The plan is somewhat demented from the beginning. It gets out of hand fast.
In essence, it’s simple: same-sex marriage has made rapid progress across the country in the past year, and they should bring that momentum to their home state and use it.
“The mills of change grind maddeningly slow, yes, Enjolras, we know,” Grantaire says, and steals the last of Bossuet’s unwatched drink from the bar by his elbow. He has it bolted back before Bossuet even has time to turn around to submit a token protest, and he wipes his mouth on the back of his hand and continues to make an irritant of himself. “But there are people who’ve been working very virtuously on the matter state by state – you can’t just go in with your spanner and try to force it here. It doesn’t work that way. You went to law school, you should know that.”
“I hate to say it, but Grantaire's right,” Combeferre says, and smiles at Grantaire’s muttered, oh, thank you. “As much as we dislike the pace of the litigation process –”
“It could be half a decade in the courts before it even makes it before the people on a ballot,” Enjolras says quietly, cutting through their mingled voices. With their cockblock of a governor, anyway. “And no, Bahorel, I don’t agree with the majority’s right to vote on the constitutional rights of minorities – I abhor it – but it’s not 2008; our polling shows that the tide has turned and the time has come. Their polling shows that. Even the conservatives – What we need is some sort of catalyst. It’s on the backburner here. We need to raise awareness.”
“As it happens,” Courfeyrac says, and heads turn, “I may have a suggestion.”
It’s not their first madcap plan, although the stunts have become more thought-out and less screwball. They’ve been together for years; nine, if you start counting from the nucleus which formed right out of high school when Enjolras met first Combeferre and then Courfeyrac. Suddenly he didn’t just have a formless, shapeless, all-encompassing urge to change things; he had a map, and the means to attract others to his cause. He had friends at each shoulder. He was having conversations that mattered at last.
The others arrived one by one; Bossuet and Bahorel. Joly, another pre-med. Feuilly. Marius, trailing in Courfeyrac’s wake, and Eponine, trailing in his. Jehan. Cosette, then radiantly nineteen and shining like the sun. Musichetta, dark and withdrawn and full of unexpected depths.
Grantaire, not last, but epochal enough that Enjolras has to list him separately. If the others were a slow swelling in the ranks, Grantaire was a rock tossed into a – well, no. That implied that the ABC had ever been a still enough pond for ripples to cause noticeable disturbance. He was a shell from a long-ago Pacific war washed up with the sea-wrack on their beach; pitted metal and barnacles and strange spikes, painted warnings licked away by the sea. Quiescent, but full of potential for explosive disaster – not that the other members of the ABC would entirely agree with Enjolras’s characterisation.
They took him for who he was, even though that was meant loud, disruptive, mocking. Courfeyrac liked to claim that Grantaire was good company, but Enjolras didn’t care for his sense of humour, and he didn’t like the way Grantaire drank. It wasn’t the way Courfeyrac drank, or Bossuet and Joly, or even Bahorel – there was always something uncontrolled and destructive about it. He was a loose cannon.
(“Which is rich,” Courfeyrac had said, flopping backwards on Enjolras’s couch sometime in their third year, of college, not long after Grantaire had started attending meetings. “Coming from you, I mean. How many times did you get expelled – sorry, sorry, suspended, parental money – from high school? If we got you a leather jacket, you could go around with your hair brushed back and a cigarette dangling from your mouth as the perfect rebel without a cause –”
“I have a cause,” Enjolras had said, exasperated. “I have a lot of causes –”
“That’s the problem,” Courfeyrac told him, with a little fondness and a lot of exasperation, and Enjolras had kicked the corner of the couch and, reminded by the reference, began to expound on how frustrated he found Grantaire's constant chain-smoking – and the way he liked to blow smoke right into Enjolras’s face and claim it was an accident – and smirk, and his face was so irritating when he smirked – and he did that whenever Enjolras was talking, and clearly he was only taking philosophy classes outside his major so he could improve the aggravation of his argument –)
They’re years out of college now. Enjolras has learned to live with Grantaire's provocation without unnecessary complaint, even if they have shared custody of their friends rather than being friends in their own right. Grantaire, in his turn, has long ceased being truly provoking. There are no more sharpie portraits of Enjolras with long ringlets dressed up like Little Lord Fauntleroy decorating his notebooks, or of Enjolras with his nose in the air and his lips bee-stung scrawled on the wall of campus bathrooms, with ASK NOT WHAT I CAN DO FOR YOU, BUT WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR ME! and his phone number (FOR A RIGOROUS TIME) scribbled underneath.
They've all grown up a little, settled down. Mostly. Not that Courfeyrac’s capable of settling down; the ABC is covered in scar tissue from his misdirected affections and ill-conducted amours. Enjolras doesn't think of himself as severe, whatever his friends claim, but he wishes that Courfeyrac would realise that dating within the group is a bad idea. The first to fall was Marius, back then a gangly long-legged boy who couldn't enter a room without knocking something over – Enjolras isn't sure whether Marius's continued presence in the ABC circle is a gift or not, but one thing is certain; after they broke up, he stayed.
The latest casualty is Jehan, which is surprising. The break-up seems to blow up out of a blue sky, a relationship that had been steady enough for over a year without ever deepening into anything truly stable going up like fireworks, with a crackle and a bang – several of them – and a serious impact on the exact shape of their next planned awareness-raising stunt.
“I don't see why it needs to alter the plan in any particular,” Enjolras says, and Combeferre touches his knee in absent-minded reassurance but doesn't look up from his reading.
Bossuet is having fits of laughter on the carpet, so it falls to Joly to lean forward, tug his scarf into a slightly more pleasing alignment, and say, “Well, it wouldn't be exactly tasteful, would it? If this takes off as we want, Jehan might find it somewhat painful.”
“I might find it somewhat painful,” Courfeyrac points out from beside Bossuet, sounding injured, and Eponine tosses a cushion at him.
“You can still work together, right?” Enjolras says. “You promised me when you started messing around that it wouldn't affect your professional relationship, whatever happened –”
“A brief reminder from the floor,” Bossuet says, holding up a finger. “This is no one's day job – except Enjolras's, if you think that general leftist agent provocateur is covered under the scope of his position in local government –”
“It's not,” Cosette says cheerfully. “I think he's turning my father's hair greyer by degrees.”
There's a brief moment while the half-assembled ABC considers the effect of prolonged contact with Enjolras on Mayor Valjean's venerable head. Bossuet is observed to cross himself. Combeferre's mouth quirks a little in private amusement. Courfeyrac has buried his head in the cushion, and seems to be trying to suffocate himself in an attempt to provoke pity – which is unlikely to succeed, since everyone told him not to start something with Jehan if he didn't intend to take it seriously, and everyone predicted the inevitable end, and Courfeyrac rushed in anyway.
“Stop drooling on my upholstery,” Enjolras says. “Can you work with him or not? This is serious. If you can't co-ordinate on our social media outreach –”
“Yes, we can still work together,” Courfeyrac says, lifting his face. He's pink, but otherwise undamaged. “It was a mutual decision, I'd just like to point that again to certain parties – Eponine. We're adults. We can work together, but he's taking a little time out for the next few days. Which is fine. But the plan has to change.”
“If we changed our plans every time you had a crise de coeur – ”
“Taste!” Joly interrupts. “It wouldn't be tasteful. Enjolras, you have to see that. You can't ask Jehan to go down to City Hall holding Courfeyrac's hand right now. It's not right.” He glances at Combeferre for backup. “Right?”
Combeferre licks his finger and turns a page. Then he continues to read. When Joly digs an elbow into his ribs, he finally glances up, for all the world like an absent-minded professor whose mind has been wandering miles away.
“I'm sorry?” he asks. “Are we still in college? Do you still require an adjudicator in your arguments?”
He's Enjolras's best friend, with Courfeyrac a close and contested second. Enjolras knows him too well to buy the act for a second. There's a reason Combeferre is his best friend, and they catch each other's eye now. Enjolras smiles, very slightly.
“He's hopeless,” Eponine says, with a glare that seems to include Enjolras as a factor in Combeferre's amused intransigence. “Just take it as read, okay? People with the full complement of emotional nuance are telling you that we need a substitute. Unless we just cut it down to one couple –”
“No, it needs to balanced,” Bossuet says instantly, “it doesn't work to show the hypocrisy otherwise,” and Enjolras gives him a small nod of approval.
Then he sighs.
“But why does it have to be me?”
As their social media director, Courfeyrac has a lot of reasons it should be Enjolras, and he spends the next week and change peppering Enjolras with them.
you're so photogenic, Enjolras
you really have a duty to society to pass your genes along
sorry that was off-topic (have you considered sperm donation though?)
but studies prove that people are shallow
they're more likely to care about the issue if it's pretty people, which is of course why I originally suggested me + Jehan
no one could look at this face and deny it its civil rights
but in a pinch yours will do
It's not the flattery which wins Courfeyrac his point – or the neatly indiced attached .pdfs of peer-reviewed research backing up his claims, which Enjolras suspects Combeferre of providing – but the rapidly approaching date of their planned stunt, and Enjolras's increasing conviction that if he wants something done properly, he really is going to have to do it himself. He would, to a point, have trusted Courfeyrac to do the job – Courfeyrac is charming, and helplessly lovable, and under the charm there's a brilliant mind that can chop logic like a julienne knife – but now that's out, there's almost no one he'd trust to pull it off –
“No,” Combeferre says, with the air of a sensible someone refusing to be drawn into their reindeer games. He's making notes, and his pager is out on the table beside him, ready to go off if the hospital needs him.
“No,” Courfeyrac agrees immediately. “Combeferre wouldn't work.”
Combeferre pauses, highlighter hovering with emphasis in the air.
“I mean it as a compliment,” Courfeyrac adds, even quicker. He adds weight to his words by leaning against Combeferre’s shoulder and staring up at him with beseeching brown eyes. “Combeferre's an acquired taste! One must have a sensitive, developed palate to fully appreciate his distinction – Oh, would you be okay with me calling you a fine wine, is that better?”
Under such siege, Combeferre eventually accedes and runs a fond hand through the dark curls, which has the effect of making Courfeyrac close his eyes like a petted cat and forget his point for a moment.
Then they spring open, full of renewed purpose. “And of course, Enjolras, you're more of – hm, some sort of cheese, a little bland, needing the right accompaniment to bring out your flavour notes –”
The plan is simple, but Courfeyrac is going to film it and put it on their website and they have some promises of coverage from their journalistic contacts.
It's a good way to create a lot of noise and therefore, draw a lot of attention: the ABC are going to turn up at City Hall and request marriage licenses for two committed same-sex couples, one female and one male. When they're turned down, one person from each couple will pair off and ask for a license for them to marry – and being a man and a woman, they'll get it.
Which is when the ABC will point out the hypocrisy of denying to loving, committed same-sex couples what they'll happily give a heterosexual couple they know have no attachment or commitment. It's hypocrisy writ large, and an easy target to take down. It's instant clickbait.
All he has to do, Courfeyrac tells him, is smile and hold Grantaire's hand and ask for a license, and then, when he's turned down, ask for one and receive one to marry Cosette, and smile for the camera.
"I may be capable of doing that, Courfeyrac," Enjolras says, "but that doesn't mean I want to." He rubs the bridge of his nose resentfully. "And why Grantaire?"
"He's photogenic," Courfeyrac says airily. "Combeferre would make a much better husband, I entirely agree with you there, but he's not very convincing. I love him dearly, but he'd be entirely too stiff and reserved, and then you'd get even stiffer, and the end result would be cardboard. Grantaire, on the other hand – he can sell it. I have total faith in his ability to hang off your arm and look suitably adoring."
Enjolras makes a disagreeing noise, but the next week he somehow ends up at the registry office in his best suit with an unknotted tie looped loosely around his neck.
Cosette and Eponine are in line already, holding hands. If the ABC couldn't deliver a committed gay couple without pressing Enjolras – and of all people, Grantaire – into play-acting service, they have no problem delivering the ladies. No one can look at them and deny that they're truly in love. They glow when they're together, and they're glowing now, even though today's not really their wedding day. They both have flowers in their hair – real flowers, not silk or rayon. Cosette looks sweet and picture-perfect in a sundress; Eponine has opted for a fitted shirt and a blazer.
“I don't think this is going to work,” Enjolras says, glancing at the clock high on the courthouse wall. Of course Grantaire's late. If he's coming at all.
Courfeyrac sighs heavily behind his camera. “If he doesn't show, I'll make an honest man of you, but let's hope I don't have to.”
“Mm,” Jehan says, manhandling the boom in a way that makes Courfeyrac wince.
Enjolras thinks about pointing out that everyone's excessive concern for their (Jehan's) feelings aside, the two of them are nevertheless still here today at the registry office, and if necessary might as well do their part while they're there –
“Sorry I'm late,” Grantaire says, getting into line behind them. The apology isn't particularly sincere. Enjolras didn't know he owned a suit, but he's wearing one, albeit with a knitted cap pulled incongruously over his rough curls like a last hint of rebellion. He doesn't clean up badly, the vivid ink from wrist to elbow hidden by the long sleeves.
“No,” Grantaire admits, unrepentant. “I can't say I mourn those whole five minutes I could have spent waiting in line behind all these loved-up heterosexual couples, but thanks for saving my place, beloved leader.”
“Camera's going on for real now,” Courfeyrac warns them, before Enjolras can snap back, and the change is almost instantaneous. Grantaire’s posture alters. Almost all of the combativeness disappears. He holds out his hand and raises an eyebrow.
“We don't actually have to hold hands –” Enjolras begins, but everyone's looking at him; Cosette and Eponine, Courfeyrac and Jehan, Marius and Bahorel in their position behind the cameras. Grantaire's still holding out his hand and looking expectant.
It turns out to be warmer than his. Grantaire’s grip is firm.
They don't talk for the rest of their way up the line. Half-way there, there's a reshuffle: Courfeyrac is choreographing the whole thing with a keen eye, and he rearranges them so that Grantaire and Enjolras are up first, and Cosette and Eponine second. Perhaps it's supposed to have more dramatic irony that way, so Cosette gets to say her bit when requesting the second license, before Enjolras says his – but Enjolras can't ask, not with the camera on them.
He smiles through his clenched teeth, and Grantaire's thumb brushes the inside of his wrist like a caution. When Enjolras glances sideways, Grantaire's not looking at him. His blue eyes are set straight ahead, his profile showing nothing but pleasant vagueness.
Later, on the feed, Enjolras will rewatch and see all the verisimilitudinous touches Grantaire is careful to add – a fond look here, a brushing of sleeve there – but when they're in line, he doesn't notice them. Except for that one sideways look, his own eyes stay fixed on the clock, the thin black hands moving with painful slowness across the bland cream face.
Slowly, surely, agonisingly, they reach the head of the line, and Enjolras finally gets to tell the woman behind the counter that he would like to register for a marriage license for him and his partner, thank you, and gestures at Grantaire.
Grantaire leans his head against Enjolras's shoulder and smiles at the woman, the bright, provoking smile that usually makes Enjolras want to hit him, his black eyebrows raised a maddening half-inch.
The woman looks from Enjolras to Grantaire and then back again. The camera is a silent black eye, a recording angel.
Enjolras is attempting to look like he's completely comfortable with Grantaire winding himself around him like an octopus while he waits for the rejection – what form it will take? The more emphatic, the better, for their purposes – when the woman finally returns Grantaire's smile.
He has his mouth already open to challenge her when he realises exactly what she said, and a strange choking noise comes out instead. A verbal interrobang.
Grantaire's hand tightens on his. The pain is useful. Enjolras doesn't look at Grantaire, but he takes a breath, and glances sideways at the others for guidance.
Bahorel looks like he's trying not to laugh. Marius is looking distressed, Jehan looks delighted, and Courfeyrac, half-hidden behind his camera rig, makes a vehement go on, go on gesture.
"Congratulations," she adds, starting to fill out their form. "You guys fight this thing, okay?"
"We will, thank you very much," Grantaire says, with sudden cordiality, the faucet-like ability that makes people call him good company even when they've seen him in his black moods, and Enjolras says, still a beat behind, "Yes, thank you."
He doesn't doubt that he still looks confused and a little stuffed (cardboard, Courfeyrac mouths at him), but they collect their little placeholder piece of paper, which absolutely doesn't tremble in his hand, and let Cosette and Eponine take their turn.
Cosette looks like a dozen birthdays and Christmases rolled into one. Eponine is trying for calm, but her dimples keep denting, and every line of her face is delighted.
They beam into the camera when they're done, and then Courfeyrac swings around to focus on 'our other happy couple'.
Enjolras puts his arm around Grantaire's waist. Grantaire gives him a startled look, and Enjolras smiles stiffly. Grantaire's eyebrows rise again, and then he stands on his toes and kisses Enjolras's cheek, so fast he doesn't have time to protest or otherwise react.
He just stands there, flustered, and Bahorel whoops and starts a round of applause, and oh fuck, this is such an almighty fuck-up.
“I hear congratulations are in order,” Valjean says dryly when Enjolras walks into work the next morning and finds him leaning against his desk.
He startles, and lukewarm coffee shoots through the slot of the rubber cover on his eco cup and splashes over his knuckles. He can’t lick it off in front of his boss – the mayor – so he stands there, caught, and stares at him.
“Your successful application for a marriage license,” Valjean adds, like Enjolras might have somehow forgotten, and he is smiling, just a little. Fuck. “You kept that quiet.”
“I don’t like to talk about my personal life,” Enjolras says. That isn’t difficult, because he doesn’t particularly have one, which is how he prefers it. Then he adds, a little plaintively, “It’s not legal.”
“It should be,” Valjean says. The point is inarguable. “I’m as tired of the governor blocking progress on this issue as you are, believe it or not. I thought it was time I took a leaf from the San Francisco playbook.” He inclines his head and one corner of his mouth lifts. “You’re welcome.”
Enjolras stare. That makes more sense than a rogue registry clerk, but – “You told them to issue the licenses?”
“My daughter happened to tell me that she and her girlfriend were considering applying for one. I’d been considering making my stand, in any case, so it seemed an appropriate occasion.” Valjean gives him a much less amused look, and stands up. “I would have appreciated advance warning before you staged your little stunt, you know.”
“- It seems like you had it.”
“Let me be clearer. I would appreciate advance warning from city employees before they stage political protests against the local government I head. The one which employs them.”
Enjolras has heard this before, but in the wake of Valjean’s sudden decision to tell city clerks to issue licenses, he has no higher ground to claim this time; no moral argument to make. Nothing to say. He's not the one who's pushed the boundaries of the possible as far as they'll go. Not this time.
Valjean’s neatly pulled the tablecloth out from under him, like that magic trick with the smooth seam that leaves all the plates and cups and knives and forks still standing on the table. He’s out-trumped them, and out-provoked them; the sudden flare of publicity the issue will get for this – the city – the state –
“As I said,” Valjean says, and the faint smile he’s been wearing deepens abruptly. “Congratulations. To you and your partner.”
“You don’t have to go through with it,” Combeferre says. “Actually, let me be absolutely clear: you shouldn’t go through with it. It’s completely unnecessary. The governor hasn’t responded yet; the registry office should be issuing licenses all through today, at least. We’ve put the word out – there’s a line out the door and down the steps.”
“Which is good,” Enjolras says, the phone wedged between his ear and shoulder. It would be better if he could be out there, among the crowd, but he’s not a student anymore, and he has a job. He shares an office with Mestienne and Gribier, and Fauchelevent has made a point of strolling in to talk with one or the other three times today. There’s nothing Fauchelevent knows that Valjean doesn’t. Enjolras almost wonders why he bothered to come down this morning to deliver his strange mixture of congratulations and reproof in person.
He could have sent Fauchelevent. Fauchelevent would have done it with a will, and captured Valjean’s intonations exactly. He doesn’t care for Enjolras, whose contrarian nature he seems to take as an affront to Valjean's authority, even if Valjean himself seems to find it more entertaining than not. Fauchelevent looks at him like he’s a balls-to-the-wall political crazy, ready to detonate at any moment.
He’s not entirely wrong. Currently, Enjolras is a balls-to-the-wall political crazy with a fake fiancé and a slip of paper telling him to collect his marriage license in three days, and a boundary to push.
“Very good,” Combeferre agrees. “It’s not a unique strategy, but it’s a good one. And the more couples – there’s no reason for you to do it, Enjolras. Cosette and Eponine are more than happy to carry the banner, and they’re ideal.”
“Are you saying Grantaire and I wouldn’t be?”
“Are you suggesting you and Grantaire could pretend to be a devoted couple for a moment longer than the registry line took?”
“Point,” Enjolras admits. He sighs. “Courfeyrac should have let me marry you. You’d make a perfect fake husband.”
“Thank you; I’m afraid the general public wouldn’t agree.” Combeferre makes the faint humming noise he does when he’s reading something, and Enjolras can see him scrolling through the ABC blog comments as clearly as if he was in the room with him. “They seem to have warmed to R. You've received many congratulations on the brave revelation of your private life.”
“I can hear you laughing,” Enjolras says. Thousands wouldn’t, but he can. He hunches down in his cubicle and cuts his eyes around before he speaks again, more seriously. “What kind of message does it send, applying for a license and not taking the opportunity to use it?”
“No one will ask,” Combeferre says. There’s a note of warning in his voice. “If they do – you say that you and Grantaire aren’t ready to take that step just yet. Or you’re waiting until it’s truly legal, and there’s no danger of it being revoked by the governor.”
“I wouldn’t wait,” Enjolras says thoughtfully. “If I was really – if Grantaire was really – I wouldn’t wait. I wouldn’t care that it might get annulled. I’d do it. It’s a political platform on a platter.”
“I know it is,” Combeferre says, and the warning note deepens abruptly. “Enjolras. No.”
Enjolras hates being stuck in his cubicle when he could be, should be out there, speaking into a camera, carrying a sign, facing off against the NOM cluster that showed up shortly after his lunch break. Some of the others are. He keeps an eye on the ABC twitter feed for updates, and itches.
It's an unfortunate summary of his life at present in microcosm.
He doesn't have the freedom to act that he had as a student; that he might have from the outside. Enjolras believes that in their current political system, change must come from internal as well as from external pressure, and he's doing his best to put that into practice, even though sometimes he feels an odd, unwelcome sympathy for libertarianism, selfish philosophy that it is – there's so much dead weight and inertia even in state-level politics, so much effort required for a recalculation of any existing policy even in the smallest degree.
Slow, sustained pressure has more chance of success than the short, brief, flashbang. Enjolras knows that. He's done his best to retrain his mind, to learn patience, to eat patience. It's a necessary apprenticeship to the effective mature career shaping policy he intends to have, but sometimes it feels like he's eating his own liver instead.
Right now it feels like exactly like that.
The more he considers it, into the afternoon, only refreshing the feed at fifteen-minute intervals, the more it starts to seem like a better and better idea. A possible thing. By the time he leaves work, Enjolras has a list of all the reasons he should get married worked out, not simply in his head, but on his tablet.
It's probably a discussion they should have in person, but in the end – after a long night of brainstorming with Courfeyrac and arguing with Combeferre – he simply sends a terse email as an opening volley.
Grantaire fights him on everything. He's the flat note in the score of Enjolras's life. Moreover, since the recent successes in other states galvanised the ABC to focus on marriage equality, Grantaire has made a point of playing diabolicus advocati in discussion out of sheer contrarianism. According to Grantaire – or at least the position Grantaire has currently taken to get under Enjolras's skin; he can't believe it – marriage is a bankrupt institution with almost no value left in it. Marriage is a helplessly, hopelessly heterosexist institution. They shouldn't be trying to assimilate; that way lies boring beige homogeneity in which the homo is all but eclipsed. They should be fighting for the in-your-face, fuck-you, I'm-here-I'm-queer side of their culture, inassimilable, undeniable, for the twinks in glitter and fairy wings making out with leather daddies.
So he's expecting Grantaire to say no automatically, and he has a secondary list of rebuttals taking shape already when he gets his answer, barely five minutes after he sent the email:
when they ask you totally proposed in a more romantic way though. i think you cried.
Are you sure you read my email thoroughly and carefully considered the proposition?
proposal, enjolras, not proposition. still in.
It's too easy.
Enjolras is just waiting for the hitch, but three days later their license is valid and Grantaire's wearing his suit again and they're being pushed into the backseat of the hired limo and driven back to the registry office.
"Hey," Grantaire says when Enjolras gets in the car. "You good? You look a little pale. I mean, you always look pale – not that you don't look good – I mean, are you–?"
"Don't babble," Enjolras says, leaning back against the seat and closing his eyes. He has about twenty minutes of driving, given traffic predictions, to reach an appropriate state of calm and clarity. Focus on breathing. In, out. Mechanical; mindful. Push every intrusive thought away.
Grantaire stays unusually silent for an unusually long while, but his leg is crossed over his knee, and after about five minutes of mindful breathing, his foot begins jiggling manically in the empty air.
Even with his eyes shut, Enjolras can feel the nervous vibration, and it starts to drive him crazy halfway into the short drive.
"Would you stop that?"
The foot stops. "Sorry," Grantaire says, sounding chastened. "Just – nerves, I guess. Are you nervous? You don't look nervous."
"I'm not nervous," Enjolras says.
It must sound false, because Grantaire's head tips towards him. "You're freaking out," he says in accents of delighted discovery, as though he hadn't imagined Enjolras was capable of it. “That makes me feel better. We're as united in freaking out as we shall shortly be in matrimony. Come on, you can't tell me that that thought isn't terrifying."
Enjolras glares at him, and the gleeful look fades slightly. Then Grantaire puts his hand in his jacket and takes out a flask.
“Take a swig, fearless leader. It'll help. It's helping me. I promise you won't even get any social diseases from putting your mouth where mine's been."
"I can't believe you brought alcohol," Enjolras says in disgust – but he does believe it. Of course Grantaire brought alcohol. Enjolras is getting fake-married to an alcoholic annoyance who makes light of everything he tries to do, up to and including this.
"You're hyperventilating a little. Maybe you really should have a drink," Grantaire says, and now he sounds less teasing and more serious.
He continues to proffer the flask, and after another long, steady glare Enjolras takes it and gulps down a mouthful. Whiskey. The warmth burns along his throat and through him. It pools in his stomach, and abruptly, he feels more anchored.
“Thank you,” he says, and passes it back.
Grantaire looks like he wants to take another drink himself, but instead he screws the top back on and returns it to the depths of his jacket. He hesitates, hand still hovering over his pocket. “Hey. It's not going to be too bad. Just like the other day, right?”
“Yeah,” Enjolras says, but he glances out the window at the familiar surroundings going by, calculating, and bites his lip. Five minutes. In five minutes they'll be parking and then they'll be walking up the steps to Town Hall and then he's going to sign the wedding license and smile for the cameras; and then, civil ceremony or not – “Are we planning to kiss? Is that a feature in civil ceremonies?”
Grantaire looks startled, like he hadn't considered about that possibility either. "Uh," he says. His eyes are too wide. “Well. Obviously – I don't know.”
“We should, nevertheless,” Enjolras says, considering.
“Right. If you – right.” Grantaire glances at him, sidelong. “Do you think we should practice?”
Enjolras shakes his head, and that's that for conversation until the car draws up, and Grantaire stops him before he can get the door open.
“Wait a moment,” he says, and then he leans forward.
Enjolras is half-expecting Grantaire to deliberately sabotage his fought-for calm by kissing him, suddenly, before they leave the car. It would be like Grantaire, to ignore his wishes and push him off-balance on purpose – but instead Grantaire does something deft to his tie that stops it looking lopsided before patting it flat and tidying Enjolras's collar and lapels for him.
It's weirdly intimate, and somehow soothing, and when they get out and walk up the steps, Grantaire takes his arm again like it's a move they discussed.
Combeferre is there in the hall, looking deeply disapproving. He has the rings. No one wanted to trust Enjolras or Grantaire with them, and the idea of giving them to Courfeyrac –
("Hurtful," Courfeyrac says, "but not as hurtful as being passed over as best man–"
"Civil ceremonies don't require a best man, only witnesses," Enjolras says, but Combeferre cuts to the heart of the problem.
"There's not going to be a bachelor party," he says, and the matter rests.)
Unfortunately, so is the entire ABC. Enjolras doesn't know how everyone managed to swing time off work. Cosette and Eponine are getting married later tonight, and Bossuet's juggling hours at various places and Jehan's still in grad school, but Joly and Combeferre have their residencies, and Musichetta is teaching; Feuilly has college and his job to juggle, and Bahorel – well, Enjolras is never entirely aware of everything Bahorel's got on the boil, and he suspects that he doesn't want to be, either. Marius and Courfeyrac, at least –
“Oh, fuck,” he says, and Grantaire glances at him.
“My boss,” Enjolras says, because Valjean's there, among the throng of friends and reporters. It's probably not wholly on Enjolras's account; he must be utterly aware that these pictures are going to get picked up and go out everywhere, providing tinder for his next run – and give Javert a coronary.
He'd given Enjolras leave to take the morning off and get married today, before the flood of couples comes rushing in tomorrow, but Enjolras hadn't imagined that he'd attend.
Or that he planned to officiate.
“So this is your young man? He must be rather remarkable.”
“Apparently,” Enjolras says flatly. Grantaire nudges him.
“Absolutely,” he says to the mayor, offering his hand. “And you're Cosette's father – I've heard so much about you.”
“Hopefully not only from Enjolras,” Valjean says, shaking it – which isn't entirely fair. Enjolras has a great deal of respect for the man. He worked on his first mayoral campaign straight out of college. He'll work on the gubernatorial one when it's time to oust Javert, because he likes Valjean, and he likes his politics, and he knows he'll be good for the state. It's just that while he's waiting, Enjolras gets impatient, swaddled and smothered by the sticky threads of bureaucracy, and tries to jog his elbow.
Valjean compliments Enjolras's work – tongue in cheek, Enjolras is sure – and Grantaire compliments his lovely daughter, and they grin at each other, apparently mutually charmed, because the world is conspiring against him. Flashbulbs go off.
“Why are you here, sir?” Enjolras says, clipped. “I knew you were officiating tomorrow, but –”
“And fail to officiate at the first same-sex wedding in the state? You're lucky Cosette and Eponine wanted to wait until later, or you might have failed to beat them to the – well, the registry office, if not the altar,” Valjean says. “No, I couldn't let such an occasion pass unmarked.”
Grantaire nudges him again when Enjolras mutters under his breath, “Couldn't you?”, and that's that; there's enough time to greet their friends, and then Valjean draws himself up.
After that, everything is fairly automatic.
There's not much flourish to a civil ceremony. They sign their papers. Flashbulbs go off; Valjean is looking both incredibly benevolent and incredibly satisfied, because somewhere soon Javert is going to be stroking out, and makes an open-handed, encouraging gesture.
There's an expectant pause, a sudden silence.
"Right," Enjolras says, trying out a smile of his own, and puts his hand on Grantaire's arm.
Grantaire looks at him like he's still trying to figure out if he's serious, and Enjolras raises his eyebrows a little, remembers Grantaire kissing his cheek when they applied for licenses like a dare, leans down, and kisses him.
There's no electric shock or scorpion sting, like he half-expected. Grantaire's mouth is warm, and a little damp like he just wet his lips in readiness. It's short, and chaste, and not unpleasant. It's been a while – over a year – since he was intimate with anyone, and he's lost the trick of it.
Grantaire is blinking quickly when Enjolras lifts his head, his eyes gone rather more black than blue under the fusillade of popping flashes.
His hand is still curled into Enjolras's sleeve, but it uncurls slowly, and then drops away.
That night there's a party at the mayoral residence: a reception for Cosette and Eponine, and the best and biggest that could be put together on three days' notice. The huge back garden where Cosette grew up is strung with lines and nets of fairy lights; the marquee is a white, stately ghost against the tall lines of trees. There's music, and laughter, and dancing.
Cosette sheds happiness in all directions like cut crystal by nature, but Eponine is quieter and fiercer in her own joys and terrors, and tonight she's a revelation. Enjolras has genuinely never seen her look like this before. Not when she got to move into the dorms, and not when she and Cosette started dating, and not even when she graduated, in her family's teeth and against all their predictions. It's not notable that her parents aren't present, with her brother and sister at her side, unless you know her well enough to notice the absence.
“Thank fuck we're not lesbians,” Grantaire mutters by Enjolras's ear as Cosette and Eponine laughingly feed each other cake. Enjolras – with a quick glance around – kicks him under the table. “What? You were thinking it.”
“You can't prove that,” Enjolras says, after a moment. Cosette is kissing a smudge of frosting off the tilted tip of Eponine’s nose. It's revolting. “They look happy.”
Grantaire sounds oddly wistful, and Enjolras looks away from the spectacle of the cake to study him.
As far as he knows, Grantaire's not seeing anyone. Has never seen anyone with particular seriousness in all the years Enjolras has known him. Men and women have passed through his bed and his fingers without leaving an indelible impression or an impact upon the ABC itself. He's never seemed to take any of it very seriously. Perhaps it's just weddings that bring this sudden gravity out in him.
Enjolras would like Grantaire a lot better if he proved that he was able to take anything seriously.
“I hate weddings,” he offers, after a moment. It's true; but mainly because they've always, in the past, been boring affairs, and never concerned any of his own friends, people he felt strongly about. It's different today.
It's different not just because his place-card stuck him firmly next to Grantaire at the ABC table when previous functions organised by people who knew them kept them resolutely separated, but because it's real. It doesn't matter that tomorrow this could all be a mirage, a tenuous thing that could be revoked with the savage line of a pen – tonight it's real.
The admission earns him a considering glance of his own from Grantaire. “Really? I love them. I don't believe in them, but that just makes it better, normally. Open bar, dancing, making fun of the speeches, sloppy hooking up with other miserable bitter single people, drunken fucks where we try for a little bit of the fuzzy warm connection we're supposed to feel –” He stops. “None of that for me tonight, I guess.”
“No,” Enjolras says, and Grantaire taps his ring against the table top. It makes a dull, muffled noise through the linen. A protest, or a reminder to himself of its presence? “And I'm not dancing.”
Unfortunately, it turns out that he doesn't have much choice about that. Cosette and Eponine have the first dance, and then Valjean takes his turn with Cosette while Eponine partners Gavroche, who comes up to her chin. Then some imp of mischief – Enjolras has a short list of suspects – suggests to the DJ that the other newly-married couple should join them on the floor.
They skip out on the reception after that ordeal. Not to take away any more from Cosette and Eponine's spotlight, Enjolras says, trying to turn it into a graceful retreat rather than a summary flight –
“Oh, we understand,” Bossuet says, winking, and jogs Joly in the ribs.
“We do,” Courfeyrac says, looking pontifically sober. “Newlywed ardour –”
“It's not legal until you consummate it,” Bahorel says, grinning broadly, which Enjolras knows for a fact isn't true, unless you file for annulment citing that particular ground, and even then –
“Go forth,” Joly says, and his attempt to wink ends with him solemnly closing both eyes like an owl. “Multiply!”
“Fuck you all,” Grantaire says, cheerfully enough, and swipes the open bottle of champagne off the table as they leave.
Grantaire sleeps on Enjolras's couch that night. Enjolras makes it up for him – well, he tosses him the blankets and a spare pillow, and Grantaire knows where the couch is and how to apply the one to the other.
(“You do realise that you're paranoid, right?” Courfeyrac had asked. "I'm sorry to break it to you, but no one cares enough to track you, or using heat sensors to figure out if you're sharing a bed with your fake husband on your fake wedding night. It's 2014, Enjolras. It's just not that scandalous. I mean, not that you're not very pretty – so if they're doing it, it's to find out what positions you're fake-fucking in. Which would be a massive waste of time and resources, anyway, because they could just ask me, and I'd tell them that your bed sees less action than Switzerland and is more barren than the Sahara.”)
It's a strange flat kind of homecoming after the day he's had. After the kind of day they've had. It seems strange to just wish Grantaire good night and go to his room like a Victorian husband, without acknowledging the elephant in the room – the cheap goldish rings Courfeyrac had procured for them on their wedding fingers. Bathic, in the truest sense.
Enjolras feels like he should say something, but he’s thrown by Grantaire's alien presence in his apartment. “Good night,” he says finally, watching Grantaire tear off his suit jacket and loosen his tie. “The bathroom's just down the hall before my room, and you know where the kitchen is.”
“Also, I can see it,” Grantaire points out, with a speaking flick of his eyes that puts Enjolras's back up.
The living room is less a separate space than the other half of a large room that includes the kitchen, half tiled and half carpeted and divided by that difference, not an intervening wall. That's not the point. Enjolras is trying to make an effort to be hospitable, and Grantaire is being an asshole, like always. Remarkably, he seems to realize it a moment later.
“Sorry,” he adds, and rubs his face. Light glints off his hand. “Long day. Really, really long day. Wedding day. Wedding night. Fuck.”
“Yes,” Enjolras says. It's been long, but he thinks it's worth it. He's not sure if it's worth it for Grantaire, and while that worries him – why is Grantaire going along with it? When, exactly, is this going to hit the wall? – he's asked a lot from him, and been surprisingly accommodated. “I should – Thank you.”
He turns to leave, and gets as far as putting his hand to the hall doorjamb.
“Did you ever think about it?” Grantaire asks. Enjolras stops, caught in his retreat. “Getting married one day, I mean. Your actual wedding night. Fuck knows you've been working for it hard enough, the whole white picket fences and adorable adopted children and chiming wedding bells deal.”
It's the sort of thing he's said many times before, with a sardonic inflection that makes the whole thing seem as fake and plastic as a pair of figurines on top of a wedding cake, a hollow play-pretend that idiots buy into while more cynical people see through the charade. This time it almost sounds like a genuine question, but Enjolras doesn't need to think about his reply.
“No, I don't want that. Not personally. That's different from not wanting the option for everyone.”
“Textbook answer,” Grantaire says, mouth turning down. He rolls his eyes, and Enjolras regrets answering seriously, since Grantaire clearly had no real interest in his answer. His own response is nothing but the usual meaningless antagonistic noise, reflexive. “Top of the class, Enjolras. Selfless and inhuman as always. You know, I'd believe in your whole deal more if you did. Oh, I know you believe with all your reason and intellect, but you don't believe in your marrow. You know it in your head, but you don’t feel it in your bones. In your balls.”
It's the opening volley to a familiar argument, but –
“Good night,” Enjolras says sharply, and turns off the light. Grantaire can make his bed up in the dark.
Courfeyrac got his name entered on Enjolras's private list of First Up Against The Wall for the newlywed consummation cracks and for (probably) making him dance. He goes straight to the top when Enjolras wakes up to find pink glitter all over his carpet.
On his fridge there's a clipping from the daily local paper, cut out in the shape of a raggedy heart. The disembowelled paper itself is sitting on the kitchen island, defaced past the point of legibility. Oh, and the vandal (Courfeyrac) has used poetry magnets to write THE LAUGHING LOVE GOD SMILES UPON YOUR UNION on the fridge door.
Death by firing squad, he thinks sourly, before turning the coffee-maker on and trying to piece together what's left of the newspaper.
Valjean's San Francisco-esque stand got the front page, and they used Enjolras's face to do it – Grantaire's, too, necessarily. He can imagine that they would have preferred a photo of Cosette and Eponine on their wedding day, but they'd kept the ceremony private. Instead, under the photo of Enjolras and Grantaire awkwardly kissing for the cameras, the paper have used a photo from the ABC website of Cosette and Eponine successfully applying for their license, and one of a youngers Cosette standing next to Valjean with her hair in two schoolgirlish braids and his big hand fond on her shoulder.
It's the perfect local political storm, and Enjolras pours himself coffee and flicks his tablet on.
It's burgeoning with photos of the flood of marriages that followed on their heels the moment City Hall opened today. While he was sleeping, the ABC website had gone down for three hours until Feuilly, swearing and mainlining Red Bull, got it back up, and their particular story has been picked up nationally thanks to the fanned flames of Jehan and Courfeyrac's twitter and Facebook campaigning.
Enjolras skims back through the twitter, and sighs.
He's not only fake-married an alcoholic annoyance who doesn't take anything he says or does seriously, he somehow did it while Jehan was live-tweeting the civil ceremony. He's fighting for marriage equality, but the evidence overwhelmingly points to the fact that marriage as an institution is dead, and that he has personally helped administer its Barthesian coup de grâce.
He's still paging through the fallout and self-administering caffeine when Grantaire wakes up.
Enjolras has seen Grantaire asleep a lot. Passed out, frequently, in their college years and in the years immediately after – and if he hasn't seen Grantaire do it in recent years, if he hasn't seen as much of Grantaire in recent years, he still likes to pretend to fall asleep on bar counters and table tops whenever he disagrees with whatever Enjolras is saying and it's not an opportune time to start arguing.
He looks surprisingly different when he's sleeping on Enjolras's couch in a borrowed pair of sweatpants, though, and a great deal more confused when he slowly surfaces into wakefulness.
"Good morning," Enjolras says, over his third cup of coffee, and Grantaire's gaze snaps to him.
"Holy fuck," he says. "How long have you been there watching?"
"Don't flatter yourself. There's still coffee, if you want some." He gestures at the coffeepot and the newspaper.
Grantaire's eyes travel from the paper to the fridge to the floor, and then he starts laughing. "Did you do all this to make me feel welcome? I think confetti's more traditional than glitter –”
“I made the mistake of giving Courfeyrac a spare key,” Enjolras admits. “Did you sleep right through the vandalism?”
“Like a baby,” Grantaire says. Then he grins. “Hubby.”
Enjolras stares at him, appalled.
That newspaper cover haunts him for the next week. It's printed out and photocopied and stuck to various surfaces in Enjolras's apartment, and his car, and his office – even on the mug he uses at work, which suffers the particular indignity of being bedazzled and then decorated with tiny thumb-sized stickers featuring that photo in miniature.
That particular outrage has to be an inside job, but Gribier and Mestienne are too staid for the kind of ruthless practical joking that Enjolras's friends still find funny. He can't imagine either of them owning, let alone wielding, a bedazzler. He can, however, imagine them allowing the mayor's newly-married daughter free range to decorate –
“Enjolras, I would never,” Cosette says when he calls her. “Your coffee mug? Some things are sacred!”
He can still hear her laughing when he hangs up, but that's at least better than the soulful Greek chorus of Bossuet, Joly, Courfeyrac, and Jehan – break-up forgotten, apparently, in the shared cause of mocking – reciting from the more saccharine online articles. Eponine and Cosette are the stars – the mayor's beautiful daughter and her equally beautiful wife – and the big story, but Enjolras and Grantaire spend a certain amount of time in front of a camera or an interviewer in the week immediately following the outbreak of marriages, before the governor rams home a stay on further licenses.
“'The devoted couple,'” Joly reads out, and coughs with mirth.
“'Enjolras, tipped by those close to the mayor as already a major mover in local government, destined for great things' –”
“– 'The young politician, with his patrician looks and movie-star presence –'”
“Oh, this one's hilarious,” Bossuet announces. “'Obviously deeply enamoured of his new husband, the artist who prefers to be known only as R, or Grantaire –'”
“Apparently 'nervous and pissed off' reads as love-struck to these commenters,” Courfeyrac cackles. “Which is lucky, because it looks more to me like constipated.”
“I hate you,” Enjolras informs them all. “I'm hanging up.”
“No,” Jehan says, “Not until I've read you this description of Grantaire as a 'counter-cultural revolutionary whose installational art sculptures are deeply provoking –'”
Enjolras is tired of the mocking from the first morning, but Grantaire starts enjoying it as it goes on. At first he seems as irritated by it as Enjolras.
“Christ,” he said, when Enjolras handed him a print-out of some blog with all the cloying bits underlined by Combeferre's disapproving red pen.
He grimaced unhappily reading the breathless descriptions of their obvious love, which Enjolras more than half-suspects Courfeyrac of feeding to his queer blogosphere contacts wholesale. They were united in this one thing, at least.
Then, after the first few hours, Grantaire turns his coat.
“What?” he says when Enjolras wheels on him. “If you can't beat them – besides, Bahorel's right. The pinched look you get is hilarious Why should I have to miss out on it?”
“You’re part of it.”
Grantaire leans back and crosses his ankles. “I'm laughing with them. It gets tiresome being the butt of the joke, don't you think?”
After that, the worst quotes come from Grantaire’s interviews, the ones he gives in that initial burst of publicity.
“Obviously, I fell in love with him because of his hair,” Grantaire confides, and pats Enjolras’s hand when Enjolras tries to pinch him subtly. “It was hypnotising. I was powerless before his radiant blondness. Unable to speak. My tongue clove to the roof of my mouth. Nonsense came out.”
He tells another interviewer that Enjolras wooed him with his friendliness to strangers, and yet another that it was Enjolras’s shy reserve that he found so fascinating. “You wouldn’t realise it now, of course,” he tells the journalist, into the phone tucked under his chin while his eyes dance meanly at Enjolras over his mendacious mouth, “what with his tendency to stand in the spotlight and look gravely beautiful – but back when we met, he was even quieter, and had his head mostly stuck in a book –”
The book part is true, at least.
Enjolras read more in college than he has time for these days, when so much of his job involves policy briefs and what’s important happens online. None of the rest of the story Grantaire spins resembles reality; he didn’t ask Enjolras what he was reading, they never had a spirited conversation about the role of political propaganda in art, and Enjolras didn’t go away with Grantaire’s number written on his hand in sharpie and a napkin-sketch of Guernica.
What really happened, that first meeting, was that Enjolras was twenty and reading something for class, uneasily aware that he had fifty pages to get through in the next half an hour, and a short, scruffy guy came up to his table, took the spare seat without asking, leaned forward, and said “So, you look like a Greek God just idly wandered down from Olympus, but you’re glaring short-sightedly at that thing like you’re troubled by the same petty concerns that plague the rest of us. It’s too much to expect you to be smart as well as pretty, I guess, but I’m willing to go with pretty if pretty’s willing to go with me.”
And then he’d smiled.
It had actually been a charming smile, now that Enjolras considers it, more than half a decade later, but at the time he’d been unwilling to be charmed, annoyed to be interrupted, and irate over the slap at his intellect. That clumsy opening had possibly been intended as a compliment, but it fell out of Grantaire’s mouth like an insult, and Enjolras had taken it that way.
He doesn’t remember what he was reading, or which class he was reading it for, but it’s funny how vividly he remembers Grantaire’s eyes falling first on his open book, widening as he skimmed the content upside-down, and the colour and all the cocky assurance going out of his face when he looked up into Enjolras’s cold, furious eyes.
He hadn't stayed chastened long, though. He’d turned up at a meeting not long after that, tacked onto Bossuet's heels, and had poured gasoline over any prospect of a second chance or a mutual forgetting by disagreeing loudly with Enjolras’s platform – and lit the match by attaching an 'Apollo' onto the end of his statement when he did it, like he wanted to sign his work with a flourish and put himself permanently under Enjolras's skin.
And then it was war to the knife.
It takes almost a week of effort, but eventually Enjolras extracts his spare key from Courfeyrac’s clutches.
“What will you do when you go out of town and need someone to water your plants and feed your cats?” Courfeyrac asks, clinging to it.
Enjolras can’t remember even giving him the key in the first place. He’s had his apartment three years, so it’s possible it was just so long ago it’s slipped his mind – but it’s hard to imagine a moment when he thought giving Courfeyrac unfettered access to his home was a good idea. “I don’t have cats,” he points out. “Or plants.”
“When you need someone to clean out your fridge, then.”
“I’d ask Combeferre.” Enjolras frowns. “I'd ask Combeferre anyway.”
“Do you even need to ask him?” Courfeyrac asks, briefly diverted. “Don’t you communicate through electrical brain currents and magical mind-reading?” He pauses. “Although – are you communicating at all lately?”
Courfeyrac is too shrewd sometimes. Enjolras wonders how long he's been working out how to shape that question, to make answering it unavoidable. “I’ve been busy. Obviously. So has he.”
“I’ve noticed that he’s been quieter than usual.”
“That’s not my fault. He doesn’t approve of my choices.” When Courfeyrac continues to frown, Enjolras adds, “This was your idea, remember. You encouraged it every step of the way.”
“I know,” Courfeyrac says. “But I didn’t think –” He pauses again. When he speaks, it’s oddly diffident. “He doesn’t have a personal problem with it, does he? Your marriage. Your fake marriage. It’s not –”
“God, no,” Enjolras says, horrified. “He thinks it’s going to blow up in my face. But it’s not – it’s not personal.”
“Are you sure? I mean, he doesn’t date. He doesn’t look.”
“Courfeyrac.” Enjolras rubs his temples. “He’s a medical resident; he doesn’t have time. He’s not interested in casual affairs – but I promise you, on everything I hold sacred, he’s not interested in me. I'm not being oblivious on that front. We had that conversation a very long time ago.”
“I wish I could have heard it,” Courfeyrac says, wistfully, apparently reassured. “It must have been hilarious – or did you just conduct it in your heads?” Then he clears his throat. “But is he interested in general? Or is he not looking because he's not looking?”
“Why are you asking me?”
“Vulgar curiosity,” Courfeyrac says, and having exacted his pound of flesh, at last disgorges the key.
“I hate my friends,” Enjolras says, when his phone goes off to the tune of 'I Think I Want To Marry You.'
A week, almost, and the practical joking hasn't stopped. He thinks about tossing it across the room, but phones seem to get frailer and frailer with every update, and it's not worth peering at his email through a web of spider-webbing cracks just for a few moments' release.
Violently tempting, though.
“Feuilly's work,” Grantaire says knowledgeably. “He got me with 'Going To The Chapel', so you got lucky, really.”
When his phone goes off again, Enjolras covers it with a cushion. “My boss has started referring to you as my better half,” he says, over the jangling. “Cosette sent me an invitation to dinner that included my 'life-partner.'”
“Sent us,” Grantaire corrects, scrolling through his own email. “Aw, Eponine referred to you as my babydaddy. I like that. I might start using it in interviews. They've dried up – how quickly the news cycle moves – but if I mentioned our passionate desire to adopt orphans together –”
“Can’t you take this seriously?”
They have an interview with a writer from Mother Jones the next day, and it’s important. Not because it’s the first national news organisation to interview them – a couple of the local articles had been picked up on Huffington Post – or even because it’s come after the initial twenty-four hours of attention, before the cycle moved on. Gay marriage barely makes a ripple on the national front these days. He likes them as an organisation, and the interview is important. To Enjolras, anyway. He’s not sure what he has to do to make Grantaire treat it that way.
“Why should I?” Grantaire says, and puts his feet up on Enjolras’s sofa. “It’s not like this is anything but a farce, after all. I’m playing along, Enjolras, can’t I have a little fun with it?”
“You’re going to get your stories confused,” Enjolras says, pinching the bridge of his nose. “And I hate sitting there, knowing that you could say anything –”
Knowing that Grantaire has the ability to remove the pin from this live grenade of a marriage at any time, and might do it out of simple boredom –
“I know,” Grantaire says, “that’s why it’s fun.” He grins, and Enjolras wrestles with the urge to smack him.
“I don’t think you understand how uncomfortable you’ve been making me. It’s hard enough to handle my part. And knowing that I can’t trust you to handle yours –”
“Hey.” Grantaire sits up properly. “You can trust me.”
“I’ll behave. I can behave.”
“I'll believe it when I see it,” Enjolras says, because in all the years he's known Grantaire, well-behaved has never been an adjective that applies to him.
He sounds sincere right now, though. His blue eyes are level and his dark brows have pinched together, and, somehow, the look on his face makes Enjolras decide to take a chance. Perhaps a show of faith will inspire trustworthiness and good behaviour.
“Here,” he says, and takes his hand out of his pocket. “I got my spare key back – you should have it, for now. If you're going to be staying here.”
“Oh,” Grantaire says. His brows unpinch, but the expression on his face stays strange. If anything, it gets stranger. “Am I going to be staying here?”
“Sometimes.” Courfeyrac may call him paranoid and make cracks about heat sensors, but it makes sense. “You should keep your place. If anyone asks, it’s your studio.”
Maybe Grantaire’s right about being able to behave when he tries; he seems to be controlling some kind of response now. Enjolras can only imagine what witticisms he’s stifling.
“Well, it is my studio,” he says. “So that won’t be hard.”
Enjolras looks at him.
“But, uh,” Grantaire continues, “that's a good plan. Yeah. Um. How often am I going to be staying here? For verisimilitude?”
“Fridays, I thought,” Enjolras says, carefully. “It won’t matter too much during the week, but I think that after ABC drinks at Corinthe, it would be a good idea to go home together. To be seen going home together.”
“Ah.” Grantaire pauses for another long moment, and then he smiles. It’s a sudden thing, and it makes him look at home in his face again instead of lost and far-away. “I see. This is how you exact your revenge for all those cracks, right? Making me sleep on your Procrustean couch once a week. Did you know that would-be Protestant martyrs used to lie on incredibly uncomfortable beds to practice for their turn on the rack? Let me tell you, Enjolras – those martyrs would have loved to use your couch for training.”
The Mother Jones interview the next day, amazingly, goes well.
Partly, it’s because it’s largely about marriage equality in macro- and microcosm, not stuffed with ridiculous tributary questions about their personal life and marriage. The issue is what Enjolras wanted to discuss in the first place; it’s why he’s doing this. He can speak well about it, if he’s given a chance to speak, and a place to speak from. He doesn’t understand why so many people need little sketches of human interest to get engaged with an issue, faces to put on an obvious problem.
When it devolves, inevitably, into discussing the high points of their (made-up) courtship and all the reasons why their (non-existent) relationship is as strong and real and deserving of legal recognition as any heterosexual couple, Grantaire steps in more than competently, and with none of the insincere nonsense he exhibited earlier.
Enjolras believes in the cause absolutely, but lying about himself in those terms is uncomfortable. If Grantaire didn’t pick up that thread from him, he might falter over it; but if Grantaire hadn’t promised that he’d take it seriously, Enjolras wouldn’t have let him take the questions, not when it was an independent national news interview.
But he’d obviously meant it, for all Enjolras’s doubts.
"Thank you," Enjolras says when it's over at last and they’re almost out of the building.
Grantaire gives him a surprised look, as though Enjolras thanking him quietly and sincerely is a true shock. The effervescent cheerful chatter from the interview disappeared as soon as it was done, and he looks tired as Enjolras feels.
"You don't have to thank me," he says. "I may not always agree with your methods, and I may not agree with you that marriage equality is the best path to securing queer rights – but I believe you're doing what you think is best, you know."
"Well, I'm still grateful," Enjolras says lamely, and they look at each other a little longer until their phones go off in unison.
"Bahorel," Grantaire says, checking. "Car's out front. We have a coffee meeting with that asshole from HRC in forty. Can we stand him up?"
"Even assholes can be useful," Enjolras says, although he privately agrees.
"Asshole fucking douchecanoe shitheads," Grantaire mutters, but then he sighs and tucks his phone away, and pastes the brilliant charming smile from the interview back on, like putting on a mask. "Come on, hubby, we've got a lunch date and we can't keep the chauffeur waiting.”
“Don’t call me that,” Enjolras says, but he goes.
They have dinner at the Valjean residence that night, before dropping in late for Friday night drinks at the Corinthe.
“We should synchronise our Google calendars or something,” Grantaire says, when Enjolras reminds him of these commitments before he splits off after the HRC meeting. He’s angry, and Enjolras is angry too, but their angers have to be separate things, held carefully apart. They might explode if mixed together, make something poisonous like bleach and ammonia.
“Just be there,” Enjolras says tightly. They can’t stay in the same space right now, but Enjolras isn’t sanguine about what Grantaire might do with the hours between now and when he has to show up at Valjean’s. He’s not sure which would be worse: Grantaire not turning up at all, or Grantaire turning up drunk, still angry, high –
That’s not fair. Grantaire has cleaned up a lot since college. Enjolras is annoyed with himself for thinking it, and more annoyed still when Grantaire clearly picks the thought up from his face.
“Don’t worry,” he says, and it's a familiar tone, a familiar expression. “I’ll be there. Make sure you show up yourself, hubby.” He smirks. “Don’t punch any walls.”
That’s not fair. Enjolras hasn’t done that in years. “Just be there,” he snaps, and Grantaire gets out of the car, slams the door, and stalks away.
“Trouble in paradise,” Bahorel remarks sagely from the front seat. “If punching something would help–?”
Enjolras does not, in the end, go to Bahorel’s with him to work out his frustration on the slip bag hanging from a hook in his den. He goes home. He changes. He emails the journalist from Mother Jones to thank her for her time, and then emails their HRC contact, less pleasantly, to thank him for his time, when really he wants to type fuck you fuck you fuck you.
It’s not made any better by the fact that his wrath isn’t quite righteous, that he’s naggingly aware that he’s not, after all, really married to Grantaire, whether their license stays valid or not.
“Combeferre,” he says into the phone, and the tone of his voice must be enough.
“What is it?”
“Fucking – Everything,” Enjolras says, and slaps the edge of his kitchen bench in his temper.
“Fine,” he says, and that thought – that fact – makes him feel a little better. His hands uncurl. “That went well. Grantaire didn’t – he actually handled it very well.”
Combeferre is in the habit of making small interrogative noises that encourage continued explication without committing himself to a particular opinion. He makes one now. “Mm.”
“It was good. The interview. It wasn't just single-issue. We talked about my work with Valjean, the future – I had opportunity to make all the points I wanted to make. We had a good conversation. I don’t think she suspected anything – she liked him. She really – I was surprised.”
Non-committal again, when normally they'd debrief together, talk it through from every angle. Normally Combeferre would dissect the interview forensically. Lay it out on the table, split it from sternum to pelvis and crack open the chest, taking the ribcage apart like an oyster and making Enjolras study the organs, look at the words and tone and possible interpretations through a thousand different lenses.
“I need you,” Enjolras says with sudden feeling. “I need you to be with me on this. I can’t do it if you’re not.”
“I'm always with you.” Combeferre sounds tired, but he's engaging. Enjolras can win if Combeferre engages with him. “I am. I just – this was a bad idea, Enjolras. I wish you’d listened to me.”
“Because you thought it wouldn’t work. It’s working.”
“Because I thought it was incredibly ill-considered, for a host of reasons. Because while I know your heart is in the right place – It wasn’t a good idea, Enjolras. For this kind of activism, you have to be genuine. You can’t fake it.”
“I’m not faking how I feel about our rights.”
“Everything else. You didn’t earn that place to speak.”
“Fuck you,” Enjolras says. Then he deflates. Combeferre's scalpels cut too finely and surely. “You're truly awful.”
“That’s exactly – how do you always know exactly what I’m feeling?”
“Copious exposure,” Combeferre says dryly. “A certain communicable madness. Folie à deux, if you will.”
“Folie à plusieurs,” Enjolras admits. He sighs, defences dropping away. “I felt like shit, if that helps. While we were talking and Grantaire was telling fond little anecdotes about me and smiling and smiling while I sat there and let him lie for me – And then we had coffee with the guy from the HRC, and he as good as accused me of hijacking the issue – which I did, okay, I know I did –”
“Fuck you,” Enjolras says, a placeholder, and continues. “He said we were impeding the legitimate efforts within this state. I would never – I wasn’t planning to file challenging state law on my own behalf. This was about visibility, and I didn't intend – I don't intend to take that path. They can do it themselves, the controlling assholes, using their perfect bland cookie-cutter picked couples –”
“Ah,” Combeferre says, sounding enlightened. “This isn't just conscience stirring. They pissed you off, and you want to tell them to fuck off and do exactly what they don't want you to do, but you can't, because your hands are tied.”
“Yes.” Enjolras smacks the countertop again. “Fucking – douchecanoes.”
“And you've learned a new word. Congratulations.”
“I hate them so much. Cautious, oily, smug, self-satisfied old men – I wish, I wish I could shove it in their faces and make them eat it. If only – Fuck.” Enjolras breathes out. “If I was really married – if it was real –”
“Things might be different.”
“I'm very glad, nevertheless,” Combeferre says, measured where Enjolras is frustrated and choking on it. “I'm glad you know exactly how crazy and suicidal that move would be. I'm glad you don't intend to fuck up the challenge process in the courts. Friendly fire, Enjolras. Even if your marriage was real, you could do damage. As it is – suicidal.”
“But you're still angry.”
“They sat there having coffee with us and told us to our faces that we weren't the kind of couple the HRC wanted to take the battle into the court. Too young, and not together long enough, and too impulsive in the way we went about the whole thing, and just – I guess Grantaire was too tattooed, and I was too political, and we don't have a nice little house in the suburbs and a picket fence and a couple of adopted kids. We're not non-threatening and middle-aged and sexless, so we don't fit their image. Of course I'm angry.”
“Pretty,” Enjolras says, goaded. “He didn't say it, but he implied it.”
“You do lack gravitas,” Combeferre says sadly, because he's an asshole sometimes, and he's exacting penance. “You're not planning on sharing that detail with Courfeyrac, are you?”
“And have him crow forever about the HRC calling me a twink? No.” He takes a breath. “God. I really thought Grantaire was going to mouth off to him. I don't know if I would've even tried to stop him. I wanted him to tell that literal talking asshole to – See, this is why I should have married you.”
“Because I don't talk back to assholes? I think you'll find that I do. Presently, even.”
“Because you check me,” Enjolras says. “Because I don't have to worry that you're going to explode at any moment.” He pauses. “I'm sorry.”
“I should have – I'm not sorry I didn't listen, especially now that the ABC's active part is nearly over and it worked, but I'm sorry I waved your concerns aside. They were legitimate. You were right.”
A little pause. “Thank you. Do you feel better for getting that out?”
“Fuck you,” Enjolras says, a third time, and now he laughs, shaky with catharsis, because that means he's forgiven. “You could pretend not to know exactly what I'm thinking and feeling sometimes. Let me have my self-delusions of selflessness – I have to go. If I'm the one who's late, Grantaire will never let me forget it.”
“Go have dinner with your pseudo-husband,” Combeferre says; pauses. “About that –”
“What?” Enjolras puts the phone to his other ear, trying to juggle his suit jacket and his leather messenger bag and his keys while he locks the apartment door behind him.
“Never mind. I'll see you later.” Enjolras can hear him smiling through the phone. “When Courfeyrac will doubtlessly make us kiss and make up.”
He picks Grantaire up on the way to Valjean's, running late, and to his vast and not entirely kind relief, Grantaire seems sober. He must have showered between the HRC meeting and dinner. His dark hair is curling springily around his ears and against his neck, and his cologne smells sharp, like it's been freshly applied recently.
He looks like someone Enjolras can bring to the mayor's house and introduce as his partner.
It's not something he ever thought he'd find himself thinking about Grantaire, but he's never had a reason to assess Grantaire that way before. He's presentable. That's why the interviewer from Mother Jones found him delightful, why Courfeyrac chose him for this stunt in the first place, when Enjolras hadn't gotten around to noticing that Grantaire had stopped drinking himself to sleep every night some years ago and no longer smells of cannabis and linseed oil and old nicotine – or at least, not as often. He dresses better. He showers regularly.
His work has taken off enough that he can afford to work only part-time at a second job; Enjolras doesn't know what it looks like, these days, but he has the vague idea that it's large-scale sculpture and involves a lot of glass. He can talk; he can deliver the small-talk and shallow social niceties with an exactness that, to Enjolras, who knows him, recognises as a private and absolutely cutting satire on the people who enjoy such pattern-cut conversation, but which luckily escapes scrutiny from most recipients. Can carry a conversation in greater depth, with intelligence, and stay charming – and also descend to black limits of nihilism and deliberate unpleasantness, if he feels like it. He's presentable, but only to a point, and when he gets to that point, tired of the game, or bored, or furious – the whole house of cards can collapse in a hurry.
“You're looking at me,” Grantaire says suddenly, into the silence. “I think you should be looking at the road. Do I meet your minimum standards? Do you want to check that I've cleaned my fingernails and washed behind my ears?”
“Behind your ears?” Enjolras says, diverted, and then some asshole behind him starts banging on his horn to let him know that the lights have changed.
“Flip him off out the window,” Grantaire suggests, and grins, satyr-like. His brooding black cloud of silent anger seems to have lifted, but Enjolras doesn't trust the stability of his temper.
“If I wanted to get rammed, I would.”
“Oh, Apollo, if you want to get rammed, all you ever have to do is ask.”
Enjolras slants another glance at him, and this time it's warning rather than assessing. “Don't say that kind of thing tonight.”
“Do you think I'm an idiot?”
“Do you want me to answer that?”
“Don't put yourself to the trouble,” Grantaire says, and unfolds his sunglasses. In a moment, his eyes are hidden behind their mirrored lenses, and they're quiet again.
“Look at you,” Eponine says with her customary flatness, answering the door. Enjolras blinks at her. “Newly-wed passion. You just can't keep your hands off each other.”
Reminded, Enjolras puts his hand out, and Grantaire takes it. “Hello, Eponine.”
“Look at you,” Grantaire says, and he's smiling, and there doesn't seem to be anything forced about it. He squeezes Enjolras's hand in apparent reflex. “Daughter of the house, now? You look happy.”
“I am happy,” Eponine admits, and steps back. “Come in, we're just having drinks in the living room – I'm sorry, aperitifs in the sitting room – and you should know, head's up, you're not the only guests tonight, so if you were expecting the casual little en famille experience, my new father-in-law totally lied. It's you and the ball and chain – hey, Enjolras – me and Cosette, the father-in-law, and a pair of very old lesbians.” Her dark eyes gleam, briefly.
“Well, we can handle that,” Enjolras says, and squeezes Grantaire's hand back. This time, Grantaire notices the pressure, and gives him an unreadable look.
“I bet you will,” Eponine says, and turns on her heel. They're obviously expected to follow, so they do.
Enjolras has been to Valjean's before. They attended the wedding just a week ago; and he's dropped by with files before, has been invited to celebrations of mayoral triumphs. He's never been invited as just a guest for a small private family meal, with work and its concerns apparently entirely off the table, and he's grateful despite himself to have Grantaire there to make it less strange.
“Enjolras,” Valjean says when they enter the sitting room. “And Grantaire! Hello.” He gets to his feet, and beside him, Cosette, looking pink-cheeked and sweet and incredulously happy, comes forward and gives them each a hug. When she steps back, Valjean waves a hand at the two elderly ladies sitting side-by-side on a sofa and says, “Let me make introductions – my very adept junior, Enjolras, and his husband, Grantaire. Enjolras – this is Baptistine Myriel and her partner, Annette Magloire.”
“Hi,” Grantaire says easily, smiling; the names obviously mean nothing to him.
To Enjolras, they mean a lot.
“Hello,” he says, a heartbeat late, and then, “Ms. Myriel. I had a great deal of respect for the late Governor.”
Baptistine Myriel smiles a little vaguely. Her hand in his is very small, all fine bones like the skeleton of a bird inside an old silk glove, and Enjolras is afraid of squeezing it too firmly. She's tall and stooped and extremely thin, fragile with age, and even a breath seems like it could bruise. When she meets his eyes, he's surprised by how intense her gaze is, under the drooping eyelids.
Her partner is almost entirely her opposite. Enjolras has seen that kind of couple before, and it doesn't seem to matter whether they're heterosexual, gay, lesbian – the original nursery-rhyme, after all, was about Jack Sprat and his wife. Madame Magloire is short and stout, and noticeably red of complexion. She shakes his hand like a man and seems no-nonsense. Enjolras imagines that she's the person casual observers assume holds the power in the relationship. He's not as sure. “You're young, aren't you?” she says, and elbows Valjean. “Recruiting them out of high school now, are you, Jean?”
“Enjolras is, despite his youthful looks, twenty-seven,” Valjean says mildly. “I made a point of checking his driver's license when I first brought him on board.”
“Sir,” Enjolras says indignantly, striving for normalcy, although part of him is still gibbering Myriel Myriel Myriel. Charles Myriel, the popular Democratic governor who preceded Javert's tenure, widely considered to be the next thing to a saint, his re-election almost uncontested for over two decades until he died still in office, the way Enjolras rather hopes to go himself.
Enjolras remembers that he had a wife who died when they were both very young, and never remarried. He remembers hearing that Governor Myriel's political hostess was his sister.
He doesn't remember ever hearing that the sister was a lesbian, or of Madame Magloire's existence.
“Just my little joke,” Valjean says, but the look he directs Enjolras's way is knowing, like he can read his mind as easily as Combeferre can; like he knows exactly how many frantic thoughts are brewing there right now, Myriel and lesbian and national stage and political capital. “Shall we go in for dinner, now we're all here?”
Dinner is excruciating. Enjolras feels almost electrically excited, but he can't exactly open his mouth and say, “So, what does the same-sex marriage battle in this state mean to you?” without an appropriate opening. Grantaire doesn't seem to realise what this could mean, and Eponine clearly does, giving him the tiniest glint every time he meets her eye; Cosette is absolutely charming and carries the small-talk, parrying gently with Grantaire and her father and Madame Magloire as Baptistine Myriel sits there sipping water and watching them all.
Grantaire appears to be enjoying himself. He's relaxed and on his best behaviour, and he and Cosette seem to be almost making a game out of their verbal dexterity and easy conversation. There's a glass of wine at his elbow which Enjolras is keeping a weather eye on. “How are we finding marriage? Busy, mostly,” he says, and grins sideways at Enjolras. “You should have seen our schedule for today. I'm terrible at that kind of thing, so Enjolras takes care of it for both of us, makes sure I'm where I'm supposed to be –”
“How wifely,” Eponine says, with a punctuating dimple.
“Does Cosette keep your calendar for you?” Enjolras asks, annoyed. “Does she do the cooking while you take out the trash? That kind of outdated gender binary – ”
“I believe there's always a certain division of tasks within a partnership,” Baptistine Myriel says unexpectedly. “Not according to gender, of course, but to the individual strengths within that partnership.”
“Very true,” Grantaire says, and grins again. “Enjolras is in charge of all sorts of manly stuff, Eponine, don't worry.”
“Ugh,” she says, and Madame Magloire says, “Ah, newlyweds,” while under the table Enjolras kicks Grantaire's ankle and wishes they were still holding hands so he could punctuate his disapproval by squeezing Grantaire's hand hard enough to make the bones grind against each other.
“That's not what I was implying,” Grantaire says, unruffled, and then says, returning to his former track, “we had an interview with a journalist from Mother Jones this morning, and then had a cup of coffee with a representative from the HRC – not that they offered to buy, of course –”
There's a subtle tightening of attention around the entire table. Grantaire still looks relaxed and unaware, but Enjolras suddenly realises that he probably knows exactly what he's doing.
“Mother Jones?” Valjean says, looking at Enjolras. “Well done.”
“She'll contact your office for fact-checking and commentary,” Enjolras says belatedly, and wants to kick Grantaire again. “It wasn't just about our marriage, about the licenses – I was able to talk about working for you, and the goals we hope to achieve over the next few years.”
Another subtle sharpening of interest.
“And the HRC?” Baptistine Myriel asks, in a far-away voice.
Grantaire grins again, and one of his bared canines dents his lower lip slightly. “I can't say we enjoyed that meeting much.”
“Hm,” Madame Magloire says, and gives her partner a none-too-subtle look. “Well, let's talk turkey, shall we, Jean? I'm sure everyone here is trustworthy.”
“Annette,” he says. “These young people –”
“These young people are in it up to their pretty little necks,” she says, overruling him. “Or so the scuttlebutt has it. You must admit it has every sign of a conspiracy, Jean. Your daughter, and your favourite aide – your big move against Javert. You couldn't have handpicked cases closer to your camp to make the move. I'm not saying it was a bad move, mind. A bit obvious, of course.”
Cosette looks at Enjolras, who looks back at her. If they'd known – “It wasn't exactly planned,” she says. “Or, well – we planned it. We didn't expect Papa to involve himself.”
“No one was more surprised than Enjolras when the license was issued,” Grantaire confirms, taking Enjolras's hand firmly. The pressure of his fingers is reassuring. “He made this adorable little shocked noise, like a kitten being squeezed by a toddler, or someone stepping on a rubber ducky.”
“I had about twelve hours warning,” Valjean says, “thanks to my daughter's uneasy conscience, which allowed me to consider what I wanted to do and to decide to use the opportunity which had offered itself. This isn't for public knowledge, Annette, but I trust you to be discreet. If people are going to assume that this was an artfully-constructed, soulless conspiracy, they may. It certainly credits me with more cunning.”
“Hm,” Madame Magloire says again, obviously unconvinced, and Baptistine Myriel lifts her eyes from a study of the pattern on her silverware and says, “Nevertheless – conspiracy or not, it demonstrates a commitment to progressive politics and marriage equality that informs the public that you're not simply speaking empty platitudes.”
“And have I convinced you, Baptistine?”
She gives a vague little nod. Enjolras isn't sure exactly what's being decided here, but he's certain that it's big. “You have,” she says. “Yes. If – when – you run for state, you'll have my financial support, and my blessing. My endorsement.”
“Just your blessing would have been more than I could ask for,” Valjean says, and his face creases into one of the smiles that made Enjolras decide to work on his long-shot mayoral campaign in the first place.
It's not just that Valjean has the sort of story that makes great capital – the poor beginnings, the necessary grace of social welfare, and the crippling consequences of its withdrawal; the wrongful conviction when only a teenager, the years in prison before it was overturned, and his resulting access to further education and self-betterment while behind bars. The patent idea which had taken off after his release, and the sudden access to wealth; the way he'd used it to give back to the community. The war on poverty he's fighting as hard as he can. It's the sincerity of the man, and the sudden simplicity of his intention to do good.
He'd had some sort of connection to Governor Myriel, Enjolras remembers. It was never explicitly quantified; just there. An old connection, given how easily he talks to Madames Magloire and Myriel, the first-name terms and the sudden blunt speech.
“Well,” Grantaire says, deliberately oblivious to the sudden eggshell-calm of the room, “I guess this just became a real conspiracy, huh? To your governorship,” he says, and lifts his glass.
They're dismissed like children after dessert. “I know you have a standing engagement,” Valjean says.
“And you want us out of the way so you can really talk,” Cosette says, laughing, and bends to kiss his cheek. “I know how you are, papa.”
“You see,” he says, looking around the table ruefully before smiling at Cosette with the open fatherly tenderness that made Enjolras's throat catch the first time he saw it. Eponine looks surprised, and then amazed, when Valjean includes her in his smile. “My daughters have me entirely mapped out. I can't get away with anything.”
“Cute,” Grantaire says on their way out, once the heavy front door has closed behind them. “Very cute.”
“Shut up,” Eponine says. She has her arm around Cosette's waist, and Cosette has one hand on Eponine's shoulder and the other placed over Eponine's hand on her hip, squeezing it like they're sharing something wordless. It's amazing to Enjolras that they can even walk in a straight line. “Speaking of cute – you know you don't have to act around us.”
“What?” Enjolras says, and then, “Oh,” when he realises he's still holding Grantaire's hand. They drop each other's grip quickly.
“You shouldn't have said anything,” Cosette says sadly. “They would have walked into the Corinthe looking all sweet and clinging –”
“We're not friends with these demon-women,” Grantaire says, and Enjolras laughs, feeling a little giddy with all the swinging see-saw tension of the day, and is happy, in this moment, to be walking along in the dark with Cosette and Eponine and their happiness, with Grantaire in a good mood and with the unfolding and unfurling promise of the future.
“Hug it out,” Courfeyrac orders. He shoves Combeferre and Enjolras together, and beams demonically at them. Combeferre has a wryly indulgent look on his face, the fond expression he wears around Courfeyrac so often.
Enjolras sighs. “Come here. You know he's just going to stand there and pout until we do.”
“Don't make me the disciplinarian,” Combeferre says, but when Courfeyrac puts a hand on his back, he moves forward ungrudgingly and pulls Enjolras against his chest.
Enjolras hugs him back with no little relief, bunching one hand in Combeferre's coat and holding on tightly.
“I'm getting a little uncomfortable,” Bossuet observes as the hug goes on.
“Fuck off,” Enjolras says, muffled against Combeferre's shoulder, but eventually they release each other. “I hate fighting with you.”
“Were you fighting?” Marius asks, with some surprise. “But I never heard you argue –”
“They don't fight like normal people,” Bahorel informs him sagely. “If you haven't realised that yet, grasshopper –”
“All very nice,” Grantaire says, sounding bored. “Can we start drinking? Let's start drinking.”
“No one's stopping you,” Joly says, but there's a general movement away from the threshold, where Courfeyrac had ambushed them and thrust Combeferre forward, back to the bar.
Enjolras accepts a wineglass when someone presses it into his hand, because he's had a rough day and he deserves it, and because, although he can't mention it yet to anyone here except Cosette and Eponine – and, strangely, Grantaire – there's something to celebrate.
More than one thing.
“Congratulations to Eponine and Cosette,” Marius says, flushing a little with the earnestness of his good wishes. He flushes pinker when Cosette kisses his cheek, and Eponine scowls around her smile like she's trying to pretend she doesn't find it as adorable as everyone else does, then gives up and beams.
It's warm and comfortable, a familiar routine that all of them do their best to keep up, week to week, month to month, year after year. On Friday nights, they have drinks at the Corinthe, and if they don't always reach a full quorum, there are always at least a handful of them there. It's a tradition that matters.
They don't often have the bar to themselves, unless they book it for a special occasion. It had been a grungy little dive bar years ago, a hole Grantaire found to get shitfaced in that began to be adopted by them all, from Joly and Bossuet to Bahorel and Jehan to Musichetta and Eponine, Courfeyrac, Cosette, Marius, and at last Combeferre and Courfeyrac. It's changed over the years, as they grew up, and as the area it was in gentrified; smartened up, changed owners and names, changed menus, introduced food, taken it away, brought it back – but they keep coming back, and they keep calling it the Corinthe.
Friday nights are a well-worn routine, but this Friday is different. People are buying them drinks. Not just their friends, but others; Grantaire walks around with a glass in each hand, having them constantly topped up, and accepting conjugal congratulations from the regulars, who know him much better than they know Enjolras.
This Friday is different, too, because at a little after one in the morning Enjolras puts down his glass and says, “Time to go.”
“Better catch your tipsy butterfly,” Jehan says. Enjolras has been relieved to notice that he and Courfeyrac seem back on normal terms. Courfeyrac has a knack for staying friends with discarded lovers: witness Marius. “Have you got a net?”
“I hope I don't need one,” Enjolras says, and rises, to a chorus of responses which teeter between “Going already?” and further variations on the theme of newlywed eagerness. He doesn't need to corral Grantaire. Grantaire, noticing the disturbance, comes over to him, and puts a casual arm around his shoulders.
“Time to go, hubby?”
“I'm desperate to get you alone,” Enjolras says flatly, trying to convey so I can strangle you for calling me that in public with his eyes. Then, inspired, he adds, “babe,” and Grantaire's arm tenses around his shoulder.
“That’s deathly disturbing,” Bahorel says, shuddering. “Don’t do that.”
“He doesn’t have a voice made for delivering sweet nothings, does he?” Bossuet says. “Too crisp. Too dispassionate.”
“It’s not the delivery,” Jehan says, gazing meditatively into his wineglass like Hamlet into the empty eye-sockets of Yorick. “It’s the word choice.”
“All in favour of Enjolras never doing that again, raise your hands,” Courfeyrac says, and makes a show of counting votes. “Motion carries, with a unanimous majority!”
“Funny,” Enjolras says witheringly, and Grantaire comes back to life with a laugh.
“Everyone thinks they can do stand-up,” he says. “Come on, let's leave these assholes to their boozing and go home and tear each other's clothes off.”
“Animals!” one of their friends whoops after them, as the door of the Corinthe closes.
Back at Enjolras's flat, the problem of clothes, if not the tearing of them, arises.
“I should have brought some stuff over,” Grantaire says. “I meant to, but I was pissed off when I went home to change for dinner, and I just –”
“It doesn't matter,” Enjolras says. Another long fucking day. He wants to go to bed. “I bought you a toothbrush.”
Grantaire stares at him. And stares at him. Then shakes his head. “You bought me a toothbrush?”
Grantaire shakes his head again, like the idea of Enjolras buying him a toothbrush is just utterly irreconcilable with reality.
“And you can borrow something to wear.”
“Maybe I like to sleep naked –”
“If you sleep naked on my couch,” Enjolras says, very precisely, “I'll have to burn it. And then I'll kill you.”
“It's almost worth the sacrifice if it means the destruction of that torture instrument you call a couch,” Grantaire says, but he puts his hands up when Enjolras narrows his eyes at him. “Okay, okay, there will be no bare ass on your couch.” A pause; his eyes kindle with sudden and unholy curiosity. “Has there ever been? I mean, I seriously doubt you've ever fucked any of your boring exes on it, because there's no way you'd still have a boner for the couch if you'd tried, but I'm sure it's seen some action. You should let me know what I'm sleeping on, it's only hygienic.”
“Go the fuck to bed,” Enjolras says curtly, and stalks out of his own living room to the sound of Grantaire chuckling.
It's not a very satisfying exit, because he has to return a few minutes later with the toothbrush, a pile of blankets, and the spare pillow, but he derives a little satisfaction from throwing them all at Grantaire's head.
“The quality of mercy is not strained,” Grantaire says, still laughing, and pitches his voice as Enjolras stalks back to his room. “It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven –”
In the morning, Enjolras struggles towards consciousness and uprightness to the smell of coffee brewing and the sound of someone else moving around in his apartment. He's been single for so long that the noises of another occupant immediately sets off warning bells, and it takes him a moment – and a glance at the thin band on his ring finger, which is probably beginning to discolour underneath with verdigris – to remember.
"Good morning," Grantaire says over his shoulder, and Enjolras, in attempting to focus on the coffee pot hissing gently to itself on the bench, finds his eyes snagging on the lean bare length of Grantaire's back, and the faint indentations on either side of his spine just above the sagging waistband of his borrowed sweats, not deep enough to be dimples, but there regardless. "Sorry if I was a dick last night. Again."
“It's expected,” Enjolras says, and then feels like he should at least try to be civil, too, even if Grantaire won't keep it up. “You put coffee on, you're forgiven," he says, pouring himself a cup. "–Are you cooking?"
"Apology omelette," Grantaire says, and twists his head back and forth on his neck like he's trying to work the kinks out of it. “Although considering that you made me sleep on the couch –”
“Don't act like I was punishing you. The couch was always the deal.”
“It was,” Grantaire agrees. He turns, and Enjolras is presented with his bare chest and his rumpled dark head and his hand wrapped capably around a pan of bubbling egg froth, the whites separately whipped and basted on top of the filling like meringue. The tendon in his forearm stands out slightly as he opens the oven and places the pan inside to finish it off. “But the deal's a little different now, isn't it? Sit down.”
Enjolras sits. In a few minutes, there's a plate in front of him, and on it a mélange of eggs and cheese and tomato and spinach which doesn't technically qualify as an omelette. It's Spanish, and he opens his mouth to ask Grantaire if Musichetta taught him how to make it, and then shuts it.
She probably did. Enjolras can imagine it, Joly and Bossuet and Grantaire coming crashing back to the same apartment in their younger days after a night of drinking, and Musichetta in the morning making hangover food and nevertheless making her displeasure extremely known with every slam of a cabinet and loud whirr of a mixer.
The politer option is to just say thank you, which is what Enjolras does, to a corresponding wave of Grantaire's hand.
“I was up, and I needed to do something. If I had any gear over here, I'd have gone for a run, but as it is –” A shrug. “Cooking worked. Although if I'd tried that after the HRC meeting yesterday, I would've burned my place down, so let's be grateful that I was able to run it out.”
“You run?” Enjolras asks, surprised. Not at the thought of Grantaire running – Grantaire has always been, despite the periods of exaggerated sloth and drunken stupor, a physical kind of person. He boxes – or he used to. He did MMA – or he used to. In college he'd taken a certain quixotic pleasure in demonstrating that he had talents, and was wilfully squandering them What surprises Enjolras is that he hadn't known that before. In college, when he saw more of his friends more often, he would have.
“When I'm thinking,” Grantaire says, dismissive again, “or when I'm fucked off. More importantly: I assumed we were getting a divorce in a couple of months, once no one gave half a fuck anymore about us.”'
Enjolras turns his coffee cup in his hands. “Yes,” he says, frowning. “I already have the papers in my desk – I had Courfeyrac draw them up and print them off when we first decided to go through with the license.”
It occurs to him that that we should mean Enjolras and Grantaire, and not Enjolras and Courfeyrac, but it doesn't. They'd made the decision together, over Combeferre's disagreement, and they'd done their best to predict the future and possible fall-out and cover the exit strategy before Enjolras had gone as far as shooting Grantaire the email he'd expected to receive an instant reply of fuck no.
“Of course you did,” Grantaire says, and gives him a crooked, slightly twisted smile like he's thinking the same thing. “Assuming a little, weren't you? I hadn't even accepted your proposal yet.”
“Proposition,” Enjolras corrects. “Anyway – you agreed.”
“I did,” Grantaire says. “Fuck knows why; I don't believe in marriage. Because I don't believe in it, probably. But I agreed – because I may not believe in marriage, but I believe in you.”
It's more or less what Grantaire said after the successful Mother Jones interview, before the HRC meeting poisoned their brief moment of concord, but so flatly stated that it comes out like a slap. Comes out without anything to soften it, without even the usual reflexive irony that tilts everything Grantaire says until it sounds wholly insincere.
This is serious, and Enjolras is under caffeinated and unequipped to deal with the sudden turns of Grantaire's mercurial personality.
“Yeah,” Grantaire says. His hands twitch like he wants to reach for a cigarette. He runs a hand through his shaggy hair instead. “Anyway. Whatever. The point is – you get that it's different now, right? If Valjean's running for governor next election. If you're – if we're – part of that.”
Enjolras looks at him, even more blankly, with even more surprise.
He's started to think about it, of course; thought about nothing else all through dessert and the walk to the Corinthe, went to bed last night with the future fizzing through his head like sherbet. But he's used to being the person who initiates action, who plots changes in strategy; he wasn't done working through it all yet, and he didn't expect Grantaire to bring it up first.
“I'm not awake enough for this conversation,” he says at last.
“Finish your coffee.”
“Coffee's not actually an adequate substitution for natural sleep patterns,” Enjolras points out, because this is the way it's always been between them; if Enjolras wants something, Grantaire wants the opposite, and vice versa. Somewhere Combeferre is entitled both to sue him for copyright infringement and is also open-mouthed at the supreme hypocrisy of that borrowed statement issuing from Enjolras's lips, but he gulps his coffee down, and sets the mug down on the bench. “You've obviously been thinking.”
“I was up early.”
“I’ve been thinking about it too,” Enjolras admits. He lifts his head and looks Grantaire straight in the eye, and now he's serious, too. “If we change the original plan – that's not a few months' facade, that could mean several years' commitment. And considerably more deception. I don't know if it's fair to ask you to commit to that, for the sake of my boss's career – for the sake of my career. I don't know if it's right to even think about asking you. Combeferre would tell me not to, I know that. I don't want to deceive people. That's not what this was about.”
“If it helps, I'll say yes.”
This is the second time in five minutes that Enjolras has had to stop in his mental tracks and just look at Grantaire.
“Oh,” he says again, and looks down.
But it also makes it more complicated, because it removes the safety brake on his wildest plans.
It's only been a week, but that's how this whole thing has felt from the beginning: like he signed up to take a brief drive around the corner and found himself locked into a rollercoaster, plunging on and on around unexpected corners at uncontrollable speed.
Grantaire agreeing – Grantaire suggesting – is a red flag saying Do Not Do This, Enjolras. If Grantaire suggests something, it's probably a terrible idea. Even if it's where his own mind had been drifting first.
“I thought about it,” Grantaire says, leaning forward, and he's not only serious; he's energised, and disturbingly compelling with it. His eyes are the peacock-blue of neon light. “The whole deception thing. Your charming atavistic bourgeois morals.”
“I do not have–”
“You do,” Grantaire says, over him. “And then I thought – they do it all the fucking time. Heterosexual couples. In politics, out of politics – they stay together for the kids, or because of what the neighbours might think, or because they're stuck in a rut they can't even see their way out of. Political marriages, especially – they trot the wife and kids out in public, but behind the scenes they're JFK sleeping with a gangster moll, they're Clinton getting head under the desk in the Oval Office, they're innumerable Republicans getting off at glory holes and with Craigslist hookers. And even when they're caught, they have these – these marriages, and they stick with them, and you think, how dumb can the wife be? But there's still – there's a solidity to it. A legitimacy to hide behind. It's a stable unit, a three-legged stool instead of a two-legged one.”
That sudden torrent of words is more engaged and genuine than Enjolras has heard him in years, delivered choppily and too fast. Enthusiasm is a rare and good look on him.
“Gravitas,” he says.
Grantaire nods, still bright-eyed. “Yeah. I mean, if we're already engaged in grand theft institutional privilege – why not take another page out of their playbook? Take the whole fucking playbook.”
“I need to talk to the others first,” Enjolras says, instead of the yes rising in his throat – which is not his line, this is not his part, he's meant to be the one with the great ambitious terrible short-sighted plans, not listing forward towards Grantaire like his words have drawn him like a magnet.
Grantaire nods, like he expected that, and sits back. Some of the energy drains away, but not all of it. “Think about it, anyway. It's not like we're short on time.”
“I will,” Enjolras says, and it's a promise.
After that, with the question hanging, they fall into a routine of sorts.
They don't see each other during the week. The marriage is almost a non-issue, something Enjolras can forget about entirely during the working week, unless someone happens to refer to it or to his husband. He's newly surprised every time he catches sight of the ring on his left hand – but otherwise, his life is his own, except on weekends. Friday nights at the Corinthe, among friends who know it's a false front, and who take pains to point out the fact that he has a husband; and on Saturday mornings at his apartment, which become bizarrely domestic even when they end the night before with another argument.
Whoever's up earlier makes the coffee and goes down the road to pick up pastries (Enjolras) or attempts to make breakfast (Grantaire). On the Friday nights Grantaire gets senior year levels of drunk, it's Enjolras who's awake first. When Grantaire paces himself, he's the first one up, and by the time Enjolras surfaces Grantaire's already been for a run, and coffee is perking, and Grantaire is peeling off his sweat-damp t-shirt and pushing past him to commandeer his shower.
When he finally comes out, usually in the sweatpants that have become annexed as his personal property and nothing else, Enjolras reads the news and starts answering his email while Grantaire hums pop songs, too loudly and disturbingly on-key, and makes his strange fluffy omelettes before showing himself out. Sometimes they even manage a little civil conversation that goes beyond the shallow niceties without descending into bickering, but it's careful, skating on thin ice over dangerous water they're both aware of.
They're invited as a couple to Valjean's for dinner on a few further occasions, and Grantaire turns up dressed decently and fairly respectable whenever there's a city function Enjolras is supposed to attend. The Mother Jones article is excellent, and earns Enjolras considerable attention within local political circles, but there's no further journalistic interest in them, and won't be – until the election. Being queer in America is no longer at all shocking, and that is progress, for all Grantaire likes to claim that that very loss of shock and frisson is something queer culture should mourn.
He takes his own turn playing Grantaire's partner publicly. The first time, Grantaire exacts his own revenge by warning Enjolras at great length and redundancy about embarrassing him in front of his colleagues, telling him a lot of terrible untrue stories about the art world and the kind of aesthetic response people at the benefit will be expecting him to have, and pinning random nouns from his seemingly never-ending list of annoying endearments on to the end of his sentences. Hubby gets tacked on whenever Grantaire really wants to get under Enjolras's skin, but there are others, petal, kitten, primrose, sugar-cookie – Enjolras tunes them out, mostly.
(Sometimes he stirs himself to fight fire with fire, dropping a babe or a dear of his own with the precision of a pinpoint bomb. They shut Grantaire up remarkably well. Whatever he's been saying is paused, whatever line of argument he's pursuing abandoned, and the impact lasts at least five minutes).
The second time, Grantaire's well-behaved, and drops all the deliberate pricking and poking. He actually seems somewhat abashed about asking.
“I mean, you don't have to come,” he says, gaze dropped sideways like it doesn't matter. It's a Friday, and they're on the rickety balcony of the Corinthe. Grantaire, so he can smoke, and Enjolras because he's happy to stand out in the evening air, even redolent of nicotine, when it means that he can continue his conversations.
Bahorel laughs quietly under his breath, tapping ash off his evil-smelling cigar. “Will there be free booze? Why not ask me, instead of dragging little Leonidas into the lion's den kicking and screaming?”
“It's not a – fuck you,” Grantaire says, and glances back at Enjolras. “It's really – I know I talked a big game, but it's not even some pissy benefit, it's just a showing.”
“If I'm free,” Enjolras says, because Grantaire has been good about attending his functions and, despite many threats, has yet to actually and deliberately fuck anything up. “Yes. Let me know when, and I'll be there.”
Grantaire relaxes a little. “Okay,” he says. “It's really not – but thanks. Yeah.”
There's a slightly uncomfortable pause, into which Bahorel puffs a smoke-ring over the balcony railing and Enjolras finds himself watching it drift toward the gruesome backstreet the Corinthe balcony overlooks, and then over the distant view of the city, losing shape and dissipating as it goes.
“Hey, I get to dress you,” Grantaire says brightly into the silence. “Since you vetoed what I wanted to wear to your city hall thing.”
“You wanted to wear jeans.”
“You didn't tell me it was that formal.”
“I assumed you'd know,” Enjolras says, glancing sideways, and Grantaire blows a small stream of dissenting smoke into his face and smiles at him around it. Enjolras wrinkles his nose, but doesn't comment. It's as annoying a habit as it was in college, but it smells better than Bahorel's foul cigar; Enjolras has become accustomed to the scent of it lingering in the folds of Grantaire's jacket and in his hair. “And you can veto, not pick.”
“You sound so fucking married,” Bahorel says, chuckling. He taps more ash away. “Fuck, fine. If you're going to be domesticated, I'm going to go on like some moony fucking teenager about the lady I've started seeing, and you're going to shut up and take it.”
“Take it yourself, I came out here to hear more about the mentoring program, not some sappy bullshit,” Grantaire says, but he leans against the railing and props his chin on his hand. “This the one?”
Bahorel makes a disgusted noise. “Married people,” he says. “Always assuming the rest of us want to rush in and fucking formalise shit.”
Grantaire's showing is the first time Enjolras has seen his work since college. It's a chastening thought, for all that they've never been close, or even managed to get along particularly well, to realise that for the past five years he hasn't taken the time to keep up with Grantaire's career as it's taken off.
For all his threats, in the end Enjolras is allowed to wear basically what he'd wear to one of his own functions: shirt, sports jacket. Grantaire's major contributions to his attire consist of vetoing the tie (“You don't even knot them properly, why do you even bother?”) and suggesting dark jeans over pressed pants.
Grantaire himself turns up in leather jacket and knitted hat and shaggy dark curls, like it's any other day and no particular deal, but the jacket's slung over a button-up and the jeans aren't torn anywhere, and his hands are shaking with the finest almost-imperceptible tremors when he lights up.
“Maybe you should have a drink,” Enjolras says. It's the advice Grantaire gave him on their way to the registry office. “Did you bring a flask?”
“How much of a fucking wino do you think I am, Apollo?”
Grantaire hasn't used that appellation in a while; not when there are so many others their faked marriage gives him license to apply. Enjolras is surprised by how much he dislikes it all over again. “Don't call me that.”
“Well, I'm not up for calling you sweetheart right now,” Grantaire says, still a snarl. He sighs, and visibly takes a composing breath. “I'm just wound up. Ignore me; I get like this. You know I get like this. A flask would help, but believe it or not, I stopped carrying alcohol on me day-to-day a year or two after I finally finished college. Desperate situations only.”
“Oh.” Enjolras frowns. Desperate situations. “That's good.”
“I don't need the rubber-stamp of your godly approval, either,” he says, and then takes another breath and summons up a smile. “We're almost here, anyway.”
When Enjolras takes his hand on the way inside, Grantaire gives him a surprised look, like it's not their public habit by now.
As he'd discovered at the benefit, the art crowd isn't particularly different from the political when it comes to events. Some of the people even cross over. You drink, or pretend to; you make meaningless small talk with people you don't give a shit about, and exchange business cards and good wishes. The major difference lies in the fact that Enjolras has no knowledge of the subject that's brought these people here together; he has no personal connections or agenda here, there's no one he wants to make contact with and bring up specific points to. His role is to hold Grantaire's hand, look handsome, and help him with his agenda.
That there's an agenda is soon obvious. Grantaire stands there clutching Enjolras's hand painfully tight, and then lets go, and squares his shoulders. “Okay,” he says. “I'm going to mingle. Just – fuck. Just stand there and look supportive.”
Enjolras is introduced to a vast number of people in the half-hour before the exhibition space opens. Gallery owners, other artists, prospective buyers, friends and acquaintances of Grantaire's he's never heard of; Jehan, briefly, with Eponine and Cosette and Musichetta.
“Don't stand there and talk to us,” Eponine says. “You're on partner duty.”
“You're prospective buyers.”
“We've got student loan debt,” Musichetta says, and pushes his shoulder. “Go find the rich suckers.”
With a commiserative look from Jehan accompanying him, Enjolras does his duty. He smiles and collects second-hand compliments on Grantaire's work and agrees that it is provoking, avant-garde, otherworldly – whatever adjective people suggest.
Grantaire should have prepared him better. He should know what Grantaire's work is like. He should know.
The thought itches at him, and when Grantaire finds him again in the crowd as the foyer opens into the show space, taking his hand and mouthing a conspirational “Bored?” under his breath, Enjolras shakes his head. “Interested,” he says. “I haven't seen your work since your graduation showing.”
“Ugh,” Grantaire says, wrinkling his nose. “Don't – don't expect anything.”
Enjolras had had the vague idea it involved glass, and it does. It doesn't involve glass in any way he expected it to. Glass sculpture suggests glassblowing, beautiful smooth shapes from Murano, twisting colours shot through crystal like ink dropped into water.
Grantaire's medium is glass, but the glass is splintered and sculptural. A smaller sculpture Enjolras passes is soft, each component part worn and smoky like sea-glass, but others are fresh, and broken. The largest piece, in the middle of the hall, suggests nothing as much as paradox: it's made of layer on layer on layer of beautiful broken glass slabs, thick and flat, each tilted slightly so that their individual fissures catch the light. Each shard, put together, makes a solid edifice. It reminds Enjolras of Hadrian's Wall, built of ice in a room full of mirrors.
“What do you call that?”
“Onion II,” Grantaire says with sonorous pomposity and rolling vowels and a final alveolar stop, and laughs at the look on Enjolras's face. “No, not really. I call the whole thing – fuck, I have to go talk to some people. You look around, tell me what you'd call it.”
Enjolras hadn't been entirely certain what 'installational art' meant. For a while, he'd laboured under the misunderstanding that it was instellational art, and had something to do with the firmament.
It becomes clear that nothing about this room is undeliberate. Everything has a point and a place. The lighting is carefully calibrated to highlight particular places and pieces; it's soft in some places and harsh in others, filtered and unfiltered. Here, directed through a wire screen and casting an impression like a metal cage in shadow; there, a pitiless spotlight picking up every crack in a tall ragged piece of thick glass taller than everyone present. It looks like nothing as much as it does a menhir – or a broken tooth snaggled out of alignment, a tilted gravestone in a sunken graveyard.
Once Enjolras looks for it, he can see the contrast between the easy warm lines of sea-glass sculpture, whose green and orange tints suggest they might have started life as the bottles they pour out of, fountain-like, and the sharp broken edges of the icy mammoth sculptures, but he's not sure what they mean.
Grantaire picks that up easily when they draw back together at the end of the night. “Well?”
“I liked it.”
“You didn't understand it at all.”
“No,” Enjolras admits.
“That's okay,” Grantaire says. “No one expects you to be artistic as well as an outrageously intellectual hotshot policy-hound with a law degree and sidelines in radical leftist political activism and male modelling. You can't have it all, after all.”
“You could explain it to me.” It's neutral; a suggestion, but not a demand or an accusation.
“I could, but I won't. Thank you for –Thanks, though,” Grantaire says, and releases a long shuddering breath. “I think that went okay. Don't you? It went okay.”
They leave it there. On the way home Enjolras thinks about it, the huge slabs of glass fractured in spiderweb patterns, smooth-looking but capable, Grantaire had said, of cutting deep when you skim your fingers over them. Painful beautiful things held together with invisible silicon, showing sea-green at the fault-lines. He still doesn't understand them.
Enjolras doesn't bring up the prospect of continuing the marriage charade indeterminably to Combeferre or Courfeyrac. He's fairly sure that even Courfeyrac, who masterminded the license application stunt in the first place, and can therefore be considered to be the primum mobile behind this whole web of ramifications, would say it's a bad idea. Besides, Valjean's not announcing his candidacy yet; there's no reason to bring it up.
It's not unliveable. They have a balance, a fragile détente. It becomes routine, less imposition than habit: Enjolras gets used to it, which is why it's so utterly dislocating when it starts to unravel.
One Friday night, when they've been fake-married for three months, and their friends have almost run out of jokes to make, the assembled ABC is crammed into the Corinthe celebrating Feuilly's new promotion.
“That's our boy,” Bossuet says with drunken glee, and Enjolras joins in the first toast, and the second. And the third.
Everyone's more than a little drunk, because this is their night for pretending that they're not adults with grown-up jobs and that they can still party like they did in college, even if it means spending the whole weekend hungover and resentful of their Friday night selves. Enjolras wants to let go and be part of it. When the campaign begins, he won't have time for this.
Cosette and Marius are trying incredibly pink and blue cocktails and giggling together at the bar. Marius looks bright-eyed and as pink as one of his drinks. He can't seem to stop grinning his wide awkward smile with Cosette laughing up at him.
He’s expressed new and unexpectedly congruent political opinions in the past few months. Cosette brought him as a date to one of the city functions when Eponine had a work conflict and made a point of introducing him to her father formally – and fatherless Marius imprinted on Valjean as obviously and ingenuously as a baby duckling.
When Valjean asked Enjolras if he was the sort of young, fresh talent they needed for the gubernatorial campaign, Enjolras thought about it, weighing up Marius as a grown man against his vivid and persisting mental image of him years younger and as awkward as a stork, and instead of saying No, Pontmercy attracts muddle like a magnet, said, “I think his enthusiasm could be a benefit. He's good at what he does.”
It was a good decision. He's vaguely jealous of the way Valjean has taken to Marius, the way Marius has started turning up at Valjean family dinners with Cosette beaming proudly at him every time he opened his mouth and Eponine glaring fiercely at Enjolras every time he tries to pick Marius's romantic ideas about politics apart – was he ever that painfully disconnected from reality, even when he was first starting out? – but he works hard, and he works smart, when you overcorrect for his misunderstandings, and it's working out.
“I can't believe you're jealous of Marius,” Courfeyrac says, with a delighted chuckle when Enjolras shares his train of thought. It's not really voluntary sharing. He's not sure why some of these words are coming out of his mouth as he leans against the tall table.
“I'm not jealous of Marius.”
“He has nothing to be jealous of,” Combeferre says firmly.
Courfeyrac, who got a head start and is much, much drunker than either of them, waggles his eyebrows and says, “Oh, that's not true, there's plenty to be jealous of Marius – the amount of dick he got from me in college, for one thing –”
“No one is jealous of your dick!” Enjolras says too loudly, because Musichetta and Joly both swivel their heads in his direction. She raises an eyebrow, but Joly has a fit of laughter against her shoulder, and requires to be thumped on the back when it turns into choking. “Seriously, Courfeyrac. No one.”
“But it's so very pretty,” Courfeyrac says wistfully, patting his belt.
Enjolras glares at him, and when Courfeyrac turns to waggle his eyebrows at Combeferre, Combeferre stains briefly pink from neck to hairline like red wine poured into a glass of water. That thought reminds Enjolras that he's still holding a full glass, and he tips it back.
He's vaguely aware that he's hit his normal limit and sailed past it, but everything is warm and comfortable and there doesn't seem to be any particular reason to stop drinking. They're there to celebrate Feuilly, after all; there's no reason why he shouldn't accept another glass, and then another, and it's late by the time Enjolras realises it's long past his – their – usual leaving time.
He tracks Grantaire down where he's sitting with Eponine in his lap making friends with Bahorel and his girlfriend, and says, taking ponderous care with every syllable, "It's time to go. We should leave."
Bahorel looks amused, and his lady – who doesn't know that they're not, of course, really married – gives Enjolras a surprisingly bright smile, and Eponine says "Fuck off, I'm comfortable."
"Me, too," Grantaire says, but when Enjolras looks at him expectantly he sighs, bolts back the last of his wine, and shifts Eponine away. "Sorry, people, matrimony calls."
"Matrimony is a real dick,” Eponine mutters, but Enjolras has a good hold on Grantaire's arm now that he's on his feet. It's to discourage recidivism, not because he's a little light-headed.
He looks at Grantaire again, and this time it's more imploring than commanding. "Home?"
“Apollo, do my eyes deceive me, or are you toasted? Okay, you win, definitely home," Grantaire says, looking at him almost fondly. With an eye on Bahorel's girlfriend, he kisses Enjolras's temple. His lips are warm, and his keys jingle in his pocket. "Let's go, drunky."
Enjolras is meant to drive on Fridays, but he's not sober enough. He should have thought about that, and he apologises over and over again until Grantaire says, “Really, it's okay. You can shut up now. It's not a long walk, and it's a fine night, and it'll be good for us. Sober you up. How am I the less intoxicated one right now? That's just wrong. The world turns upside-down on its axis and cats and dogs embrace each other in the street!”
The rest of the walk, he teases Enjolras about his low alcohol intolerance and makes the usual galley of complaints about the terrible discomfort of Enjolras's couch and its rack-like torments and the true sacrifice for the cause Grantaire is making by lying on it once a week, and Enjolras leans against his shoulder and doesn't mind it.
"Crash with me, then, if it's so awful," he says, when they're home and Grantaire is rustling around his kitchen with the familiarity of a resident, filling a glass with water. When he gives it to Enjolras, Enjolras grabs his arm. "You shouldn't have to suffer."
"I exaggerate my sufferings," Grantaire says. His eyes have gone wide like they did when Enjolras suggested kissing him in the limo on the way to get married. "Apollo–"
"Ssshh," Enjolras says, ending the discussion. It's how he'd like to end discussions more often. Why doesn't he just sssshhhh people loudly into silence? There must be some reason he doesn't, normally, but he can't think of it. It's so useful.
He ssshhhhs Grantaire every time he tries to protest. He's difficult to discourage once he has something fixed in his head as right, and it seems wrong that Grantaire, who got him water and helped him home and even out of his coat should be uncomfortable and talking about seeing a chiropractor.
"Come to bed," Enjolras tells him firmly, and to that end pulls him along with him into his bedroom.
Grantaire lets himself be led, but then he just stands there in the sweatpants that used to be Enjolras's a very long time ago, still uncertain. “I don't think –”
“Sshh,” Enjolras says, and then “Good,” with sleepy satisfaction when the mattress finally moves and settles with the addition of Grantaire's weight. To emphasise his point, he shifts and flops an arm across Grantaire's body to keep him where he wants him.
Grantaire goes utterly and completely still. “Enjolras –”
“Sshh,” Enjolras says, and shifts closer.
Grantaire smells like leather and cigarette smoke and the faint remains of his aftershave. Male, and warm, and close. It's been far too fucking long since Enjolras had someone in his bed. The way Grantaire smells and the weight and mass of his body so close is making him abruptly and intensely aware of that. He presses himself to Grantaire's side and breathes him in.
After a few moments, the rigid muscles slacken. “You are so very very toasted,” Grantaire murmurs, and his voice is a comforting rumble by Enjolras's ear. His fingers graze Enjolras's temple and brush the hair there behind his ear, and begin to card through his curls with growing confidence. Enjolras makes a small, pleased noise and shifts closer still. The fingers stop. “Oh, fuck.”
Enjolras makes another noise, less pleased.
“You don't get to do this to me,” Grantaire says, in that same quiet half-enunciated mutter that's mostly verbal fry. “It's not fair.”
“Nothing,” Grantaire says, and presses his mouth to Enjolras's temple like he did at the Corinthe. Longer. Eventually, his fingers start to sift through his hair again. “Go to sleep.”
Enjolras wakes up, briefly, sometime in the night or the early morning, somewhere between still drunk and regrettably sober. Someone was moving next to him; the tension of the mattress had changed. There's no one there now. His bathroom door is shut and there's a thin line of white light around its edges, giving it an eerie glow like an alien halo. There's water running, a faucet turned on for no reason.
I should get up and turn it off, Enjolras thinks, and then is folded back into absolute sleep.
It takes him a while to wake up properly, but when he does he groans. He gets so stupid when he drinks. There's a reason he's largely abstemious. There's a fresh glass of water and a bottle of Tylenol on his bedside table.
Enjolras takes two and drinks, frowning, and then he turns to look at the other side of the bed. The empty sheets are rumpled. When he leans over and breathes in, he catches the faint scent of Grantaire's hair on the pillowcase. Not a dream, then.
He was drunk, to take Grantaire's hyperbole seriously. There's nothing wrong with the couch. It's old, but Enjolras has had it since his first student apartment, and it might be shabby but it's worn well. He has not fucked any of his boring exes on it, because that's not what the couch is for.
Not that his exes were boring.
In the kitchen, the smell of coffee is rich and intoxicating. The pot is on. His tablet is sitting on the bench, ready for him.
Enjolras is drinking and reading when Grantaire returns from his run, the worst of last night's wine behind him, and manages to turn his head to smile at him. "Coffee?"
Grantaire doesn't smile back. "I've got to shower," he says, and walks straight through into the bathroom.
He looks more wrecked from running than usual. His thin cotton t-shirt might as well be Saran wrap, it's so translucent with sweat and it clings so tightly. His hair is sodden. Enjolras can see every line and muscle in his back as it disappears.
He drinks more coffee. His email is particularly unedifying on Saturday mornings: the news cycle is slack, and too many people seem to take the weekend as an excuse to drop correspondence and important issues and disappear.
His phone is largely a loss, too: too many of his friends refuse to get up before nine on Saturdays. It's one of the things Enjolras has discovered to like about Grantaire, that when he's not hungover he gets up and goes running before most people even put on their robes. Strange, that Enjolras has known him for seven years and never knew that.
The white noise of the shower shuts off and Grantaire appears again in the doorway, towelling his hair dry. He's dressed in last night's clothes again, which is unusual: it normally takes Grantaire a few hours to graduate from sweatpants or boxers after his shower into proper clothes. He claims that he cooks a better breakfast when he's less circumscribed by the polyester prison house of societal dress standards. Enjolras smiles at him.
Grantaire doesn't smile back, and he doesn't meet his eyes. "I have to go," he says. "I have – something came up. Nothing you need to worry about. Sorry about breakfast, but you should be able to make toast without burning it; I have faith in you. I'll see you later."
He grabs his jacket, and then he's gone, and Enjolras is left staring at the closed door.
After that, it's no longer comfortable.
It's probably stranger that they turned from awkward to comfortable in the first place than that they've turned back to awkward, but nevertheless –
They're careful around each other. Enjolras is much more polite than he usually is, and Grantaire responds with equal distant politeness. He doesn't even complain about the couch the next Friday night; he drinks heavily at the Corinthe, passes out even more heavily, and sleeps late that next Saturday, which means it's Enjolras's turn to start coffee, to leave the house and get pastries. Grantaire thanks him, eats in silence, and leaves. The joking is gone, and everything is strange.
Enjolras is naggingly concerned that he might have said or done something to make Grantaire go distant. He's annoyed that he feels concerned about that. He's annoyed that he feels off-balance without Grantaire calling him hubby and mayflower and sunshine with a spark of devilry in his eyes. It's exactly what Enjolras wanted from him, when they started this, but –
“Oh my fuck,” Grantaire says, waking from yet another bout of Saturday-morning stupor after drinking too much the night before. Enjolras doesn't remember him getting as thoroughly and regularly wasted before the past few awkward weeks, but he can hardly complain when Grantaire is otherwise so much better behaved. What would he say?
“It's nothing,” he says sharply now. “You can go back to being a sodden lump taking up my entire couch.”
Grantaire grimaces faintly, but doesn't riposte. It's just – “Oh my fuck,” he repeats, as the fire alarm continues to squall. “Of course you still have working batteries in your fire alarm.”
“Why wouldn't I?”
“Get down from that chair, Apollo,” Grantaire says, struggling to his feet, “before you fall and break something. I'll deal with it.”
Grantaire's idea of 'dealing with it' is to put a cloth under faucet and then the damp cloth over the alarm on its high mount. After a few seconds, the squalling stops, and everything is suddenly, shockingly, blessedly silent.
That accomplished, Grantaire turns his attention from the alarm to the kitchen, and impossibly, his eyes widen further. “What were you doing?”
Enjolras tries to ignore the smoking pan and the sad wreckage on the bench. “Cooking,” he says, in a tone that attempts to discourage further questioning.
“Cooking what? What kind of alien foodstuff –” Grantaire asks, and waves a wild hand at the strange pasty burned mess.
“Pancakes,” Enjolras says, even more shortly.
Enjolras doesn't know what he's supposed to say to that. To eat; that's obvious. Because you wouldn't; that's accusatory. It's not like making breakfast was on the papers Grantaire signed. Enjolras just became accustomed to it, to the rhythm they had developed. “I thought you'd want breakfast,” he says, and Grantaire continues to stare at him, and then something very strange happens to his face. It's like Enjolras has hurt him, somehow.
“Go sit down,” he says, rubbing a hand over his face. Of course, he's still half-asleep. “I'll deal with this – with whatever this. Just sit there, and don't touch anything.”
It doesn't seem fair to make Grantaire clean up after him, but Enjolras sits, and Grantaire moves with purpose, opening windows and airing out the room, sweeping the bench clear, and dumping the frying pan in the sink.
“I think it's dead,” he says, squinting doubtfully. “You know flour and water essentially makes glue, right?” He prods at the recalcitrant pan again before turning off the tap and dumping it in the trash. “There, problem solved.”
Enjolras can't help himself. “That would be your way of dealing with a problem.”
“Fuck you,” Grantaire says, and the brief easiness is gone again. “I was trying to help, but whatever. If you're that attached to the pan, scour it out yourself. If your lily-white hands can deal with it.”
“Grantaire,” Enjolras says, getting to his feet, and stops when Grantaire wrenches at the drawstring on his pants. “– What are you doing?”
“Getting changed, so I can leave. You know what – fuck it. I’ll wash them and bring them back.”
He snatches up his jacket from the couch and his bag from the floor, and then he’s gone, and the cold wind coming through the open window makes Enjolras shiver.
Then, a moment later, the door bangs open again.
“Seriously, what were you – Enjolras,” Grantaire says, a little wild-eyed, “with the pancakes,” and then his free hand is on Enjolras's shoulder and when Enjolras turns his head to stare at him, Grantaire kisses him.
He tastes terrible. His lips are warm, and his stubble scrapes against Enjolras's freshly-shaven jaw and vulnerable mouth. Grantaire's hand on his shoulder tightens, then releases, and then he lifts his head.
“Oh,” Enjolras says, blankly.
“I should –” Grantaire says. He grimaces. “I should go.”
Enjolras runs the tip of his tongue over his lips, grimacing himself at the sour taste of someone else's hangover breath. “What was that?”
“Don't worry about it,” Grantaire says, “I really am going,” and then, again, the door slams shut.
They don't talk for nearly a fortnight, until Enjolras has to call him.
“We have another dinner at Valjean’s?” Grantaire says into the phone, and he sounds almost like his normal self. He hasn't stayed over for that fortnight, pleading sculptural commissions.
He makes a thoughtful noise when Enjolras talks about the upcoming campaign season getting closer; and then he rattles on, on his own tangent, like nothing is strange at all. “Has anyone told you that your boss is a great man? I like him. I like his table wine. Admittedly, I find it strange that he doesn’t eat what the rest of the table eats – is there some kind of health reason for that, by the way? Why does he stick to the plain water and brown bread and whatever? It can’t be a gluten thing.”
“I don’t know,” Enjolras says blankly. He doesn’t think it’s anything to do with health. “He’s – humble. Abstemious.”
“Abstemious,” Grantaire repeats. He rolls the word around in his mouth like it means something unpleasant to him; as though he’d like to spit it out.
“A moment ago you were saying that he was remarkable,” Enjolras says. “And now you’re making fun of him.”
“Not him. Of abstemiousness. Self-denial. Abstinence.”
Enjolras snorts. “Of course.”
“Pick me up at seven,” Grantaire says, and hangs up.
If this is how it’s going to be, it’s not going to work. Enjolras's not sure what got caught in the grinding gears of their functioning arrangement, but he supposes it was to be expected. It is Grantaire, after all. It’s Grantaire, and it’s him, and they don’t work.
In the car, he's intensely aware of Grantaire sitting beside him in the dark. They’re quiet. When they don’t talk, they can’t fight.
“So, campaign season. That's come up fast. Have you thought about it?” Grantaire says suddenly. “Holding off on the divorce?”
Enjolras glances at him out of the corner of his eye. “It's been three months. Of course I have.”
“I don’t know.”
“It would be a bad idea,” Grantaire says, tapping his fingers. “Right? That’s what everyone said about getting married in the first place.”
“Maybe they were right.” There’s a long silence. Enjolras wants to look at him again, but he doesn’t dare to. Grantaire curses softly under his breath, and doesn’t reply for a while.
“Is this about the thing? Don’t worry about it. Won't happen again.”
“The kiss.” Grantaire says it with the same kind of distaste he gave to abstemious. “You don't need to – It's not an issue. I worked it out.”
There’s a flicker of movement, and when Enjolras glances away from the road briefly, it’s to see Grantaire’s fist pumping briefly in vulgar and unmistakeable mimicry. “Being so publicly married to you – it severely limits my opportunities for picking up. That's all.”
“Oh,” Enjolras says, unexpectedly illuminated. It's not a possibility he'd considered, but it makes sudden and complete sense. “Oh. Well.” He clears his throat. “That’s going to continue to be a problem, isn’t it? If we commit to this for the immediate future.”
“I’ve sorted it,” Grantaire says. His tone doesn't invite any sort of further discussion. “I have a fuckbuddy. So?”
“So?” Enjolras repeats. He does look sideways now. Grantaire's profile is better at keeping secrets than his full face. He drums his own fingers on the steering wheel. “It's still – I don't. Have one, that is.”
“But you run on angel-dust and clockwork mechanics. Under your pretty doll's hair, there's no squishy organic matter, just a dozen gears and wheels working.”
“Combeferre. Not me.”
“So I'm told,” Grantaire mutters.
“Nothing. What are you saying? That you need to get your dick wet?”
“I'm saying I'm not a robot,” Enjolras says. He ended his last relationship over a year ago. He's had one or two brief encounters since, but he's not looking. He could arguably go another year or so without feeling truly restless. He jerks off perfunctorily when he has time and he needs to, to vague faceless memories and images. He has a small collection of video files that meet his exacting tastes which he’s watched so often he can close his eyes and replay them in his head, saved on his desktop in a password-protected file.
He's not clockwork, though, and the suddenly encountered thought of another long sexless year voluntarily stretching ahead of him is – unwelcome.
“Well, you don't need my permission,” Grantaire says, sounding savage. “If you need – whatever you need. Find a fuckbuddy of your own.”
“Forget it,” Enjolras says. “Just be discreet, whatever you're doing.”
They're quiet again after that. Grantaire is scowling. Enjolras probably shouldn't have added that last injunction; he does credit Grantaire with that much sense.
“Is Combeferre a robot?” Grantaire asks, just before they pull up at Valjean's. “I mean, since we're talking about it, and everything.”
“We're not talking about it, and of course not.”
“You know what I mean. Is he even interested in – relationships, or fucking; either, both?”
“Is this a personal interest?”
“Of course not,” Grantaire says, mimicking Enjolras's tone from a moment earlier. Then the bristling combativeness seems to drop away, leaving him simply tired. “Vulgar curiosity. Don't worry.”
“That's his business,” Enjolras says, beginning to carefully back the car into a park. He adds, distracted, “It's really not something we talk about. He said once – he'd rather not, unless it was a particular – I shouldn't be telling you this.”
“Is he secretly kinky?” Grantaire asks, and now he sounds like himself, wielding the black-bright lash of humour Enjolras finds helplessly contagious despite himself. “Does he like proper headmistress types? Does he bend over and ask for a switching? Or are we talking, like, clowns, or girls in cat ears? Does he – Hell, does he even like women, or is it only men for him? I don't even know this shit, that's how close he keeps it.”
“It's really none of your – or my – business,” Enjolras says, not as repressively as he means to. The corner of his mouth is twitching at the images Grantaire's summoned up.
Grantaire smirks at him as he shoves the door open, and the air seems clear for the first time in weeks, and Enjolras thinks, in answer to three months of half-formed thoughts, why not?
Dinner is political, in more than the usual sense that sharing time with your boss after hours generally implies. It's less select than their meeting with Baptistine Myriel, but no less conspirational. This time Enjolras isn't the only guest from city hall; Fauchelevent is there, too, at Valjean's left hand, and Marius is looking slightly pink and freshly scrubbed.
“I'm officially part of the campaign!” he says, when Enjolras and Grantaire pause near him. It bubbles out of him like a geyser, impossible to stop up.
“That's great,” Grantaire says, with one of his genuine smiles, and Enjolras says, less enthusiastically, “Don't share that around too loudly. Valjean hasn't declared his candidacy yet; we're not planning to make any announcement until closer until the date.”
Marius's smile dims several watts, and Grantaire's elbow finds Enjolras's side.
“That's good news, though,” he adds belatedly. “I recommended you for the position personally. I'm sure you'll do well.”
“Better,” Grantaire says critically when they move away. “Not great, but nice recovery.”
“It's sensitive information.”
“Hardly here, though,” Grantaire points out, with a glance around the small but crowded room. “This is, what, the inner cabinet? Incidentally, did you know that term ‘cabinet’, used for a bunch of state officials, comes from the actual cabinet, as in piece of furniture?”
Grantaire knows a truly amazing amount of useless information, and his arm has slipped around Enjolras's waist, familiar and strange at the same time. He'd grown used to it, but it's been a while since Grantaire touched him in the carefully-casual way he'd done in public since they started this. Not enough people touch him regularly for it not to be noticeable. He makes a small interested noise.
“Or, rather, they used to use ‘cabinet’ to mean a small room or large piece of furniture that held confidential papers, and when one king held his secret meetings in a cabinet-room –”
Their conversation is interrupted again; Gribier wants to say hello, flanked by a woman Enjolras doesn't remember meeting, but Grantaire clearly does, from previous occasions.
Women, eh? Gribier's look says, as they chat, including Grantaire in that bracket as spouse. Perhaps it's a postmodern, updated version of an old empathy, partners replacing the old and necessary women, but the same collusion between male colleagues remains.
Enjolras does not share it.
“You're really winning friends and influencing people tonight,” Grantaire says when Gribier leads his girlfriend – wife? Enjolras can't remember – away hurriedly after a brief verbal snaffle. “What did you do, stand on his foot?”
“I don't know what you're talking about,” Enjolras says, but he lets himself smirk back, just a little. For a moment, they’re eerily in tune.
Then, over Grantaire's dark curly head, he sees a familiar face. He goes still, and Grantaire stops, too, his hand still curling around Enjolras's bicep and a laugh frozen on his face.
“That's Simplice,” Enjolras says. “She's got to be one of the best campaign managers in the – fuck, not the state. One of the best outside D.C.”
“Shit,” Grantaire says. “That's good?”
Simplice is one of the best at what she does for an unusual reason.
Most people who spend their lives inextricably tangled in political toils become excellent liars and magnificently two-faced. It's part of the job. The machine demands it. Only a few are allowed to appear honest and blunt-speaking, straight-shooting; the figureheads put out in front to win votes, not the people working behind the scenes. And more often than not, they're lying.
Manipulation is what politics is. It's how things are accomplished. Good things, bright things, as well as dark. The government is an ungainly monster. It requires skilful adeptness to shape into any form of usefulness, to coax into any sort of movement or momentum. The public, still more. Simplice is one of those rare people who can walk through the muck and still seem to be wearing shining white. One of those people who never seems to get drawn into the subterranean workings, who cuts through massy intrigue like a knife. She is always devastating, always clear-eyed, always capable; and she never seems to lie.
Enjolras wants to be her, one day.
“Have you really got her?” he asks Valjean in an urgent undertone.
“Almost,” Valjean says. He directs a pleasant smile at someone passing them, just warm enough to make them feel acknowledged, but distant enough to stop them from coming over. “She's interested. She doesn't like Governor Javert, and she thinks we have a good chance.”
“An excellent chance,” Enjolras says. It's so sincere it makes him sound like Marius, like himself years ago when Valjean was running for major, and he bites his tongue. “Of course there's still months to go before you can even declare, but –”
“Mm,” Valjean says, non-committal. Cosette and Eponine are talking to Grantaire, and Cosette's gentle hand is resting on Marius's wrist, keeping him from drifting away into the crowd like a dreamy balloon. His head bobs occasionally, but it's Grantaire who's talking, Cosette who's listening. Eponine is alternating sharp-eyed looks between the crowd and her small circle of friends, an occasional knowing glance in Enjolras's direction. He wonders what it is that she knows he doesn't. “We'll see.”
“We'll talk tomorrow,” Valjean says. His hand is briefly firm on Enjolras's shoulder. “My contacts in the governor's office have told me – Eight, in my office. For tonight, enjoy yourself; if there's anyone here you don't know, get to know them. This is the nucleus of our gubernatorial run.”
“Sir,” Enjolras says, and Valjean releases him.
He mingles until his mouth is dry and he's grateful for the glass of wine Grantaire presses into his hand when Enjolras finally finds him again, still hanging out with their friends.
Well, it's an overstatement to say that he finds him. A hand on his arm from behind, and he finds himself being dragged by Eponine behind a curtain he didn't realise concealed anything but blank wall or window, and the close warm air of the reception room is replaced by cool evening.
“Look what I caught,” she says, and that's when Grantaire hands him the glass.
“Shh,” Marius says, too loudly. “They'll hear us.”
“I used to love using this balcony for hide-and-seek,” Cosette says reminiscently. “I didn't have any friends to play it with, so I played with Papa, and he would pretend not to know where I was hiding even though I always chose the same spots. I think he could probably hear me giggling behind the curtain, but he took so much care to pretend that I'd stumped him.”
Her words are fond, but her face is briefly sad, and Enjolras is struck by the image her words summon up; a small golden-haired girl lost in the huge empty old house now so full of light and sound.
Eponine kisses her ear, and the look lightens. “And of course, when I was a teenager and he was having boring political functions, or when I wanted to secretly smoke – ”
“There's nothing secret about smoking,” Grantaire says, cigarette between his fingers. “He knew. They say there are two things you can't hide – love, and a cough – but smoking has to be the third. Sticks to your hair, stays in your clothes – ”
“I know,” Cosette says, “but Papa pretended he didn't notice that, either. I think he hoped I'd stop without him having to scold me. I don't think he's capable of scolding me. And he was right, of course. I did stop.”
Grantaire salutes her with his lit cigarette, and Eponine stares out into the night, down to the garden below. “Fuck,” she says. “I can't believe it was only three months ago we got married down there.”
“It seems like longer,” Enjolras says, the first thing he's said since they dragged him into their hideaway. This earns him four separate stares, and a burst of laughter from Cosette.
“I'm a very demanding husband,” Grantaire says. “The old ball and chain, in fact.”
“That's not what I meant. I just – It seems longer.”
“I'm not surprised that you're tired of playing pretend,” Eponine says, dividing a look between them. “It must be a relief to have it nearly over.”
“Mm,” Enjolras says. He looks at Grantaire, who looks back with a slightly arched eyebrow, like he's waiting for something.
“At least you don't have to pretend with us,” Marius says.
The eyebrow drops, and Grantaire stubs his cigarette out on the metalwork railing with a surprising amount of painstaking care before tossing the end into the dark abyss. “You done with pressing the flesh, Apollo? We should get going. Need a ride home, Marius?”
“Um –” Marius looks at Cosette, who looks at Eponine.
“Don't worry about it,” she says firmly. “We'll take him.”
Grantaire laughs with sudden amusement, shaking his head. “Okay,” he says, “ha, wow, okay,” and when Enjolras looks to him for an explanation, just shakes his head again. “Come on. Let's leave these reprobates to their teenage delinquency.”
“You can stay over,” Enjolras says, even though it's not a Friday. It doesn’t seem worth driving back to Grantaire’s to drop him off. He'll do it, but he'd rather they found their rhythm again, and they can't do that while Grantaire keeps avoiding him and skipping their weekend routine.
“Oh, joy, another night on the rack,” Grantaire says, but he says it lightly.
“Valjean’s calling me in at eight. But if it's not okay –”
“Are you sure?”
“I have a toothbrush at your place,” Grantaire says. “I’m golden.”
It’s not fine, though.
The last time Grantaire in his apartment, Enjolras set off the fire alarm, and everything smelled like acrid burning protein. Grantaire stormed out and then stormed back in and kissed him. The ghost of that smoke is long gone, but the ghost of the kiss is suddenly and vividly present as soon as Enjolras unlocks the door and Grantaire follows him over the threshold.
Enjolras doesn’t mention it, but Grantaire comes to a stumbling stop. “Shit,” he says. “I almost forgot.”
“You apologised,” Enjolras says. He takes his jacket off, with relief, and puts a finger under his tie to loosen it. “It’s okay.”
“Yeah,” Grantaire says. He rubs his forehead like tomorrow’s hangover is already knocking at the door. “Still.”
It’s not going to get any less awkward if they talk about it. Enjolras fetches the familiar pile of spare blankets and pillows and dumps them on the couch. Grantaire has taken his shoes off and stripped down to just dark jeans and soft, faded cotton undershirt. He looks infinitely more comfortable, but still unhappy.
There's still a question Enjolras wants to ask.
“Why did you kiss me?” Grantaire opens his mouth, and Enjolras waves his easy answer away. “I know. You hadn’t been laid for a while. You've had dry spells before without turning to me. So. Why?”
“Well, you were there,” Grantaire says flippantly. “And you made me pancakes.” His mouth twists, acknowledging the absurdity. “It just – it seemed like a good idea.”
Enjolras thinks about that answer. He walks into the kitchen to get Grantaire a glass of water, and to give himself more time to think about what he wants to say, the things coming together in his head so easily that their very easiness seems suspicious. This is why he usually runs major decisions past Combeferre, at least; sometimes his judgment is too swift.
When he hands Grantaire the glass, Grantaire gives him a small nod, thanking him for letting the conversation go as well as for the water.
But Enjolras can see it now, the edges of it.
“It made – it makes sense, if we’re going to keep this up for the foreseeable future, to keep the physical problem between us. I get it. It was logical."
Grantaire pauses with the glass halfway to his mouth, and squints like his headache is getting worse. “Logical.”
“I get it,” Enjolras says, and looks at Grantaire like he can compress his sincerity and push it towards him. He does get it, whatever Grantaire says about clockwork and springs. He understands the need, and the thought behind it. “I told you, I’m not a robot.”
“You’re not,” Grantaire agrees kindly, like he's humouring him, then fixes him with a direct blue stare. “What are you saying?”
“It was a good idea.”
“You're going to have to be really, really clear here, Enjolras. Are you saying –”
“The election's nearly a year away. We've decided to continue as we are until afterwards. I know you said you're being discreet, but the smaller the circle of knowledge, the better.”
“So what you're saying that you'd rather jack me off than risk me leaking information to a fuckbuddy?”
Grantaire can be deliberately abrasive sometimes, and he’s abrasive now, but his eyes are still steady, still questioning, still fixed on Enjolras's face as though he's testing him, as though every nuance of what he says matters.
“Or me,” Enjolras says, to be fair. “I wouldn't want – I wouldn't want to compromise what we're doing because I needed physical connection.”
Grantaire looks away at that, like the thought of Enjolras ever needing something is laughable.
When he looks back, there's almost an electricity to the way their eyes meet again. Enjolras knows, then, that Grantaire's going to say yes, and that once he does they're going to fuck, and while it's his own suggestion, he's surprised that it is something he could imaginably want in its own right, not simply for its logic and convenience.
“You're serious,” Grantaire says like he's still uncertain, and to prove it Enjolras takes the glass of water from his hand, sets it down, and kisses him.
They've kissed closed-mouthed before, often, in the past three months, but this is the first time Enjolras hasn't been simultaneously considering how to keep his body angled away from Grantaire's, concerned with how to make it look comfortable and fond instead of dry and awkward to any onlookers. It's the first time he's wanted to kiss him.
Grantaire has always been good at that part, but now that he's not performing, he's stiff. It takes him a few moments to untense, and then it stops being a once-sided argument Enjolras is making with his mouth and becomes something suddenly hotter and more fluid when Grantaire begins him back.
It’s significantly better than previous kisses.
Grantaire makes a rough noise when Enjolras bites at his lip and curls a hand around the back of his neck. The neck itself tastes like clean skin and bitter aftershave and prickles slightly under Enjolras's lips, growing softer and more tender when Enjolras bends his head to nuzzle at his collarbone, at the heated private curve of neck into shoulder under his t-shirt.
Grantaire's hand slides down his spine, rests briefly at the small of his back, and then slides further down. Enjolras rolls his hips against him in response, and that makes Grantaire clutch his handful of ass and grind back, and it's a little while longer before Enjolras becomes suddenly aware that they're standing together in the middle of his living room panting into each other's mouths and dry-humping like teenagers.
It's been far too long since he last slept with anyone. This is not how it was meant to go. He intended something more ordered – an exchange of sexual favours, a mutual release.
This is as volatile and explosive as every argument they've ever had, fuming nitric acid hissing in a bottle, and he breaks it off and steps back, trying to clear his head, cool down, put it back on the footing he wants it on.
“Decided it's a bad idea?” Grantaire asks, slightly hoarse.
“We should talk about how this is going to happen.”
Enjolras has kissed people he wasn't particularly attracted to before. It's never the person who matters, but the desired end, and Enjolras likes sex when he has time for it. Likes simple release and occasional more baroque experimentation; likes having a partner to accompany him in public. Doesn't like it when his sexual partners dislike his prioritisation of his job and his friends, complain about how much work he does for the ABC outside of work; feel threatened by his closeness to Combeferre, by the easy physical affection Enjolras is willing to accept from Courfeyrac, even welcome. In the end, it's proved easier to manage without, to go to the effort of a brief connection when it gets too pressing.
He's wondered, before, about his friends as potential sexual partners. In theory it's a solution that simplifies some of the problems he's had in maintaining relationships, but in practice, it's too bizarre to work. Incestuous. He can't imagine kissing Joly on the mouth, watching Marius quiver like a pre-orgasmic jelly, letting Bahorel wrap a strong hand around him and bring him off as a favour between friends.
He and Grantaire have never been friends in their own right, though.
“Do we need to discuss it?” Grantaire asks, tilting his head. “I get it. We fake the marriage thing, and when we need to get off, we keep it in the family.” When Enjolras frowns, he chuckles, off-key. “Within the bounds of holy matrimony, then.”
“Civil marriage,” Enjolras corrects.
Grantaire rolls his eyes. “Whatever.” He runs the tip of his tongue over his lower lip, lingering where Enjolras bit him, and quirks his abominable eyebrows. “You know, I really had you pegged as a truly terrible kisser before.”
Enjolras bunches his hand in the hem of Grantaire's shirt, pulls him close again, and proves his ability. It's a dirtier kiss this time, all sliding tongue and Grantaire's dick a hard ridge through his jeans that Enjolras can feel against his belly.
It lengthens, on, and on, and they break apart with Grantaire's hand on his belt buckle. He opens it with his eyes on Enjolras's face, like he's expecting to be stopped, but Enjolras lets him; lets him find and unfasten the hooked catch inside the waistband of his pants. Without the belt, they settle lower on his hips, and when Grantaire finds the zipper tab and tugs at that, too, they slide further.
Then Grantaire hooks his thumb in Enjolras's dark boxer-briefs and tugs them down slightly, examining the trail of blond-brown hair running down from his navel. The pads of his fingers are warm against his stomach, stroking the soft skin inside his hip.
It's teasing, almost, except for the implicit promise of follow-through, and Enjolras arches slightly in suggestion.
“Something you want help with?” Grantaire says, and lets the elastic of the briefs go. His thumb travels down, tracing the shape of Enjolras's erection through the thin stretchy fabric. “What are the rules here, Apollo? Can I jerk you off? Is that what you want?”
“I thought,” Enjolras begins, but Grantaire continues to trace.
“What's the line? Oral, is that part of the deal? I'd like to suck you off sometime,” he adds thoughtfully.
“Oral, okay,” Enjolras manages, at a significant disadvantage in negotiating positions, and is rewarded by Grantaire pushing the briefs down again and wrapping his hand around the base of his cock. This time the arch of his back is purely instinctive. “We use protection.”
“For blowjobs? Latex tastes like death.” The warm edge of Grantaire's wedding ring on his hand reminds Enjolras inescapably of who's doing this for him, and why, even when he closes his eyes.
“Syphilis tastes worse.”
“Who the fuck have you been sleeping with? I wouldn't have thought any of your Mr. Blands – ”
“Do you always talk so much?”
“When my mouth isn't full,” Grantaire says, with a sharp grin, and suddenly Enjolras isn't content to stand there letting Grantaire slowly jerk him off anymore. He leans forward and takes his lip between his teeth, and that makes Grantaire stop his teasing and tighten his grip in earnest.
It's better, and better, and then Grantaire breathes, against his ear, “Fuck, I really want to suck you off. Have you got a rubber? Or we could just – I could just do you. I'm not fussy. And I'm clean, if you were wondering.”
It's hard to be close friends with Joly and not take proactive steps about your sexual health, not when he has a seemingly inexhaustible store of stories from his clinic rotations to back up his fussing, gruesome enough to make the happy-go-luckiest sexual adventurers (Courfeyrac) go green. “I wasn't.”
“Well, that's something,” Grantaire mutters. He gives Enjolras's dick a few more competent pulls, kisses his cheek, and slides down to his knees. “Yeah?”
“Yes.” It's not like Grantaire's some stranger he's picked up, either. Enjolras shuts his eyes and takes a few short breaths through his nose. “Are you going t–”
“Shh,” Grantaire says, abstracted, and licks him. He does it with the flat of his tongue against the underside of the shaft, a wet and messy swathe the makes Enjolras shudder. Then Grantaire licks him again, this time with a surprisingly delicate circling tease of tongue-tip, tracing the underside of the head, the sensitive skin just below the foreskin. He takes his time, like he's tasting him, getting a feel for him before he takes him into his mouth.
It's somewhere on the line between pleasure and not-pleasure, and Enjolras curls and uncurls and curls his hands waiting for it, for Grantaire to hurry up and just blow him like he says he wants to. Whatever he's doing, it's not that.
When Grantaire finally goes down on him in earnest, though, it's worth the wait. It's as professional and practiced a blowjob as Enjolras has ever had, confident and aware of what he's doing, how to get someone off, how to take him deeper, and it makes him feel like his limbic system has come online again after months of suppression. Every nerve is shouting at him remember how this feels? Why haven't you done this lately?
When he's getting close, he says, “Hey,” and tugs on Grantaire's hair. More urgently, “Grantaire.”
“Stop,” Enjolras says, and with apparently very real regret and a truly obscene wet sound, Grantaire pulls off.
It's remarkably dislocating watching his own cock emerge from Grantaire’s mouth, to inextricably link the sensation with Grantaire giving it to him, Grantaire, ticking time-bomb and deliberate irritant, for years the thorn in his side and bane of his –
Grantaire runs his tongue over his lower lip like he's still tasting him. “What?” he says. “Do you want to finish on my face?”
“No,” Enjolras says. Grantaire looks vaguely affronted by his vehemence.
“Fine, whatever, how do you want –”
“You should let me – Let me do something.” He hasn't done anything for Grantaire yet. Kissed him, felt the proof of his erection through his jeans, but hasn't touched him, hasn't offered to blow him, condom or not.
Grantaire grins like he's relieved that's all Enjolras wants. Did he expect him to call a stop to it? How could he possibly – “When I'm done,” he says. “You're still talking, I'm nowhere near done yet.”
Enjolras doesn't finish on Grantaire's face; he finishes in his mouth, against the flexing back of his throat, and to Grantaire's apparently mutual intense satisfaction. Enjolras has never had a sexual partner who treated giving head with so much relish, as if performing the act of fellatio gave him a similar pleasure to the man he was performing it on, expressed with humming satisfaction.
“Mm,” Grantaire says into the kiss when Enjolras chases his own taste on the back of his tongue, another small pleased sound that vibrates his chest under Enjolras's spread hands. “That was okay?”
“Yes,” Enjolras says. “That was excellent.” He knows that Grantaire's going to be self-satisfied about this, but he deserves the praise. “That was considerably better than – It was excellent.”
“If you tell me that it's one of the best you've ever had, I'm going to be very sorry for you,” Grantaire says, but his voice is less smug than soft, and his fingers are rubbing against the back of Enjolras's neck, loosening the muscle. “You are far too pretty to be as undersexed as you are.”
“I'm far too busy to be more – shut up,” Enjolras says, but he doesn't move away. For an alcoholic annoyance and professional bête noire, the skin of Grantaire's stomach is very smooth and warm and appealing. He breaks away when Enjolras tugs at the hem of his t-shirt and slides his hand around his hip to stroke his back.
“You don't need to –”
“That's the deal,” Enjolras says, and dips his fingers under the waistband of Grantaire's jeans. His rear is exactly as firm and muscular as casual observation had led him to expect.
“Oh, of course, the deal,” Grantaire mutters, but he's hard against Enjolras's thigh, rocking slowly against him as Enjolras kisses his neck and works his hand down between denim and skin, cupping and kneading. The side of his throat and face that Enjolras can see flushes a brighter red every time he rocks into him with greater pressure.
They don't say anything else after that.
Afterwards, disentangling, Grantaire scratches the back of his neck and says, “The couch's already made up, I may as well use it,” which delivers Enjolras from considering the problem of whether or not to offer his bed.
“If you're sure.” Grantaire shrugs like it doesn't matter, either way. “Do you want to shower?”
“You should go first. You've got that meeting with Valjean in the morning.”
“Shit,” Enjolras says. He'd somehow forgotten. A glance at his watch tells him that it's after one in the morning. He should have gone to bed as soon as he got home, not wasted nearly – fuck, over half an hour fooling around with Grantaire, of all people.
“I can shower in the morning. I'll even get up first and make the coffee,” Grantaire offers, and Enjolras throws him a grateful look over his shoulder and makes for the bathroom.
He should be worried about this, and he definitely should be worried about tomorrow, but between the hot water and the orgasm, the glass or two of wine earlier in the evening, it's hard to find the edge of panic necessary to throw off the soft-edged sense of well-being.
In the morning, the panic finds him.
“Fucking – I'm so late,” he says, pulling the loose loop of yesterday's tie over his head instead of bothering to retie it. Then he blinks.
“Your hair is ridiculous,” Grantaire says conversationally, but he hands him a large cup of coffee. There's a larger to-go cup with its rubber lid and rubber holder on the bench; there's even breakfast laid out for him.
Grantaire can't exactly talk. The skin under his blue eyes is grey and purple from lack of sleep. Did he sleep at all last night? His wild dark hair is more than usually rumpled, and Enjolras feels like his own groping hands can't be solely responsible for that level of craziness.
“Thank you,” Enjolras says, instead of calling him on his hypocrisy and starting a stupid argument, taking a inhaling gulp from the mug that empties it half-way. He snatches up the eco-cup and a slice of toast for the road and his jacket from the back of the door, his leather messenger bag from beside the couch. “I have to go. We'll talk later?”
“What's there to talk about?” Grantaire says lightly, and makes a shooing gesture at him.
There's a lot to talk about.
Enjolras discovers this at approximately three minutes past eight, when he enters Valjean's office – late – to find Valjean pacing around the room and Simplice sitting in one of the armchairs with her hands neatly in her lap. Enjolras had known something was up – Fauchelevent had given him a jaundiced, jealous glance on his way past – but he can feel the tension as soon as he enters the room, a crackling electrical charge that sends sudden energy jolting through his brain, more effective than the caffeine already juddering through his veins.
“Sir,” he says, with a questioning look at Simplice.
Her carved pale face is expressionless. Her white-grey hair is coiled neatly behind her head with the eerie exactness of a fractal pattern. She's one of those curious people who don't seem to bring either a sense of masculinity or femininity with them, faint as perfume, nor any hint of sexuality whether expressed or kept under tight control. There's nothing there but the presence of absence, the silence of an oratory; and no hint of what's going on.
“Enjolras,” Valjean says, whirling around. He comes across the room, and then his large hands are on Enjolras's shoulders. He squeezes. “I wanted to discuss this with you before the staff meeting at half-past. Simplice,” he adds, his eyes briefly leaving Enjolras's face, “he does need to know first. He's one of my top people, and this affects him.”
She makes a small gesture. Her hands are long and delicate and bloodless, and they don't twitch or make the small nervous adjustments of smoothed skirts and patted hair that another woman might. “If you must.”
“What is it?” Enjolras asks, but his queasy conscience is already supplying possible answers. It's actually a relief when Valjean squeezes his shoulders again, says with almost paternal tenderness,
“The State Attorney-General's ruled,” and the kind look in his eyes means that it's not good.
Enjolras is on fire after that, with the sudden incandescent rage that somehow purifies him of all distractions and leaves him clean and clear and absolutely cold and effective. He's effective all through the official meeting, making notes and suggestions and firing off memos, listening to how Valjean plans to respond.
It's a ruling against him, after all; no one in the room doubts that it's another power-play between him and Javert, another move in a long game that began when Valjean was a young man and Javert was still in law enforcement. A reaction to Valjean allowing the city clerks to issue licenses to same-sex couples, in itself a reaction to Javert's promise to veto any attempt to push same-sex marriage through the legislature; itself a reaction to – well, only Valjean and Javert know how far back the chain goes, every link in it binding them inextricably together.
(“I don’t think it’s stigmatic,” Valjean had said, his hand still on Enjolras’s arm. He was measured, thoughtful, picking a painful balance. “It’s personal, yes – but Javert isn’t opposing this simply because it’s a measure I’ve taken, nor because of any strongly-held prejudices of his own. He’s opposing it because he’s dogmatic about due process, and if it is going to be legalised, he’ll see it done without veto – but only if it’s done in the correct way, through the correct channels, every t crossed and i dotted. It’s possible that he’d allow it to stand as a judicial ruling, although I’d suspect he’d only be truly comfortable with a proper amendment voted on by the populace – I know it doesn’t make any difference to you that I don’t believe he’s acting out of malice, Enjolras, or to the immediate matter at hand, but I must give the man his due. He’s a stubborn doctrinarian, but not malevolent.”)
“We stopped issuing licenses when we received word from the governor's office,” Gribier says, putting his fingertips together. “How many were issued in those first three days?”
“Ninety-six,” Enjolras says. He doesn't need to look up the figure. Everyone's looking at him. At the ring on his finger, the physical representation of those quick, defiant marriages.
“They're not properly invalid yet,” Marius says. His soft blue eyes are full of almost puzzled hurt. Despite his lack of a personal stake, he makes a better picture of distress than Enjolras himself does. He knows that he gives nothing away. He has nothing to give away but fury on behalf of those other ninety-five couples. Everyone glancing covertly at him looking for personal devastation is looking in vain. “The Attorney General can certainly stop us issuing more licenses, and even make a judgment on the validity of the existing marriages, but that judgment is only temporary. We can challenge it in the state supreme court –”
“Not us, Marius,” Valjean says. “It'll be for pressure and lobbying groups to take up that cause. I'm sure they've prepared their test cases already.”
Enjolras curls his lip at the thought of the HRC hand in the lobbyist glove, the perfect cookie-cutter gay couple they're likely to choose. “We're fighting it in our own way, though.”
“We are,” Valjean agrees. He glances around the room, and his gaze stops on Simplice, who gives him permission with a small incline of her head. Enjolras has to wonder what changed between Valjean's party and this meeting, what pushed her from maybe to campaign manager. She has a reputation for genuine progressive virtue, and it could be dislike of Javert that did it; or it could be cooler, disinterested political instinct, looking at the situation and seeing a foothold, an opportunity to be seized, a chance to carry war into the enemy camp. “I'm declaring my candidacy for the governorship at the beginning of next week's news cycle.”
There's a buzz of noise and excitement, swelling.
This is war, Enjolras thinks, and the thought is utterly satisfying.
As soon as the meeting's over, he starts the texting and email chain. Somewhere Jehan or Courfeyrac is already on top of the news leaking through Twitter and the blogosphere. The Attorney-General's ruling; Enjolras is not prepared to share Valjean's gubernatorial plans. But otherwise, the war is on, and there are things that the ABC can do that the major's office can't. Their job is to release an official statement on the ruling and work silently and feverishly on the sped-up candidacy announcement.
The ABC, on the other hand, is free to engage in a fire-fight, to get their hands virtually dirty. Enjolras has the satisfaction of knowing that things are beginning to take shape while he's stuck at work, of knowing that as soon as he gets off and can go home the real planning will begin. He trusts their ability. His friends make up the separate, perfect parts of a larger machine, coming together to make a useful whole.
It seems like six o'clock will never come; when it does, Enjolras is out the door and in the car as soon as physically possible, and when he gets home, it's with an energy that sends the front door crashing against the opposing wall.
The living room is dim and Grantaire's stretched out on the couch. The effect of the slamming door is to startle him suddenly out of sleep like a cat, and only an outflung arm stops him rolling off onto the floor. “Wha?”
“Have you been asleep all day?” Enjolras demands. “Haven't you checked your phone? The Attorney General's made a ruling.”
Belatedly, he notices the half-empty bottle on the coffee table, the shuttered blinds, the fact that Grantaire's clearly showered and changed but hasn't bothered leaving or going to work.
“Fuck, you can make an entrance,” Grantaire says, rubbing at his eyes. “Yes, Apollo, I checked my phone. I saw the news. Am I supposed to be excited?”
Enjolras can't quite believe that he’s been sitting here sullenly drinking when everything is up in the air. He's so energised that encountering the enervated almost physically revolts him. He could understand distress in someone else, but Grantaire doesn't believe in marriage as an institution, and he's not really losing anything. “You’re supposed to give a fuck. And yes, actually. I am.”
“Of course you are. It takes care of the whole divorce problem, right? Voila, we're not even fake-married at all.” Grantaire gestures, a motion that calls attention to the ring on his hand as much as it demonstrates a sense of frustration. “I mean, you don't even have to cite irreconcilable differences, or ask for an annulment on the grounds of non-consummation, or whatever the plan was.”
“We're filing no-fault,” Enjolras says, briefly distracted – does a blowjob count as consummation? Then, forcefully, “We're going to fight this. If it was a decade ago – but it's now, and DOMA's gone. We're going to win this in the end, even if it takes half a decade in the courts. Marriage equality can't lose when it gets to that point, not anymore.”
“But right now, it's done,” Grantaire says, stubbornly pessimistic.
“It's not done. It's not even begun.”
That earns him a little wry quirk of mouth, like Grantaire might actually allow himself to be convinced by Enjolras's particular brand of political optimism, and seizing on it, Enjolras bends down, takes Grantaire's face between his hands, and kisses him.
It's a long, stubborn attempt to communicate his passion with his mouth and hands and body, since words aren't doing it well enough for him; to pass along his desperate excitement like the breath of life.
When he stops, finally, Grantaire's half on his feet, one hand clenched painfully in Enjolras's hair and the other clutching at his shoulder like a drowning man. His eyes have gone wide and dark, and when he touches two fingers to his mouth, Enjolras suddenly wants nothing more than to have Grantaire suck him off again. His own mouth feels burnt from Grantaire's stubble, his lips swollen and sore.
“I'm convinced,” Grantaire says hoarsely. “I mean, feel free to convince me some more, but – Political intrigue really gets you off, doesn't it?”
“A little,” Enjolras admits, and groans betrayingly when Grantaire slides his knuckles against his crotch, testing the veracity of that statement. Between the adrenaline and the hard hot kiss, he's more than half-hard. 'We can't, I've called an ABC meeting here at seven. We don't have time –”
“We could be quick.”
“We have less than fifteen minutes.”
“We could be really, really quick,” Grantaire says, still groping him through his pants.
They kiss again, as hard and hasty as before, and it's an argument; we can't, Enjolras says, we can, Grantaire argues; I want to meeting so let's do it and tangling inextricably until they break apart and Enjolras wipes his mouth and says, breathlessly, “We have even less than fifteen minutes.”
That means yes, but instead of working on his zipper, Grantaire lets go of him and grabs for his phone instead.
“What are you doing?”
“Sending out a blind-copy group text,” Grantaire says, fingers flying over the screen. “I figure, if I tell them all to pick up coffee and junk food on their way over, we can stretch it out to half an hour, easily.”
“You're a genius.”
Grantaire pauses briefly, mid-text. It's the sudden quality of his stillness that makes Enjolras realise that he's never said anything similar to Grantaire before, in all their years of – you're an idiot, often, but not –
“At making time for messing around?” Grantaire says, the pause passing off in a blink. He hits something and tosses the phone away. “It's a superpower. Come here, we don't have time for you to hang back all untouchable.”
He sinks back onto the couch, tugging Enjolras forward between the fork of his legs. Enjolras goes, fitting over him with an awkward press of bodies that brings them too close, their noses bumping and angling for space. His thigh fits between Grantaire's legs, gets trapped between his thighs. Between the pressed bone of their foreheads, trapped strands of Enjolras's hair feel gritty.
Grantaire tastes like whiskey, but the inside of his mouth is like hot silk. While they're kissing, he manages to get a hand inside Enjolras's pants from underneath him and starts jacking him that way. It's inefficient and not enough, but Enjolras is so desperate to get off that fixing the angle seems like an impossible and unnecessary delay until Grantaire twists his head away, blinking Enjolras's tangling blond hair out of his eyes and mouth.
“We have to – this fucking couch is out to get me, I swear. Blow you on the floor?”
“Please,” Enjolras says, but instead of getting up, he kisses Grantaire's prickly jaw, pushing his shirt out of the way to rub his palms up his warm stomach and over the hard points of his nipples.
“Mm,” Grantaire says, catching his hands, “we probably should keep our clothes on –”
The reminder of the ticking clock, makes Enjolras stop. He tries to think it through. It's hard with the blood thudding in his ears and low in his belly. “We shouldn't do this out here. Come on, you know where my bedroom is.”
“I do,” Grantaire says, doubtful, but he pulls his t-shirt over his head when Enjolras tugs again; his dark curls spring into spectacular disarray as the neck of the shirt drags over them.
Grantaire leaves the t-shirt on the living room floor, and the jeans in the hallway, his boxers on the floor of Enjolras's bedroom. Enjolras's briefs ends up at the foot of the bed, pants and shirt tossed to the side.
“And this,” Grantaire says roughly, when Enjolras breaks off the making out again to pull him down naked on top of him, “is this part of the deal?”
Enjolras doesn't answer. He rolls his hips up against Grantaire instead and feels the mattress quiver beneath him. It's been a long time since he had a man in his bed. There's lube in his nightstand, and he stretches for it as Grantaire presses a stream of little sucking sharp kisses down his chest.
The lube makes it better. Enjolras intends to use it to work their cocks together in his hand, get them off effectively like that, but as soon as he's got them slick and slippery he gets distracted by Grantaire's mouth. His plan drops away as they move together in waves with the bed shifting with their movements; and then they roll over and the weight of Grantaire's body over him becomes the yield of it under him, his knees between the spread sprawl of Grantaire's short powerful thighs.
“Jesus,” Grantaire breathes, mouth open against his throat as they move together more urgently in a wet and messy leveraging of weight and sensation. His heels press into the knotted muscle of Enjolras's calves. Every inch of Enjolras's skin is alive with sensation, tight with need as a drawn bow.
If they weren't watching a clock, he could do this for hours, rub himself off against Grantaire in lazy waves of slowly rising pleasure, with no haste – but they are, and when Grantaire curses, shoves a hand between them and sinks his teeth into Enjolras's shoulder at the same time he wraps his fingers firmly around his cock, it's the sensation needed to push him over.
Enjolras grinds into his curled hand, comes, a sudden and aching release that feels almost underwhelming until it finally leaves him utterly wrung-out.
When Grantaire's continued thrusting against him becomes uncomfortable, he says, “Stop.” Grantaire does, with an inarticulate, frustrated groan, and Enjolras pushes himself up onto his elbows and blinks down.
There's sweat shining damply on Grantaire's forehead, the bridge of his nose; the tendons in his throat are taut and impossibly lickable. His eyes are screwed up tightly as though stopping physically hurts, matted eyelashes shivering.
Enjolras licks the hollow of his collarbone and pushes himself up further, taking his weight off Grantaire's chest and back onto his knees.
Grantaire's eyelids unseal as Enjolras separates from him, revealing a crack of anxious blue. He makes a pained noise when Enjolras slides down the bed, further away from him, and a deep and surprised one when Enjolras takes his cock in his mouth.
It's been a long time since he did this, and he's almost forgotten what it's like without a mediating latex barrier blunting every sensation, and the chemical taste of lube. There's still a hint of it now, but it's not obnoxious fake-tropical or fake-strawberry or fake-pina colada, a mockery of the real thing; and beneath it is the taste of Grantaire himself, salt and skin and sweat.
He's so close that Enjolras doesn't need to blow him for long, just needs to let Grantaire hold his head and thrust wearily into his mouth. Once, twice, half-a-dozen times; then Grantaire's hips jerk, and he comes too.
“Fuck,” he says weakly, a moment later.
Enjolras makes a non-verbal sound of agreement, clearing his throat. He'd thought about pulling away – it wasn't like Grantaire had been exactly quiet about the immediacy of his orgasm – but then he'd thought about the clean-up, and the time, the wet evidence of his own already sticky on his stomach, smudged along Grantaire's belly in a smear from abdominals to obliques.
The sound of his throat clearing makes Grantaire focus on him. The dazed expression on his face is touched with the almost hurt look he'd worn after Enjolras had filled the kitchen with noxious smoke, a look more appropriate receiving a mortal wound than it is post-orgasm.
“You really didn't need to – fuck, the condom.”
“Exactly,” Grantaire says, and then he groans again, heartfelt. “We have to – they'll be here any minute.”
“Bathroom,” Enjolras says shortly, disentangling himself from both Grantaire and the bed and gathering up his clothes as he goes. It only takes him a moment to wash his stomach and his hands, to skim back into his shirt and pants. Behind him he can hear Grantaire picking up his more scattered things, and when he appears in the mirror behind him Enjolras passes him the washcloth.
“Whore's bath,” Grantaire comments, tangling his hand in Enjolras's hair unhelpfully. “Gargle with the whiskey or brush your teeth, something. Find a hairbrush.”
“Get dressed,” Enjolras says, and pulls away.
His hair is terrible, a mane of curls standing up stiffly all over his head. He crushes it with his hands as he makes sure his bedroom door is shut, checks the living room for signs of disaster, and not a moment too soon, someone raps on the door.
“How many pizzas?” Joly asks frantically, the phone tucked between his ear and shoulder. “Six? Ten? How many slices can you eat?”
“All of them,” Bahorel and Eponine say at the same time, and fist bump. Marius says, “Um, I'm hungry,” because he's always hungry, even though nothing he eats sticks to his long lanky body, and Musichetta does a quick head count, estimating on her fingers, and says “Ten, Joly. Make sure one of them's – ”
“Wholemeal crust and vegetarian, no peppers, I know, darling,” Joly says, and says into the phone, “No, not you, that wasn't – let me start again –”
“Oh man, crazy eyes,” Bossuet says, glancing at Enjolras and Combeferre and Courfeyrac, their three heads together talking a mile a minute, half the conversation elided because some things don't need explanation, not among the three of them. “This is just like the bad old days.”
“The good old days,” Feuilly corrects him, coding rapidly.
“The best days.” Jehan, wistful.
Enjolras has never particularly cared for the sentiment that one's school years, or one's college years, are the best time in one's life – that implies settling, impedes striving, suggests that a halcyon period can come and go unbidden, without working for it. The future can always be improved. One's life can always be made better. The best part of your life lies ahead, if you let it.
Still – he smiles at the memory of the ABC working like fury together in college, back when their jobs ate less of their time, back before everyone was settled as they are now. It's been a rare privilege to watch his friends become more themselves with the years, to watch people like Eponine take unpromising beginnings and turn them into triumph, to watch Feuilly teach himself programming languages and spin it into a career; to watch even Grantaire clean up, start following a vaguely normal Circadian rhythm, stop drinking to excess during the work week, stop with other substances entirely.
He wouldn't trade any of it – Marius's slow maturing, or Grantaire's burgeoning artistic success, the memory of Eponine's magnesium-flash smile on her wedding day, Jehan's growing confidence, Feuilly's promotion or Musichetta and Joly and Bossuet finally settling into equilibrium – for those days over again, but they're a good memory.
“This is war,” Bahorel declares, always fiercest when his friends are threatened, “and we're going to torch their crops and salt their fields and make them listen to the lamentation of their PR specialists.”
It's war, and the war council held in Enjolras's living room turns into an all-night meeting of coffee and drinking and argument, frantic drafting of legal briefs and emails and the massive overhaul of the ABC official website. Just like the good old days.
Courfeyrac and Combeferre and Enjolras are working with Marius and Bahorel, Jehan frantically updating the twitter feed while Cosette gives phone interviews and cold-calls Javert supporters, people on the local political scene she's known since she was a young girl. Enjolras doesn't have much attention for anything beyond the brief he's working on and Cosette's sweet, patient, cajoling voice, occasionally going bright between calls as she reports on responses, but every time he goes for his coffee cup it's full, and he catches Grantaire once or twice, pulling it away to refill.
It's not pointed; Grantaire's doing it for all of them, but it's Enjolras he checks on first. It's Enjolras he accurately diagnoses with an incipient headache, and Enjolras who gets two tabs of Tylenol and a brief, effective neck massage.
“Well, you guys are getting along better,” Bossuet says with slight surprise when Grantaire gives Enjolras's neck a final squeeze. “I guess married life's not totally hell.”
Grantaire laughs. “Oh, it has its better moments.”
“Mm,” Enjolras says, slightly skin-stupid. How has he gone so long without touch? “No, not entirely.”
“Not at all,” Eponine agrees, but the look she gives first him and then Grantaire is slanted.
They're five hours into it when Cosette drops a kiss on the top of Marius's frowning head, and he tips his chin back absent-mindedly to catch her lips.
“Wow, what,” Courfeyrac says, glancing at Eponine, who doesn't seem to have noticed. He drops his voice. “Is that – is this a thing?”
“Is what a thing?” Combeferre asks, lifting his head the same time Enjolras does, and under their tripled stare, Marius goes a helpless guilty neon pink.
Something goes click in Enjolras's head, just before Bahorel whistles, long and low. “Well done,” he says to Marius, and then, “Dumb fuck.”
“Are you insane?”
Eponine finally looks up from her laptop. “What do you mean, insane?” Her voice is low and extremely dangerous. She's not going to pretend she doesn't know what Enjolras is talking about. “It's really none of your business.”
“Don't be stupid,” Enjolras says. He's not going to pretend that he doesn't know what she's talking about. “You know how much is riding on this, you know who you are – Don't act like –” He closes his eyes. “You just decided to throw away everything we're fighting for, everything we're trying to accomplish, for Pontmercy?”
It would be funny, if it wasn't so terrible. There's personal, and then there's political, and the two can't come together in this without a sonic boom and an atomic-grade mushroom cloud.
Cosette looks like an outraged madonna at the implied slight to Marius, and Combeferre puts a hand on Enjolras's shoulder and says to Eponine, in more measured accents, "You must admit that polyamory isn't something the mainstream is ready to embrace just yet – there's a reason we chose you two for our registry-office example, and not, say, Joly, and Bossuet, and Musichetta –"
"It's a point," Feuilly says. "It opens us up to the whole slippery-slope fallacy of 'Next you'll want to have a harem, or marry your dog, or your hamster' –”
"Marius is hardly a dog.”
Marius, silent through all of this, looks like he wants to die.
Courfeyrac chooses this moment to chuckle, in an attempt to defuse the thick tension. He's usually good at it; a joke, a sudden touch to someone's waist, a moment of brightness or a reminder of the fondness webbing between them all. "Well, he's always reminded me strongly of a puppy –”
"Perhaps you should stay out of this fight," Combeferre suggests, cutting this attempt off with unexpected severity. His frown encompasses the dramatic end of Courfeyrac's relationship with Marius so long ago, and the recent break-up with Jehan, and the summer he and Bahorel buddyfucked, which only became a problem when one of Bahorel's simultaneous girlfriends found out and lit his lawn on fire –
"Exactly," Eponine says, drawing herself up. "How fucking dare either of you –" Her gaze shifts from Enjolras to Courfeyrac and back again – "lecture Cosette and I on our perfectly functional relationships when, excuse me, Courfeyrac’s everything – Bahorel – Even you, Combeferre, and don’t give me that I have no idea what you’re talking about look. You’re all fucked up. Fuck, Enjolras is pretending to be married to Grantaire as a stupid stunt, and it's not like you didn't all know exactly what a bad idea it was, but you encouraged it anyway.”
The glare settles on Courfeyrac, who throws his hands up, empty-palmed, and makes another game attempt at lightening the mood. “Hey,” he says, “it's not a big deal, it wasn't a big deal, it's almost over, they're ending it any day now–”
“It is over,” Grantaire says darkly. “According to that fuckhead Javert, anyway.”
“I keep telling you,” Enjolras says, distracted from the terrible political scandal brewing in his living room. “It's not over. It's nowhere near over – Anyway, we might not get divorced yet.”
Courfeyrac blinks. “Pardon?” It’s enough to underline Enjolras's last words, and to draw attention from the star-crossed love triangle.
“We're probably not getting divorced yet,” Enjolras repeats, and gives Grantaire a brief, acknowledging smile before he gathers himself up to move back to the main point.
The reaction in the crowded room is a surprise. It surprises Enjolras how much they're all surprised, the sudden swift glances and frowns back and forth, the hesitant little smile on Bossuet's face and the sudden wince on Joly's.
Grantaire gives him a half-smile of his own. He shrugs his shoulders like it's a casual statement, rolls them back, and says, “Yeah, we're thinking about sticking it out.”
“Faking it out?” Eponine asks, quick as a whip.
“I guess,” Grantaire says, and shrugs again. No big deal, his shoulders telegraph. “We might as well keep going, right? We're managing.”
“I don't like it,” Combeferre says, and his hand falls off Enjolras's shoulder. When Enjolras turns to look at him, frowning – they've already had this argument, and buried it – Combeferre looks truly unhappy. “No, Enjolras.”
“It's not really any of your business,” Enjolras says, and Eponine snorts.
“We're – Grantaire and I are – It's different. We're solidifying what we've established. You and – this thing with Marius – it's undermining it.”
“We love him," Cosette says, lifting her chin. "We love each other, we have a commitment to each other and to our future – I love Eponine, and she loves me, and if we love Marius, too, what does that change?"
There's a pointedness there that cuts home all the more for being unexpected, like being savaged by a butterfly. "Everything," Enjolras says, because it does, and they know it does, however wilfully they're closing their eyes to it.
“Whatever,” Eponine says, and she closes her laptop. “We're done for tonight. I'm going to take my wife and my boyfriend home. Grantaire,” she says, with sudden decision. “We need to talk. You can get a lift home with us.”
Grantaire looks startled, dark eyebrows flying up his forehead. “Um,” he says, and glances at Enjolras. “No, that's okay. I'm just going to crash here, I think.”
The glance reminds Enjolras so suddenly and strongly of Marius refusing a ride with them the other night so he could stay behind to consort with Cosette and Eponine that he wants to slam his head against the wall for missing that anvil dropping when it did. Then, when he remembers Grantaire's sudden amused laughter as he tracked the glances being exchanged, Enjolras wants to slam his head against the wall for not sharing his insight with him.
He glares, and Grantaire looks more confused.
“Enjolras,” Combeferre says, warningly. He's going to want to talk to him the way Enjolras himself wants to talk to Eponine and Cosette (the way Eponine wants to talk to Grantaire), but with far less merit.
“You could come crash with me,” Courfeyrac says to Grantaire, stepping in to give Combeferre the opening he wants like they practiced it, and wiggles his eyebrows.
Enjolras is about to give him an exasperated glance when another anvil of missed subtext drops. Grantaire working out whatever pent-up sexual frustration had driven him to kiss Enjolras that day, shrugging sulkily in his car on the way to dinner and telling him that it was sorted, don't worry your pretty little head about it, he'd fucked it out of his system in the intervening time with someone else.
“Oh,” he says. Courfeyrac turns his usual bright charming grin on him.
“You mind me taking him off your hands for the night?”
“I do,” Enjolras says. His voice is so cold he doesn't recognise it as his own. “Keep your hands off him in the future, in fact.”
“Oh god, you didn't,” Bossuet says, and he's suddenly looking at Courfeyrac too, looking between Courfeyrac and Grantaire, and rolling his eyes to the heavens like this is just another silly hook-up among the members of the ABC, just another thing they'll laugh about one day.
Courfeyrac laughs on cue, a little rueful, but Grantaire is wearing a grimacing look of sudden comprehension.
“Enjolras,” he says. “It wasn't – it was before, you know that, you know why.”
Enjolras knows. He's not the outraged husband his words make him. He has no rights over Grantaire just because he came all over his stomach a few hours ago, and he certainly didn't have any rights before they came to their agreement.
Logically, he knows that. He knows that, but now he can put a face and name to Grantaire's anonymous fuckbuddy he feels something worse than the anger he feels towards Cosette and Eponine and Marius, even though it's the same thing.
It's almost exactly the same thing, bringing another person in, putting their work in jeopardy, but it's worse.
Enjolras gropes for a reason, and finds one close to hand. Courfeyrac, loving loveable charming Courfeyrac – he's slept with so many of their friends. It's been a long-standing irritation, and now Enjolras has put himself in that chain by messing around with Grantaire himself, when he knows, when he's always said, that it's not a good idea to fuck around casually inside the group –
There's noise around them, talking and questions and still somehow laughter – “You didn't” – but Enjolras continues to stare at Grantaire, and Grantaire continues to stare back, looking strained, and more strained, until he's wearing the expression he gets when he's about to vomit at any moment. Enjolras hasn't seen it since college
Grantaire still drinks, and frequently still drinks too much, but he hasn't been puking drunk around Enjolras for years. Puking drunk, for Grantaire, is a limit beyond limits.
Combeferre touches his arm diffidently. He does it like Enjolras might need the contact to ground him, to stop lightning from passing through his body and spilling out wildly. It's a familiar gesture between the two of them, a reminder to calm down and draw back, to change tone.
Enjolras tears his eyes away from Grantaire, and somehow meeting Combeferre’s is worse. Combeferre looks thoughtful. He's looking at Enjolras like he's trying to understand the inside of his head. “You didn't know?”
“No,” Enjolras says, looking away before Combeferre can break him and discover the bad decisions Enjolras has made in the past twenty-four hours. He shakes off the placating hand, and the white-hot fury can't keep itself contained. “Of course not, or I would have put a stop to it. After all our work – with everything –”
"'Put a stop to it'," Eponine quotes, and snorts. "What on earth do you think gives you the right –"
"I think,” Combeferre says, “it would be a good idea if we adjourned."
The council of war breaks up in silence. Courfeyrac looks like he wants to linger, but Combeferre takes his arm firmly and pulls him along. Grantaire grabs his jacket from the back of the door without looking back at Enjolras.
“Stay,” Enjolras says, sharp as broken glass.
Grantaire's hand drops. “Don't, Enjolras,” he says, and it's a tireder and wearier tone than Enjolras has ever heard from him. When the last person apart from the two of them has left, with a backwards glance, he says, “I can't – you can't be angry about this. You can't.”
“Because I don't belong to you.” He laughs, a ragged shaky kind of laugh. “And you don't belong to me, and – Because you don't have any fucking idea what this has been doing to me, and you don't have any right to criticise what measures I've taken to deal with it.”
“Being married to me is that difficult?” Enjolras asks. He knew it was a favour; he's always known, but – “It's that difficult to go three months without a fuck? It's that awful you have to go and suck Courfeyrac's pretty dick just to deal with the occasional Friday night in my company; it's that terrible –”
He expects Grantaire to reassure him, somehow, but Grantaire flinches instead, and then meets Enjolras's eyes with an apparent gathering-together of his courage. “Yes. It's that difficult.”
“You could have said –” Enjolras closes his eyes. “And fucking me, that was, what? A root canal?”
“I didn't fuck you,” Grantaire corrects him, with offensive punctiliousness. “I sucked you off, and then you sucked me off, but a couple of blowjobs and a little heavy petting doesn't constitute fucking. Ask Clinton.” His smile is horribly off-center. “What did you call it? A deal? A little release of tension between friends? By those standards, you can't count me and Courfeyrac either, you know.”
Enjolras is curling and uncurling his fists to control the tension running through him again, but it's different to how he was feeling last night. He wants to punch Grantaire more than he wants to fuck him, harder and stronger and more urgently than he has since college. The emotions are closer to each other than he realised, tilting back and forth like a see-saw; a dangerous knife-edge.
“You don't count it?”
Enjolras curls his fists and steps a little closer. He can feel Grantaire's breath on his face now, hot and uneven. “Not Courfeyrac. This.”
“What is it, Enjolras?”
“I don't know.”
This is what happens when you start trading orgasms with someone you're more comfortable fighting with; important wires cross somewhere in the brain, spark and fuse, and now instead of punching Grantaire what he wants to do is shove him against the wall and fuck his thigh, to go to his knees and suck him off and drive out every thought in Grantaire's head that's not Enjolras and his mouth, to overwhelm him and make him know he's overwhelmed.
So he does; curls his fists into Grantaire's shirt instead, kisses him with a brutality Grantaire gives back to him in equal measure. Bites at his mouth and his jaw and his throat as Grantaire curses. His button-up shirt comes apart easily in Grantaire's hands. Grantaire's t-shirt is harder to get out of the way. He sinks his teeth into Grantaire's shoulder, too, as soon as it's bare, a lovely solid curve of firm muscle. Biting him is satisfying on an atavistic level he doesn't completely understand.
Sex doesn't usually do this to Enjolras. It doesn't tangle him up. It's not confusing. Sex is something straightforward, a simple human and bodily need; it's never been complicated for him whether he's having it or not. It's other people's needs that create the problems, the things they want from him.
“I hate these fucking pants,” Grantaire hisses, fumbling with the hook when he'd been clever with it last night, and Enjolras shoves his hands away long enough to do it himself. While he's working his zip down, Grantaire's yanking angrily on his own jeans, and then his cock is in his fist, half-hard. “Come here.”
“I don't – Fuck you,” Enjolras says when Grantaire curls his other hand around his dick too. If he fumbled with the pants he's sure and certain when it comes to this, and Enjolras pushes helplessly into Grantaire's grip, hating the knowingness of it, how badly he wants it, how badly he wants more. “Fuck you.”
“Oh, we can do that. Got a condom somewhere? Of course you do, you're the fucking king of barriers, all clean and antiseptic and tidy, that's how you like it, right –”
“I don't want to fuck you,” Enjolras tries to say, but it's pointless when he can't stop himself from fucking Grantaire's hand betrayingly, the way he wants to fuck Grantaire himself. “What are you – do you think I'll be less angry with you if I do?”
“Honestly, yes,” Grantaire says, and that's not healthy, that's severely fucked up, and Enjolras is going to say as much when Grantaire bites his lip, slows down on what he's doing to Enjolras, and strips his own cock a little faster. He clearly likes the thought of it, Enjolras angry and fucking him. His cock clearly likes it, flushed and flushing darker with an eagerness that matches Enjolras's own. Whatever this is – it's not punishment Grantaire's demanding from him. “Safer than a blowjob, too. Do you think I want to stick my dick in your mouth when you're this angry?”
“I'm not offering to let you –”
“You're staring at my crotch right now,” Grantaire points out, and smirks meanly when Enjolras jerks his eyes up. “Not so detached and beyond the sexual urges we commoners feel now, are you? Give you a taste of what you've been missing, and you're as cock-hungry as the rest of us –”
“Fuck you,” Enjolras says. Grantaire tightens his hand around him, squeezes the base of his cock, hard enough to make him protest and rise up on his toes, gasp, “My nightstand. The condoms are in my nightstand.”
It's not clean and tidy and antiseptic. It's Enjolras tearing the condom packet open with his teeth and Grantaire grabbing the lube they used earlier and pouring some messily into his palm, kneeling in Enjolras's unmade bed and working himself roughly open while Enjolras tries to roll the condom on without tearing it.
Then it's a brief and half-gestured argument about positioning, about whether Grantaire's ready enough, and it ends in Enjolras taking him by the hips just to shut him up and fucking him the way he's insisting upon.
He doesn't, actually, mean to be mean about it. He means to be careful, but he wants it so badly, and Grantaire doesn't make it easy, either, because Grantaire has never made anything easy for Enjolras in the entirety of their acquaintance.
(That's a lie. Sure, Grantaire said easily when Enjolras emailed him his marriage proposition. I'll make breakfast, you start the coffee on innumerable Saturday mornings. Hi, Mrs. Gribier, how're you, how're the kids doing at their new school? when Enjolras had forgotten his colleague was even married.)
Grantaire's spine curves, head and shoulders curling back, his hips rising up and angling back so emphatically that the first thrust takes Enjolras deeper than he expected.
“Oh,” he says, and the deeper sound Grantaire makes is unreadable; pain or pleasure or agreement, Enjolras can't tell. The next time, it's obviously pleasure, and then he stops worrying about being careful.
It's been too long. He's forgotten the inescapable intimacy of fucking, the way it feels to be inside someone else. Inside Grantaire, of all people, and that thought repeats and repeats and repeats in his head like it's the rhythm he's fucking to – except he's not solely in charge of that; Grantaire shifts and thrusts back against him and the mattress moves under them and occasionally throws them both off.
He's still angry, but it's not directed against Grantaire exactly.
It's not the sort of anger Enjolras is used to. He's used to anger as a goad to action, as a pure cleansing force licking through him like fire. He's used to milder variants: the low-grade irritation that prickles, but doesn't sting. Impersonal furies that he doesn't feel in his throat and loins and as a squeezing frustration in his lungs. This is something new.
It's too much. It's too important. Eponine and Cosette are playing ducks and drakes with their careful roll-out plan and Grantaire is or was sleeping with Courfeyrac and everything’s unravelling and no one else seems to give a shit about what they were trying to accomplish in the first place. That's why he feels all this choking and clogging and overwhelming strangeness that just gets worse and worse the more he thinks about it. Enjolras needs to stop thinking about it.
“Does this count?” he asks fiercely, when the next series of thrusts drives that resolution out of his head. “Does it count now?”
Grantaire hisses under him, and twists his hips for more. “You – tell – me –”
For a moment it chokes him; the need for more, to draw blood, the urge that's as close to fury and frustration as anything he's ever felt for Grantaire. “I don't know,” he says. “Tell me. Tell me it counts.”
“Make me –”
When Enjolras finally comes, it's with the kind of impact felt by cattle stunned by the hammer before the mortal blow. It drops him, metaphorically and literally, and he slumps against Grantaire's back and rests his forehead between his shoulder blades. Grantaire's knees collapse gently under their combined weight and bear them both to the mattress.
His back is the kind of tanned that makes the skin look like brown satin, lightly touched here and there with tiny dark freckles. It tastes like salt, and like a whisper of soap from a long-ago shower. Not that long ago, Enjolras thinks vaguely, trying to puzzle back through it. This morning, after he'd left for work –
It takes some time for proper awareness to return, and then it's unwelcome.
“Fuck,” he says, and pulls himself up and off, rolling away. Grantaire makes a noise that could be agreement, or simply gratitude for Enjolras moving off him at last. The condom needs to be taken care of, peeled away and knotted off, and doing that sparks a memory of an outstanding debt.
Enjolras puts his hand tentatively on Grantaire's hip, and when he's not shrugged off, moves it lower.
“Hey,” Grantaire says, cracking open one blue eye and grabbing his wrist before he makes contact.
“You don't want – ?”
“Not that you're the definition of a generous fuck, or anything, but it's taken care of.”
Enjolras feels grotesquely inadequate anyway. “I'm sorry, I meant to – I'm sorry,” he says, and Grantaire releases his wrist and rolls over, propping himself up on his elbow.
“Don't worry about it,” he says, and there's a wry tone to his voice. “Not that a reach-around wouldn't have been welcome, but – I didn't even need to do it myself, so you can relax. Pat yourself on the back, thank sweet fuck that I'm easy and I like it when you lose your grip and stop being all coolly sure of yourself, whatever.”
“You're being kind.”
Grantaire's laugh is a short bark of a thing. “I'm really not, Apollo.”
That makes Enjolras look at him instead of somewhere past his shoulder.
Grantaire looks like he wishes he hadn't said it, but he looks back, and even the expression on his face is wry now, a self-mocking sort of thing that says I'm easy, I'm easy, I'm easy when he's anything but.
“You're not,” Enjolras says, and sits up.
He needs to shower again. He's fucked twice in this bed and hasn't changed the sheets. His life is completely out of control. He rubs his mouth, and then his eyes, and then rests his forehead against the heel of his hand.
Grantaire lets him be for a while, and then he says, carefully light, “So. Still angry?”
“Still angry,” Enjolras says to the inside of his wrist, but it's not precisely true. The feelings are still there, but they're drowning him instead of bringing him to the boil. The brief brutal catharsis of what just happened has stripped him of all his energy and left him absolutely drained. He knows it's still there, but he's completely powerless to feel anything but tired, unable to do anything but sit here in his filthy bed with Grantaire sprawled naked next to him, watching him with the thoughts veiled incomprehensibly in his eyes.
“Well, it was worth a shot.” Grantaire's smile this time is even less real. “Should I go?”
It's at least three in the morning. Later or earlier, Enjolras doesn't know. He doesn't know what to say, either – yes is a slap, no more than he wants to say. When Grantaire finally moves, Enjolras puts a hand on his knee to keep him in place.
In the morning, his bed is empty, and Enjolras's head aches. His eyes are so dry that looking up or down or sideways hurts. He must have snatched a few hours of sleep, but it feels like he was awake all night, feeling Grantaire shifting next to him, over-aware of the places their bodies touched, the smell of sex. The tacky spots on the bottom sheet they both contorted to avoid. The accidental graze of knee to calf, shoulder against shoulder, a sudden turning-over that brought his face unexpectedly close to Grantaire's turned back.
When it becomes clear that he's not going to fall asleep again, Enjolras gets up. He strips the bed, ruthlessly, and leaves the sheets on the floor. He showers. Then he ventures out into the living room, which is disconcertingly full of the debris from last night: A dozen half-full glasses of wine, half-empty cups of cold coffee, miscellaneous scattered papers and print-outs.
The light outside the window is just beginning to turn pearly grey in expectation of the sun rising soon. There's time to clean up, and Enjolras does, closing his eyes against the white noise of the tap running. It's peaceful and empty, and he washes up with his head full of nothing but sound until he comes to Grantaire's particular coffee mug. There, he pauses, and the water keeps running uselessly into the drain.
When did it start to be Grantaire's mug, specifically? Sometime in the past few months, through customary use, along with his cushion and his pants and his towel and his toothbrush. His extra change of clothes and truly essential toiletries stashed in the bathroom cabinet under the sink. His preferred grind of beans in the kitchen cupboard next to Enjolras's, the respective use of either a silent game they play against each other without ever referring to it beyond a grimace at a first sip, or a silent glance of triumph when the other fails to notice which blend was used.
Without Enjolras precisely noticing, Grantaire's many-tentacled presence in his life has become inescapable. It doesn't need to be a Saturday. The ring is always there on his hand, at the edge of his vision. Grantaire's always there in his head.
When there's nothing left to clean up, he checks his phone. It's been sitting on the kitchen counter since everyone left, while he and Grantaire fought and fucked and slept, buzzing at intervals. He has a frankly ridiculous number of texts and missed calls. Courfeyrac has called ten times, but left no messages. Combeferre has called a more limited three times, exactly once every thirty minutes after leaving, before ceasing for the night.
Let me know when you want company again. I'm truly sorry: I assumed Courfeyrac or Grantaire had informed you of their temporary arrangement already. I would have myself if I'd known that they hadn't.
It was very poorly thought out. If it had been any of my business, I would have put a stop to it myself.
Negotiating the limits of open relationships is tricky. Hit me or Joly up if you want to talk to a pro.
im sorry about ep & cosette you know id never do anything to hurt the cause but im in love for real and i dont know how to control it!!
love is the most important thing. love lifts you up where you belong!!
if you knew what it felt like youd understand!!
I'm not happy with the way you spoke to us tonight, but I hope you're doing okay. xx
fyi: you've reached stratospheric new levels of dickery. you keep reaching for that everest, dude. stick your flag in it when you get there.
(protip: first remove the flagpole from your ass. then stop being an ass about where other people stick their flags)
I've sent you the most recent version of the brief. (Please consider it on its own merits, and not on those of certain of its authors.)
When Enjolras gets into work, early, with a copy of the amicus brief the ABC had planned to submit as a group and on behalf of Cosette and Eponine and Enjolras and Grantaire, he barely has time to remove his jacket and put his bag down before Fauchelevent appears in the doorway of his shared office.
“I don't have anything scheduled with the mayor until three,” Enjolras says, frowning. He's not prepared to see Valjean yet. He's tired, under-caffeinated, and physically and emotionally exhausted. He has a ridiculous amount of preparation blocked in before their meeting.
“It's not Jean,” Fauchelevent says, presuming to the over-familiar. A slightly raised eyebrow on Enjolras's part makes him bridle. “Mayor Valjean is busy with more important concerns. Mlle. Simplice wants to speak to you. Alone.”
“As soon as you came in,” Fauchelevent confirms, and looks pleased at whatever Enjolras's face is doing.
Simplice has been allocated an office of her own, as manager of the gubernatorial campaign that hasn't been announced yet. Enjolras remembers Valjean's mayoral campaign like it was yesterday, and it's clear, even at this blastocystic stage of progress, that this campaign is going to be different. Not least because of the woman at its head.
A composed and serene woman with a rare quality of silence. She doesn't speak when Enjolras comes in, but inclines her head slightly at the chair in front of her desk. She's wearing glasses, and they should make her look less imposing, less carved from wax or snow, but they add another layer of distance when she glances at Enjolras over them.
“Sit down,” she says.
Enjolras sits. The silence is catching, so he doesn't say anything until she finishes whatever she's typing and closes her laptop. There's no secretary, no other aides, and – thank god – no whirring sound of a dictaphone going.
“Mr. Enjolras,” Simplice says, and removes her glasses. Under her clear, piercing stare Enjolras finds himself squirming. The feeling is strange: like a sinner hauled before the Grand Inquistador, but there's no malice or menace in it, only the kind of examination that cuts like a knife against a guilty conscience. “I should tell you that I was called into a meeting very late last night at the Valjean residence, with the Mayor, his daughter and daughter-in-law, and Marius Pontmercy.”
A little of the tension in his shoulders loosens. “Oh,” Enjolras says, frowning. “I wasn't aware Cosette was going to tell her father – it's something I only found out yesterday myself.”
Then, for a moment, he wonders if he's said too much – was the unexpected ménage a trois what the meeting was about? He might not approve of it, but he wouldn't betray any of his friends – but Simplice nods.
“It was an additional complication,” she says. “One that's going to have to be managed very carefully. Thankfully, Mr. Pontmercy has no intention of putting himself forward, and I think, if everyone plays their part, we can keep the relationship contained until after the election.”
Enjolras relaxes again, even though he's wondering how on earth she can proclaim a secret polyamorous relationship on the part of the governor-candidate's photogenic daughter to be so easily finessed; wondering what his part here is.
Then she tells him.
“There's very little that can't be managed,” Simplice says, with the simple assurance of someone stating a known fact. “But the fact remains that in order to manage it, I need to know exactly what's going on, and why, and with whom, and for how long. I can't control a situation if I don't know what I need to control. I need to know exactly what I'm dealing with in order to do my job. I tell all my clients this, Mr. Enjolras. To accept them as my clients, I require their total and complete honesty. If I find out that they've lied to me, I cease to work for them. Mr. Valjean has, I believe, been honest with me, and now his daughter has done likewise.
“But it's never as simple as the nucleus of the candidate and the candidate's family. A sandbag could come from an unexpected quarter. Anyone who works on this campaign has the power to damage it, if they're not honest with me; if they're aware of damaging information which they choose to hold back. When amateurs attempt crisis management, Mr. Enjolras, they're not particularly successful at it. And when their attempts cross mine, I have no patience for them. Do you understand me?”
None of this speech is delivered in a threatening tone. She says it softly, like a woman might while taking tea with another, chatting with low and intimate sweetness over the sound of pouring liquid. But she looks at Enjolras directly, and before those eyes, Enjolras drops his own.
"I don't have the energy," Enjolras says, when he finally makes it home that evening and finds Courfeyrac sitting on the steps outside his apartment with his face resting on his folded arms.
For a moment, his bent head struck only a familiar fond note, and then Enjolras remembered Grantaire talking about sorting it out and every bad romantic decision Courfeyrac has ever made, inside the group and out, and now with Grantaire – with the stakes what they are – and was freshly furious again.
He's not sure why he's angry at Courfeyrac when he's only deeply irritated with Marius. They're guilty of the same offense, after all, throwing an unconventional and unnecessary spanner in the works. But he is, and Courfeyrac's all but the last person he wants to see, after a day full of his phone buzzing with message after message, and frantic non-stop work on the campaign roll-out and the response to the Governor, and of Marius skittering away from him in the halls of power. (It's difficult for a six-footer to melt into the marbled wallpaper, but he tries).
It’s not something he’s been able to get away from with work. His morning meeting with Valjean had been functional and sharp until the subject of Marius had cropped up, and they'd awkwardly discussed – talked around – the situation. Valjean had looked like he was deeply uncomfortable with his daughter's romantic and sexual choices, so Enjolras had thought, maybe – It's not a thought he's proud of, but he knows what Valjean's opinion means to Cosette.
Then Valjean had looked off into the distance, sighed deeply, as though resigning his soul into the hands of God, and said, "Well, the girls tells me that this simplifies their plans for starting a family greatly, so – I should at least be getting grandchildren out of it soon,” and even that unworthy hope had faded.
"Too bad," Courfeyrac says now, lifting his head. “Don't look at me like that, Enjolras. You might not want to talk to me right now, but our association is terminal; we've known each other too long and much too well.”
He follows Enjolras inside, despite Enjolras's attempt to close the door in his face, and hauls himself up onto the kitchen counter. His long legs swing back and forth. “So.”
Enjolras glances at him under his falling hair as he starts taking papers and files out of his satchel. He doesn't respond until everything's not only out but neatly ordered on the bench top, and then when his pens are at an exact vertical angle to his stack of files he says, "You slept with Grantaire."
“Nooooo,” Courfeyrac says, drawing the word out like saltwater taffy. “I exchanged sad, platonic handjobs with him. As a friend. I'd do it for you, too, if you were emotionally vulnerable and full of pent-up sexual tension.”
“Really.” He looks Enjolras over critically, as if deciding whether he meets those parameters. “Don't take me up on that, though. I've come too close to death this week already.”
This time, an eyebrow is enough to convey his flat disbelief.
“Let me count the ways,” Courfeyrac says, and ticks them off on his fingers. “First – you. I think that look you gave me last night singed a few years off my life. Second – Combeferre, who scorched off a few more when he realised the whole handjob thing was on the down-low, and my god, for a man who gets less sex than you, he's cranky about others getting it. You'd think he could self-prescribe his own cure – Anyway. That was followed, this morning, by a lovely email from Eponine, who took exception to me describing Marius as a puppy – which is rather unfair, I think; doesn't he remind you of a puppy? One of those sweet floppy ones with too-big paws – It's not an insult; if anything, it's a compliment. So much enthusiasm, a touching trust in the essential goodness of the human race, a complete dependency – Ahem. And then, to conclude, an extremely unhappy text from Grantaire about me blowing the whole sad handjobs thing.”
Enjolras scowls. He doesn't want to think about them; Grantaire fitting his face into the curve of Courfeyrac's shoulder, Courfeyrac holding him upright with one arm and jerking him off with the other – Thinking about them makes him feel furious, and that makes him feel like he's the selfish child Eponine implied he was, unable to share his toys.
“What do you have to mope about? You didn't seem too depressed about ending things with Jehan when you took that woman home from the Corinthe the other night. And that guy, the weekend before. And that other guy, the weekend before that –”
“That could be how I grieve.”
When Enjolras scowls harder, Courfeyrac sighs, and the brittle cheerfulness and raillery that's his constant companion seems to drop away.
“Oh, you'd be surprised. I might not talk about it, but – I mope. Not over Jehan, precisely. I cared for him, I care for him, but it wasn't going to be forever. I don't know if I'm capable of forever with anyone. I'd like to be, but – Know thyself, right?” For a moment, looking out the kitchen window into the grey city sky, he almost looks his actual age of twenty-seven, not an improbable and eternal twenty, a Peter Pan never quite fully grown up. “I keep telling myself that it's not a flaw in me, it's just a matter of the right person. It's a cute piece of self-delusion, fixating on an impossible object and telling yourself, if you could just have them – Which you can't, but it stops you taking a long hard look in the mirror.”
“Grantaire?” Enjolras asks sharply, and Courfeyrac turns his head like he'd forgotten he wasn't just talking to himself.
“Of course not,” he says. “Am I not obvious? Combeferre.”
“I don't know whether to feel proud of my mad dissembling skills or pity for your total lack of observation,” Courfeyrac says thoughtfully. “Yes, Combeferre. Since, oh – forever. The second year of college, at least. I'm not saying I've been eating my heart out the whole time, but I've always wondered – It’s something I understand, getting stuck on someone who not only doesn't reciprocate, but isn't capable of reciprocating.”
He smiles, and it's only a fractionally less brilliant and glossy than usual. Courfeyrac doesn't linger in the deeper romantic emotions, but Enjolras has never realised before how much of a deliberate choice that is for him, to stick to the shallows and delight in splashing and play. A moment's darkness, and he's already making fun of himself again, turning it into humour and a certain self-deprecation that's familiar – or would be, if it was bitterer.
“Don't look like I've just hit you in the face with a shovel, Enjolras. It's not like my life has been consumed by the fires of a secret grand passion. Like I said, maybe I only have a vague feeling it would be different if it was Combeferre in order to compensate for my firefly affections, and how quickly they burn out – Fuck, I shouldn't have said anything. You're not really equipped to respond to the grey zones, are you? It's everything or nothing. I just wanted you to know it wasn't anything, with Grantaire.”
That much honesty demands an equal acknowledgement: “I know.”
“Do you? Because it wasn't. I love him like I love you, like I love Bossuet and Bahorel and Joly – but it was just fucking around. A mutual support system. You know there was no danger of anyone finding out about it. I may be carefree, but I'm not careless.”
“I know,” Enjolras admits, and this time he means it. He'd worry about betraying them himself before he'd worry about Courfeyrac doing it.
Admitting that means having to admit that there's nothing logical about his reaction. The danger; the politics – No. Knowing Grantaire had something set up with Courfeyrac rather than an unknown stranger, however – maybe it's thrown him so hard because it makes his own subsequent proposition seem stupid and superfluous, something Grantaire went along with to humour him more than as a mutual exchange. He’d already had Courfeyrac for that, and Courfeyrac was safe. And good at sex, the way Enjolras wasn’t, good at fucking without feelings.
“So,” Courfeyrac says, dark eyes kind and too knowing. “Assuming you know that, am I forgiven? Or is there something else going on here?”
“Probation,” Enjolras says, and when Courfeyrac batts his thick eyelashes, ridiculous, relents. “Yes. You and Eponine and Cosette and even Marius – it's being handled, so it shouldn't be a problem. So I'm told. I fucking hope.”
“Don’t,” Enjolras says, shoving a hand through his hair. “I can't deal with that right now. My job – everything's happening right now. I haven't slept properly since Tuesday. I have fucking journalists wanting to talk to me again. I had a meeting this morning that just – I need to go to bed and sleep and not wake up for at least twenty-four hours, and it's only Thursday.”
It's not a deliberate attempt to play up his weakness, but Courfeyrac's eyes soften further.
“Okay,” he says, and tweaks one of Enjolras's crazed curls before sliding gracefully off the bench and evading the swat aimed at him. “Eat something and go to bed. We'll put a pin in it for now.” He pauses, and then grins. “Hug it out?”
“Get out of my house,” Enjolras says, but he suffers Courfeyrac to squeeze his shoulder and drop the lightest of kisses on his cheekbone before he goes.
The next day is Friday, and thank fuck it is, because at this point Enjolras feels like he's running on a tank full of gas fumes and very little else. He slept a full nine hours, but it was the kind of deep oblivion that acts like turning off a switch. When the system is turned back on everything boots right back up to where it was before, as if all that happened was that he was propelled forward in time.
Yesterday was a succession of sandbags, one after the other, and he hasn't had time to process them yet. Courfeyrac was only the coup de grâce, and pieces of what he said stick in Enjolras's head, niggling and niggling when he should be focusing on other things. Sad, platonic handjobs. Emotionally vulnerable and full of pent-up sexual tension. It's something I understand, getting stuck on someone who not only doesn't reciprocate, but isn't capable of reciprocating.
He gets into work early, turns on his computer, and thinks very seriously about putting his head down on the desk. But it's Friday; Monday is D-Day, the day Valjean puts his name forward for the governorship, which means that he has a metric fuckton to get done, and no delusions that he won't be working white-knuckled through the weekend right up to the statement release bright and early Monday morning.
He's not pulled into Simplice's office this morning, which is a small mercy.
Simplice had started on Thursday with The Pontmercy Problem, delivered her speech on the importance of truth and the danger of a gun going off half-cocked to the Valjean campaign, and then looked at Enjolras very, very steadily. She had the clear quartz-crystal eyes of a Mother Superior, and under them he'd flinched.
“Mr. Pontmercy told me you were working on an amicus brief for submission,” she said. “On behalf of yourself and your husband?”
“And Cosette and Eponine,” Enjolras had said, and frowned. Maybe, given the situation, it should just be from him and Grantaire –
“It's a concern for me that you combine working for this office with your private efforts with The Society of the Friends of the ABC,” she said, her voice rising slightly in question, and one fine brow had arched.
“It's – well,” Enjolras had said, and come to a stop. He was twenty-seven, and a pun that had seemed like a good idea when he was nineteen was still haunting him. “When we founded the Society in college one of the first issues we were focused on was education access. One of the reasons Valjean took me on was a paper I wrote on vouchers. We're still involved in it. One of our members – my friend Bahorel – began an outreach program for at-risk youth back then, and it's evolved since. He runs a gym downtown, and offers open MMA youth classes, and an annual wilderness retreat, and he's been involved in setting up formal apprenticeship programs in the city ”
Simplice had held up her hand. “The name?”
“A generic acronym – education, everyone agrees it's a good thing, no one gets too upset over that – hiding a more progressive agenda. It was long before I became involved in mainstream state politics, but I was a pol sci major, and you work in government long enough, you see acronyms in your sleep. You use them casually among your friends, and you even start making them yourself, because what's a good project without a solid acronym? So – ABC.”
“Would you say that's a metaphor for your own work within local government?” Simplice asked, and when Enjolras looked at her blankly, clarified. “The wolf in sheep's clothing. The generic camouflage for radicalism. Is that how the ABC functions for you? A stalking-horse for your own aggrandisement?”
“No,” Enjolras had said. “I would never –” He'd taken a long, shuddering breath, and said, “I'd never put this campaign at risk. I've worked for Valjean, on and off, since college, and through law school. I admire him, and I respect him, and I respect his work and his aims and his focus on ending poverty. I would never be stupid enough to jeopardise the long term goal at risk, but – The ABC predates all that. If anything, it functions as a safety valve now. It doesn't – it usually doesn't conflict with my job. Our whole point is to focus on what isn't receiving attention, not to complicate state or local government interests.”
“But this,” Simplice had said, and gestured at the copy of the amicus brief Enjolras had been clutching when he came in. “You've injected yourself into the conversation. The mayor tells me he'd long been planning to move on marriage equality, but your ABC stunt forced his hand.”
“He didn't tell me. I didn't have a timeline.”
“And it was personal for you,” and again, her voice had lingered on the last word like she was asking a question. “You had a serious partner, and a personal motive to spur on change?”
“Um,” Enjolras had said, and begun his confession.
The general sense of frenetic activity gives way to a sense of slow triumph as Friday drags on. Everything's been ready to go for weeks – it's not like they haven't been preparing for the campaign roll-out – but it still seems like a thousand and one calls need to be made, a thousand and one things need to be tweaked and changed, a thousand and one interesting and unforeseen new problems have cropped up.
He’s still working when the office lights dim down. Mestienne leaves at seven; Gribier stays on until eight, then grabs his coat. “Wife, kids,” he says, with a shrug, when the looks Fauchelevent and Enjolras both give him suggests he’s not adequately dedicated to the cause. “Besides, the roll-out’s ready. We could go live in an hour and we’d be set.”
“Family men,” Fauchelevent says disapprovingly, once the door closes behind him. It’s easy for him to say; he’s adopted Valjean as his family and his cause, and from what Enjolras remembers, didn’t take time off to attend his own brother’s funeral a few years back.
It’s almost nine when Enjolras feels a hand on his shoulder, and startles. “What the f – Sir,” he says, and blinks wildly. “I’m focused. It’s all in hand.”
“I’m sure,” Valjean says, and then, “Fauvent, you’re working very late. Why don’t you go and get a cup of coffee? Give me a moment with Enjolras.”
Fauchelevent looks distrustful, but he goes. Enjolras waits.
“I’ve been reading your brief,” Valjean says. “It’s good. I’m approving it for submission. Thank you for running it by me first – I appreciate it.”
There’s a very faint irony there. “Thank you, sir.”
“What are you still doing here, Enjolras?”
“Working on the roll-out,” Enjolras says, rubbing at his eyes.
“Don’t you have a standing engagement?”
“Your weekly meeting,” Valjean says. “Don’t you and your friends meet every Friday? Cosette has given me the impression it’s all but mandatory. Yes, Simplice spoke with me,” he adds, correctly interpreting the continuing silence. “I’ve never been concerned about your loyalty, Enjolras, or your heart. Nor do I think the ABC is necessarily a distraction, which is why we’ve never had a serious conversation about it.”
Enjolras untenses very slightly, but doesn’t relax. “Oh.”
“The roll-out is in hand, Enjolras. I’m calling everyone in on Sunday, but for now – there’s nothing more to do. Go talk to your friends.” A longer pause, filled with meaning. “And your husband.”
“Oh my god, look what the cat actually fucking dragged in,” Bossuet hoots. “You look absolutely wrecked, dude. Have a glass, sit down.”
“I’m not drinking,” Enjolras says. (“Oh my god, are you pregnant?”). He looks around. The Corinthe is crowded, thick with people and hot from too many of them at close quarters. Jehan is wearing a velvet smoking jacket and a ruffled white shirt, apparently in deep conversation with a man Enjolras doesn’t recognise at the far end of the bar. Bahorel is watching his girlfriend dance with another woman with a fond smile on his mouth.
Feuilly’s talking to Combeferre, who doesn’t appear to notice that Enjolras has come in, although Enjolras sincerely doubts that, and Courfeyrac is standing alone, unusual for him, propped against the bar and turning a glass of wine around in his hand, an island in the crowd.
Grantaire’s not there, as far as Enjolras can tell, but he could be out on the balcony. In the bathroom. Making out with some stranger in a poorly-lit corner.
“Hey,” Cosette says, appearing at his elbow, and takes a small, precise sip of her white wine spritzer. Grantaire would have an opinion on that; Enjolras wrinkles his nose reflexively. “How's it going?”
“The roll-out? Good, I think. I hope.”
“Papa said it was coming together,” The changing lights turn her hair briefly blue before warming it back to dark blond. “He's got that strained look around his eyes, but his hair hasn't gone entirely white, so I can only assume it's all under control.”
“Under control. Yes.” Enjolras hesitates. “You did the right thing, going to Simplice.”
“I know,” Cosette says, and takes a less delicate sip. It's almost a gulp. “I've spent the past eight years of my life as the mayor's daughter, Enjolras. I know what the appropriate steps are, even when it comes to my incredibly personal life. I just didn't – well, there's a difference between knowing the right thing to do, and wanting to.”
“You sound like you resent that.”
“I resent the fact that my life has considerations beyond the personal,” Cosette says, with a thoughtfulness to how she shapes her words that makes Enjolras consider them seriously too. She has a china-doll face, and she looks so much like the Platonic ideal of a loving and sweet debutante daughter that her wild rebellious strain has always wriggled away from serious examination. “I always have. I've always known that what I do could have repercussions for my father, if someone happened to make a news item of it; where I went to college, what societies I joined there, who I dated. If I got caught underage drinking, or – I was restricted, but I was also lucky. I kept it fairly respectable, and no one made anything out of my involvement in the ABC, or my relationship with Eponine, until we made an issue of it ourselves. I don't regret telling my father about that in advance, either.”
They've never discussed Cosette confessing to Valjean before the registration office. At the time, Enjolras had been surprised, but he'd seen it as a net positive; a racheting up of stakes, grist to his mill. He hadn't thought that it had had anything more personal behind it, the cautious concern of a daughter for her father, worrying about his reaction and looking ahead to potential icebergs lurking under the surface of a still sea.
He thinks about it, and then he says, “Neither do I.”
It's Cosette's turn to look at him. “Really? It made a lot of things complicated. For you as much as anyone.”
“You didn't make me go through with it.”
“No, that was all you.” Enjolras grimaces in rueful acknowledgement. “But,” Cosette continues, cheerfully, “we definitely bitched the whole thing up between us. You as much as me, or Marius, or Eponine, so if you're still planning to sit in judgment – ”
“I'm sorry. That wasn't about you.”
“I thought not.”
“I made some bad decisions,” Enjolras admits. “But I know I have to – I spoke to Simplice, too.” He glances over her shoulder, shifting his weight from foot to foot. “Is Grantaire here tonight?”
“Do you see him?”
He looks at her, and she grins. “You’re terrifying when you do that. If Papa wins his race, he should make you press secretary, and you could give them that look every time they ask something impertinent.” A pause. “Of course, I don’t think that would do his political reputation any favours –”
“I would rather die,” Enjolras said precisely, “than deal with the more facile members of the press corps every day.” That’s what Grantaire’s good at. That’s why Enjolras – “Is he here, Cosette?”
Enjolras has never been to Grantaire's place. He knows the address. It's on his paperwork, on their marriage license application, and on the divorce papers Courfeyrac drew up so many weeks ago. He's picked Grantaire up from there on the way to shared events not a few times since this whole thing began, but he's never been inside. Grantaire has never asked him in, even though Grantaire made himself enough at home at Enjolras's apartment that his absence now is a palpable thing, carved out a place for himself and left the imprint of his body on the couch, in Enjolras's bed, on his pillow.
He doesn't have a key to Grantaire's apartment, either. Grantaire has one to his, but the gesture has never been reciprocal. It had never occurred to Enjolras to ask, or to care. It disturbs him that he's only realising now how profoundly one-way the exchange has been.
The door is blue.
Grantaire greets him through it, except to say that he greets him is a massive overstatement. His face appears through the small crack allowed by the deadbolt chain, and he's unshaven and looks as tired as Enjolras feels, so for a moment it's horribly reminiscent of The Shining.
“Enjolras,” he says, gravelly, and rubs a hand over his face. “What do you want?”
“Can I come in?”
“I'm kind of in the middle of something.”
Who? Enjolras wants to ask, but he squashes the unworthy impulse down firmly. “I assumed that much, since you weren't at the Corinthe tonight.”
“You mean you were?”
“Wonder of wonders,” Grantaire says, and then the door closes. Enjolras stares at it for a terrible three seconds before it opens again, sans chain. “Not what I thought you'd be in the mood for.”
He's rougher-looking than when Enjolras last saw him. Barefoot, in an ancient t-shirt and a threadbare pair of jeans that sits too low on his hips. Unkempt. He doesn't smell like alcohol, and his eyes are clear when Enjolras checks them, but that quick glance is long enough for Grantaire to catch him doing it.
“No,” he says. “No gibbering wrecks over here. Sorry, your dick's not that world-shattering. Is that what you wanted to know?”
“I wasn't – That's not what I came here for.”
“And what was that?” Grantaire asks. “Booty call? It's not a good time, and I'm not in the mood, unless you've got a little pharmaceutical help stashed somewhere in that pretty suit of yours. Nice call on just ditching the tie altogether, by the way, and carrying the jacket over your shoulder, very Blue Steel of you –”
“– Is that my t-shirt?”
Grantaire glances down like he's not sure himself, and then hastily folds his arms over his chest. “It must have got mixed up with my shit.”
“Where did you even find it?” Enjolras asks wonderingly, moving forward. Grantaire moves back. The front door shuts behind them.
“Bottom of your bureau, where you keep all the shirts with out-of-date political messages,” Grantaire says, still retreating. “You told me to find something more to sleep in, before I started keeping stuff at your place, and –”
Enjolras reaches out, and Grantaire stops talking abruptly. "I haven't worn it in years,” he says, fingering the ancient cotton. Grantaire's chest moves under his hand as he traces the curve of one printed letter like it's braille. “I haven’t seen it in years.”
He doesn't wear t-shirts that often these days, and when he does, they’re simple shirts, not loud slogans. Sorry Girls, I Suck Dick isn't exactly the kind of thing that speaks to his personality anymore. It hadn't even back then, but he'd been nineteen and he'd liked the confrontation of it, the looks it drew, the blank shock and the polite discomfort. He used to enjoy that, before he realised there were more useful and constructive ways to start a dialogue.
"I remember.” Grantaire sighs, gone very still as Enjolras traces words on his chest. “I loved this shirt. Or maybe I hated it. It was a very confusing shirt."
"I thought it was very straightforward."
"Devastatingly so," Grantaire agrees. His lashes lift again. He traps Enjolras's hand against his chest and then firmly moves it away. “I have a time-sensitive thing going on in the kitchen. Leave or follow, but I have to deal with it.”
Grantaire's kitchen is smaller than his, and older, and it doesn't look like it's ever been used for cooking. There's a glass jar full of soaking paintbrushes by the sink that makes the room stink of turpentine, which pleases Enjolras on a strange level – he'd wondered if Grantaire still painted – and a line of fixatives and equipment crowding the counter.
“Stand over there, and don't touch anything,” Grantaire says, and then he goes to the freezer, takes a pan full of liquid out of it, and sets it on a towel spread out on his dirty tiled floor. The contents of the pan aren't fully frozen, and the ice layer breaks when he taps it.
“What are you doing?”
That earns Grantaire's attention for a brief moment, and he flashes Enjolras a sudden grin. “Cooking.”
Sudden mordant visions of spoons held over open flames and sticky brown opiates are vanquished when Grantaire gets to his feet and puts on a pair of oven mitts, ludicrously patterned with pink and blue cartoon cupcakes.
The answer becomes obvious when Grantaire extracts a slab of glass from the oven, wrists and hands absolutely steady. It's asymmetrical, about a foot long and thicker at one end to the other. The heat from the open oven makes the small room warm perceptibly, and Enjolras doesn't even want to think about how dangerous baking glass to that temperature is. Grantaire's not even wearing goggles, although there's a pair on the bench.
“What are you –”
“Shh,” Grantaire says firmly, and lowers the glass slab carefully into the pan of freezing water. “Stay back and shut up, I have to concentrate.”
Enjolras shuts up. The glass cracks instantly, in long clean controlled green lines from end to end. It sounds like paper crumpling. Tame, a planned demolition taking place on a kitchen floor. Grantaire lifts the glass out after a few seconds of submersion and lays it on the towel. He studies it, and his expression is so focused and abstracted that Enjolras feels like he's looking at a stranger.
Then Grantaire removes one of the ridiculous mitts and gets up to grab a q-tip from the crowded counter. This, he frowns at too, before he kneels back down, dips it into the cold water, and presses it against the glass. The cracks this creates are different.
They have a – pressure point, Enjolras thinks, groping for a way to explain how tiny fissures rush like lightening from that point of cold contact, the centre of a rapidly forming web of crazed fractures.
He's been holding his breath, which he only realises when Grantaire frowns at the glass again and then puts the pan back in the freezer. He closes the oven door, and that seems to signal the end of whatever he's doing, because he removes the remaining mitt and rubs his face like he's trying to rub away the seriousness that had been on his features just before.
“Now I let it cool,” Grantaire says, “and then I fix it, and then I decide if there's anything else I want to bring out of it. Little pieces of something bigger like this, I can do here; the bigger pieces, I have to hire a commercial oven.” He studies his hands. “If it keeps going the way it's been, I'll get a proper studio space and stop calling my apartment that, and then who knows? I could build a kiln. Fire my own shit. That would make life a lot easier.”
“It's a good idea. Why don't you?”
Grantaire glances at him. “It's not exactly practical, just yet. Although if sales keep rising –” He draws himself up, and his body seems to shift, and reset in another conformation. A tensing. “So. What did you come over for, hubby? If not a booty call.”
“I wanted to talk to you –”
“And of course you had to pick a moment when I was one hundred per cent sober,” Grantaire interrupts.
“That's not so uncommon these days.”
Grantaire looks too surprised for a moment too long. He looks like Enjolras has seen something about him that he didn't want him to, or, more precisely, never expected him to notice. He must have a poor opinion of Enjolras’s observational skills. The difference between collegiate semi-functional alcoholism and mostly-managed adulthood isn’t really something easy to miss. “No,” he says at last, rubbing his face again. He gets to his feet, the cheerful mitt abandoned on the floor, and takes the glass panel out of the freezer bare-handed this time. “Fine. What is it, Enjolras?”
Enjolras wants his full attention. He doesn't want to do this while Grantaire is frowning thoughtfully over shatter patterns and spraying noxious clouds of silicon fixative everywhere.
He's not going to get it, though. Even if he asks Grantaire to put it away – and that would be a pretty bit of hypocrisy, to tell Grantaire to stop working – Grantaire would just exchange that deflection for another. Enjolras knows him well enough to realise that, even if a lot of the knowing has happened in the past few months, rather than the past few years.
“I want,” he says, and pauses again. Words are hard. Actions are easier for him, and always have been.
He takes his wedding ring off. It takes a little work to draw it over his knuckles, and the skin it leaves behind isn't the mottled product of prolonged contact with oxidised copper that he expected. It's simply pale and indented from habitual wear. He sets it down on the bench.
Grantaire goes still, hunched on the floor over his ice and glass. His eyes are a wide, frozen blue, and they move from the ring to Enjolras's face to the ring again.
“Oh,” he says quietly. The hang of his shoulders alters under the faded t-shirt without perceptible movement. “Okay,” he says, his eyes dropping to the glass. “That's how – Okay. You can go.”
“I brought the papers,” Enjolras says. “You can sign them now, and I can take them back with me, or I can leave them with you to read them over.”
“If you need me to explain any of the legal language– ”
“We should talk about it –”
“Go,” Grantaire snarls, and then the pane of glass explodes in his hands.
The sound is barely louder than an egg cracking gently against the edge of a mixing bowl. The real shock is the blood, a bright brilliant red that's suddenly everywhere at once, running down between Grantaire's fingers and into the pan of half-frozen water and spattering the grubby towel and the grubbier tiles.
Enjolras finds himself his knees on the floor with no memory of the intervening seconds, the tile hard under them. He takes Grantaire's hands in his and curls his frozen fingers open. More glass grit falls out from between them. The water in the saucepan turns a curious pink.
“Fucking fuck,” Grantaire grinds out. “Oh fucking – hell, Enjolras. Fucking fuck,” he repeats, sounding more irritated than pained now. “Jesus fucking Christ. Of course. Of course that had to happen.”
“Broken glass,” Enjolras says blankly, holding Grantaire's hands cupped in his. He can't look away from them. Most of the blood seems to be coming from one long cut running down the inside of Grantaire's left palm, right along one of the lines that are meant to mean something. Headline, or heartline, or lifeline; he can't remember. He wants to press the towel against the wound to staunch the bleeding, but the glass shards make that seem a bad idea. He grips Grantaire's wrists instead, tight around the invisible arteries. “Why the fuck do you work with broken glass?”
Grantaire snaps his teeth at him when Enjolras helps him carefully to his feet, but his usual flair for profanity as well as argument seems to have temporarily deserted him. He scowls horrifyingly when Enjolras tells him he’s driving him to the ER, but doesn’t argue until Enjolras steers him through the glassy debris and towards a scuffed-looking futon that might have put in more years of faithful service than Enjolras’s own couch.
“No,” he contradicts suddenly. “I don't know what the fuck I was thinking. It was the shock talking. I'm not going to the fucking ER, Enjolras. It's not that bad.”
“You're going,” Enjolras says. His fingers are still tight around Grantaire’s wrists. There's a filthy blood-stained towel in Grantaire's lap, doing a poor job of protecting the futon and his clothing from the blood still sluggishly welling out of his cut palms. His dark jeans are sodden and splotched in dark patches, and how much of it's water and how much of it's blood, Enjolras doesn't know. His own clothes are wet and stained.
“You are –”
“I'm self-employed. I'm not going to the ER.”
“I’m going to call Combeferre,” Enjolras says.
“Of course you are. Do the two of you ever stop hand-holding?”
He sounds almost jealous. “We have our disagreements. You know that.”
“Only over this fucking marriage mess, which only proves my point. Neither of you like to share –”
“I’m calling him,” Enjolras says shortly.
“If I can make a suggestion,” Combeferre says diffidently. In the continued argument over whether or not to take Grantaire to the ER, Enjolras had almost forgotten he was still on speakerphone. (“Hold the phone up to my ear or put it on speaker,” Grantaire had said, long-sufferingly. “You're going to give him a heart attack if you keep talking like it's a big deal. It's not a big deal,” he’d added, raising his voice for Combeferre's benefit). “Get Joly to check it out first, Grantaire, please. If he says you don't need further medical attention, we can take it as understood that you don't need further medical attention.”
“It's Joly,” Grantaire says. “There's no way he won't say that.” The bitter, angry edge is gone, and he slumps back in his seat, resigned. He looks tired – drained, Enjolras thinks, and then wishes he hadn't. “Fine, whatever. I don't give a fuck anymore.” Then: “Ha. I told you to call Joly.”
“Ow,” Bossuet says, wincing. “Hamburger, man. You should get that checked out.”
“Thank you for your non-expert opinion,” Enjolras says coldly, and looks at Joly.
“I tend to agree,” Joly says, peeling off a latex glove. “I can do my best here, but he’d be better off at the ER.”
“Your best is good enough for me,” Grantaire says with a sideways glance at Enjolras. It's like they've skipped back months or years and Grantaire's still willing to do anything that'll get a reaction from him, and he's worked out that refusing proper care upsets Enjolras but he's not sure why; he's just willing to keep pushing that button as long as it keeps getting him results, even if it means fucking himself over.
That's what Grantaire was like. He's not like that anymore, they’re not like that anymore, so Enjolras can’t understand why Grantaire keeps giving him these half-defiant, half-wounded looks every time he refuses proper care. “Joly hasn't finished his residency,” he says. “Joly may need a second opinion, or a second pair of hands, or specialised equipment he doesn't have access to here.”
“Oh, you'd be surprised at the kind of supplies that fall into Joly's satchel when he's coming off shift,” Bossuet says. “We're going to be the most prepared household come the apocalypse, the Rapture, or the moment the oppressed bacteria rise up against the demon penicillin.”
“Joly can probably deal with it here, but he could deal with it better at the ER,” Joly says, and kicks Bossuet lightly. “I can scrub up and clock in early, Grantaire. It's not a big deal.”
“You're on my insurance,” Enjolras says suddenly. “Aren't you? Medically. You're my – I'm your next of kin.”
“Are you? I’m pretty sure you’re not.”
“– Let me get my kit,” Joly says. “I really don’t think it’s as bad as it looks, Enjolras. It’s a lot of blood, sure, but it looks to be several clean cuts. Once I get the fragments out, he may not even need stitches.”
“See? You can go,” Grantaire says to Enjolras, not looking at him. His hands are flat out in front of him on Joly’s table, palms up. They do bear a horrible resemblance to hamburger, although now Enjolras has calmed down slightly, he can see that the blood may make it look worse than it is.
“I’m not going.”
“Um,” Bossuet says. “I’m going to – Joly, have you got your kit? I’m gonna –”
Enjolras closes his mouth on the words that want to spring out. Arguing is something they’re good at, and it might even be comforting, the familiarity of it, the give-and-take – but not right now. He gives Grantaire his best flat look instead, the one Cosette wants him to level at annoying reporters and bloggers and general pains in the mayoral ass.
Removing the glass is a long, difficult process. The kitchen table should be an inappropriate place for it, but it’s Joly’s kitchen table, which means that it’s painfully clean, and everything was disinfected and scrubbed to the point of sterility before he allowed Grantaire to get anywhere near it.
“Hold still,” he says, sounding distracted.
“You hold still,” Grantaire snarls. “It fucking hurts, Joly.”
“You want a shot?” Bossuet asks, hovering. “I’ll get you a shot. I’ll get you a whole bottle – ”
“No alcohol,” Joly says. He removes another glass splinter with his tweezers, whole face pulled together in concentration, and places it on the dish with the others with a plink.
Grantaire swears under his breath.
Joly had offered him codeine before he started, and Grantaire had paused before looking away and saying roughly, “No, bad idea. I can deal.” Enjolras almost wishes that he’d taken the pills. He’s gotten paler and paler as Joly dug, and now he looks like soft cheese pickled in brine.
“Almost there,” Joly says, and gently spreads Grantaire’s palm with a gloved hand again. The tweezers descend.
Enjolras steps forward from his quiet post by the wall to put a hand on Grantaire’s shoulder, his thumb curling into the soft skin at the side of his neck. Under his hand, all the muscles go rigid, but the next time the tweezers dig in, Enjolras squeezes, and Grantaire doesn’t say anything.
Eventually it’s finished. “If I’ve left anything behind, it should work its way naturally to the surface after you’ve healed up,” Joly says, peeling off his bloody gloves and replacing them with a new pair. “It’s the home stretch now. Disinfectant, maybe a stitch or two, and – hmm. Probably not bandages, not on the palms. Bacitracin and Dermabond.”
Bossuet laughs, still leaning casually against the wall. The fond, fascinated look on his face as he watched Joly work is still there, only stronger. “It’s truly amazing what falls into your satchel.”
“You’ll be glad for my private stockpile when the end days come –”
“I could use a drink,” Grantaire interrupts. He looks at Bossuet. “I could really use a drink.”
“Tea, Enjolras,” Joly says, still distracted.
“I don’t think –”
“I don’t want –”
“Coffee,” Bossuet says smoothly. “Enjolras can make coffee, which is totally within his powers, I have faith in him – and if you’re a good boy while Joly disinfects your wounds again, Grantaire, I might just get all weak-wristed with the whisky bottle and put a little tot in your mug. Acceptable to everyone? Good.”
Enjolras squeezes Grantaire's neck a final time, thumb lingering along his collarbone, and then pulls away to put the coffee maker on.
It hisses resentfully into life. When he glances back, Grantaire has his face buried in the crook of his arm. His shoulders are slumped, and even his rough dark curls look limp.
Grantaire doesn’t look at him when the coffee’s finally done and Enjolras has carried it across the kitchen to the table currently serving as Joly’s butcher’s block. The smell of liquid adhesive is sharp and unpleasant, and the coffee’s not strong enough to cover it. “Has it occurred to any of you that my hands are fucking useless right now?”
“Only while the Dermabond’s drying,” Joly says, “then you should have fairly decent mobility –”
“Here,” Enjolras says. He puts his hand on Grantaire’s shoulder, to steady himself, then moves it up, to the bristly curve of cheek and jaw. Then he brings the mug to his lips with the other, and Grantaire meets his eyes for the first time since Enjolras removed his ring.
You don’t get to do this to me, his voice murmurs in his memory.
“Thanks,” Grantaire mutters, eyes falling, and sips. He makes a face. “Hot. And I was promised whiskey. Where’s the whiskey, L’Aigle?”
Joly suggests leaving Grantaire there with them for the night, and Bossuet seconds him a little half-heartedly, like he has his own ambitions for the evening. (“And besides,” he points out, when Grantaire protests, “it’s not like he needs to be watched every minute, Joly. He has a couple of lacerations, not a thrombosis”).
“No,” Enjolras says. “I can drive him home. We have a conversation to finish, anyway.”
Grantaire bares his teeth. “I’d rather be left to Joly’s exaggerated mercies.” Then he pauses. “I’d almost rather be left to Joly’s exaggerated mercies.”
“Hurtful,” Joly says absently, typing something into his phone. “Emailing you his care suggestion sheet, Enjolras, and – don't tell Combeferre this, he doesn't believe in alternative medicine, but a colloidal silver supplement can really speed healing."
"Thank you," Enjolras says, trying to sound appreciative. Joly means well. Joly always means well, and when it comes to empirical medicine, he's usually correct. When he tacks on crystal healing or magnetised bracelets or weird herbal remedies, he has to be taken with a salt-shaker's worth of salt.
“Colloidal,” Bossuet echoes, arrested.
Before a pun war can begin, and wend its way towards the predictably colonic, Grantaire flexes his fingers and says, “Now that Spiderman here has webbed me up, I’m going to get going. Thanks for the booze and the probing. Enjolras?”
“Yes,” he says, and takes a step towards the door.
“They love us and they leave us,” Joly sighs, and Bossuet nods.
“I feel strangely used.”
“I said thank you – ”
“Enjolras,” Grantaire repeats, and jerks his head at the door. “They’re kidding. Come on.”
The return drive should be less awkward than the drive there, but without the edge of panic, Enjolras notices every fractured space between them, the pauses where words should be. The emptiness where they’d touch.
"Enjolras," Grantaire says, a third time. He sounds tired. "Stop looking like St. Sebastian from some sado-masochistic altarpiece. If anyone should be acting like a human pincushion, it's me; I have some claim to physical martyrdom right now. I'm sorry you had to drive me over – you really didn't have to – "
"Yes, I did.”
“It’s not your fault I’m a clumsy fuck.”
“You’re a very good fuck,” Enjolras says, taking a left automatically.
A pause. “Thank you. That might be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.” Another, longer pause. “That was the exit to my neighbourhood.”
"I'm too bruised and sore for bullshit," Grantaire says shortly. "Don't bullshit me, Enjolras. Take me home.”
“We have to finish our conversation first.”
“There’s nothing to talk about. We don’t need to do a post-mortem. That’s the point of having an arrangement. No bullshit.”
“We’re going to talk,” Enjolras says.
"Normally I love it when you're autocratic at me," Grantaire says, looking down at the dash. His eyelashes are dark against his cheek. “But right now, not in the mood.”
"I'm not – please.”
That earns him a swift sideways glances, and then one of Grantaire's wry, self-directed, I-am-such-an-idiot twists of mouth. “Fine,” he says finally. “Talk.”
“When we get home.”
Grantaire scowls at the word.
At home – at Enjolras’s place – Grantaire walks in without ceremony, slinging himself down on the couch like he owns it and crossing his legs at the ankles. “So,” he says, before Enjolras has even managed to lock the door. “Talk. I’m guessing, what? You want me to sign a non-disclosure? Should I have my lawyer present?”
“Courfeyrac?” Enjolras bites his tongue too late.
“Seriously, you don’t get to – Anyway, I’m pretty sure he’s representing you in this, right? Conflict of interest, but whatever. I’ll take Marius. Divide up our friends like a pie. He’s probably still pissed at you, too.”
“We’re not dividing up our friends.”
“Just our assets, right? Not that I have anything you might want – grotty hellhole of an apartment, some disturbing alien life in my fridge, a ton of broken glass. You can keep the toothbrush. There, that was easy, wasn’t it? No, wait. I forgot.” He tugs at the ring on his hand, hampered by the liquid adhesive, for a few moments before he gives up. “Fuck. If you can wait for me to heal, I’ll even give you the fucking ring back.”
“I don’t want – would you listen to me.” Enjolras’s frustration pushes the words out of him with all the pneumatic force of a steam engine. “I’m trying to – We have to stop this. The faking, the pretence – It’s too dangerous. It’s too important. I don’t mind risking my own career, but I’m not going to risk Valjean’s.”
“That’s a different song than the one you were singing a few days ago.”
“Yes,” Enjolras admits, shoving a hand through his hair. It feels strange. His hand feels bare without the familiar barrier of his wedding ring, sunk a little into his flesh and warm against his skin. “I realised – Well, it was brought to my attention. I spoke to Simplice on Thursday. Valjean’s campaign manager and PR specialist.”
“I remember who she is.”
“She gave me an ultimatum.” It hadn’t been cruel or unfair. It had been hard, and it had been right. “To end it, cleanly, or to withdraw from my position on the campaign. To stop lying, and just – say it didn’t work out, I suppose. That we rushed into it to prove a point – I don’t know. She’ll handle that part.”
A little of the sullenness eases out of Grantaire’s face. The hurt doesn’t. “Well, Apollo. That must have been the easiest decision you ever made.”
Enjolras rubs the side of his thumb over the sunken groove where his ring finger joins his palm. “It wasn’t, actually.”
For a moment Grantaire looks cut open.
Then his expression hardens, and the verbal briars he’s always thrown up around himself like a fairy-tale fortress spring up, a prickly form of self-defence. “Because I’m such a good fuck?”
“Because I like being married to you,” Enjolras says. “Because I like you. Because you’re part of my life now, you’re in every part of my life, and – I don’t want you not to be.”
“What a declaration.”
“You’re failing,” Grantaire says, with an attempt at hardness that comes out brittle. “Enjolras – ” He closes his eyes. “I can’t keep doing this. Wow, that’s funny. It’s actually funny, you’re finally telling me you don’t mind me hanging around, and I’ve just realised that I have to stop. I can’t – half a loaf of bread is meant to be better than no bread, if you’re starving, but I can’t keep letting myself have the tiniest edge of what I want – letting you let me have – and telling myself it’s enough. It’s not.”
Enjolras stares at him.
“Don’t pretend you didn’t know.” A pause. “You didn’t know?”
“You – How long?”
“How long?” Grantaire laughs without any humour. “Oh, let me think back – since I met you. Since the day I walked into that coffeehouse and saw this fucking guy with his head bent over a book, looking like he’d stepped out of a Quattrocento painting with his gold-leaf halo intact, and all the self-possession and charm I ever had had – not much – deserted me and all I could say was the worst fucking thing, and I couldn’t stop. And let me be clear here, it’s just not because you were beautiful. Can you know someone without speaking to them? Everyone says no – but there’s a sense and a force of personality that brought me staggering and stuttering to my knees in your presence, and it wasn’t just your pretty face. And the longer I’ve known you – oh, fucking hell¸ shut me up. Stop me talking.” He presses his face into his forearm and groans. “This is terrible.”
“You – wanted me?”
“Wanted you? That’s an understatement – Admired you. Adored you. Wanted to go to my knees and lick the arches of your feet until you squirmed. Loved you, if it’s possible to love someone at arm’s length. Married you the second you said the word, and then fucked you, because I’m fucked up, and I don’t know when to stop – No. Now’s the time to stop, because I don’t think I can go from married to you back to – whatever I was. We were. Were we friends, Apollo? I don’t think we were. Back to being a circling electron in the cloud around you, I suppose. No.”
“I didn’t know,” Enjolras says. His ears are ringing. He’s said so many harsh things to Grantaire over the years, and Grantaire’s deserved them, and seemed to enjoy deserving them. It makes no sense, if he felt like that, if he’d always felt like that. “I wouldn’t have – If I'd known, do you think I'd have asked you to participate in this? Asked that of you?”
“I guess not.” Grantaire smiles slightly, like he’s come through fire, and the worst is over now. There’s nothing left to burn. “That's why I didn't tell you. Don’t beat yourself up over it, hubby. I did it to myself. I really did, you know.”
Enjolras steps forward, towards the couch. Grantaire shifts back the smallest fraction.
He takes another step forward anyway. Then another, until he’s standing in front of the couch, looking down directly at the crown of Grantaire’s dark head.
After a moment, that head lifts. “Well?”
“I’m sorry,” Enjolras says honestly, and Grantaire winces.
He could leave it there. They could part cleanly, the way Grantaire wants, the way Simplice counselled, and that would be it. No secrets, no lies; an efficient split right down the middle, paring one from the other like a hot knife, cauterizing as it cuts. If Grantaire keeps his word, if Grantaire has finally had enough – then it will be clean. His life will be his own again, with no lingering reminders or residue. Orderly. Functional.
He doesn’t want that.
He takes another step forward and then sinks slowly to his knees.
“Enjolras,” Grantaire says. The tip of his tongue comes out, and wets the part of his lips. Their eyes are almost on a level. “Please. Don’t – don’t say or do anything you don’t mean. That would be – I couldn’t handle that. Don’t do that to me.”
“I thought about it,” Enjolras says levelly. “After I spoke to Simplice. I should have felt – I didn’t want to do the logical thing. I wanted to stay married to you. I wanted you making breakfast on Saturdays, and humming terrible songs in the shower, and –Messing up my life. Remembering the names of my colleagues’ children. I’m not saying – ” He closes his eyes and attempts to collect his thoughts. This has to come out right; too much has come out wrong between them, words tangling and coiling and striking out wildly. “I brought you the divorce papers because this has to end, Simplice was right about that. We can’t keep pretending. But I don’t want to stop, if you don’t. What I wanted to ask you – what I wanted to say, before you cut yourself – I want to start again. Properly. Not zero to married, but not – not no-strings. If you wanted. If it wasn’t just convenient for you.”
“I don’t know how you acquired your reputation for sudden bursts of eloquence,” Grantaire says, still deflecting. “Or the idea that anything about you could ever be convenient. You’re many things, Apollo, but none of them are convenient.”
“Do you need to think about it?”
“Yes,” Grantaire says, and blinks like he’s surprised himself. “Of course I do. For once in my life, maybe, I need to – Enjolras, if you touch me, I won’t be able to think.”
Enjolras stops, hand arrested in the air where it was about to make contact with Grantaire’s wrist. He draws it back, draws back, and Grantaire lurches forward off the couch like he’s the negative particle he called himself, unable to do anything but follow where Enjolras retreats.
“Fuck,” Enjolras says, and catches him around the biceps, curling his fingers hard into the muscle. He doesn’t care if it hurts. Grantaire’s nose bumps and rebounds off his face, and then his jaw scrapes against Enjolras’s cheek, blindly ardent.
After a moment or two of fumbling, finding, Grantaire’s mouth finds his, and then they’re pressing desperately together at all the wrong angles, all their months of careful choreography forgotten. It’s not a kiss as much as a mutual sort of shapeless mouthing that becomes a frantic pull of lip between teeth; a back-and-forth tug of war that turns into something far wetter, if equally ill-defined, as soon as Grantaire catches a hint of his tongue.
“Oh,” Enjolras says, and tilts his head into the right sort of slant at last. Grantaire’s hands clumsily pat his face, the side of his head, and finally cross behind his neck at the wrists, their bandaged palms spread-eagled. His weight has settled from his knees to his haunches, and Grantaire’s thighs spread and split around his as he slid forward from the perilous edge of the couch. They’re as close as they can get with their clothes still on; cleaved together from groin to breastbone, indivisible.
“Fucking hate how easy I am for you,” Grantaire mutters, rubbing his rough chin against Enjolras’s cheek before kissing him again.
Enjolras lets him. Grantaire’s overwhelming like this, gravity driving him on and all safety brakes taken off, with nothing left to hold back or keep defended. It’s like being hit by a tsunami, standing up to the waist in the surf and feeling the sudden slap of a wave breaking against him, over him, the curl of it pulling him irresistibly down into the sand and back towards the horizon.
It takes a long time before he can catch his breath, or even remember to, and then he tips his head back, enough of an angle to keep Grantaire away, to take a lungful of cold, unshared air. “You need to think about it.”
“Thought about it. Decided.”
“I don’t want to take advantage – ”
Grantaire snorts. “Do I look like a blushing virgin?”
“No,” Enjolras admits. “But you said –”
“Something stupid,” Grantaire says, “that’s what I’m good at, saying stupid shit when I’m talking to you. Forget it. Just – mean what you said.” He smiles, suddenly, with the unexpectedness of sunshine cutting through cloud. “Your extremely proper proposition. Mean that.”
“Proposal,” Enjolras corrects him, and finally smiles back.
“Thank you,” Valjean says, and raises his glass to the room. “Everybody here today has worked so hard, indefatigably, in the face of overwhelming odds – and this victory is as much yours as it is mine. More, perhaps.”
“Never,” Fauchelevent says in a fervent undertone, loud enough to carry several tables away. Valjean smiles slightly in his direction before he resumes speaking, and Gribier recrosses his ankles and looks sourly amused at Fauchelevent’s demonstrative obsequiousness.
Baptistine Myriel, sitting at Valjean’s left hand, looks benevolent and rather distant. Her wife – and it is wife now – looks red and pleased. At his right, Simplice looks coolly satisfied, a woman at the end of a campaign well-run, a job well-done, all potential disasters managed and smoothed over.
At the table of top campaign staff, Enjolras is sitting next to Marius, who’s wearing a suit that actually fits his long lanky body, possibly for the first time in his life. He looks, consequently, years older, almost his actual age. He’s making notes on a blotter pad with his eyes fixed earnestly on Valjean, thinking ahead beyond the moment and the victory to the administration, something Enjolras would have been doing a year ago.
He has his own notes – years of them – but tonight is for celebration. That’s one thing Valjean made clear at the beginning of his speech tonight. Tomorrow they’ll begin work again, but tonight is a moment that doesn’t come often, and should be celebrated for its rarity. Marius’s zealousness is good to see, though. Enjolras would be able to recommend him whole-heartedly for full employment by the state government based off his recent work, but it speaks for itself.
Cosette’s face radiates light. Eponine glows next to her, less brilliant but more ardent, reflected moon to her sun. Grantaire’s sitting with them, clean-shaven and well-dressed and eminently presentable. Externally, at least. Enjolras doesn’t particularly care if he’s not perfectly well-behaved tonight. There’s no one here who can be truly offended, and, anyway –
“Hey,” Grantaire says when the speeches are over, leaning back in his chair and tilting his wineglass against gravity when Enjolras leans down over his shoulder to greet him. His head tips up, back, and he smiles at him upside-down. “Descended from the high tables to mingle with the common-folks, Apollo?”
“You’re sitting with the mayor’s – with the Governor’s daughter,” Enjolras says. “That’s not really the cheap seats.”
“Well, the decorative folks, then,” Grantaire says. “The ones who actually have no say on policy, no moving, no shaking – It’s not that I’m not pleased to see you, but shouldn’t you be making the most of the evening and its opportunities? Look, lion-cub; you’re in a room with a ton of juicy donor-steaks and policymaker-drumsticks, and the doors are shut. Hunt.”
“Mm,” Enjolras says, and snaps lightly at his ear. He’s rewarded by a sudden inhalation of breath, and then an amused exhalation.
“Not here – but now, yes.”
“Politics really does do it for you, huh,” Grantaire murmurs, low and warm. “Enjolras –”
“Ah, the newlyweds,” Courfeyrac says somewhere to their left, and provokes a rapid counter-reaction. Enjolras jerks upright; Grantaire’s chair legs come down, and so does his chin. Wine sloshes over the edge of his glass and wets his knuckles and the white linen tablecloth.
Enjolras narrows his eyes at him. “I don’t think we count as newlyweds anymore, Courfeyrac. It’s been nearly a year.” And they’re divorced.
“Has it really? You should do a vow renewal for the anniversary.”
“No,” Combeferre says, appearing by his side. His interested survey takes in Enjolras’s flush, Grantaire’s spilled wine, and Courfeyrac looking like one of Raphael’s darker cherubs, all limpid innocence and laughing eyes. “I think I have to strongly oppose any future stunts involving marriage vows.”
“I think you have to strongly oppose any of Courfeyrac’s bright ideas,” Grantaire says, raising his eyebrows. “He’s an agent of chaos. Eris hurling down the apple; the serpent winding around Eve’s ankles –”
“That’s not an insult; the world needs chaos. The random element in any determinant system, the strange attractor in a Hénon map – ”
“Strange attractor seems accurate,” Combeferre says, and earns a hey of his own. “Congratulations, Enjolras. I know how long and how hard you’ve worked for tonight.”
“Thank you,” Enjolras says, and despite himself, his voice glows with satisfaction, spilling over his rigorous attempt to control it, to throttle it back before it completely overwhelms him. He wants to sit here for a little while longer, celebrating with his friends and colleagues and flirting with his boyfriend, and then he wants to drag that boyfriend home by the lapels of his well-fitting suit and work out all the jubilation and generated energy that’s been building up over the course of the campaign, too-often directed away from his personal life and filtered into his work, ready to be let loose at last.
Last night he’d been too tired and exhausted, wrung out with success, to do anything but crawl into his own bed for the first time in far too many nights, kiss Grantaire’s cheek, and fall deeply and utterly asleep, while over the city fireworks lit the sky in magnesium bursts of wheeling white and blue and red.
“You must be looking forward to building up the new régime,” Courfeyrac says merrily. “God, the thought terrifies me – Governor Valjean and his team, setting out to right the wrongs of the poor and disenfranchised, to rewire the state and expand the social mandate –”
There’s a small, eloquent pause.
“Let him have a night off before you wind him up again,” Grantaire says, filling in for Enjolras in a moment of awkwardness as he has so many times before. “That can wait for tomorrow.”
“I know that sound. What aren’t you telling me?” Courfeyrac asks, looking from Combeferre to Enjolras to Grantaire to Enjolras again.
“I haven’t decided anything yet,” Enjolras says, quickly. He hasn’t, and he wouldn’t deliberately leave Courfeyrac out of his plans and calculations. There are just – circles of intimacy, perhaps, concentric spheres set one inside the other. He’s talked about it with Grantaire once or twice, in the privacy of their bedroom. That’s the innermost circle, the closest to his skin.
He frowns at Combeferre, who shares the next sphere with Courfeyrac himself, and to whom he hasn’t mentioned anything about the future yet.
“I don’t think construction is really Enjolras’s thing,” Combeferre says calmly, parrying the frown. “I’m sure he’ll enjoy a year or so working under the Governor, but I believe the presidential campaigns begin shortly, and I happen to have heard that Senator Lamarque is considering throwing in his hat – ”
“You’re a witch,” Grantaire says, with conviction. “Both of you.”
“Lamarque?” Courfeyrac says, accepting Combeferre’s deductions as gospel. “Really?”
“Yes,” Enjolras admits. “I’ve been speaking with a member of his senior staff – but it’s just talk, at this stage. And Grantaire’s right; tonight I’m celebrating a victory, and the end of something I’ve been working for for a long time. Everything else can wait.”
“Congratulations,” Combeferre says again, the corners of his eyes crinkling the way they didn’t when he was eighteen. Ten years. Enjolras has known him for a decade, and been grateful for him in every moment.
Courfeyrac, too, just as loved, just as long. “Yeah,” he says, and forgoes a handshake in favour of an embrace. Other men hug; Courfeyrac embraces, without diffidence. “Congratulations, E.”
“We were thinking of meeting the others at Corinthe after things wind down here,” Combeferre says when they disengage. “To celebrate with everyone who didn’t get an invitation tonight. Are you interested?”
“No,” Grantaire says firmly. “Thanks, and give everyone our love, and everything – but no.”
“Enjolras needs his rest, huh,” Courfeyrac says with a raised eyebrow. “You know, Marius has been working the same hours, and he’s as frisky as a spring lamb tonight – ”
“Well, look at who’s taking him home,” Grantaire says. “And I think he’s been drinking coffee alongside his champagne, which will curdle his stomach –”
“Utter hypocrisy!” Combeferre says, turning his mild lifestyle disapproval on someone not Enjolras for once, and allowing the question to drop.
Courfeyrac laughs. “God, I am so grateful it’ll be Eponine or Cosette holding Marius’s hair back tonight. I have better things planned – ”
“And so do we,” Enjolras says, and puts a hand on Grantaire’s shoulder, squeezing lightly through the padding. The ring he still wears glints.
“You can’t leave yet; they’re screening my campaign highlights reel, and then there’s going to be dancing – ”
“You can’t really believe Enjolras will stay for the dancing,” Combeferre says, and Courfeyrac laughs again.
“No, I guess not. I always hope, though. Will you stay for the dancing?”
“I’m not a dancer either.”
“Still better than Enjolras; he’s cardboard. You have – oh, potential. There’s something there to develop.” He dimples charmingly, catlike dark eyes full of light and laughter and just a little bit of beseeching.
Combeferre studies him for a moment, the fond look he gets whenever he looks at Courfeyrac too long coming to the fore. “I suppose I must, then,” he says, with the faintest edge of against my better will and judgment.
“I think the Titanic’s finally hitting the iceberg,” Grantaire says, when they’re out of earshot, gone to check on Courfeyrac’s masterpiece before it’s screened, and grins at Enjolras’s blank look. “Well, hitting on - Oh, come on. Don’t pretend you don’t see it. I’m not the expert on Combeferre you are, so I won’t say I saw it coming – not on his side – but when it happens right in front of you – You feel it too, right? Whatever happens tomorrow – tonight is full of possibility. Pretty sure that’s what Courfeyrac’s hoping for, anyway. Tell me he has a shot.”
“I’m not discussing my friends’ private lives,” Enjolras says, when he’s assimilated this. He doesn’t disagree, precisely, with Grantaire’s analysis. He doesn’t pretend to predict how tomorrow will unfold, but tonight is a sort of ending. A closing of a particular chapter in his life. Grantaire’s still looking at him. “I think it’s very likely.”
“Which basically means it can be taken to the bank – oh, don’t look at me like that, I wouldn’t. No betting on friends’ private lives. I just – it’d be nice if it worked out, that’s all.”
Enjolras stares. “Was that positivity?”
“What?” Grantaire asks, and then, with hurriedness, “Fuck, of course not. I’m not wishing them wedding bells and picket fences and 2.5 test-tube babies, I’m just – I’m invested to the point of boning, okay. No further. Purely in the interest of balance in the force, binary relations, chaos and order – Are you sure we shouldn’t drop in at the Corinthe? See the others, press some flesh – ”
Enjolras stares at him a little longer, and Grantaire squirms under it. He hasn’t known Grantaire ten years, but he’s known him nearly as long, first across a gulf and a thicket of thorns and then in startling close-up. Grantaire still surprises him, and he’s surprised him now, with a sudden burst of optimism that’s all but an expression of confidence in the possibility of a happy ending.
Enjolras has stopped bracing himself for inevitable disaster, for the long-promised explosion lurking under Grantaire’s spiny shell. It takes him off-guard and makes him suddenly and fiercely happy to know that Grantaire’s finally stopped waiting for the bang, too. Even since they started over, there’ve been too many moments where Grantaire has treated what’s between them like it’s made of glass, like a single careless gesture could destroy it.
Enjolras doesn’t build in glass. He’s not a builder – Combeferre’s right about that – as much as he’s a breaker, tearing down walls and boundaries and obstructions. Hacking through thorns. But he believes in laying foundations, strong and sturdy and deep in the ground.
Suddenly staying for Courfeyrac’s highlights reel seems too long, an infinity of time. Impossible. “No,” he says. “We should go home.”