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Your Heart on Your Skin

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Grantaire’s first flower appears when he is two years old. It’s late, for a First Bloom, considering some children are born with their First already etched above their hearts, but Grantaire’s parents are warm and loving and wait to see what sort of child they have born unto the world.

His First Bloom, when it comes, is vibrant patch of yellow carnations. He is too young to know what it means, and his parents don’t tell him, just—withdraw, and a much smaller patch of yellow carnations appears on his mother’s ankle.

It is somewhat fitting, he thinks later, when the crushing loss of his parent’s love is just one of a tapestry of flowers on his body, that his First Bloom was disappointment.

That same day he got his second flower, a marigold mirroring his carnation on the other side; grief.

When he fails his first test, a faint tickle on his back turns out to be a geranium bush, but he’s not surprised. He thought he was stupid long before his skin spelled it out for him.

The day Grantaire’s parents bring home his little sister, he find a yellow hyacinth on his left hip, and in the following weeks a yellow rose on the other.

“Don’t be jealous,” his parents tell him, “we love you just as much as we love her.”

“I’m not jealous,” he tells them, but his hips make a liar of him with every step he takes.

When she is six months old, his sister’s First Bloom appears above her heart. It’s a line of lily of the valley—sweetness, humility—running from her collarbone to her sternum, and Grantaire’s parents hold her and kiss her and smile and cry.

The feeling of a bloom is never comfortable, it falls somewhere between a sleeping limb and a papercut, but the Jonquil that blooms on Grantaire’s sternum burns like a blow; it knocks the wind out of him. He’s hardly surprised that it’s yellow. He hasn’t memorized every flower yet, but he looks Jonquils up in his flower book and cries himself to sleep repeating their meaning over and over, “please love me back, please love me back, please love me back.”

By the time he reaches high school, he has more blooms than anyone he knows. He wears long sleeves and long pants (to cover the twin yellow tulips on the back of his calves that materialized when he realized his parents would never care for him), and he hates the color yellow. He has never met anyone as monochromatic as he. He thinks maybe it’s a sign that his parents were right to deny him affection.

After all, whose first act is to disappoint?

When Grantaire gets accepted to college, he blooms an apple blossom on his left arm, curling up his bicep and his collarbone and dangling, pink and white and dainty and hopeful over his carnation. Better things are to come.

--

“Is that a new one?” Eponine asks him as he steps out of the shower, towel wrapped haphazardly around his hips. “On your back?”

She is the only one who has seen him naked with the lights on for years. Jehan knew about his First Bloom because Jehan turned him into a very talkative drunk (although he couldn’t truly be mad, because Jehan had also dragged him to Les Amis), but Eponine knew his marks better than he did.

They have a full length mirror in nearly every room of their apartment. Grantaire claims it is for the noble quest to Art, but more often it’s used for flower gazing. Discovering he could paint had put bear’s breeches up his right side, purple and white and lovely and declaring him an artist, and tufts of white angelica on his feet and thighs and back. He’s had a lot of inspiration, he supposes.

It’s not that, though, that Eponine is pointing out. “No,” she says. She crosses the room and places her hand on his back, above the geranium which has slowly grown to cover most of his lower back, which is fair, he thinks. Grantaire would be the first to call himself stupid. His right shoulder blade is covered with dandelions, for overcoming, but his right was bare. Eponine traces the flower gently. “You have a morning glory. We match.”

It’s true. They do both love in vain.

“I hate him.” Grantaire lets Eponine guide him back to the couch, lets her push his head down against her shoulder.

“No you don’t.” She is thinking about Marius, he knows, and not Grantaire and his problems at all, but Eponine only allows herself human contact when she thinks others need it, so he stays and lets her pet his hair and tries to keep himself from crying. She lays her other hand gently on his right thigh. They seem to be in position frequently, and her hand always rests on his thigh, so that is naturally where his very first daisy bloomed, for his very first true friend.

“No,” he says finally, “I don’t.” Like his blooms had given him any chance at hiding that. He has daffodil for unrequited love on his left thigh, and purple linaria bipartita running up the inside of his right leg. His flower book says it means please notice my love, but it also says that the common name is clovenlip toadflax and Grantaire hates both of those facts equally. “I’m pathetic.”

Eponine smacks him, which he supposes he deserves. She has daffodils and jonquil and toadflax and morning glories and coriander and aster and all for Marius, who bloomed a friendship daisy for her, like loving her wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. Eponine’s First has been a red dahlia, betrayal and dishonesty, which Grantaire is sure is a knock at her family and not herself, followed quickly by amaryllis for pride and peonies for shame, blooming onto her neck like an inescapable necklace. Eponine wears a lot of scarves.

Eponine is lucky though. She might be more covered than Grantaire, but at least her flowers are symmetrical. She looks intentional, her battles scars laid out with precision. Grantaire looks like an amateur gardener had a stroke while designing him.

“What caused it?” Eponine’s fingers tug through his tight curls, and he knows his hair is going to be a mess.

He’s not sure exactly, but, “I was out drinking with Jehan last night, and he told me I deserved to be loved.”

Eponine snorts. “And you took issue with that.” She crosses her legs, subtlety, but he knows it so he can see the daisy she bloomed for him, on the sole of her right foot. “Jehan just wants the best for everyone. Everyone possibly in the entire world.”

“I want good things for me!” Grantaire tries to sit up, but Eponine pulls him back down. “I want the best things, clearly, because I want Enjolras.”

He can tell Eponine is rolling her eyes but she has the decency to not make a direct comment. “Are you going to the meeting tonight?” He nods and she pats him on the head, only a little condescendingly. “Just shake his hand then, R. Just find out.”

“Maybe,” Grantaire says, but he won’t. As a rule, he doesn’t touch people until he sure they are not his soulmate—Courfeyrac insists on referring to his future soulmate as his Flower Friend, but Courfeyrac is a ridiculous human being—and he’s kind of sure that Enjolras is his soulmate.

He’s just not sure he’s Enjolras’s.

Besides, it’s not like he and Enjolras are the only ones who haven’t touched. For a very close group of friends, most of them hadn’t had a lot of contact (with the exception of Courfeyrac who made sure to touch everyone he met). Soulmate flowers always bloomed at the point of first contact, usually a handshake, and the spread a little from there. Most people were luckier than Marius and Cosette, who had burst in with forget-me-nots on their palms and in the center of their lips.

“Did you learn her name, first?” Grantaire had asked, and Marius’ flush had answered that succinctly. He had laughed, and toasted, but that night he had gotten shitfaced with Eponine, and pretended he hadn’t seen her bloom aloe blossoms in grieving.

The Musain is quiet when Grantaire and Eponine arrive. They are early, which is unusual, and Grantaire is already into his cups, which is not. Enjolras gives him a nod as greeting and Grantaire laughs, and it is sort of funny, how much he loves a man who can’t even greet him properly.

“Good morrow, my friends and countrymen,” Bahorel booms at them, motioning Eponine and Grantaire to his table, where he has somehow secured a full bottle of tequila and three shot glasses.

His First was borage, a blue star of courage and bluntness. Grantaire can’t imagine a better fit.

“Sup,” Grantaire replies. Eponine smiles at them, and he’s glad she came. She stopped, when Cosette became a regular, to Bahorel and Musichetta’s endless loud and dramatic sadness. “I brought you a friend.”

“Ah yes!” Bahorel crows, standing up in order to bow, before sitting back down and pouring her a shot. “The lovely Eponine! My days have been longer without your bright visage.”

“Is this real?” Grantaire asks the assembled Amis. “Are we doing this?”

Courfeyrac cackles from where he’s sitting, closer to Enjolras by virtue of the fact that he has the notes.

“What did you do?” Grantaire knocks back of shot of, okay wow, really cheap tequila while Courfeyrac continues to laugh.

“Moi? Nothing at all. Except possibly cast Bahorel in A Midsummer Night's Dream because he needed to round out his extra-curriculars and I needed to see Bahorel speak in Shakespearean dialect.” Courfeyrac uses Grantaire’s theatrical moaning to take a large swing of beer. “Don’t worry, he’s only going to be doing that for another two or three months.”

Grantaire slumps onto the table, banging his head. “You’re ruining all my friends.”

Enjolras clears his throat, so Grantaire picks his head up off the table, because he usually likes to pretend he’s paying attention, at least at the beginning of meetings. Apparently while he was talking, the rest of the room had filled and he hadn’t even noticed.

“Our current focus, as you know, is to end the persecution against people who don’t bloom, as well those with First Blooms deemed ‘undesirable’ and—” Grantaire snorts, but Enjolras keeps rolling ahead. “And our contact in Senator Lamarque’s office said he would be amenable to meeting with us. His office was also gracious enough to show us an early draft of his proposed legislation, legislating crimes against both of these vulnerable populations as hate crimes, and adding them as protected groups from workplace discrimination.”

Grantaire snorts again, because he has no self control.

“Something to add, Grantaire?” Enjolras snaps, and he must be in a mood tonight for that to be all that was needed to provoke him.

Grantaire takes a deep breath to calm himself, but decides half way through his exhale that fuck it. “Yes, Apollo, I guess I’m just glad to see that the fruit of all of our labor will mean that when someone maims or kills a person with no blooms or,” Grantaire adds with venom and air quotes, “an ‘undesirable’ they’ll have a slightly longer prison sentence.” He follows his pronouncement up with another shot.

By the way Enjolras’s jaw is clenched Grantaire can tell he wants to comment on both the sentiment and the words “our labor,” but Combeferre clears his throat and Enjolras exhales loudly. “We are also working with the Senator’s office to change the official designation on government documentation to something less offensive than ‘fallow,’ for people without blooms.”

Grantaire scoffs before he can stop himself, pouring himself another shot.

“Yes, Grantaire?” Enjolras spits.

He throws it back and slams the glass on the table. “All that will change is the box you check at the dmv. It’s not going to stop anyone’s shitty aunt from calling them fallow. And,” he says louder when Enjolras opens his mouth to reply. “Are we going with ‘people without blooms’? Is that the terminology of choice or yet another term being thrust on that community without their consent?”

Enjolras seethes. “Changing the terminology used by our government will change the overall culture in time. It’s a first step.”

“Actually,” Bossuet says. He and Joly and Musichetta are sitting as close together as they can without any risk of contact, which is sort of cute and sort of tiring because it’s been two years. “I sort of agree with R? Don’t get me wrong, I think changing the words people use is important, but what you’re talking about feels a little too ‘trickle down’ for me.”

“That’s—” Enjolras stops himself, and Grantaire gets one beautiful shining moment of Enjolras being still and righteous in his anger and he absolutely putting that face into his spank bank, before Enjolras deflates. “That’s a fair point. We can and should work on a social campaign as well.”

Cosette, who is the newest member and, bless her heart, doesn’t know nearly as much about Les Amis than the rest of them. “I also agree with Grantaire. Do we have an in with the community of those without blooms? And if not, can we acquire one? I would feel much better advocating for a community that actually wants our support, instead of one we just feel is wronged.”

Grantaire glances at Joly, then glances around and sees that everyone else is also glancing at Joly and winces. Joly, graciously, ignores them.

Enjolras, pointedly not looking at Joly says, “Yes, we do have an in. And they are coordinating with a community that is scattered at best. And they—”

“It’s fine,” Joly says. “I’m the one, and it’s fine.” Cosette flushes, and he smiles at her, like he really doesn’t mind. Like somehow having a life sentence worse than Grantaire’s is no biggy, which makes Grantaire feel like an asshole.

When Enjolras speaks, he is reinvigorated, re-centered, and glaring at Grantaire. “Now, I would never ask anyone to reveal their First Blooms who doesn’t want to. That’s not what this is about. However, if anyone knows someone with an ‘undesirable’ First Bloom, who is willing to speak to us, that would be incredibly helpful.”

Courfeyrac adds, “Those marked as blooms with meanings deemed negative are 20% more likely to experience abuse and neglect and almost 50% more likely to attempt suicide. Those who disclose their Firsts are less likely to get jobs than those with more innocuous Firsts, and ‘undesirable’ Firsts are still legal grounds for termination and divorce.”

Grantaire realizes he is sitting stiffly and panicked when Eponine elbows him hard in the side, and apologizes by pouring him a shot. He slumps and glances around, catching Jehan’s eyes as he turns bodily away from Grantaire, but it’s obvious he was looking.

It’s obvious that Enjolras saw, too, because when Grantaire looks back at him, Enjolras is frowning, and looking back and forth between the two of them.

“How about,” Eponine says, icily, “we pick a different word, yes?”

Grantaire pounds the shot, and then another, and then another, and then, dizzy, he puts his head down on the table and waits for the meeting to end.

He can tell it’s over when Bahorel puts his head down on the table so he’s face to face with Grantaire and says, “My friend, art thou well?”

“Just fucking kill me.”

Eponine scrapes him off the table and calls an uber for them. He leans his head against the window, slightly fuzzy, but warm. Eponine puts her hand on the daisy on his leg and lets him doze until they get home.

She prods him up the stairs because he’s despondent and exhausted, his brain fixates on the idea of him just walking up to Enjolras and smacking him, or no, no, placing a hand on his cheek and pulling him into a kiss, and if they were soulmates—which they aren’t, but in this fantasy—one side of Enjolras’s face would be stained with forget-me-nots and later it would be funny and poignant and sweet. Or he would do that and his hands would stain and Enjolras wouldn’t and then what would the point of living be?

Eponine sighs, letting him fall onto his bed, before removing his shoes. “I don’t understand how tequila makes you maudlin. It boggles the mind.”

It’s not the tequila, he thinks, it’s Enjolras.

“The tequila definitely helped,” she says. “Now go to sleep, you have class tomorrow. And work.”

What would he do without Eponine? He should buy her something nice.

“Make me pancakes tomorrow,” she says, and closes the door behind her.

He does. He’s running late, but he makes Eponine pancakes and wraps a couple up for himself, and then runs to class. He has an art class in the morning, thankfully, because the weather is warm enough that he’d like to roll his sleeves up but he only does that when there’s enough paint on them to obfuscate his blooms.

He has stats after, which he hates, and is bad at (please note the geranium), but it’s a requirement for graduation, so he doodles Enjolras and forget-me-nots and myrtle, because that is how deep and gross his love is.

Grantaire has a break between class and work, and so he goes to sit out on the quad under some trees with his cold pancakes, which is where Joly find him. It’s early fall so it’s still nice enough to be outside, but there’s enough empty space that Joly would by no means be obligated to sit with him.

“Can I sit with you?” he asks, and unlike everyone else Grantaire knows, it’s not a formality, he really stands there waiting, like if Grantaire said no he would leave. He’s standing uncomfortably in a tank top that’s too big for him—possibly Musichetta’s, honestly—with the ugliest cardigan that Grantaire had ever seen, an oversized satchel, and scrub pants.

“Oh, uh, yeah, sure.” Grantaire pats the ground next to him awkwardly, and Joly sits down, cross-legged and beaming. “What’s up?”

Joly pulls a sandwich out of his satchel and a small container of hand sanitizer, and promptly sanitizes his hands. “I’m sorry Enjolras was rude to you last night.” He takes a bite of his sandwich contemplatively. “I know it’s not my place to say, but I think perhaps you should confide in him.”

Grantaire’s heart jumps into his throat. “Wh-what?” Jesus, he’s barely even spoken to Joly, how does Joly have any inkling of Grantaire’s really intense feelings?

Joly frowns. “I’m sorry, I know I’m not supposed to know your First Bloom, but I inferred a little, based on last night.”

Grantaire sighs with relief; he is more equipped to have this conversation. “Oh. Oh. Yes, I know. But I don’t want him suddenly listening to my opinion because I’m part of a vulnerable population. That’s bullshit. Anything I say he’d listen to faster from you, or Courfeyrac or even Marius, and if that changes it should change because he respects me not because he thinks required to.”

Joly nods and finishes chewing. “That’s fair, I suppose. I just hate seeing my friends at each other’s throats.” He takes another thoughtful bite of his sandwich and Grantaire feels suddenly very embarrassed about his pancakes, which he had absently torn into tiny pieces. Ah well, he thinks, and shoves some in his mouth.

“That’s all very well,” Grantaire says with a mouthful of pancake. “But why did you really come over?”

Joly shrugs absently. “I’ve known you for two years, and I don’t think we’ve ever spoken outside of a meeting. I don’t even know why we call you R! I do it, but I have no idea why. So I saw you and thought, today is the day.” He looks distracted and distraught and if he were anyone else, Grantaire would bet on him sporting a brand new flower.

“It’s a pun,” Grantaire offers. “Grand aire, I’m a very clever idiot. But I don’t think that’s why you came over.”

Joly is smiling again at least. “No. I had a tough night and was looking for some comfort.”

Grantaire figures he literally the worst person for this, but Joly is sitting in front of him asking for help, and he may be inept—a disappointment—but he’s not cruel. At least, not to people who haven’t hurt him first. “Can I help?”

Joly frowns again and sets his sandwich down on his satchel. “Me and Bossuet and Musichetta decided to, uh, check last night. And see. If we were.”

“If you were soulmates.”

Joly sighs. “Yeah.”

Grantaire frowns, too, suddenly worried that the three of them won’t work out despite being crazy about each other. “Bad news?”

Joly shakes his head. “No, good. We decided to go with shoulders, because Musichetta really likes the look of forget-me-nots on the shoulders and hands and Bossuet didn’t care and I—” Joly stops and takes a breath. “And they bloomed for each other, of course, and they bloomed for me but I—”

Grantaire scoots slightly closer to Joly, in case he wants to go for physical affection, which is something that Grantaire realizes right then he has no memory of how to initiate. Eponine broke him. “They have to know you’re their soulmate. They can’t doubt that, Joly.”

“No, no!” he reassures. “They don’t. They were ecstatic that they bloomed for me, and I knew I wasn’t going to because I never had before, but some part of me had hoped that this time…”

Grantaire is bad at comfort. He hadn’t really understood what people looked to for comfort until college, having had very few means of acquiring it before then. What he does know is that he is good at drawing, and that the 200 color marker set that Eponine got him for his birthday is in his bag (and is still too guilty to use much because, Jesus Eponine, yes, he had been eyeing it for months and he knows exactly how much it fucking cost).

“Gimme your hands.” Joly presents them both to him quickly enough that Grantaire suspects that Joly actually trusts him, which is somewhat humbling. “You want a thick cluster or sporadic?”

Joly considers. “Sporadic, please,” he decides after a moment and Grantaire uncaps periwinkle, to start with. “Did you know it’s illegal in twenty-three countries to tattoo flowers onto people who don’t naturally present them? And a felony to have those tattoos?”

Grantaire, with cyan between his teeth frowns. “I did not, actually.”

“Mhmm,” he confirms. “It’s to keep us from tricking others into abusive relationships by claiming to be their soulmates.”

“I mean,” Grantaire says around a marker. “That sounds fake, but okay.”

Joly laughs, and it’s a bright and joyful sound. “It has happened exactly once in written history, so naturally it must be legislated everywhere.”

“Of the utmost importance,” Grantaire agrees.

“For a while, I wanted to become a lawyer, and try to fight that shit. But then I realized I’m happier doing science, and decided to become a doctor and try to figure out why some people bloom and others don’t.”

“A noble goal. Turn your hands?” Joly does, and Grantaire gives him one on the palm, because he knows it’ll fade faster, but it’s important. He glances up at Joly, who is still smiling at him. “If you don’t mind me asking—”

“How did my parents feel about me?” Grantaire flushes but Joly giggles again so he might be safe. “Honestly, I think they were more upset about the-poly-thing than the lack of bloomage. They weren’t soulmates, and they thought the whole system was a little over rated. Can I ask about you, or…?”

Grantaire places another right under the bend of his wrist, along the lines of his veins. “I bloomed with yellow carnations. Late,” he adds after a moment, because that’s important. “My parents were less than impressed.”

Joly leans closer into him. “See, that’s why I want to science! Religion tells us blooms come from God or the immortal spirit or whatever, but some blooms are self representative, and some are representative of how other’s see us, and there’s no consensus as to why or how! For example, you were a baby, how exactly could you be a disappointment? Might it not instead be foretelling your parent’s irrational disappointment in you?”

It is at the point that Grantaire realizes he was not ready to have this discussion. “I’ve done almost zero things right in my life. I think it was a pretty good indication of the person I became.”

“But,” Joly says insistently, “was that because it was your innate nature, or because you made choices with the thought in the back of your head, ‘I’m going to disappoint in this endeavor’? Nature vs. nurture.”

“I don’t know, but I hope I’m not so much of a fuck up that I did all of this to myself.” He clears his throat. “All finished.”

There are eleven forget-me-nots scattered about Joly’s hands, in blues and purples with bright yellow centers. “They’re perfect R, thank you. And I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings, that’s not what I was aiming for at all. I only meant to say that I think anyone who makes a judgment of you based on any of your blooms is a fool, and I pity them the loss of a very good friend.”

Grantaire clears his throat again and opts to ignore everything Joly just said. “There’s something you can do with baby powder and hairspray that’ll keep them on longer. I don’t know the details, but I’m sure it’s google-able.”

Joly gracefully takes his lead. “Okay. I’ll look into that.”

“If you have other requests, I’m more than happy to help,” he says, and finds that it wasn’t really a lie. “And, ignoring legality because you’re my friend, I work at a tattoo shop two nights a week. I’d risk it if you want to.”

Joly bumps shoulders with him affectionately. “That is possibly the nicest thing I’ve ever been offered and this morning I was offered a threesome and crepes.” That startles a laugh out of Grantaire, which puts a wide grin firmly back on Joly’s face. “Tattoos as an act of political resistance—I love it! Now tell me about your secret identity as a tattoo artist, I had no idea!”

Grantaire glances at his phone, sees that he has six missed texts (all from Eponine) and also that he has twenty minutes before his shift at the library. “I mostly do flash art and text, things the regular artists don’t want to do. No original art, really, which is fine, my art isn’t that good.”

Joly holds up his hands with a grin. “Firmly disagree. Now, where are you walking to, and can I walk with you?”

He doesn’t intend it to, but it becomes something of a thing. Joly eats with him on days when they’re both on campus, and he drinks with him and Eponine after meetings and on Friday nights, when they marathon every television show with Gordon Ramsey in it from the previous week. It’s sort of lovely, and Eponine even says as much—well, she says, “At least he’s not as annoying as Courfeyrac,” which is true, but also he taught Gavroche long division, so Eponine is contractually obligated to love him a little bit.

“We should go to the Botanical Garden,” Joly says to him with faked nonchalance, sitting in the coffee shop where Grantaire works and generally making a nuisance of himself. “For no reason at all. I’ve decided this, with absolutely no ulterior motives.”

Grantaire laughs. “We should. We could go tomorrow, or maybe on the weekend?” He places a third soy latte in front of Joly who brightens significantly. Grantaire had spent his break touching up Joly’s forget-me-nots, while Joly had waxed poetic about Grantaire’s coffee making skills.

“If I didn’t have two wonderful and sexy soulmates, I would marry you for the lattes alone.”

That startles another laugh out of Grantaire, but then his manager appears from the back room and Grantaire tries his hardest to put on a straight face. “I hope you enjoy your latte, sir.”

Joly is outright grinning at him because Joly is kind of an asshole. “My compliments to the barista,” he says, and then ruins it by adding, “Four p.m., you and me, tomorrow, botanical garden—be there!”

Grantaire’s manager shakes his head, but Grantaire can’t stop grinning. This has to be the coolest political act he’s ever been a part of. Joly texts him before his shift is over because that is who Joly is.

Joly: crap i didnt ask u when ur class is done pls advise
Joly: if i dont here from you im assuming we’re meeting tomorrow!!
Joly: hear**
R: really that’s the spelling you take issue with

And then he receives email invitation for Joly’s gmail calendar with the note “does this help????” Grantaire texts him back, “see you there,” because unlike Joly he feels comfortable actually typing words. He texts Eponine, too, because the camera on his phone is broken and she has a real, fancy camera, which is probably what he should use when making very illegal stencils. He’s glad that Enjolras made them all download that encrypted texting app.

R: e can I borrow your camera it’s for something illegal

She replies almost instantaneously.

Eponine: is it for some weird sex thing
Eponine: fine but don’t break it
Eponine: actually if it’s for some weird sex thing break it and then buy me a new one

At four the next day, Grantaire sits outside the Botanical Garden with Eponine’s camera and suddenly gets worried that Joly won’t show. They hadn’t been friends for more than a few weeks, and although they get along like a house on fire, he has a yellow carnation and a geranium there to remind him that things for him tend to end poorly. Thinking otherwise was, well, stupid. It’s four-fifteen, and Grantaire, as he frequently does, feels incredibly, viscerally angry at the apple blossom on his arm, because nothing ever changes, let alone gets better.

When it hits four-twenty-five he calls Joly twice, but there’s no answer, which is maybe an answer in itself. He’s about to get up and leave because he may be stupid, but there’s a limit, even for him, when he hears Joly yell, “R!” and he turns around slowly.

Joly is powering walking towards him, cane in hand. He stops a couple steps short of Grantaire and bends over panting. “Oh my god, R, I am so sorry!” He wipes at his forehead which is sweaty and gross, and Grantaire ushers him over to the bench. “My lab ran late and my phone died, because I was playing that Sailor Moon gem matching game Cosette showed me and I love it so much, and then I realized I wouldn’t be able to contact you, so I ran.” He collapses theatrically. “Speed walking is my ultimate nemesis.”

Grantaire tries to decide what to say, then finally settles on, “It’s no problem, really.”

Joly beams. “Still, though, I fucked up, and I’m sorry. Forgive me?”

Grantaire blinks at him. No else he knows operates this way, except maybe Feuilly but Feuilly is a goddamn mystery. “Uh, yes? You’re absolved or whatever.”

Joly pats his shoulder. “Excellent! I’m also going to pay for entrance both because I was really late and also because you have three jobs and I don’t have any student loans and close your mouth, Grantaire, this is not a discussion it’s a statement.”

Grantaire shuts his mouth and lets Joly front him, which Grantaire is reluctantly pleased about, because this excursion wasn’t in his weekly budget.

There’s an entire section for forget-me-nots, and it’s surrounded by walking paths and benches and couples taking selfies of their own blooms in front of garden’s. Joly blushes, then pulls Grantaire by the wrist over to the ones he likes.

They take pictures of the individual buds they like from every angle. If they’re going to be placed with purpose, he wants them to be perfect for Joly. Once they have more than one hundred pictures (including a few of the two of them that Joly conned him into taking), Grantaire asks him, “Anything else you wanna snap a pic of?”

Joly looks pensive, going so far as to put his forefinger up to the corner of his mouth. Grantaire barely keeps himself from laughing. “If they have wallflowers,” he says finally. “And if there’s anything else you think?”

That feels like a leading question, but Grantaire’s not sure where it’s supposed to be leading him. “I think I know where the wallflowers are—why, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Joly smiles and links arms with Grantaire. “Bossuet and Chetta both have them. And since they mean faithfulness, we sort of figured it was a sign that it was okay that there were three of us, because we’d still be faithful to one and other. And I want in on that. And in case I was too vague, I was asking what you thought my First would have been.”

Grantaire likes that interpretation, partially because it’s the opposite of the one he would have come to. In their shoes, he would have torn their ménage à trois apart, thinking he was meant to be faithful to one person. As they take pictures of the wallflowers (Joly only wants the ones that orange and purple, because that’s the type his Flower Friends have), Grantaire tries to think about Joly as a person. To be fair, a First isn’t always emblematic of personality, but it’s usually pretty close.

Joly is just good. That’s all there is to him, really, his goodness. “White zinnia,” Grantaire says, before he can think twice.

Joly actually looks touched. “That’s what Enjolras said, too. I suppose I shouldn’t fight it, if everyone has such a positive view of me as a person.”

They wander towards the zinnias, and Joly links their arms again. Grantaire knows he shouldn’t, but now he’s thinking of firsts and Enjolras, and he can’t help but ask, “Do you know what Enjolras’s First was?”

Joly laughs. “I do, in fact! And I could tell you and make you feel really guilty for snooping, or you look at the picture of Courfeyrac’s ill-fated camping trip last summer with Enjolras and Combeferre on Combeferre’s facebook. There’s a beach picture.”

Enjolras doesn’t have a facebook, because he is a stick in the mud, but that means that the pictures of him that are on facebook are all put there with his explicit consent, because everyone respects his right to be a stick in the mud. Which means that if there is a topless picture of Enjolras on facebook, he’s allowed to know what Enjolras’s First was. Grantaire tries not to whip his phone out like a lovesick weirdo, but based on Joly’s laughter he does not succeed.

Joly takes the camera from him when he spots the zinnia, and lets Grantaire flip through Combeferre’s facebook pictures. When he finally finds the picture in question Grantaire almost throws his phone. “Joly,” he says gravely, “are you fucking kidding me?”

Joly cackles.

“Joly. Joly. Please tell me our esteemed leader doesn’t have a fucking fleur de lis on his goddamn chest.”

“I could tell you that,” Joly says, coming up beside him, grinning like a loon. “But I’d be lying.”

“I’m actually going to die.”

Joly cackles again.

In the picture, the red iris on Enjolras’s chest remains, despite the absurdity. It makes sense, though, too, Grantaire supposes. France, valor, hope, wisdom, and meaningful friendships is basically the Enjolras starter pack. In the picture he can see gladioli, edelweiss, and black-eyed susans; honor, daring, justice. His blooms are perfect for him, and he’s perfect anyway, and it stops being funny right around the time realizes Grantaire realizes he feels like crying.

Joly grabs his hand, and leads him pointedly away from anything resembling a carnation. “Find me a buttercup!” he declares. “I’m both cheerful and childish and I would like one branded on my ass please.” He whispers the last part like they’re spies, and Grantaire laughs, and allows Joly to lead him to whatever destination he wants.

Finally, after taking pictures of a couple different buttercups, Joly stops and squeezes the still captive hand. “Let’s go home,” Joly says, and escorts him all the way home. “Are you going to be okay?” he asks at Grantaire’s door.

“I always am.” And it only feels a little bit like a lie.

Enjolras may never love him, but things are okay. Eponine’s parents have disappeared (again), and so Gavroche and Azelma have taken over their apartment. Eponine and Azelma take his bed, because he has a full-size, and Gavroche takes Eponine’s twin. Children (even teenagers, like Azelma), he has learned, need things like schedules and regular meal times and help with homework, so he walks to the Musain himself. He will probably sleep on the terrible couch in his and Eponine’s living room, but maybe he’ll beg onto one of their friends’ comfier couches.

“Good evening, cheri!” Courfeyrac calls as Grantaire enters the back room, because he’s been going through a terrible phase where he calls everyone that and Grantaire could kill him, really.

“You’re a terror,” he says.

“Nay!” Bahorel yells from the bar, in the other room. “He is a terrier!”

Grantaire rolls his eyes and shouts back, “Are you being Shakespearean or fucking Thor?”

“Another!” Bahorel yells, and something glass smashes.

“For fuck’s sake!” Grantaire looks around the room, feeling for the first time, the emotion of Looking At The Camera Like You’re On the Office when no one else reacts.

“Language,” Enjolras says a moment later, barely concealing a smirk and Grantaire almost dies on the spot. Enjolras would make an upsettingly good Captain America.

Courfeyrac is beside himself, and Combeferre is fighting a losing battle with a smirk. Marius looks like he hasn’t the faintest idea what’s going on and beside him Feuilly looks at all of them with sort of disbelief that Grantaire saves for people expressing positive opinions on clowns. Or capitalism.

“I for one,” Musichetta says, entering the room trailed by her soulmates, “still take issue with Age of Ultron.”

“I quit,” Grantaire says to Jehan, who is frowning.

“Is that a reference?” he asks. “I’m very behind on my popular culture.”

Bahorel barrels in and takes up his usual seat next to Grantaire, beaming like an idiot. He’s carrying a bottle of wine, which he offers to Grantaire, but Grantaire refuses.

He’s still a little off-center from his Enjolras discovery, and he’s feeling a little maudlin without the liquor, which isn’t going to make him attractive when he’s begging for couches, so he’s entirely sober twenty minutes later when Enjolras says, “I hardly think it’s a hardship to ask people with ‘undesirable’ First Blooms to come forward and do an ad campaign that will help their quality of life!”

Grantaire scoffs without meaning to and before he can control himself says, “You would have people sacrifice themselves in the hopes that the world will change quickly enough to negate their peril, Apollo? You could easily fake them on models, who could go back to their normal lives after.”

“I’m not asking anyone to risk their bodily safety, but there can be no change without those willing to enact it!” Enjolras is all force and anger, turned directly on Grantaire like a spotlight, and he soaks it up like a sponge.

“And you don’t consider it a sacrifice without a body count? People could lose their jobs, their homes, and you’re just okay with that, so long as your revolution comes. Consider this: people are selfish and a maybe is not enough for many people to risk the status quo. You have to offer them something better.”

Someone, possibly Courfeyrac gasps, but Grantaire only has eyes for Enjolras. “If you’re going to be unhelpful—no,” Enjolras says, and physically shakes himself, but the anger doesn’t settle into himself like normal. He’s exuding rage from every pore. “What am I saying? Of course you’re going to be unhelpful. You don’t believe in anything. You’re useless, you’re always useless, and I can’t imagine why you come here if all enjoy is telling me what we’re doing wrong!”

Several things happen all at once. Multiple people start yelling, one definitely a woman’s voice (or maybe it’s Cosette and Musichetta together), the other probably Jehan, but Grantaire can’t hear them over the ringing in his ears and the sudden excruciating pain on his left hand.

Grantaire has received more blooms than most, but the worst they have ever felt is like a small cut. This one burns like a brand, bright and hot and all consuming. He realizes he’s drenched in sweat, and agonized tears are just there, just at the edge of his eyes, but he blinks them away and stares at his hand. In the center has a bloomed a red dahlia, which is apt—he feels more than betrayed—but surrounding that and winding on the front and back of his arm, up past where his sweatshirt is rolled almost to the elbow, are heaps of dainty white meadowsweet, and it still burns.

Useless.

Bahorel is looking at him in horror but Grantaire can’t manage people besides himself right now, and honestly he’s not sure if can manage that much, either. There is still shouting, he thinks, but none of it sounds like words to him, like he is underwater. “Okay,” Grantaire says to himself, shoving his sleeve down over his hand, and bunching it in his palm so his arm is hidden from view. “Okay.”

He stands up, shakily, but Bahorel steadies him. Someone says, “R!” but he can’t tell who—his head is swimming—and Enjolras is white and stricken. Almost everyone is on their feet and Grantaire has no idea why, or when that happened.

“Okay.” He lurches towards the door. Someone’s hand is on his shoulder but he shrugs it off because he has to go. His eyes are blurry and he need to anywhere else. “Okay.” Someone call his name again, or maybe several someones, but he’s at the door, and then he’s outside and the evening has cooled the air and he thinks maybe he can take a breath but when he exhales it comes out as sob. He’s leaning against the outside of the Musain, which isn’t nearly as far away as he needs to be, but his feet won’t work and he can’t breathe.

“Grantaire,” a voice says. “What do you need?”

He doesn’t looks up, everything blurry and distorted and hurting. His sweatshirt is still clenched in his fist, and he scrubs at his face with the back of his hand. He’s shaking, he is shook, and his hand is throbbing. It doesn’t just burn like a brand, it is a brand, he was judged and found lacking, and now he bares the mark on his fucking hand.

“R.” Grantaire’s head shoots up and he sees that it’s Joly. “Can I touch you? What do you need, R?”

Grantaire isn’t sure what he does or says, but then Joly’s arms are around him and it’s so, so much better. He sobs into Joly’s chest, and Joly holds him tight. He feels like he’s trying to siphon air through a straw, or breathe with the weight of all of Bahorel concentrated directly on his chest; like he’s drowning, which is sort of apt. “Booze.”

“Okay. We can absolutely get you some booze. You wanna go home?”

Grantaire shakes his head, hiccupping on breaths. His chest aches but he can’t seem to take a deep breath. “Can’t. Gav and Az are—are—”

“Okay,” Joly says decisively. “Okay I’m going to take you to my place, okay? I’ll get an uber, you concentrate on deep breaths.”

Grantaire does, counting to five on the inhale, holding as long as he can, then five again on exhale, but it doesn’t work like he remembers it working. It’s been months since his last panic attack. His breathing eases, and he realizes he’s still wrapped in Joly, but Joly makes no move to shake him off.

“You’re doing great. When we get back to my place I’ll put on that renovation show with the twins you pretend not to like. And you can drink Musichetta’s weird hipster beer, or I think I have some rum left over from my birthday. Bossuet is only drinking gin right now because he’s gross and weird, but if all else fails we can mask it with a lot of juice. I’ll make you a fancy drink and we can watch shitty people get houses they don’t deserve.”

Grantaire makes an affirmative noise into Joly’s shirt. He doesn’t remember the uber at all, getting in or the route, the time it must have taken them, and the next thing he knows, Joly is helping him out of the car, and his face is wet and sticky, but he doesn’t feel like he’s breathing through a plastic bag anymore.

The apartment is bigger than Grantaire and Eponine’s by a lot. Even though they hadn’t verified until recently, the three of them had been living together for almost two years, and the space was a messy co-mingling theme, played out on every available surface. A row of plants sits in the windowsill, each with name cards in Bossuet’s hand, and Grantaire can see three different kinds of soap on the kitchen sink, which is so painfully Joly that Grantaire, distracted, almost trips over a literal pile of Musichetta’s shoes.

“We haven’t cleaned in a few weeks,” Joly says apologetically, leading Grantaire to the bedroom. “But the sheet are clean! There’s a really nice blanket at the foot of the bed—why don’t you make yourself comfier and I’ll grab my computer and some beer.”

He lies down on Joly-and-Musichetta-and-Bossuet’s king size bed, and wraps himself in the blanket, which is fleece and purple and lovely, and wishes everything was different. Joly brings him a bottle opener and a six pack of hipster beer, and a large bag of bagel chips, because Joly is an actual saint.

They settle down, Grantaire leaning half on Joly while they watch shitty people acquire nice houses through the magic of hgtv. He’s had a beer and half before he realizes he’s stopped crying. His face is sore and his nose is stuffy, and he still kind of wants to run away forever, but he’s also exhausted and drained and embarrassed and so, so done.

“I hate him,” Grantaire says.

Joly pauses the program and nods at him encouragingly. “You’re allowed to. What he said tonight was cruel, and the consequence of his words was beyond cruel, and if you need to hate him I think that’s all right.”

Grantaire shakes his head and collapses into Joly’s lap. Joly cautiously begins to run his fingers through Grantaire’s hair, and it reminds him of Eponine. He’s crying again like it’s all he knows how to do. Looking down, Grantaire realizes his sweatshirt is still clenched in his fist. He slowly releases it, and his finger’s all ache and cramp, but there is his brand, and it’s just as bad as he remembered. Enjolras thinks he’s useless. “I don’t hate him, though.”

Joly nods again. “That’s okay, too. You don’t have to know how you feel about him now, or ever.” He pushes his fingers through Grantaire’s hair gently, tugging out knots when he finds them. “You will figure out how you feel, and I can firmly guarantee Les Amis will be behind you.”

Grantaire shakes his head. The thought of that makes his stomach roil and he’s suddenly agonizingly nauseous. “No. I’m not going back. I’m never going back.”

“Well. We’ll miss you. But you won’t lose any of us as friends, Grantaire—any of us you don’t want to lose, that is. We’ll be there for you long after you’re sick of us.” They’re both silent, and after a moment Joly presses play again.

Grantaire sips his beer while on Joly’s computer one of the real estate twins tells an obnoxious couple that their floors don’t exist. He drinks three more before he can fall asleep, and even then, he dreams about Enjolras and meadowsweet and his hand throbs with every heartbeat.

Grantaire wakes up in an unfamiliar bed and gropes wildly for his phone. He grabs it, unlocks it, and realizes it’s Joly’s—and also that it’s unsecured, Joly has got to be fucking kidding him. He knows he shouldn’t snoop, but it was unlocked, so he does. It’s open to the group chat of him and his soulmates, and Grantaire give himself permission to read it.

Joly: i hav R, goin home, pls stay elsewhere xoxoxoxoxoxo
Boss: don’t worry, we’ll stay with Jehan and Bahorel, we love you xoxo
Musichetta: and remind R that we love him when he’s ready to hear it, ok? I’m literally so mad at e I could scream. Ily.

Joly opens the door while Grantaire is still staring at his phone and he flushes. He gesticulates with it. “I thought it was my phone. And then by the time I saw it wasn’t I—”

Joly sets a plate of pain au chocolat on the dresser so he can properly wave off Grantaire’s concern, as his other hand is filled with coffee. “If I cared about people snooping through my phone I’d put a password on it.”

“Which you should do,” Grantaire says less emphatically than he wants to. Between the disorientation of waking and sheer embarrassment, he had managed to let go of the heartbreak and pain and uselessness that he felt, but now it comes rushing back.

Joly sits on the bed, putting the pastries between them and passing Grantaire a cup. “It has Bailey’s in it,” he says, which significantly raises Grantaire’s interest in it. “I bought pastries, and Musichetta and Bossuet are coming home in about an hour. They are bringing a USB from Jehan with all of the Muppet movies, a bottle scotch, apparently, and four bottles of wine. And also some gloves if you wanna cover up, but only if you want to, no pressure.”

Grantaire shakes his head. “You don’t need to do all that, I can just—” Go home, but he can’t, not really. At his apartment he’ll have to be sober, and responsible, and appropriate, and not wallow and mourn and ache.

Joly tries his best to look innocent but it doesn’t work on him. “You can stay here again tonight. We can fit the four of us if we sleep sideways, or the couch is a FUTON! Jehan and Bahorel are willing to take you after that because they don’t have any classes on Wednesday and Thursday, then after that you can stay with Feuilly. Unless you feel like going home before then. Or if you wanna stay here, whatever. Pontmercy didn’t offer but I’m not actually sure he lives anywhere? And Courfeyrac said to tell you that he and Combeferre apologize for not being able to open their couch to you, it’s just that they live with a gigantic asshole. I added that last part.” He reaches in his pocket and pulls out Grantaire’s phone, passing it to him. “It was charging in the kitchen.”

“Thank you,” he says. It doesn’t feel like enough. Grantaire opens his phone, and is somewhat surprised to see how many texts he has.

Eponine: do you want me to kill him?
Eponine: I’ll do it.
Eponine: and they’ll never find the body
Eponine: I’ll get parnasse to help
Eponine: should I call parnasse?
Eponine: text me so I know you’re alive, asshole
Eponine: gav says feel better and azelma says she loves you
Eponine: she’s too young to understand how gross feelings are

Bahorel: let me know if there’s anything you need, ok? I bought u a BOTTLE of BOURBON and a book about SPACE
Bahorel: musichetta says it’s SCOTCH and that she will deliver it to you

Jehan: let me know if your/ok, im worried you jerk/text me, jehan out

He texts Eponine the words “NO KILLING,” in all caps, sends Bahorel “thanks,” and finally texts Jehan, “what the fuck do you/think jackass, I’m alive tho/refrigerator.” He drinks the spiked coffee and eats two pastries before Bossuet and Musichetta come bursting into the apartment.

Musichetta stops in the doorway, Bossuet standing behind her. Bossuet clears his throat. “Combeferre says to tell you he contacted the school, and you’re excused for the rest of the week, and he got you shift covers at the library and café. He also said to tell you he’ll have someone take notes for you.”

Grantaire nods, because he’s not sure what else to do.

Musichetta smiles at him, like he’s a puppy, or someone she likes more than he has assumed she liked him. “We brought you presents, R, but we can leave if you want. Joly has class in an hour, but I have a great need to watch Muppet Treasure Island, if you’d oblige me?”

He appreciates that Musichetta knows him well enough to phrase it as though he’s doing her a favor. Embarrassingly, it makes the prospect of sitting and drinking and watching movies with them more palatable. He nods then says, “I drank a lot of your beer. I’m sorry.”

Musichetta looks at him skeptically. “I’m sorry, do you not know the rules? This family believes in need-based alcoholic socialism.” Grantaire laughs, and begins to de-blanket himself. “No, you stay still, babe. Did Joly offer you pajamas? Of course not.”

She and Bossuet enter the room for real, and begin rummaging through dressers. Bossuet is wearing too many clothes to see, but Musichetta strips out of a hoodie and under is wearing a sleeveless dress, and for the first time he can see her forget-me-nots, blanketing the fronts and backs of her hands in blue, and cascading down her shoulders, gapping a few inches above and below her elbows. It is a lovely look on her, and Grantaire wants to paint her as much as he can manage wanting anything.

“I have some good sleeping tops, unlike Chetta, because Chetta doesn’t believe in decency, but I’m not sure I have pants that’ll fit you,” Bossuet says apologetically, looking through his drawers. It’s not surprising, he’s tall and slim and Grantaire is the opposite of both of those things.

Musichetta holds up a pair of bright pink track pants. “Ehh?”

Grantaire accepts them, and they are all soon clad in pajamas, sitting on the bed watching the Muppets. He’s sitting between the two of them, which is nice, because they basically engulf him and someone’s hand is always in his hair, and they feed him and booze him and let him nap and it feels like the world’s slowest, cushiest breakdown, but it also feels kind of nice.

In the middle of the day, Musichetta shows him the gloves they bought. They’re the cheap, drug store kind that look knit, and make your hands instantly sweaty. She helps him cut off the fingertips, and sews the edges so they won’t fray more. They’re too warm for the weather, but he’s so glad he doesn’t have to stare at his most recent blooms that he can’t bring himself to care.

That night, they sleep sideways on the bed, all four of them, and Bossuet’s feet dangling off the bed.

Grantaire wakes when Joly’s alarm rings at half past six, so he rises with him and tries not wake Bossuet and Musichetta. Joly showers and dresses in the time it takes for Grantaire to gather his scotch and phone and hoodie. As he puts his phone in his pocket he feels a terrible tickle on his previously bare wrist.

Joly steps over to him, staring fixedly at his wrist and asks, tentatively, “Everything all right?”

“Yeah,” Grantaire says, and hopes that he just sounds more okay than he feels. “Well, you know, in a terrible way.”

Joly laughs, quietly, conscious of his sleeping partners. He’s so good, it makes Grantaire want to scream. “Okay. That’s good.” Joly begins gathering his books, and Grantaire almost leaves it at that.

“Wait, Joly.” He holds up his hand, and there, on his right wrist, are three small daisies “This is yours. Well, one of them.”

Joly melts a little. “Can I see it?” Grantaire nods, and Joly is over to him in a second, running a reverent finger along them. “It’s beautiful, R. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

Grantaire feels slightly choked up, too, which barely makes sense. “I think I should be thanking you. You’re a better friend than I could ask for.”

Joly smiles. “Good thing you don’t have to ask.”

Grantaire heads home, but he feels a little lighter, glancing almost non-stop at his second (and third and fourth) daisy bloom. He doesn’t remember he’s wearing Musichetta’s track pants until he opens the door to Gavroche who immediately greets him with, “Bold statement, but I would say: pink? Not your color.”

He stands in the doorway like he doesn’t live there, too, and Eponine herds Azelma out of his bedroom and stops short. “Az, Gav, there’s toast on the table, hop to. It’s a school day.” They stand there like they are facing off in a bad western for another ten seconds and then Eponine is wrapping him in her arms and pulling him into the apartment and onto the couch.

“Where,” she asks, and he waves his hand at her. She pulls the glove slowly off of him and hisses when she sees it. The dahlia would be beautiful it didn’t suck so much and he never even liked the look of meadowsweet. “Jesus, R. I could kill him. I really could.” He leans against her and she sniffles suspiciously. “I packed a bag for you. Clothes and books and toiletries and a couple sketchpads. I appreciate you considering the kids in all this, and I wish you didn’t have to.”

He nods, because he can’t say anything. He shows her his other wrist and she rests her hand warmly on his new daisies.

“Joly and co?” she asks, and he nods again. “Good. He’s worth it. They’re all worth it.”

Gavroche and Azelma are listening in to the best of their abilities from the kitchen table, and while Grantaire is no way in the mood for children, he knows that the two of them only have their First Blooms, both of them dandelions, which gave Eponine the confidence that they would get through all this, and people who bloom easily, like Grantaire and Eponine, are not that common a find.

Eponine sniffles again. “I gotta take the kids to school. You gonna hang out here for a while, or are shuffling off to your next destination?” He opens his mouth to answer, but then there’s a knock at the door. “I’ll get it,” Eponine says, but she’s frowning.

Grantaire frowns too, and turns from where he was sitting so he can see the door. Most of their friends aren’t even awake at seven-fifteen. He regrets it immediately when it opens to reveal Enjolras.

“May I come in?” he asks Eponine, having not noticed Grantaire on the couch.

“Absolutely fucking not.” Eponine is quiet and seething and strong as bricks. Grantaire would honestly love to have her as a soulmate. “Please see yourself out and don’t bother coming back.”

It’s harder, seeing him, than it was hating only the idea of him. It’s easy to hate the self-righteous man who yelled at him, it’s harder to hate the tired eyed student standing in his doorway. Grantaire must make a noise of some kind, because Enjolras shifts, and their eyes meet, and Grantaire wants to die. He shoves the glove back onto his hand and stares at the coffee table so he doesn’t have to look at Enjolras.

“I’m told I owe you an apology,” Enjolras says from the doorway.

Grantaire swallows hard. He said he’s told, which means Combeferre, which means Enjolras couldn’t even muster honest sympathy for Grantaire himself. It somehow makes all of this worse. “I’m not sure I’m interested in anything you have to say.” He is inordinately proud that he managed those words, or really any words at all.

“Thank you for visiting,” Eponine says, bearing the fakest smile he’s ever seen on her. “Now please get the fuck out of my doorway.”

“Can’t we talk?” Enjolras asks. “I just want to talk. I need to—to clarify.”

“I—sorry, no.”

Enjolras huffs, eyes fixed on the glove on Grantaire’s hands. “Please, I don’t even know what you bloomed!”

Grantaire freezes. How can he not know? How can that moment, so pivotal, burned brightly forever on his palm, be unclear to Enjolras? He feels like crying again, but he grits his teeth.

Some of that anger, that hurt, must show in his expression, though, because Enjolras takes a step back. “I apologize,” he says at last, and flees.

Eponine slams the door behind him, and walks over to press a kiss to the top of Grantaire’s head. “I’m going to take Gavroche and Azelma to school. And I’m also going to call Jehan and Bahorel and ask them to pick you up, okay? It’s not a bad thing to need your friends right now.”

What he needs, he think desperately, is a drink, but he’s not going to say that around the kids. Gavroche looks up to him for some reason (in a snarky, middle-schooly, terribly wonderful kind of way), and Eponine suspects that Azelma has a crush on him, and he doesn’t want either of them learning alcohol is a cool thing, instead of the last refuge of a depressed and unwanted man.

“Yeah, okay,” he says finally, if only because Bahorel still has a book about space for him, and Grantaire is always a slut for space. “I love you,” he tells her, because it feels important right now.

“Gross,” she says, but she’s smiling, so it’s still a win. Azelma gives him a big hug goodbye and Gavroche visibly debates what do until Eponine, rolling her eyes, says, “Jesus, Gav, just give him a hug, will you?” and he does.

Grantaire blinks away sudden and unexpected tears. “Learn something for me, yeah?”

Gavroche snorts. “Can’t even to be bothered to learn things for yourself, now, hmm?”

Grantaire chuckles weakly. “You know it.”

Eponine escorts them out the door and Grantaire sits on the couch, not quite brooding because he’s sober, but not really focusing on anything. His hands are shaking and he doesn’t know if it’s nerves or alcohol or lack of alcohol. When Bahorel and Jehan get there, they throw the door open without knocking, because they’ve been over enough to know that the door is only locked on nights when they kids are there.

“Grantaire!” Bahorel cries, like he was expecting someone else. He sweeps Grantaire into his arms, and squeezes.

“Hello, R,” Jehan greets him warmly. “Where is your bag? We promised Joly we’d get three square meals into you because he feels incredibly guilty for not feeding you well and I for one am starving.” Grantaire points to the bag near the door and Jehan grabs it, while Bahorel drags him bodily out the door. “Your options are that café around the corner, or we have cereal at the apartment.”

Grantaire looks down at Musichetta’s pink sweat pants and tries to muster embarrassment. “I don’t care.” Embarrassment is overrated, he decides, and what is the point of depression if you are not going to use your lack of care for your own benefit?

Bahorel tucks Grantaire under his arm. “Alright, let’s go to the café. We’ll buy you a food.”

Grantaire snorts. “A food?”

Jehan opens the door and bows dramatically, pointing them out. “Yes, R. A food. A single food.”

“Do I get to pick the food?”

Jehan shakes his head. “Joly specifically requested we feed you something with protein and vegetables.”

“Is that a no?”

Bahorel ruffles him. “It might be a no.”

Grantaire laughs, and is gently cajoled to the café. It’s a weird feeling, eating out with friends when he wants to be hiding under the covers. He’s used to depression, he’s just not used to sharing with anyone other than Eponine. Bahorel and Jehan tell him about their last few classes, handling him with kid gloves, but it’s surprisingly nice, if baffling, and not exactly what he wants.

After breakfast, they usher him into Bahorel’s car, and then back to their apartment, which is a wreck, but a comfy wreck. Bahorel’s brief stint as a bartender means that he can make at least ten completely different drinks, meaning Grantaire is finally able to drink a good drink ,and as many as he wants. Unlike Joly, Bahorel might not actually believe that the liver exists, and Jehan loves an excuse to drink with Grantaire.

They collapse on Jehan’s fourth hand couch, mugs full of something fancy, and fruity, and incredibly alcoholic—Bahorel says it’s not a hurricane, but Grantaire suspects it is. Bahorel suggests rock, paper, scissors to pick something to watch, and they end up watching X-Men 3 because Bahorel is allergic to good movies.

Jehan, though, spends the movie whispering alternate dialogue to Grantaire, wrapped around him and face close to face. Bahorel doesn’t notice, though, because no matter how many times he sees a movie, his focus is singular.

Likewise, Jehan never runs out of clever remarks. Jehan’s First was angelica, which makes sense because he is bursting with inspiration. Grantaire spends the night in his room, Jehan spooning him, even though he doesn’t spoon back.

He lies awake, aching with love and heartbreak. It doesn’t seem fair that he still loves Enjolras. He doesn’t want to. He wants to want to be resilient (he knows he isn’t because he has had three therapists who have told him how un-fucking-resilient he is), but what he actually wants is an alcoholic stupor, or Enjolras to apologize and sound like he knows what it's for.

He revisits his favorite bit of fantasy again, but this time it’s a revenge drama more than anything. “Useless,” Enjolras says, and Grantaire stalks over to him and shoves the dahlia and the meadowsweet into his face and slaps him across the face the full force of his rage. When the forget-me-nots bloom across Enjolras’s cheek he feels just as vindicated about their presence as about maring Enjolras’s good looks (though really, if anything, Enjolras would look just as beautiful with blooms on his face as without). He treasures the fabricated look of shock and shame he imagines on Enjolras’s face—which is maybe pulled more from life than he’d like to admit—and the words Enjolras would say, soft and apologetic and warm.

He only realizes he’s crying when Jehan whispers, “Shh, shh,” and presses Grantaire’s head to his chest. “Don’t cry, R. It’s okay.”

“I’m sorry I woke you,” Grantaire says hoarsely. His face flushes, surprised at the depth that his embarrassment can reach—he thought he was plum out of shame. Good god he’s stupid.

Jehan tsks. “Nonsense. I can’t imagine being asleep if you need me.” He rubs his hand in circles on Grantaire’s back, soothing. Like Grantaire is a child, and he’d bristle if he had any energy left to feel bristly. “I can’t imagine/sleeping rather than speaking/to you, R, you twit.”

Grantaire chuckles into Jehan’s chest. “I bet your parents/are thrilled you got a degree/for writing haikus.”

“I’ll have you know, I wrote a sestina just the other day!”

“I will believe it/when I fuckin’ see it Jehan/refrigerator.”

Jehan smacks him lightly on the shoulder. “Fuckin’ is not a single syllable, R, no matter how much you want it to be. Also. You can’t end them all/with refrigerator, R/it’s god damn lazy.”

Grantaire laughs again. “Refrigerator/fits fuckin’ nicely though Jehan/refrigerator.” His face is wet and gross feeling and his throat still feels sore, but Jehan is an excellent cuddler, and Jehan’s arms make him feel like something is holding him together.

“Ass.” Jehan shifts minutely, like he’s settling in. “Try to get some more sleep, okay, Grantaire? Sleep is your friend.”

“Lies and slander.” Grantaire lets his eyes shut though, and wills his brain to not show him anything douchey or distracting. Instead, he dreams that he and Jehan are samurai, and they ride into battle on the backs of refrigerators.

Jehan is gone when he wakes up, which is beginning to feel a little like a trend. He rolls himself out of bed and goes in search of his missing host. His cell phone says it’s ten am, and Bahorel is sitting at their round kitchen table and it smells strongly of coffee.

“Good morning!” Bahorel greets with incredible enthusiasm. He is the closest to a golden retriever that Grantaire has ever gotten. “Jehan had a poetry emergency this morning, but he’ll be back as soon as he can. I made coffee and there is cereal and we have THREE spare towels if you want to shower, and you should probably want that.” Bahorel manages to sound both proud and smug of their excess towels, which makes Grantaire smile, because Bahorel is literally a disaster but he’s an effusive one.

He realizes he should shower, because he can’t remember the last time he had one. “What constitutes a poetry emergency?”

Bahorel’s enthusiasm lessens by a fraction. “One of the students Jehan TA’s forget-me-not’ed, and the person she was touching didn’t. Her RA asked him to come because apparently they’re kinda close, and he brought a book by Adrienne Rich, so I assume they will be engaging in therapy via rhyming couplets.”

Grantaire frowns. “You know that not all poetry has that, right? Like, most modern poetry doesn’t rely on any sort of couplet, rhyming or no.” Bahorel laughs his loud baritone laugh. “Bahorel, you’ve lived with Jehan for three years, you have to know that. Are you joking? I can’t tell if you’re joking.”

Bahorel continues to laugh, but doesn’t clarify. He does, however, find one the many spare towels and gives it to Grantaire along with permission to use anything in the shower and despite how depressed and out of sorts Grantaire feels, he decides to take his host at his word.

Bahorel and Jehan’s shower is a tiny glass cubicle that Grantaire feels much too big for, and he can only wonder how Bahorel showers in it. To be fair, he supposes, Bahorel may be burly, but he isn’t fat in the way Grantaire is. That probably makes it easier.

Stripping out of his clothes, he finds himself reluctant to part with Musichetta’s terrible track pants, and equally reluctant to strip out of his super classy fingerless gloves. He knows what’s beneath them, but it’s easier to pretend that there’s nothing to hide with them on. He takes a deep if shaky breath and pulls them off in one fluid motion. Technically, it hurts less than ripping off a band-aid, but psychically it’s infinitely worse.

The water pressure in the tiny shower cube somewhat makes up for its size. Grantaire might actually murder for a shower this good.

When he gets out he realizes that the towel he was given is not big enough to wrap all the way around him and he wishes he had had the foresight to try it before he was dripping wet, or to have availed Bahorel of all of his towels. Instead, he’s improperly covered, wet, and self-conscious. He tries not to look at himself in the mirror, but it’s a losing battle.

He understands why Enjolras doesn’t love him. Physically, if nothing else, he is at best aggressively average (at worst perhaps, creatively ugly—and he is very rarely at his best). His face bears pockmarked scars of acne past, and his nose is wide unflatteringly placed on his face. If he were Enjolras, Apollo, the literal embodiment of the sun, he would choose for himself a much better companion than Grantaire.

Hell, if Grantaire wasn’t himself, he wouldn’t choose Grantaire for anything, either.

He decides to just walk nakedly to Jehan’s room, assuming that Bahorel won’t notice or care. Bahorel salutes him as he sashays by, which means he knows Grantaire is there, but he doesn’t comment on the nudity. Bahorel is like a piece of IKEA furniture with the instructions all mixed around; charming and confusing and driving sane men to the sweet bosom of inebriation.

Grantaire dresses himself in his favorite sweats and softest t-shirt, which Eponine packed for him because she is possibly literally an angel. He puts on the gloves Musichetta made him, too, with the knowledge that they are going to get nasty very soon and he’s going to have to do something about that. However, he decides, that’s a problem for Future Grantaire. He joins Bahorel at the table, and accepts the novelty size mug of cereal that Bahorel holds out for him, and pours his own milk.

“If you eat your cereal, I will make you infinite White Russians and we can watch The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and it’ll be THEMATIC.” Bahorel pours him a cup of coffee in another, different novelty sized mug.

Grantaire isn’t sure where these mugs were on any of his previous visits, but somehow they are still not the weirdest things that Bahorel has ever handed him. “Considering Joly gave you explicit instructions on how to feed me, I’m sort of shocked you’re all aiding and abetting the over-consumption of alcohol.”

Bahorel takes a sip a coffee from—for fuck’s sake, was that a bowl? “For starters, Joly is welcome to share his opinions but I’m not required to follow them and secondly he told us we should let you drink and mope for a week and then after that we had to be stern and make sure there was less alcohol and more going to work.”

Grantaire nodded. “So basically despite the fact that you’re claiming that you don’t have to listen to Joly because he’s not your real dad, that’s exactly what you’re doing?”

Bahorel stops and considers it, still drinking coffee from a literal, actual bowl. Chaos. “Yes.” He reaches next to him and grabs something off a chair that is housing two sweatshirts and five snap backs. He hands Grantaire two books, tied off neatly with ribbon, which absolutely had to be tied by beautiful and put-together Jehan and not by the walking sharknado that was Bahorel. “Jehan chipped in and we got you TWO books because two is better and also because SPACE.”

The top is a book by Neil deGrasse Tyson that he had actually been planning on picking up, and the second is a hardcover book of pictures from the Hubble Telescope, which he appreciates both aesthetically as an artist, and on sheer coolness factor as someone who is completely gay for space. It’s not really hard to guess who picked out which books, but it doesn’t matter because he has ridiculous friends who eat cereal out of mugs and drink coffee from bowls and buy him books about space to cheer him up.

“Thank you, Bahorel. I’m super psyched to be the owner of these two books.”

Bahorel grins at him, and begins setting out the makings for White Russians. Grantaire decides to lean into it, and drinks his cereal like it’s coffee. When he puts down the mug, Bahorel is beaming at him like a proud parent.

Jehan returns home at five in the evening, looking worn out and accepting the thermos full of some sort of Russians without asking any questions. They order a pizza, and laze around, Grantaire almost actually distracted from his sadness by wanting to make sure Jehan’s okay, but Jehan doesn’t actually let him help.

“Can you sleep in Bahorel’s room tonight,” he asks, like Grantaire wouldn’t do whatever they asked of him to keep him from having to pass out drunk where the Thenardier children could catch him.

Bahorel, the giant, yells, “I call little spoon!” and that’s that.

Grantaire settles in with Bahorel early, because he is tired and the nice sort of tipsy, where sleep will come quickly and he might wake up without a hangover. Bahorel does insist on spooning to begin with, but Grantaire honestly didn’t doubt him for a second.

His prediction turns out to be wrong when he bolts up in the middle of the night, cold sweat wet and heart fluttering like a hummingbird on methamphetamines. He doesn’t remember the dream, not really, but he can’t get the word “useless” out of his head, so it was probably not a creative horror masterpiece. Grantaire untangles himself from Bahorel and brings his space books with him to the kitchen table. He puts on one light and sets in, ready to be taught more about the only hard science that appeals to him.

Bahorel interrupts him thirty minutes in. “Can I talk to you about the other night?” he asks, standing by the table like it isn’t his own, like he’s uncomfortable to be in his own damn kitchen.

Grantaire attempts to swallow past the sudden lump in his throat, but it makes an incredibly audible sound, and he thinks perhaps drooling would have been less mortifying. “Is there anything that needs to be said?”

Bahorel frowns. It’s a very foreign look on his face and Grantaire immediately feels guilty for having put it there. It is emblematic of why he isn’t meant to have friends; he breaks them. “There’s nothing you need to say. But I wanted to let you know, I saw you bloom. I’m not going to tell anyone, but I thought I would let you know, in case you ever wanted to talk about it. Or even if you don’t, it felt rude to not let you know that I knew. And,” he adds, before Grantaire can say something defensive and probably incredibly rude, “I have something I want to show you.”

Bahorel hikes his boxers down a little lower about his hips and pulls his tank top off (which Grantaire only realizes at that moment says Beach Please). Grantaire isn’t sure what he was expecting—well, for certain he wasn’t expecting to be treated to a strip tease, but he also wasn’t expecting to see what he does.

Inconsequentially, but still the first thing Grantaire notices (bitterly), is that Bahorel, like all their friends, is completely symmetrical in his blooms. The second, and presumably the thing that Bahorel intended for him to see, is the bunch of yellow carnations directly under his navel, and the columns of meadowsweet running down his sides.

It is incredibly unfair that someone as kind and ridiculous has to bear those blooms. “Why?” Grantaire’s not really sure if he’s asking how Bahorel got those or why he’s sharing or just asking the universe why it likes fucking with him and his friends, but Bahorel doesn’t hesitate.

“Couple years ago, I reached the point where it became clear to me that I couldn’t just do-a-sport forever. I’m not good enough to go pro, and I like too many different sports to commit to just one forever, and I had been thinking about all this, and so I was distracted, and I just completely bombed a match. Like I can’t stress enough to you how much I could not have lost this match any more than I did.

“My coach said he was disappointed in me, and really just, ripped into me, and I just spiraled that night. I went out drinking, a hooked up with between one and three people, depending on who you ask, and when I woke up in the morning they were just there, like they’d always been there, and I did feel it, you know? I felt like I must have been worthless and a disappointment or I wouldn’t have bloomed with those to begin with, you know? And then I realized that I didn’t want to do anything that would make me feel that way ever again so anyway I’m pre-law now. Pretend I made that into a Wonderwall joke.”

It’s a lot to take in, Grantaire thinks.

“I know that was a lot to take in,” Bahorel says, and Grantaire cannot agree emphatically enough. “I just wanted to let you know, you’re not alone with the goddamn fucking meadowsweet, and also that you’re a wonderful and worthwhile person and even if you feel like you aren’t now, you don’t have to feel that way forever.”

Grantaire nods, numbly. He should say something, he thinks. “Yeah.” Maybe not his most eloquent, but Bahorel smiles so it was apparently an acceptable response. “I mean, I do feel like that. I honestly am sort of shocked I’ve gotten this far in my life without blooming it before, you know? It feels sort of like it was inevitable.”

Bahorel nods understandingly. “If God or the powers-that-be or your soul or magic or whatever-the-fuck was made manifest, I would absolutely kick its ass for you.”

“That is the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

Bahorel drags him back to bed, and this time, as the big spoon, Grantaire strips off his gloves and presses his meadowsweet bloom onto Bahorel’s and feels something in his chest begins to ease.

He’s shipped off to Feuilly’s the next morning. Bahorel drops him off and yells at him out the window, “Fare thee well, good sir knight!”

“Are we doing Shakespeare or Monty Python?” Grantaire shouts back and Bahorel laughs.

“Anon!”

Feuilly opens his door and leads Grantaire up the five flights of steps to his apartment, which is an ungodly number of stairs to do normally, let alone with a headache.

“Sisterhood of the traveling R,” he tells Feuilly, who snorts at him. Feuilly lives the farthest from the school and the Musain, and lives in what Grantaire suspects might be the world’s smallest studio. He doesn’t have a couch, which is probably good because he wouldn’t have a place for it if he did, but his mattress—which is propped off the ground on cinderblocks—is a queen.

Grantaire also learns that Feuilly compulsively adopts stray cats and there are between two and four in the apartment—or possibly more if they’re good at hiding and faster than Grantaire. Grantaire is glad he brought the scotch with him, because even though Feuilly insists more than once he is fine with Grantaire drinking his booze, it is clear to him now that Feuilly needs whatever money he has to take care of his infinite, or possibly self-replicating, cats.

Feuilly has work to do, which is fine because Grantaire is hung over, and also because he has a new book to read, and a sketch pad to break in. He reads, and drinks his scotch absently out of the bottle. Hair of the dog, he thinks, but he’s not drinking enough, nor was he hung over enough, to even pretend that’s what he’s doing. In the middle of the afternoon, Feuilly taps him with his toe from the other side of the bed and smiles.

“I am making chili,” he says, like he’s not entirely sure he’s telling the truth. “Help me chop vegetables?”

“That is not a skill of mine,” Grantaire whines, but trudges reluctantly the ten feet to the kitchen.

“You fence.” Feuilly clearly thinks the two are somehow related, and Grantaire isn’t sure what to do with that.

“Foils are blunt.”

Feuilly rolls his eyes. “Well, then this will be helpful practice in case you ever have to use a real sword.”

Grantaire pulls a bandana out of his bag and wraps it around his head Rosie the Riveter style, in theory to keep his hair out of his face, but practically mostly looking silly. “Are you saying that if the zombie apocalypse came, that I would be Michonne?”

“Yes. And I would be…Dale probably.”

Grantaire nods sagely. “Seems legit. Point me to the veggies and knives.”

The chili turns out better than Grantaire would have bet on, mostly because Feuilly does nothing by halves, not even cooking, and possibly re-chopped some of Grantaire’s worse handiwork when Grantaire wasn’t looking. Grantaire insists on helping to clean up, but he can tell Feuilly appreciates it, even if he stresses repeated that Grantaire doesn’t need to. He doesn’t remember he’ll need to take his gloves off until he’s about to put the pot in the sink, but Feuilly continues looking him directly in the eyes while he speaks. He’s sort of surprised about that, but he’s also sort of surprised that Feuilly came to his rescue, because he wouldn’t have bet money that they were friends.

Apparently Grantaire is bad at friends.

After dinner Feuilly pulls a book off his shelf and opens it, surprising Grantaire both in that it’s a box, not a real book, and that it is apparently where Feuilly keeps his weed. “Fancy a smoke?” he asks, pulling out a glass pipe in the shape of a cat because apparently Feuilly has decided to be a parody of himself.

“Why yes, my good sir!” Grantaire has smoked a lot in his college years, but he’s never bought weed, and he’s never watched someone actually do the prep of grinding and it’s interesting, but more than that, it reveals that Feuilly smokes a lot more pot than Grantaire would have ever bet.

They smoke out of the ridiculous cat pipe and Grantaire feels so fucking calm he want to bottle his feeling and keep it forever. Or find out who Feuilly’s dealer is. Calm and more cuddly than normal, Feuilly says, “I’ve got something cool to show you, go lie on the bed.”

Grantaire does a half hearted, “Bow chica wow wow,” but Feuilly just rolls his eyes, hard, and Grantaire swears he can hear them roll.

Feuilly takes the lampshade off the lamp beside his bed and fusses with it. He closes all the curtains, using the light of his phone to navigate the pitch-black apartment, then settles down next to Grantaire, lying with his head hanging off the bed, so Grantaire mimics his position.

Feuilly turns the lamp on, and whatever he put on the bulb lights the whole room with constellations. Grantaire laughs in spite of himself, because it is so, so cool, and so much not what he was expecting, but then it occurs to him, and he has to ask. “Feuilly, am I the pony girl, but with space?”

Feuilly’s face does a beautiful mix of confusion and anticipation of how ridiculous this conversation is going to get. “Pony girl?”

Grantaire nods vehemently. “Yeah you know, Tina from Bob’s Burgers, that kid in elementary school who always draws horses in art class, and writes stories about horses, and has a horse on her backpack and lunch box and when you play with her at recess says things like, ‘sure we can play superheroes, I’m going to be a superhero horse!’ Am I that kid, but with space? I am the Space kid who only has time for space, because a week ago I would have said no, but now I am having a crisis of self, and I am unsure, Feuilly.”

Feuilly looks a little embarrassed, which Grantaire decides is probably a sign that he is not the Space Kid. “Sorry if we came off a little crazy. It’s not that we think you don’t have other interests, it’s just…” He sighs. “You remember last fall, when we all went to the planetarium? Just because?”

Grantaire absolutely remembers that, because he loves that memory more than most of his nuclear family and he still has the picture of all of them that they forced some poor employee to take of them tacked to his fridge.

Feuilly sighs again. “It was the first—and only, this is an official callout—non-political outing you had come to since any of us had known you. The photo we took that day is the only group picture we have with you in it. So it’s a fond memory for me. For a lot of us. And I guess I was trying to recapture the best I could. And instead it seems I made you uncomfortable and insinuated you had only one interest. Tadah?”

Feuilly looks vaguely unhappy so Grantaire nudges him with his shoulder. “This is a very cool thing and now I am going to bore you by identifying way too many constellations and evolve into my final form: Space Adult.” Feuilly chuckles, but Grantaire is pretty sure he thinks Grantaire is joking, so Grantaire starts identifying.

He realizes Crater and Corvus are both resting on his chest above his heart, but he pretends he doesn’t notice, because it’s easier than being sad right now. Fuck Apollo, anyway.

They fall asleep with the light still on, and he wakes up to a text from Eponine and maybe six cats huddling strategically around his sleeping body. Feuilly is awake in bed and reading. He smiles a good morning, but goes back to his book without saying anything.

Eponine: my parents are back, the kids are with them. come home and I’ll make you breakfast french fries
R: 100% sure you are talking about hash browns
Eponine: breakfast french fries

Grantaire spits some cat hair out of his mouth. “Eponine wants me to come back home. Sorry. But thank you for letting me crash and letting me show off my space skills.”

Feuilly smiles. “Any time. Feel free to come back if you need to.”

Grantaire nods his acknowledgment doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t want to need to come back. He changes from his comfiest sweats to his second comfiest, but significantly cleaner, sweats. He texts Eponine again.

R: epo9, help me how do I make an uber come
R: are you laughing at me? you are aren’t you
R: is there a number I have to call?
R: I swear to god what do I do
Eponine: download the app
Eponine: and that joke is only funny in writing bc that’s not how you say my name
R: lucky for me texts are a written medium
R:….how do I do that?

Grantaire figures it out because he is an intelligent adult and also because he googles it. He’s back in his apartment within a half an hour, and Eponine is frying some potatoes on the stove.

“Honey, I’m home,” he says, and she smiles at him, a little sadly, but he can’t blame her for that. In a fair world, he thinks, they would be each other’s soulmates, and everything would be easier.

“Eponine,” she says, as much sarcasm and mocking packed into her voice as she can possibly manage, “how do I use my phone? What is an app? Where must I travel to learn the cosmic secrets of uber?”

He comes up behind her wraps his arms around her and rests his head on her shoulder. “How are the kiddos?”

She sniffles slightly, but her eyes are dry. “They’re dandelion kids, they’re gonna be okay.”

“Obviously, I just wanted to know if you have anymore details on Azelma’s very subtle crush.”

Eponine rolls her eyes, but she’s smiling. “I knew I shouldn’t have told you that.”
She feeds him breakfast french fries and pineapple, with a large glass of milk, because if there is one thing her childhood completely failed to prepare her for, it is figuring out what foods should be eaten together. Grantaire eats it without complaint because he has definitely had worse and also because he wants to let her figure things out for herself, but based on the face she pulls a couple bites in, this particular combination is one she won’t try again.

He spends the rest of his mandatory break from his own life watching the reboot of MST3K with Eponine and sketching her, and generally being drunk and reading about space.

When Monday finally rolls around, Grantaire feels almost ready to face his life. He shows up to his library shift on time, with Eponine trailing behind him by about two minutes. The rules say he can’t have friends hang out at the desk while he’s working, but as long as his supervisor can’t prove they’re friends she’s got nothing.

Eponine walks up to the desk two minutes later with a very neutrally expressioned Combeferre keeping pace. They stop at the desk and Eponine shrugs. “I stepped on a piece of gum outside and now I’m tracking it everywhere.”

Grantaire nods knowledgeably and pacifying. “You are a very handsome piece of gum,” he tells Combeferre.

Combeferre chuckles, softly the way he does when something actually tickles his fancy. “Thank you very much. R.” He adds Grantaire’s nickname as an afterthought, and Grantaire realizes right then that he hadn’t actually ever heard Combeferre call him that before.

Grantaire winks, but his hands move unconsciously to adjust his gloves. It is too warm in the library and his hands feel gross and sweaty. “I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em. Thank you though, for calling me in sic—and is that it, ma’am, or is there something else I can help you with?”

Eponine makes her face look innocent, which on anyone else would still look somewhat murderous. “Do you have any books on the effect of Tuvan throat singing on vocal nodes? I was hoping—” a door behind the desk slams and Combeferre jumps as Eponine cuts herself off.

Combeferre looks back and forth between the two of them, waiting for one of them to break. It’s surprisingly Eponine.

“R’s stupid supervisor is the worst and she gives him all the boring shifts where no one interacts with him, so I come hang out, only hanging out at the desk is illegal, so when she cracks the door, I pretend to be the world’s stupidest patron and then she usually fucks off. It very much offends her sensibilities when you say really dumb shit. I’m sure she knows I’m not here for books but she also can’t prove it, so there’s that.”

Combeferre nods. “Okay. Weird, but okay. I just came here to give you—” he can see the doorknob begin to turn and changes courses fast. Eponine, taking her cue from him, steps back a couple steps and pulls out her phone. “Ah, yes, I’m writing a paper for my history class, I was wondering if you could assist me?”

The supervisor steps out of her office and hovers behind Grantaire. “Of course, sir,” Grantaire says in his best customer service voice. It’s good his supervisor can’t see his face, though, because he is grinning maniacally. “How can I help you?”

Combeferre doesn’t pause for more than a second, which is pretty impressive considering the bullshit that tumbles forth from his mouth. “I’m writing a paper discussing how the outcomes of World War II might have been different if they had had drones. Do you have any sources that could help me with that?”

Grantaire has to swallow hard to keep from laughing, but Eponine bursts into hysterics, which she tries to disguise as coughing, but she’s barely trying and it shows.

Grantaire’s supervisor makes frustrated noise and disappears again back behind her door, which slams.

“Oh my god,” Grantaire tells Combeferre, exaggerated wiping tears out of his eyes. “That was incredible.”

Combeferre grins wryly. “I do what I can.” He swings his backpack around to his front and pulls a ziplock bag full of cookies out of it. “These are from me and Courfeyrac. They were supposed to be rum cookies, but he drank all the rum while we were baking. So they’re amaretto cookies and they taste almost intentional.”

“Thank you,” Grantaire says and it’s maybe more heartfelt than a bag of mediocre cookies deserves.

Eponine snatches them out of Combeferre’s hands while trying to look casual and also not invite the smallest risk of them touching, which Grantaire notices because he knows her and also because for a great liar, she has the body language control of an eighth-grader during a growth spurt. He makes a mental note to ask her about it later, and then because he’s terrible at remembering things, sends himself a text. “I’ll take those, so R doesn’t get in trouble for having alcohol at the desk.”

Combeferre’s face falls. “Oh, shit, I’m sorry, I didn’t even think about that—“

Eponine snaps in front of his face and he jolts. “Shush your face. You didn’t know, I did, I took care of it, it’s taken care, leave it be.”

Combeferre is flushing slightly. He adjusts his glasses on his nose, even though they hadn’t moved at all. “Thank you, Eponine, that is sweet of you, I don’t know what I’d have done without you.”

Eponine blushes a little too, and viciously bites into a cookie. Combeferre says something resembling a goodbye and flees into the stacks; his natural habitat.

“What the actual fuck was that, Ponine?” Eponine doesn’t say anything, so when Combeferre starts showing up more and more on his shifts, he doesn’t say anything either. He does, however, appreciate hearing Combeferre ask him for books on things like, “how penguins actually feel about monogamy,” and “building boats out of water soluble materials,” and “ how to achieve perfect placement of pictures on walls without math,” and “the concept of birds—no, not actual birds, just the concept,” when his boss is in earshot.

He also enjoys how smug Combeferre looks when she asks him what he’s studying and he says, “I’m a med student.”

It doesn’t hurt, either, that the cookies are surprisingly good.

Getting back to work at the café is harder. Every time Grantaire sees a blond head, he thinks frantically that is must be Enjolras, come to ambush him here, where he’s at his most public and vulnerable and easiest to fire. He doesn’t though, and while Grantaire is about 90% happy about that, some tiny part of him was hoping that eventually Enjolras would try again.

The abrupt disruption of his regular schedule had allowed him time to wallow and wish for things to be different and pine and drink, but coming back to his real life somehow brings his regularly scheduled feelings with it. Standing there making Joly a soy latte just reminds him of how many other times he has stood there, hoping vainly that Enjolras would come in and pay attention to him. In some ways, his longing is comforting in its familiarity, but that feels a little bit tragic, even for him.

Grantaire is surprised when Cosette comes to visit him, because it’s new. She saunters into the café looking beautiful and put together. Her sundress is low cut, and across her chest, just under her collarbones and above the swell of her breasts, is wreath of blooms, which Grantaire had never seen before. Her First was clearly a crocus, which is so fitting because Cosette is brimming with love and joy, and mirrored on the other side is a corn flower, because clearly her soul or god or the ineffable other had noted that Cosette should be blessed.

In the center of her wreath is a single aloe flower, he thinks probably for her mother, and edged with cowslip; he doesn’t think of her as pensive, but she surely is graceful. Along her bare ankle, is a full anklet of daisies. Her lips are painted pink around her fateful lip forget-me-not, drawing attention to it instead of covering it up, which is a decision that Grantaire cannot contemplate; to be so secure of your looks and your love to wear it like a badge upon your face. She’s wearing a sweater, too, which makes Grantaire feel better because it’s cold outside and he didn’t want to have to offer her his.

“R,” she greets cheerfully. “I was hoping to catch you at you break, did I miss it?”

He is reluctant to let her down because she is lovely, and he hasn’t seen her in almost a week. “Unfortunately my dear, my break was a little over an hour ago. I get off in three hours, though? If you have a latte of time.”

She rolls her eyes, a smile tugging at her lips, but she’s learned not to encourage him with puns. Down that road lines a vortex into the endless punny abyss. “I suppose I could wait,” she says amenably. “Would you make me a chai, in the meanwhile?”

She insists on paying. His friends don’t have to, but she does, and shoves five additional dollars into the tip jar. His manager is hovering back behind the counter as he makes her a drink, which is unusual.

“Hey,” his manager says, “why don’t you take off? We haven’t had any business in hours. I could close down early.”

Grantaire can feel his face heating up and he’s honestly beyond mortified when says, “That would be cool, but I like, really need the money. So.” He finishes Cosette’s drink and turns to look at his manager and tries not to look too much like a disaster.

“Don’t worry about it,” he says, and hands Grantaire a cup of their weird cold brew that he is possibly addicted to at this point. “With the savings I can get from turning off the lights and not making coffee no one is drinking, I’ll still be able to pay you. Go see your friend.”

Grantaire nods appreciatively because he doesn’t trust his voice not to sound shaky. He’s relatively certain his emotions didn’t used to yo-yo this much. Useless, he thinks, and tries to shake the thought out by physically shaking his head.

Cosette, who had been listening in with the innocent expression of a girl who knew she could get away with it, curtseyed as he handed her the cup. Laughing, he bowed back. “Shall we go sit in the park? I’d like to speak with you.”

“Sure, that’d be nice.” He realizes that he’s still wearing his apron when they’re about a block away, but it feels too far to head back and he resigns himself to looking like the world’s emo-est barista in his black fingerless gloves, black beanie and obnoxiously beige apron.

She leads him under the shade of a tree and sits down, long legs splayed out in front of her, daisy-chain anklet on full display. She takes the first sip of her chai and makes an expressive, appreciative noise, which he suspects is only a little exaggerated. “I have something for you.” She reaches in her purse and pulls out a stack of colorful knit somethings. “Musichetta told me what you were wearing, and it’s too warm for them, as I’m sure you know. These are cotton, machine washable, and I knit you four pairs in two days, so if you want more, I can accommodate easily. I assume, if you’re planning on wearing them everyday that they won’t last that long—unless you want to rock the Michael Jackson look and only wear them on one hand. Either way, I hope you like them.”

Grantaire takes a shaky breath. “You didn’t have to.”

She nods, graciously. “I wanted to.” She hands them to him, and he takes them carefully. They’re all dark colors, perfect for the clothes he wears; eggplant and forest green and aegean and the color of port-wine and he loves them. She turns her gaze very purposefully towards the sky and he trades his sweaty gloves for the blue ones.

They fingers cut off a little lower, but he doesn’t mind. The end of a white petal visible, but it could be anything from that glimpse. His hands feel immediately cooler, though, and the material soft and less bulky. “Thank you, Cosette.”

She smiles back at him. Daintily, she lifts her leg and drops it heavily onto his lap. The daisy closest to him is right above her ankle, and it has a bent petal, and is a little off center from the other ones. “It’s yours, you know.” He pokes the banged up daisy, and she whacks him with her foot in retaliation.

“When did you get it?” he asks, because he honestly can’t think of when that could have happened for her.

“The first day I met all of you. I got them all once, but I got yours first. You were the first person to greet me, and I instantly bloomed. I can’t tell you who the other ones belong to, although I have a few guesses. But that one is yours. You are my friend, R, and if you need anything you just have to let know.”

He nods, but can’t find any words. She talks to him for a while longer, and when she finally takes her leave, she kisses him on the cheek and hugs him tightly. He was glad for her presence, but he’s glad for her absence, too. His head is buzzing and his throat feels scratchy from emotions, or maybe he’s just allergic to the grass.

His phone buzzes. It is a text from the Les Amis group chat and it says, “reminder meeting tonight @ 7 @ musain.” He mutes the chat.

There’s a meeting tonight. It feels hard to believe it was just a week ago that everything went to hell. He isn’t going to go, maybe ever again; he wasn’t lying to Joly when he said that, but he aches for it. No, that’s a lie. He’s going to go again, just not now. He needs more time, to regroup, to lick his wounds, to gird his loins, maybe, if that means what he thinks it means. He texts Joly.

R: I’m not coming tonight
Joly: wasnt expecting u 2
Joly: want compa-ME tho???
Joly: ima head over brb
R: Joly you don’t have to, I’ll be fine
Joly: sorry cant see ur texts im on the metro theres no reception xoxoxox
R: Joly you literally just sent me text
Joly: sry ur breakin up

Laughing, Grantaire heads home, hoping to beat Joly. He doesn’t. When he comes home, Joly and Eponine are sitting on the couch with containers of curry open in front of them.

“Hi, R!” Joly calls before the door is all the way open. “Welcome back to your humble abode.”

“Joly brought us dinner,” Eponine enthuses with a mouthful of food. “You’ve been replaced as my favorite.”

Grantaire huffs. “Well hello to you, too. And I bring you dinner all the time.”

Eponine smiles with faked remorse. “I’m sorry R, but the votes are in and Joly is my fave.”

Joly grins and pats the sofa next to him. “Come consume curry with you curiously contrary compatriots.”

Grantaire nods decisively. “I’m leaving.” He collapses down into the couch next to Joly. He’ll leave in a minute.

“Nooo!” Joly cries, burying his face in Grantaire’s arm. “What ever shall we do?”

Eponine pats him with the back of her hand, still shoveling food into her mouth. “We’ll get through, somehow.” She glances down at her phone and frowns, rolling her eyes irritably at the passage of time. “I gotta go.”

Grantaire starts a little at her pronouncement. “You’re leaving? Where are you going?”

Eponine stands, swallowing the rest of her food. “Places. Can I go dad, or do you need to know what time I’m coming home, too?”

“No, sorry. Have fun, I guess.” Eponine is frequently difficult, and he’s not sure why it’s getting to him today. It’s their thing. She’s difficult, but he is too, and they’re prickly, but they’re like two cacti growing in the same pot; they don’t stab each other, just everyone else.

She breathes out loudly through her nose, and comes behind him to give him a hug. “R, I know it’s hard for you, but try your hardest not to be an idiot, okay? I’ll be home later, okay?” She slams the door behind her.

It shouldn’t hurt, but it does. Eponine has seen his stupid geranium and his dumb carnation a million times and she has to know that it hurts him. She has to know he’s vulnerable, right now. Or maybe that’s her way of saying it’s gone on too long, that’s she’s done with taking care of him, done with him needing care. He is so sick of crying, of feeling dumb and useless and small. Everyone else around him towers, and all he wants to is be asleep, and wake up when things feel like getting better.

Joly wraps an arm around him. “C’mon, I got you some curry.”

“Not hungry.” That’s not strictly true, he has mostly had toast and coffee today and his stomach is roiling with nausea and stomach acid. He absolutely should eat, but he knows if he does he’s going to vomit, and if he’s going to vomit then it needs to be from alcohol instead. “Sorry.”

Joly nods. “Okay, I’ll put it in the fridge for you. What can I do?”

Grantaire doesn’t know what to say, so he doesn’t say anything. He had looked forward to seeing Joly earlier, because Joly was his friend, but he just wants to be alone right now with the super size bottle of bottom shelf vodka in his closet. It’s not fair, Joly just wants to help, but he just wants to lash out.

Joly takes his hand, slowly, and places it on the daisy on Grantaire’s wrist, giving him all the time in the world to stop him. “R.”

Embarrassingly, that’s all it takes before Grantaire breaks down again. He can’t stop crying. He thinks he will cry himself out and then will carry on crying out pieces of himself until he ceases to exist, and it’s nonsensical but it feels tempting somehow; finding the loose string of himself and pulling at it until the entirety of him unravels. The crying stops quickly, but Grantaire is almost entirely sure it’s because he’s dehydrated. He still feels like crying, but his body won’t do it, won’t listen to him, and he is useless in this, too.

“Want to watch something?” Joly asks, taking the lack of tears as a sign that Grantaire is recovering. He doesn’t feel like he’s recovering.

“No.” Grantaire wants to do something, anything, that will make him feel more like himself and less like a sea cucumber. He wants to be able to take off his gloves and not be faced with heartbreak. “I want to paint.”

Joly is nodding. “Okay, good, that’s good. Do you want me to stay?”

Grantaire shrugs, pushing himself off the couch and out of Joly’s arms. He thinks Joly looks hurt, or maybe just confused, but he isn’t responsible for Joly, and if Joly doesn’t want to be here anymore he can leave. That option is still available for him. Everyone can leave him, friendship daisy or no. A bloom isn’t a contract and Grantaire knows he has almost no redeeming qualities.

He grabs a drop cloth, because Eponine has threatened to castrate him if they lose their security deposit, and he flings it on the ground. His easel has been resting on the wall behind the tv for months, and there’s a blank canvas next to it on the floor. He set is up on the drop cloth with a heavy hand. He wants his hands to be dirty, he wants the paint to cover up his shame.

He kicks of his shoes and toes off his socks. There is a large cluster of daisies on the top of his foot that wasn’t there before but he doesn’t care. His painting flask is in the case with his painting accruement, covered in colors and safe to touch with dirty hands. He fills it with his vodka, drains it, and fills it again. He takes another sip, directly from the bottle for good measure. It burns unpleasantly down his throat and that feels right.

He sets up his acrylics and his brushes on a chair next to his easel and the thinks fuck it. He throws his shirt over his head and pretends he doesn’t hear Joly’s gasp. He squeezes black onto his hand, and attacks the canvas. He adds blue, smudging edges and trying to make it feel like something. He rubs the excess black off on his arm, and as the black smudges over his brand he feels something in his chest loosen. Opening his flask, he toasts himself.

The canvas is a shock of blue and black, the center form looks to his eyes like a crow. Corvus, he thinks, and laughs aloud. He can see Joly’s worried expression reflected in the tv and if he felt more like himself he would say something but he doesn’t. He picks a brush and begin to make the form looks more like bird and less like blob.

He is painfully aware how blackening his mark has eased his heart. He hadn’t truly considered tattooing over it until this moment, but now it occurs. He’s done before, made a daisy of an ex-friend into a rose, or planets or stars, or sometimes just a black box. He tattooed a spiral of black around a woman’s fingertips, covering forget-me-nots with barely a thought. He knows better than to tattoo himself that extensively on his own, but now that the thought is there it itches the back of his brain.

He angrily slaps yellow onto the canvas for a bowl, tucked into the bird’s beak. Fuck it, he’ll make it gold, he’ll make the whole background gold, to better contrast how much he has failed Apollo and how he will thirst forever.

The crow truly looks like a crow by the time Eponine gets back. He can hear her speaking to Joly, but he doesn’t care what they’re saying. He doesn’t listen. On a paper-plate-turned-palate he builds himself a dark enough grey and begins to separate feathers. Someone is right behind him, he can feel it and all the hair rises on his back but he’s focused. He diffuses the grey around the fucking bird so it’ll stand out from the rest of the blue and black blob he created first.

“Hey,” Eponine says, too close to ignore. “What are you doing?”

There are a million correct answers to that question, but he spitefully goes for the wrong one. “Trying not to be an idiot.”

Grantaire knows she is clenching her jaw without even looking at her. She lets out a slow breath and says, “Okay, I deserved that. You want to talk about it?”

He seethes. He is angrier at her in this moment than he thinks he has ever been before. It comes to him almost without conscious thought where she was tonight. She was at the Musain, of course she was. He wants to unravel, and wants her to watch. “I want you to leave me the fuck alone.”

“Okay. I’m going to sit on the couch with Joly, okay?”

He doesn’t answer, goes back to his paints. They begin to speak again and it’s the worst sort of irritant; they’re being polite and quiet and he thinks maybe not even talking about him, but the sound of their voices makes his skin feel too tight and his head pound.

He paints water dripping from the bowl, which is still bare, and he thinks of eating cereal out of bowl with Bahorel and space and Feuilly’s earnest surprise and Joly planning it all for him and he yells. He tosses his paper plate which lands face down, but thankfully on the drop cloth and turns to face his friends.

Eponine schools her expression into something less upset than what she is almost certainly feeling, but Joly just looks hurt, and his gaze keeps flitting between Grantaire’s face and his bared torso. He wishes he hadn’t taken off his shirt, feels naked and ugly in front of his objectively more attractive friends. Feeling ugly is at least familiar to him.

“Are you finished with your fit?” Eponine asks him levelly.

“How was Combeferre?” he spits back, bitter and more drunk than he should be for lack of food.

Her jaw clenches. Next to her, Joly is tense, unclear what his role should be. “Worried about you. I should have told him not to bother.”

“Fuck you!” Grantaire shouts, and he wants to fight, wants to brawl, want to be hurting and to hurt. His skin is too tight for his body. His arm is filled with a sudden all consuming itch like something crawling beneath the skin.

“You’re behaving like a fucking child, R,” she says, angrily, and Joly shoots her a worried look.

Of course Joly is worried about her, he thinks, she’s not the one behaving like a child. He gives into the itch and scratches at his arm. The burn doesn’t subside, if anything it gets stronger. Eponine’s right, of course she’s right, he’s a fucking failure, a disappointment—he’s useless, and stupid, to boot. So stupid he thought someone telling it straight was a betrayal. His nails catch on the paint and he can’t stop from raking them up and down his arm.

Grantaire’s eyes are closed and suddenly he’s suddenly so dizzy, the floor tilting under him like a seesaw. His knees give, or the world has come up to meet him, or he is sinking into the floor. The world continues to spin when he opens his eyes, but Eponine is holding him tightly and Joly is staring, horrified, and the red welts and small cults he left along his forearm and physically holding back his other arm and Grantaire wants to disappear.

His head lolls weakly back onto Eponine. “I’m such a fuck up, Ponine.”

“You’re not,” she says directly into his ear, which he thinks is a lie, but a sweet one.

She and Joly drag him to bed. He throws his right arm over his face and pretends to not exist. Joly washes the paint off his arm, washes his cuts, dabs Neosporin on them daintily, and Eponine tries to interest him in a cup of water but it doesn’t matter and he doesn’t care.

Grantaire’s alarm wakes him up and is its last act before his phone dies. He doesn’t remember falling asleep. He throws clothes on, not bothering to see if they’re clean, and refills his paint flask, shoving it in his jeans. He leaves his phone on the bed, dead and not charging. Eponine is gone before him even though she doesn’t have a class, but she was right, he’s not her family, she can do whatever she wants without his permission. She can be wherever.

He’s late to his art class, but he doesn’t care. His teacher frowns at him, but it’s a studio class and she has worse students to monitor. He stares at his canvas, a project he’s been working at for months and wants to paint over it. He sketches, instead. It looks like Eponine, a column of dahlias running down her back, but that’s not fair he supposes.

He shouldn’t read people hating him as betrayals. Honestly, what is there to like? It’s like the day before but worse, because Grantaire knows now for sure the only thing that was keeping him from a full on breakdown was the brief respite from his responsibilities. Now that his vacation is over everything is real and everything is terrible.

Grantaire opts to skip stats because who gives a fuck about stats. He borrows a classmate’s computer to tell their stats teacher that he will be MIA and then does the same for his library shift. Someone will cover him, someone always does. He goes to the quad, hoping to find a spot in the shade where he can sit and drink and pass out. It’s getting colder and he ought to have brought a jacket but he didn’t. The alcohol will warm him, or it won’t.

There is a cluster of people under the tree he likes best and as he approaches he realizes the people are his friends. He is too close to pretend he didn’t see them, besides Bahorel has spotted him and is waving him over frantically. It’s Eponine and Bahorel and Joly and Courfeyrac; a motley crew, and one he doesn’t particularly want to see.

They make a space for him in their circle and he grudgingly sits down. He knows if he is too rude they will make a bigger thing of it, and so the path of least resistance is sitting.

“We were texting you all morning! How are you feeling?” Joly asks him earnestly.

“Phone’s dead.” Grantaire uncaps his flask and salutes Joly with it before drinking from it. Joly’s smiles fades a little but Grantaire supposes it’s better that he disappoints them now then have them wait any longer. He might have bloomed daisies for all of them, but that doesn’t mean they like him back.

Eponine frowns at him. “Have you eaten today?”

“Not hungry.”

Bahorel smiles at him and rolls him an apple that he pulled out of a pocket, presumably. Grantaire doesn’t want the apple, but he bites into it anyway. “I thought you had stats with Jehan?”

Grantaire nods. “Yup.

 

Joly frowns. “Shouldn’t you be there, then?”

Grantaire shrugs, biting into the apple to keep from having to fabricate another sentence.

Courfeyrac is sitting across from him in the circle and ducks his head to try and meet Grantaire’s eyes. “Cheri,” he says obnoxiously, and Grantaire can remember how viscerally irritated that made him, but the feeling is locked away, inaccessible. “How was your morning? You’re in that multimedia studio class, right?”

Grantaire shrugs again. “I’m thinking of quitting.”

Courfeyrac nods encouragingly, like he has always known the sort of failure Grantaire is. “It’s a two semester class, I’ve heard a lot of people drop it after winter break. Nothing wrong with that.”

“No,” he says without thinking. “Quitting school.” He wasn’t thinking about quitting, wasn’t planning on saying that, but in the shocked silence he causes he realizes that it’s true.

“Is that what you want to do?” Joly asks him carefully.

That Grantaire doesn’t want anything anymore is the real issue. “I don’t need a BA to be a starving artist, do I?”

Joly shakes his head slowly, like he’s trying to work out a puzzle. “No, of course not. College is not for everyone, and if that’s what you really want of course we’ll all encourage you in whatever you want to do, R, you know that.”

Courfeyrac nods again. “Yeah, and when you’re ready we’d love to have you back with Les Amis. We already miss you, and I think we’re starting to make a real differ—”

“No.” Grantaire takes another swig from his flask. It’s half empty, but he’s decided he’s not going to work anyway.

That Courfeyrac looks taken aback is proof that he has no idea what’s going on. He smiles, cajoling, and says, “Don’t you believe in the cause, Grantaire?”

Grantaire slips his phone back into pocket. “Hadn’t you heard: I don’t believe in anything.”

Eponine snorts unattractively. “He believes in Enjolras,” she says in a loud stage whisper.

“No, I don’t.” Grantaire stands up, suddenly needing to be very far away. “I don’t believe in anything.”

“Wait!” Eponine yells, but he is already heading across the quad, and he may not be athletic looking but he is strong and he can be fast when he needs to, and right now he needs to.

Bahorel, though, is faster. He grabs Grantaire’s shoulder and Grantaire tries to shake him off but he wasn’t prepared for a fight and Bahorel is. He’s pinned to the ground quickly, panting and shaky. “Let’s go to the gym,” Bahorel suggests, and pulls him up.

That sounds almost as good as Grantaire’s original plan to find somewhere to pass out drunk. “Yeah, okay.”

Bahorel holds his hand the entire time, leading him to the gym and telling him about an article he read in the Smithsonian. It doesn’t interest Grantaire, but he appreciates that Bahorel isn’t making him talk. Grantaire’s not entire sure he has his wallet with him, but they let him in regardless, maybe just because he’s with Bahorel, or maybe they recognize him, or maybe they don’t care.

They reach the locker room before Grantaire realizes there is an issue. “I can’t fight in these clothes.”

“No,” Bahorel agrees. “But you also can’t fight on an empty stomach.” He hands Grantaire a bottle chocolate flavored protein beverage, a tank top and shorts from inside his locker. “Drink that first and then I’ll wrap your hands.”

Grantaire drinks it grudgingly because Bahorel is right and he doesn’t want to pass out anymore, he wants to punch something. Bahorel’s clothing is too long, but embarrassingly snug around his waist.

Bahorel nods in approval, taking Grantaire’s clothes from him and sticking them in locker. “Okay. Let’s wrap your hands.”

Grantaire hesitates. “Aren’t you going to change?”

Bahorel shakes his head and grabbed Grantaire’s right hand first. “Not yet. I took a really bitchin’ Muay Thai class a couple weeks ago and I really want to show you some cool moves. If you’re feeling okay after that and can stomach another protein drink then we can spar.” Bahorel finishes wrapped the hand and wrist and reaches slowly for the left. If he wraps further up the arm than is strictly necessary, neither one says a thing. The boxing set-up is usually pretty empty when there isn’t a class and luck is on Grantaire’s side in this, if nothing else.

Grantaire toes off his socks and shoes and stretches without too much prompting, because as much as hurting sounds really good right now, a pulled muscle will suck long past this urge has passed.

Bahorel finds pads for his hands and walks Grantaire through a couple moves he learned, before stepping back and letting Grantaire take his anger out on pads. “What do you want?” he asks Grantaire after a particularly hard jab.

“For people to stop asking me that,” Grantaire grits out between hits. He is sweaty and already warm bone deep, the kind that will settle into a nice ache later.

Bahorel allows every hit connect, not ducking or weaving, allows Grantaire lay into him. “What do you want, R?”

“Nothing!” Grantaire takes a few steps forward and back and kicks, unexpectedly. The kick hits easily on the pad and Bahorel steps back slightly, but his face is still impassive.

“What did you want last week? A month ago? Two months ago?” Bahorel barely moves beyond making sure Grantaire’s increasingly frantic hits make contact with the pads and not his body.

Grantaire’s expression turns defensive and angry and hurt. “To prove my worth.” Grantaire makes two sharp jabs before kicking again, making contact with Bahorel’s thigh and not the pads at all, but Bahorel’s stance is stable and his only acknowledgement of the hit is a raised eyebrow.

“To the world, or Enjolras?”

“Fuck you!” Grantaire charges him and wisely, Bahorel steps out of the way. Not expecting that, Grantaire overbalances, and goes tumbling to the ground.

Bahorel lends a forearm and helps Grantaire lever himself up. Despite the fact that he’s winded and clearly needs a break, Grantaire lays into him again, strike after strike until his arms begin to hurt, but doesn’t care, and Bahorel isn’t even making it a challenge.

“And if you quit, doesn’t that prove them right? Doesn’t the defeat the entire purpose of what you’ve done up until now?”

Grantaire sneers and aims at Bahorel’s gut—he connects with a pad. “Worth isn’t only measured in academic achievement.”

Bahorel sweeps his leg out from under him, and Grantaire goes down again, hard. Bahorel stands over him, but doesn’t lend a hand to help him up so Grantaire stays down. “My point stands.”

“You think I don’t fucking know that? You think I’m not extremely aware how pathetic I’ll look, backing down and giving in? Even I am not that stupid.” He makes to stand up, but Bahorel plants a foot on his chest.

Bahorel frowns. “But you’re okay with that?”

Grantaire slaps at Bahorel’s foot, but he doesn’t move it. “It is a Sisyphean task! Am I meant to fight forever? How far do I have to run to outrun disappointment and uselessness and stupidity? What I am supposed to do when it gets too heavy, when I need a break, when I am fucking tired, Bahorel? And I am just meant to start over every time the fucking rock rolls down the hill? For the rest of my life? And that’s the noble choice, instead saying fuck it and building a home at the bottom?” He thinks of Enjolras, of his hard features and soft lips, of his strong hands and stronger tongue. His voice carries the weight of those thoughts, hoarse and strained. “And what if there’s nothing left waiting for me at the top?”

Bahorel whistles. “Hoo boy, let’s unpack all of that.” He moves his foot on Grantaire’s sternum and drops himself to the floor next to Grantaire, who doesn’t move even though he’s been let up. “First of all, Enjolras is a person, not a prize. I get wanting to feel worthy of your soulm—the person you have feelings for, but if he’s the one for you, he’ll be there whether you think you’re a disappointment or not. Something really great could pass you by while you’re waiting to become a butterfly, my dude. And also, Enjolras is a man, probably a great man, but I don’t know if he’s always a good man.

“I know you think the shit he said was true because you ended up with it on your skin, but if every true thing about you was represented in your blooms, you would be covered with coriander flowers, and aster, and arum, and fucking crocuses, because you are so fucking loved, R. It’s really gross how much we all love each other; Jehan thinks so and he’s a poet.”

Bahorel takes a deep breath. Grantaire is stock still when he continues. “And for the rest of it, when you are tired, you ask us for help. Read your mythology; Sisyphus was a dick, and no one would have stood with him if he had asked. You have all of Les Amis, and if you need us to help you prop up your metaphorical rock so you can take a breath, well, we’ll do that for you. You can’t outrun your own skin, but you know people who love you regardless. And even if that was a pathetic display of your vaunted kickboxing skills, I would not call you useless by any stretch of the imagination.”

Grantaire laughed, shaky and nervous and quiet, sprawled out on his back. “I don’t know if you noticed but I am also kind of a dick.”

Bahorel laughed. “Yes, you are. But you’re a good friend, and I have a daisy to prove it. Mine tend to be on my inner thighs, but if you really need to see it I will strip down right here.”

Bahorel would, too, why is why Grantaire thinks he’s probably not bluffing. “Does everyone have one for me?” Grantaire asks before he can stop himself. He doesn’t want to know.

“Mhmm.”

Oh, Grantaire thinks. “Oh.” He kicks his be-daisied foot out blindly and manages to catch Bahorel’s knee. “One of those is yours. You can pick which one if you want.” He glances at Bahorel, who is smiling at him. “He wasn’t wrong though. I don’t believe in anything.”

Bahorel unstraps the pads from his hands with his teeth. “I think you’re doing both of you a disservice. You believe in Enjolras, but you also kind of deified him. He’s a guy, he’s not even twenty-five, so he’s contractually obligated to be kind of an idiot, and he knows he was wrong. He’s been texting Combeferre and Courfeyrac literally a million times a day, trying to come up with some sort of gesture. I think he’s someone you could really believe in, if you got to know him as a person. I think you could believe in our crusade if you stopped thinking the worst of everyone. But even if you can’t, you can believe in your friends, and we’ll believe in you, and it’ll be really corny and emotionally healthy.”

Grantaire can feel a tickle on the inside of his elbow and is honestly a little worried to check. His body had never done him a favor before. Bahorel scoots closer to help him unwrap his hands, so he sees it first. “Look at those baby blues,” Bahorel says of his new bloom, a cornflower unfurled on the bend of his arm. “Yo ass is blessed.”

Grantaire snorts. Apparently his immortal soul or god or magic or whatever thinks he really can’t take a hint. Well, maybe he did need a shove.

Bahorel herds him towards the showers, and when he emerges, cleaner and steadier and really, really hungry, Bahorel passes him his phone. In the time they had been in gym, Bahorel had gotten 10 messages from Joly.

Joly: is R w/ u
Joly: ok where r u
Joly: i checked w/ jehan call ur roomie hes worried now 2
Joly: r u 2 ded in a ditch
Joly: omfg u r, rn’t u??????
Joly: i hav 2 go home but ep’s freakin out R left his fone home
Joly: if Rs w/u get him home ok ok????
Joly: i s2g tell me ur ok im gonna start panicking soon
Joly: my fave friend of all FEUILLY told me he saw u 2 at the gym so ur off the hook
Joly: give R my xoxoxoxox

Bahorel is grinning. “I’ll let Eponine know you’re on your way.” He hands Grantaire another protein drink and sends him on him off. He sips it, so he doesn’t vomit, but is also super grateful for it, because passing out now would be a travesty.

It’s getting darker out, and Grantaire really wishes he had thought to bring a jacket. It’s only a ten minute walk home, but he’s tired and cold and hungry, and he wants Eponine to know he’s safe and apologize for being a little bit of dick to her. Even if she started it.

He’s walking past the quad when he spots a tall figure with blond hair, only this time it actually is Enjolras. He can feel his chest constricting, but the distant figure only lifts a hand to wave and then slowly, awkwardly lowers it when he realizes Grantaire isn’t going to return the greeting. Grantaire is actually sort of surprised the world doesn’t end.

They’re not that close (and oh, the very obvious symbolism there), but he can see the way Enjolras’s face sort of falls, like he’s used to disappointment. It’s not an expression that he really ever thought he would see on Enjolras, on the stone Apollo of his own creation. He’s familiar with Enjolras’s angry disappointment, the kind that says, “I expected no better from you,” but this is different, maybe more, “I had hoped for better for myself.” Grantaire lifts a hand in the most perfunctory wave he can manage and hurries away before Enjolras takes it as a cue to come and speak to him.

He makes it home a little sooner than he was hoping. The door is unlocked, and Eponine and Combeferre are sitting on opposite sides of the couch. They both startle at the sound of the door and Eponine is hugging him before he’s all the way inside.

“I don’t do apologies,” she says, and he can understand it even though it sounds like his t-shirt is in her mouth. “But I was kind of a dick to you.”

Grantaire nods. Eponine does do apologies, it’s just she doesn’t say she’s sorry. “I was a dick back.” Grantaire looks up and sees Combeferre has made himself scarce. “I know we should talk about this now but I’m extremely hungry.”

Eponine nods and detaches herself. “Your curry is on the stove since our microwave is broken. Don’t ask.” She closes the door and gestures to the couch. He sits down with room on his right side, as always, and she puts her hand down where the daisy on his thigh is. “A lot of shit happened yesterday and I wasn’t ready to talk about it and I was worried that you would be mad that I wanted to go to the Musain instead of spending time with you.”

“What happened?” he asks, because it seems a safe place to start.

Eponine starts blushing, so maybe not. “Combeferre. That first time he came to the library? He called me sweet, and I got an insta-lily of the valley bloom. Right on my thigh. And there’s that old wives tale that people bloom most easily for their soulmates. And he’s cute, right?”

Grantaire is doing a really bad job of hiding a smile.

She scowls. “So anyway, he asked me out after that and I said okay, not because I really think he is my soulmate, but I figured I couldn’t sit around forever and mourn my complete lack of a chance with Marius, so we went to lunch. And Cosette and Marius were there, because wherever anyone is trying to have a good time, they have to show up and be even more coupley. So anyway, Marius came up to us and he put his hand on my shoulder.”

Grantaire can feel his smile sliding into a frown. If Eponine got one-sided forget-me-nots she really should have led with that, and not how cute Combeferre is. “Okay. And the verdict is?”

Eponine slides her t-shirt down off her shoulder and grins. “Nothing. Nada. Zilch.”

Grantaire is full on frowning now, and his brow is probably doing the crinkly thing that Eponine teases him for. “Are you telling me you were a douchebag because Marius wasn’t your soulmate after all? Because I gotta tell you, everyone not named Cosette lives with that every day and manages to not be a dickwad about it.”

Eponine rolls her eyes. “Yes, well. I wasn’t expecting it. And I really like Combeferre. And I wasn’t ready to tell you any of this.”

Grantaire nudges her shoulder with his elbow irritatingly. “Do you think he’s the one? Why not get with the touching?”

Eponine scoffs with such perfectly feigned disgust he thinks he would have believed it if he didn’t figuratively live in her pocket. “I think he might be. But I also think…that I like him. And I want to know that if this is a relationship that could last if it turns out we aren’t soulmates. Because I want it to. Maybe. So that’s why I was a dickwad.”

Grantaire presses his head to her shoulder. “Apology accepted. I was an asshole back because apparently I have literally no self esteem and have been trying to be someone worthwhile out of spite? And I thought you were trying to get rid of me and I’ve been having more feelings than I usually process and so I processed them badly.”

Eponine absently runs her fingers through his hair, like she always does. “I don’t think you’re stupid. Well, I think you can be stupid, but mostly when you’re stupid is when you’re assuming we don’t care about you, which we do. And I shouldn’t have said anything about that lightly, it was fucked up. You scared me today, though. I haven’t seen you that fucked up since freshman year, and freshman year I felt like if I turned my back on you for a second you would disappear and I’d never hear from you again.”

“Why did you go to the Musain last night?” he asks her finally. He doesn’t remember anything from his freshman year, but he trusts Eponine when it comes to the bodily safety of others. If she says he was that bad, then he almost certainly was.

She sighs and rolls her eyes again. “I wanted to see Combeferre. I wanted to actually say something nice to Cosette now that I don’t feel like she stole my future away. I want to support their cause, you know, a little.”

“Why?” Grantaire feels sleepier with her hand in his hair. He is calm and collected and (for fuck’s sake, apparently) blessed.

Eponine dithers for a moment. “Getting to know Joly clued me in into how much it sucks to be fallo—to be a person without blooms, in our society, even though his story is far from the worst of it. And I mean, I had a miserable childhood, but nothing short of my parents being other, better people would have fixed that. But I have a very good friend, and let’s for the sake of this conversation call him R—” he chuckles, but she ignores it. “R,” she says again. “And R had a really shitty childhood, one that could have been made better if people sucked less about First Blooms, if people were open to more science trying to figure out why the fuck any of this happens.” She clears her throat. “If people didn’t believe a stupid flower was a sign that their child wouldn’t make anything of himself.”

“So you’re drinking the kool-aid, now.”

Eponine swats him on the head. “I was fucking baptized in the kool-aid and it was gross and sticky and I did it because I love you, okay you giant freak? And I’m, you know. The s word.”

“Sarcastic? Sardonic? Solitary? Short?”

“I like zero things about you, R.”

He hugs her, and she keeps petting his hair, until a throat clears behind them and Combeferre says, “I’m really sorry to interrupt it’s just that the curry’s boiled over.”

Grantaire orders himself a pizza, because he’s earned it, and this go more or less back to normal. He decides the next day to buy presents for his friends; not so that they’ll like him more, but because he feels the need to express his gratitude. He buys Feuilly some bougie organic cat treats, and Jehan a book of terrible haikus. He gets Musichetta a new pair of track pants because she is having these back over his dead body, and different bougie hipster beer. He gets Bossuet a bottle of weird artisanal gin (because honestly Bossuet might be the least materialistic of all of them) and Joly a fancy travel first-aid kit and pound of vegan chocolate covered espresso beans.

He buys Courfeyrac a new bottle of rum (but a middle shelf one, because he’s not crazy), and gifts him and Combeferre a cookbook full of boozy desserts. He also slips Combeferre a couple printouts of recipes he’s made for Eponine that she likes (and Combeferre blushes forever when Grantaire gives them to him). For Bahorel, he buys a custom oversized novelty mug that says, “Do a Bahorel Roll” on it, which Bahorel loves because of course he does. He doesn’t buy Eponine anything because she doesn’t accept presents when it’s not her birthday or a holiday, but he makes her banana pancakes because she does accept those. He blows two weeks of his “Alcohol and Entertainment” budget on his friends, but he doesn’t really regret it.

He goes to class, as much as he ever did. He goes to work. He cooks, because Eponine can and has burnt water. He drinks, because he always drinks, but not because he feels like he’s breaking down, just because feeling fuzzy is infinitely better than feeling clear. He tries to work on himself but it’s hard. He doesn’t go to the meetings for another three weeks, because he is still trying to figure out what he wants. After three weeks, and with only four left before the semester ends, he decides fuck it, he’ll be brave.

Truly, Grantaire wants all he has ever wanted: Enjolras. This time, though, he’s looking for a man, not a god.

Grantaire unmutes the Les Amis group chat to see when the meeting is, but he realizes with clock coming up on six-thirty, that he has been removed from the list. He takes a deep breath and says, “It was probably a courtesy thing, and not because they hate you,” because saying his anxious thoughts out loud always makes them sound sillier. He texts the group chat.

R: Einstein me
Joly: what. like, literally what.
Courf: holy shit you made Joly use punctuation properly this should be a national holiday
Boss: is it a pun? I’m suspecting it’s a pun.
Boss: also holy shit, R, you’re group chatting
Courf: I feel like a proud parent
Feuilly: relativity you??
Joly: is it a sex thing?????
Joly: if itsa sex thing u gotta tell us
Joly: u GOT 2 were dyin 2 no
Courf: false alarm
R: I’m asking about
R: space-time
Boss: for fuck’s sake
Bahorel: HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA
Enjolras: 7:15 at Corinth.
R: thank.

Grantaire shows up at seven-ten because he doesn’t want to be late, but he’s also not ready to be alone in a room with Enjolras. It’s already pretty filled when he gets there. He can see Enjolras start to get up, probably to say something to him, but Combeferre grabs his arm and Enjolras sits back down. Grantaire feels guilty, but he still wants an Enjolras buffer. For now.

He’s wearing the red pair of gloves Cosette made him, and she smiles at him when she sees it. He is greeted by a chorus of, “R!” when he walks in, which makes everything seem easier.

Except Joly is glaring at him. “Space-time! The nerve of you. The actual nerve!” The group erupts into laughter, except Cosette and Marius who just look confused. Grantaire is pretty sure Cosette hasn’t been added to the group chat yet, or at least doesn’t check it regularly, but Marius…

Courfeyrac squeals. “Cheri—”

Grantaire groans. “Kill me now.”

Courfeyrac ignores him. “—you didn’t hear about Pontmercy’s cell phone.”

Grantaire turns towards Marius, who is blushing and staring fixedly at the table. Beside him, Musichetta laughing so hard she is in tears. “What did you do?”

Courfeyrac clears his throat. “Our dear Marius dropped his actual cell phone in the actual Seine trying to take a selfie with the lovely Cosette. He then jumped into the fucking Seine to attempt to retrieve it, and was promptly picked up the police, and now has one arrest to his name and is doomed to walk world cellphoneless until his next paycheck.”

Cosette is laughing, too, and Marius just looks embarrassed.

Feuilly grins. “We’re very proud of our young Mr. Pontmercy.”

Grantaire wouldn’t believe that story about anyone else, but for Marius it makes sense. Laughing, he goes and sits beside Bahorel and Jehan. It’s tighter in the Corinth and they have to sit at a bunch of tables pushed together, and speak softer, but the booze is cheaper and once a month the Musain’s back room is rented out to the most boring poetry reading that Grantaire had been forced to sit through.

Enjolras stands before them, and updates them on the Lamarque situation, on their various endeavors. He makes frequent attempts at eye contact with Grantaire, but Grantaire is a master at avoiding eye contact, so it’s all right. Grantaire doesn’t say anything, but he figures that’s okay, he will next time.

It’s going rather swimmingly until he notices that Enjolras’s sleeves are rolled up. This isn’t uncommon, and if Grantaire had sexy forearms, he’s sure he would show them off, too, but the point is that Grantaire has seen them. Hell, he’s fantasized about them. And they’ve always been blank. Now though, they’re the opposite of that, and a painful opposite.

On his left, a shock of bright purple hydrangea, and on the right, a couple dainty, pink peonies. Heartlessness and shame, burned onto his wrists. He wonders if they’re his marks, if he branded Enjolras in return. It’ll be hard to go into politics with blooms like that in plain view, but Grantaire supposes Enjolras could have them covered up, or wear long sleeves forever.

Or maybe he’ll show them off forever, regardless. Maybe it’s an apology of sorts. He texts Eponine during the meeting, because despite her absence tonight, she’s been at every other once since Grantaire’s incident, and also she won’t laugh at him too much.

R: how long has he had the blooms on his wrists??
Eponine: hi eponine, how are you? I’m sorry to hear your day was long and exhausting. You sure you feel up to hearing about my gay ass? Thanks eponine you’re the greatest
R: yeah yeah all of that, how long though?
Eponine: since you got yours, obv. Combeferre says it was immediately after and he’s kept his sleeves rolled up since then lol

Grantaire tries to focus for the rest of the meeting but it’s a losing battle against wiles of Enjolras’s forearms. After the meeting he stays for another glass of wine with Bahorel before shouting, “okay, bye!” when he’s already half out the door.

Combeferre comes rushing after him, putting on a tweed jacket while he rushes. “R! Can I walk you home?”

Grantaire grins. “Are you using me to as an excuse to come home with me and make intense eye contact with Eponine because that’s the only kind of contact your ass is getting?”

Combeferre pushes his glasses up his nose. “Yup.”

“Cool, cool.” They walk in silence for about a minute before Grantaire loses whatever tentative grasp he had on himself, because he has no chill. “I’m going to ask you about Enjolras’s forearms, now.”

At this, Combeferre blushes, and Grantaire has no idea what to do with that. “Eponine told me you would ask me that. And she told me to tell you, ‘R, ask him your fucking self,’ and now that that’s out the way, I would like to add that my personal opinion is that those are your blooms, and also that maybe science should revisit that old wives tale regarding soulmates and wow it certainly looks like rain.”

Grantaire surveys the dark cloudy night sky. A drop or to of rain falls on him, but he smiles. “I don’t know, looks pretty sunny to me.”

They beat the rain by mere seconds. Grantaire is laughing all the way up to the apartment, which smells like burning and also like tikka masala.

“I burned the pasta,” Eponine explains in greeting, daring him to say something. “So I got Indian. Me and Combeferre will be in my room.”

Grantaire laughs at them as they flee with the food, and he sits at the table and eats like an adult human. His most recent canvas is still up in the den and he stares at it while he eats. It feels less different now, less of an offering and more of an offer. Corvus and Crater, dedicated to Enjolras, but for himself. He needs to finish it, he decides. It’s acrylic, it will dry fast.

He stalks over to examine it and discovers that he didn’t wash his paintbrushes, so they’re effectively unusable now, but he steals his brushes from the school, anyway, so it hardly matters. He grabs some from his room, but leaves his flask. The gloves come off, because while he knows Cosette offered him infinite glove, he doesn’t want to take advantage.

The crow looks more finished than he remembers. He starts in on the Crater, and without a moment’s hesitation he realizes it’s going to be a replica of the Borghese Crater in the Louvre, and pretends like it isn’t because it’s covered with Apollo and Dionysus, except this time he doesn’t mean it as literally as he has in the past. This time it’s funny.

Grantaire doesn’t have a completely photographic memory, but he’s pretty close. He looks up one reference photo and goes from there. It’s not his best work, not by far, but it’s finished quickly and he sort of loves it. He figures he can use it in the showcase at the end of year; his studio teacher had given them vague guidelines, a series of pieces she wants to see and a number, but she doesn’t care about medium or whether or not they actually do them in her class. He’ll use this as “a piece based on an a famous piece in a different medium.”

He wants to paint something else, which is a good impulse, because he has two pieces done and he owes her six more. Most of the guidelines are easy enough; something that isn’t photorealistic, some sort of still life, etc., and a self-portrait.

Grantaire has tried to do a self-portrait in the past, but Eponine always made him scrap them. “If it’s supposed to look like you then it has to look like you, and not Quasimodo,” she had said to him, irritable. “We have a million mirrors, use them.”

To be fair, that was before they had figured out how to place the mirrors so no one got blinded when the sun rose, so it was possible her irritability came from the sun in her eyes.

Grantaire knows she’s right, though. He isn’t attractive, but his features are interesting, objectively, though maybe not together. The thing he is most self-conscious of are the pockmarks on his face, but also there is a collage sitting in his room that Azelma and Gavroche made him when their classes taught a unit about body image. It’s mostly pictures of Seal and Edward James Olmos, with one of Bill Murray and a couple of footballers he pretends he recognizes. It was a sweet gesture, though, from the mouth of babes et cetera. The truth is, his face is bad but he face isn’t terrible, and if his job as an artist is to see some sort of truth, then he should get truthing.

“Ponine! Combeferre! I’m getting presently and literally naked!” he yells, tugging his shirt and socks off at the same time. He has some more canvas behind the tv, so he swaps his crow out for a blank one.

“Why in God’s name are you painting naked?” Eponine yells back.

He stops in his room to get his oils, because he’s worth it, and pops his head into Eponine’s room. They are watching Shrek and trying not to touch. Grantaire was surprised at first that Combeferre liked non-documentaries, but then he had started in on how movies like Shrek were actually a very complex satires of the genre and Grantaire had given up. “For the noble cause of art! I’m doing my self-portrait.”

Eponine frowns. “I thought you were working on Crow and Bowl: A Love Story.”

“Finished it. And I’m stealing that title. But no, I’m starting a new piece—just call me butter, because I am on a roll!”

He retreats to the sounds of Eponine yelling, “Get the fuck out of my house!”

He strips down, kicks the dropcloth closer to a mirror, and carries his easel more gently. A good easel is fucking expensive and he doesn’t want to break his in a fit of pique or mania or art induced frenzy. He begins sketching himself on the canvas, and it only takes a few moments before he realizes that if he’s painting himself, and doing so honestly, he wants to show every fucking detail; it’s going to have to be bigger.

Grantaire decides he’ll stretch himself out on three canvases, back to the viewer and front reflected in a mirror. He starts with mirror form, sketches out the vague shape of his hair. His face is harder. Grantaire tilts his head back and forth until he finds an angle that looks aesthetically interesting and honest, if not one that he would ever use for selfies. He sketches his face, the outline of the nose he hates, his lips which—okay he has nice ass lips.

He never did have much time for the prelude to painting, though, so he rushes in. He tries to be honest about his appearance and uncritical, but he’s not sure he’s achieved anything resembling success. Oil paints take forever to dry, but that’s good because he thinks he’ll be working on this for months. He’ll do it though, every pockmark, every pimple, every fucking petal will be represented, but if he leans a little further into impressionism than he otherwise would, he figures he deserves something to soften the blow.

He’s got a good start of his face in mirror when Eponine and Combeferre walk in. Grantaire kept his underwear on, because he hadn’t needed them off yet, and is grateful because he really does not need Combeferre to know what he looks like naked.

“Holy shit,” Eponine says, and he’s suddenly entirely sure it’s terrible. He can feel himself curling up like roly-poly. Eponine walks closer to the painting, eyes fixed on it, and smacks him upside the head.

“Ow! What the fuck?” Grantaire jumps back and cradles his head.

“This is so fucking good, you unbelievable dumbass! I can’t believe all of those gargoyle self portraits you made when you could have been making this shit, oh my god.”

Combeferre has been hovering by the door, but clearly decides to weigh, in too. “It does look really good, R. I’m impressed.”

Grantaire rolls his eyes and cautiously turns his back to Eponine to acknowledge Combeferre, aware that she could strike again at any moment. “Thank you, Combeferre, that means a lot.”

Combeferre smiles, and his eyes move unconsciously up and down Grantaire’s body, which is a pretty normal reaction to nudity. His eyes catch at Grantaire’s chest, though, and it shows how much of a high he was on that it actually takes him a couple of seconds to realize what Combeferre was staring at.

“Oh, shit,” Eponine says from behind him, clearly also realizing what has happened.

Grantaire turns away from him to try and catch his breath, and realizes that was stupid move a second later, when Combeferre can’t stop a slight gasp at the state of his back. “Fuck. Okay, okay, okay. Fuck.” Eponine’s hand is on his arm, which should help ground him, but he’s too far gone to even fully appreciate.

Combeferre clears his throat, and Grantaire turns around, somewhat reluctantly. “As a proud and founding member of Les Amis, I would never spread any information about anyone else regarding their blooms, First or subsequent. As a friend, I understand why you didn’t tell any of us, and I will keep this between us. I’m sorry the choice was taken out of your hands but I promise you I will not abuse this knowledge in any way. And I would like to add, that this doesn’t change my feelings about you.” Combeferre pushing his glasses back up his nose defiantly, like Grantaire is going to call him out.

It breaks the tension somewhat, though, and Grantaire deflates. “I know you’re not going to tell anyone, Jesus, I wouldn’t be friends with you if you were that sort of dick.” Combeferre brightens considerably at the affirmation of their friendship, which should make Grantaire feel good, and mostly makes him feel like he’s neglected his friends too much.

“I should probably go, still. Good night, you two.” Combeferre opens the door and offers a little wave.

“Right,” Eponine says, blushing. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

The door slams.

“Oh will you?” Grantaire asks, sidestepping to avoid another slap. “And what do your tomorrow plans entail?”

Eponine groans. “Literally never speaking to you again.” She ruffles his hair as she walks past, even though he’s significantly taller than her. Eponine goes to bed early, but he stays up late and paints a little more; he is, after all, on a roll.

The next day turns out to be Courfeyrac (and Bahorel’s) play, which Grantaire had all but forgotten about. It’s less awkward, sitting with the whole group, than it would have been a week ago. He sits between Feuilly and Joly, and the three of them cackle at each one of Bahorel’s overdone line readings, of which there are quite a few, because he’s Bottom.

Marius approaches him, uncomfortably, during the intermission. “Could I have a word, please, R?” he asks. He’s smiling genially and holding a bouquet.

“Sure, what can I do you for, my dear Marius?”

Marius places an uncomfortable hand directly on Grantaire’s shoulder. Like Grantaire, Marius didn’t have a lot of physical affection growing up, but unlike Grantaire, now as an adult, his physicality made him seem like he was an alien. Or a robot. “I just wanted to say, that I’m sorry I haven’t been there for you. I’ve been bogged down in my own problems, but I wanted to let you know that I consider you a dear friend, and if there was anything you need, please let me know. And also I’d like to give you these.”

He hands Grantaire the bouquet and Grantaire takes it, for lack of anything else to do. He’s reconsidering his opinion, it is distinctly possible that Marius is actually an alien. Grantaire has no idea what to do with the flowers. “Can I give these to Bahorel?” he asks, because he had found himself without the money to buy Bahorel flowers, even though he had intended to.

Marius frowns at him, and Grantaire thinks maybe he’s offended, but then he says. “Yes, of course? That’s what they’re for?” like it was obvious.

Instead Grantaire says, “Thank you, Marius,” and hugs his robot friend.

He gives Bahorel the flowers afterwards, and Bahorel cries, and Grantaire feels good. Mostly, it’s good to be the group again, and Courfeyrac and Bahorel look so pleased with themselves that Grantaire is filled with something akin to pride, which is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Oh god, he loves his friends.

Things continue in a generally upward trend for the next few weeks. His painting(s) slowly comes together, inch by painful inch. The next two meetings are back at the Musain, and Grantaire goes, and he drinks, but he doesn’t participate, not like he used to. Enjolras’s eyes are always on him, now, and if Grantaire were willing to buy into Combeferre’s fantasy that Grantaire and Enjolras are soulmates (which he is absolutely fine dreaming about, but way less comfortable assuming), he would think there’s some longing there.

The next meeting that changes. It’s really cold now, and everyone’s bundled in sweaters and scarves, and there’s Enjolras looking tragic and determined and godly with his goddamned shirt-sleeves rolled up and Grantaire thinks he might die. Eponine, sitting next to him, practically guffaws into a glass of wine because she may be his best friend, but she is also a terrible person.

“I received a call from Senator Lamarque’s office today,” he tells them. “But I’m sure some of you have seen this already on the news. The bill was defeated. He is anxious to bring it up again next session, but for the moment our best bet is a social campaign.” Enjolras pauses and locks eyes with Grantaire as he swallows in a way that looks sort of obscene to Grantaire. “Like Grantaire suggested.” He swallows again, and the laser focus is off Grantaire for the moment. “So we need real, doable suggestions for grassroots campaigning.”

“I still say,” Feuilly says in the tones of a man who has suggested this multiple times and will keep saying it, possibly forever, until someone listens, “that we should make or finance a documentary. People are swayed by human stories.”

Courfeyrac sighs and rolls his eyes. “Yes, human stories do tend to sway, but documentaries are very rarely Must-See, and on a budget like ours it’ll be laughable. If we can’t distribute it widely, it won’t be seen widely.”

Jehan, who is sitting on the floor so Musichetta can braid his hair, laughs. “We have the budget for a viral video, with a human interest project that will intrigue significantly less than a viral audience. I vote a zine.”

Combeferre shakes his head. “A zine will appeal to college students, mostly, and statistically they already agree with us. Besides we would have to find people will to write articles or poems or what have you, and find a source of art, all without being able to pay them anything.”

“R could provide art,” Joly says, jovially. “What are you working on at the moment? Anything relevant?”

“Self portrait.” As soon as he says it, Grantaire regrets it. As though happening in slow motion, he sees Enjolras’s eyes begin to roll, sees Eponine’s hand fly to her mouth, sees Combeferre’s wince.

And then Joly says, “Great, we could use that!” The room freezes, Joly along with it. He recovers first. “Ha ha, ha ha, just kidding! Why would we want to use that? Ha ha…”

Enjolras’s expression is inscrutable, caught somewhere between pity and confusion and Grantaire hates it. “R?” he says, finally, when it seems like no one else is going to. “Do you have any ideas?”

Grantaire shakes his head, numbly, but at least it wasn’t a request for clarification. “Nope. I am not ideas guy, I have never been ideas guy. Whether I am part of an at-risk population or not does not change the fact that I have no ideas for you. Ask Bossuet.”

Bossuet smiles at him like Grantaire didn’t just put him on the spot. “I actually think that Feuilly isn’t completely off base? I’m not suggesting a full documentary, but maybe a five-minute video, distributed to like, I don’t know, Upworthy, or something? The sort of video I watch hours of on facebook just because other people have shared them.”

Jehan nods. “Yeah, okay, so viral video. It just has to be really good then. So like, not five minutes of a slideshow with facts and figures, Courfeyrac.”

Courfeyrac makes a little affected affronted noise. “What’s wrong with facts and figures, cheri?”

Enjolras steps in, but when Grantaire glances up, Enjolras is still looking at him. “Jehan’s right, if we want to engage the public we have to actually engage them.”

Cosette says, cautiously. “Like with personal stories. Stories of people who have been treated badly because of their blooms. Or lack of blooms.” She isn’t asking Grantaire, and he knows this because she is so sweet, but she also sort of is and he hates her a little bit.

Eponine steps in so Grantaire doesn’t have to. “You’re mixing messages. We can’t have a single five-minute video inspire people for two different, though related, causes. And also as I’ve been told a million times, this is a group where no one is required to disclose anything about their blooms, and no one has. If you keep acting like that’s not the case I’m going to be extremely disappointed, and then me and R are going to be extremely gone.”

It’s Marius comes in with rebuttable, because Marius has no sense of self-preservation. “But if you, or he, had stories that could aid us—or some contact with the community, online or, um, or in person—wouldn’t you want to make a difference? To help?”

Grantaire has something nasty on the tip of his tongue when Enjolras yells.

“That’s enough!” The room goes silent in deference to their esteemed leader. Grantaire loves his stern voice. “This is unacceptable and is exactly the sort of thing that we will not accept. We are not going to bully or badger anyone into revealing anything they don’t want to tell us, and that goes for the campaign as well. Information is private, and voluntary, and I trust all of you to remember that.” That last part was directly sternly at Marius, and Grantaire felt a satisfied tickle run through him.

Joly still looks terribly anxious and Bossuet scoots closer to him. “As it stands,” he said a little shakily, “I am the only one in the group who has ‘outed’ myself, so to speak. And I would make a truly terrible addition to a video because I would say that my life was minimally affected.”

Enjolras shakes his head. He’s got a thoughtful look on his face. “No, it might be good to include a mix of personal accounts of various degrees of—”

“Horrifying-ness?” Grantaire offers.

“Intensity.” Enjolras sighs. “Let’s develop this idea some more. I know many of you have tests this week, so we’ll end it here for today. Next week is our—”

“Nondenominational Holiday Drinkathon and Ugly Sweater Contest!” Courfeyrac crows.

“—Annual Holiday Party, if you’re around and available. All I ask is you keep developing your ideas over winter break, and we’ll reconvene then.”

Most of the assembled Amis break away quickly, because exams are real and looming. Eponine is out the door before Grantaire even has his jacket on, but he knows where she’ll be, so it’s not a real concern.

“Grantaire—may I speak with you?” Enjolras asks him.

Courfeyrac, shuffling papers next to him, quiets suspiciously.

“Sup?”

Enjolras swallows nervously and Grantaire was to melt into the floor. Why is that a turn on? “I was hoping we could go for coffee. Or lunch.” He gestures lazily, but it brings Grantaire’s focus to his forearms.

Well, so much for being turned on. “Sorry, I don’t go on pity dates. Long standing rule. No exceptions. I’ll bring you a consolation prize next week.” Grantaire gathers his scarf and bag and manages to walk a few feet before Enjolras calls him back.

“It’s not pity.” Enjolras looks defiant, so Grantaire punches back.

“It’s not? It’s not because you feel guilty you were a complete asshole to me and you want to make it up via coffee?”

“No,” Enjolras says stubbornly. “I—I missed you—r input. And I haven’t been fair to you, and I’d like to get to know you better.”

Enjolras sounds combative, which is practically earnest for him. “And also because you feel guilty.”

Enjolras rolls his eyes. “Fine, that too.” He reaches out towards Grantaire, then aborts the motion abruptly. “If you have time between finals, I’d like to take you out.”

“Take me out as in a date or an assassination?” Grantaire’s first instinct is to be offended that his touch is so abhorrent, and then suddenly it hits him like a brick to the face. “It’s not a pity date,” Grantaire clarifies, running backwards through their conversation and tripping on an epiphany.

“No,” Enjolras affirms emphatically.

Grantaire goes for the kill. “But it is a date?”

Behind them, Courfeyrac chokes.

Enjolras blushes, and he’s staring resolutely above Grantaire’s head to avoid eye contact. It’s a charming look on him, and one Grantaire literally could not have imagined ever. He steels his jaw and channels a determined look on to his face. “Yes.”

Grantaire’s carefully perfected apathy and confident façade erode simultaneously. “Um. Thursday? Is a day I drink coffee?”

Courfeyrac doesn’t even try to muffle his laughter.

Enjolras flushes harder at his friend’s laugh, but he forges ahead. “I can do Thursday, say, two?”

Grantaire nods. “Nice,” he says, and runs out the door because oh my god could he be more a dork?

He runs into Eponine on the way out the door, and she grabs his arm and starts off. “He did some sort of gesture, didn’t he?” He gives Eponine a brief summary because if he doesn’t, she’ll hear it from Courfeyrac first, and Courfeyrac thrives on human embarrassment.

“I said nice!” Grantaire laments. “Nice!”

Eponine pats his arm condescendingly. “It could have been worse. You could have said baller.”

“I welcome the sweet embrace of death!” he wails, and Eponine cackles at him in a distinctly unfriendly manner. He untangles his arm from hers. “I gotta split, I have a tattoo shift.”

Eponine frowns at him. “Don’t you have your history final tomorrow? Shouldn’t you like, study?”

He raises an eyebrow incredulously.

“I swear to god, R, you are taking years off my life.” She punches him in the shoulder at full strength because honestly a good metaphor for Eponine would be a full force punch to the shoulder.

They wave at him when he walks into the tattoo parlor. He doesn’t really have shifts, per se, but he’s expected to show twice a week, more if they text and ask him. Considering they let him do his apprenticeship without charging him, he’s more than happy to lend his garnered skills to giving drunk college students that poetry quote that they were really stressing about.

Technically they have a no “tattooing drunk people rule” but it can be very hard to tell, so as long as they’re not passed out slurring their speech, everyone just sort of assumes they’re sober.

His first less than sober customer is a sobbing twenty-something asking Grantaire give him forget-me-nots on his fingers. Grantaire doesn’t say no outright, but he does text Joly.

R: is it illegal to tattoo forget-me-nots on a person who has blooms?
Joly: OMG R i was gonna text u
Joly: im so sorry about the meeting
Joly: can u forgive me????
Joly: also completely legal, can u imagine???
Joly: in wat world r coercive tattoos ok but only 4 people who already have other marks?????
R: it’s all right, I know you didn’t mean anything
R: that’s fucked up, tho
Joly: RITE??????

Grantaire turns him away, but does a couple word tattoos (“peace” and “blessed” and something in Chinese that Grantaire is pretty sure he’s seen on takeout menus), and a butterfly onto a girl’s existing rose (people with roses tend to be needy and dramatic, and she appears to be both, but still, it’s fun). Joly texts him again as he’s cleaning up.

Joly: speaking of, OPERATION PUT A BUTTERCUP ON MY ASS
R: yes Joly?
Joly: LETS PUT A BUTTERCUP ON MY ASS
Joly: i wanna have TATTOOS and surprise my SQUAD at NEW YEARS
Joly: im calling m&b&me a squad now
Joly: they r gonna be gone 4 xmas but home 4 ny!!!!
R: all at once is going to be a lot. we could a couple sessions maybe? spread them out a few weeks
Joly: im butch i can take it
Joly: but can we talk about ur sanitizing process pls.

Thursday comes too quickly. He realizes on Wednesday that he and Enjolras didn’t pick a location. He spends all Wednesday fretting in between his history final and his café shift, and doesn’t actually get the nerve to text Enjolras until Wednesday night. Fortunately, Enjolras also seems like he spaced out on location, and Grantaire spends ten of the most stressful minutes of his life watching the “…” reload on his messenger app waiting for Enjolras to pick a place. Enjolras finally settles on a café directly between them.

“Neutral ground,” he says to Eponine, as she brushes her teeth and does her best to ignore him. “He’s having us meet on literally neutral ground. Fuck, I was so wrong. He doesn’t like me at all, this is a pity date, and all my pants have paint on them anyway! There’s no way he could ever be soulmates with the kind of person who wears painty-jeans! And I know he’s my soulmate, like Marius running up and kissing a strange girl levels of knowing. Fuuuuuuck.”

“I will fucking slam this door on you,” Eponine says, but with a toothbrush in her mouth, so it sounds less threatening than she probably means.

Grantaire edges past her, sighing, and collapses onto the ledge of the tub. “I just really love him, Ep. I think he might actually be my soulmate, which is so beyond anything that I realistically imagined, I cannot even tell you. And it was kind of okay? Because he didn’t even like me? So I didn’t have to actually worry about him rejecting me, because he didn’t know I’d submitted an application.”

“Somehow,” Eponine adds, full of sass and sans toothbrush. “And really how perfect can he really be if he didn’t notice that neon fucking sign you had hanging over your head?”

Grantaire groans and hides his face dramatically. “That’s not the point! The point is—”

“That it’s real now.” Eponine kicks him on the shin, but it’s a light kick, so it’s probably affectionate. “You never had something to gain before, and you never had something to lose. Now you do. But you and Courfeyrac both said he was very careful to not touch you. Which means he’s thinking it, too.”

“Or,” Grantaire says, leaning heavily on the wall, “he realizes that I am his soulmate and he didn’t want to make me bloom for him if he wasn’t going to bloom back.” Which would have been so mortifying that Grantaire would have probably dropped dead from shame.

Eponine nods. “Or that. So either he’s respecting your relationship or he’s respecting your feelings, and either way, you’re going to go to coffee tomorrow and have a great time and then you’re going to come home and we’ll debrief.”

Grantaire looks up at her and grins because he has no self control. “And what If I want to keep my underwear on?”

The smack upside the head is completely worth it.

Thursday morning he has to stop himself twice from putting on Musichetta’s track pants, because a) they are the most comfortable thing possibly in the universe, b) they have no paint on them, c) fuck Gavroche, he looks great in pink, and d) it’s not like Enjolras can respect him less than he already does.

In the end, he goes with his least stained pair of jeans, which are a little too tight on his ass in an I-am-bigger-than-my-jeans way, not a my-jeans-are-too-tight-on-purpose way, but it’s not like he really thinks Enjolras is going to be looking. He shoves on the purple gloves, a black tee (because you can’t see the paint on it, not because it’s slimming, shut up Eponine) and a million jackets because December is the worst.

He doesn’t see Enjolras when he walks into the café, and feels a little like an idiot, or Dora the Explorer, looking for something that is probably prominent on the screen. He turns in a circle, ducking his head slightly, as though Enjolras is going to jump out from behind a table, which is embarrassing and no doubt looks pretty foolish.

His embarrassment is eclipsed by Enjolras, who says, “Grantaire!” with a little more volume than the size of the café warranted.

The entire café quiets. Grantaire closes his eyes and shakes his head. “Perfect,” he mutters, but it also sort of is. He makes his way to the table Enjolras had claimed for them and gets a little giddy at how embarrassed Enjolras looks. Enjolras gestures him down into the opposite chair and Grantaire actually laughs at that. “I didn’t assume you invited me out to force me to stand while you shouted my name to the heavens.”

Enjolras squeezes his eyes shut before laughing self-deprecatingly. “It’s good to see you, R.” He’s nursing some coffee beverage in between his hands, which reminds Grantaire that he hasn’t gotten himself a coffee.

“You too?” he offers and tries not to sound as uncomfortable as he feels. He glances over his shoulder at the bar. “Should I—?”

“No,” Enjolras says easily. He looks less flushed now, settled back into his skin. He reaches up to push a lock of hair behind his ear and Grantaire is not at all surprised to see his sleeves rolled up. “They’ll come to you.”

Grantaire sits down. “I see. So you’ve brought me to a bougie café.” Grantaire does his best to sound like he’s teasing, not being critical, and judging by the tentative smile on Enjolras’s face, he’s doing his best to interpret it that way. “How long are you going to do that for?” He gestures to Enjolras’s bared wrists.

Enjolras doesn’t have the common decency to look abashed, though he does dart a long glance at Grantaire’s gloves. “I don’t know. Until next year; forever; until you ask me to stop?”

Grantaire shakes his head, hoping to clear it etch-a-sketch style. “Why?” The waitress chooses that moment to appear, and he orders a hazelnut mocha because he feels the need to pamper himself for the coming conversation. “Why?” he asks again once she’s gone, but the urgency has left him with her.

Enjolras takes a long, stalling sip. “It makes me more approachable, apparently. I have my flaws visible, and people think I’m struggling against them, to overcome them. And I don’t want to let myself forget. My tongue can be quite sharp, and I am the first to let myself get away with it.”

Grantaire laughs. “What’s a little rudeness when we have a government to overthrow?”

Enjolras nods, serious but also lacking in some of the confidence he usually exudes. “And, penance, I suppose? I feel as though I owe you. I wronged you, I was punished, and now I bear the results of that.”

They are interrupted, again, by the arrival of Grantaire’s coffee. Once she is gone and Grantaire has taken the long slurp he deserves, he asks, “Do you feel as though you’ve been punished?”

Enjolras flounders for a moment, but only one. “Learning you find me heartless feels like a punishment.”

Grantaire forces himself to take an even breath. When he speaks, he speaks calmly, though he can tell that discomfits Enjolras more than if he had yelled. “Like how you find me useless, Apollo?”

Enjolras nods, a little more subdued, maybe glum. “I have plenty to atone for. But I can tell you I meant it in that exact moment and in no other.”

Grantaire hides his hands beneath the table. He pulls off his left glove, slowly, still not sure if he feels up to showing Enjolras. “I wasn’t exactly blameless.” Enjolras’s face turns stormy but Grantaire keeps going. “Uh-uh, none of that. That night, to be fair, I was trying my hardest to be helpful, but that hasn’t always been my MO in the past, so I understand where you’re coming from. And for what it’s worth, I never thought you were heartless. Maybe a little insensitive? Or not careful enough. But not heartless.” He places his left hand palm up on the table. “That said, I would still appreciate an apology.”

The horror is back on Enjolras’s face, and anger, but for the first time ever Grantaire doesn’t think the anger is directed at him. “Jesus, R,” he says hoarsely. “I’m sorry. Fuck.” He reaches out to touch the dahlia, but stops himself again at the last moment. “I’m so sorry.”

Grantaire pulls his glove back on, glancing to the side to see if they’ve garnered more attention—they haven’t, which is at least something. It’s not enough, not enough for Enjolras to regret it now, but it’s also way more than he ever expected. “It is what it is. Not the worst bloom I have, either. Close, but no cigar.”

Enjolras’s face betrays just how much he wants to ask about that and oh so much pity, but he schools his features. He grasps for any good, better, different subject, and settles on the obvious. “How are your finals going?”

Grantaire laughs at him. “Pretty good! I aced the multiple choice section of my history exam, but spent the short answer questioning how our professor has managed to remove all the gay subtext from Rome.”

Enjolras puts a supportive look on his face, slowly, like he’s trying to remember how. “You must have studied hard.”

“Noooope.” Enjolras looks incredulous so Grantaire indulges him. He does a quick double tap at his temple. “I can recall most things I’ve seen pretty easily. Where I struggle is, like, math. I can remember every formula, but I have no idea what to do with the numbers. Or like, I can tell you plot points with associated page numbers from most novels I’ve read, but ask me about the theme and I’ll completely blank.”

Enjolras frowns. “And you don’t study to offset your weaknesses?”

Grantaire shrugs. “What’s the point? I’m not going for valedictorian, just a degree.”

“Knowledge, for knowledge’s sake,” Enjolras insists.

“Art, for art’s sake.” Grantaire smirks. “Knowledge for finals’ sake.”

Enjolras is still frowning, but he looks more confused than anything. “That’s a rather bleak look on our educational system.”

“That’s a whole different conversation,” Grantaire says, but then lets Enjolras spew his talking points about education, and draw him into a debate.

It’s surprisingly civil for them, even though they’re fighting, and it makes Grantaire’s blood pump like he’s sparring. It’s the sort of argument where he can tell Enjolras doesn’t get his views, but doesn’t think he’s stupid for them, either, which new, and a little scary, and very, very satisfying.

At the end of the date Enjolras treats him to an uncomfortable smile. They’re standing outside trying to part, and even though Grantaire sort of wants this date to never end, he is very underdressed and it’s fucking cold. “I had a good time?”

And Grantaire had been having such a good time, too. “It’s okay if you didn’t. You gave it the old college try, and we can chalk this up to a bad idea.”

Enjolras looks confused now, which is unfair because he was the one that introduced an upward inflection into this conversation. “Did you not have a good time? Or—was I bad company?”

Grantaire rolls his eyes. “I have a great time, and you, as always, were a delight. You treated me very well, thank you for paying for my coffee, but we don’t ever have to repeat this experiment again.”

Enjolras’s brow furrows further. “Oh. Do you not want to go out again?”

Grantaire closes his eyes and huffs. He considers counting to ten, but he thinks it would take him to ten billion before he calmed down and they don’t have that kind of time before Grantaire’s toes start freezing off. “Enjolras, I am clearly not the problem here. I have had feelings for you for a hundred million years; civilizations have risen and fallen since I developed feelings for you. I would love to go on another date with you. But—”

Enjolras cuts him off. “Then let’s go on another date.”

“What did I say about pity dates?”

“It’s not a pity date,” Enjolras insists, and he’s got his stern voice on, which is incredible unfair to Grantaire. “I don’t know what made you think that.”

Grantaire can do a pretty solid Enjolras impression—he’s won two blue ribbons (made by Courfeyrac) for that exact talent. “I’m pretty sure it was when you said, ‘I had a good time?’ with all that confidence in your voice.”

Enjolras winces, but maybe that’s just from the cold. “I’m sorry if my tone was—”

“Unconvincing?”

“A little off. You’re different outside meetings. I was surprised at how well we got on.” Enjolras tucked another stray hair behind his ear, which was a tic that Grantaire had never noticed him doing before. “I’m bad at speaking to you, apparently.”

It’s getting colder by the second, so Grantaire’s two options are to believe him or continue this conversation indefinitely. “Fine, okay, sure, that makes sense. So you want to do this again.”

“Yes.” Enjolras has his decisive face on, and Grantaire isn’t dumb enough to argue with that. “I have most of my finals, still. I should be available next Thursday?”

“That’s when the Nondenominational Holiday Drinkathon and Ugly Sweater Contest is, though. So let’s say we’ll get together during winter break? Unless you’re going home?” Grantaire is a gracious friend, and so pretends like he doesn’t hear Enjolras mutter, “Annual Holiday Party.”

He looks almost reluctant. “I’m not sure what my break plans are yet. But I’ll text you? Maybe I can see you on Tuesday?”

Grantaire nods and waves and takes off before it can get more awkward, or he loses his fingers to frostbite. Eponine is waiting for him at the apartment with spiked hot chocolate and a hug, because Eponine is just about as perfect a friend as he could ask for. She asks him how it went, but he doesn’t really want to talk about it yet.

It was strange, there’s no denying that. It was odd and a little stilted and, god, why did they start off with the hard stuff? Sure, clearing the air is good in theory, but works better when the foundation of your relationship is better than having screamed at each other a lot for a few years. With the bad stuff cleared out of the way, Grantaire’s a little worried that there won’t be anything to stand on.

But, he also got to see Enjolras look uncomfortable, and happy, and passionate, and apologetic, and saw him push his hair behind his ear like a nervous school girl and he’d be lying if he said the potential for everything crashing and burning wasn’t made easier by that knowledge.

“Azelma and Gavroche are coming tomorrow, and staying for winter break. Gav’s happy to take the couch, though, I don’t want to put you out when the runt doesn’t need to be well rested for school. And Azelma’s bringing a blow up mattress? Honestly I’m worried if she keeps staying in your room she’s going to start stealing your underwear, so let’s head this off at the pass.” Eponine is wearing a scarf with skulls on it, which she does when she is at her least prickly. It gives the appearance of it so people assume she’s in a sour mood, when usually it’s the opposite.

“All right. Are they coming to the party?” Grantaire asks, and Eponine knows him well enough to know that he’s asking if they need to buy them ugly holiday sweaters.

She grins, which is answer enough.

When the dandelion kids get there, Eponine is frantically studying for her lit test, so Grantaire whips out his cheapest notebook and oldest, crappiest acrylics, and lets the two of them do art. They are very careful to keep their paint on the paper and not the table, which Grantaire both appreciates and is incredibly saddened by. He knows Eponine would adopt them if she could—and will, as soon as she has a job that pays enough, but they deserve better. Grantaire’s phone buzzes as he helps Azelma make her snow-covered house look three-dimensional and he checks it once she takes the brush back.

Enjolras: My sociology final had a question asking me to prove that the greats of history’s First Blooms affected their actions and life paths as historical figures and how exactly is that a fair question to ask on a final?

Grantaire looks up to make sure they kids are still being good. Gavroche has acquired a snickers from somewhere, but that’s not really a problem so he turns back to his phone.

R: did you mean to send that to me?
Enjolras: Yes.
Enjolras: I was interested in your opinions. Sorry.

Grantaire rolls his eyes and sighs so hard that Gavroche starts laughing at him, and making exaggerated, mocking sighs. Azelma frowns, then goes back to her art, clearly trying to impress him (and he’s impressed that a fifteen-year old has that good a grasp on mixing colors but also yuck).

R: it depends on the type of test it was. was that the only question/how long did you have for it/did your teacher have a right answer in mind?
Enjolras: It was one of five written responses and we have about fifteen minutes for each.
Enjolras: And yes, he did.
R: that sucks.
Enjolras: And I know he wanted us to discuss, like, Alexander the Great and say that he failed because his First was a yellow carnation, or at least the he was overcompensating for it.
R: everyone with a yellow carnation is compensating for something
R: what do you think?
Enjolras: I think that it’s fair to say that he could have been encouraged to conquer in compensation, but I don’t think anyone can blame his failure on something that was on his chest at birth. For all we know, Firsts are arbitrary and we’ve assigned meaning to them.
R: you don’t believe in fate?
Enjolras: I believe in people.
R: you should talk to Joly
Enjolras: We’ve been talking a lot, recently. Though, not through text.

Grantaire can’t really blame him. Joly’s texts would be intolerable from anyone who wasn’t as lovely as Joly is. This might also be the most civil discussion they’ve ever had, so Grantaire doesn’t want to say that much more and jinx it. Gavroche has moved on from his snickers to a small container of milk and an apple and Grantaire is entirely sure neither of those came from their kitchen.

Enjolras: Do you believe in fate?
R: I’ll let you know
Enjolras: Something came up on Tuesday. I’ll see you Thursday, though? At the party?
R: yeah, ok

Azelma’s picture is a lovely Christmas scene, which Eponine hangs on the fridge. Gavroche’s picture is a lot of swirls and protrusions that look very much penises. “It’s abstract,” he says, and Grantaire is reluctantly super proud of him.

The three of them go out the next day, after the math final that Eponine has no doubt passed with flying colors because Eponine is boss at math, to buy ugly holiday sweaters for the party. They have a little bit of edge this year. Joly, Musichetta, and Bossuet bought theirs online; Jehan, Bahorel, and Courfeyrac bought theirs in a big box store; Cosette is knitting herself and Marius sweaters; and Combeferre is a mystery. Enjolras usually cannot be bothered to find himself an ugly holiday sweater, and Feuilly has worn the same one since the contest began.

To be fair, Feuilly has also won every year. It’s hard to compete with a sweater that says Reindeer Crossing with a stuffed reindeer coming out of the front the back. This year, however, Eponine says she has spied something incredible at a local thrift store and they are going to thrift their way into the win. Grantaire avoids thrift stores because he has a realistic idea of what size he is and also a realistic idea of the sizes thrift stores sell, so the three of them go without him. He’s not playing to win this year, more concerned with just spending time with his friends.

Gavroche comes home in a terrible sweater featuring a reindeer vomiting candy canes and ribbons. Azelma has found one that isn’t actually all that ugly, but has LED lights that actually work, and she looks inordinately pleased by it. Eponine ended up with a sweater featuring cats in Santa hats, with a silhouette of Santa and some reindeer across a giant full moon. Grantaire decides he can wear his sweater from last year, the one with drunken reindeer on it.

Grantaire goes grocery shopping the next day, and sees a very yellow dog in a red winter jacket, and can’t help but snap a picture. It only sort of completely looks like Enjolras. He sends it to Joly, and then after a long moment of deliberation, sends it to Enjolras, too. Enjolras replies almost instantly with a picture of Feuilly asleep on a textbook at his table with a cat sleeping on his head.

He laughs himself the rest of the way to the store.

Grantaire has a few other finals, but not that many because he knows himself, and even with a decent memory, he avoids classes that have non-multiple choice finals. He knows he doesn’t test that well, anyway, by this point in his life, and so he doesn’t push it. He works on his painting (which he has tentatively titled “Disappointed, Portrait of a Boy Who”), especially when Eponine is out of the house. He had her help him take pictures of his back so he works on his face and back which keeps him from having to finagle nudity while the kids are with them. Enjolras has continued his trend of expected stories and opinions and pictures of cats and/or friends, usually asleep studying. He also comes to visit Grantaire at the café, something he had never done before.

He orders a large black coffee with five sugars in—Grantaire is impressed that he’s never seen Enjolras crash, if this is an accurate representation of his usual caffeine/sugar intake. Before he leaves, he steps close to Grantaire and whispers, “How did the hipster burn his tongue? He sipped his coffee before it was cool,” and takes off to sound Grantaire’s hysteric laughter.

It’s a terrible joke, but it’s a joke that Enjolras told him, so it might also be his favorite joke ever.

The party is at Enjolras, Combeferre, and Courfeyrac’s this year, because their apartment is larger and nicer than anyone else’s, plus Gavroche and Azelma can’t usually sneak into the Musain. Which is not to say that Gavroche hasn’t tried. A lot.

The uber that would fit all four of them is too much money, so Grantaire agrees to walk to Enjolras’s place. He regrets it less than half the way there, when he is freezing and agonizing over having never bought a winter jacket, but he calls Bahorel who picks him up and laughs at him for the rest of the ride.

Les Amis parties are actually barely parties by Grantaire’s standards. Tonight there is food and music and drinks, but with the exception of Jehan (who is doing an interpretive dance) and Bahorel (who is trying to interpret it), the vast majority of them are lazing on couches and playing a very lackluster game of truth or dare. There will probably be more dancing later, but there could also be movies or everyone collapsing for a post-finals coma on the floor.

Enjolras and Combeferre end up sitting across from Grantaire and Eponine, which Grantaire appreciates because they don’t want to worry about anyone accidentally touching anyone else and a soulmate crisis on their hands. Azelma is sitting next to Musichetta and happily having her hair braided, and Gavroche is bonding with Courfeyrac, which can only end badly for all of them. Feuilly, whose sweater won, again, is drunkenly singing along to Courfeyrac’s Christmas mix while Joly tries to outdrink Bossuet, who is maybe twice his size.

Enjolras keeps making intense eye contact with him, the really insistent, intense kind he usually only gets when he’s thinking about Helping People, except he’s looking straight at Grantaire. It gets to be too much pretty quickly.

“Who would like to lend me a smoke?” Grantaire asks, and is immediately pelted in the face by a cigarette carton, courtesy of Bossuet, who is only allowed to smoke when Joly isn’t around. When he stands, the world tilts significantly less than he had expected it to. He lets himself onto Enjolras’s balcony—that they have an apartment with a balcony is beyond unfair—and lights a cigarette. He doesn’t smoke much (anymore), but it’s still calming; a nice ritual when he wants a break from interacting.

The door opens as soon as he gets his cigarette lit, and Enjolras steps out and leans onto the rail. Grantaire copies his pose, careful to leave about a foot between them. The city is lit up in lights already and there are icicles hanging from roofs, and it looks sort of like a Christmas set, instead of the week before Christmas.

“I’ve been thinking. I would really like to kiss you,” Enjolras says, and Grantaire is so much not expecting that, that he chokes on his inhale. Enjolras moves to smack his back but pulls away quickly.

“Jesus,” Grantaire says hoarsely. “Are you drunk?”

Enjolras shrugs, then shivers. It’s really cold outside, but Grantaire thinks he’ll need another cigarette to deal with whatever is happening right now. “Tipsy,” Enjolras confirms after a moment. “I’m going away for the first two weeks of break. My parents. Skiing.”

“Oh,” Grantaire says, and takes a long drag so he can think of what to say. He stares into the distance with intention, because he can’t face Enjolras, at all. “That sounds fun, I’ve never been.”

Enjolras shrugs again. “It’s all right. Can I have one?” He gestures with his chin to the cigarettes and Grantaire shrugs and passes the box. He’s speaking in soft murmurs and Grantaire shivers and honestly doesn’t know if it’s the cold or just Enjolras. “Thanks.”

“They’re Bossuet’s. I didn’t know you smoked.” Enjolras looks too good with a cigarette balanced precariously between his fingers, like he’s in an advertisement. Or a porno.

Enjolras makes a vaguely affirmative noise. “Sometimes. When I drink.” It’s strange hearing him talk in short, clipped sentences. Enjolras is usually so verbose, so eloquent, so carefully crafted. He sounds stripped down, like an unexpected acoustic encore after a hard rock set. “You sent me like, ten pictures of dogs in the last week.”

Grantaire smiles at that. It had been fun, trying to find things Enjolras would like that would simultaneously annoy him a bit. “Well, there are a lot of dogs in Paris that look like you, what can I say.”

Enjolras chuckles, softly. It feels intimate to Grantaire, but he’s a little drunk, too, so his judgment is probably off. “You didn’t charge me for coffee.” Enjolras turns to face Grantaire, who can see him out of the corner of his eye.

Grantaire turns his head slightly like a sunflower, and even indirectly, it’s like looking into the sun. “No, but I really should have, after that joke you told me.”

Enjolras breathes out smoke and looks at Grantaire with the same focus that made him flee to begin with. “You talked with me about my soc test. For an hour. You’re funny. And good. And I missed you when you went away. And now I’m going away. And I’d like to kiss you.”

“That’s a common problem, I’m pretty irresistible,” Grantaire says flippantly, and ashes his cigarette over the railing. He’s already decided that this all happening because Enjolras is drunk, and god knows Grantaire is the master of saying things he doesn’t mean while drunk. “But even so, please don’t kiss me now. Cosette might look fetching with a flower on her lips, but Marius looks like the lovesick fool he is, and let’s face it, my face is bad enough without marring it further.” He laughs and waits for Enjolras to join in, but Enjolras doesn’t.

Enjolras shakes his head. Now that Grantaire is actually studying him, he looks more tired than drunk, but either way he doesn’t look with-it enough to make life-altering decisions. “I think you’ve got a good face. It fits you. Your personality.”

Grantaire lets out a bark of harsh laughter. “My face is abrasive and off-putting? Or my personality is scarred?”

“No,” Enjolras says, frowning, like he can’t quite grasp how Grantaire came to that conclusion. “I was going to say kind. You’ve got kind eyes.” He reaches a hand out hesitantly to Grantaire, and Grantaire could just take it, touch his fingers and know.

“Kind eyes in an off-putting face; what a compliment! Let’s revisit this when you’re more alert, okay?”

Enjolras nods in easy acceptance. “You going to keep texting me while I’m gone?”

“Every dog I see,” Grantaire promises.

Enjolras heads in first, because Grantaire needs to smoke another cigarette and contemplate life, or Enjolras, or whatever. He’s not ready for them to touch, not yet. He’s just getting used to Enjolras as a person instead of a symbol, and he can’t even tell if Enjolras likes him, or just likes being liked. Maybe Enjolras thinks they’re soulmates, or maybe Combeferre told him that he thinks Grantaire and Enjolras could be soulmates, and Enjolras is just going along with it.

But he’s easy to text, and he may disagree with Grantaire, but he listens to his arguments, now, and he came and bothered Grantaire at work, and he can just imagine how much better it would be with kissing, or fucking, or both at the same time. But what if Enjolras is his soulmate, but he’s not Enjolras’s soulmate? He’s nowhere near ready to handle that possibility.

Some people make it work, marry someone who isn’t their soulmates, and some stay with people who have them as a soulmate, even though that kind of bone deep love isn’t reciprocated. It works for some people, but Grantaire thinks it would kill him. He would be worrying he was holding Enjolras back, keeping him from his real soulmate, or wonder if Enjolras really loved him, if he was worthy of love, if he had been destined to be alone forever, if he was that unlovable.

When he comes inside, Azelma is asleep the couch and Gavroche is yawning, even though he’s pretending he isn’t, and Joly is snoring asleep on the kitchen table. Everyone else is talking, subdued and bleary. Grantaire’s phone tells him it’s almost three, and after finals week, he’s sort of surprised anyone’s awake at all.

“Okay,” Courfeyrac says, taking a leadership role. “Who is staying over tonight?” Everyone raises their hands, but that’s sort of expected. Jehan even brought a sleeping bag. “Why don’t the Jondrette/Thénardiers sleep in my bed, because it’s the biggest?”

Gavroche shrugs. “That’s fine. That’s the way it was at the old house.” Eponine looks around murderously, waiting for someone to say something. No one does, though, because everyone is tired and drunk and a little more sensitive than that.

“I’ll bunk with Combeferre,” Enjolras offers, leaving his bed up for Feuilly and Bahorel, who blush an awful lot as they accept. Courfeyrac takes a couch, and Joly takes the other one. With the spare pillows and blankets, they make a nest in the center of the room for Musichetta, Bossuet, Jehan, Cosette, Marius, and Grantaire.

“Cuddle puddle,” Jehan says quietly once they’ve all settled.

“If you say that again,” Grantaire warns sleepily, “we will take a vote and kick you out of the platonic floor sleeping arrangement.”

Jehan sighs dramatically. “I like this sleeping/arrangement; it is the best,/this cuddle puddle.”

“All in favor of kicking Jehan out,” Grantaire mumbles into his pillow.

Everyone whispers, “aye!” pretty much in unison, but to be fair they’ve had a lot of practice at that in their meetings. Everyone laughs, but no one moves, and it’s okay.

Grantaire is almost asleep when he hears Marius say, “There are there’s a couple and two-thirds of another on this floor; can it really be called platonic, when—” and Grantaire regrets nothing about whacking him with a pillow.

The next morning, Courfeyrac treats the whole group to a really absurd amount of pancakes, while Combeferre makes pot after pot of coffee to try and accommodate the sheer number of Amis and their coffee habits.

Grantaire takes himself one of the first cups of coffee, filling it with milk and sugar before bailing to the couch and hunting around for the whiskey he had seen the night before. He pours an over-generous amount into his cup, and turns around to see Enjolras frowning at him. Like he does most times he is challenged, Grantaire puts on his most belligerent smile and chugs the whole cup. Enjolras looks as disapproving as Grantaire’s ever seen him, and suddenly everything feels like a mistake.

He steals a pancake off of Eponine’s plate and gives everyone a cheerful wave and a mostly-fake cheerful smile. “All right, well, this was a load of fun and I hope everyone has a very good Christmas, see you next year!” and walks out the door while everyone is still yelling at him to stay.

Grantaire’s not looking for anyone to fix him, to change him, to place judgments on him. It was a bad move on his part; he feels guilty for starting his morning off with a drink when the kids are there, and chugging it on an empty stomach has made him a little tipsier than he would like, not to mention purposefully antagonizing Enjolras. It’s just as well that he left early, because there’s a message on his phone from a local gallery looking for a winter break employee, and lord knows he needs the money. He changes into something less Christmasy and more Business Casual and eats four granola bars in the hopes that they will bestow sobriety on him, and goes and does the best damn interview of his life.

They ask him to start the next day, which is good because it means he can go home and be a drunken lump. Eponine and the kids aren’t back yet, so he locks himself in his room, ignores the many texts he’s receiving from Joly and Bahorel, and drinks. Eponine checks in on him, frowning, when she comes home, but he’s sober enough to cook dinner for everyone, so she can’t really say anything. He’s back in his room, actively hating everything, when he gets a text from Enjolras; no text, just a picture of a dog with black curly hair and a puffy blue jacket.

R: I’m drinking. right now. as I type.
Enjolras: Okay.
R: is it? because it’s not going to stop. probably ever.
Enjolras: Yes.
R: early results are in and we’re calling it for: you’re lying
Enjolras: I was concerned about you. I am concerned about you.
R: I am not a cause I am a person
Enjolras: I care about your well being, personally. But I’m not going to tell you how to live your life. I’m sorry if I was judgmental. Now tell me what book I should put on my kindle for my trip.

Grantaire gives him the name of a philosophy text he’s sure Enjolras will hate, and razzes him (again) for having somehow not read Harry Potter, and he feels a little bit better. Enjolras can be arrogant and judgmental and he knows those things; he assumes he comes with growing up getting what you need and being told you're special and smart and you can change the world. Grantaire has never once thought for a single moment that he could change the world, but he agrees with Enjolras’s parents. If it is truly possible to lasting change, Enjolras will be the one to do it.

The next day, Grantaire starts his new job. It’s fairly boring, but he knows a lot about art, and he can be a compelling sales person. He has a café shift after, and Azelma and Gavroche come visit. His break goes slowly, mostly work with sporadic painting breaks, and frequent visits from Joly and Feuilly who are the only other ones who didn’t go home for break. He gets texts from Enjolras, too, who has finally given in and is reading Harry Potter, sending critiques as he reads. Grantaire sends him a picture of every single dog he sees.

Joly decides to do his tattoos the day before Christmas, and Grantaire is actually sort of happy for an event. He doesn’t really like school, but he also doesn’t do well with too much down time; he likes down time, but it tends to make his depression flare up something fierce. Grantaire requests the backroom of the studio because it’s private, and Joly is both self-conscious and in for a big ordeal, and also they’re going to be committing a crime. The first hurdle comes when Joly is signing the paperwork. He hands his ID to Grantaire’s boss, and there’s an uncomfortable moment of silence.

“ID says you’re fallow,” he says, but mostly to Grantaire.

Grantaire stares him down, because Joly has his anxious face on. “And?”

“You gonna be tattooing anything illegal in this shop?”

Grantaire smiles a very fake smile. “I’m not sure exactly what you’re talking about. I wasn’t aware that any tattoos were illegal, were you?” Joly obligingly shakes his head.

His boss laughs. “Okay, kid, but this is on you, you hear?”

Grantaire salutes him and leads Joly, who is basically hopping, into the back room. “Okay,” Grantaire says. “Everything that can be autoclaved has been autoclaved. I wiped down the seat and my tray with disinfectant but I can do it again if you want to watch. We, of course, do not reuse needles so you’re good there. I literally unscrewed my rotary machine for you and cleaned everything cleanable, but I’ll wipe it down again, if you want. I have gloves, which I’ll put on after we’ve picked which pictures you want, how are you feeling so far?”

Joly had started smiling about halfway through Grantaire’s ramble and was beaming. “You are such a good friend. A kind friend.”

“Okay?”

Joly laughs. He seems less jumpy, more excited, which is good. “No, I’m very grateful for the steps you’ve taken, and if you wouldn’t mind wiping stuff down again while I watched, I would appreciate it?” Grantaire gets out the bleach bottle and some paper towels and gets to cleaning. “It’s just Bahorel said that he gave you a compliment and you got a positive happy bloom, so I decided I’m just going to say every positive thing I think about you until you get one from me, too.”

Grantaire laughs. “Good luck with that I guess? Now what are we doing today?”

Joly grins. “Well, I took a Xanax, so we’re going to do all of them while everything is copacetic.”

Grantaire frowns. “Are you sure? You’re talking about a lot of ink.”

Joly nods wanly. “We can hold off on my buttercup, but I want forget-me-nots, my white zinnia, my wallflower, and a daisy.”

Grantaire knows when to fight and when to give in so he sighs, and starts handing Joly the printouts of the pictures he thought were best. “Pick your flowers you crazy, crazy man.” They decide on three forget-me-nots on each shoulder and each hand, the zinnia above his heart, a wallflower on his left upper arm, and a daisy on his right wrist. Grantaire’s stomach does an unexpected flip when Joly says that, but he tries not to assume the daisy is for him (even if he thinks it’s sort of rude to get a daisy for someone else in the place Grantaire bloomed one for him).

They break a couple times, because it’s a lot of tattoo, even though Joly’s got good skin for tattooing, and the flowers are pretty straightforward so it goes quickly. He finishes up with the daisy.

“Hey,” Joly says, and his voice is a little strained, but his eyes are bright and present. “I know it’s not how it really looks for people who naturally have blooms, but fuck that, can you give me an initial in my daisy?”

Grantaire nods, still focused on shading the yellow in the middle. He bites his tongue when he focuses, but he’s been tattooing for so long that his tongue is getting sore. “On the yellow or the white?”

“White, top edge of the top petal, please!” Joly is beginning to get jittery with endorphins, and he’s smiling dopily at Grantaire.

Grantaire takes his foot off the pedal and stretches his shoulders out. “What do you want?”

Joly’s eyes narrow in incredulity. “An r.”

Grantaire nods, and ignores his stomach flipping again. Joly could have friends from home, a sibling, or cousin. There are a million things it could be for, and Grantaire isn’t self-centered enough to assume it’s him. “Upper or lower case?”

Joly’s incredulous face gets even more dubious. “Un grand R, if you please.”

Grantaire thinks his face is doing something stupid, maybe mouth opened like a fucking fish because, how is he the one that Joly wants on his skin.

Joly reaches his other hand up, which is already covered in plastic wrap, and puts a hand on Grantaire’s face. “You are doing a literal crime for me because you are that good a friend, R, and you can’t spell ‘committing a crime’ without commitment. I love you and I wanna put it on my skin.”

Grantaire sniffles a little bit because he’s honestly choked up. “Yeah. Okay. Big R, coming right up.” He inks it the way he signs his paintings, with a flourish, but small enough that it’s doesn’t really even stand out.

Joly is beaming at him, and it’s emotionally healthy and gross. Grantaire takes a picture, wraps Joly’s wrist and hands him a tube of aquaphor. “I’m paying you,” Joly says as Grantaire cleans up. “I’ve been saving up, and my relatives all sent me money for Christmas, and I looked up how much this kind of work would usually cost and I have $2,000 and you’re taking it.”

“Jesus, Joly, no, I couldn’t.” Grantaire doesn’t face Joly, doesn’t want to betray just how much difference that money would make to him.

“Yeah, not really giving you a choice.” Joly gives Grantaire a hug after he strips off his gloves. “You did an expensive, illegal service for me, and you did it in a reassuring way, and you did it with a fuckton of skill, and I know you have to pay for the space and materials, and so hush I’m paying you.”

Grantaire nods mutely, because it really is very hard to argue with Joly. Joly comes home with him because he’s tired and jittery, and on the walk home, Grantaire sends Enjolras the picture of Joly’s tattoo, and that feels good, too.

He wakes to all of Joly’s hair in his mouth and an email from Enjolras entitled: I Cannot Believe You’ve Introduced Me To a Book Series With a Worse Legal System Than Ours and I’m Furious. It’s a several thousand word email going into detail (with pages cited) describing everything that Enjolras hates about the Harry Potter universe so far and it’s amazing.

R: just wait until you get to book 5
Enjolras: The legal world building gets WORSE?

Grantaire laughs so hard he wakes Joly.

When they actually roll out of bed, Eponine is slamming things around in the kitchen, no sign of the kids. Her face is pinched and when she sees them she says, “My father came and got the kids this morning. I’m spending the day with Montparnasse.”

Spending the day with Montparnasse is, as far Grantaire can tell, a code for when she’s going to do drugs harder than those that he’s comfortable with. And also, presumably, spending time with Montparnasse, which is another thing Grantaire isn’t too comfortable with.

“Are they going to be back?” Joly asks, because Joly hasn’t been exposed to the functioning of Eponine’s family for long enough to know not to ask.

Eponine slams a cabinet door; all the dishes shake and Grantaire winces. “I’m going now.”

Joly is frowning at him and Grantaire doesn’t know what to do, so he makes omelets. Feuilly comes over a few hours later because the plan was to have the four of them celebrate Christmas together, but the three of them hunker down with a pizza and some Rumchata (because it’s the closest thing they have to eggnog) and watch White Christmas.

Feuilly summons the appropriate amount of oohs and ahs at Joly’s tattoos. “These are really good!” he tells Grantaire, and Grantaire is embarrassed and pleased because how are these his friends? When the movie ends Feuilly mutes the end credits, and he says, “Hey can I talk to you about something?”

“Of course!” Joly says effusively. “Anything!”

Feuilly blushes a little, his usual closed off body language somehow even more closed off. “I’m seeing someone. And I wanted to tell you guys when it first happened, but we’re not soulmates and I know you guys won’t judge, it’s just I really like him and I was worried someone would say I’m taking away his opportunities. Or my own.”

Joly puts a hand on Feuilly’s shoulder, and Feuilly flops against him like a ragdoll. “My parents weren’t soulmates so that is like not a thing as far as I’m concerned. And also we love you, and we don’t care.”

Grantaire flops against them, too. “Is it Bahorel? Because I was kinda suspecting, and I’d be really happy if it was him.”

Feuilly flushes. “I…yeah.”

Joly squeals. “I am literally so so happy for you, I cannot even SPEAK, Feuilly.”

Feuilly laughs and hides his face against Joly’s shoulder. “We’re not really telling people yet, I just suck at keeping my own secrets. And I wanted you two to know.”

Grantaire smiles at him. “We’ll keep it secret. And we’re happy you told us.” Something occurs to Grantaire he frowns. “Wait a second, did you fuck in Enjolras’s bed?”

Feuilly makes a strangled noise, embarrassment radiating off of him, and because Grantaire is a terrible friend he starts to laughs. Feuilly stands stiffly and removes himself from the cuddle to put on It’s A Wonderful Life, and Grantaire eats another piece of cold pizza and everything is kind of great for the moment.

Eponine comes home past midnight, so it’s technically Christmas day, and collapses into bed with Grantaire. Feuilly and Joly are asleep on the couch and she assures them she didn’t wake them.

“How are you doing?” he whispers, assuming she has a headache.

“I have a headache,” she replies, and melts further against him. “Sorry I left. I just…needed to be gone.”

Grantaire nods, and knows she can feel it because his head is resting next to hers. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Nooope,” she says and yawns. “Can I sleep here?” she asks, but she’s asleep before he can say yes.

Christmas day they spend in their pajamas watching Christmas movies, and Grantaire has a really lovely ten minutes of reading the texts that Enjolras sent complaining about the midnight mass his parents dragged him to. Eponine is subdued, but all in all it’s one of the least stressful Christmases Grantaire has ever had, including the part where Joly start crying.

“What’s wrong?” Eponine asks first, because this is how she makes amends. Joly allows her to manhandle him into her arms, and Grantaire and Feuilly put a hand on him where they can, because Joly is very physically affectionate when he’s sad.

“Sorry, I’m sorry, it just hit me is all.”

Feuilly frowns. “What hit you?”

“Bossuet and Musichetta are at her house for Christmas, because her parents wanted to meet her soulmate.” He starts crying a little harder and Grantaire frowns at soulmate, singular.

“You’re her soulmate, too,” Eponine insists. “Did you not want to go?”

Joly laughs, a wet, angry laugh. “I didn’t get invited. Because I’m fallow. They think I’m just hanging on, that I’m ruining their daughter and her soulmate’s life, and it didn’t really bother me because I know that Bossuet and Musichetta love me, but what if their parents decide they can’t accept me? What if I come between my soulmates and their families because my fucking skin is broken?”

“That’s not going to happen, Joly, you won’t let it and neither will they,” Grantaire says.

Joly shakes his head. “I know, I just hate that I have to miss Christmas with them? And I know it’s because Musichetta’s parents are the worst and could cut her off or stop paying for her college, but it’s bullshit and I miss them.”

Eponine holds him a little tighter. “It is bullshit. But for now, you get to celebrate with us.”

Joly nods, and sniffles a stop to his tears. “It’s true. I don’t have to be with Musichetta’s shitty family, I get to be with my a+ one.” Grantaire can’t feel embarrassed about getting teary-eyed because they all did.

When Joly and Feuilly leave, it’s quieter than it’s been for weeks, and Grantaire has a sickeningly gooey moment of wishing Enjolras was back already.

R: remind me when you come back?
Enjolras: In ten days. Why? Has something happened?
R: no I just sort of missed you.
Enjolras: I miss you, too.
R: NOPE, it’s too gross I’ve changed my mind
Enjolras: Hahaha okay.

Grantaire screenshots the part where Enjolras says he missed him, and has a really long debate with himself before he decides it’s too gross if he makes that his phone background. He keeps the photo anyway.

R: tell me about skiing
Enjolras: It’s okay? I’m pretty good at it, but father has banned me from talking politics with his friends and they keep dragging me to parties and it’s boring and stuffy.
R: “father”? jesus be more of a stereotype
R: also baby’s first run on sentence! #proud
Enjolras: I changed my mind, I don’t miss you at all.
R: lies and slander
R: also it’s fucking late so good night, Ange
R: getit?
R: it’s a pun?
R: like Enj?
R: Enjolras?
R: you have read receipts on you can’t hide from me
Enjolras: Good night “R”
Enjolras: Wait what are read receipts?

Eponine disappears again the next day, hopefully to go work, but possibly to do drugs with Montparnasse. Grantaire texts Combeferre, just in case, urging him to like, talk to Eponine, you know, like two people who like each other do. By the next day Eponine is back to her normal self (which he is sure is thanks to Combeferre), and everything is pretty quiet and full of work until New Years.

Grantaire, who doesn’t believe in resolutions or drinking when other people tell him to, goes to bed early, but wakes up to pictures from Joly and squad of Musichetta and Bossuet crying and smiling and thanking him for doing Joly’s tattoos.

New Year's Day Grantaire spends a precious day off naked in front of his canvases trying to figure out what to do about his dick. He could really easily have it fall between canvases, which would be classy, or put it on the torso part, which would make sense, but a small part of him wants to shove it on the “mostly legs” canvas, so when the parts are separated it’s just a dick and legs. You know, how art is done.

He opts to put it on the middle one, because it makes the most sense, and then spends another ten minutes sketching, and wondering if it’s sadder to be generous or modest with the size of his cock. He’s about to start painting, having firmly decided that cock size is a problem for Future Grantaire, when his phone buzzes.

Enjolras: I got in a fight with my father so I’m coming home early. Can I come over? I missed your face.
R: jesus you must had a crappy break if you miss my ugly mug
R: yeah sure, I’ll be here all day and we never lock the door so just come on up

He wonders, based on his current bodily state, if it’s creepier to do a nude where he’s hard. Grantaire ignores his body, though, and starts in earnest on his torso. He sketches the curves of his stomach, and the rolls on his back, his fucking stretch marks, his stupid geranium, all of his flowers and skin. He’s on a roll, so he sketches the last canvas, too, leaving it leaning on the leg of the easel when he finishes. He starts painting with his fucking carnations because they’re important and terrible and he wants to make sure he does them justice. He moves onto his apple blossom, just by proximity, but nixes the idea to move to the next closest after that, because that would be his arm and he doesn’t want to be contemplating uselessness if Enjolras actually comes over.

The front door opens and he thinks, speak of the devil, just as Enjolras says, “Grantaire! It’s so good to see—” and then it becomes apparent to the both of them that Grantaire is naked. He goes diving behind the nearest furniture, which is luckily the couch, so the only things really visible are his head and his shame.

Enjolras’s face is flushed, but his jaw is clenched and he’s averting his gaze like a gentleman. Grantaire can tell how hard Enjolras is trying not to look, and he appreciates the effort. “I’m going to go run into my room and find something clothingy? To put on my body? So if you want to, I don’t know, have a seat, I’ll be with you in a moment.”

Enjolras does, slowly, and turns his head to the door so Grantaire can run. “I’m sorry—my train got in early. I texted you again, but then I just…you told me I could come over and I…”

Grantaire groans at how much he’s mangled this. “I was painting. And I didn’t know when you were coming. And I tend to lose time when I paint.” Enjolras nods sharply. “Okay. I’m going to find myself some pants.”

Grantaire takes a deep breath and strides calmly into his bedroom, where he screams into his pillow for a good thirty seconds. He puts on the pink track pants, because something has to be good about this situation and it might as well be his pants, and the first shirt he grabs, which is grey and covered in paint.

When Grantaire comes back into the living room, Enjolras is studying his self-portrait because of course he is. “You have so many more than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Enjolras says in a slightly awestruck way, and Grantaire doesn’t know if it’s a compliment or an insult or a fact. “I’m sorry, you probably didn’t want me to look at all your blooms and—Christ, I didn’t even ask, fuck.”

Grantaire makes a motion with his face and eyes and shoulders and tries to convey how much he can’t even deal with any of that right now. “It’s fine, I could have put away my painting earlier, I didn’t, so it’s my fault, but also it’s fine. Everything’s okay.”

Enjolras is sitting tall in their couch, like he’s the weird articulated skeleton that Joly had for a while (for no apparent reason), which had a metal rod keeping it upright. “Or nevermind, clearly you’re not okay,” Grantaire surmises.

Enjolras shakes his with a passion. “No!” Grantaire takes a step back and Enjolras takes a deep breath through his nose, the way Combeferre makes him when he gets too riled up about Injustice. “No, it’s not—I’m fine. I just, I realized that I spoke to you in meetings like you were—”

“Like I was anyone else,” Grantaire says, sitting on the arm of the opposite side of the couch. “Which is exactly what I wanted.”

Enjolras nods slowly. “I imagine it was grating, me disagreeing with you on things that I care about strongly, but that affect you personally.”

“I cannot stress this enough,” Grantaire says, stressing it again, “that is literally exactly what I wanted. Jehan brought me to your meetings because he found out about my First Bloom and thought I might want to make a difference, and for the record, no, I don’t, but it is very, I don’t know, touching…to be a part of a group that cares so strongly about me and mine.”

“When you said, before, when we were talking about Alexander the Great that everyone with yellow carnations has something they’re compensating for…”

“I was obviously speaking from experience.”

Enjolras nods again. If he was stick straight before, he’s like a deflated balloon now, hunched over and small. “You have a lot of grief. And jealousy. And unrequited love.”

Ah, so that’s what this is about. “Yes. I do. And the vast majority has to do with my family life and first few boyfriends. Not that you haven’t left your marks on me, because you really have but—but that started long before you.”

Enjolras sighs. “I’m sorry.”

“For my shitty childhood?” Grantaire scoffs. “I’m not expecting you to retroactively fix the world.”

“For doing wrong by you? Repeatedly? I’m surprised you can stand me.”

Grantaire says, “I’ve developed a very high tolerance for cruelty and bullshit over the years,” which is entirely the wrong thing to say judging by the defensive and hurt look on Enjolras’s face. “That came out wrong. I just meant…”

“You meant,” Enjolras says slowly, piecing it together as he speaks, “that because people have been worse to you, and because you have feelings for me, you were willing to let me get away with being straightforwardly terrible to you.”

“Not entirely?” Grantaire hedges. “I baited you. A lot. Partially because I think some of your opinions come from a place of entitlement and you have to do better if you’re going to change the whole fucking world, and also because I really like your attention, in whatever form it comes in. I like fighting with you. Occasionally, you crossed a line, but I’m sure I did, too.”

Enjolras scoots a little closer to him, that confused-and-in-awe expression back on his face. “You really think I can change the world?”

“Of course that’s what you got out of that,” Grantaire mutters, but Enjolras is smiling like he just discovered that Grantaire hangs the stars and it’s intoxicating. “Not trying to inflate your already sizable ego, but of course I do, Apollo. You’re the only thing I believe in,” he says, and it’s true. Bahorel’s right, Enjolras is a great man, and in some ways, believing in a great man is even more natural than believing in a god.

“I’ve been thinking,” Enjolras says, and Grantaire gets a sickening rush of déjà vu. “I would really like to kiss you.”

Grantaire smiles despite himself. “I thought we did this already. You said you wanted to kiss me, I called myself ugly, you were kind of monosyllabic, I talked too much…ringing a bell?”

Enjolras is smiling back and he looks mischievous, which is a truly thrilling look on him and all the air whooshes out of Grantaire. “Of course I remember. And everything I said then is still true, now.”

Grantaire takes a deep breath and convinces himself to be an adult, which is much harder when Enjolras’s eyes are glinting and he’s sitting close enough that he can smell Enjolras’s shampoo, which is apple scented. “I really, really want that. But also, I’m not ready. I like you. A lot. But I need more time. I don’t think either of us is really prepared for all of the potential fallout if we aren’t…you know…”

Enjolras nods. His grin fades a little, but he’s still smiling. “Okay. I’m going to hang out with you though. Probably for the majority of winter break, if you’ll let me.”

Grantaire’s throat constricts and he has to concentrate on swallowing. His palms are clammy and gross and he’s seriously reconsidering just grabbing Enjolras’s hands because then at least he won’t get all choked up about Enjolras wanting to spend time with him. “Is that what you want?”

“Obviously,” Enjolras, all arrogance and self-assuredness, and sweet sweet smile. “And I’d like to ask you why the fuck the Ministry of Magic is the way that is, like who the fuck designed that? And who does it benefit? Certainly not the people, but it doesn’t seem to really benefit the wealthy and powerful, either. Who, I ask you, is it helping?”

Grantaire laughs, because Enjolras’s expression implies that he feels as strongly about this as he does about Justice in the real world, and that is delightful and unexpected. “Usually Voldemort.”

“Of course it does! You see, this is exactly what I’m talking about!”

Grantaire can’t keep himself from smiling as Enjolras throws himself heavily back into the couch, and lets Enjolras complain about the political ramifications system that the Ministry of Magic has created and feels disgustingly and contentedly in love.

For the rest of break, Enjolras spends pretty much every moment Grantaire isn’t at work at the apartment. Sometimes, Feuilly and the squad come, too, but Enjolras is always there, and it’s easy. When Grantaire wants to paint, Enjolras focuses on building his social justice social media presence, or reading; when Grantaire needs to sit and drink, Enjolras sits with him and doesn’t say anything about his alcohol intake. Enjolras even tries to cook for him a few times, which ends horribly because Enjolras is somehow even worse at cooking than Eponine.

It’s easy and it’s nice and Grantaire feels like they’re there, like he’s ready and Enjolras is ready, and they’ve been dating and he thinks he could take it now. He could handle it if he isn’t Enjolras’s soulmate, and thinks Enjolras would stay with him, at least until he found his soulmate, or maybe indefinitely.

And then school starts up again. It wouldn’t actually be that much of an issue, if it wasn’t for Senator Lamarque. Grantaire’s free time actually increases after break, and Enjolras has shown that he’s happy to study or read or just exist in Grantaire’s vicinity, and there’s no reason that should have to change.

The first meeting after break is all business, which is unusual after break. Usually, the first meeting is casual recap of their respective breaks, but this one is all business from the moment Enjolras clears his throat.

“We were contacted by Senator Lamarque’s people. With the start of the session, the Senator has decided to hold a rally, try and show the country the support of her people for de-regulating and protecting people without blooms and people with negatively associated first blooms. And he wants a few of us to speak, wants us to use the support we’ve already gathered to help organize, get the word out. And he’s given us two weeks.”

Grantaire, only slightly tipsy, picks up on the urgency and starts flipping through his sketchbook for anything that looks like it could be a flier. He has a couple nudes he sketched that are blank, no blooms no faces, and he thinks that might work. He tears them quietly out of his sketchbook.

“Two weeks?” Courfeyrac cries. “In what world is that even remotely possible?”

“In this one,” Enjolras replies. He is confident and grinning, so sure as always that he is right, that change is attainable. It’s both incredibly attractive and more than a little infuriating. “We’re going to get the word out. We’ll make fliers, social media posts, anything you can think of.”

Joly raises his hand, which is something Enjolras hates, but something Joly seems compelled to do when Enjolras is being exceptionally leadery.

Enjolras sighs. “Yes, Joly?”

Joly clears his throat. “Who, exactly, do you expect to speak?”

Enjolras, if anything, gets more amped, body tense like a bowstring, ready to pop. “He’s asked for me, specifically. I’ve had the most publicity as a representative for Les Amis, and I hope you’re all okay with me representing us there, too.” He pauses, and there are loud affirmations from Les Amis, expectedly. Enjolras manages to look grateful and unsurprised and human and beautiful.

“And who else?” Eponine cuts to the quick, angry sounding, like she knows where this is going. If she does, Grantaire is jealous, because he really, really doesn’t.

Enjolras clears his throat. He graces them with a smile and his voice is strong and authoritative as always. “They left the choice to us. I was hoping Courfeyrac would be willing to speak.” It’s the obvious choice; Courfeyrac is almost chronically personable, and a good speaker to boot. “And Grantaire.”

Grantaire’s mind goes completely blank and he wonders what he did to deserve this. “Excuse the fuck out of you?” is what Grantaire’s mouth says without any actual input from his brain.

“It would be good,” Enjolras says, imperative and slow and with a carefully measured tone, like Grantaire is a skittish animal instead of a furious person, “if we had our members representing different viewpoints.”

And it’s an innocuous statement because Grantaire’s politics are so far from Enjolras’s but it’s also painfully loaded, because Grantaire knows that’s not what he means. What the fuck had he been thinking, clearly Enjolras’s soulmate was Blind Justice herself, and no one else could get a hand between them. “Yeah, no. Fuck that. I’ll make your fucking fliers, but I’m not speaking at anything.”

“Grantaire, think about it! This could be our best shot yet.”

“He said no,” Combeferre says, looking at Enjolras with an expression that bordered on incredulity. “And we have an incredible amount of organizing to do. Maybe we should move on.” Grantaire takes a moment to be incredibly grateful for Combeferre, but Enjolras ruins it.

Enjolras bangs his fist on the table, and Grantaire jumps. “There are those within our ranks who could give us the edge the Senator’s rally needs. I’m asking for cooperation from all of you—we’re so close to making strides towards our goal! I know that there is a risk inherent in identifying yourself to the public, but this could be our chance! We could make a concrete, measurable, legal difference.”

Musichetta jumps in. “Joly would be a better fit if those were really your criteria, and you know Joly has trouble speaking in public.” Joly nods emphatically, incredibly grateful that someone stepped in on his behalf.

“I’m not asking Joly, I’m asking Grantaire,” Enjolras says in his same, measured tones. There is a long moment of silence during which Grantaire assumes everyone puts two and two together and comes up with Grantaire Is A Part Of The Relevant Social Minority, which to be fair, he kind of assumed they had done before. But it’s worse, now, because he had confided in Enjolras, because he had somehow thought he could come before The Cause. He is, as ever, an idiot.

“I don’t believe this.” Eponine stands up from the table, her chair scraping the floor in her anger. “I don’t fucking believe you, Enjolras.”

Grantaire stands up, too, but slower and quieter, because he doesn’t want to call any more attention to himself than has already been called, which is actually sort of a moot point because everyone is looking at him. He puts his sketches down in front of Courfeyrac. He would put them in front of Combeferre, who is much less likely to lose them, but he’s not sure that Combeferre won’t storm out with him and Eponine. “I thought I was perfectly clear, but in case I wasn’t: I am not looking to make a difference. And I am not looking expose myself the public for the sake of your crusade. Good luck with your rally, Apollo.”

He’s never going to trust Enjolras again.

Eponine touches his shoulder and he allows himself to be lead out of the Musain and down the road home again. His thigh tingles with a new bloom, but he doesn’t want to know what it is, he doesn’t want to see, he want to drink and he wants to go to sleep. He’s lying, but he’s always been good at lying to himself—he’s almost shaking with impatience to learn what Enjolras has given him this time. They get back to the apartment and Grantaire tugs his pants off and looks at his naked thigh.

“I don’t know what a hyacinth means,” Eponine says after surveying the damage. Grantaire doesn’t either, but he abandoned his bloom book years ago, so he lets Eponine google it for him on her phone. “I’m not sure you want to see this, R.” He does though, so he tucks his head over her shoulder and reads it from there.

There is a stalk of purple hyacinth on his leg and it means rashness, and it means “dedicated to Apollo,” and Grantaire needs to be drunk yesterday. His own phone rings and he really want to ignore it, but he also wants to what’s going on. He slumps into the couch and Eponine leaves him to his phone.

Joly: i dont think this makes it better but e honestly thought ud b ok w/ this bc of The Cause
Joly: which is dumb
Joly: but e can be kind of n idiot

Ferre: I messaged Eponine already, but I wanted to let you know I’m coming over and I’m bringing Jehan.

Jehan: I will be there soon/and we can drink all the booze/love you so much R

Enjolras: We should talk.

Grantaire puts his phone down. Eponine has returned with his jug of cheap vodka and four shot glasses. “You have class tomorrow,” he tells her, because she shouldn’t miss because of him. She kicks him with her daisy foot and he is so overwhelmingly fond of her.

“Then I will go to class hungover, like the entirety of our first two years, and I will be fine.” She grips his hand in hers and kisses it.

“Gross.”

Eponine laughs and leans right up against him, like a cat. “Do you wanna talk about your newest addition?” She manages to pour them both shots without moving away from him, which is the sort of unnecessary but amazing skillset that Eponine has buckets full of.

“I think it’s telling me not to spite quit. That Enjolras really is the one for me. Or it’s telling me that I’ve been too—what, prudent?—and I’ve wasted too much time on him. Dedicated too much of myself to him.” Grantaire downs the shot and waits to feel it.

“Which do you think?”

He shrugs, but he’s pretty sue he knows which one is right. “The first one. I’m not going to speak at the rally, but I’m not going to avoid the meetings, either. I am going to be inebriated and as unhelpful and combative as I can, but I am going to go.”

Why couldn’t winter break have lasted forever, Grantaire thinks, like every other college student ever. Everything during winter break had been sweet, and simple, and easy. During break it has been easy to imagine him and Enjolras lying on couches together forever watching Harry Potter; now, back in the real world, Grantaire couldn’t fathom what their future together could be. Again, he wondered if he could possibly be Enjolras’s soulmate. It seemed impossible.

He would give his life for Enjolras, but not for his cause.

There is a knock at the door, and Jehan and Combeferre let themselves in without waiting for a response. Combeferre sits down on Grantaire’s other side and Jehan drapes himself over Grantaire’s lap.

Grantaire puts his mouth to Jehan’s ear and whispers, “Refrigerator/fucking refrigerator/refrigerator.”

Jehan laughs, delighted, and kisses him on the cheek. “I’m so proud that you learned fucking has two syllables. Do you want to talk or drink?”

Eponine passes full shot glasses all around, letting Jehan pass the one to Combeferre to avoid any chance of their fingers touching, which is getting sort of ridiculous, Grantaire thinks. They all take the shots and Combeferre shudders slightly, because it truly is very shitty vodka.

“What was he thinking?” Grantaire asks Combeferre, because what’s the point of having mutual friends if literally no one knows what’s going on with the friend in question.

Combeferre sighs. “I think he wasn’t? He gets swept up in the concept of justice and sometimes forgets other people have other priorities? Courfeyrac and Musichetta yelled at him a lot, though, and he gets that he fucked up, even if he’s not sure he agrees with the reasoning.”

Jehan nods and leans up against Grantaire’s chest. “He’s still an idiot. And it still doesn’t excuse him, and I’m sorry he outed you to the rest of Les Amis.”

Eponine snorts. “To be fair, Joly kind of already did that.”

Grantaire tries to suck up the love, but opts to suck up another shot instead. “He texted me ‘we should talk,’ with a fucking period.”

“You should talk,” Jehan reasons. “And I honestly suspect that Enjolras doesn’t know the connotations of that phrase. Or of adding periods to statements like that.”

Combeferre nods. “I think that’s probably a fair assessment of Enjolras.” Combeferre is looking past him, though, looking straight at Eponine.

It’s already too much for Grantaire. The tension is so thick he could choke on it. “Can I have a sidebar with Eponine?” Jehan slides off his lap and onto the floor, and Eponine stands first, pulling Grantaire to his feet. “Bedroom?” He shuts the door behind the, and puts his hands on Eponine’s shoulders, opting for his serious face. “Eponine, this is untenable.”

She sighs. “I know, Enjolras is an idiot—”

“No. You and Combeferre.” Eponine lights up red like a stop sign. “You guys are gross and in love and you need to just get on with it.”

She rolls her eyes, but she’s still blushing so it’s less effective. “I was going to talk about it tonight, actually, but you’re more important. So that can wait.”

Grantaire rolls his eyes back. “Fuck that. I want you to be happy—especially because my life is a nightmare. And like, if something goes wrong with you and feel like you can’t put it on me, wouldn’t you rather snuggle up to Combeferre than Montparnasse?”

“Low blow,” she whines. “Are you sure?”

Grantaire squeezes her shoulders. “Please for the love of god, drag him into your den of inequity and begin the making of whoopee.”

Eponine smacks his side. “Idiot,” she says, but she sounds fond. She drags him back into the living room by the hand and deposits him back on the couch. “Combeferre, sidebar?”

“Awful lot of sidebars tonight,” Combeferre says but he stands up and obediently follows Eponine into her room.

Jehan pulls himself onto the couch without standing, which is unnecessary, but makes Grantaire laugh. He pulls Grantaire down until his head is resting on Jehan’s laps and rubs his fingers through Grantaire’s hair. “Are they about to be extra coupley in there?”

Grantaire nods. “The most coupley. It’s gross.”

“Firmly agree.”

The door opens again but Grantaire doesn’t react, but he’s almost certain it’s Enjolras, and he doesn’t want to react, wants to hold onto the upper hand until it is pulled from his cold dead hands.

“Grantaire,” Enjolras greets him, serious look on his face and fists clenched. “I was hoping to speak with you.”

“Speak away.” Grantaire tries his best to pull off a have-at gesture with one arm, but based on Jehan’s snort it’s weak.

“In private.”

Jehan smiles wanly. “This is a good apartment for that, the walls are pretty sound proof.”

“Jehan.” There’s a threat in Enjolras’s voice, but Jehan’s wan smile doesn’t fade.

“I’m staying if R wants me to stay.”

Grantaire smiles and makes himself sit up. “I appreciate it, Jehan, but you can go. I’ll be fine.”

Jehan nods and kisses Grantaire on the head, before standing. He stops at the door to say, “Let me know if you want company later.” He slams the door behind him.

Enjolras walks slowly to stand directly in front of him and he’s tense as a wire. “I don’t understand you,” Enjolras says slowly, but he sounds disgusted, or maybe frustrated, but Grantaire latches onto disgust because that’s what he does. “You’re willing to out yourself for art but not justice?”

Grantaire exhales slowly so he doesn’t just start screaming. “There are so many things wrong that, where to even begin? First of all, whether or not I want to out myself is not your decision, or yours to critique. Secondly, you don’t know shit about my art. I could easily hand in just the head—or lie, say I made up the blooms for effect, there’s a long tradition of that in portraiture—and it’s going to my teacher, not the world.”

“So you’re a coward.” Enjolras has the gall to look disappointed. “You’re passing up a chance to really make a difference because you’re afraid.”

“Damn fucking right I’m afraid! I’m afraid of losing my job, of not being able to get a real job after I graduate! Because it’s legal to fire me, legal to not even consider me for a job, and that’s exactly what will happen if they can google my name and see my fucking First and know that I’ll be a disappointment.”

Enjolras huffs angrily. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to change, Grantaire!”

Grantaire jumps to his feet. “But you haven’t changed it yet! And if the law doesn’t go through, if I draw too much attention to myself and it gets bogged down in red tape: who is going to support me? You? Eponine?”

Enjolras steels his face, tries for pacifying, but he’s clearly still vibrating with anger. “Your parents—”

“Fuck you, Apollo.” Grantaire’s voice is embarrassingly shaky, and he’s mad, the maddest he’s been in weeks. His feelings coalesce into the sudden knowledge that he can’t do this forever, and that no matter how much he loves Enjolras, he won’t. “You betrayed my confidence, and you did it in public. I know it’s because you can’t get it through your fucking head that I am not going to help you make a difference, but that doesn’t make it right. You either need to accept that the choices you make for yourself are not the ones I would make for myself—and you cannot force me to—or you need to tell me it’s over and we’ll be done.”

The color drains from Enjolras’s face. “Just like that?”

Grantaire nods decisively. Regardless of the outcome he’s getting shitfaced after this, and is anxious to start. “Yes. If you tell me I’m going to spend the rest of my life playing second fiddle to your revolution, then yes, I’m out. I’d rather spend the rest of my life searching for someone who will make me happy than with a soulmate who will never put me first.”

Enjolras shakes. He looks sickly, worn out, and it’s too hard for Grantaire to look at. “I think…I think I need time.”

Grantaire shrugs, collapses back onto the couch and pours himself a shot. His vodka is so shitty he feels like it could peel paint and he thinks, nonsensically, that maybe it’ll peel the feelings off of him, too. “Take it. All the time you need.”

Enjolras nods sharply. As he walks back to the door he says, “It’s incomprehensible to me that you’d be unwilling to sacrifice for the greater good.”

Grantaire pours himself another shot because really, he’s earned it. “Like it’s incomprehensible to me that the greater good is more important to you than your principles—or your friends?” Grantaire takes a deep breath. “When’s the next meeting?”

Enjolras swallows hard. “Tomorrow. Every day for the next two weeks. Are you…?”

“I can’t tomorrow, I have work. I’ll be there the next day.”

Enjolras frowns and shakes his head. “Why?”

Grantaire shakes his head. “Go home, Apollo.” He takes a shot, and then another. The door shuts, but Grantaire has his focus now, and it’s vodka. He hadn’t intended an ultimatum—he fucking hates ultimatums, thinks they’re pretty fucked up, but this doesn’t feel fucked up to him. Months ago, Jehan had told him he deserved to be loved, and god knows Jehan is right about everything.

Eponine and Combeferre emerge from her room obviously not touching, no sign of blue. They sit down on either side of him, like before. Grantaire tries not to cry but the alcohol has lowered his strength of will and wants to sleep for another week.

“No making of whoopee?”

Combeferre shakes his head. He’s smiling, and his smile is always compassionate. “We decided to wait. No planning, just, see what happens organically.”

“What can we do?” Eponine asks him.

“That’s a good plan.” Grantaire shrugs, but is careful not to dislodge them. How he got through so much of his life without this much physical contact is baffling to him. “I gave him an ultimatum. On accident.”

Combeferre’s blank hand is resting on Grantaire’s and he’s almost incomprehensibly jealous at the fact that they even have this choice. “What did you say?”

“That I had to be a priority. That I wasn’t going to compromise myself for him. I don’t know. Probably nothing I should have said.”

Combeferre surprises him by speaking first. “It might not be a bad thing for him to hear. Enjolras’s has been single-mindedly focused on his causes for the vast majority of his life; he doesn’t know how to balance work and partners, which is why all of his friends are part of the cause. He doesn’t know how to do anything else.”

Grantaire sighs. “So I should give up, is what you’re saying.”

Combeferre shakes his head, and then presses their heads together. “No, I’m saying he needs to decide if he can make time for you, he has to decide if he’s willing to make those changes to his life. And if he’s not, his loss.”

“My loss.”

They hold him and Eponine pours him shots when he passes out he is so shwasted that the room is spinning, but he doesn’t have class until noon so it’s all going swimmingly.

Two days later finds him sitting with Cosette and Marius and Bahorel in the Musain, drinking a bottle of peach schnapps straight from the bottle. It was a present from Cosette, who sits next to him and glares so fiercely at Enjolras that Grantaire feels overwhelmed by how much he loves her.

They play a drinking game that Grantaire and Bahorel created in a fit of pique, drinking every time anyone says “equality” or “justice” or “rights” or “law” or “duty,” so Grantaire is extremely drunk before the meeting is even halfway over. A consolation: Marius is even more so, and can’t stop himself from giggling at the word “duty.”

Grantaire, keeps his mouth shut and his head down, and only giggles when he really can’t help it. Cosette’s drunkenness is manifesting in angry, terrifying belligerence. Enjolras, for his part, conducts the meeting like none of them are there, and tasks Courfeyrac with handing them fliers and quadrants to hand them out in. And Grantaire does it.

He puts up fliers and makes announcements in classes; he makes facebook posts and twitter posts; he helps Joly find the video of Enjolras speaking at an event the year before, where he was charismatically and commanding, and plasters it all over his social media accounts. He comes to all the meetings he can, and he drinks with a rotating cast of friends, and he doesn’t speak to Enjolras, even when Enjolras asks him point blank, “Grantaire, any thoughts?”

They decide democratically that Bahorel should do the final speech. He is their link to the other social justice organizations in the area, and he has more friends than any other person, possibly in the world, and letting people know that Bahorel will be speaking is a surprisingly easy way to get more attention.

The night before the rally is the hardest. Everyone is on edge, running around with panicky looks on their face, and Courfeyrac is going through his speech over and over, making minute changes and then reading it again from the start. Enjolras spends most of the night staring at Grantaire, which is rude, and Grantaire decides to ignore it, until he hears Combeferre call Enjolras’s name four times in row, only for Enjolras to completely ignore him.

They can’t afford to have Enjolras off his game now, which is why Grantaire decides to take one for the team. “Enjolras, sidebar?”

Behind them, he can hear Combeferre say, “Seriously, did we used to say that? I could have sworn we didn’t use to say that.”

Enjolras walks over with his head down, looking the part of a kicked puppy. He follows Grantaire out of the backroom of the Musain and into the much louder main area, where they are less likely to be overheard. “Grantaire?”

Grantaire knows he’s going to regret this. “You need to get your shit together.”

“Excuse me?” Enjolras’s tone veers directly into anger, which is sort of what Grantaire had been going for.

Grantaire glares to best of his ability and summons all his irritation at Enjolras, of which there is a lot. “You need to stop sulking like a fucking child. You have a job to do, and if you blow it because you’re practicing your Marius impression, you won’t just be letting us down, you’ll be letting down vulnerable people all across the country and I will not let you forget that.”

Enjolras scoffs; he’s hurt, which is also good. “Who do you think you are? I—”

“You,” Grantaire sneers, cutting him off, “are distracted and sullen and mopey.”

Enjolras scoffs again in disbelief. “No, I’m angry.”

“Good! Be angry.” Grantaire wants to smack him across the face. “Get self-righteous, get mad, just get yourself together. If this is about me—“ facetious, maybe, but, “then you’re forgiven for the next,” he checks his phone, “let’s say nineteen hours.”

Enjolras’s face does something both confused and firm. “What?”

“You’re forgiven. For the next eighteen hours and fifty-nine minutes. Ish. Now stop thinking about me. You have a job to do, we’ll figure this out after.” Grantaire gestures back and forth between them repeatedly, and tries to convey just how done he feels in the motion.

Something eases in Enjolras’s posture and he nods. “Right.” He turns around and heads back into the back room before Grantaire, but when Grantaire follows a few minutes later with two shots of whiskey hidden in a coffee mug, Enjolras is in regular form, so Grantaire considers it a job well done.

He goes home by himself, because Eponine is spending the night on Combeferre’s couch. He tells himself he’ll wake up and go to the rally tomorrow, but he’s only vaguely planning on it. He falls asleep watching Archer and wakes up at ten-twenty with a crick in his neck, feeling as though he’s missing something. He has one voicemail, left at the ass crack of dawn, surprisingly from Enjolras.

“Grantaire—R, listen come to rally, please, for me. I know I fucked up, okay? Courfeyrac read the minutes to me verbatim from the day I chewed Marius out, and I did the same fucking thing, I can’t believe I got so wrapped up in this stupid—it doesn’t matter. I still believe that the ends justify the means, but I also believe in not losing you. I can’t imagine the rest of my life sitting in the same room as you and have you never make eye contact again. I’ll fix it, I’ll fix everything, just please, come to the rally, alright? I’m not asking you to do anything but show up and stand there, you don’t have to do anything you won’t want to do, just show up and it’ll be enough for me—and Christ God I have been rambling, just, please, come.”

Grantaire looks at the time again and realizes he has ten minutes to get to the rally and find his friends, which is not even enough to get there. He scrounged around for his pants, phone tucked between his shoulder and desperately calling Eponine as he tries to find a jacket.

“Hey,” she says happily, which means she’s with Combeferre, which is good because that means they’re definitely where they’re supposed to be. “Where are you? We’re standing up in front by the platform—but at the far right side. Courfeyrac’s about to start, you gonna come stand with us?”

“I am literally,” he says with his wallet in his mouth, “running out the front door as speak.”

“Get your ass in gear, R! Don’t want to miss Enjolras, do you?”

He pulls on his gym shoes because he is about to do more running that he really wants to. He does it, though, starts off running through the streets, dodging people and cars and pretending like his lungs aren’t burning and there isn’t a stitch in his side. He hears the crowd before he sees them, and they’re loud as fuck. He turns a corner and then has to contend with the literally thousands of people who have shown up to what he thought was going to end up a pretty small demonstration. There are signs, decorated in all sorts of blooms, and chants so loud his head is vibrating with them.

Grantaire takes a deep breath and starts squeezing through them, trying his hardest to get to the front. It’s slow going, and he can hear Courfeyrac begin to speak before he’s even halfway through, but the crowd quiets some, so it’s easier to navigate. It always makes him self-conscious, trying to move through crowds. Being fat in a crowd isn’t great on a good day, and he’s stressed out, but there are so many signs with carnations and dahlias and columbine and hydrangeas, and he feels like he’s a part of the crowd, and they part for him like the fucking red sea.

He gets as close to the front as he can; he can’t see Eponine or Combeferre, or anyone else for that matter, but he can see up on the platform with a metal crowd gate in front of it: Courfeyrac speechifying, Senator Lamarque standing and looking super senatorial, a couple unexpected secret service members, Bahorel grinning like a dork, and Enjolras, looking right at him.

Enjolras smiles, and Courfeyrac says something that causes a loud cheer to erupt, and he cheers, too, just to see Enjolras smile harder. His eyes are locked with Enjolras’s when someone yells, “bomb!” and then everything is smoke.

Grantaire is completely blind, but there is screaming and pushing and it’s disorienting as hell. He tries to head to the right on the (very, very) off chance that he runs into Eponine. Considering Grantaire can’t really see, he just hopes he’s heading in the right direction. He trips, or is shoved, or a combo of the two and registers just how much his head hurts before everything fades out.

It can’t be that much longer when his vision comes back because there’s still smoke in the air, and the yelling is pierced with the wail of police sirens. Grantaire sits up and the world tilts precariously. He takes a deep breath, but the scent of the air is nauseating and he throws up, bile and whisky. He staggers to his feet. The cops are herding people behind lines, and he needs to be gone, now. He takes a few tottering steps and bumps directly into Bahorel.

“R! Jesus, are you okay—no, never mind of course you’re not, come this way.” Bahorel half drags half carries Grantaire through the throngs of people. Grantaire thinks Bahorel’s still talking, but if he is he must be speaking through a tunnel—or a toilet paper roll. Grantaire thinks he’s thrown up at least one more time before Bahorel is dragging him indoors, and he’s just cognizant enough to realize it’s Corinth, which baffling. How did they walk all the way to Corinth when Grantaire can barely stand.

“Joly! Take Grantaire, I’m going to look for Jehan!”

Grantaire is eased down into a chair. Bahorel is gone the next time he opens his eyes, but Joly is there in front of him, probing at his head. Joly is gentle as he ever is, gloved hands moving carefully across his scalp. It only occurs to him that his head is bleeding when he sees Joly’s hands coated in it. Grantaire dry heaves, every muscle tightening with spasms and his vision swims.

“Damn it. Enjolras, get over here!”

Enjolras is ruffled, but looks unharmed and fierce and furious. Grantaire tries gather his thoughts into some sort of words, but his thoughts slip through his fingers and he’s surprised again at how much his head aches. How had he gotten here?

“What can I do?” Enjolras asks.

“You can make sure he stays awake until we can see how bad it is. I need to get something to clean that wound with.”

Enjolras pulls up a chair, and they’d be eye to eye if the world didn’t keep tilting. “Hey, hey, Grantaire. You with me?”

Grantaire tries to lick his lips. It feels like it takes ages. He can’t get the vomit taste out of his mouth. “…Came…”

“What?” Enjolras leans in towards him, intimate almost. “Grantaire, what was that?”

“…Came…to y’r rally…” The world swirls again and he closes his eyes against the kaleidoscope. It’s somehow worse with his eyes closed, but he can’t recall how to open them again. He does, slowly, like there’s a delay between his brain and his body.

“Yeah.” Enjolras smiles and it’s like the sun is rising. His voice is wet, though, when he speaks again. “Yeah, you did.”

Grantaire’s vision swims and his eyes drift closed and keep tensing reflexively. This is worse than any hangover in recent memory. “Sleep?”

“Joly says you have to stay awake a little longer. This is nothing, right? I remember last year when you stayed up for three days straight.”

“…Had…” Grantaire completely blanked on the word he was looking for. He made it all the time at work, what was wrong with him? He had had that drink, the brown one, that kept him awake. His head was aching fiercely. Hadn’t Joly been here? His neck gave up on holding his head up, and it lolled.

“Grantaire! Grantaire, listen, you have to stay awake. Med student’s orders. R!”

Grantaire is sure he’s about to lose consciousness; he’s passed out enough times to recognize the signs. He’s sure he slumps over, but it’s only for few second and then his eyes are slowly blinking open, because there is shouting and it is in his ear.

“R, no, no, no, wake up!” Enjolras looks panicked and Grantaire wonders why. There’s a hand cradling his right cheek and a thumb holding his head up at his left temple. “R—” An enormous warmth overtakes Grantaire, like being covered with hot wax, especially on his face; it isn’t pleasant, but it isn’t really painful, just all encompassing and warm and tingly. The hands retract almost immediately and Grantaire reaches out blindly for Enjolras, to keep himself from tumbling to the floor. Enjolras, realizing this, grabs his hands.

Where their hands connect there is an explosion of forget-me-nots. They weave in and out of the blooms on Grantaire’s hands, covering him halfway up his forearms and leaving almost no blank skin. Enjolras’s hands are blue, too; not the intense coverage that Grantaire has, but winding up nearly to his elbows, like lace. There are large ovals on his forearms, like a frame around his blooms there, so intentional and beautiful and Grantaire is in love.

Enjolras has a horrified look on his face and at that moment Grantaire recalls how warm his face feels and how soft Enjolras’s hand had felt against his cheek.

“Karma,” Grantaire says hoarsely. How many times had he fucking imagined the exact inverse of this situation? Karma. Fuck everything—fucking blooms on his fucking face. At least it wasn’t on his lips? Grantaire laughs and tries to ignore how stricken Enjolras looks. Jesus his head is spinning. He has to say something, has to make this okay somehow, because Enjolras looks like he’s about to cry.

Bahorel shoves the door open, carrying Jehan bridal style. “Joly! Enjolras! I think he hit his head—he won’t wake up!”

Enjolras darts him a last horrified look before schooling himself into something less effected looking. They’re carrying Joly out of Grantaire’s field of vision, but their voices are all melding together.

The noise of the commotion is making Grantaire feel more dizzy and he decides to take matters into his own hands. He staggers to his feet and drags himself to the door. They’re distracted with Jehan. He knows they’ll feel bad later, but in the meantime, fuck this.

He pushes outside and winces at the brightness. His head feels like it’s splitting. There’s a stranger leaning up against a car. “Shit,” he says. “Did you order an uber?”

Grantaire shakes his head minutely, because he’s worried if he does more than that he’ll be sick. Again.

“Are you okay?”

Grantaire is close enough now that he can see his reflection in the window of the car. There’s blood on his face, still running down his face, and there on his right cheek and jaw line and fading into scruff are his forget-me-nots, and a few bud on the reverse temple, and he looks like a Renaissance painting, like old fashioned notions of what beauty is, and also like he got hit by a car. He sways dangerously far and barely catches himself.

“Hospital,” Grantaire says, and hopes it’s intelligible. He’s been concussed before, but this one feels worse.

“Uh, yeah. Right, okay. Forget my rider, he’ll be fine. Get in the back, c’mon, here,” the stranger leads him into the back seat. “Try your hardest not to vom, okay?” The car ride is bumpy and after a minute or two Grantaire gives up and closes his eyes.

The next time he wakes up he is in hospital, and it’s sort of sad that he’s been in enough hospitals that he can recognize them with his eyes closed. Someone is humming and despite the gross hospital smell, it’s not a bad way to wake up. Or that could be the drugs that he is absolutely on; his head barely hurts and he is warm and tingly down to his toes.

He opens his eyes, and there is a beautiful nurse with a buzz cut standing by his beside, and she smiles at him when he turns his head to hers. “Good afternoon!”

Grantaire groans a greeting. His mouth is dry. His nurse and possibly new found guardian angel laugh, and places a cup of water in his hand and helps guide it to his mouth. “Um, hi,” he says, now that his mouth has started working, because he is nothing if not terrible at being eloquent.

“My name’s Fantine, I’m going to help take care of you. How are you feeling, Mr.—“

“Call me R, please. I feel like I was hit by a tank. What’s the sitch?”

Fantine smiles at him. She reminds him of Cosette, but with slightly harder edges. “You were brought in with a concussion. Since you were in and out consciousness, we gave you a ct scan to make sure you didn’t have bleeding or unexpected swelling, and lucky for you there was nothing unexpected. So as soon as you give us the name of a friend who can watch you for the next twenty-four hours, we can release you. You were very out of it, but best we can tell it was the head injury coupled with dehydration and shock.”

He chalks that all up to memories he is not going to get back and decides it’s not worth worrying about. “Yaaay,” Grantaire says with no inflection, and Fantine laughs because she is sweet. “I have an emergency contact in my phone, though.”

Fantine is clearly ready for that question. She hands him a three-fold pamphlet and he stares at it, blearily, waiting for his brain to come online and decipher it. “One third of people who have their soulmate blooms on their faces—”

Grantaire realizes what she’s about to say and prays for the sweet release of being anywhere else. “NOPE.”

“—report partner abuse and we try—”

“No thank you, please no thank you.” Grantaire covers his entire face with his hands, which would have been easier to do if he didn’t have an IV in one of them.

“—to ask our patients the cause of their injuries before calling their emergency contacts—”

“Seriously, please stop.”

“—so there is no one here to pressure you to change your answer. I’m taking from your response that this isn’t your situation.” Her voice sounds icier, but he doesn’t really blame her. He doesn’t like being ambushed.

He groans into his hands, and then lowers them from his face like an actual functional adult. He’s going to have to get used to this, unless he’s changing his profession from starving artist to ninja. Or maybe clown. “Yeah, no. Not me. But I will say, good policy, blah, blah, I appreciate what you’re doing, et cetera. I loiter around with Les Amis, and let me say, they’d be thrilled with your initiative. Also, I’ve had a soulmate for like, I’m guessing, maybe six hours? And most of that I have been concussed.”

She’s smiling at him, still, so maybe the iciness was in his head. “Take a pamphlet, anyway. For me. Best case scenario, your group is welcome to photocopy them yourselves and distribute.” She pauses. “Les Amis? Were you at the rally this morning?”

Grantaire makes demonstrative gesture at his face. “Tada.”

Fantine hums, eyebrows scrunching in thought. “I’d be happy to speak to your group, if they’re interested. I believe I saw an article written by one of your co-founders on medical bias against people without blooms?”

“Yeah my—Enjolras. He’d definitely be interested in talking more about that.” The eyebrow thing, Enjolras does that too, and Grantaire feels overfull of loss. Enjolras is his soulmate, he should be ecstatic, figuratively jumping for joy until he’s allowed to jump around again, and then probably literally, too. But the horrified look on Enjolras’s face, the straight up terror as he had backed away from Grantaire—no, Grantaire was putting off even the most metaphysical of jumping probably indefinitely, but at least until after he had talked to Enjolras. So maybe indefinitely, anyway.

Being Enjolras’s soulmate was supposed to be the best scenario, but fuck if Grantaire’s life could ever go according to plan. “Is that your job here? Asking everyone with face-blooms and bruises where they got them?”

Fantine gives him a very patient smile, which he’s pretty sure he doesn’t deserve. “Short answer: yes.”

Grantaire tries to imagine that, but he can’t because he’s a coward. “How much does that suck?”

“A lot,” she admits. “But it feels good, too—knowing I’m helping change someone’s life. And I do. Help people, frequently.”

Grantaire tries not to roll his eyes. All these people who want to change the world, and he can barely change his socks. “Why do you think that it happens?”

Fantine is still smiling, maybe a little baffled now. To be fair, it wasn’t Grantaire’s clearest question, but also in the interest of fairness, he figures he can argue concussion. “Why what happens?”

“People, being bad to their soulmates. I’ve never gotten it. Like this is the person or people who are supposed to be perfect for you, supposed to be like, written in the stars for you, and yet there’s soulmate spousal abuse? Like how does that work?” Grantaire gets how Enjolras gets so rage-filled about these things; he is not immune to the outrage, he just doesn’t think he can help.

“Do you want my opinion?” Fantine asks him. He nods, and she sits down on the edge of his bed. “I think soulmates are the people who should fit together, if everything goes well. And of course it doesn’t. Things happen, people…change. People who could have been perfect fits for one another aren’t.”

Grantaire whistles. “Are you a philosopher or a nurse?”

Fantine laughs. “I was a philosophy major before I became a nurse. I thought that I would unravel the world’s mysteries.” She sounds wistful, but not unhappy. Maybe nostalgic. Grantaire envies that a little; his past is nothing he wants to think about, nothing that feels at all positive.

“What happened?”

“My soulmate wasn’t a perfect fit. I had a kid. I wanted to make the world better for her, for everyone else.” She pats his hand. It’s a motherly gesture, one he can’t remember his mother ever doing and he gets a little choked up.

He turns away from her, because he has shown too many emotions over the last few months and he’s starting to agree with Eponine, that feelings are bullshit. “Can you call my friends for me?”

Fantine pants his hand again. “Yes, of course.” She gets the number from him, and leaves him alone in the room, which is sort of worse. He doesn’t like being alone at the best of times, and right now he’s got a headache, permanent flowers on his face, and soulmate who has all but rejected him.

Eponine shows up twenty minutes later, her forget-me-not’d hand clenched in Combeferre’s, which is a shock (only because it wasn’t there before, not because he didn’t think they were soulmates, like he has eyes), and Enjolras following behind them like a kicked puppy. Grantaire didn’t suspect that, somehow, and it wasn’t a thing he was at all prepared to handle.

Eponine releases Combeferre’s hand and walks over to Grantaire and glares. “You stupid fucker!”

Grantaire grins. “I did the responsible thing! Here I am, in the hospital.”

She growls at him. “If you didn’t have a concussion I would smack you. You just left. Enjolras has been pacing our apartment floor for so many hours I think he left a hole, and Joly couldn’t stop crying until the hospital called us because he was worried you died because of him and oh my god what is on your face?!”

He continues to grin, survival instincts temporarily overwritten by the knowledge of the fact that Eponine can’t help but coddle him when he’s hurt. “I decided I wanted to lean into that very, very retro look, you like?” His grin slips a little bit. “Someone let Joly know I’m fine? And how’s Jehan?”

Enjolras steps forward. He stands at attention, so visibly uncomfortable that Grantaire would laugh, if it were not for the fact that Enjolras would probably never speak to him again. “He’s fine. He sprained his ankle and then fainted.”

Grantaire actually laughs at that. Enjolras steps closer again. Eponine obligingly steps away, lets him come closer. He reaches out like he’s going to grab Grantaire’s hand, but then doesn’t at the last second. “No reason not to touch me, now,” Grantaire says, because he’s a masochist.

Enjolras reaches out slowly, intertwines their fingers.

“Gross,” Eponine says, but she’s smiling. “I’ll go fill out your release papers.” She and Combeferre leave them alone, which Grantaire is both incredibly grateful for and very unhappy about.

“What happened with the rally? With Lamarque?” Grantaire asks, before Enjolras can make this be a feelings rally.

Enjolras seems a little thrown, which means he was absolutely going to make this be a feelings conversation. “It was just a smoke bomb; a lot of people injured, no one killed. The senator made a statement, said this exemplifies the sort of violence and prejudice that people without ‘acceptable’ bodies face, and that it proves the need for his bill now more than ever. Since a lot of people were hurt, which probably increases the likelihood that the bill will go somewhere.”

“So potentially a better outcome than if the rally had gone as planned.”

Enjolras laughs weakly. “Potentially, yeah. But that’s not important right now. You ran away,” Enjolras says, and it’s an accusation, but a gentle one. “I turned my back for a second and you were just gone. I was sure you were dead in a ditch somewhere. I don’t think I’ve ever been that panicked in life. If you had died—if that had been the last time I had seen you? Unacceptable. Entirely unacceptable.”

“In my defense, you looked at me like I personally responsible for everything wrong with France.” Grantaire pulls his eyes reluctantly from their joined hands, because he really needs to see Enjolras’s face. He regrets it almost immediately because Enjolras looks agonized again, and he did that.

“You said—you explicitly told me—not the face. And I fucked that up. I was worried and I wasn’t thinking straight and I just did it and now you—”

“Have a more floral, though ugly as ever,” he flounders, then settles on “countenance,” because it sounds fancy. He grins, shows all his teeth, combative and tired and still sort of warm all over. He shouldn’t bait Enjolras, who looks exhausted and is paying him a surprising compliment. Or possibly engaging in a very elaborate prank.

Enjolras stands in stunned silence for a long moment and Grantaire could revel in his loss of words, were it not for the look on his face, which is somehow getting more and more hurt by the second. “Jesus, Grantaire, no! I—you—I—fuck, R, I like your face. And I like seeing my forget-me-nots on it. I’m filled with a probably very problematic sense of, I don’t know, pride or satisfaction, because you have my flowers splashed across your face and everyone can see you’re mine.”

Grantaire’s heart starts thumping too hard in his chest, like it’s planning on breaking through his ribs and running off, which honestly might be an improvement. Feelings are gross and complicated and Enjolras seems to be flirting with him, but Enjolras also expresses emotions that aren’t Outrage At Society in baffling ways; this could be how Enjolras breaks up with people. “That’s the gayest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

It shocks the pained expression off Enjolras’s face, and he laughs in surprise. The drugs Grantaire is on are not strong enough that he’s remarkable high, but they are strong enough that he has to contend with the thought: Enjolras’s laughter sounds like sunlight. “I was definitely going for a gay vibe, to be sure.”

“So you like my face.”

Enjolras doesn’t look pained anymore, but he does get all serious again. “I do.”

Grantaire is just high enough that he doesn’t really try and stop himself from saying, “Would you like it better between your legs?” Enjolras chokes, going wide-eyed and blushy, and Grantaire only gets a little dizzy from laughing, so it’s worth it. “Just to be clear, because I have had a really long day, you’re not breaking up with me, right?”

“Why would I be—we’re soulmates!” Enjolras exclaims, like that’s an answer, then he sort of crumples and looks taken aback at himself, which is both funny and kind of tragic to watch. “Oh god, I’m fucking up again. I didn’t mean to imply—that is, I wasn’t trying to claim—I can’t believe—I’m sorry. I just…here I come, waltzing in and spouting antiquated viewpoints that I would reprimand anyone else for sharing, and just assuming that…that you…” Enjolras loses steam way earlier than Grantaire expects him to.

It’s sort of flattering that Enjolras’s first assumption is that naturally they’d stay together forever, because duh, soulmates. It’s not a forgone conclusion anymore, not everyone is Marius and Cosette who kissed one day and got engaged a week later, some soulmates split up, or never get together. The fact that Enjolras thought that was a possibility showed how very little he actually knows about Grantaire; wild horses, etc.

“Assuming that I…?” Grantaire prompts him, because the despite the fact that he might have just seen Enjolras at his least eloquent, he really needs to understand what is being said.

“Assuming you still wanted me.”

Grantaire takes a deep breath because holy shit, how did Enjolras get everything this painfully twisted. “Fuck, I honestly can’t believe I spent years of my life thinking I was too stupid for you. All that fucking wasted time. Also, please don’t be this dumb in front of other people.”

Enjolras nods morosely, then again, more controlled; he reins in all of his feelings tightly, like he actually is a statue. He releases Grantaire’s hand and takes a step back. He opens his mouth, and Grantaire is sure whatever Enjolras is about to say is going to be wrong and set them back again.

“Jesus, Enjolras. Get your punk ass back over here.” Enjolras does, reluctantly, head down like he thinks he’s about to be scolded. Grantaire racks his brain for a good line, but his head is fuzzy so he just gives in and parrots back Enjolras’s bullshit. “I’ve been thinking. And I would really like to kiss you.”

Enjolras’s face goes dopey and gross in one milliseconds, and he’s smiling, tentatively, like Grantaire is the more likely one in situation to be fucking around. He leans in and yes, this is exactly what Grantaire was waiting for, but then he pauses. “Are you sober enough to consent to that?”

Grantaire groans with the most irritation he can muster and glares. “I swear to god, if you don’t kiss me in the next five seconds I am never speaking to you ever again. I have kissed a lot of less important people way more fucked up and if you don’t k—”

Enjolras does, and it is pretty much everything Grantaire has waited actual years for. Enjolras places his hands back against Grantaire’s forget-me-nots and Grantaire is suddenly significantly harder than he’d want to be with only a thin hospital blanket to ensure his modesty. Enjolras’s hands are back on his cheek, barely a presence because he’s being so gentle, and it stirs something warm inside Grantaire’s chest that Enjolras thinks he warrants such care. Grantaire wants to pull away and tell Enjolras that he isn’t that easy to break, but he both doesn’t want to end the kiss, and maybe does feel a little breakable right now.

Enjolras pulls away first, rests his forehead against Grantaire’s. “I would like to continue dating you.”

Grantaire is smiling dopily, and he just had the best kiss of his life, honestly what the absolute fuck is Enjolras talking about? “What did I stay about being stupid?”

Enjolras clearly does not understand what that means in the context. He glances at their hands, like he’s insure whether the right move is come closer or run away.

“Enjolras!” Grantaire yells, because literally how is this happening. “Yes I want to date you, fucking god, you cannot be this fucking oblivious, it boggles the mind, Apollo, my mind is boggled.”

Enjolras smiles a little shyly, which is charming as hell and Grantaire’s head is still a little fuzzy, but he wants to remember this moment forever.

Grantaire frowns. “We should have had Courfeyrac take minutes.”

Enjolras is still smiling, but his eyes are narrowed in suspicion. “Minutes…for our conversation?”

Grantaire nods absently. Enjolras’s hand has come back up to his cheek and Grantaire would really like to keep in there forever. “Mhmm. My experience with concussions is if I’m incoherent I remember everything but if I’m speaking intelligibly, probably it’ll all be fuzzy tomorrow, and I don’t want to forget this.”

“I’ll remind you,” Enjolras says. “Ad nauseam. Until you’re sick of hearing about it.”

“Good. Let’s be gross and emotionally healthy. Bahorel will be proud of us.”

Enjolras snorts. “I don’t know if Bahorel gets to say anything about anyone else’s behavior; the last time I was at his apartment, he was drinking coffee out of a bowl and making really intense eye contact.”

Grantaire laughs, and doesn’t stop, even when Eponine comes back in and rolls her eyes at him repeatedly. They let him leave with his friends, with strict instructions to come back if anything gets worse.

Combeferre and Enjolras accompany them back in an honest to god taxi. “I thought they were extinct!” Grantaire hisses to Eponine, who laughs at him. Grantaire gets dizzy on the stairs, and it’s good that their soulmates came along, because Eponine can usually maneuver him when he’s drunk, but drugged, dizzy and concussed is different.

They set Grantaire up in his bed and he falls asleep almost instantly, a little on top of Enjolras, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He wakes dizzy and irritable and with his head aching like it’s caught in a vice.

“How are you feeling?” Enjolras asks him. Enjolras, who is in bed with him.

“Like a train hit me. What are you doing here?” Grantaire racks his brain. He gets snippets: forget-me-nots, concussion, humming nurse, a kiss? It’s hazy, but sort of there.

Enjolras’s eyes widen in surprise before he smiles. “Short version: we’re soulmates, you had a concussion, I came here to help take care you.”

Grantaire grumbles. “If you’re my soulmate does that mean I can keep cuddling you?” Enjolras laughs. Grantaire notices there’s an open book on his lap, and it’s The Deathly Hallows. “Read to me?”

Enjolras nods obligingly. “Both of those things are doable,” he says, and then he reads. He does silly voices, which Grantaire sort of assumes are for him, but also could easily just be a part of who Enjolras is, and another part of who Enjolras is, is Grantaire’s soulmate and it’s incredible and worth the cacophony in his head.

He must fall asleep while Enjolras is reading, because the next thing he’s aware of is waking up. He’s alone, which feels wrong, but he’s fuzzy on why. He feels grimy and his head pangs as he tries to sit up. He hasn’t felt this bad since that time his weed had been cut with something harder. His freshman year someone, and he wasn’t going to name names (Montparnasse, it was Montparnasse), had sold him pot that had made him shake and sweat and cry for days, which is why he usually only smoked with someone he trusted (like literally anyone who wasn’t Montparnasse).

Sitting up he realizes he needs to pee and stands, unsteadily, and walks towards his goal. A couple people are sitting at the table in the kitchen and he waves without seeing who it is before shutting himself in the bathroom. He looks in the mirror as he’s washing his hands and yells, “What the fuck?!” before he can stop himself.

He stomps back out into the kitchen, where Combeferre, Eponine, and Enjolras are sitting frozen, coffee cups have lifted to lips. Eponine recovers first. “R,” she says sweetly, because she has absolutely played this role before in the dramedy that is his life. “You hit your head yesterday and got a concussion.”

Grantaire is stuck looking at Enjolras because last he checked they were in a fight? But if he had a concussion then it was really anyone’s guess. “Did I hit my head on my soulmate?”

Eponine adopts a wan smile. “Enjolras, why don’t you take this?” She visibly kicks him under the table when he doesn’t stand quickly enough.

Enjolras bolts up. “Your room…?” He reaches out and tangles a forget-me-not’ed hand with Grantaire’s, which also, holy shit, have soulmate blooms and Grantaire sends Eponine a look of sheer wide-eyed panic, and as his door closes he can hear her laugh.

Enjolras guides him down onto the bed and sits next to him, fingers still tangled together in floral knots, and Grantaire is smart enough to figure out what’s going on. “So was this is accident or were you like, trying to upset me?” Enjolras makes a truly torn-up looking face and Grantaire gets a flash of them in a hospital room and Enjolras looking near to tears. “Don’t answer that, of course it was an accident.”

“It was,” Enjolras swears. His blue-tipped fingers are so beautiful and Grantaire wants to kiss them and paint them and hold them for the rest of his life. “I would never hurt you on purpose, R.”

“What’s our stance on kissing?”

Enjolras grins. “Committee says, net positive,” he says, because Grantaire wouldn’t have a soulmate who wasn’t a dork.

He lifts Enjolras hand to his eye-line and brings his face closer. “May I?” he asks, and at Enjolras’s jerky nod, presses a kiss to Enjolras’s slender fingers. Grantaire glances up at Enjolras, who looks awed, completely overcome, and Grantaire might die of happiness.

Enjolras pulls his hand away from Grantaire’s mouth and kisses him with the sort of single-minded focus that Grantaire always imagined he would translate into kisses. He pulls Grantaire closer to him, until everything is Enjolras’s warm body and smooth bits on skin and the amount that he doesn’t ever want to let go. Enjolras’s lips are soft and his fingertips are soft and his hair in Grantaire’s hands is soft and possibly Grantaire’s brain is also going soft because he is stalling on sweet kisses and gentle nips and the word soft.

They’re interrupted by Eponine pounding on the door. “Roomie rule number twelve—you cannot have sex while I’m here, my guy, so leave some fucking room for Jesus!”

Enjolras pulls away from him slowly, eyes fluttering open and face flushed. He laughs softly, and Grantaire can feel the little laughter breaths against his cheek. “What are your first eleven rules?”

Grantaire casts about for his most dubious expression. “Apollo, I couldn’t even tell you my own name right now.”

“Grantaire,” Enjolras says, like he thinks Grantaire was actually asking for help with that, and Grantaire takes that moment to live the expression my cup runneth over because his cup done fucking runneth over.

It takes a little over a week before his head gets back to normal. Enjolras spends time when he doesn’t have class, and everyone else comes to make sure he’s eating well and sleeping well, and it’s a nice break, but he’s ready to be done with being dizzy.

When he finally can stand without feeling woozy and have a conversation where he doesn’t drop words, he throws himself back into his life and his painting. He wants to paint Enjolras’s hands, desperately, but he owes it to himself to finish himself first, so he does. Grantaire finishes with the forget-me-nots on his face. He’s gotten used to them in weeks since the rally, but it’s still strange to walk into a room and have everyone know he is loved. He snorts.

“What is it?” Enjolras asks from the couch where he and Marius are attempting to study for their ethics class, in between bouts of arguing all points of their ethics class.

“Thinking of a title,” Grantaire answers as he carefully paints his last few blooms. He’s using an obnoxiously small brush for detail work and it’s irritating how clumsy it makes him feel, but at the same time, he wants his face to look like his face, and his face now has a dumb, detailed cluster of forget-me-nots on it.

Marius grins. “You should capitalize all the ‘r’s in your title! It would be extremely clever.” Grantaire hides a grin, which is easy because he’s faced away from them, but evidentially less easy for Enjolras. “Well, I thought it was clever. We can’t all be made of puns, or have the sense of humor of a brick wall.”

“I’ve met funnier brick walls than Enjolras,” Eponine says from the kitchen, where she is trying her hardest not to burn toast as Combeferre watches. Combeferre had been trying to teach her basic cooking, but eventually gave up and just tried to pass on his wisdom to Azelma and Gavroche, who were arguably not too far gone to learn.

Grantaire lets them bicker behind him, focused for the moment on a name. He’s almost shocked to be finished after a few months. His face looks like a product of the Renaissance, when people thought facial soulmates blooms were the height of love aesthetics, but he’s okay with it now. He has adjusted, like he always does. He settles on, “Loved, Portrait of a Man,” because everyone he knows hates that naming convention.

“Everything okay?” Enjolras asks, coming up behind him and wrapping Grantaire in his arms. Grantaire hadn’t even heart him move.

“Yeah,” he says, and it is.