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The first time Enjolras came to him complaining of a mysterious ailment, Joly did what any self-respecting med student would do.

"Brain cancer," said Joly. "Definitely sounds like brain cancer to me."

Enjolras sighed. "I haven't even told you my symptoms yet."

"One second," said Joly. He pulled a notebook from his back pocket and a pen from behind his ear. Enjolras gave him an impressed look for being so prepared, and Joly didn't explain that he mostly used it to make observations on the pigeons that flocked in front of his lab building. "What's ailing you, friend?"

So Enjolras relayed his symptoms, but it was all things like "shortness of breath" and "sweaty palms". Nothing definitive, just the kind of nervous tics you might find in any tightly-wound young law student. Enjolras being the most tightly-wound law student in all of Paris, it didn't take a detective to figure out what was going on.

When the list ended, Joly gave his most thoughtful nod. He’d practiced, and Bossuet insisted it had gravitas.

"Well," said Joly, nodding again, "it sounds to me like you have a touch of what we in the business call un malaise idiopathique. Plenty of water, lots of rest—" Enjolras would benefit from those things anyway, Joly figured "—perhaps some light calisthenics—" this because the image of Enjolras grumpily doing, like, jumping jacks made something sparkle within Joly's very soul "—and it should clear up in a day or two."

Enjolras's eyes narrowed. "You do realize that Greek root words are not a secret language, right?"

"Lots of people know them," said Joly agreeably. Nobody hated the snobbery in the upper echelons of medical school more than him. "Hardcore fans of the Odyssey. Drama enthusiasts. Most people living in Greece. Probably a lot of ghosts."

"'Idio' and 'pathos', Joly. 'One's own illness.' It's essentially a fancy word for 'made up.'"

"No," said Joly, "it means 'impossible to diagnose’."

"You're a doctor," said Enjolras.

"I'm a med student, dude. All I've eaten in 48 hours is ramen and some chewable kids' vitamins."

"Why—"

"I've got this theory that your body absorbs more nutrients when you can taste what you're—look," said Joly, "that's not the point. If you really want to figure this out, you're going to give me more than 'difficulty sleeping'. We're going to have to trace this sucker all the way back to the source." He cracked his knuckles. "We're going to have to do some science."

"That's more like it," said Enjolras.

Joly flipped to a new page in his notebook. "When is it the worst? Morning, afternoon, evening?"

Enjolras insisted there was no pattern, but this was a common layperson’s mistake. There was always a pattern, you just needed to know how to find it.

"Okay," said Joly. He closed his notebook, and uttered the sentence he would come to profoundly regret in the coming weeks. "Text me whenever you experience symptoms."

 

*

"Joly," said Grantaire slowly. "Why is there a human skeleton lying in my bed."

Okay, it wasn't as bad as it sounded. Grantaire's bed was also Joly's couch.

Still: shit. "I have a perfectly reasonable explanation," said Joly.

"Which is….?"

"Damn," muttered Joly, "Really hoped you weren't going to follow up on that."

"You know what, I’m fine not knowing," said Grantaire. "There’s something to be said for plausible deniability."

Joly's heart warmed a little. Grantaire was a much better roommate than people gave him credit for.

"I only ask one thing."

"Sure," said Joly.

"I get to name it."

Embarrassingly, Joly hadn't even started to think about names yet. "Be my guest."

Grantaire scrutinized the carefully wired together conglomeration of bones for a long time. "Evangeline," he said at last.

Joly shook his head. "It's a male skeleton. See the narrowness of the hips—"

"Oh come on," said Grantaire, "is this really a time to be policing gender identity? Poor Evangeline is dead, let's remember her for who she might have been, not who society assumed she was."

"I'll ask Musichetta about getting her a scarf or something," Joly offered.

His phone buzzed.

"Speak of the devil," said Grantaire.

Joly shook his head. "Enjolras.”

Bossuet drifted in from the kitchen, eating a piece of cheese. "Ooh, mystery illness again?"

"Here," said Grantaire, "I can save you a lot of trouble. It's a condition we call Acute Grantaire Sensitivity. Every time I open my mouth, he has to either leave the room or vomit. End of fucking story."

Bossuet frowned. "Grantaire," he said, in what had come to be a very recognizable tone in the Joly-Bossuet-and-sometimes-Musichetta household.

"No man, fuck the jar, that was justified," said Grantaire, but there was an edge of a smile to his mouth. "C'mon, Joly—"

"The jar," said Joly.

"This is not fair, your votes don't count as two when you're basically the same person," Grantaire protested.

"The jar, the jar, the jar," Joly and Bossuet chanted, in something close to unison.

It had been one of Musichetta's conditions for Grantaire moving in: every time he spoke with unwarranted pessimism, he had to put a Euro in the jar. Whenever the jar filled up, they all went out to breakfast. Other than referring to it as the Sad Bastard Jar, Grantaire had actually taken to it pretty well. Sometimes, when he was bored or hungry, Grantaire would throw on an extra "the world is a pile of shit" or two, to get things going.

Joly's phone buzzed again. Enjolras had sent him thirty-eight texts in the past two days, half of them during Courfeyrac's party. Joly had missed what promised to be a hilarious Bahorel story, just trying to keep track of all the new symptoms. Erratic heart rate, a constriction in the chest, dry mouth—

Joly dutifully unlocked the screen.

I forgot to add elevated temperature, it said. Maybe a slight fever? Concentrated around the face area, if that means anything. Mostly at the party, but a little since.

"You should just start a spreadsheet," said Bossuet, peeking over his shoulder.

"A spreadsheet," said Joly dreamily. "God, I love a good spreadsheet."

Grantaire looked up from where he was rearranging Evangeline into a jauntier sitting position. "Hey, tell Musichetta not to bother with the scarf. I just remembered I have a feather boa somewhere."

"Why?" said Bossuet.

“Plausible deniability?” said Grantaire, which—fair enough.

Joly’s phone buzzed again. He sighed.

 

*

 

It was a pretty typical Sunday night. Joly, Musichetta, and Bossuet were lying in bed, watching infomercials. This wouldn’t have been Joly’s first choice, but Bossuet found it soothing to watch photogenic strangers failing to perform simple tasks.

“Hey R, get in here!” yelled Musichetta. “We have a question for you!”

“Is it a weird sex thing?” Grantaire called from the living room.

“What does ‘weird’ even mean in the context of sex, though?” said Joly. “I mean, given the amount of variation in—”

“It’s not a weird sex thing,” Bossuet called back.

A series of shuffling footsteps, and then Grantaire poked his head in the door. “What led you to my area of expertise? Do you have an art question, or—”

“Why can’t white people cook eggs?” said Musichetta. Joly giggled into Bossuet’s shoulder.

“Uh,” said Grantaire.

“The last three infomericals we’ve watched have been for egg-cooking devices,” said Bossuet. “Pour eggs into a tube, poach eggs in the microwave. And maybe it’s a cultural difference, because I’ve always just cooked my eggs on the stove.”

“But to hear them tell it—” Musichetta waved an arm towards the TV “—it is literally the most difficult thing in the world.” She shook her head sadly. “Those poor white people, I don’t understand.”

“You’re asking me?” said Grantaire, eyes a little wide. Joly had always suspected that Grantaire was a little afraid of Musichetta. To some extent, they shared the common language of sarcasm, but it was more a pidgin than a mother tongue. She possessed a famously low tolerance for bullshit, and Grantaire often described himself as “Forty percent bullshit on a good day” (while dutifully feeding a Euro into the Negativity Jar).

Musichetta shrugged. “You’re the only white person we know.”

“That can’t be true,” said Grantaire.

Joly squinted past the TV, thinking hard. “Eponine,” he said at last.

“Oh,” said Bossuet, “by all means, let’s wake up Eponine in the middle of the night for this conversation.”

“But I shouldn’t be the representative,” Grantaire protested. “For one thing, that’s profoundly unfair to white people.”

At that, Musichetta raised an eyebrow.

“Point,” said Grantaire. “But I can’t just go around giving away our secrets.”

Musichetta raised her other eyebrow.

“Okay, promise you won’t tell anyone?” Grantaire stretched his arms behind his back for a moment. “I think in the back of our minds, white people still kind of assume we’re gonna find some small country to conquer and make them cook our eggs.”

“I knew it!” said Musichetta.

Grantaire smiled. It was good to see him bouncing back since Courfeyrac’s party, during which he’d alternated between fighting with Enjolras, and sulking whenever Enjolras fled mid-fight to send Joly more symptoms.

“Anyone want to add anything to the shopping list before I go out?”

“Is the shopping list that piece of paper in the kitchen that just says ‘wine’ on it three times?” said Bossuet. Grantaire nodded.

“Can you pick me up a thermometer?” said Joly. “I need to take Enjolras’s temperature.”

“Sure,” said Grantaire. “Not asking. Not even asking. Look at me, over here, just not asking.”

“Can you not-ask a little more quietly?” said Bossuet, eyes lighting up as he leaned toward the screen. “A man in an infomercial is climbing a ladder. I need to see how this is gonna play out.”

“Oh, get more eggs,” said Musichetta.

“Wait,” said Joly. “Musichetta, your theory is all goofed up. Grantaire’s omelets.” Grantaire made incredible omelets. Other than the tattoo stuff, it was by far his most practical skill.

“R, you’re a credit to your race,” Musichetta mumbled without looking up from the screen.

Grantaire beamed.

 

*

 

Things were a little less fun the next day, when Enjolras stopped by the apartment unannounced and so Joly came back from running errands to find Grantaire glaring and wearing only a towel, dripping water on the floor, and Enjolras wide-eyed and basically nonverbal.

“Thank fucking god you’re here,” said Grantaire, stalking out of the room. “I’m going out for a smoke.”

“Are you putting on pants first?” Joly called after him.

“Not a priority,” came Grantaire’s voice from the direction of the fire escape.

“Well, hopefully nobody below our fire escape happens to look up,” Joly muttered. He glanced over at Enjolras, apologetic. “He gets cranky when his shower is interrupted. Sorry I wasn’t around to let you in.”

Enjolras didn’t look back at him. His gaze was still fixed on the door Grantaire had disappeared behind.

"I just—I didn't know he had tattoos," said Enjolras at last.

"How?" said Joly. "He has them on his forearms, too. Also, he is a tattoo artist, I mean, it's not a huge stretch."

Enjolras swallowed. "I didn't know he had tattoos on his back."

"Yeah," said Joly, shrugging. "I mean, he lives with me and before about noon, he's allergic to shirts—"

"Why—" said Enjolras weakly.

"I always figured he had a bad shirt experience," Joly offered. "Shirts killed his family, or his first dog got hit by a truck full of shirts."

Enjolras shook his head. His face was a little flushed.

"Ooh, are you experiencing symptoms?" said Joly, brightening. "What's your pulse doing? Are you breathing normally? How do your glands feel?"

“My glands are fine,” said Enjolras, although clearly something was off, since his voice was slightly higher than normal. “Would it have killed you to at least mention the tattoos?”

Joly hunted around for the thermometer. “Sorry I don’t keep you updated on the state of R’s naked body, dude.” He snickered.

“Um,” said Enjolras.

Joly froze. Something was beginning to click into place. He grabbed for his notebook, flipping through the pages. Most of Enjolras’s recorded symptoms, and all of the most dramatic ones, had occurred at Courfeyrac’s party. From this pool of data, the main commonality was Grantaire's presence. Fully half of them had happened while Grantaire was eating ice cream.

Sooner or later, someone was going to need to tell Grantaire how pornographic his ice cream-eating face was.

Joly’s mind raced with the thrill of impending epiphany. Acute Grantaire Sensitivity. Maybe it hadn’t been so far off after all. He ripped a blank page from his notebook, scribbled out, “R: I may owe you a Euro”, and stood up to tape it to Grantaire’s door. Then he realized Grantaire didn’t have a door. He stuck it to the fridge instead.

“What?” said Enjolras.

It was bad science to make your results public before they were ready. “I could be onto something,” said Joly.

“You’ll keep me informed?” said Enjolras, face serious.

“If there are developments, you’ll know,” said Joly. “Believe me.”

“Sounds ominous,” said Enjolras with a wry smile.

Joly chuckled.

 

*

Combeferre was studying in the library. Combeferre was always studying in the library, to the point where following "Combeferre" with "was studying in the library" had become more or less redundant.

Joly flung his satchel on the table. “Combeferre, I need to ask you something important.”

“Just once,” said Combeferre, carefully saving his place in his book—he was the only person Joly knew who carried around bookmarks— “Just once, I want somebody to begin a conversation with ‘hello’ or ‘how’s it going?’”

“Why,” said Joly.

“Novelty?” said Combeferre. He tilted his head to the side. “How can I help you?”

There was no way to bring it up without sounding like a gossipy teenager, so Joly just went for it. “Is your best friend in love with my best friend?”

Combeferre squinted at him. “Is...Courfeyrac in love with Bossuet?”

Joly shook his head, impatient. “Bossuet’s not my best friend, he’s my soulmate, and my tennis partner, and at some point in the future we’re going to open up a bakery together called ‘Buns Upon a Time.’ I meant, is Enjolras in love with Grantaire?”

“How would I know?” said Combeferre.

Joly boggled at him. “He’s one of your best friends.”

“We don’t talk about that kind of thing.”

“And you've never, say, discussed his mysterious medical condition?”

“Not really,” said Combeferre. “We have a strict ‘no shop talk in the apartment’ policy.”

“Ah.” Joly nodded sympathetically. “You didn't constantly want the latest news in torte reform?”

“Actually, it was his idea. He said he was tired of hearing about rare bladder disorders at the kitchen table."

“So like, every time the subject comes up, you’re supposed to duck out into the hallway and shout it from there?” Joly furrowed his brow. “Law students are so weird, man.”

“Preach,” said Bahorel from the table behind them. Joly and Combeferre nearly fell out of their chairs.

“How did you even get in here?” said Joly. The med school library required keycards. 

Bahorel smiled. “Camouflage. If you mess up your hair a little, carry a lot of books, and mutter distractedly, anyone will let you in.”

Why did you get in here?” said Combeferre, which was maybe the smarter question from the beginning.

“I like the architecture better,” said Bahorel. He produced a flask from his laptop case, took a sip, and smacked his lips. “Also, the relative lack of supervision.” Bahorel’s flask matched the pattern on his shirt. It showed a real commitment to that shirt, or to drinking, or possibly just to paisley, Joly couldn’t tell. No matter what, he was impressed. Bahorel passed the flask to Joly, who threw back a healthy swallow of what turned out to be scotch.

“What kind of friend doesn’t know whether or not his friend is in love with my friend?” Joly complained.

Bahorel made a considering noise. “He asked you how he would know, and he said he and Enjolras had never discussed it out loud. Point of fact, he never said he didn’t know. You’re a slippery one, Combeferre.”

“Thanks,” said Combeferre. He held out his hand for the flask, which Joly surrendered with a regretful frown. Instead of confiscating it, though, Combeferre just took a long draw.

“Do you know?” said Joly.

Combeferre wiped his mouth and gave the flask back to Bahorel. “Nobody can ever know anything with absolute certainty.”

“...he knows,” said Bahorel.

Well, duh.

Combeferre sighed. “I don’t see the point of getting involved. I mean, for one thing, I respect my friend’s privacy. For another thing, have you ever seen the slightest indication that Grantaire liked him back?”

“You’re joking, right?” said Joly. “This is your famously dry wit at work?”

“Don’t get me wrong, I like Grantaire, he’s a good guy,” said Combeferre. “But when he’s around Enjolras, the only thing he ever does is antagonize him.”

“To hide his massive, obvious crush!” Joly protested.

“Have you ever actually talked to him about it?” said Combeferre.

Well, no. But there were plenty of things Joly had never talked about. He didn’t go around saying much about his earlobes, but he definitely still had them.

“I’m just saying,” said Combeferre. “You don’t have all the data.”

 

*

“On a scale of one to ten, how dreamy would you describe Enjolras?” said Joly, tapping his pen on the paper.

Grantaire twisted around on the couch. “You said we were going to do science,” he said accusingly. “You promised me science, Joly. I wanted lab coats, and machines with lots of lights and buttons, and bubbling beakers. Do you know how many bubbling beakers I’m counting right now?”

“...zero?” Joly hazarded.

“One,” said Grantaire, nodding towards his open bottle of beer. “But only because I am very flexible.”

“I have a notebook,” said Joly. “That’s scientific.”

“Half your notebook is just scribbly drawings of pigeons,” Grantaire countered.

“You read my science notebook?”

“You left it lying open in the living room. You know, your technique isn’t half bad—”

“Enjolras,” said Joly doggedly. “Your feelings, in regards to.”

“For science?”

“For science.”

“God.” Grantaire laughed hollowly. “In that case, get the Sad Bastard Jar out.”

“In the interest of clean data collection, we’re doing jar amnesty for the day,” said Joly.

Grantaire shook his head. “Famous last words, man.”

 

“—and he’s not even my type,” said Grantaire despairingly a few minutes later.

Joly stopped writing. “Seriously?”

Grantaire winced from where he was sitting upside down on the couch. “Shit, did that sound racist? I didn’t mean it like—it’s not a race thing at all. I mean, he’s beautiful, okay. I’m aware that he looks like an angel—”

“You know, he thinks the only reason people stare is the whole dark skin, blond hair thing?” said Joly.

Strangers on the street sometimes stopped Enjolras to ask if he bleached his hair. If Courfeyrac or Bahorel was with him, these conversations tended to descend into violence, or at least profanity. If Joly or Combeferre was with him, things tended to begin with a brief overview of the fascinating genetic features of people from the Solomon Islands, and then end with nuclear levels of snark.

Grantaire made a dismissive gesture. He made it well. Nobody could make a dismissive gesture like Grantaire.

“Yeah, but he’s an idiot. That’s well documented.”

Joly had a feeling he was supposed to protest, but he also had a spreadsheet full of said documentation on his laptop. He frowned.

“But, like generally speaking,” Grantaire continued, “the ones I go for are a little edgier, you know? My type is, like, people who give the impression they could beat me in a knife fight.”

Joly considered this. Grantaire didn’t bring people back to the apartment much—presumably, “Why don’t we go fool around on my friend’s couch?” was a hard deal to seal—but Joly could distantly remember some of Grantaire’s old girlfriends and boyfriends and genderfluid significant others, and yes, there was a pattern there. Mostly a pattern that involved a lot of facial piercings. More than once, Joly had found himself wanting to issue some kind of warning about strong magnets.

Grantaire was still talking. Joly scrambled to attention. “—seriously,” he was saying, “unreal. Unreal in the most literal definition of the word. He looks like a stained glass window, which is generally not something that gets me going, you know? But he starts talking—” Grantaire sighed. “He opens his mouth, and your hair stands on end. Your blood fizzes. It’s the opposite of ‘dreamy.’ It’s ‘awake’ on an impossible magnitude. The air crackles. You can feel the electricity in your bones—”

Probably Joly should have been taking notes. He hastily turned to a new page and wrote, ‘R really likes metaphors. A lot.’ And then underneath that, ‘May be sexually attracted to lightning?’

Was there a word for that? There had to be, right? Something-philic. Joly’s Greek maybe wasn't as good as he thought. He frowned.

“–and okay, don’t get me wrong,” said Grantaire, “I still think the way he talks about insurrection with no irony whatsoever is scary as hell. But he’s so smart and direct and brave, and he just cares so much, you know?” He scrubbed his hand over his face. “Honestly, it’s fucking amazing. And I’m angry at him for being so himself, and I’m angry at me for being somebody he could never even tolerate, and I’m angry at the universe for plunking us down within shouting distance of each other.”

“But you enjoy arguing with him," said Joly.

Grantaire hid his eyes in the crook of his elbow. "I do," he said, "I really, really do."

Joly took a deep breath. "So," he said, picking up his pen again. "Would you, uh, say you like-like him?"

Grantaire's response was three minutes of increasingly desperate laughter.

Joly patted his shoulder. "Hey, want to go mix some baking soda and vinegar? Pretty sure we can make a small explosion. I can't guarantee it's not a little dangerous, but—"

Grantaire gasped and wiped his eyes. "You had me at 'explosion.’”

 

The texting continued. The texting, if anything, intensified.

It got so bad that Joly’s brain started to take shortcuts, so that when his phone chimed at dinner, he could reach into his pocket and unlock the screen without even halting the motion of his fork, muttering reflexively, “Sorry, one second, it’s Enjolras.”

“What?” said Enjolras, from the other side of the table.

Right, yes. They’d met up to grab some food and further discuss symptoms. It was highly unlikely that Enjolras was texting him under the table. Joly looked down at his phone.

It was from Bossuet, and the first three words were “Don’t”, “panic”, and “but”. Joly put his fork down.

Bossuet only told him not to panic when it was a situation that damn well merited some panicking. He closed his eyes, trying to stay calm, and read the text in its entirety: “Don’t panic, but can you pick up some gauze on your way home? NOT A BIG DEAL.”

There was no point pressing Bossuet for information. Bossuet was going to pad the conversation out with pointless reassurances.

Grantaire answered on the second ring. “Joly, oh thank God, I was just about to call you,” said Grantaire. “Your boyfriend came home with a slight head injury. He doesn’t think it’s anything to worry about, and as far as I can tell, he’s not concussed, but there is a little blood.” Through the staticky phone line, he gave a delicate cough. “Or really, a moderate amount of blood, and you might want to—”

After that, Joly didn’t follow the sequence of events too closely for a while, but then he and Enjolras were on the train back to Joly’s apartment. Two stops away, Joly looked up from where he’d been twisting his hands.

“Uh, did we pay?” he said suddenly. “At the cafe?”

“We paid,” Enjolras assured him.

“Really?” said Joly. “Because I have no memory at all of opening my wallet—”

“It’s taken care of,” said Enjolras, who had probably taken advantage of Joly’s nerves to stealth-pay for both of their meals. It sounded like the kind of thing he’d do. Joly let it go; he didn’t have the extra energy to be annoyed.

 

There were four city blocks and a flight of stairs between the train stop and Joly’s apartment. He had never bridged that distance faster, not even on Soup and Boardgames Night. By the time he successfully got his key into the lock, Bossuet had opened the door from the other side.

He was pale and a little disheveled, but smiling a trace of a fond smile and gloriously, blessedly upright.

“Hey, Jolllly,” said Bossuet quietly.

“I’ve got gauze,” Joly blurted out.

“Ah, thank you,” said Bossuet, who on closer inspection, was clutching a wad of paper towel to the side of his face.

Joly motioned him into the kitchen, for better wound-washing. “What happened?”

“He got mugged,” said Grantaire from where he was sitting on the kitchen counter. “In broad daylight. Twice in the space of an hour. I cleaned the cut on his head with soap and stuff, but you might want to do it again, I don’t know.”

“Twice?” said Enjolras from the doorway. From the corner of his eye, Joly saw Grantaire’s posture stiffen, on the defensive.

“No, see it’s actually a funny story,” said Bossuet as Joly dug around for the first aid kit. “So the first guy who mugged me, he had a knife and everything, and he took my phone and my wallet and my coat. So I’m standing there trying to decide if I should go home or walk down to the police station when I hear a voice go, ‘Give me all your money’ and I’m like, sorry man, you should’ve hit me five minutes ago. And he goes, ‘Empty out your pockets!’ and I do, and his face just falls. Literally all I could give him was my metro card and—no fooling—a couple of mints. Poor guy, man. He even let me keep my apple.”

Joly manhandled him to the sink. “The next part’s gonna hurt a bit,” he warned. “Grantaire, can you distract him?”

“On it,” said Grantaire. “Bossuet, have you heard all my knock-knock jokes?”

“Yes, Grantaire,” said Bossuet very patiently. “I have heard all three of your knock-knock jokes.”

“I’m going to report the muggings to the police,” said Enjolras, and the fact that he was voluntarily reaching out to an authority figure showed just how devoted he was to his friends.

“Just don’t say anything too harsh about the second guy,” said Bossuet. “I mean, I really did feel for him.”

Enjolras paused with his phone halfway to his ear. “If the first mugger took all your money, how did you even get an apple?”

“The first guy let me keep my apple, too.”

“Wait,” said Grantaire, “so both of the times you were mugged today, at no point did it occur to you to put the apple down?”

“The first guy had a knife and the second guy had brass knuckles,” said Bossuet. “I was never a piece of fruit away from winning the encount—” The word ended with a hiss as Joly began to dab the cut with disinfectant.

“You’re being very brave,” said Joly. Bossuet smiled crookedly.

“If I’m good, do I get a lollipop?”

“This is more about your sex life than I ever wanted to know,” said Grantaire. Joly and Bossuet must have fixed him with similar looks then, because he swallowed and muttered, “Christ, you really are the same person.” And then, a little louder, “No, I’m sorry, I was ruining a beautiful moment. I mean, the whole bandaging-the-wounded thing, it’s actually kind of romantic.” From the corner of his eye, Joly saw him kick his feet meditatively. “Oh man, think how cute it would be if this was the first time you’d ever met each other, like if Joly’s first words to you were, ‘I have gauze.’”

“Well, actually,” said Bossuet, voice just slightly strained—he was seriously earning that lollipop— “I think if he didn’t know me, his first words would’ve been, like, ‘what the hell are you doing in my apartment?’”

“Wait, wait, now I’m into it,” said Grantaire. He hopped off the counter, diverting Bossuet’s gaze to the left. Joly gave him a grateful smile; Bossuet kept trying to look up at his own cut, which besides being impossible was also wrinkling his forehead too much to bandage it. “Bossuet is a man on the run from his demons, from his tragic backstory—we’ll figure that out later—roaming the streets. Joly is—a man with gauze. Together, they can mend the gash on Bossuet’s head, but can they mend the one...in his heart?” He began to hum dramatic music.

From the other side of the room, Enjolras covered the cellphone receiver. “Hey Bossuet, where were you when it happened?”

“Which time?” said Bossuet. He rattled off two addresses. Joly didn’t know the area well, but he had the sense they were pretty close together.

Grantaire sucked in a sympathetic breath. “The second time, you were three blocks from a police station.”

“I know,” said Bossuet glumly. Then he deflated a little more. “Shit,” he said, “my birthday is the day after tomorrow.”

“You are going to feel fine by then,” said Joly. He smoothed the bandage on Bossuet’s smooth forehead. On the bright side, his baldness had made the whole process much easier. "We are going to have a party this weekend and fun times will be had, do you hear me?"

Bossuet put his head in his hands and started to laugh. “Happy birthday,” he mumbled.

“Happy birthday,” said Grantaire. He patted Bossuet on the shoulder and began to quietly sing, to the tune of ‘Joyeux anniversaire’,

“Sorry someone mugged you, and then his friend did, too
Shit, man, please don’t cry, would you like some cake or pie?
Here’s hoping some balloons will distract from your head wound!
And when the week winds down, your friends will gather around
To sing, ‘Shit, that looks painful, shit shit’”

Bossuet threw an arm around him in a half hug and then ruffled his hair for a bit. “That was beautiful,” said Bossuet, “it brought a tear to my eye. No wait, that’s the massive head trauma.”

“Sing it again!” said Joly. “I think I can do a harmony!”

So Grantaire sang it again, and Joly pretty much managed to sing it a third higher, and then they did it again and Bossuet added some bass notes. Then they did it again and Joly attempted to drop the bass, which went less well.

“I think we need another person,” said Bossuet. Joly looked around, but Enjolras had left the room, probably to better make the phone call.

“Enjolras, get in here!” said Joly. “We need your gorgeous tenor!”

“Good luck with that,” said Grantaire. “He hates shenanigans.”

In truth, Enjolras mostly hated Grantaire’s shenanigans, because he tended to assume they were at his expense, or at the expense of his beliefs, which wasn’t a distinction worth making to him.

“He might do it!” Bossuet looked thoughtful. “I mean, if I make puppy eyes and play the ‘there’s a giant bleeding wound on my head’ card.”

“Please, we’d be better off asking Evangeline to sing. She may not have the throat muscles for it, but I guarantee you she’d be a better sport.” Grantaire’s understanding of throat anatomy was very flawed, but he was in rant mode, so there didn’t seem to be much point in imparting some tidbits about the wonders of the vocal folds. “I mean,” said Grantaire, “unless the game you’re playing is ‘frown and walk away from me’, in which case, yeah, Enjolras is your guy, have fun with that.”

It was a tricky situation, because on one hand, Joly ached to tell Grantaire to calm down and stop being such a dick, but on the other hand, the hurt in his voice was nakedly apparent. It wasn’t a Negativity Jar tone, it was a “please drink some water and take a nap before you do something you’ll regret” tone. Maybe Joly should have offered a hug, but it seemed like reinforcing the wrong kind of behavior, and habit loops were complicated.

Bossuet very subtly elbowed Joly in the side. Being the more pragmatic of the two of them, and also the one who had watched more movies, only Bossuet had thought to check the doorframe and see if Enjolras was standing there listening. Joly’s eyes widened.

“R,” said Bossuet, not unkindly, “please shut up.”

Unfortunately, Grantaire was just picking up steam. “No,” he said. “I’m sorry, I know everyone in our little group thinks he can do no wrong, but why has fucking nobody called him on this? Adults don’t pull that shit, okay, you don’t get to peace out of a conversation mid-word any time you feel like you’re too good for it. What kind of holier-than--thou elitist asshole—”

Clearly, action was required. Joly wasn’t proud of what he did next, which was to clamp his hand over Grantaire’s mouth and shout,

“Hey Enjolras, how’s it going?” But Joly wasn’t good in a crisis, everyone knew that. There was a reason he’d decided not to become a paramedic.

“Um,” said Enjolras, who was blinking very rapidly. “The police weren’t really any help, try to contain your surprise,” he said, a little too loud. He swallowed.

Bossuet gave Grantaire a look, a “please apologize” look. Grantaire shook his head. Enjolras’s eyes moved back and forth between them for a long moment.

“Hey, Enjolras, want to see that spreadsheet?” said Joly. “It’s on my laptop in the bedroom, let’s go.” He grabbed Enjolras by the arm and tugged him out of the kitchen, humming a jaunty little tune as though he could deflate the tension if he just kept pouring cheerfulness on top of it. Yeah, nobody would accuse Joly of being a smooth operator.

 

Enjolras marveled appropriately over the color-coding system and the notations Joly had devised and the algorithms Joly had borrowed from Combeferre in exchange for checking out some books at the library. (Combeferre had exceeded his limit for the month. Joly hadn’t known there even was a limit, although possibly it was a special rule devised just for Combeferre, who was studying brain science but was also doing, like, six other mini-dissertations on the side, as a hobby.)

Then there was a lull, and Enjolras said quietly, “You know, I would’ve done it.”

Joly deleted an extra row of cells and looked up at him, frowning. “Would’ve done what?”

“Joined in,” said Enjolras. “The singing. If you’d needed me to.” He shrugged, a little jerkily—shrugging just wasn’t natural on him. “I mean, just—it looked fun, and—” He broke off with a frustrated sigh.

Joly couldn’t think of any way to console him without also raising a lot more questions for him. So instead he just gave a sympathetic half-smile and said “Chest pains again?”

Enjolras nodded.

“I’ll log it,” said Joly. He undid the deleted row and began to type. Enjolras was restless behind him. Joly craned around to see him scrutinizing the framed painting on the wall. It was a free-form design, smears and blobs of color blending into greys and browns in the middle.

“I, uh, don’t really get modern art,” said Enjolras, sounding a little embarrassed.

“Musichetta’s niece did it,” Joly explained. “She’s five. We all know it’s hideous, just nobody’s allowed to say it out loud.”

Enjolras nodded.

“Great kid, though,” said Joly belatedly. “Really smart.”

It garnered another nod from Enjolras, a little more distant. “I should apologize,” he said, “right?”

“For what?”

Enjolras frowned. “For not telling him about my, uh, malaise. I didn’t stop to think how that would look to an outside party.”

The moment of truth was approaching. Joly held his breath. “Yeah,” he said, “and you have experienced a lot of symptoms around Grantaire, huh?” He leaned forward slightly, watching Enjolras’s face for any sign of epiphany. He was a top law student, his brain an incredible machine. Surely, any moment he would piece it together—

Enjolras bit his lip. “Oh no,” he said, “do you think he thinks I’m mad at him or something?”

Joly’s urge to smack his own forehead was an actual physical need. He glanced down at his palm, so tantalizingly close to his face. Maybe, if he moved quickly, he could slip in a discreet facepalm before Enjolras noticed?

“Joly?” said Enjolras. Joly sighed. It was not to be. “I should apologize, right? Explain about, you know, my condition?”

Given that Grantaire was still almost certainly convinced that said condition was nothing more than Enjolras hating his guts, it didn’t seem like the best idea.

“I would give him some space, maybe,” said Joly. How long could he keep Enjolras away from the rest of the apartment? He fumbled for some way to sweeten the deal. “I think I’ve got some board games in here somewhere?”

The door swung open, Grantaire looking a little shell-shocked on the other side. He had the face of a man who had just undergone an extensive “please apologize” speech from Bossuet. People tended to forget that Bossuet had half a law degree, and occasionally, when the situation really called for it, knew his way around an argument.

“Um,” said Grantaire.

“Um,” said Enjolras.

“Um,” said Joly, due to sheer peer pressure.

“I was just looking for you,” said Enjolras, a little nonsensically since he hadn’t made any steps to leave the room and Grantaire clearly hadn’t been hiding behind the curtains or under the bed or anything.

Grantaire blinked at him, clearly beyond processing this kind of information.

Enjolras cleared his throat. “I wanted to say sorry,” he started. “I should’ve let you know up front, but I’m going through some health stuff right now—”

“Health...stuff,” said Grantaire flatly.

The spreadsheet was still open on Joly’s computer, and Enjolras nodded toward it. “I have some kind of, of flu or something. Joly’s trying to help me, but it occurs to me that I’ve left in the middle of talking to you, more than once, and I can’t imagine it bothers you that much, because I know we don’t take the same things seriously, but I actually—” Enjolras glanced down at his feet, then looked resolutely back up. “I’ve really enjoyed our conversations lately. Most of them,” he added with ruthless honesty. “I’m not crazy about that time you trolled me on tax reform. But, uh. Larger point. Don’t take it personally, okay? You shouldn’t. You really, really shouldn’t.”

Grantaire’s eyes were huge. Cartoon-character-huge.

“Wow,” said Grantaire. “I was gonna do, like, a shitty non-apology because Bossuet made me, but now that’s starting to feel kind of not-great.” He laughed quietly, scratching the back of his head. The motion tugged up the hem of his shirt enough to show a narrow band of tattoo, and Joly resolutely didn’t make eye contact with Enjolras, resolutely pretended not to hear the stifled squeak to his left, resolutely resigned himself to having to log this moment as well.

“I was being a jackass,” Grantaire said. “Not such an unusual event, but God, don’t ever take anything I say to heart, like, ever. I’m not objective. And you’re not elitist, or any of that. You’re actually pretty great,” he added, voice trailing off into a mumble. He turned for the door, then swiveled around. “I just realized I told you to ignore everything I say, and then told you you’re great, but uh. Imagine I did that in reverse order. Yeah.” And with that, Grantaire fled the room.

There was a pause. Enjolras had an expression of intense concentration, of taking stock within himself.

“How’s the chest pains?” said Joly.

“Better,” said Enjolras carefully. “But also worse? But—in a better way. But worse.” He glanced over at the spreadsheet, hopeful.

Joly gave into temptation and let himself bury his face in his hands. There was no algorithm in the world for this.

 

*

"Kidney failure," said Enjolras later, on the phone.

"It's not kidney failure," said Joly.

"I looked it up—"

"I really, really don't think it's kidney failure," Joly insisted. "Trust me, okay? I'm a doctor."

"You're a med student. I'm telling you, I looked it up—"

 

*

"Combeferre," said Joly briskly, dumping his books on the library table. "I need your help with something."

Combeferre looked up from where he'd been quietly studying.

"'Hello Combeferre, how are you?'" he deadpanned. "'Well, Joly, I'm very busy at the moment, but beyond that I suppose I can't complain.' 'Oh dear, if this is a bad time, maybe I should come back later, I would so hate to interfere.' 'That's quite alright, Joly, but thank you for checking first, very considerate—'"

Joly rocked back on his heels. "Are you done yet?"

"Five more minutes," said Combeferre, an amused tic at one corner of his mouth. "You know how much I enjoy our little chats."

"You are so weird," said Joly.

Combeferre pushed his notebook aside and looked up expectantly. "How can I help you?"

"Right," said Joly, "I need you to hack WebMD."

"Hmm. Yes, well that's very interesting," said Combeferre. "Are you aware I am not a hacker?"

"I thought about that," Joly acknowledged. "Then I realized that's exactly what a hacker would say." He lowered his voice conspiratorially. "Look man, I know you know code."

"I took one class on CSS." Combeferre seemed to say this less to Joly and more to the room at large. "Hacking is a very specialized skillset—"

Joly shook his head. "I'm not asking for anything fancy, just, y'know, access the server, maybe poke around in the mainframe a bit, and bring the system down."

"My friend, sometimes I get the feeling that all your knowledge of computers comes from cyberpunk movies of the mid-1990s."

Joly tapped the side of his nose. "And watch out for those strings of floating, glowing numbers," he said.

Combeferre sighed. "When was the last time you got a full night's sleep?"

"I'm a med student," said Joly, rubbing his eyes. "Sleep is surrender. Coffee is strength."

"Work is freedom," said Combeferre drily.

"Right." Joly nodded. "Sometimes, I forget you're a med student, too."

"Maybe because I can still manage the occasional REM cycle, and avoid going around with my pants on backwards."

Joly's eyes widened. He glanced down, but no, there was his fly, right where it was supposed to be. Relief coursed through him. "I hate you," he said.

"You had to check," said Combeferre damningly.

 

*

Joly answered the phone on the fourth ring. "Enjolras!" he said, a little breathlessly. "What is your medical emergency?" Behind him on the bed, Bossuet giggled. It was not in response to anything Joly had said; Musichetta was mouthing at the ticklish spot at the right side of Bossuet’s hip.

"Nothing," said Enjolras. "But it just occurred to me that the last four or five times we've spoken, mostly it's been about me and my problems, and I just wanted you to know that I really value you as a friend, not just a free source of medical advice."

Bossuet giggled again, and then gasped. Joly frowned. There was, he knew, a twin ticklish spot on Bossuet’s other hip. Joly had discovered it himself, through extensive exploration. It was, by all rights, his. He gave it a longing look, and then reminded himself of what a good friend Enjolras was, how upsetting this whole situation had to be from his point of view.

"Do you know what time it is?" asked Joly, carefully remaining in the rhetorical because he wasn't sure himself. Late, though. "Have you been drinking?"

"No," said Enjolras, "I was just thinking about my friendships and how important they are to me."

The sad thing was, it was probably true. Enjolras did things like that sometimes. Once, he sent Feuilly flowers. Daffodils. No reason. Just friendship flowers. Everyone at Feuilly’s work had assumed it was a secret admirer situation, and Feuilly had been too embarrassed to correct them.

Somehow this had led to an incident where Courfeyrac briefly pretended to be Feuilly’s boyfriend. It was a period of their lives Joly hadn’t been following too closely, weighed down with a truly shocking amount of lab work and a little out-of-it from new anxiety meds, but he knew that at some point it involved Courfeyrac diving pantsless out a window, Feuilly curled up in Cosette’s lap as he convulsed with embarrassment, and Enjolras shouting through a closed door, “YELLOW FLOWERS ARE A SYMBOL OF FRIENDSHIP. EVERYONE KNOWS THIS, I LOOKED IT UP.”

The point being, there was no doubt in Joly’s mind that Enjolras had done the research. Enjolras put in his time. He was infamous among their friends for writing really, really long messages in birthday cards, to the point where it sometimes required several auxiliary cards. Courfeyrac had one year’s birthday greeting framed in a triptych. It was something to see.

The only exception was Grantaire, and that was really just because Enjolras had always tended to overthink it. The one time Enjolras managed to get a birthday message to him on time, it was because he’d managed to finish last year’s card exactly a year late. Unfortunately, the beginning was so outdated, it mentioned Grantaire’s cat, and so Grantaire had only gotten half a sentence in before he looked up with red-rimmed eyes and said,

“Bowser died four months ago. But, uh, thanks, I guess.”

(This was especially egregious because Joly knew that Enjolras knew when the cat had died. He knew because Combeferre had texted him from a card shop, complaining that Enjolras was taking the time to scrutinize the full text of every single sympathy card, dissecting the word choice and critiquing the symbolism. Enjolras had left the shop empty-handed, none of its offerings passing muster, and Combeferre and Joly had spent the afternoon quizzing each other via text message about various obscure venereal diseases.)

Joly swiveled around so that he didn’t get distracted by the things Musichetta and Bossuet were doing behind him which were—well, distracting.

“Wow,” said Joly in a rush, “that’s very touching and also it was good to hear from you—”

“I mean it,” Enjolras interrupted, with heartwarming and very frustrating sincerity. “When I think about our generation, and the world we’re going to make, people like you are so important. I see the way you throw yourself into your studies, the way you tirelessly search for answers, and it just, makes me so happy—”

The mattress jostled. Musichetta let out a little sighing moan. She was ordinarily pretty quiet in bed, unless she was trying to make a point, so Joly had an inkling that this was payback for something. He twisted around. Musichetta moaned again. It was definitely theatrical on her part, but it was still—he swallowed—pretty effective. Joly threw her a despairing look. Musichetta pointed to his phone, then mimed a tear trailing down her face.

Right. Their brand-new “no answering the phone on date night” rule. It had been unanimous. Joly sighed, rolled his eyes at Enjolras, who was still heaping on the praise, and with one last wistful look, turned away from the staged but very hot tableaux happening behind him.

“—is the best tool we have for pursuing the truth right now,” Enjolras was saying, “and medicine even more so. I keep thinking about the progress people like you represent, and the progress that’s about to come, and I just—I’m so proud to know you, Joly, I really am—”

There was the sound of shifting blankets, and then warm breath on the nape of Joly’s neck, and then Musichetta was resting her chin on his shoulder, and pressing her body against his back.

Meanwhile, Bossuet lay somewhere to the side, dying of laughter; Joly could both hear it, and feel the vibrations. Bossuet often laughed during sex. Usually, it was endearing, but as Musichetta carelessly draped a bare leg across Joly’s lap, the usual mirth carried with it a whiff of betrayal. Musichetta’s toes stroked the inside of his knee, and Joly swallowed again. It was unfair. She knew how he felt about her feet.

With one finger of his free hand, he traced the letters “H-A-V-E M-E-R-C-Y” on her thigh. She huffed a laugh against his neck, tugged his chin until they were facing each other, and pantomimed hanging up a phone. With the death of landlines, the entire concept of hanging phones up was about to die, he realized, that was kind of interesting—

Her toes began to lightly trace up the inseam of his pajama pants. Joly tried to swallow and failed.

“Well that’s really great, Enjolras,” he blurted, at about twice the speed of normal conversation. Even to his own ears, he sounded like a cartoon chipmunk. “Listen, I’m so glad we had this moment, and I’m proud to know you too, okay bye!” He scrambled to end the call, turned off his phone, and for good measure, threw it straight up in the air. The cellphone sailed in a high, clean arc and then lodged itself in the light fixture hanging from the ceiling.

“Wow,” said Bossuet.

“Damn,” said Musichetta.

“Let’s all make a solemn vow to deal with that later,” said Joly, peeling off his shirt.

This time, Bossuet’s laughter sounded a lot more pleasant to his ears.

 

*

“Combeferre, thank god you’re here!” said Joly, loud enough that the library page gave them a stern glare. He winced apologetically in her direction and lowered his voice. “I have a question for you.”

“Actually, I have a question for you, too,” said Combeferre.

Joly blinked, taken aback. “Uh, you first, I guess?”

“Do you think psychics are real?” Combeferre’s face was very serious. Joly attempted a response, but nothing came to mind. “I was just reading an article on peripersonal space,” Combeferre continued, “and the brain’s ability to create models for, in effect, sensing things outside of what’s commonly considered, you know, the bounds of the body, and given that different people have different sensitivities, it’s starting to seem possible to me that maybe there are people out there who can essentially read minds.”

“Huh,” said Joly. “I don’t know.”

Combeferre nodded. “What was your question? Or—wait! How about you think your question at me as hard as you can, and then I’ll try to think a response back to you.”

“Deal!” Joly squeezed his eyes shut, concentrating as hard as he could.

After a minute or two, Combeferre said, “I think I might have gotten something, but I’m not sure—”

“Ooh,” said Joly, “was it, ‘why does everyone always act like Combeferre is the normal one?’”

“That’s easy,” said Combeferre. “The power of contrasts.”

There was a pause. Joly shuffled his feet. “I’m starting to think ‘psychic’ might not be a thing,” he confessed.

“Well, two is a terrible sample size by any measure.” It was a fair point, thought Joly, and one they really should’ve considered in the first place. “Was that your original question?”

“What—no, I was just—” If he was honest with himself, Joly had no idea what his original question had been. But he could guess at the gist. “Dude, you need to help me get those two crazy kids together.”

“Nobody needs to do anything,” said Combeferre.

“Please,” said Joly.

“Look.” Combeferre rubbed his forehead and sighed. “Enjolras is—well, you’ve probably worked that out on your own. If you say Grantaire likes him back, I guess I’ll take your word on it. But don’t you think it would be better for their relationship if they worked this out themselves? It’s not like they’re under a time limit or something—”

“Easy for you to say,” Joly countered. “It’s starting to affect my sex life—”

How,” said Combeferre, and then immediately, “Don’t answer that.

Joly grinned. “Can I think it at you?”

“Let’s not, just to be safe.”

“Whatever,” said Joly, “I’m gonna go ask Jehan for help.”

Combeferre snorted, which was never a good sign. “Good luck with that.”

 

*

“No,” said Jehan. “No. Nope nope nope. No. Not even.”

“C’mon,” said Joly.

“A whole wide sprawling glorious world of nope.”

“You’re supposed to be a romantic,” Joly wheedled.

“Capital R Romantic, dude.” Jehan waved one hand in the air, and used the other to take a deep puff from the battered hookah on the coffee table. The smoke dissipated slowly. “Byron, man. Keats. Castro Alves. Mary Shelley. You want to help our friends reanimate a corpse or haunt a castle, and we will get that shit done. Otherwise? If it’s meant to happen, it’ll happen, you know?”

“You probably think you’re being profound right now,” said Joly. “Curse your devil’s herb.”

“Want a turn?” said Bahorel.

Jehan snickered. “You mean, ‘do you want to take like two hits and then spend the rest of the evening telling us about how all you want in life is for your friends to be happy—’”

“What?” said Joly.

“It’s what you do every single time you get really high,” said Jehan. “Which is also every single time you smoke.” Joly’s eyes narrowed and Jehan added, “Hey, no judgment, it’s adorable.”

“I am not,” said Joly. “Give me that.”

 

*

Joly breathed out slowly. “It’s like, why I went into medicine in the first place,” he said. He looked up at Jehan and Bahorel, who smiled back at him. They had such beautiful smiles. “It’s all part of the same impulse, you know? Well and healthy and safe. I just—more than anything, more than any fucking thing, I just want—”

“—your friends to be happy?” Bahorel finished with a wide grin.

Joly stared at him. “Holy shit,” he said. “Someone call Combeferre. Peripersonal space, we figured it out. Sample size of three, we are geniuses—”

Bahorel was typing intently away on his phone.

“Peripersonal,” said Joly. “Spelled P-E-R-I—”

“I’m texting Grantaire,” Bahorel announced.

“R? But he’s not a scientist, he’s a tattoo artist.” Although now that Joly thought about it, a psychic tattoo artist would be kind of amazing. So would psychic tattoos. So would bread with cheese melted on it. Nestled in Jehan’s hideous but extremely comfortable couch, he allowed himself to meditate on all of this. He didn’t feel high, just relaxed and expansive, fully awake to the possibilities of the universe. “Do you have any cheese?” said Joly. Then he took a nap.

 

*

The day of Bossuet’s birthday party, Grantaire wore a white T-shirt, thin enough that the lines of the tattoo on the center of his back were ghostly but visible against his spine. Joly felt a dire foreboding. But Enjolras was on what seemed like maybe pointedly good behavior, managing to at least choke out a “hello” and a “goodbye” before fleeing to the other side of the kitchen and all but leaping into Feuilly’s arms, sinking right into Feuilly and Eponine’s fervent discussion of intersectionality.

Grantaire, in turn, tried very hard not to look disgruntled. He perked up a little when Joly tasked him with making birthday omelettes. Musichetta mixed the drinks, and Joly ran out to pick up the cake from that slightly pretentious new bakery they’d been meaning to try. This was, they’d learned through several failed party iterations, the ideal division of labor.

When Joly returned, weighed down with several pounds of chocolate and fondant, Enjolras was nowhere to be seen. He frowned, but he couldn’t check his phone without putting the cake at risk.

“Hey,” said Grantaire, sidling up to him. “Can we make it so that if I pass up a golden opportunity to say negative shit, somebody else has to put money in the Sad Bastard Jar?”

“I mean, that’s kind of a house decision, I don’t know,” said Joly. “What’s up?”

Grantaire shook his head. “You know, I’d honestly started to think that I was just being paranoid,” he said, “and that maybe he had, I don’t know, Lupus or Lyme Disease or the Spanish Flu. But I swear to God: he made a joke—a deliberate, on-purpose joke—I laughed, and he fucking booked it. Cause. Effect.” He sighed, bleakly.

“Huh,” said Joly. “That’s, well. Hey, can you hold this cake for me?”

Grantaire lifted the box from his hands and deposited it safely on the counter. Joly grabbed his phone and unlocked the screen. He had six missed texts. Well.

He scrolled through them. In order:

Slight difficulty breathing?

Combined with chest pains.

Also the face-focused fever symptoms, like I mentioned before.

(Unrelated but has R’s laugh always sounded like that?)

Elevated heart rate, too.

The most recent said simply, PLEASE ADVISE.

“Can you give me a moment,” said Joly. He glanced around the apartment. A familiar blond head remained notably absent. Joly rolled his eyes.

Enjolras, he typed, your friendship is very dear to me and I respect you to the utmost degree. But be straight with me: are you hiding in my bathroom right now???

His phone chimed immediately. No.

And again. Thank god you’re here.

And again. I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS HAPPENING AND YOU HAVE TO HELP ME.

Joly allowed himself a deep moment of soul searching. Did he have the patience for this? Enjolras was evidently missing Bossuet’s party in favor of shivering on the fire escape and sending panicky texts about a problem that wasn’t even really a problem. Joly was likely going to miss Bahorel’s hilarious story again, and he had nearly been cockblocked via telephone. He had nearly lost his cellphone to his bedroom ceiling. Enough was enough.

He took a deep breath, stretched out his typing thumbs for a second, and got to work. Listen, friend. You are smart enough to figure this out. Go scroll back up and look at your “unrelated” sidenote. Think about it REAL HARD in conjunction with everything else you wrote. I’ll give you a hint: your kidneys are fine.

PS. If you are still confused, I advise you also think real hard about R’s tattoos? :D

There was no response for what was, in this context, a distressingly long time. Then:

oh my god

And then nothing. “Okay,” said Joly, out loud. He figured he would give Enjolras half an hour to process things out on the fire escape, and then Joly would somehow drag him back to the party, even if it meant calling the fire department or the air force.

The omelets were great, and Musichetta mixed a fine drink. Cosette recommended some new bands and Marius was very amused by Jehan’s impression of how Joly had behaved after three turns with the hookah, which had to be exaggeration, Joly was pretty sure.

“Should we cut into this gorgeous cake?” said Musichetta.

“I feel like we should wait for Enjolras,” said Courfeyrac. He glanced around. “Hey, where is Enjolras, anyway?”

“Thought he was in the bathroom—” said Jehan.

Eponine shook her head. “I’d assumed he maybe stepped out for some air, but I just had a smoke on the fire escape and he wasn’t there, either.”

Grantaire, the picture of nonchalance, poured himself a glass’s worth of wine. Unfortunately, he wasn’t looking at his hands or the glass, so he poured it directly onto the kitchen counter.

“Shit shit shit,” he said, mopping up what he could with napkins.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Joly. He scooped up the napkins and dumped the sodden purple wad into the trash. “Can you grab some towels from the linen closet?”

Nodding, Grantaire disappeared in the direction of the hallway.

Then he didn’t reappear.

“Is there a wormhole in your apartment?” asked Eponine in a low voice a few minutes later.

“No idea,” said Joly. He had just convinced Bahorel to tell the hilarious story again, one more time, for old time’s sake, when he remembered that nobody had ever finished cleaning up the wine spill. Joly was not a neat freak by any measure, but the kitchen counter was white and he wanted to get his deposit back. “Can you excuse me for a second?”

He wove through the little clusters of his friends, down the hallway, and stopped in front of the linen closet. There was what sounded like a light scuffling from the other side of the door. If they had mice, they were definitely not getting the deposit back.

He took a deep breath and whisked open the door.

Enjolras and Grantaire were making out passionately against a shelf full of pillowcases. Joly very quietly cleared his throat. They didn’t hear him. Grantaire’s shirt was balled at their feet, and they were clutching at each other and making noises and kissing like it was going out of style. Like they were going to bring it back into style, through sheer enthusiasm.

Joly rocked back onto the balls of his feet. “Can one of you hand me a towel?” he said.

Enjolras and Grantaire both gave a violent start. They wrenched apart—or as far apart as they could, given what a small closet it was.

“I wasn’t—” Grantaire stammered, staring at Joly with wide eyes, “We weren’t—”

“Kind of a hard sell,” said Joly, trying not to giggle, “but it’d be a little more believable if your hand wasn’t still, you know, on his butt.”

Grantaire removed the hand in question and placed it over his face instead, which was going very red, although not red enough to camouflage the brand-new marks on his neck. Enjolras shot Joly a look that redefined “murderous.” Joly made a very reasonable sound that in no way resembled a terrified squeak.

Joly held up his hands, appealing.

“Hey, no, sorry, didn’t mean to get in the way,” he told Enjolras. “Who am I to come between a man and his, uh—” Joly froze. Why, oh why, had he structured his sentence that way? He’d committed himself to a noun, now, this was the worst thing to ever happen—

“Boyfriend,” said Enjolras firmly. Joly gave him an impressed look. Had Enjolras seriously managed to sort out all of his relationship problems in one go, from the inside of a linen closet?

Grantaire peeked out from behind his fingers. “Um, who?”

Ah. Maybe not so much. Still, someone had to be the adult in this situation. “He means you,” said Joly helpfully. “I mean, unless there’s someone else in there.”

The look of total shock Grantaire gave him was not exactly surprising, but Joly couldn’t help scolding a little.

“Oh my god, Enjolras, did you talk to him about this at all, or did you literally just drag him in there when he opened the door and start kissing him?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Enjolras, bristling, which was in no way a no.

“Are you even going to ask him out?”

Enjolras rolled his eyes. “Obviously. Don’t you think it’s kind of implied—”

“It isn’t,” said Grantaire, staring at him.

“Oh.” Enjolras deflated a little. He hid his face against Grantaire’s bicep for a second, as if gathering his thoughts, then he pulled himself upright. His hands were still on Grantaire’s shoulders. He had never moved them. “Uh, do you want to go out with me somet—”

“Yes,” said Grantaire.

Enjolras grinned at him, shy and delighted, as if Grantaire had just performed a magic trick.

“So can we agree you don’t have kidney failure?” said Joly.

Enjolras shut the door in his face.

Joly took three steps, then pivoted back. “Hey guys? A towel?” The closet door opened a crack, and two towels came flying out. Joly caught one with his right hand and the other on his left foot. He glanced around, but all the other guests were in the kitchen or the living room. Nobody would ever know what a cool move he’d just pulled off. Still, Joly knew, he thought as he rejoined the party, and that counted for something.

 

EPILOGUE

“They’ve been in there an awfully long time,” said Joly. Enjolras and Grantaire had missed both the singing of 'Joyeux Anniversaire' and the divvying of the cake. Bossuet didn't mind, and Joly had assured their friends that Enjolras and Grantaire wouldn't be offended. Still, this was getting concerning.

"It's fine," said Musichetta in a reassuring undertone.

"But are you sure, though," said Joly. "I just--are they being safe, you know? Grantaire's such a pessimist, there's no way he carries around protection, and Enjolras is--Enjolras."

"They're rational adults," Bossuet insisted, and Joly gave that contribution the side-eye it deserved.

"Look," said Musichetta, "if nothing else, there is just not enough room spatially for them to have unprotected sex in our linen closet."

"But they're both so smart," said Joly darkly, "and they both have such terrible judgment--"

"In a way that breaks the rules of physics, though?" Musichetta had a point, but that jangling anxiousness remained, whispering to Joly of the grisly accidents that could befall his friends, asking him if it didn’t make more sense to get up and slip a few condoms under the linen closet door, just in case--

"Would it help if I sat on your feet so you can't go do whatever it is you don’t want to do?" Bossuet offered.

"We could each take a foot," said Musichetta.

Joly really did have the world's greatest significant others.

His phone chimed with a new text. He stared down at it with horror.

"Do you want one of us to read it?" said Musichetta slowly. Joly shook his head. With shaky fingers, he unlocked the screen. The text was indeed from Enjolras. It was a two word message. Joly let out a sigh of relief. Neither word had anything to do with kidneys or fevers or heart palpitations or cancer. Instead, it said simply:

thank you

Joly smiled.