

Montparnasse crossed, in his catfooted step, to the table by the window and lay the breakfast tray there, trying his best to ignore all the other detritus. He picked up a sticky tumbler and deposited it smartly on the side cupboard. “I was rather hoping to win back half of last month’s wages, sir. Which, as you may recall….”

“Yes, I recall perfectly well what happened to your wages last month. There’s no need to bloody remind me.” Grantaire sat back up again, his coverlet pooling over his hands. “Just spit out the damage and let’s be done with the whole sorry state of events.”

“Twenty guineas, sir,” answered Montparnasse, trying his best to swallow a smirk.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake.” Grantaire swung his legs over the side of the bed and rubbed at his eyes, bearlike. “Still. I suppose I can’t allow you to be mashed, even if you were in the theatre...” He got up, closely followed by his valet with a heavy brocade dressing gown. He allowed himself to be shrugged into it and started towards the table, still bleary. He stopped short at the sight of his valet. “Montparnasse. You’re grinning.”

“Am I, sir?”

“Why.”

“I have no idea, Your Grace. Perhaps my newly incurred debt has given me a nervous tic.”

“You’ll be lucky if that’s all it gives you” said Grantaire darkly, although his heart wasn’t in it. “You can work of your redemption by clearing a space between me and my breakfast.”

Montparnasse stepped out of the way and stood at the foot of the bed, still trying his best to conceal his smirk. His master took a seat heavily and asked “Anything new in the world today?”

“I wouldn’t know, sir.”

Grantaire didn’t even look over to him. “Yes, well. Being up half the night intent on ruining your master will do that to a man. Give me my paper, would you?”

Montparnasse, took the paper out from behind his back and lay it on the tray, then busying himself laying out clothes for the day as noiselessly and gracefully as he could.

He had almost given up hope, and was opening the windows when he heard the exclamation from behind him:

“Oh, confound it all, Montparnasse! I am to be married!”

~*~

In a two bedroomed cottage in Brittany, earthen floored and surrounded by bushes taken from seeds (some of which were not gained particularly honestly) a woman sat cutting carrots. She’d just finished cutting the tops off the last of the strawberries, which she realised she should really have done later, and her fingers were lightly stained pink. She had had two pieces of good news today, and one was on his way back from the abbey as she sliced. She felt at peace with herself.

Cosette Fauchelevent swirled into the small family kitchen, bringing with her firewood and a sweet kiss burning her mouth.

She caught sight of the housemaid and caught hold of her waist. “Marguerite!” She squealed, beginning to swirl her around the kitchen, “Oh, my dear, sweet Marguerite, do you ever feel that the sun is out and the stars are set and the world is as right as can be?”

Marguerite flipped herself artfully out of the spin (with the air of someone who’d done it many times before) and fixed Cosette a faux-stern look over the carrots. “My sweet girl, I cannot say that I do right at this present moment. Your twirling is nauseating an- Cosette, your feet! Oh sweet Lord, they are far worse. Give them to me”

Cosette leapt backwards and attempted to hide her filthy feet under her skirt, but Marguerite caught up her skirts and peered underneath, as if she were still a child. “Why, you aren’t even wearing shoes! Oh, Cosette,” she put her carrot down in a disappointed way. “I thought you had outgrown this.”

Cosette sat at the table, smiling blithely. “Oh, I can’t help it Marguerite, I am so happy! I am so happy I could dance until they bleed, and I still wouldn’t care” And look!” From the shawl she’d been carrying on her arm, she drew three dead rabbits. “A gift for you!”

Marguerite gasped indignantly, all thoughts of mud forgotten. “My lady!”

“I made sure they did not suffer. How I hate to hurt things, Marguerite! I cannot wait for the day we no longer have to. Maybe I will have pets.” Cosette took a strawberry from the bowl Marguerite had been washing and sucked the end thoughtfully. “A dog would be nice”.

Marguerite looked at her from under her cap, trying to keep her eyes from sparkling too much. “Well. Maybe your new husband will buy you one.”

The strawberry fell bluntly onto the table. “Husband?”

Marguerite faced her full on now. “Husband, my lady.”

“Which… husband is this?” Cosette lowered her arm so it was beside the fallen strawberry. “Are we talking abstractly, or have you managed to conjure one from the air?”

Marguerite took the strawberry bowl from the table, taking note of its missing end. “Oh, my lark. We are speaking of your husband to be.”

Cosette froze for an instant, her mouth burning. Husband to be? Were they to be engaged? Had he written to ask for her hand after such a short while? Did he feel it? Did he feel it too? Oh, he must! Dear, sweet fool! Her grin threatened to eat up her face.

“Husband to be? Marguerite, you are sure?”

“As sure as I can be." The old woman finally allowed a beam to break over her face. It was like watching the sun come out from behind a cloud. She took Cosette's elbows in her hands and held them gently. "Your mother has finalised the arrangements. She was looking forward to giving you the news herself, although regrettably the strain has taken something out of her.” Marguerite lowered her voice slightly and squeezed her arm tighter. “We agreed between us it would be best if I were the one to notify you. You have had a proposal, my love. I…" she broke off, started again, looked straight in the face of her oldest friend's daughter. "I cannot pretend we were not surprised, given how beautiful you have become. And given that we have yet to meet the man-” Cosette blushed, but Marguerite didn’t seem to notice it. In fact, she flushed deeper. “Oh, Cosette, truly this is a blessing from God! To see you so happy, to see your mother so happy… and I truly believe that being back in England will do her good, Cosette, truly I do….”

Marguerite carried on talking, but Cosette had felt her face freeze.

England?

Then the bottom dropped out of her heart.

 

~*~

“What do you meeeeeean¸ you have not heard!!” Courfeyrac, a moving exclamation mark with excitement, wheeled about in his chair the best he could. “My darling Combeferre, it is the only news. And you, who know everything!” He smoothed the front of his frock coat and reclined slightly further backwards, enjoying this rare position of superior knowledge over his oldest friend. “I must say, that in itself is almost more impressive than what I have to tell you. I should savour this moment for posterity’s sake, break it out when I am most in need. Oh Combeferre, you sweetest of devils.”

Combeferre looked grimly at the floor, rolled his eyes and tried his hardest to keep the exasperation out of his voice. “Courf, you know you always have the best gossip first.” He crossed his ankles. “I would much rather pride myself on priorities.”

“Who’s to say that social news is not a priority!” exclaimed Courfeyrac, uncrossing his legs in a burst of indignation. “The thought of it! Well,” he took a smart puff of his cigarillo. “I shan’t tell you anything.”

“Are we talking about the Grand R’s engagement?” asked the cloud of smoke in the corner. It nibbled at a crystalised cherry and shuffled closer. “Do tell us, Courf. He promises he’s sorry.”

Combeferre did not look sorry.

Courfeyrac’s face lit up regardless, and he bent over his knees. “Well, now. Gather near, children, and hear from me the most ignoble secret behind the most ignoble noble we know. I- oh for Christ’s sake, watch your bloody drink, Jehan!”

Jehan reeled slightly and managed to right the glass of mead he had been about to spill in Courfeyrac’s lap. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I’m all over the place this morning.”

“What have you heard, Courf?” asked Combeferre, reluctantly trying to get back to business and to ignore Jehan’s drunkenness as eleven in the morning. Jehan smiled abstractly at the wall.

Courfeyrac gave Jehan a side eye, but carried on regardless. “Do you remember- going back a few months, lads - the furore over the Grand R’s sudden engagement?”

Combeferre and Jehan both nodded; it had been all they had talked about together for the best part of a day. The famously unmarried duke: engaged! A fallen noblewoman! A week long celebration! Jehan had almost swooned, gone so far as to design his outfit, then fallen asleep in his inkwell and had to be washed for two hours straight.

“Grand R must be spending a fortune,” he said, seemingly in thought.

“Well, of course it’s all his aunt’s doing,” said Courfeyrac, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “If there’s a fortune to be spent, you can always count on her to be in the middle of it. And a man like Grand R would never have thought of marriage left to his own devices. The man barely remembers to shit.”

“Is that your gossip?” Combeferre asked, “because if that is so, it’s hardly news. Everyone knows that she’s a puppet on a string.”

“It is true,” Jehan piped up. “I’d do whatever he told me if I stood to inherit what she is to after his death. Good lord gentlemen, I’d marry several times over! I’d marry-”

“Jehan, my love, shut up” said Courfeyrac. “Have you heard that the marriage is-” he dropped his voice dramatically- “being forced upon the lady?”

“We had surmised as much,” Combeferre said, stretching both his arms out behind him and strolling over to the window. “Such things do seem to be horribly in vogue.”

“Yes, my chicks, that’s right. A poor, penniless maiden, from a fallen noble family. Living in Brittany. The poor girl may as well be French, it’s all very unfortunate.” All of a sudden, he lent back grandly and announced “Combeferre, you are on your feet and I would like a cake.”

Combeferre looked unwilling.

“What! It’s still days before this feast. If-” he raised his voice again.

Combeferre, getting a bit sick of his friend’s amateur dramatics, stopped with a plate of pastries halfway across the table.

“If…. There ever is one.”

There was silence.

“What do you mean, Courf?” Jehan asked finally.

“What I mean, sweet Prouv,” said Courfeyrac, putting a hand on his knee, “is that the poor, famous, unknown and lamented lady- hasn’t yet arrived. Gone. Vanished. Meant to be here at the beginning of the week and she” he paused “never. turned. up.”

“If she never arrived, then I fail to see how she vanished” said Combeferre dryly.

“Oh, you’re no fun at all today, ‘Ferre, you know that? I mean, the wedding is set, the vows are written, the scandals are waiting to be rolled out, and the bride is nowhere to be seen at all.” He leant back again. “Now, isn’t that something?”

~*~

Her Grace, Lady Dahlia Grantaire, née Ellévantelle, née Rawlsworth, née Villiers cast an eye over her nephew with the expert air of one who had been married enough times to know better. “You look wonderful.”

“I look like an ink pen.”

“The girl will adore you.”

Grantaire, framed in the morning light, looked at her blankly. “How pleasant for her.”

“I do wish that you would not do that. You look like the very image of a man- of power, of….”

“Largeness?” came a sly suggestion from the corner.

“… of integrity, and then you go and talk and ruin the illusion completely.”

“I have never made a claim to perfection, aunt. And soon it seems I shan't even be making a claim to a marriage, as my bride has got the better of me. Perhaps she saw me dressed like this,” he added absently picking up a tightly clothed arm. There was a distinctly uncomfortable seam digging in under his arm and it put him in a worse mood than before. Pity. If she really had been so clever as to find a way out of the wedding, she may actually have been worth marrying.

He decided that he was in a Mood.

His aunt pressed his arm (not helping the seam). “Listen. You are my only heir, as irksome as that may be for us both. The world has taken all of my husbands and given me nothing in return…” she wheeled him around to face her, full on. “You and she are all that I have. You are all I have to spoil and coddle and… berate. You are all I have to talk about and talk to. The least you can do is provide me with one small child with which to do the same.”

“You’re being a bit dramatic, aunt.”

“I’m nearly forty and three times a widow, I can say as I damn well please.” She threw a glance over her shoulder. “I knew her mother once, Grantaire. You will like the girl."

There was an odd, baleful silence in which Dahlia gazed out into the garden and across the rain hazy lands before bursting "Oh, God in a basket, where are they?”

“They travelled by boat,” said Grantaire reasonably. “A storm could have blown them off course. Maybe a pirate.”

“A single pirate?” asked Montparnasse, who was ignored.

Grantaire’s aunt looked at him archly. “Now. It seems dramatics may run in the family.”

“I would have no idea; you’d have to ask she who raised me.”

“You know, for the pain in the arse that you are, I am sometimes glad that I didn’t disinherit you.”

“High praise indeed, aunt.”

The ice on her face broke. “You see, now that was charming. That is who you must be to your wife.”

“As you wish. Soon I shall be so charming I will be at risk of forgetting myself.”

“Don’t talk nonsense, Grantaire. And send some men to look for the man you sent to look for the wedding party. That one will do.” She gestured to the corner with her fan.

Montparnasse peeled himself off the wall. “Me, my lady?”

“Do you see another degenerate behind you?” she seemed to see the margin of loose interpretation in that sentence, because she added: “Oh good grief, don’t answer that, I’m not sure my nerves could stand it. And look to it.”

Montparnasse spared her the curtest bow, caught Grantaire’s eye and slinked out. His aunt watched him go.

“I have decided. My wedding present to you shall be a proper valet.”

“I find the one that I have serves me quite well.”

“I find the one that you have an irritating little guttersnipe that I wouldn’t trust as far as I can throw.”

“Which is precisely why I like him so. In fact I-”

He never got to finish his sentence.

“My lord!” came an echoing shout from the corridor. “My lord! And… my lady….” A chamberlain had appeared at the door, holding onto the doorframe for support and red in the face. “She is here, my lord, she is arrived!”

“Well, thank Heavens for that!” Lady Dahlia threw her arms up in the air. “I was beginning to think I’d have to marry him myself.” (Grantaire winced, unnoticed)  “Her party too?”

“No party, my lady, just the lady…. my lady. She is arrived, and only she.”

“Without escort?” Dahlia allowed nothing within herself to plummet.

“I would appear so, my lady.”

Grantaire squared his shoulders. “Well, where is she, then?”

“The entrance hall, Your Grace. Come, I shall…”

“No, I am sure that you have more pressing duties to attend to. I am perfectly capable of finding my way to my own entrance hall.”

“Not today, Your Grace,” said the chamberlain with a slightly strained smile. “Today, it is my utmost pleasure to be the one to escort you to your wedding service.”

~*~

She is here; without escort, without a party, without even a maid...” Dahlia flattened a hand to her forehead. “My God, I might as well go out into the street and hire him a woman.”

“Calm yourself, my lady,” said a chambermaid, marginally less frantic than her mistress was. “All talk of maids aside, I think you shall find her pleasing.”

“Pleasing?”

The chambermaid’s face stopped. She couldn't seem to find the words, no matter how much visible thinking went on. In the end she settled for “I cannot describe, my lady. You shall see.”

From the girl’s cryptic words, Dahlia expected to find the half drowned wretch still clinging to a mast (she silently cursed her nephew for putting the image of pirates in her head). When she entered the antechamber, however, she got another surprise entirely./p>

For all the airs of fluster she put on, Dahlia was not a woman easily given to shock. Which is why it shocked her further that this girl should give her such a reaction. She always knew her beautiful (she had half chosen her for her mother's beauty), but the girl in front of her turned out to be something else entirely.

Not just beautiful, or maybe not beautiful at all, but striking. A very tall young woman with very light hair and very bright eyes met her. Her face was frozen too, her eyes extraordinarily wide. From a distance, they looked such a light blue they could pass for purple. Her cheekbones were proud and high, yet still wide enough to appear slightly vulnerable ;they were stung slightly red from the cold. Her arms and legs looked slightly too long for her. She held herself regally.

As Dahlia took all of her in, the girl snapped into life and sank to the floor with a crunch of satin.

“Miss Cosette Fauchelevent?” asked Dahlia, still slightly in awe.

The visitor looked up and spoke in a voice that was low and deeply pleasant, like a viola, with only the slightest bearing of an accent. “Yes, my lady. I am Cosette Fauchelevent, daughter of Fantine and Félix Fauchelevent. I hope to do you the honour of becoming your daughter-in-law.”

“Oh, my darling you shall do quite nicely,” said Dahlia, hardly believing her luck. “Rise, please. You are to be family, allow me to greet you as such.”

The young lady stood and allowed herself to be kissed on either cheek, something slightly uncomfortable in her bearing. Dahlia paused her mind to consider the amount of physical affection in the girl’s life, but in the end put it down to her height. For such a tall woman, she moved with a languid, supine grace suited to cats in the sun. Dahlia didn’t know if this was due to laziness or docility, but she could deal with either or both given the bride’s other qualities. The girl had gorgeous features and long limbs to pass on to her offspring. More than satisfied, and feeling she had the devil’s own luck, Dahlia took Cosette’s hand. It trembled.

“Is there anything I may send for? The ceremony has started, but being the bride does give one certain allowances. I should well know. After that journey, I am sure that our guests can bear to wait for a few more moments before being greeted with the sight of you. I’m sure they could forgive you any amount of sins.”

The girl, whose eyes were now fixed on the marble, merely replied “I regret that my lateness is a sin, my lady.”

“Oh girl, enough of that. If something cannot be helped then it cannot be helped. Neither of us is Poseidon.”

“Thanks be that the journey in itself was fair. It was my mother, my lady. She was regrettably taken ill. In her adolescence, she had the bad luck to catch an infection and has never been able to make a full recovery. Sailing, all that enclosed air, seems to have bought it back.” She straightened herself and added, in a bold tone that conveyed nothing but nerves, “But I am quite ready.”

Dahlia felt a sudden rush of affection for the girl. She stopped and put one ringed hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Are you ready now?”

The girl met her eyes and nodded.

Glowing, she sent a footman scurrying ahead of her as she took one of the bride-to-be’s graceful arms again and lead her in the direction of the chapel. The young woman tossed her head and let her veil fall in front of her eyes.

~*~

Grantaire was still thinking of the seam. In fact, he only forgot it when he turned around and almost forgot to breathe.

She looked like a boxed doll, complete with a frothy confection of lace and satin. A child’s toy of a wife. She looked ready to float away. There was a short veil, and the coils of her blonde hair were crowned with a circlet of tiny, frosted rosebuds, dark as lifeblood itself. Her sculpted face glowed.

She was by far the tallest woman that he had ever met, and he was willing to bet everything he had that she was the most beautiful. Some wordless form of beauty that a sunrise has. Something more, something incomprehensible and something heroic.

His eyes grazed her face, and it wasn’t until they met hers that he saw how nervous she was.

It was only then he remembered her as a girl. A girl. And whether or not it was nerves or that the journey had been troublesome, mentally he bit himself for allowing someone so young to be bullied into such a ceremony so soon after her arrival. In a foreign country. She was probably on the verge of fainting.

“Father,” he leaned over to the padre, glancing quickly at his bride. She was deliberately not looking at him, gazing at her feet and biting her lip absently.  “I would be in your service forever if you were to….” He searched for the right words “hurry things along.”

The priest, who had until then been watching the procession with guarded eyes up until now turned his attention to the duke. “…if that is what you wish, my son.” He gave the girl a sidelong glance. “I shall do everything in my power to… hasten your happiness.”

He was cut off from trying to clear his reasoning by the sound of silk rustling behind his ear. He shut his mouth and hoped that Cosette hadn’t heard the disturbingly sinister phrase “hasten your happiness”.

The girl stopped before the altar, and Dahlia, who had chosen herself as the chief bridesmaid, handed her a bouquet. She took it with a tiny, wan smile that looked like she’d been trying to remember to do it very hard. The bishop took the ring from the best man (also selected by Dahlia) and within half the time of a usual ceremony, Grantaire and Cosette were bound in holy matrimony.

He couldn’t believe it was so quick.

And then.

As was tradition, Lord Grantaire turned to kiss his new wife. He could see her eyes behind the veil. They never moved, never flickered. They were so wide.

He lifted the snowflake veil and met them, the strangest shade of violet. Drawn, inexplicably, by some kind of heart-thread, he leaned in to touch his mouth to hers with the gentlest pressure that he could.

At the moment they touched, his wife collapsed.

The guests gasped and cried out and half rose as like some sort of singular organism as Grantaire caught her in his arms. She was light. Before anyone else could touch her, he had her out of view, into air and into the vestry. His bulk was good for something.

He lay her down as gently as he could. The space was so small; she barely fit lengthways, even with her head in his lap. “Are you alright?” he asked softly. “Is it merely nerves, or is it something more serious? Go away!” he added absently as someone knocked on the door behind him.

The young girl did not respond.

Grantaire braced himself and tried to recall the skills taught to him by Montparnasse in the days of their infamously misspent youth. With his thick fingers, he caught hold of one of the thin laces and set about loosening the bodice of the gown and the very topmost stays of the corset. They came away so easily.

And as they parted, he suddenly caught a view down the front of his new bride’s dress.

“Go away,” he said again, sitting back on his haunches.

The recumbent figure on the floor, now their airflow was unrestricted, began to flicker and stir. They stretched out an arm and opened one of their extraordinary eyes.

“Oh!”

“Hello, my lad.” said Grantaire grimly. “What do you think you playing at?”

Chapter Text

“Sir!” The boy gathered as much of his ridiculous dress as he could, covering his naked throat with it. “Please, before you say anything more, I beg of you- let em explain.”

“I believe that’s what I just asked.”

The boy looked shocked and blank for a moment. Whatever, (whatever) he’d been expecting, it clearly involved more of a fight. “I- My name is- I am Enjolras. I am a Fauchelevent.” He added suddenly, as if that’s what the major problem would be in this situation. “I am the brother to your betrothed. The twin. I am the eldest son of the Fauchelevent family and Cosette is my sister.”

“Is she now. And how do you come to be in her dress?”

He cocked his head and looked Grantaire boldly in the eye. He looked very young. “She loves another and has no wish to marry you.”

Grantaire blinked. “Well, aren’t you frank.”

“I apologise sir, but it is the truth.”

“And why did she not simply refuse me?”

Enjolras bit his lip. “It is not easy. She has not yet properly come of age, and cannot marry without our mother’s consent. Our mother, she would never see Cosette not marry for love, but our mother has lungs which aren’t right and she cannot carry on living in out hovel in Brittany. I agreed to pose as Cosette while she marries her beloved, who in turn will present himself to his estranged grandfather in the hope of being reaccepted into the money which is rightfully his. We… we hoped that by the time it would be discovered, Cosette would be married, happy and rich.”

That had not been exactly how it happened. He had barely arrived back at the house, to his mother, before Cosette had been on him like a fox, talking lowly and urgently with her eyes alight with excitement and more so. He'd let her hold his arms and tried his best to keep up.

Grantaire raised an eyebrow. “I take it they have not heard of a wedding night in Brittany.”

Enjolras’s brow creased minimally. “No… they have, sir. All days have nights, the temporality is not impeded by the sea.”

Grantaire blinked and wondered a), if he was joking, and b) if he was real. He decided it was best to ignore that particular train of thought and return to more pressing matters. Being that he had just married a young man.

There was a time when seventeen year old him would have dreamed of this.

“And you?” he asked the lad, still intent of covering his décolletage with that ridiculous dress. “What of your happiness? Surely this could not have been your first choice of solution.”

The boy set his jaw. “I am happy if my family is happy.”

Grantaire gave him a long, hard look. “And this mother of yours. Where is she?”

“Travel does not agree with her lungs.”

“What does that mean? Has she left them behind?”

Enjolras said nothing and blinked sulkily.

Grantaire stood up and shook his head. “You must have known that you would be discovered,” he said, almost to himself.

Enjolras sprang into life behind him. “Of course! But by then we hoped Cosette to be safely installed in her new fortune, and we calculated that you would not risk the humiliation of my gender until you could find a way out of the marriage.”

“Your sister sounds wild. Does she look like you?”

“We are twins.”

“Then what I wife I seem to have lost.”

Enjolras held his jaw while he waited for his heart to stop pounding. It hadn’t been difficult, not to speak those lines which he has practiced, nor to move about in his female clothes- the skirts, after all, were not so different from the cassock he had been required to wear at the abbey. Despite it all, he had been terribly nervous, but it had all gone so terribly well…. but when this big, strange looking man had kissed him, he had felt such a stirring in his lower abdomen he was worried he might fall straight through. A wave of dizziness had addled him, his limbs would not obey himself any more. As he fainted, he had felt the most remarkable pulse of pleasure pass straight through his throad. He had even felt himself… grow, as he sometimes did in dreams. Mere closeness to this duke seemed to weaken him, cause a strange sensation in his middle that unnerved him completely. It was the oddest reaction, and he wondered if it was caused by the corset.

“Enjolras.” Grantaire broke his silence and turned back to him, at last. “I wonder if you would like to hear a proposal.”

~*~

“Here they are, here they are!” called Courfeyrac, noticing a change by the ballroom doors. “The happy couple!” He batted Combeferre’s arm excitedly and Combeferre moved his hot chocolate to the other hand.

Jehan tugged on the tails of his pulled silk jacket and brushed some cravat thread off his velvet lapel. “What a pair of trousers! He’s looking very Brummelesque. Oh, lads.” He stopped short.  “That gown she’s wearing is a dream. It looks like it’s made of meringue.”

“Maybe she’ll let you borrow it, Prouv.”

Jehan gave his friend a sharp look as they minced through the thickening crowd. “I hope he doesn’t tear it. Oh, great fishes!” he stopped again, throwing out his arms for extra theatrical effect “she’s not small!”

“Oh, good Lord.” Combeferre straightened his glasses and followed Jehan’s gaze. “Thank God she’s marrying Grantaire, anyone lesser would have to scale her like a mountain. Look at her ring, it’s almost the size of Jehan.”

Jehan joined his friend in marvelling at the sight of the jewel; however Courfeyrac was staring, quite transfixed, at the bride’s face as she looked upon Grantaire.

He had not noticed it from a distance, but she called to him the stanzas of Byron, of Hippolatia, of Helen of Troy. She walked in beauty like the night, all the darkness and the bright and her eyes were the colour of hyacinths in the dawn… light? Dawnlight. She was dawn. Dawn, with  Gainsborough skin, such an old fashioned and Classical style of beauty. Every other woman that he had known faded from his view, his mind, his being and thought around her. Courfeyrac found it impossible to move his eyes from her face. He was thunderstruck.

“Oh dear, off they go” said Jehan mildly.

Courfeyrac shook himself out of his trance to notice that the couple had begun to drift away from them. “Blast it! We were so close!”

“They’ll be another chance,” said Combeferre. “It’s not as if the celebration is going to be lacking in hours. Come, I have seen blini.”

Courfeyrac gave no outward sign of having heard him. He was smitten, and the object of his smittinness had been cruelly removed from his sight. He lay his head upon Jehan’s shoulder and allowed himself to be directed to the nearest brandy.

~*~

“You did well,” said Grantaire softly to his bride, as they left the crowd of well-wishers behind them.

The new duchess didn’t answer until they were alone in the bridal suite with all the doors closed and locked, and the window sashes fastened tight. The room was smallish but well-furnished and dark, the only real light coming from the fireplace. Grantaire preferred to dwell crepscularly, a fact which lead to occasional bruising.

Enjolras sat gingerly on the bed and worried with his ring. It really was very big. “I am beginning to wonder if people are somewhat…. obtuse.”

Grantaire snorted. “Oh, you are precious. People see what they want to see, I have generally found. If it does not please them, they do not see it.” He moved to the sideboard, to his generous collection of crystal decanters. “Drink?”

“The water which I had earlier served to quench my thirst quite well, thank you.”

“There are other reasons people drink than to quench their thirst, my little one.”

He turned to look at Enjolras, who was trying his best not to look politely perplexed. Grantaire, in the middle of a sudden, warm rush, decided to take pity on the lad.

“I see by your expression that you doubt me. Here,” he fished a clean(ish) cut crystal wine glass from the neat line on the side of the cabinet. “Try some of this burgundy. It should remind you of home.”

He held out the goblet, and Enjolras took it gingerly, inhaling from the glass. It didn’t smell of home at all. In fact, it didn’t smell of much except for dusty grape. He eyed Grantaire over the rim to make sure he wasn’t joking.

“I haven’t done anything to it” the big man said gently.

Enjolras sipped it tartly. It was very full; it felt like it was coating his mouth with something. He’d been used to the watered table wine at the abbey, and this dried his mouth out. He wasn’t sure he’d ever drink it for pleasure. He frowned into the glass.

“Good?”

“I… have never tasted anything quite like it.”

Grantaire smiled, enjoying his innocent diplomacy. He decided to try something braver.

“Aren’t you eager to get out of that rig, or are you enjoying yourself in there? I can’t say you looked very comfortable.”

Enjolras’s cheeks grew pink. “I will admit, sir, it is not.”

“Should you like to get out?”

“I am not sure if it is safe.”

Grantaire raised an eyebrow at the boy, still sat with a full wine glass in his hand amid an obscene puddle of skirts. “To be in your own clothes in your own room?”

“What if someone comes?”

“Once I close a door, my staff know better than to bother me with what I don’t want bothering with. Unless you fear the passage of someone extremely tall.”

Enjolras’s blush deepened, and he reached round to undo the jewelled clips which kept his extraordinary hair in place. The shining tresses came down like skeins of silk. He shook the last few pins free.

“So it is not a wig,” said Grantaire, in a slight tone of awe. He took another sip of wine.

Enjolras froze in the act of pulling at his gown’s lace.

“Are you still here, sir?”

“I am your wedded husband, I see no shame in it.”

“I… think I may prefer to be alone.”

Grantaire’s mouth frowned. “I am afraid that is not possible. Not tonight, at least. We must maintain a certain degree of charade.  Here, I will turn my back. I promise I will not tease you.”

Enjolras looked at him unsurely and finished freeing the rest of his hair. Then he jerked back up again and looked at Grantaire. “I have just thought; what am I to put on once I remove this gown?”

“Look to the bed, Enjolras.”

Enjolras picked up a nightgown from the bed, almost as frothy as the one he was in the process of getting out of. He gave a small sigh. “Am I ever to be free of lace?”

“I feel that is a question better suited to your sister.”

Enjolras let the garment drift back down to the bedcover. “I fear I may need help.”

Grantaire stopped working.

“Beg pardon?”

“I shan’t be able to get out of this alone without a sword.”

Grantaire laughed dryly, once. “Your sister’s plan appears to have more than a few pitfalls.”

“I will admit it was not the clearest thought out plan.”

“Aye,” said Grantaire softly, turning back to Enjolras. “That it wasn’t.”

The young lad made an extraordinary sight. With one half of him lit by the orange firelight, highlighting through his hair and dripping down one side of his soft, dramatic face to his high collarbones. It dipped beneath the lace, the chemise, the layers and layers of petticoats. Tentatively, Enjolras gathered a handful of his cascading hair, baring one side of his throat.

He turned to one side, his back and buttons facing Grantaire, his hair still held. “There are hooks, sir.”

Slowly, careful not to startle him Grantaire crossed to the buy, his hands trembling. He stopped close enough to hear Enjolras’s breathing, smell the lavender scent coming from his skin.

Grantaire was waiting his best to make the first move, to say something to announce his intention to touch the buy without invading his space when Enjolras struggled slightly under the gown.

“Wait, do not pull.” He put a hand on the soft, warm shoulder. He felt so fragile. “A strand is caught.”

Enjolras stood quietly while Grantaire carefully untangled a ravel of soft hair from a clasp at the back of the gown. It was very blonde. He held his breath as the other man began to work down the rest of his back, the nearness of his not-quite touch causing his back to arch out. It had taken Cosette, Marguerite and Simplice almost an hour to imprison him completely in all this bone, lace and silk, and he dreaded to think how long it would take this single, big man to get him back out again. He ought to check the progress, he thought, then warm fingers brushed the nape of his neck, and a quick little shiver went through him, setting off another flurry of feathers in his stomach. He shuddered.

“Are you cold?”

“No. Please, do not do anything on my account. I simply want to get out of this infernal device and go to bed. It has been a strange day.”

“I’ll say,” said Grantaire under his breath. Idly, he wondered if there might be a deck of cards hidden somewhere in the depths of the room when Enjolras cast a swift glance over his shoulder. Grantaire reached out, without thought, and touched the young man’s cheek.

Reams and reams of silken hair glided over the back of his hand. Enjolras turned away again to stifle a breath that was threatening to come out louder than it should when the bigger, older man embraced him from behind. He seized up. Paralyzed by conflicting impulses, he couldn’t resist as Grantaire pulled him closer. He was so, so warm. The heavy fabric of his suit felt rough and hot under his bare back. Something hard slotted neatly into the cleft between his buttocks and everything south of his navel melted in a delicious rush of heat. Enjolras sagged against the other man’s solid bulk, and Grantaire moved his hands to under his sternum to hold him.

“Fauchlevent,” Grantaire asked daringly, his mouth brushing the young man’s earlobe, “is this how you treat every man?”

Enjolras shook his spinning head, giddy with the sensations in his nervous system as Grantaire’s big hands tried not to stroke him through his dress. “No-one, sir.”

The voice in his ear was so low. It vibrated right through his back. “No-one at all?”

“I do not think I ought to be doing… this.”

“We are married.”

Very slowly, Enjolras turned his head. “Your Grace, are you teasing?”

“Is my touch that repulsive?”

“No!” Enjolras inhaled, and Grantaire nipped at the side of his neck.

“How does it make you feel when I do this?” Grantaire licked the skin reddened by his teeth.

Words clotted in Enjolras’s throat. “I…”

“Is that good?”

Enjolras tried to say something breathlessly as Grantaire’s hand spread across his lower belly.

 “Wait!” He gasped, jerking himself out of Grantaire’s heat, out of his reverie. “Wait… please wait. You barely know me and yet you wish to have-” his voice fluttered. He didn’t know if he could say it. There was a lot he didn’t know in this moment. Something came down over him, shame grew up from his pores like a second skin. He lowered his voice, “-to have- carnal relations with me?”

“You are an attractive young man.” said the duke simply. “I like attractive young men.”

Enjolras sat, still weak at the knees and now frozen on the inside as well. “…truly?”

“I do like attractive young women too, if that makes you feel any better.”

It didn’t, but Enjolras wasn’t sure why. He decided not to examine that unpleasant feeling too closely. “So. You have… visited many other stars in the sky.”

Grantaire tried to hide his smile at the curious choice of euphemism. “None as bright as you.”

Enjolras blushed and lowered his head. “Do you take nothing seriously?”

“I take my inheritance very seriously indeed.”

Enjolras sat on the bed and was silent for a few minutes. “Well. Maybe you can burn that money to keep yourself warm at night.”

A half smile quirked at the side of Grantaire’s mouth. “Is this our first quarrel?”

“I shall pray it will prove so.” Enjolras climbed down beneath the great feather coverlet and clawed off the remains of the dress, covering himself with the counterpane as he lunged comically forward to the nightdress. He shrugged it over his narrow shoulders and turned away from Grantaire pointedly.

The duke watched it all with slight amusement.

Enjolras closed his eyes. His mind was very foggy. The day, the journey and the strangest feeling he’d ever experienced all conspired against him. He tried his best to ignore them until he drifted down into sleep.

Grantaire poured some more wine and watched his recumbent form, while all at the same time trying to disregard this enticing, comely young man in his bed. Beneath that wealth of tumbled hair, all that was visible was the firelit edge of his nose and cheek and the long, dark curve of his lashes. He was so, achingly beautiful. It moved Grantaire more than any display of nudity he’d ever witnessed. He couldn’t say why.

He sat unmoving until he heard a soft snore. Then, and only then, he flung the rest of his wine into the grate and slipped into bed. He edged closer, cautiously, until he could almost put an arm around the other man. No closer than that. With his face buried as close as he dared to that thick, fragrant hair, his muscles untensed for the first time that day. 

Enjolras dreamed that he slept with his back to a great roaring fire. He missed it when he woke.

Chapter Text

Enjolras stirred, stretching out his limbs on the cool, clean silk. The bed was so yielding he felt like it was holding him in place. He waved his leg over the covers a few times for fun.

Then he sat up.

The covers pooled around his waist and he looked around, taking in the dark, swept floor and the dark oil portraits. There was an absence of the smell of rushes. There was an absence of other men coughing and the smell of feet. Just air and fireplace and birdsong.

He brushed the heavy counterpane off his legs to cool them down. There was a lot of stuff in the room - books, pocket watches, the collection of decanters- but nothing particularly individual. Nothing defining, nothing that would give him any kind of insight into Grantaire. He sat dejectedly, his heart in his mouth, wondering what else he could to do discover more about this strange, big man who he was suddenly, inexplicably married to.  Maybe he kept diaries, or a selection of novels, or paintings. He was debating the merits of slipping out of bed and investigating when there was a light knock.

“Come in,” he said startledly, trying to bunch as many of the covers on top of him as he could.

“Good morning, wife.”

Grantaire poked his head around the doorframe, smiling cautiously. “How did you sleep?”

Enjolras broke off their gaze and drew his arm across the sheets again. “Well, thank you. And yourself?”

Grantaire looked at the boy, all of that sleep tumbled, extraordinary hair. His badly fitting nightgown had been pushed to his upper thigh and fallen off the shoulder closest to Grantaire, revealing the slow dip of his collarbone. His skin was so unmarked.

Grantaire had spent the night, cosy as could be, pressed up against the wadding of blankets he’d made between himself and Enjolras, the boy’s warmth diffusing slowly through the fabric. He’d pretended, rubbing himself as much as he dared against the covers, close enough to Enjolras to almost smell. He hadn’t got much sleep at all.

“Aye, well enough. Are you going to invite me in? I’m carrying something that I think you might be pleased to see.”

“I wasn’t aware it was common courtesy to ask for permission to enter your own room” said Enjolras haughtily, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. Grantaire smiled at him, opened the door with his hip and produced a tray from behind it.

“Generally it is not so; but then I have never been married. I had no idea how much time a bride would need to herself.” He dared Enjolras a cheeky grin. “I hear marriage changes everything.”

Enjolras returned the smile, warmly. It was the first real smile Grantaire had seen him give.

“I was also lead to believe that a house this size would have staff. In fact, I know that it does. I met a good many of them last night. Some of them gave me flowers.”

“How astute you are.” Grantaire set the tray down on his table by the window, clearing away an old newspaper he’d been colouring letters in on. “I thought I myself was scary enough; if you are under a similar impression, you should wait until you meet the servants. My manservant is practically feral.” He straightened up. “Being honest Enjolras, I did not think it would do to startle you with too many new faces at once. If you feel that I am mistaken, then I beg your pardon and will invite them all up here for breakfast.”

“No, no,” said Enjolras, with the ghost of a smile and padding over to the table. He tried to keep a strange feeling at bay in his throat. He had thanked Grantaire automatically, but now he stopped to think about it, this was kind. He wasn’t sure that anyone had thought about him that deeply before. He was thankful. “That shan’t be necessary, thank you. This breakfast looks nice.”

“Montparnasse was most surprised when I intercepted him in the corridor. You’ll meet him in a goodly amount of time. I fear they all think me lovesick. Are you cold?”

Enjolras pulled his nightgown to cover his bare shoulder in what was the most unladylike gesture Grantaire had ever seen him give. “It is no cause for concern.”

“Nonsense.” said Grantaire shortly. He crossed to the wardrobe and produced a paisley dressing gown, its gold cord tucked into one of the pockets. As he fished it out, a small note of encouragement - in Montparnasse’s handwriting- fell to the ground. He’d managed to slip it in when he’d picked the gown up before and, under some wild misapprehension, thought he was funny. Grantaire made a stern mental note and pushed it up his sleeve.

“Here. I am significantly larger than you in all directions, but I have no doubt that it will do.” He draped it over Enjolras’s shoulders. Enjolras shrugged back into it and pulled the heavy cloth around himself. He looked up to Grantaire. “Thank you, sir.”

“There’s no need to call me sir, my lady” Grantaire grinned. “Tea?”

“Please”

“Milk and sugar?”

“Both.” Enjolras untucked the cord from the gown pocket and wrapped it around himself. It could have circumnavigated him twice and then half again and it smelt, not unpleasantly, of sweat. He sat down and burrowed further into it, pushing the sleeves up to his elbows and wrapping them around each other.

“Both? You’re going to eat me out of house and home.”

“It’s not necessary if it’s going to be an imposition.”

Grantaire met his eyes over the teapot. “It’s no imposition at all. You can have as much or little as you like of either.”

Enjolras nodded. These sudden fluxes in humour weren’t something he was used to. He found the man amusing, but on his own terms. He sometimes wished he didn’t fall victim to jokes like this. “Thank you, sir.”

“And you don’t have to thank me. This is as much your house as it is mine, Enjolras. Here,” he pushed one of the patterned teacups over to Enjolras’s hands. Enjolras took it graciously, wrapping both his hands around it and holding it up to his face. He inhaled.

“We never were allowed either at the abbey. We weren’t really allowed tea, either” He added “We ate a lot of soup” as an afterthought.

Grantaire poured himself a cup and took a bite out of some bread and butter. “At the abbey?”

“I was abbey schooled. The monks were good but the beds were very hard. I did think yours may swallow me. I am thankful that it didn’t.” He eyed a cinnamon roll.

“You were an abbey boy?”

That sudden revelation could explain a lot (disregarding, as most things seemed to, the hair), but it made it more real that the boy sitting in front of him was -in fact- just that. A boy. Just out of schooling. Just out of schooling, and with no experience of the world at all. He had no idea why that made him feel worse about himself, but it did. He decided to ask something that he didn’t want to.

“How old are you, Enjolras?”

Enjolras took a swallow of tea. “Old enough.” And then –“it isn’t very polite to ask a lady her age.”

Grantaire grinned at him, something inside releasing. Enjolras returned his smile coyly, half hiding behind his cup.

“Do you ride?”

Enjolras, who was in the middle of debating whether or not he could add more sugar to his tea without Grantaire noticing, replied “I believe I could manage to stay on a horse.”

“I often find that a ride after breakfast clears my mind. It does a great amount of good. Is that something my lady were to find favourable?”

Enjolras blushed and ducked his head. “I see no reason to object. Unless I were to- oh!” He put his tea down and his hands to his hair in a sudden, violent movement. “Sweet Jesus!”

Grantaire blinked at him slowly. “Are you being raptured?”

“My apologies sir, but I have just realised I have nothing to wear which is suitable for riding. And that prompted me to remember that I don’t have anything to wear in general”. Enjolras looked up, troubled. “…I don’t suppose I could wear my wedding dress again, could I?”

“That may raise more issues than it solves, Enjolras, but I don’t believe there’s a problem in the first place. If you were to check the wardrobe on the right there, you may see what I mean.”

Puzzled, Enjolras rose. The dressing gown slipped open and revealed some more of his décolletage. Grantaire crossed his legs, and Enjolras was suddenly standing among what seemed like hundreds of gowns. They poured out of the allocated wardrobe like a sea.

“How is this possible?!” Enjolras asked incredulously. “I only came with two!”

“One may do many things, but never underestimate my aunt. The sight of your meagre trousseau almost gave her the vapours.” Grantaire put his feet on the newly vacated chair and gestured to the floor with his teacup. “There are shoes, too.”

Enjolras held up a handful of skirts, running the fabric through his hands this way and that. He felt like he could plunge his arm in for days. Some were blue, some were pink, yellow, brocade and one was a very light violet colour. He pulled this one towards him, the oceans of lace beneath the fabric resisting heavily. As soon as he let go, it swung prettily, almost back into the position he’d found it. He tucked it back in carefully and decided that one was his favourite.

“I like the stripes, myself,” said Grantaire. Enjolras turned to face him, his eyes alight. “This is miraculous!”

“This is money. Welcome to the gentry, Cosette.” Grantaire raised his teacup in a mock toast. Enjolras looked flustered.

“I feel a bit dizzy.”

“Come and eat. You barely had anything last night and I shan’t have you wasting away under my roof. Here,” he palmed a one of the cinnamon rolls onto Enjolras’s plate. “The last thing we want is a replay of yesterday.”

Enjolras coloured. “That was very embarrassing, sir. I do apologise.” He took his seat again, glowing inside. Grantaire looked over at him.

“I’m not sure that’s going to be necessary”

~*~

Grantaire finally tracked Montparnasse down in the stables, talking in a low voice and stroking Plumét’s nose. Grantaire cleared his throat slightly, as fair warning. The valet didn’t like people to know he had a heart.

Montparnasse turned around, his sly face sliding back into place as he did so.

“I won’t say a word if you don’t, Montparnasse.”

The valet dipped his knee slightly in a token gesture of a bow. “Your Grace? Her Grace enjoyed her breakfast, I trust.”

“Her Grace did indeed Montparnasse, and you are a gentleman for enquiring as to such. It is, however, you I would like to talk to - and about - at this given moment in time. You were a player.”

“I was sir, and you have known such since I met you. I hope that you have not taken a sudden objection to those of us who make a life for themselves on the boards. The sailors would be very disappointed.”

“Montparnasse, please stop trying to be funny. I am trying to conduct an adult conversation with you. Which roles did you play?”

“I played many, sir.”

“Are there any in particular that-” Grantaire shifted from one foot to the other –“stand out, as it were?”

“Ones in which I was particularly stellar?”

“Ones which one may take to be… unusual. Memorable.”

“I once had the misfortune to vomit on a child, sir.”

Grantaire looked at him.

“It does tend to stick in one’s mind.”

“And the child’s too, I’ve no doubt. You never played a child, I trust?”

“One would hope your grace has noticed I am above four foot, sir. A fact which did not deter me from making quite the lady.”

At last, thought Grantaire. There was always something in his valet’s past which he could find to make use of at the worst of times. His prowess at herding geese had come to be of great value on more than one occasion. “And which fortunate ladies would they have been?”

Montparnasse drew himself up to his full height. “My Juliet once reduced a man to tears, sir.”

“Heavens above Montparnasse, I hope you weren’t that bad.”

Plumét nosed at the side of Montparnasse’s head. He broke a smile and stroked her muzzle, producing half an apple from behind his back. “Not at all, sir. It was more of what one may call a misunderstanding, and not an episode I would like to revisit.”

“Was it difficult?”

“It is easier to pass off a man as a woman than one may think, sir. Especially one with my looks.”

“Romeo and the Pox-Ravaged Whore, was it?” he said jocularly, in a desperate bid to keep up appearances. The part of his mind which wasn’t reeling from a joke as poor as that was thinking Yes. That would certainly seem the case.

“Montparnasse.” He asked at last, above the horse’s chewing. “How would you like to see a significant increase in your wages?”

~*~

Grantaire stopped Montparnasse just outside his door. “And for the love of God, Montparnasse, don’t talk.”

“I wouldn’t do you the injustice, sir.”

“You better had not. And any replay of this note malarkey and I’ll have you shot.”

“Very good, sir.” He’d only had four threats of death and one of castration this week. Life on an estate must be improving him.

Grantaire gave Montparnasse a curt look and knocked smartly. The valet looked down at his boots and did the best he could at looking demure. Grantaire didn’t trust that look an inch.

A voice from the other side of the door said “Come in!” making an unconvincing ascent to its upper registers as it did so. Grantaire winced internally.

“I think I’m becoming aware of your problem, sir,” said Montparnasse.

Grantaire ignored him and opened the door.

Inside was one of the strangest and most tender sights he’d ever yet to see.

Enjolras was sat on the end of the bed, facing towards the window. His masses of curls spilled down his back, lit from the morning light in front of him. He’d taken sudden objection to his riding habit. His boots were on, fitted down the taut stretch of his calf, his skirt and shirt tossed aside in despair. They looked almost as crumpled and dejected as he did.

“There is no earthly way this could possibly work for anyone, Grantaire.” He turned around to look at both of them, his full lower lip stuck out. “They don’t go on, they’re impossible.” He pushed his bonnet further across the bed to drive the point home.

“Maybe I could be of assistance, your grace?” Montparnasse slipped out from behind Grantaire, as if he had snake oil in his veins. “I assure you, there is a knack to it.”

Enjolras eyed him warily. Grantaire decided to step in before there was an altercation.

“My darling, you will remember my valet, Montparnasse.” He placed a steady hand on the small of Montparnasse’s back and pressed him forward until the valet presented himself properly. Montparnasse sank down in one of the lowest bows Grantaire had ever seen, his eyes not leaving Enjolras’s face. “He has kindly offered to help you dress.”

“Good morning, …sir?” Enjolras glanced at Grantaire; Montparnasse answered.

“The use of my name will suffice quite nicely, your grace. You will find your husband addresses me by myriad titles.”

“And you’ll find you may as well, my dear, when your patience with him inevitably runs out. All that said, you do have some, virtues, don’t you, Montparnasse?”

“So I have been told, your grace.”

“And so I will tell you, my darling, he is extremely trustworthy.” Grantaire offered his hand to Enjolras, who was sitting wide eyed on the side of the bed, half in-half out of his petticoat. As he stood up, Grantaire murmured in his ear.

“In fact, he is one of the few men I would trust with my life. You need have no worry, Enjolras. You are safe with him.”

Enjolras looked at Grantaire, pulling the slip up slightly further.

“I promise you. Are you still game for a ride?”

His husband nodded.

“Excellent. Montparnasse, if you will.”

Montparnasse dipped in acknowledgement, and took the opportunity of passing Grantaire to mutter; “I do believe we said ‘significant’, didn’t we, sir?”

~*~

“So,” said Montparnasse awkwardly, tightening the corset laces further, “what do you make of England, your grace?”

“You don’t keep having to call me that, Montparnasse,” Enjolras gazed hard out of the window and tried to ignore the tightening at his waist. The valet had directed him behind a screen which he’d set out for the occasion, although Enjolras had no idea why. They’d been stood in this same position for ten minutes. Grantaire had disappeared… somewhere, and there was no-one else in the room. Even if his husband (his husband) had been there, Enjolras wasn’t sure that he’d have minded. The other man had seen him in worse.

He still was not over the enormity of what they’d done. What he’d done. Infiltrating the nobility by means of a sham marriage was one thing, even if it was all legal and consented to, but infiltrating the nobility in your sister’s dress was something else entirely, and he didn’t think he’d ever be able to accustom himself to it. If he ever got over the fact that, by some bizarre twist of fate, it had worked. He straightened himself out and addressed the servant again. “I don’t mind.”

“The gentry stands on ceremony, my lady, if nothing else. Arms up, if you may.”

Enjolras hummed and raised his arms. The grounds were extensive from up here; he wondered how much of it they owned.

“Ouch!”

“My apologies, your grace.”

“No, no…” Enjolras calmed himself, looking over his shoulder at the cinch of the corset. Montparnasse was stood patiently behind him like a spectre, waiting for him to get his breath back. Enjolras swallowed and tried frantically to soothe the hot wire of pain which as tightened itself straight to his cock. “….tighter, if you may.”

“My lady?”

“Yes,” Enjolras gritted his teeth. “It is quite alright.”

~*~

Cosette was so shocked she had to put her sandwich down before she dropped it.

“Read it again, Marius.”

Her husband grimaced, his back toward the firelight. “I fear it would still say the same, my love.”

“Marius, how can he! After all you’ve done for him!”

“My darling, I am so sorry,” Marius came and sat beside her, taking both her hands in his. “I swear Cosette, I will to whatever it takes to make this right for you. I shall strike him where he stands, if it comes to that!”

“No, Marius, you shan’t.” She patted his hand absently. “May I see the letter?”

He took the paper out of his jacket pocket reluctantly and handed it to her. It was short; brief and to the point. Congratulations on the marriage, still none of your rightful money, girl must pass inspection.

“Does he give a reason?”

“He is a tired old man.”

“Marius, don’t.” She moved her hand from his and put it on his knee, an anchor for him. “Don’t say such things. I truly believe that he only wants the best for you.”

He pressed her hand to his cheek. “It is not for me that I have done any of this, Cosette. I promised you a better life, the life you ought to lead; a better life for your mother, and now this is all I can give you.” He looked around at the meagre inn lodgings, with its singular fireplace doing a passable job at keeping them warm.

Marius fretted, but truly this was every bit as good as what she had been used to at home. He had even managed to rent two rooms.

“It is not so bad.”

“It is not enough. If I could, Cosette, I would give you all the riches in Heaven. I would-” Marius stood up, overtaken with a sudden fit of passion, “I would tear down this ceiling and bring you all of the stars! If only it were in my power, you know you should have it.”

“I should have you.”

He smiled wryly. “You jilted a baron for me, Cosette. Nothing I could do for you would be its equal.”

Cosette exchanged an awkward glance with Simplice, who made a point of suddenly becoming very engaged in her pointwork.

“When I think of what he could have given you; a house, financial viability… I still cannot believe that you chose me.”

“But choose you I did.” she said smartly. “What does your grandfather say we are to do?”

“He says I am to present you to him at the family house during an Event –he has capitalised the letter, but he does not say what- so that he may judge if you are worthy me.”

He looked so tired. So young and exhausted. Cosette made a snap decision.

“Well, then.” She clapped her hands together. “That sounds like exactly what we shall do. Marius,” she stood up and took his hand again. “Write to your grandfather, tell him that you accept. If he wants to see me, then see me he shall. I have nothing to hide.”

He smiled and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. She leaned into it and smiled at him, trying to make him return it. In that moment, there was no decision she’d rather have made.

“Go, Marius. While you do that, I shall discuss with Simplice the matter of my mother. This is a situation which will take some explaining to her, I think.”

“You may blame everything on me, my angel. Tell her that I shall fund her for any way which she may choose to spend the time. If she wishes to keep taking the water, it is no object.”

“I shall do just that.”

She smiled at Marius and kissed the corner of his mouth. He touched his forelock at her, without really being aware why, and exited to the room with the table. Cosette let out a long breath.

“He’s such a sweet boy. Pity he wasn’t the rich one.” said Simplice, watching him leave. When he’d gone, she turned her attention back to Cosette. Her needlework lay forgotten in her lap. “My dear. When are you going to tell him that your intended has married your brother?”

Cosette ran a hand through her harried hair. “The Pontmercys don’t keep up with Society, more’s the blessing. That’s part of the reason why this whole destructive plan could work.” She sat down, looking the closest to abject despair Simplice had seen her look since she and her mother had separated. “Simplice, what are we going to do?! He can’t keep married for two more months!”

“If I may, my lark, he hasn’t been exposed yet. I think the danger of that particular outcome has passed. He’s now more into what I’d think of as a test of endurance.”

“He can’t keep wearing a dress for two months! That’s more than even I could bear! What if he goes mad?”

“He shan’t.”

“You’re very blasé, Simplice.”

“I find that not subsisting on highly contentious fiction will do that to a mind, Cosette. Your brother has been placed in a… delicate situation. The blessing in that is that it is delicate for all involved. Now that he is passed the initial danger, I should imagine that we should all find an unlikely ally in the Duke. He will be just as willing to keep your brother’s gender a secret as we all are. And then in two months, Marius shall come back into his money, your brother’s marriage can be annulled and we can find ourselves right back where we meant to be.”

“Simplice….”

“I always was the voice of reason.”

Cosette smiled at her, and it was the saddest smile she could possibly have given

The old woman cocked her head to the side and opened her arms. There was too much water in Cosette’s face for it to hold off for long. “Come here.”

Cosette pulled herself across the floor and placed her head in Simplice’s lap. Her old friend’s finegrs began to run through her hair, catching at and then, gently, undoing the ribbons she’d put in there. She sighed. She could have been any age again. This had been her place of sanctuary since she could walk, since she’d first began to cry, since her mother’s lungs had started keeping her awake as well. She didn’t really want to leave.

“I will go to him.” Simplice said at last. “I’ll bring him your love, and any correspondence you may like him to have. I can tell them I’m his maid or Governess; he’s sure to let me in regardless of what nonsense I spout. Will that put your mind at ease, pet?”

She lifted her head and nodded. “Are you sure you’d do that?”

Simplice kissed the top of her head. “There’s nothing I’d rather do.”

~*~

“Are you sure you want to be doing this, my love?”

Enjolras turned and flashed him a haughty glare, then snatched the bonnet off his head, tussling the curls. Grantaire was more than aware of how he himself must look, ruddier faced than usual, with a sheen of sweat and loose skin dusted over him. Alternately, Enjolras, who had had to fight to keep his seat perhaps more than he intended, looked as he always did. That look could strike a man dead. Now he’d decided to bathe, demanding far more hot water than anyone could be tolerant to. There was a flush rising up from his clavicles to his cheekbones, making his strange eyes stand out even further. He held his arms out and stared at Grantaire.

“Montparnasse, unclothe me.”

Montparnasse, who had been lurking behind the screen testing the bathwater, emerged and glanced at his master. The atmosphere crackled.

He began to unbutton the tight jacket. “How was your ride, my lady?”

“Pleasurable. But now I find myself appallingly stiff and long for nothing more than to divulge myself of this rig and a strong cup of tea.”

Montparnasse spun Enjolras around, starting on the buttons of his shirt. He sent a glance to Grantaire, reading flatly explain this to me later.

He was down to the chemise now, and Enjolras tore himself out of his jacket and shirt with unanticipated voracity.  Montparnasse caught them both with his foot and sent them sliding across the floor to Grantaire, who did his best to lay them out flat on the bed.

Enjolras batted Montparnasse’s hand away as soon as he was free of all his corsetry, taking it upon himself to shimmy out of his habit skirt and lift the shift over his shoulders. As he turned away, for modesty’s sake, Grantaire caught sight of two marks where the corset had bitten into Enjolras’s white skin. Something tightened all the way to his groin.

Well, he thought cheerfully. I’m fucked.

Chapter Text

Montparnasse had a disturbing habit of materialising where and when he was least wanted. It happened with relative ease and far more often than welcome. Grantaire had conveniently forgotten for the moment and had barely even managed to gather his thoughts before there was a voice at his shoulder.

“It would seem your wife can be what one may term ‘moody’, sir.”

Grantaire let his head hit the wall behind him. “Stop using ten words where one may suffice, Montparnasse.”

“My greatest apologies, sir, I am sure. May I enquire as to what the matter may be?”

Grantaire sighed and exaggerated his lean somewhat. “I would tell you if I knew so myself. She’s somewhat… tempestuous.”

“Are we to say ‘she’ when speaking among ourselves then, sir?”

“I don’t see why not, I’ve hardly been instructed otherwise.”  He added half-heartedly, “and keep your voice down outside my rooms, Montparnasse”

The valet looked at him impartially. When they were younger, Grantaire had adopted a way of standing which, he’d thought, screeched ‘do not speak to me, I am in deep emotional turmoil’. It hadn’t and he’d all but abandoned it when strangers kept asking if he’d hurt his leg, but the way he was standing now seemed some kind of hark-back. He wondered if there was emotional turmoil there after all.

He made a desperate attempt to change the subject. “Other than that, I trust the ride was pleasurable, sir?”

“Oh, yes. Very much so. One of the best so far this year, I’d say. Especially since it’s just beginning to get warm. It was very nice indeed until my wife turned herself into a screeching harpy.”

“I’ve heard the wedding night can afflict some maidens as such, sir.”

Grantaire gave him a very long, very level look. Something seemed to solidify between them, and Montparnasse allowed his mouth to twitch. It rarely showed emotion without his consent.

“I’ll cordially ask you,” Grantaire said after a long pause, “never to speak like that again.”

Montparnasse ducked his head in acknowledgement. He’d felt the line cross over him as he made that remark. He’d wished that he hadn’t almost as soon as he said it.

It sat between them like dough.

“Shall I… check on Her Ladyship, sir?” he asked eventually.

Grantaire took his hand away from the bridge of his nose. “Yes. I’d love you to, if you weren’t attending  a married woman. My aunt’s pressuring me to have her take one of her girls, in the absence of her own. Where is her household? Did they flee? I’m going to have to go, and God knows where that will bring us.”

“The bath may have relaxed her, sir.” Montparnasse tried, and when that didn’t work chipped in “and if that doesn’t work, she can hardly drown you in a foot and a half of bathwater.”

“Well, we must remain optimistic. Have some tea sent up to her; tell them to leave it on the table by the window and not go behind the screen. Her Ladyship is shy.” An image of the morning flitted suddenly before his eyes. “And a cinnamon bun.”

“Of course, sir.”


And as his valet disappeared down towards the staircase, Grantaire started to contemplate how it is possible to wreck a marriage which has, technically, never existed.

 

~*~

“Did the ride take a turn for the dramatic?” said Jehan, sticking his head out the door hopefully. “I hear Courf is threatening to lay the Duke out.”

Combeferre rolled his eyes to the back of his head and came into the guest bedroom, sitting down heavily on the bottom of Jehan’s bed. His friend pulled his feet up to allow him more room, looking considerably more well than he had this morning. It was amazing what the prospect of gossip could to do a man.

“I wouldn’t have called it so. Things get exaggerated.”

“What kind of things?”

A very long, high note came into hearing. Combeferre looked back at Jehan.

“I daresay you’re about to hear it all in its most exaggerated form.”

Jehan looked at the door in almost abject awe. “It always amazes me that he has enough breath to do that for corridors at a time.”

“I almost trained him into it at Gonville. It would have been useful to know if I had to listen to him or not in advance.”

“You know, and he have remained friends for so long it’s almost a mystery how you met, let alone what drew you together in the first place. You always seem so hard on him.”

Combeferre raised an eyebrow dryly as his oldest friend swept into the room.

Well.” He announced himself, dropping his hat at his feet. “Well, well well.”

“That’s a very insensitive thing to say in a sickroom, Courf.”

“We’ve been waiting for you,” said Jehan helpfully.

“I should hope so, little Prouv,” said Courfeyrac, tastefully choosing only to hear one remark. He kicked his hat to the side. “Can I have this chair? Are you feeling better, by the way? Your room smells more of cigarillos than usual. That’s a yes, I take it? Good. Because you need to be in the best health for what I’ve got to say.” He punctuated this sentence by sitting down heavily and letting his coat slither over the edges. Then he looked pointedly at Combeferre. “Have you told him?”

“No, I thought you’d prefer that dubious honour.”

Courfeyrac crossed his legs, satisfied. “That, my friend, is why you are both a scholar and a gentleman. Had you done so I may have been forced to add you to my List.”

“After several more deserving perpetrators, I assume.”

He smiled like a well timed punctuation mark. “Well, of course. Knowing a fellow so long tends to imbibe one with a certain degree of sentimentality.”

“Hm.” Combeferre examined his cuff. “That’s a shame. I’d rather hope that I’d have made it to the top by now.”

Jehan watched on, delighted. “Courf, do you have a list of men you mean to duel?”

“Of course,” he said, unfazed and still cross legged. “Do you mean to say you don’t?”

Jehan and Combeferre exchanged a glance.

“Courf….” Jehan asked hesitantly after misreading the glance completely. “Who is on your list?”

“Oh,” Courfeyrac shifted on his chair. “You know. This and that.”

“… this and that?”

“The this and that of people.”

“Is there anyone we’d know?”

“I’d rather not say,” he said loftily.

Jehan kicked Combeferre from under the cover. “Do you know?”

“Of course. On a separate page he’s simply written ‘Napoleon’

Courfeyrac’s composture broke. “That was a mistake!”

“It’s underlines three times.”

“Combeferre!”

Combeferre turned to his friend and blinked good naturedly. “Have I gone up a place?”

“You may well have,” he said, almost to himself, and then, louder- “I’ll have to consider it.”

“I’m deeply grateful”

Jehan had lost track again. “Does your duelling list have anything to do with the Duke?”

Combeferre said “in a roundabout way” at almost exactly the same time as Courfeyrac said “yes.” Jehan only caught the latter half and it was enough to get him up off his pillows.

“Dear God, Courfeyrac, is the Duke there?!”

“Oh, nothing so severe.” Courfeyrac waved it away with a hand. “Merely a list of men I’d like to punch.”

“And this was bought on by his actions today?”

“Almost exclusively.”

“Am I ever to find out what they are?”

“My dear Prouvaire,” said Courfeyrac, getting off his chair and coming to sit on the side of the bed which was not occupied by his other friend. “If you could hold on for a moment longer you will see that I am, in fact, on the verge of telling you.”

Jehan blinked. “Well could you come off the verge a little quicker?”

Courfeyrac rolled his eyes and put his hand on Jehan’s covered knee. “I am simply deliberating how is best to break this to you. I do not want to shock you.”

“Yes, Jehan’s sensibilities are the most delicate,” Combeferre managed to chime in from the other side of the bed. He had his cuff fully outside of his jacket now, and was winding a stray piece of thread around his finger trying to snap it.

“Yes, well the man is ill.” Courfeyrac put a hand delicately on Jehan’s forehead with disturbing tenderness. “Not just ill, but suddenly ill. Sudden sicknesses are the worst. You never know what’s coming or what bought them on. You know,” he looked up, “my aunt died of a sudden, wedding-related illness.”

“Why do you want to fight a man.”

“Because,” said Courf, snapping back to Jehan with his hand still on his forehead, “the Duke is a cad.”

The short lived puzzled silence was broken by Combeferre’s sleeve thread breaking at last. “The Duke is not a cad,” he said smartly, winding it around the rest of his finger. “The Duke merely kissed a woman whom you also wish to kiss.”

“He kissed a woman against her will! Against her will, Combeferre!”

Combeferre raised an eyebrow.

“Comebferre, you are useless and heartless and never speak again. So you see,” he turned back to Jehan, “the man has crossed one of those most sacred of lines.  And while most others, and our friend, seem to see it as a trivial matter-”

“I do not see it as a trivial matter” Combeferre cut in, “I simply take objection to the fact that you would have been any more welcome.”

“Did she like your poem, at least?” Jehan stepped in, in a desperate attempt to diffuse the situation.

It worked.

“Oh, Jehan,” said Courf, his temper dropping completely. “Jehan, Jehan, Jehan. I daresay she loved it. It is such a pity you could not have been there, I have made a great deal of changes since I showed you the draft-”

“-and he’s added six extra verses-”

“-and while not all seem thrilled by the editing process, I feel that it has bought the piece an entirely new life of its own. Something more dynamic, something of form and movement. Something much more suited to the radiance which becomes her.”

And, before anyone could say a word otherwise, he launched into the first stanzas of ‘The Destroying Angel, or The Poet’s Dream

“I dreamt a dream the other night

That an Angel appeared to me, clothed in white.

Oh! it was a beautiful sight,

And filled my heart with such delight.

 

And in her hand she held a flaming brand,

Which she waved above her head most grand;

And on me she glared with love-beaming eyes,

Then she commanded me from my bed to arise…

 

~*~

…then the Angel cried, “Satan, avaunt! begone!”

Then he vanished in the flame, to the amazement of everyone;

Foaming at the mouth, and seemingly much annoyed,

And kicking the Steeple because he was destroyed!

 

A silence followed. Courfeyrac moved to put down the candlestick he’d got up to wield.

“Well?”

Jehan shuffled in his blankets, “My darling. Such a work is surely rivalled only by your piece on Women’s Suffrage*”

Courfeyrac beamed.

“So, he said, settling himself back into his previous position. “We had both mounted, as had the rest of the party. Her Ladyship looked most exquisite on her roan, its colouring so complemented hers, they were like paintings… anyhow, we had ridden for about an hour, when-”

“It was more like forty minutes.”

“-we had ridden for about forty minutes to an hour, when we happened to come to a stop. The whole exercise was barely more than an excuse for Her Ladyship to find her way around the grounds in the first place, so we excused ourselves, giving them some time alone.”

“Where were you?” asked Jehan, who had finally got his way and was in no way inclined to let it go.

“I’m glad you asked that, little Prouv. We were out towards the boundaries of the Duke’s land, but in his lands nonetheless. Far enough out to be practically wildwood. The Duchess dismounted to explore an area of land which would have been impractical on horseback.”

“Did her dress interfere?”

“Mercifully, she was dressed for a harder ride than we took. Had she been, of course, I cannot think of a single member of the party who would not gladly have volunteered their services.”

“Men would have been killed in the scramble.”

“So they would, Combeferre. I am glad you have decided to take a more active role.”

“As am I,” said Combeferre, who had migrated to the chair Courf had vacated. He was reading a book.

“Had the Duchess been dressed any differently, I am not sure she would have been able to dismount at all. Down in the south west area of the lands, the woods get so thick there are still great piles of leaves from the last autumn. And the Duchess, in all her sweet girlish spirits, threw a handful at the Duke.”

“No!”

Yes! And he took it all in the greatest of humours. And then, once she was safely ensconced behind a tree, took aim himself! And she back at him! Oh Jehan, it was so wonderful to see. It’s been so long since I’ve seen the Grand R happy. Or… outside.”

Jehan shuffled closer. “So what happened?”

Courfeyrac smile turned to glass. “Then, he kissed her and she smacked him.”

Jehan was astonished. “She smacked him?”

“Well, naturally her hair was full of leaves. He, as far as we could see, had gone to help her pick them out.  And then he kissed her and she….

“Violently objected?”

“Violently objected, thank you Combeferre. God, that’s an astute observation. She objected in the most violent way possible.”

Jehan still couldn’t make head nor tail of it. “But why?”

“Well,” Courfeyrac straightened and dusted off his coat. He’d suddenly assumed his knowledgeable air again “In my experience, people react violently for three reasons. One, they are threatened. Two, they are angry or three… they are conflicted.”

~*~

Enjolras stared out of the window. It had just turned afternoon and the light was suddenly very gold. All of the rolling, sculpted parkland that swept out below him looked deeper, more unreal than it had done.

He’d been given the fright of his life earlier when a maid had entered. The aftermath of his undignified splashing was only just beginning to dry.  As it turns out, she was there to bring him tea, but the few seconds of blind terror she’d given him were something which he really did not want repeated and had given an order not to be disturbed further. Not even by his husband.

Grantaire. He lay back further. His bathwater was cold now, but he wasn’t sure how or when to get out. Should he wait until someone came to fetch him? Who knew how long he’d be waiting, but he could hardly do it by himself. He could put on a dressing gown, and then what? Wander the house? Summon the valet? He wasn’t naïve enough to expect to be able to summon anyone else, but neither was he naïve enough to know that the valet couldn’t be present without his husband as chaperone. If the valet could be present at all. He wasn’t exactly sure of the protocol there. And he didn’t particularly want to see Grantaire again.

It had begun innocuously enough. The parklands were so large. Even at their furthest reaches, he could turn around and still see the slightest impression of the house in the distance, just over the hill. The air was turning springlike, was rich with all the foliage just coming green. It was almost creamy enough to taste. He’d kicked his way through a pile of leaves and continued inwards.

“You know,” he’d heard his husband say behind him, “when it was autumn and we were children, we used to have fights like that.”

“Excuse me?” Even under the hat, he’d still had to pin back a loose skein of hair to look at Grantaire properly. He was a few paces behind, not yet in the woodland proper.

“When we were children,” he repeated, coming slightly closer, “in the absence of anything better to do, we used to fight like that.”

“With leaves?”

“With leaves indeed.”

Enjolras let his hair fall down and continued to better earshot of the Duke. “How on earth does one fight with leaves?”

“Well, you until you get very bored. Then, you scoop up a handful and fling them at your nearest opponent.”

“I bet the long autumn days simply flew by,” remarked Enjolras dryly.

Grantaire had smiled; a real, humoured smile. “Somehow, they must’ve.”

He turned his back then, checking that neither their horses not the party had not wandered off without them. A number of others had dismounted as well, and were milling around sharing gin and opinions. Grantaire looked back at Enjolras and knelt down.

The cry had come a few seconds later –

“What the bloody Hell – what are you doing?!”

“I am scooping up a handful of leaves and flinging them at my nearest opponent!” called Enjolras from behind his tree. Some leaves hit the bark and exploded around him. He laughed.

At the abbey in autumn, he’d gone to fetch acorns for the pigs. In the abbey when he was bored, he’d simply had to sit. He’d watched the clock a lot. He’d thought about the seconds being sliced away from him. The inkwells had frozen a lot in autumn.

“You little minx!”

“Don’t blame the outcome, blame the genus!” He laughed again and threw another handful, ducking back before he could see where they had landed. These leaves had been on the ground for going on six months and, under their first layer, were turning happily to mulch. He rubbed his hand against the tree absently, glad of his gloves. Then he tossed his head back and waited.

“Did it ever occur to you that you were playing poor man’s snowballs?”

Grantaire sounded amiable enough, but he still didn’t trust him enough to reveal himself unarmed. “Indeed, I think that was at the heart of what we were trying to do. I hear the King of France is a great fan of hurling snowballs about. It would have been most unpatriotic.”

“It sounds infinitely more sensible than hurling cannon.”

Grantaire’s reply took slightly longer to come this time. “And that was a most unpatriotic observation, Fauchelevent.”

Enjolras felt a rush. His heart was going, the air was cold. “What does it matter?” he replied seriously. “I am only a woman. Surely I am not to be taken seriously in matters of state.”

“If you keep coming up with epithets so wordly I may have no choice but to do just that.” Grantaire sounded closer now, but Enjolras still couldn’t place him. He made an effort to still himself and to stop his chest from heaving to try and hear footsteps over his heartbeat.

“I am worldy,” he braved. “I have read a lot of books.”

“Have you?” Enjolras felt the smile crackle behind him before he even knew Grantaire was there. And then he was covered in leaves.

“You monster!” He laughed breathlessly, stepping back and snatching off his bonnet off his head. “That was utterly unprovoked!”

“Don’t blame the outcome, blame the genus” Grantaire grinned, bits of leaf clinging all the way up to the elbows with how many he’d carried. “It’s caught in your netting, by the way”

Enjolras glanced at his bonnet. “Oh, damn you.”

“That was a very flat ‘damn’, my love. Anyone would think you were not a fan of your new hat.”

Enjolras focused on him and tried to regulate his breathing. “Did you do that to your friends as a child, as well?”

“Oh, absolutely. One does not get anywhere in life without some unfair play.” He grinned again, and Enjolras grinned back.

“Well, for that I won’t be rude about your throwing.”

“I throw admirably. Had you found nothing similar in your books?”

“I think we must have very different reading tastes.”

“As do I. Come, you’re covered.”

Enjolras had stepped warily towards him, one eye still on retreat. Grantaire spread is arms out before him. He beckoned him closer. “I promise. There’s enough work on both of our plates here as it is.”

“One plate in particular takes the blame here, I think.”

“The plate wants to make it up to you.” Grantaire reached out and steadied his elbow firmly. He drew Enjolras in closer and glanced at the damage.

He put a hand on Enjolras’s shoulder. Enjolras stayed very still and let him, heat rising up from the contact. Eventually he’d said, very gently “…do you mind?”

“No…” said Enjolras, and then moistened his mouth and tried again. “No. No, I don’t mind.”

“Well, that’s good then.”

That was one of the last things they’d said to each other. Enjolras felt a gentle tug against his hairpins and closed his eyes. He’d grown very warm. Grantaire had deft hands for such a big man. They smelt earthy, clean. Moist and healthy. There was another slight tug and Grantaire grunted slightly in frustration, working the knot gently over against Enjolras’s scalp.

“Jesus, why didn’t I think twice about defacing curly hair.”

Enjolras didn’t reply His eyes were still closed, turned inward. There was something travelling through him and pooling which he couldn’t quite dispel. Exertion had risen to his cheeks now that he was still, and he could feel heat radiating off them. It just wasn’t the same heat all over. Grantaire’s murmur was very low.

He pulled on another lock of hair. “Ow!” Enjolras’s eyes had flown open indignantly, right into the face of Grantaire’s crooked smile.

“Sorry,” he’d rebuffed, jocularly. All the effort of stalking Enjolras had left a flush on his cheeks also. It spread down to his lips.

Enjolras met his eyes.

And that’s when Grantaire had said it.

“Dammit, we’re married,” -it had been breathless- “why shouldn’t I kiss you?”

The hand in his hair had opened and pulled Enjolras’s head closer, but Enjolras had slipped his arms around Grantaire’s waist almost too soon for that to matter. He had no idea why he’d done it. All he’d known  -and all he knew now- were fragments. Grantaire had a particular smell up close. Slightly sweaty. Musky. Enjolras wanted to press his face into Grantaire’s throat. He’d wanted Grantaire to press him somewhere, anywhere. Against a tree. On the ground. He’d wanted Grantaire’s hand to keep moving in his hair. He’d wanted closer.

And the more he’d wanted, the heavier Grantaire had got. There was this force, this traitor force, which had grown in him and pressed him against the Duke. His heart had stuttered out suddenly and he’d pushed Grantaire away.

Then, for good measure, he’d hit him.

That hot cloak of feeling hadn’t gone away. He felt it even now slightly, and he’d worn it all the ride home. The man wouldn’t leave him. He wouldn’t have left him if he’d tried, and try Enjolras had. The only thing which had worked was to cloister himself away like an abbess and dig himself into a further hole.

He still felt hot now.

Some indeterminate amount of time later, there was a knock.

Enjolras leant back behind the screen and let his limbs go limp with apathy. One of his hands was already beginning to buzz.

“My lady?”

It was the man. Grantaire’s man. The shifty one with the strange eye. Enjolras cleared his throat and wondered if he could get away with using his own voice.

“My lady, there is a guest for you.”

“I… beg your pardon?” Enjolras stirred and slipped out, as quietly as he could. Smart footsteps sounded over the water rippling away. A heavy green dressing gown landed suddenly on the screen. Enjolras winced inwardly.

“Who is it, Montparnasse?”

“’Tis your maid, my lady, arrived at last. She said she was detained on family business.”

“My maid?” said Enjolras, busy with tying the cord. “…where has she suddenly come from?”

“I shall invite her in and you can ask her yourself.”

“No, don’t do….!” he raised his arm vaguely in protest before there was, very definitely, the sound of someone else arriving. He swallowed down apprehension in his throat and came out from behind the screen.

“Simplice!”

That simple, overjoyed cry almost lifted everything off him. Everything that he’d been feeling. She smiled back almost as big.

“Hello, my darling.” She took hold of his elbows. “I’ve got some news for you.”