Enjolras doesn’t realize anything’s wrong until he gets to the hotel. He opens his suitcase, looking for an aspirin to ward off a travel-induced headache, and everything is wrong.
He’s so jet-lagged that he just stares uncomprehending at the pile of jeans and flannel shirts where there should be jackets and ties. It takes him half a minute or more to figure out what happened.
He has the wrong suitcase. How can he have the wrong suitcase? He’s been traveling with the same suitcase since before university; he’d recognize it anywhere.
Except, apparently, on an airport baggage carousel.
Okay. It’s not the end of the world. He doesn’t have any meetings until tomorrow, and it’s only seven o’clock here. There’s plenty of time to get this sorted out.
If his suitcase had been left at baggage claim, surely they would have called him by now. So it stands to reason that someone else has his luggage—most likely, the person whose suitcase is sitting on his bed. All he has to do is call them and they can set up an exchange.
Enjolras checks the tag attached to the suitcase’s handle and finds that it’s water-damaged, blurred beyond all recognition. He rolls his eyes, which doesn’t do anything to help his headache, but it’s simply irresponsible to check a bag without clear contact information on the luggage tag. All he can make out is a capital R.
He takes a deep breath. He’s a firm believer in personal privacy, which makes him feel a little bit bad about what he’s about to do, but he can’t think of a single reasonable alternative.
He starts emptying out the suitcase, looking for any clue as to the owner’s identity.
There are three pairs of jeans, all worn pale at the knees and frayed at the hems, like they’re a little too long for their owner. One pair has a splash of purple paint at the hem, and another looks like it’s been accidentally bleached.
The pockets of all three pairs are empty.
The flannel shirts are equally unhelpful, though they suggest a fondness for a ’90s grunge aesthetic, and also for the color green. There are several pairs of silk boxers, which he ignores because they lack pockets and are therefore unlikely to be of any use to him, unless R-whatever is the type who sews his name into his underwear…
Carefully folded at the bottom of the suitcase are a pair of black dress pants and a crisp white button-down shirt. They’re expensive, well-made, and tailored—utterly at odds with the frayed and faded denim. Enjolras begins to wonder who in the hell this guy is.
The pockets of the dress pants are also empty. So much for the clothing.
He unzips the toiletries compartments one at a time, hoping with a sudden flush of embarrassment that Robert or Roger or whoever isn’t doing the same to his suitcase. There are some things that he’d rather keep private.
The first compartment contains nothing special—toothbrush, toothpaste, a travel bottle of shampoo that smells like cinnamon and sandalwood.
What? He was curious.
The second compartment holds condoms and lube, which isn’t exactly helpful, but now he’s slightly less worried about the other guy finding what’s in his suitcase.
The third contains a stack of business cards, held together with a rubber band. Enjolras breathes a sigh of relief, but when he looks at the name on the card, he has to laugh.
R. That’s all it says, in elegant script over a splash of what looks like watercolor paint, dripping down the card.
But there’s a phone number next to it. Enjolras slides his phone out of his pocket and calls.
It rings six times before someone picks it up. “Hello?”
"Hello. My name is Enjolras. I think I have your luggage…and I really, really hope that you have mine, too."
"It’s possible," he says, "but you could be anyone. Tell me something that’s in your suitcase that no one else would know about."
Enjolras’ face heats with a combination of embarrassment and indignation. R’s been through the suitcase then, and he’s seen everything.
But Enjolras is not going to give him the satisfaction of saying there’s a six-inch red silicone dildo in the top left pocket. “There’s a t-shirt that says Liberté, Egalité, Beyoncé,” he offers instead.
"Yeah, I was kind of wondering about that."
"It was a gift." Courfeyrac had presented it to him with an unholy amount of glee on his last birthday. He doesn’t wear it in public, but it’s nice to sleep in, and it makes him feel like his friends aren’t quite so far away from him.
"Okay, Enjolras. I’m willing to believe that you’re you."
"So what do you do?"
"I was trying to guess what you do by the contents of your suitcase, but t-shirt aside, it’s all so fucking generic. You could be anybody. You could be a lawyer or a CEO or a con artist—oh, please tell me you’re a con artist, that would be awesome—”
"I’m interning with the UN," Enjolras says shortly. "And don’t look through my stuff."
"You looked through mine, didn’t you?"
“Yes, but only because your luggage tag had gotten wet. The marker ran, and I couldn’t make out a phone number.”
"At least mine had a luggage tag.”
"There wasn’t a tag on yours at all."
Enjolras silently curses fate and the airline crew and whoever invented time-zones, because all he wants to do right now is sleep. “It must have gotten caught on something and torn off.”
"That makes sense. I was wondering if it was just a really random, absurdist way to meet new people. I could appreciate that."
Enjolras takes a deep breath and tries to put the conversation back on track. “Where are you staying?”
"That’s a little personal, isn’t it?"
"I’m at the Millennium UN. Are you anywhere nearby? Is there somewhere we can meet?"
"Meet me in the lobby. I’ll wear sunglasses and a fake mustache. You’ll ask me for the newspaper I’m not carrying, and I’ll give the countersign."
"What countersign?" Enjolras half-groans. He’s too tired for this.
"Relax, I’m teasing. I can be in the lobby of your hotel in half an hour or so. What do you look like?"
"There’s probably a mirror in your hotel room, if you’ve forgotten," R adds helpfully.
"I’m blond. Tall. Um, my hair’s long? And I’m wearing red."
"Okay. Blond hippie giant in red. Got it."
"I’m not—" Enjolras starts to protest, but R’s already hung up.
He doesn’t have any idea what R looks like—he never even asked for the guy’s actual name.
* * *
Twenty-five minutes later, he’s standing in the hotel lobby with R’s suitcase, idly watching people as they pass through the doors. There’s no point in trying to spot R, since he has no idea what R’s actually supposed to look like, but that doesn’t stop him.
Maybe he’ll recognize him by his suitcase.
Five minutes later, someone walks inside and stops, scanning the lobby. He catches sight of Enjolras and his eyes narrow for a second, and then he grins and his whole face lights up with it. He’s beautiful.
Enjolras was not prepared for him to be beautiful.
But it isn’t until R walks over to him that everything comes together. The paint on the jeans, the splashed watercolor of the business cards. The blue eyes and the wild tangle of curls finally tip him over into recognition.
"Oh. R. Like the artist.”
He smiles shyly and looks down. “Yeah. I’ve got a show opening this week.”
"I think I read that somewhere, I just never made the connection. I’m Enjolras," he adds.
"I figured." He sets the suitcase down. "So, I guess this is yours."
Enjolras nods. “And this is yours.” R leans forward to pick his suitcase up, and Enjolras catches the faint scent of cinnamon and sandalwood. He’s sorry when R steps back.
Enjolras takes back his own suitcase and feels a weight lift from his shoulders. He could have lived without the contents—though he would have missed the Liberté, Egalité, Beyoncé shirt—but having it back is a relief nonetheless.
"Remember to get a new tag for that," R says.
"Sure. You should think about getting a legible one for yours, too."
R makes a face at him. Even that's attractive. “How long are you in town?”
"Just a few days," he says, wondering what exactly R’s getting at.
"If you have a chance, you should come to the show. It’s sold out," he says, looking almost embarrassed, "but I’ve got a bunch of comped tickets and they’ll just go to waste otherwise."
"I—I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it," Enjolras admits. "I’m on kind of a tight schedule."
"You can say you don’t want to, it won’t hurt my feelings."
"No," he says quickly. "I’d like to go, I just don’t think I’ll have time. And I’d be an embarrassment, anyway. I don’t know the first thing about art."
"You don’t have to. Nobody’s going to quiz you about influences and symbolism. Plus there’s free champagne."
"Well, free champagne," Enjolras says with a faint smile. "How could I turn that down?"
"I’ll leave a ticket at the front office with your name, just in case. Oh, and you should take this." R holds out his hand.
Enjolras takes the card from him and frowns at the familiar script R. “What’s this?”
"I know that. You had dozens of them in your suitcase; it’s how I found you. Why are you giving me one?"
R’s smile is filthy-sweet. “In case you get tired of that toy in your suitcase.”
Title from Tom McRae's "Got a Suitcase, Got Regrets."
Originally posted at my Tumblr. Come and say hi!
"So did you just call to tell me you liked the show?"
The first thing he does is bolt the door of his hotel room and Google the hell out of R. Which is about as difficult as you'd expect, trying to look up someone who's known by a single letter. Even Wikipedia has him listed as R (artist)--there's no full name to be had.
But he does learn that R is about his age, was born in the south of France, and presumably studied art, though no one seems to know exactly where. He also learns that R's art is described as post-post-nihilist, which doesn't make any sense to Enjolras even after he reads the page it links to.
By the time he's done reading up on R, the jet-lag has fully caught up to him, and he falls asleep next to his laptop in the room's massive king bed.
If he dreams, he doesn't remember it.
* * *
Wednesday's meetings end two hours early, to the surprise of absolutely everyone. A few of the other interns immediately start scouring the Internet for last-minute Broadway tickets, but Enjolras shakes his head when they ask if he wants to go.
"Thanks," he says, "but I'm going to call it an early night."
Instead, he goes back to his hotel room, takes a shower, and looks up the gallery that's hosting R's show.
He only gets lost on the subway twice.
The gallery is in a converted warehouse, all brick and exposed steel beams. He steps inside, into a softly-lit hallway, and finds himself at the tail end of a very long line. He's the only one without a ticket in his hand.
When Enjolras gets to the head of the line, he smiles at the harried-looking college student sitting at the ticket booth. "Hi, there's supposed to be a ticket waiting for me."
The ticket agent's eyes sweep over Enjolras in a way that's decidedly judgmental. "Name?"
"It should be under Enjolras."
The agent flicks through a stack of tickets, and Enjolras starts to wonder if maybe R forgot to hold a ticket for him. Or maybe he put it under blond hippie giant in red. Or maybe it was just an empty promise.
No--it wasn't that. Any of the other things might be true, but R wasn't lying when he said he'd hold a ticket. Enjolras is sure of that.
"Oh." The ticket agent doesn't look bored anymore. His eyes are wide, and he smiles brightly when he hands the ticket over to Enjolras. "Here you are. Is there anything I can do for you, sir? Would you like some champagne?"
The ticket has a note on it, in a sharply slanting hand. Personal guest. --R
"Yeah," Enjolras says, eyeing the little flourish at the tail of the R. "That would be wonderful, actually."
He spends more than an hour wandering the gallery with a glass of champagne in hand. A lot of the pieces are dark and unsettling in a way that's both compelling and obnoxiously pessimistic, but there's no denying that R is incredibly talented. Enjolras can't claim to understand much of it, but he tries not to let that bother him.
He also tries not to be bothered by the fact that R isn't there. It's not that he expected R to be wandering around his own show every night...but maybe he'd hoped, a little.
Enjolras is one of the last to leave the gallery. It's still relatively early--so much so that the idea of calling it a night feels like a waste.
He stops in the hotel lobby, pulls out his phone, and calls R.
It's only polite to thank him for the ticket, after all.
R picks up much more quickly than last time. "Hello?"
"Hi. It's Enjolras," he says, in case R doesn't recognize the number. "From the suitcase thing?"
"I remember you. I didn't think I'd hear from you again, though. How are you?"
"I'm fine. I wanted to tell you that I liked your show."
"Really?" He can hear the grin in R's voice. "I'm glad you got to go."
"Thank you for leaving me the ticket."
"No problem. The galleries always set aside a few for me, and I never use them."
Enjolras wants to ask why not, but he can't. It's awfully personal territory for two people who don't even know each other.
"So did you just call to tell me you liked the show?" R asks slyly.
Enjolras' voice catches in his throat. "Not exactly."
"Well?" R prompts. "Come on, we've gone through each other's luggage, there's no reason to be shy anymore."
"I was wondering if you were busy tonight," Enjolras says in a rush.
"Then would you want to--"
R's immediate answer is enough to make Enjolras smile.
"Sorry," R says. "Would I want to what?"
Enjolras considers several different answers. Get coffee, have dinner, go for a walk. He takes a deep breath. "I'm in room 3204," he says instead.
"Give me twenty minutes."
Enjolras goes up to his room and spends the ensuing fifteen minutes pacing barefoot from one end of the hotel room to the other. This isn't something he does. He doesn't hook up with people on business trips. He hasn't hooked up with anyone in recent history, hence the dildo in his suitcase.
The dildo that R has seen.
That thought has come back to haunt him at the most inopportune times over the last few days. During meetings, at lunch, as a sudden thought that jerks him back from the edge of sleep. R had seen the toy in the suitcase--he'd given Enjolras his number in case he got tired of it. R must have thought about him using it, thought about what he'd like to do to Enjolras instead...
Someone knocks on the door. Enjolras glances through the peep-hole, but all he can see is R's hair.
He opens the door, and R steps inside. He's wearing a green flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled back, unbuttoned over a black t-shirt, and the paint-splattered jeans that Enjolras remembers from the suitcase. He's going to assume the presence of silk boxers until he has the opportunity to find out for sure.
Enjolras closes the door, locks it, and slides the chain into place. After a moment's thought, he undoes the locks, sticks the 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the outside handle, and locks them again.
"I brought you something," R says. He holds out a plastic luggage tag with I ♥ NY emblazoned on the back. Enjolras takes it, laughing, and R kisses him.
Enjolras' mouth is open in mid-laugh, and he closes it suddenly, nipping R's bottom lip in the process. R groans and nudges them back until Enjolras' shoulders are flush against the door.
Enjolras drops the luggage tag in favor of anchoring one hand in R's hair and using the other to pull him closer, catching his fingers in one of R's belt-loops. The door-chain rattles when R leans in, pinning Enjolras against the door with his hips.
R's tongue darts into Enjolras' mouth quickly, teasingly, before he trails a line of kisses across Enjolras' cheek. "How long have you been thinking about this?" he asks, his mouth hot on the angle of Enjolras' jaw.
Enjolras closes his eyes and concentrates on staying upright. "Since I heard your voice on the phone."
R's laugh is a warm puff of air against Enjolras' throat. "Really?"
"I liked your accent," he says, a bit breathlessly. It was like his, or almost, and his voice had been wry and amused, and not half as flustered as Enjolras had been.
He pushes R back gently. They've gotten a little off-center, and the handle of the door is digging into his spine. R gives him a concerned look.
"Bed," Enjolras explains.
His expression brightens instantly. He kicks off his boots, and they sit side-by-side on the edge of the bed. There's nowhere else to sit, really, even if they wanted to maintain some pretense of civility.
Not that there's anything civil in the way that R has untucked Enjolras' shirt so that he can slide his hands over the bare skin beneath.
Enjolras shoves the flannel shirt off R's shoulders and tugs at the t-shirt underneath, rucking it up until R pulls away to yank it over his head. It leaves his hair messier than before, but the wild tangle of it suits him better than the half-tamed curls.
R uses the loosened knot of Enjolras' tie to pull him into a rough kiss while his hands tug at the knot. He winds one end around his hand and pulls, and the tie slithers to the bed between them. He works open the buttons of Enjolras' shirt next, leaving it hanging open over his chest.
Enjolras shifts his shoulders and lets the shirt fall. He's already leaning forward to push R down onto the bed when R's wide-eyed look stops him.
"Ink?" R asks, mouth open in a delighted grin. "I never would have thought..."
Enjolras resists the urge to cover the tattoo just below his collarbone--a rust-black liberté, in Robespierre's half-legible scrawl. Instead, he reaches out and palms R through his jeans, dropping him back onto the bed with a groan. He unbuttons R's jeans and tugs them down, intent on subjecting him to the same level of scrutiny R's currently giving him.
He barely gets the jeans past R's hips before he realizes that there are no silk boxers. There are no boxers at all, just bare skin and the thick, hard length of R's cock. Enjolras looks up and finds R grinning down at him.
"What?" he asks, blinking innocently.
Enjolras yanks R's jeans off. He curls his fingers around the base of R's cock and watches the smirk slide off his face, his lips parting as the breath rushes out of him in a sigh. He draws his hand up in a long, slow stroke, and R's hips jerk towards him helplessly.
"Asshole," R mutters. "Take off your pants."
Enjolras laughs and pulls away, relishing R's pout as he lets go of his cock. He unzips his pants and lets them fall to the floor.
"Aw. No more tattoos?"
"Oh, I didn't say that," R counters, his voice warm.
Enjolras' face burns, but he doesn't look away. "I'm surprised you don't have any, as artistic as you are."
R wrinkles his nose. "Scared of needles," he admits.
Enjolras kneels on the bed and kisses him. R brushes the back of his hand along Enjolras' cock, knuckles just barely skimming over the skin, and Enjolras shivers, leaning closer.
"What do you want?" he asks, letting his lips brush R's skin as he speaks.
"You really want to know?"
"I want you to use the toy," R says. "I want to watch you fuck yourself on it."
Enjolras blinks and draws back just far enough to properly focus on him. "Really?" He can't imagine why R would find that interesting, not when he could be the one fucking Enjolras.
A flush spreads across the bridge of R's nose. "I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since I saw it in your suitcase."
Enjolras bends down to press a kiss to the tip of R's nose. "Sure," he says. "If that's what you'd like." He gets up and opens his suitcase to find the black drawstring bag inside. He'd had half-formed plans to use it tonight, anyway--though he'd expected to be rather more alone.
Inside the bag is a bottle of lube and the dildo. He lies down on the bed next to R, uncaps the bottle, and pours lube onto two fingers.
He closes his eyes while he stretches himself open--he can't watch R watching him do this--but the sound of a shaky exhale is enough to tell him that he has R's attention, at least.
The dildo is relatively narrow (narrower than R, his mind treacherously supplies), so it doesn't take much preparation. And he's familiar with it--more so than he'd like to be, all things considered. He knows exactly how much he needs.
He withdraws his fingers and coats the dildo with lube. Then he lies down, half-curled on his side, and reaches back.
It's awkward, getting into position, finding the right angle, but there's usually no one to see it. He tries to hurry, afraid that R's going to get bored watching him frown and fumble.
But when he dares to flick a glance up at R, he's watching him raptly, eyes wide and dark. It's unnerving in the half-light, and Enjolras closes his eyes again, focusing.
He takes a deep breath and works the toy deeper. He's concentrating so hard that he's actually surprised when the shaft bottoms out, and he gives himself a patient ten-count to get used to the feeling.
He slides the toy out and back in a few times in slow, even thrusts, judging by the changing look on R's face what he likes to see. He's never done this for anyone, never put on a show, and he wants R to like it.
But after a few minutes, he starts to get caught up in it. He doesn't forget that R is there--that thrill of being watched never goes away--but it becomes slightly less about him and more about finding the perfect angle, keeping a rhythm somewhere just on the edge of satisfying. He's been hard since R pinned him back against the door, and now his body is begging him to do something about it.
R trails a hand up Enjolras' side, blunt nails leaving goosebumps in their wake. "Is it good?"
Enjolras draws in a shivering breath and nods.
"Can I...?" His hand glides back down, coming to rest on the curve of Enjolras' ass.
"God, please." He lifts his hand away, and R takes hold of the flared base of the toy. He pulls back about half an inch and then slowly presses forward again. Enjolras rocks back to meet him.
It's good, having someone else in control. The anticipation of not knowing exactly when a thrust will come, or how hard, lends a new thrill to the familiar feeling of the shaft inside of him.
He lifts his head and looks over his shoulder at R. "Harder?"
R's breath seems to stutter in his throat. He nods, and the next thrust is rougher, less tentative. The moan that escapes Enjolras' lips is loud and helpless, so R does it again. And again.
Every shift and twist of his fingers plays itself out along the length of the toy, changing the angle in tiny, overwhelming increments. Enjolras pushes back against R, against the toy, and curls his hands into fists, fighting the urge to take himself in hand and just--
He opens his eyes. "Wait."
The word slips out of him in a gasp, but R's hand stills instantly. "What is it?"
It takes him a moment to assemble the words into a complete sentence. "I'd rather have you than the toy," he says at last. "If you don't mind."
R makes a sound, deep in his throat, and gently pulls the dildo out of him. It feels like a step backward, the abrupt emptiness, and Enjolras bites down on a sigh even though he knows it's in service of better things. He watches through his lashes as R climbs off the bed and pulls a condom out of the pocket of his abandoned jeans.
R sits down on the bed again, and Enjolras feels a little guilty that, aside from that first teasing stroke, he's hardly touched him at all. He reaches out to make up for his neglect, but R catches his hand, long fingers circling Enjolras' wrist.
"Don't," he pleads. "I'll come if you do."
"But I haven't even--"
He laughs, high and tight and helpless. "Do you have any idea what you look like? What you sound like? I could come just watching you."
Enjolras bites his lip and looks away, unable to stand the heat of R's inspection.
"Oh, don't do that, either," R groans, and Enjolras looks up at him, wide-eyed.
"I'm not doing anything!"
"You're blushing. And not just your face, but--all over, all down your throat and your chest. It's adorable."
Enjolras covers his face with one hand. "Are you finished?"
Enjolras takes the condom from him and tears open the wrapper, then fits it over R's cock with ease, if not with steady hands. R's head tips back and his breath comes fast and shallow.
"How do you want me?" he asks, and Enjolras is pleased to note that his voice is shaky.
Enjolras considers, and then turns over to lie on his back. "Like this?"
R stares at him like he's committing every inch of him to memory. "I--yeah. Yes." He picks up the bottle of lube. "Fingers first, or are you okay?"
"I'm fine, just--now, please."
R opens the bottle, and Enjolras watches the muscles in his stomach jump and tense as he strokes himself, spreading the lube. He sets the bottle aside and kneels between Enjolras' legs. Enjolras adjusts to give him a better angle, lifting his hips and drawing his knees up.
R braces one hand on Enjolras' knee and uses the other to help guide him as he pushes in. He's bigger than the toy, but not so big that the change is painful. Enjolras lets his head fall back to the mattress and tries to remember to breathe.
He's longer than the toy, as well, and it feels like an age before R is settled inside him. R looks a little dazed, and the room feels too warm. He drags his hands up Enjolras' body to twine their fingers together, pressing his hands to the mattress above his head. He cocks an eyebrow. "Okay?"
Enjolras is pinned, held perfectly in place by R's hands and hips and cock. He nods, and R bends down to kiss him, slow and open-mouthed. The motion rocks them both, shifting his cock inside Enjolras, and Enjolras muffles his groan against R's lips.
R eases forward in a shallow thrust. It's slow and careful, and Enjolras locks his legs around R's waist for leverage. The rhythm they set is a hybrid thing, built from R's caution and Enjolras' abandon.
Enjolras lifts his hips to meet each thrust, finding the angle that makes every tiny movement feel like electricity under his skin. R exhales a shaky stream of curses, and Enjolras wonders dimly when they slipped into French.
Or maybe they've been speaking it all along. He can't remember, and it probably doesn't matter. They're largely beyond words now.
R's breathing is ragged when he kisses Enjolras again. It's uncoordinated, a mess of a kiss, until R bites down on Enjolras' bottom lip and sucks. Enjolras writhes, rutting up against R in search of the friction he can't quite get on his own. If this goes on much longer, he won't need R's hand on him, but it would be so much better that way--
It's like R can tell how close he is. He shifts his weight onto one hand and curls the other around Enjolras' cock. Enjolras rolls his hips, pushing up into R's fist and back onto his cock, far past any kind of rhythm.
But R is still somehow in control. His hands keep pace as his hips begin to move faster, snapping forward relentlessly as he draws them both closer to the edge.
"Enjolras--shit, I can't--" R's spine bows when he comes, driving deep into Enjolras. The last thrust matches itself to the rough pull of R's hand on his cock, and Enjolras comes with a sharp cry that he will flat-out deny for the rest of his days. His legs tighten around R's waist as he rides it out, the drag of R's cock drawing the moment out indefinitely.
R bends forward, resting his forehead against Enjolras' as they both catch their breath. Enjolras tips his head up to kiss him in a lazy, sated slide of lips and tongues.
When they're both a little steadier, R carefully pulls out of him and drops down onto the bed beside Enjolras, who tries to pull himself back from the brink of sleep. There are things he needs to say to R, like are you staying and please stay and let's do this again in the morning, but he can't quite get a handle on the words in any of the languages he knows.
He curls up next to R and closes his eyes.
* * *
Enjolras wakes up with the blanket tucked around his shoulders; the other side of the bed is empty and cool. He doesn't allow himself the fantasy of pretending the R might just be in the bathroom. Either he hadn't understood that Enjolras wanted him to stay, or he hadn't wanted to stay. It's a shame either way, because he'd set the alarm early enough that they could have shared a shower.
He takes a boring, solitary shower instead, keeping the water a little colder than he wants, and he wonders why he's disappointed. Sure, they could have fooled around in the shower, and it would have been great, but after that? He'll be back in Paris in three days, and R will be off to some other art show in some other city, some other country. By the time he rinses his hair and turns off the shower, he knows that R had the right idea--a clean break is definitely better.
He almost doesn't notice it. He's dressed and ready to go, in the act of scooping up his room key from the desk, when he sees that the blank pad of hotel stationery is considerably less blank than it was last night.
On the top sheet is a ballpoint drawing of Enjolras, asleep.
It's not a sketch--a sketch implies roughness, something unfinished, and there's nothing on the page but smooth, deliberate lines. It's a profile view, head and shoulders and the faintest suggestion of the liberté tattoo where the drawing fades to white space. Some artistic license has certainly been taken, because his hair never looks that good spilled across the pillow, especially not after he's just gotten laid. The whole thing is, overall, somewhat prettier than it ought to be.
At first he thinks it isn't signed, but there's a tiny, graceful R caught in a curl of Enjolras' hair.
He carefully pulls the sheet off the top of the notepad and tucks it in between the pages of his leisure reading--a biography of Karl Marx, for which Courfeyrac had teased him mercilessly.
On the way out the door, he spies the I ♥ NY luggage tag on the floor, and he smiles.
Sorry this took so long. I get ridiculous stage-fright when publishing anything explicit.
I don't think there's such a thing as post-post-nihilist, but it seems like the kind of thing that R would invent.
I have a tumblr! Come say hi!
Enjolras moves on. Or that's what he's telling himself, at least...
Most people knock when they come into Enjolras' apartment, even though they all have keys by now.
Courfeyrac is not most people; Enjolras has known this for a long time.
So when Courfeyrac nudges open the bathroom door, Enjolras just continues wrapping the towel around his hips. “Good morning. Can I help you?”
“Hi. I'm looking for that book on Marx.”
Enjolras tucks the loose end of the towel in, just so he can properly fold his arms. “You mean the one you made fun of me for reading?”
“I made fun of you for taking it to read on the plane to New York. Everybody knows that travel is an excuse to read trashy spy novels, not incredibly dense biographies. Now is the time for incredibly dense biographies, because there's something Marius' professor said that I'm sure is wrong, but I need a source to cite.”
Enjolras is willing to help in anything that might get Marius through his exams without a breakdown. “It's on the shelf next to the door, help yourself.”
“Great, thanks.” Courfeyrac goes back down the hall, leaving Enjolras to get dressed in peace.
By the time he comes out into the living room, he expects Courfeyrac to be long gone, but he's still standing by the door with the book open in his hand.
“Is that the wrong one? I think I have a different biography in a box of stuff from university—” He breaks off.
Courfeyrac is holding a small sheet of paper in his other hand, and Enjolras has a sudden, vivid memory of tucking R's sketch into the pages of the Marx book two weeks ago.
He holds out his hand. “Sorry, I forgot that was in there.”
“No, thank you.”
But Courfeyrac has already moved on, deducing out loud like an increasingly excited Sherlock Holmes. “You didn't draw it, obviously. You don't draw, and even if you did, it's not like you could draw yourself sleeping. And you wouldn't flatter yourself with perfect hair, either. And the fact that it's on hotel stationery that says Millennium U.N...”
“Did you get laid in New York, Enjolras?”
“In what way would that be even slightly your business?”
“...In the way that I would be obligated to offer you congratulations?” he hazards.
Enjolras takes a deep breath. “I met someone, we had a very nice evening, and that was it.”
“And he drew your portrait. While you slept.”
“Yes. And I would like it back, now.”
Courfeyrac hands it over. “Congratulations,” he says solemnly.
Enjolras rolls his eyes. “Go prove Marius' professor wrong,” he says, and Courfeyrac leaves, still grinning.
Enjolras finds himself staring at the drawing after Courfeyrac goes. How long had R sat there sketching him? Sitting on the edge of the bed, or curled up in the desk chair, glancing up from the paper to gauge the resemblance...
And he'd still left before Enjolras had woken up.
He tucks the picture away where it won't get lost, or seen by anyone else unexpectedly. It's his, and although everyone will eventually find out that it exists—Courfeyrac can't keep good news to himself—some things should be private. What happened between him and R can stay between the two of them. It happened, it was lovely, and it's over now. That's all there is to it.
* * *
Enjolras puts R out of his mind entirely and throws himself into his work. Everything is fine for weeks, and then for months. And if he can’t bring himself to use the dildo anymore—well, that’s his own fault, isn’t it?
The point is, he’s over it. Which is why he’s completely blindsided when one of the other interns comes into the breakroom smiling from ear to ear.
“Why are you so happy?” Mabeuf mutters wryly, his hands wrapped aroung his coffee mug. “It's a sin to be so cheerful so early.”
“My girlfriend got us tickets to R's show,” she says, grinning like she's won the lottery. “Practically the last tickets there were.”
Enjolras quietly chokes on his coffee.
But he’s over it, of course, so he doesn't look up the gallery. He doesn't check to see if there are still tickets available. And he definitely, definitely doesn't pull up R's number in his phone and think about pressing call. R probably wouldn't even remember him, and Enjolras doesn't like to think that his ego is a fragile thing, but he isn't sure he'd be able to take that.
He's not going to go. He wouldn’t go, even if there were tickets, because this isn’t a thing. But the show opens next week (he might have looked that up), which means R is probably somewhere in the city. Enjolras carries that knowledge like an itch between his shoulder-blades, a feeling of being watched that's more hopeful than oppressive.
And if he daydreams once or twice about a familiar voice calling out to him while he's walking home, or stepping onto a Métro car only to find R clinging to the next pole...no one needs to know about it.
The next evening, his friends meet in the back room of their favorite café to celebrate the end of Marius' term. The breakdown count is still zero, thanks in part to Courfeyrac's evidence-gathering mission. Marius has even brought his elusive girlfriend Cosette, who introduced herself to the group and then immediately became engrossed in an argument about Lord Byron with Jehan. Marius himself is wandering around with a dazed expression that suggests his coffee cup does not contain coffee. In another corner, Musichetta is playing cards with Joly and Bossuet. Enjolras doesn't recognize the game, but she's already won Bossuet's hat and, inexplicably, Joly's glasses.
Combeferre is sitting next to Enjolras and letting the general spectacle wash over him.
(Nobody's seen Bahorel for fifteen minutes.)
Courfeyrac is arguing with someone on the phone. “I heard what you said, I just don't believe you,” he says, raising his voice to be heard over the din. Enjolras thinks it's Feuilly on the other end, since he had to work tonight, and everyone else that Courfeyrac would call is already here. “Send me a picture. I know it’s against the rules, but this is vital information.”
Enjolras really hopes that Courfeyrac isn't about to get Feuilly fired from whichever of his jobs has forbidden the use of cameras. Sometimes he works tech for concerts and things—if he gets caught taking a picture of someone he shouldn't...
His thoughts are interrupted by what sounds like a squeal from Courfeyrac and the sound of frantic redialing. “Holy shit. Holy shit, you weren't kidding, it looks exactly like him! Oh my god, you have to send that to everyone. Please? Got to go, bye.”
Enjolras has no idea what Courfeyrac is talking about, and if past experience is anything to judge by, he probably doesn't want to.
A minute later, his phone vibrates.
Everyone's phone does, with the exception of Courfeyrac, who is grinning like he's just won the Tour de France. Enjolras slides his phone out of his pocket and sees that he has a snapchat from Feuilly. He taps the icon to view the snap.
It would be a nude but for the grace of a twisted crimson bedsheet. A figure painted in oils, reclining with his head thrown back, his lips red and parted, and his eyes half-closed in a face that's unmistakably, impossibly his.
It's hard to tell the scale of the piece—there's no frame of reference in the image. There's also no point in pretending that the man in the painting isn't him.
At least he'd left out the tattoo, covering it with the fall of Enjolras’ hair.
After ten long seconds, the image vanishes, and Enjolras looks up and finds every one of his friends looking back at him with their phones in their hands. He considers and discards several different options—denial being the most attractive—before realizing that it won't make any difference. So he says nothing.
“When did you sit for a portrait?” Jehan asks.
“I didn't. This painting is news to me.” He darts a glance over at Courfeyrac. “Where's Feuilly working right now?”
“At some gallery. He's doing the lighting for R's new show. It's a pretty big deal for him, actually.”
Enjolras scrubs a hand through his hair. “And R's show includes a—a life-sized nude of me—”
“It's not life-sized.”
“Oh, thank god.”
“Feuilly says it's something like one by three?”
“Centimeters?” Enjolras asks desperately.
“He says it's called Apollo Enraptured,” Courfeyrac adds helpfully.
“Of course it is.”
Bahorel clears his throat. Enjolras has no idea when he arrived. “So is there anything you'd like to tell us?”
Enjolras rolls his eyes. “I had sex with R in New York,” he says flatly. “Not that it's remotely anyone's business.”
“If he's painting oversized portraits of you, it sounds like it's about to become everyone's business,” Combeferre says, not unkindly.
“How? My name isn't mentioned anywhere, and no one will have any frame of reference for it. As long as nobody here says anything about it—and they had better not—then nobody else will know.”
Everyone makes a show of shaking their heads, and Enjolras is forcefully reminded of the Last Supper. One of you, he thinks, will betray me.
Feuilly would scold him for the blasphemy—a side-effect of growing up in a convent-run boarding school—but the parallels are there. Enjolras loves his friends, but a secret that eleven people share is hardly a secret at all.
“Are you going to go to the show and talk to him?” Joly asks. “Because I think you should probably talk to him.”
“I'm not sure I want to give him the satisfaction of knowing I'm embarrassed.”
“Um, we've all seen a twelve-megapixel view of the painting,” Cosette says, eyeing Marius’ phone. She must have taken a screenshot. “I'm pretty sure you have, like, nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Combeferre slides his phone back into his pocket. “You should talk to him, you know. At least so he knows that you're aware of the painting's existence.”
“I'll take it under advisement,” Enjolras says sourly. He turns to go, and he's almost to the door when he hears Courfeyrac groan.
“Oh my god, Enjolras. That sketch on your nightstand was an original R? Do you have any idea how much that could be worth?”
“Just think how much more it'll be worth after I'm done murdering him.” Enjolras closes the café door behind him.
* * *
All right, murder might be a bit of an overreaction. But he's been issued a challenge—a three-square-meter challenge—and backing off entirely feels too much like letting R win.
So he goes home, locks the door, and calls R. He paces back and forth across the living room as the phone rings and rings.
Just when he's prepared to leave a furious voicemail, R picks up.
“Lost any luggage lately?” he says by way of greeting. It's so cheerful and flirtatious that Enjolras immediately forgets the speech he'd composed on the walk home.
He grasps at the fraying threads of his outrage and manages to say, “Apollo Enraptured?”
There's a pause. “Shit,” R says. “How did that leak? Is it online? Ep's going to murder me if it got posted onli—”
“It's a very small leak,” Enjolras replies, because R sounds awfully worried. “One of the gallery staff is a friend of mine, and he couldn't help but notice that the painting looked a lot like me.”
“Oh. It, um...it wasn’t supposed to.”
“Right. It’s just coincidence, then?” Enjolras asks, his voice dripping skepticism.
“Not exactly. I mean, you were definitely the inspiration for the piece, and I thought a lot about you while I was painting it, but...I tried to change some things, to make it less obvious. I guess I didn’t do a very good job of that, huh?”
“I guess not,” Enjolras says, half his mind still stuck on R’s confession that he’d thought about him while he was painting the piece. A lot, he said. “So were you ever going to mention that you’d painted a gigantic portrait of someone who wasn’t supposed to look quite like me, and then hung it up in one of the city’s most prestigious galleries for the biggest art event of the year?”
“Yes! I was definitely going to call you before the opening. I was going to ask you to come out to the gallery so you could see the painting. And if you hated it, I'd have time to put something else up in its place.”
“Then why didn't you call me? The show opens in three days.”
Enjolras didn't know it was possible to hear someone squirming. “I was still working myself up to it. I mean, the more I thought about it, the more I thought maybe you wouldn't want to hear from me.”
He frowns. “Why would I not want to hear from you?”
“You never called after New York,” R says simply.
“What? Don't put that on me. You're the one who sneaked out in the middle of the night.”
“But I left you the sketch!”
“How was I supposed to know what that meant? Maybe you leave sketches for all your one-night-stands.”
“I don't,” R says quietly. “I never—I don't... Look. I left you the sketch because I knew you wouldn't sell it on eBay. You're not that kind of person. And I liked that about you. Among...you know, other things.”
“Oh.” Enjolras stops pacing the living room and sits down.
“For the record, I'm sorry I sneaked out on you.”
“So am I. I had plans.”
“Oh yeah? What kind of plans?”
“The kind that take place in the shower, and probably would have made me late for work.”
“Damn. Maybe I should have stayed.”
“Maybe you should have.”
R takes a deep breath. “Listen, if the painting bothers you, I'll find something else to put in its place. I promise.”
Enjolras doubts that R has a backlog of oversized pieces hanging around. And it would probably have to be relit, which would just make more work for Feuilly... “Don't take it down,” he says. “Its absence would probably be more noteworthy than its presence.”
“I—are you sure? I mean, you know—or I hope you know—that I would never tell anyone that it's you. I don't kiss and tell. Or kiss and paint and tell, as the case may be...”
He's rambling. Enjolras should really be annoyed by this and not charmed. “Listen, it's fine. Don't worry about it.”
There's a moment of quiet on the line. “Okay, give me something here, would you?” R asks plaintively. “I have no idea what you're thinking. If you don't want me to take it down, and you're not angry with me, then what are you?”
“Surprised, mostly. I thought you'd probably forgotten about me.”
“Small chance of that,” R mutters.
“I'm a little embarrassed, because that's really...well, it's sort of explicit, isn't it? And...I'm flattered, too, I guess.”
“How flattered?” R asks. “Enough to come to the show?”
“I...maybe.” Enjolras reviews the conversation to see where exactly he'd lost control of the exchange, and determines that it was right around the point where R answered the phone.
“What about a preview? Tomorrow night, maybe?”
A preview. That would, at least, promise a smaller crowd. “All right,” he says.
“Really?” R sounds shocked that Enjolras would agree. “Does eight o'clock sound okay?”
“It sounds fine.”
“Okay. Um. I'll see you tomorrow, then.”
“Tomorrow.” Enjolras hangs up the phone and takes a slow, calming breath. If just the sound of R's voice makes him feel like this, spending an hour in his company tomorrow is going to end in public indecency. He thinks back to ten minutes ago, when he was furious at R, and can't quite manage to access that level of injured outrage.
He is in so much trouble.
I promised myself that 2018 was going to be the Year of Finishing Things, so here we are: a new chapter for a three-and-a-half-year-old fic. :) Comments and kudos are deeply treasured.
I'm on Tumblr as The Librarina. Come say hi!
An art show, and what happens after.
Enjolras' productivity nosedives the following day. He can't concentrate at all, and he spends half the work day frantically Googling anything he can about art and R and whatever post-post-nihilism actually is. It doesn't do anything to make him less nervous, but by the time he leaves work, he thinks he might be able to avoid embarrassing himself too terribly--at least where the artwork is concerned.
But as soon as he gets back to his apartment, he realizes that he has a problem. And the one person who can help him is also the person who has spent the whole day sending him snapchats of Apollo Enraptured side-by-side with some of Enjolras’ less-flattering candid shots.
Enjolras sighs and dials Courfeyrac’s number.
It only rings twice, and Enjolras cuts off whatever joke he was undoubtedly planning. “Courfeyrac, I have a...fashion question.”
“Well, I’m always pleased to serve our dear Apollo.”
Enjolras sighs. “Never mind, I’m calling Jehan.”
On the other end of the line, Courfeyrac makes a noise like a dying whale. “Oh god, no, don’t call Jehan. Just tell me what you need.”
“I talked to R, last night.”
“And?” The prurient interest in Courfeyrac’s voice makes him regret this entire conversation already, but he forges ahead.
“He invited me to a preview of the exhibit tonight. And I don’t usually go to galleries, especially not invitation-only previews, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to wear.”
“I hear red satin sheets are very chic this season.”
“I will hang up on you, Courf, I swear—”
“You will not. You don’t have anyone else to call.”
Enjolras considers bringing up the empty threat to call Jehan, and instead just sighs.
“All right,” Courfeyrac says. “I think the main point is this: He invited you, as a personal guest, right?”
“So, it doesn’t really matter what other people wear to previews. The only person you’re looking to impress is him.”
“…Yes.” At this point, there’s really no benefit in denial.
“Okay. Black jeans—this should go without saying, but the tightest pair you own. Harder to take them off, but I’m sure he’s up to the challenge. Plain t-shirt in white or gray, and that red jacket with the brass buttons. Oh, and those boots, the ones that look like riding boots?”
Enjolras wonders if Courfeyrac has memorized the wardrobes of everyone in their circle of friends—he wouldn’t be terribly surprised. “Why those?”
“Because I am your friend, and as your friend it is my responsibility to inform you that those boots give you a serious strut.”
“I see,” he says.
(He did not.)
“Okay,” Courfeyrac says brightly. “Now I am going to hang up, and then I am going to call Jehan and send him over to do your hair. Because you’re probably freaking out about that, too.”
“I am not,” Enjolras counters, but that’s only because it hadn’t yet crossed his mind.
“Uh-huh. Have a good time, and make smart choices, okay?”
True to his word, Courf sends Jehan over to Enjolras’ apartment half an hour later. Within fifteen minutes, his hair is loosely braided back, with a few curls left ‘untamed,’ as Jehan put it. Enjolras considers his reflection and decides that it’s a definite improvement.
Jehan kisses him on the cheek as he leaves.
He takes the Métro to the gallery. He looked up the address three times, but walking up to the door, he wonders if he has the wrong place. For an artist of R's caliber, he had expected to wait in line—even for a preview. But the gallery looks...abandoned, frankly. Is he early? Is he really, really late? He wonders if he misheard R, if he was supposed to come tomorrow night, or if maybe R changed his mind about the whole thing.
Just inside the door is a bored-looking security officer who turns out, on closer inspection, to be Feuilly.
“What are you doing here?” Enjolras whispers furiously.
Feuilly tugs one earbud out and shrugs. “Picking up a little extra work,” he says, but there’s a smirk playing at the corners of his mouth. “Favor for the artist. Ah, the exhibit is that way, sir,” he adds formally. He points towards a door at the far end of the corridor and then just puts the earbud back in.
What follows is a frozen moment of panic in which Enjolras honestly considers turning around, catching the train, and going home. But even as he considers it, he finds himself walking forward. He’s never been the kind of person to leave his curiosity unsatisfied.
The only sound is Enjolras’ footsteps on the parquet floor. He feels like he’s about to interrupt a daring art heist, or get himself arrested for trespassing. But he's come this far, and he wants to see it through. He at least deserves to see the painting.
He pushes open the door to the exhibit, and his eyes are momentarily dazzled by the light. When his vision clears, he finds R standing in the middle of the room, a pair of champagne flutes in his hands. His hair is carefully tamed, he looks like he shaved this morning, and he’s wearing--oh god--a tuxedo, in a deep forest green that ought to look ridiculous.
Enjolras wants to see it on the floor. Right now. He swallows hard and tries to maintain control of himself. “Where is everyone?” he asks, without moving closer. If he takes one more step forward, he doesn't know if he'll be able to stop. His voice echoes through the empty hall. “I thought this was the preview.”
“Oh, it is,” R says. “A very exclusive preview, by invitation only.”
“I see.” Enjolras' throat is suddenly very dry. R holds out a glass of champagne.
“So,” he says. “Would you like the tour?”
Enjolras takes the glass of champagne and lets R lead him through two large rooms filled with paintings and sculptures. He asks R about them, listens happily while he explains, and understands about one word in three. But the look on R's face is the real story, the way that he flits between wryness and pride when he talks about his inspirations and his intentions. At some point, their free hands twine together between them, and Enjolras is fairly certain that the lightness in his body isn't the fault of the champagne.
But they still haven't seen the painting, and at that size, it isn't the sort of thing that you can hide. He's opening his mouth to ask if R had decided not to show it after all when R leads him past a huge metal sculpture and through a doorway tucked at the back of the gallery.
After two rooms of stylized paintings and sculpture, the intense realism of Apollo Enraptured is jarring--as it was undoubtedly intended to be. Enjolras tilts his head back to look up at it, taking it all in. R, he knows, is watching him intently, waiting for his reaction.
He takes a deep breath. “Tell me about this one,” he says quietly.
R smiles. “This? Ah, well. This is the story of a young god who fell to earth, and the mortal who gained his favor by offering him a small kindness.”
Enjolras feels his face heating. “It's beautiful.”
“Well, I had a good subject.”
“That isn't what I meant,” Enjolras objects. “The light and the shadow--and the colors...I don't know anything about art, all right? I don't know how to pinpoint it, but it's just--it's beautiful.”
R leans close to whisper in his ear, even though they're alone in the gallery. “This is how you looked when I fucked you with the dildo,” he says softly, and Enjolras' pulse kicks in his throat.
“R,” he breathes.
Enjolras turns to look at him. “Can I kiss you?”
“I was really hoping you would,” R says.
Enjolras drops R’s hand to thread his fingers into R’s hair as he bends to fit their mouths together. R tips his face up to meet him, and it’s sweeter than it should be. Their last encounter was rushed, almost frantic—kisses that served as a means to an end.
This time, R kisses him like they have forever. It’s all Enjolras can do to return the favor, matching his pace and his patience.
After what might have been an hour or only a minute, R leans just slightly away, and Enjolras takes advantage of the new angle to trail his mouth down the smooth line of R’s jaw.
“Can I tell you a secret?” R asks.
Enjolras hums an agreement against his throat.
“I really want to blow you. Right now.”
Enjolras’ whole body flashes hot at the idea, but he reins himself in. He pulls back, first to see if R’s joking—he’s not—and next to glance up at the ceiling, eyes darting towards the corners. “Aren’t there cameras?”
“Yes. But there’s a blind spot, right about where we’re standing. Security was complaining about it this morning. Euryalus is in the way.”
Euryalus is a large sculpture of a flower, wilting on a broken stem. The whole piece is made out of bayonets that must date back to the first World War. With the base it’s standing on, it’s more than two meters tall, enough to shield them from the camera up near the ceiling.
It’s tall, but it’s not very wide, which means...
“You’ll have to stand very still,” R warns slyly.
Enjolras steps into the shadow of the sculpture and plants his feet.
“But don’t lock your knees, or you’ll pass out.”
“Oh? Because you’re so good at this?”
“No, because that’s what happens to people who lock their knees while they’re standing,” R counters. “But also yes, I am very good at this.”
“Well, then. I’ll keep that in mind.”
R smiles at him and drops to his knees. He takes the half-forgotten champagne flute from Enjolras’ hand and sets it on the floor next to his own.
Given time to think, Enjolras might be embarrassed about what he’s doing, what they’re doing, here in the liminal space of a gallery closed to the public. But R’s hands are quick and light on the button of his jeans, and then he makes a soft sound of appreciation that would have had Enjolras hard in half a second if he hadn’t been there already.
R looks up at him once, through long lashes, and delicately licks the tip of Enjolras’ cock.
Enjolras bites down on a moan. His hands clench into fists as R fits his mouth over the head of Enjolras’ cock and slowly works his way down. Enjolras fights to keep his breathing even, to keep from making the noises that he wants to.
R hollows his cheeks, pressing the flat of his tongue against the underside of Enjolras’ cock, and Enjolras shivers. He lets his head fall back, eyes closed so that the bright gallery lights are nothing more than a vague red blur behind his eyelids. His hands curl into helpless fists at his side as R draws the moment out, taking him deep and then pulling back to tease at the head of his cock.
He wavers on his feet, unmoored, and R draws back entirely. Enjolras opens his eyes and looks down at him, blinking with the head-rush. Without a word, R takes hold of Enjolras’ hand and coaxes the fingers open. He kisses Enjolras’ palm, reverently, then gives him a pointed look and guides that hand to the back of his head.
Enjolras immediately lets his fingers sink into the dark curls there. He knows it’s an invitation, but he can’t bring himself to take control, not without at least talking about it beforehand, so instead he lets his hands wander across the curve of R’s skull while R sets to work again. It’s grounding, too, and the part of his brain not yet consumed with pleasure is amazed that R knew exactly what he needed.
He scratches his nails lightly against the back of R’s neck, and R makes a sound, something soft and shapeless, and the vibrations of it are so exquisite that Enjolras gives an answering moan. The sound echoes off the high ceilings—so much for keeping quiet.
He didn’t know this was a thing for him, doing something like this in a nominally public place, but here he is, shaking because R’s mouth is on him and he’s standing in the middle of an art gallery, with the painting of him, R’s painting, rendered with so much skill and so much care, keeping watch behind them.
His breath is coming faster now, his whole body racing towards the inevitable. “R,” he tries to say, but his mouth is dry and the words won’t come. “R, I’m going to—”
R’s eyes flicker up to him in acknowledgement, and he curls his hands tighter against Enjolras’ hips, taking him as deep as he can. Enjolras’ hands tighten helplessly in R’s hair, and he comes in an overwhelming rush, bowed over R like a parody of benediction.
R steadies him, his hands curled carefully around Enjolras’ hips, and when he seems satisfied that Enjolras isn’t going to fall over, he rises to his feet. He looks at Enjolras for a long moment, and Enjolras knows he must look half-wild at least, red-faced and still struggling to catch his breath as the world rights itself around him. He shuts his eyes, too embarrassed to meet R’s gaze.
R brushes a wayward curl behind Enjolras’ ear and settles his hand along the racing pulse in his throat. “So,” he says. “Can I take you home?”
Much later, R presses his lips to the liberté tattoo like it’s an old friend. “What are we doing?” he asks.
He would get philosophical at a time like this, Enjolras supposes, even though he has no basis for that assumption. They’ve both only just caught their breath, and it’s hard to bring his pleasure-scattered thoughts into order. “How do you mean?”
“It just seems like we’re doing this backwards. I only know four things about you, and three of them are what you look like when you come."
Enjolras flushes and shoves at R. “You know more than that.”
“Okay. Five, maybe six things. But I’d like...I’d like to know more,” he said, a little more quietly.
“Yes. We could go get coffee, or see a film. And if we’re feeling really wild, we could even have a conversation with our clothes on.”
“Scandalous,” Enjolras replies.
“But only if you want to.” He sounds nervous again, like he’s afraid Enjolras is going to reject him.
As if there was ever any chance of that. “I do,” Enjolras says, and the words sound strange in the quiet room. “I mean, I want that, too.”
“Oh. Good. That’s—good.”
We could start tomorrow morning, Enjolras starts to say, thinking about coffee, a small café, both of them pink-faced with the hopeful awkwardness of the morning after
But his phone buzzes, rattling against the nightstand, and he jumps. The phone isn’t on the nightstand, but on the floor next to it, still in the pocket of the jeans that R had, indeed, been up to the challenge of removing. Enjolras dives for it before it can buzz again.
“Sorry,” he says.
“It’s fine,” R replies. “Who’s texting you at...one-thirty in the morning?” he adds, peering at the clock.
Enjolras unlocks the phone.
Courfeyrac: E where are u
Of course. He could just turn off his phone and curl back up in bed, but there’s an even chance that Courfeyrac would either a) panic and call everyone else, or b) let himself into the apartment, see that Enjolras is gone, and then panic and call everyone else.
Enjolras sighs and texts back.
He lays the phone on the nightstand, where it almost immediately vibrates again.
“Damn it.” He picks it back up.
Courfeyrac: uhoh punctuation
Courfeyrac: are you ~busy~?
“Sounds important. Old boyfriend?” R asks, half-teasing.
Enjolras winces. “Sorry, nothing like that. A friend of mine wants to make sure I'm not dead.”
R lifts his head from the pillow and beckons Enjolras for the phone. “Do you mind?”
“Are you sure you want to talk to him?”
“He knows about the painting, right?”
“R, everyone knows about the painting.”
“Okay, then. Can I snapchat him?”
“If you want to.”
R skims the recent messages from Courfeyrac. Then he opens the app and holds the phone at arm's length. “There.” He passes it back to Enjolras. Beneath a very attractive view of R's face and tantalizingly bare shoulders, it says very busy. important meeting. DND.
“I like it,” Enjolras says, subtly saving a screenshot.
“Here, I want to doodle on it before I send it,” R says, and Enjolras hands the phone back to him.
“When you're done, send it to Courfeyrock.”
R nods and busies himself with the phone. His look of concentration is adorable, so Enjolras just watches him, wondering if this is what he looks like when he's painting. Then R's eyes widen, and his intent expression slips.
“Uh...how many of your friends did you say found out about the painting?”
“More or less all of them. Why?”
“Because 'more or less all of them' may be the number of people I sent that snapchat to.”
Enjolras groans and buries his face in the pillows. He's never going to be able to show his face in the café again.
- Euryalus is the partner of Nisus in the Aeneid, and he gets compared to a flower at his execution. Like someone else we know.
- I have a very vivid image of Apollo Enraptured in my mind, but I have no art skills whatsoever. I imagine it as vaguely pre-Raphaelite, all done in reds and golds.
You might have noticed a slight change in chapter count. There will be one more small piece to this, and I hope to have it up pretty shortly.
I can't thank you all enough for reading this, especially people who held out for literal years. I love each and every one of you.
“Shit. Shit shit shit, sorry, Ep, I’m on my way, I swear, I just—”
There’s a faint squawk of a voice on the other end of the line, crunched flat by the cell signal. R tucks the phone between his ear and his shoulder while he struggles into a pair of jeans. “Oh, come on. Lack of punctuality is practically a national pastime, and everyone’s allowed to have a couple of flaws, oka--hey, hey, whoa, I did not ask you for a list.”
Enjolras raises his head. “Is everything all right?”
R pulls the phone away from his ear. “Yeah, sorry. I’ve got an interview. It’s been on my schedule for weeks, but someone distracted me last night and I forgot.”
“My apologies,” Enjolras says drily.
R leans in and kisses him hard. “I’ll be back in an hour or two. Um...will you stay?”
Enjolras nods, and R turns his attention back to the phone. “Wasn’t talking to you, Ep,” he says, in the brightest, chilliest voice Enjolras has ever heard. He hangs up and tucks the phone into his back pocket. “Got to go. I’ll keep it as short as possible, okay?”
Enjolras sweeps a gaze down R’s body. “Didn’t seem that short to me,” he says, and he has the pleasure of watching R’s face turn red. But there’s something different about him, something he can’t quite place.
“I’ll bring back breakfast, and we can, um, talk. If you want,” R says.
R turns to go, and that’s when Enjolras realizes what’s changed.
“R, wait. Those are my--”
He looks back at Enjolras, grins, and closes the door behind him.
* * *
Who R You?
By J. Montparnasse for Gentleman’s Quarterly
He’s almost shockingly understated, for someone who’s been called the “punk-rock star of the international art scene.” He’s made a habit of unusual tuxedo colors, arriving at openings in salmon gingham, teal houndstooth, and violet pinstripes recently, but when he meets me—at a little table outside a Parisian café, naturellement—he’s wearing cuffed black jeans and a plain gray t-shirt. There’s a tangle of bracelets on one wrist, beads and leather cords and fine silver chain all wound together. His combat boots are so perfectly weathered that either he’s been wearing them for five years, or he paid a thousand dollars to look like he’s been wearing them for five years.
If you’d asked me last week which one was more likely, I would have said the latter. After all, he could certainly afford it. But now, faced with R in all his unassuming glory, I’m starting to wonder.
He’s twenty minutes late, but that’s practically the custom here.
The waiter brings us two coffees—mine a latte, his an espresso--and after the first, perfectly hot sip, I pick up my pen.
“Thanks for sitting down with me today, R. I know you’ve got a lot on your plate right now, so I appreciate you taking the time.”
“Actually, I’d like to thank you,” he says, unexpectedly. “None of the American journalists ever get the pronunciation right. They always say it like a pirate, like arrrrrr.” He makes a brief, comical pirate snarl.
Reader, take note: It’s not arrr but aire.
“You don’t correct them?”
“No. I’d rather judge them silently, in the accustomed French style.”
“Fair enough. So: we’re twenty-four hours out from the opening of your big Paris show. How does it feel to make your triumphant homecoming?”
“Is that what it is?” He smiles a little. “It feels really good to be here. It’s nice realizing that Paris feels like home now.”
“Wasn’t it always?”
He shrugs. “I don’t know, honestly. I grew up in the south, but that was...well, it was a long time ago, and when I came to Paris for school it was just supposed to be another step. I wasn’t thinking in terms of permanence, you know? Then everything happened, and I didn’t realize how much I missed Paris until I came back.”
Everything happened. It’s a charming phrase to encompass four years of increasing notice by critics and collectors, culminating in a series of shows that started last fall and have taken place in cities all over the world—London, New York, Rome, Tokyo, and half a dozen others—before bringing him back to Paris.
“What would you say has been the biggest influence on the pieces you’re exhibiting?”
“That’s...hard to say. I pull inspiration from a lot of places, but current events definitely tend to color the work.”
“So it’s political.”
R rolls his eyes. “Everything is political. I used to be one of those people who said that I didn’t care about politics, pretending like I was unaffected by it, but you can’t just opt out of these things. I wish I could, but yeah, my art is political. So is your writing, and the coffee this café serves. It’s bullshit, yeah, but it’s political bullshit.”
I seem to have hit a nerve. Not having majored in political science, I don’t feel equipped to continue the conversation—though it certainly would have been an interesting one—so I try a different tack.
“What about your personal life?”
One raised eyebrow, a perfect expression of disdain. “Are you asking me if that’s political, too? Because the answer is yes.”
“Just asking about it in general,” I assure him.
Something shifts in his expression, and for a moment I think he’s actually going to give me the story, but then he shakes his head. “What’s that thing they say on the American cop shows? When they can’t lie but they don’t want to tell the truth?”
“’I plead the fifth’?”
He gestures with his cup. “That’s it. I plead the fifth,” he says primly.
“Okay, but how is that political?”
He laughs. “I told you already. Everything is. Especially sexuality.”
“Is it, though?”
“Yes, absolutely. What you do, and who you do it with, probably even what you do with them, though that’s nobody’s business.”
“This is starting to sound like the queer theory course I took in college.” (Reader, I got a D.)
“Well, of course it sounds queer. It is.”
I hadn’t been expecting anything quite so candid from him. My surprise must show on my face, because R catches the expression and grins, leaning forward. “Oh, come on. You didn’t think I was straight, did you?”
“Is there a word you would use to describe your orientation?”
“There are three, actually. Pansexual serial monogamist.”
- Pansexual, adj. Sexually attracted to any and all genders
- Serial, adj. Sequential, following one after another
- Monogamist, n. Preferring a single committed relationship
“I see. And are you engaging in such a relationship at this time?”
R just eyes me.
“Right. You plead the fifth.”
“You catch on quick. I like that.” He takes a sip of coffee and sits back, smiling.
Another dead-end. I like to do these things organically, but R wields conversation like a chess match. It’s the sort of thing that would be a lot more enjoyable if I wasn’t on a deadline.
Back to the art, maybe. “Your rise to prominence seems like it came out of nowhere, but I’m sure there was a lot of hard work that led to your first break. What advice would you give to young, struggling artists out there?”
R frowns a little, and then he leans forward, focusing sharply. “I’d tell them what I wish someone had told me, when I was younger: that the tortured artist myth is fucking bullshit. Everybody talks about these famous artists and writers and musicians who were all kinds of fucked-up and miserable, and they just decide that there’s a—oh, what’s the word—a causal relationship there. Like because Van Gogh and Hemingway were depressed, you have to be depressed to be an artist. As though there’s some inspiration that you can only access by being miserable. And having been that miserable, depressed artist, I can tell you: it’s bullshit. I was never less productive than when I was depressed. If you’re depressed and you’re making art, you’re making it in spite of that depression, not because of it. Just—fucking talk to someone, accept that you need help and then go and get it. It took me too damn long to realize it, but your art isn’t worth your life.” He stops and looks up at me, wrinkling his nose. “That got kind of heavy, didn’t it?”
I shake my head, eager to convince him otherwise. “No, no. It was perfect. But on that subject...are you doing all right?”
“Oh, I’m good now. I had to do a lot of work to get to ‘good,’ but it was worth it.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“Thanks,” he says. His espresso has to be getting cold, but he takes another sip, not seeming to care.
“Okay. Your publicist was really direct about me keeping this short—”
“She’s direct about pretty much everything,” R puts in. “Eponine is the reason that I’m not still poking at my first canvas in some cold garret room. She’s brilliant.”
“Did she arrange the Paris show?”
“So let’s talk about the show again, before I let you go.”
He laughs a little. “I never know what to say about my shows. I always feel a bit like a little kid, showing off pictures on the refrigerator. ‘I made this, look!’ And it’s kind of…redundant, maybe? If the art doesn’t speak for itself, then I didn’t do a very good job. Anything I can say about it is usually superfluous.”
“All right, that’s annoyingly vague, but can we talk about one piece instead?”
“Maybe,” R says. There’s a smug cat-got-the-cream look on his face, like he already knows what I’m going to say next—but he’s going to make me say it anyway.
“Okay, so the reviews of your show have been overwhelmingly positive—almost unprecedented, really. But there’s one piece that people can’t stop talking about, because it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the show. Apollo Enraptured.”
Apollo Enraptured is a four-by-nine-foot oil painting of a beautiful blond man, reclining. A scrap of fortunate drapery is the only concession to modesty. It is arresting, disarming, and highly erotic. Its position in the final room of the show is a relief, perhaps a refutation of the mordant cynicism that runs throughout the rest of R’s work. A few critics have taken a momentary break from their effusive praise to call the piece’s inclusion “baffling.”
“What about it?”
I take a moment to silently curse cagy artist bastards and all their ilk. “So, it’s a painting—”
“In oils, yes. Old Holland oil paints, to be exact.”
He’s enjoying this.
“What about the name? Apollo Enraptured. Why invoke a god, when your work is solidly, even notoriously, atheist?”
There. His gaze gets distant again, like he’s thinking instead of screwing with me. It’s a relief.
R shrugs. “Everyone has contradictions, vices and virtues that don’t make sense. I guess every now and then, even a cynic finds something to believe in.”
“You say that like you really believe in this Apollo.”
“Maybe I do.”
“Was there a model for this piece? Or is that skirting too close to that relationship question from before?”
Rookie journalism mistake: asking too many questions at once. “Is that a ‘yes, there was a model,’ or ‘yes, that’s too close’?”
R just grins at me. I contemplate emailing the magazine my resignation and beginning a new life as a shepherd in Provence.
One more try.
“This isn’t a medium or a style that you use often. Is this a one-off?”
“Yes,” he says, and then almost immediately, like he’s just realized it himself— “No. It’s a triptych.”
“Would you care to elaborate on that?”
“A triptych. Like churches used to have behind an altar? Three panels, usually with the birth of Christ, the Crucifixion, and then the Resurrection. Or, I don’t know, Heaven, Hell, and Earth or some shit.” He chuckles wryly. “I maybe haven’t been to church in a while.”
“So it’s three pieces. But what are the other two?”
He shrugs. “Well, I haven’t painted them yet, have I? I don’t know what the other two are going to be, but” –and here, the smile that crosses his face is revelatory, like the sun emerging from the clouds, impossibly sweet and even a little shy— “I hope I’ll have a long time to figure it out.”
Thank you all for staying with me over this (extremely extended) adventure. Here are some notes for this last piece:
- R stole borrowed Enjolras’ pants. Possibly also his t-shirt. He had to cuff the pants like three times but they make his ass look great.
- Montparnasse’s first name is Jean, of course. And he definitely took a “D” in queer theory if you know what I am saying.
- The other two paintings are called Apollo Ensnared and Apollo Enthroned. I know when and why they get painted, but let’s face it: I am not good at finishing things. Here is a summary of the other two pieces on my Tumblr.
- More generally, I'm usually on my tumblr here: The Librarina. Come say hi!