Grantaire landed on the living floor with a thump. He fell forwards, too dazed to throw his hands out and catch himself. The stale stench of the jail cell faded as he buried his nose in the soft fibers of their rug. Oh god, it was good to be home. With shaky limbs he pushed himself up so that he was sitting on the floor; naked and disorientated. Dusk was settling outside sending orange sun light spilling through from the kitchen, and the house was quiet with emptiness. The clock on the mantelpiece ticked monotonously as Grantaire collected himself, reveling in the safety of his own home; his own time.
Once his head had stopped spinning he forced himself to his feet and stumbled towards the kitchen, bare feet padding on the ceramic tiles. He noticed there was a load of washing sitting in the tumble dryer and he helped himself to a pair of jeans and one of Enjolras’ charity shirts before pulling open the fridge in search of food. Condensation trickled down the back wall as he surveyed the empty shelves; a half empty jar of olives, a moldy pepper and some questionable looking chicken. It wasn’t an appetising sight, still his stomach gave a low growl of hunger as he surveyed the slim pickings. With a frown Grantaire plucked the jar of olives from the top shelf and closed the door. Unscrewing the cap he shook a couple of olives into his mouth and glanced around a little helplessly. How long had he been gone?
The duration of his Travels didn’t always match the length of his absence. He’d once spent near on seventeen hours fending for himself out near Rockford, only to return five minutes later just in time for a reading he’d been hosting at the library. Needless to say his colleagues had been less than impressed to find that Grantaire was half asleep on his feet at 3 in the afternoon.
This time though it looked like the five days he’d endured in rural Indiana had been accounted for by five days of his real time. He stared at the calendar with a crushing sense of realisation; he’d missed Enjolras’ birthday. Of course he had. He kicked a chair and cursed loudly. Just for once couldn’t he catch a break?
Thinking of Enjolras, Grantaire began to wonder where he was. He picked up the phone from the cradle in the hall and was about to phone Enjolras’ cell when he heard the crunch of tyres on the drive and saw headlights sweeping across the front door.
“R! Jesus Christ.” Courfeyrac pushed the door open and balked, his hand clutched to his chest in fright. “You trying to give me a heart attack?”
But Grantaire wasn’t paying any attention; far too preoccupied with staring at the half conscious figure being carried towards the house by Combeferre and Jehan. The man stumbled, head lolling and giddy drunken mumblings spewing from his mouth. He wobbled up the drive with a dizzying meander of footsteps, guided only by Combeferre’s strong grip under his shoulders and Jehan’s steering. His hair was longer and his frame much thinner, almost skeletal, but it was very clearly Grantaire. A much younger Grantaire. But that was impossible; he had no recollection of this moment. The younger version of himself stopped in his tracks and, after an uncertain moment, threw up in the rose bushes that lined the path to the front door. Ah, perhaps that was why Grantaire didn’t remember this incident.
“Sorry.” He apologised to everyone on behalf of his inebriated self. “We’d better take him upstairs. What happened?”
“We found him – you, um,” Courfeyrac faltered, his eyes darting between the figure being helped upstairs and the Grantaire standing before him. “In a bar. He was pretty far gone.”
“I can see that.” Grantaire’s mind was reeling, trying to place where his younger self might have come from.
“Grantaire?” Enjolras gasped, too stunned to do anything other than gape at him for a moment. He’d dragged himself from the car with a lethargic air and trooped up to the house, ready to throw himself under his duvet and drown in a sea of guilty longing as he waited for his Grantaire, the real Grantaire, to come home. But here he was, plain as day. Enjolras almost couldn’t believe his eyes.
He stopped in the doorway. His jacket had slipped off one shoulder, his hair was fraying and his face was crumpled with distress. For a moment Enjolras was the picture of the lost thirteen year old Grantaire had once found in the meadow, distressed after one too many arguments with his parents. And then Enjolras lunged at Grantaire, throwing his arms around Grantaire’s neck with a force and an intensity that winded him.
“Happy birthday,” Grantaire said softly. “I missed you.”
“I love you.” Enjolras told him. “You were gone too long.”
He didn’t ask Grantaire to promise not to leave again, it was a promise they both knew wasn’t possible, but Grantaire could read the desperate pleading in his eyes.
Leaving Enjolras in the kitchen with Courfeyrac and a steaming mug of tea, Grantaire traipsed upstairs to face the failings of his youth. He found himself passed out on the bed in the guest room whilst Combeferre mopped at his face with a damp cloth and Jehan rummaged around in the closet to find some towels.
He almost laughed at the absurdity of the situation. Instead he scratched at the back of his neck and told the others to leave. They shouldn’t have to deal with this.
“It’s alright,” he said. “I’ll sort him out. You go downstairs and enjoy the rest of your night.”
Combeferre hesitated, clearly loathe to leave the younger Grantaire in such a position.
“Go on. He’ll be fine.” Grantaire gestured to himself as evidence – forgetting that he had a lovely swollen black eye and more than one partially healed scape on his arms (running through a thicket with next to no clothes on hadn’t been his brightest idea).
Jehan piqued an eyebrow at him. “If you’re sure?”
“Seriously, you’ve done enough.”
“Alright.” He passed Grantaire the towel with a sympathetic look on his way out. “Shout if you need anything.”
Combeferre hesitated. “At least let me at least see to our eye?” he asked.
“I’ll be right back.” Combeferre crossed the hall to fetch the first aid kit, leaving Grantaire alone with his sleeping double.
Someone, presumably Combeferre, had rolled him into the recovery position and he was sleeping like the dead. His long hair was splayed out on the pillow, a tangle of dark curls contrasting with his sickly pale skin. His nose was long and straight, missing the crooked lump Grantaire had acquired from a fist fight in 1997, and the long hair placed him sometime after 1994 when Grantaire had experimented to see if growing it out would help tame the curls. It hadn’t, but he’d grown almost fond of the way it brushed across his shoulders, hiding his face if he so chose. And Montparnasse had always been fond of them. Montparnasse. Grantaire had always used the heaviest during his time with ‘Parnasse, when drugs been in no short supply. That would certainly explain the sorry state his other self was in.
He sat on the bed beside himself, and brushed the curls from the face of his younger counterpart.
“Why do you do this to yourself?” he asked in a quiet voice. Hating that he knew just why, and that nothing he could do would change it. In a matter of minutes, or maybe hours, the other Grantaire would find himself back in the past – in his present. There weren’t very many happy memories that came from the years between 1994 and 1997, and Grantaire hated to think of himself living through them all over again.
“Don’t go back there.” He told himself. “Don’t go back. Find Jehan, get yourself cleaned up and sorted out. Enjolras is only a few years away.” He was breaking protocol and telling himself facts about the future, but it didn’t matter. The sleeping form beside him was dead to the world. Grantaire knew he would remember nothing of this encounter. “Don’t go back.”
He felt tears welling behind his eyes, a sob building in the back of his throat. He chocked it down and sniffed them back. Standing up, he turned to the window, squinting to refract the light of the street lamps into orange bursts.
“Grantaire?” Combeferre knocked lightly on the door.
Grantaire cleared his throat with a cough and turned back to Combeferre with a forced smile. “Hey, doc.”
Combeferre placed the first aid on the bed and beckoned Grantaire over. “That’s a pretty nasty bruise you have there, what happened?”
“A farmer caught me sleeping in his barn. He hit me with the butt of his rifle before calling the cops.” It had caught Grantaire on his cheekbone, bruising the underside of his eye and giving him a nasty little cut that opened itself up every time he grimaced.
Combeferre dabbed around Grantaire’s eye with an anti-septic wipe. Even though he knew the sting was coming, Grantaire still flinched.
“I’m just glad he didn’t shoot me,” he laughed.
Combeferre didn’t seem to think it was very funny, so Grantaire stopped laughing. Silence hung between them for a beat, whilst Grantaire pointedly looked at the dresser behind Combeferre. A stack of books balanced preciously on the edge next to a mug that most definitely needed washing up.
“Enjolras was very worried about you.” Combeferre broke the silence eventually.
“I don’t think you do.”
Grantaire flicked his eyes back to Combeferre, he was very close and they shared an uncomfortable moment of scrutiny before Grantaire looked away. He’d seen enough, too much. He knew Combeferre was right.
“You never see him in your absences. He just stops.” Combeferre explained. “The longer you’re gone the less he functions. I know it’s not your fault and I’m not blaming you.” He added. “And I’m sure you’ve considered treatment..?”
Grantaire sighed. “Ferre. I’ve been to every specialist and ‘ologist you could imagine. None of them believed me. Most of them thought I was mad.”
Combeferre just hummed. He placed a steri strip neatly over Grantaire’s cheekbone to hold the cut closed. Experience had taught them both that stiches were generally more hassle than then were worth when it came to Grantaire. “All done.”
Grantaire traced it gently with his fingers. “Thank you.”
Combeferre smiled, distracted. Grantaire could tell he was building up to saying something – something he knew Grantaire wasn’t going to like.
“I know a doctor, a geneticist." Comberre said at last. "He’s a little unorthodox, but top of his field. I really think he could help.”
“Ferre,” Grantaire warned. He’d done being poked at and prodded like a test subject. He’d endured being laughed out of every doctor’s office, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to let them conduct any more psych tests on him.
“Just, trust me?” Combeferre asked. “I think he would want to meet you.”
Honestly, it was hard not to trust Combeferre. But Grantaire had been down this road too many times. There just wasn’t a cure.
Behind him the other Grantaire began to snore. He glanced over his shoulder and frowned, thinking of Enjolras, of the desperate pleading in his eyes and the force with which he’d held onto Grantaire.
“What the hell. How do I contact him?”
“Doctor Joly. He has an office in the University of Chicago Hospital.” Combeferre handed Grantaire a business card, and Grantaire couldn’t help wondering how long he’d been carrying it around.
Grantaire studied the small piece of card, irritated by the little bubble of hope that began to swell in his chest. There was nothing to be done to fix him. He was only going to end up disappointed. He pocketed the card and thanked Combeferre, trying to sound sincere.