Grantaire hesitated at the entrance to the passage du Doyenné, tucking his battered brown leather document case under one arm as the seductive scents from his favourite crêpe vendor tempted him to reach for his purse. The man smiled with a quirk of his eyebrow and a gesture at his wares, and it took a moment for Grantaire to master himself. But his small household was waiting for him, so he shook his head. “Not tonight,” he said apologetically, and the man replied with a shrug and bid him good evening. After all, with Mardi Gras upon them and the evening just closing in, he would be doing a good trade.
Turning into the narrow passage and under the street lights, Grantaire thought of past years and past festivities in this street. Passing the neat apartments where the ruins of the Chapelle Doyenné had once stood he felt a pang of nostalgia for the skeletal broken arches and toppled blocks among the nettles that had once dominated this little street. The ruins had worn an air of rustic melancholia much of the year, but they came alive at Mardi Gras when a rackety stand and jolly proprietor would suddenly spring up, doing a roaring trade in drink for the revellers in all their masquerade finery.
It must be admitted that the current appearance of the street, with its neatly restored and new residential buildings, all in a good state of repair and cleanliness, was certainly an improvement on the nightsoil and decay of the past and those early years they had lived here. It was a welcome enhancement in both illumination and odour to have streetlights and connections to the sewers. And if sometimes at night he felt he might encounter the ghosts of his youth walking out of the dark corners to meet him – perhaps in the form of three young men, one recognisable as himself, one with an air of reckless bonhomie and one a slight man dressed in the trousers of a rabbit catcher and the gold trimmed coat of an aristocratic peer, laughing arm in arm and throwing confetti at passersby – his sighs for the past were not long lived. He permitted himself the indulgence of nostalgia and memories, particularly for those he had left behind in the vanished years, but the year 1863 had ample charms as well, the chief of which was waiting for him at home.
Mme Hulot looked up as poked his head into the dining room as she picked up the evening’s unused cutlery. He grimaced apologetically. “He forgot again, didn’t he?” he asked. “Just put those things on the sideboard – we’ll use them tomorrow.” Her look told him she would do no such thing, and that each dish and fork would be returned to its proper place.
“If only he’d let me take a tray to him of an evening!” She tutted.
“Even if you adorned the ladle in a tricolour bow and provided fasces for cutlery, he wouldn’t pay it any more attention” Grantaire consoled.
The study door was slightly ajar, so Grantaire pushed it open. He paused, struck by the scene in front of him. Enjolras, oblivious, continued to work on his papers. The form of his partner was seated in profile against the tall shuttered windows, one hand to his brow and the other holding a pen that flowed over the paper. His writing hand moved swiftly, the ideas unstinting, the outward manifestation of a mind as active as ever. He must have been working here for hours, probably since Grantaire had left in the late afternoon to visit his publisher. The gas light sconces had not been lit, and the single source of illumination was a table lamp. It was important business for the Republic, no doubt – it was always important business.
Drawn back to his early art studies, Grantaire was reminded of Godfried Schalcken's works, and the effects of candlelight on a subject's features in an otherwise dark room. But the picture before him had none of the slightly sinister overtones of the Dutch master's work. Rather, the years seemed wiped away from his lover's features. It smoothed the lines from his face, softened the harsher angles to his form. The sober black of his attire (an old frock coat that was beginning to look a bit rusty – Enjolras was inclined to absent-mindedly let his tailoring lapse) might have clothed the same spare figure of thirty years ago. In this light, the hair that had darkened over the years and now was streaked liberally with grey at the temples seemed all ablaze once again with the warm gold of his youth.
Grantaire did not mind the signs of the encroaching years. He cherished the idea of growing old with Enjolras, hugged it to himself with a secret glee. He was fond of the creases between his partner's eyebrows over his nose and at the corners of his mouth, the grey, and all the other creeping effects of age. They were his delight, a map of intimate knowledge. Now, though, as Enjolras was leaning further towards the paper - evidence that he was straining his eyes trying to read in this dim light (and had no doubt misplaced his reading spectacles again) - it was time to interrupt him.
Grantaire walked softly over the floor rugs, so softly Enjolras did not look up until he felt the arms wrap around and his shoulders. He put his pen down and clasped the hands that closed tightly over his chest in an embrace. Grantaire stopped to breathe a kiss into his hair.
"Have you come to convey mère Marie's scolding because I have missed our evening meal again?" Enjolras asked, tipping his head back to look at Grantaire with a smile, his shoulders relaxing back into the embrace.
"No – she thinks that having to remind you to eat twice in one day means that it serves you right if your meal is ruined. But of course, she's keeping some soup on the stove for you. You're banished to sitting in the kitchen to dine tonight. I'll happily share your exile." He paused, running his fingers through Enjolras' hair in a familiar gesture. "Do you recall what day it is?"
"Day of the week? Monday, do you mean?"
Grantaire shook him slightly.
"It's an anniversary you should remember."
Enjolras now shifted in his seat to look back at Grantaire, curiosity engaged. "Anniversary? I can't think-"
"Our wedding night."
"Our...?" The crease between his eyes deepened in mild puzzlement. "I'm sure I'd recall something as irregular as a wedding ceremony for us." He smiled, and as Grantaire moved his hand down to stroke that pale cheek, Enjolras reached up to lace his fingers in those of his beloved. "Formal recognition might not be possible, but I disdain any idea that our love and union are lesser because of it."
"You still think like a lawyer, however many years you have sat as a representative in that great congregation of egos, windbags and the odd noble entity that somehow blundered their way into what constitutes our National Assembly. I did not say wedding," Grantaire murmured, his voice taking on a tone less teasing and more husky. "I said wedding night. Mardi Gras fell on February 16th in 1833 – that was the day Pontmercy married, and the first night that you and I were together as one."
Grantaire ran his thumb over Enjolras' cheek, a gentle stroke, but with the firm, long accustomed touch that gave it added intimacy. Enjolras' eyelids hooded his gaze slightly, memory alight in the blue eyes.
"I have always thought of that as our wedding night," Grantaire continued. "It was when we were joined in body and in soul." He bent down and kissed Enjolras with the same soft, sure touch of his caressing fingers over his lover's features. "And we have not been apart since."
"No..." Enjolras smiled, so close that Grantaire could feel the heat of his body set against the evening chill. "Never apart." He reached up a hand to the back of
Grantaire's head and pressed him in for one of those swift, fierce kisses, warm and long.
Thirty years, and he still had the capacity to provoke surprise and wonder in Grantaire.
It was a curious thing, this alchemical wedding.
Grantaire had been Enjolras' constant companion for the previous three decades - a relationship that was tacitly understood by many and referred to obliquely and with hostility by some of the more reactionary journalists and once, in a memorable incident, unmistakably alluded to during a particularly heated debate in the National Assembly. But Enjolras' reserved general demeanor, his cold refusal to respond to ad hominems and his complete separation of his public and private life largely protected his home life from scrutiny.
Most, seeing only the upright, scrupulous Friend of the People (as it pleased the more left leaning sections of the press to call him, prompting a delighted Courfeyrac to dub him "Marat" in their private circle) believed – or chose to believe – that the irascible individual who was always at his side really was his secretary, as he was vaguely referred to when official acknowledgement was necessary. It served as a title for his companion at those functions Enjolras attended, who worked late with him in his chambers and who travelled with him both for business and those brief, rather austere holidays he took when worn down by the unceasing round of public duties.
It was Courfeyrac also who, years before, eyes flitting from one to the other with mischief, had irreverently suggested with a grin that Grantaire was Enjolras' secretary in the same sense that some men liked to install pretty "housekeepers" in their homes. Grantaire cheerfully parried, pointing out that the comparison fell down because he hardly had beauty to recommend him, and because his skill at assisting Enjolras with his speeches and papers was more impressive than the average indulged mistress' ability to run a household. "In short, I'm more utilitarian than decorative!" he concluded. Enjolras shook his head, but did so with a smile of his own and a murmured "you are quite indispensable to me" before he changed the subject.
And it had all begun because Grantaire had gone out into the rain one day.
That was the tangent, the bridging moment – and to think, he had hardly intended that day to go anywhere.
Misery was what he remembered when he thought of how it all commenced. He had wandered the streets all of the night of June 4th, more bereft of purpose than was even his usual wont, finding no respite in mind or body. Whispers everywhere of legitimist plots, of republicans running guns, of men moving in Paris who had no papers, no business to state, uttering cryptic phrases and refusing to speak plainly. Words spoken in hurried undertones Grantaire had no wish to untangle, furtiveness everywhere, and many comings and goings in the Musain. Were government officials poisoning wells and afflicting the populace with cholera? Or had republicans been seen carrying black bags that contained instruments to spread the contagion? The answer varied depending on which café you were in, which print seller you spoke to along the Seine, where you took your coffee. In the night, the red lights of the first aid stations set up for the cholera epidemic glowed like coals in the dark.
Only in Joly and Bossuet had there been some daylight respite from the ominous foreboding of that night and rainy morning, and for a few hours he could almost forget what was without, lightening their talk with redirections and gossip, deflecting any serious consideration of looming events. He was well advanced on the road to thorough drunkenness when word came from their leader, and then was irritated with Enjolras for not sending for him. The summons had instead gone to Bossuet.
That Grantaire had given Enjolras no reason to trust him and had more or less blundered in most tasks he offered to undertake made no difference to his irrational, petulant anger at Navet's coded message. He was seldom very rational regarding the object of his idolatry, and it stung unreasonably that Enjolras assumed that he would not come if called, was drunk, or worse - that he had not even thought of Grantaire at all. He wavered a few minutes, tempted to stay where he was, half wishing to prove himself, unable to decide. He had not been on the streets in 1830 with his friends. Perhaps this time –
It took Bossuet and Joly heaving themselves up from the table for him to make up his mind, Joly's feet tangling around each other as he looked for his cane, grumbling about the onset of pneumonia while Bossuet laughed about the holes in his coat letting the water into it and then letting it drain out.
"Well, far be it from me to miss Enjolras' funeral!" Grantaire observed as he struggled into his coat.
And so he walked out into the rain with his friends in the direction of the Boulevard Bourdon, straining for an air of nonchalance in the burgeoning crowd as his eyes darted everywhere, hoping to light on a tall, slim blond figure whose elusive grace and incandescence not even the grime of a Paris funeral in the grey drizzle could diminish.
With the atmosphere on the streets all his uneasiness returned, a discomfort that penetrated through his slowly dispersing haze of alcohol the closer they came to their destination. All around him were men and women with set, grim mouths, ominously silent crowds, and glimpses here and there of weapons under coats and visibly outlined beneath workers' smocks that were soaked through with rain. Something was going to happen, a thunderclap was going to burst over their heads, and who could say how this day might end?